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Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

Ellie's Story (14 page)

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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Maya walked me forward, and when she spoke her voice was loud.

“This is Ellie.” I perked up my ears, looking up to see if a command would follow. “She is a retired search-and-rescue dog. As part of our outreach program, I wanted to come to talk to you about how Ellie has helped find lost children, and what you can do if you ever become lost,” Maya said.

No command. I sat down and yawned.

I waited for about half an hour while Maya talked. Then she led me down off the stage. The children lined up and came in small groups to pet me. Some gave me grabby hugs; some hung back, a little afraid. One girl timidly offered me her hand, and I licked it, tasting salty crackers and a smudge of chocolate. She jumped back with a squeal, but she was giggling.

After that, Maya and I did School often. Sometimes the children were younger, sometimes older. The younger ones gave me more hugs. The older ones scratched behind my ears. Either one was fine with me.

Sometimes we went to other buildings, where there were no children at all but people as old as Marilyn, one of the first people I'd ever Found. Or to places that had sharp, chemical smells. I couldn't smell as much anymore, but those places reminded me of the liquid that had splashed onto my nose and hurt it. I didn't like the smell, but I did like the people. They were lying in beds or sitting in strange chairs with wheels, and I could smell and feel that they were sad, or sick, or in pain. But some of that sadness lifted when Maya talked to them and they stroked my fur.

I wasn't saving these people, exactly. They weren't lost—except that it sort of felt as if they were. Somehow, this was a new kind of Work. I didn't really understand it, but Maya was there and people were happier when we left. That seemed right. That was what Work was for, to make things better.

 

17

When we weren't doing School or our other Work, Maya would run out the door in the morning in a big hurry while Al chuckled. Then Al would leave, too. I'd stay at home with the stupid cats.

Even though I no longer wore the nose cream, Tinkerbell didn't leave me alone. She curled up against me when I took my naps on the soft blanket Maya had put down near her bed. It was embarrassing, really, but since no one except Emmet and Stella was there to see, I let Tinkerbell stay. The feel of her purr vibrated against my side. It was a warm feeling, somehow, and it reminded me a little of snuggling close with Mother and my brothers and sisters, long ago.

One day Maya called to me and I jumped into the car, ready to Work. “Look at those clouds, Ellie,” she said as she drove.

I wagged, happy just to hear her talking to me, and stuck my nose out the car's window. The air was damp and sweet. I loved mornings like this. The smells were stronger than usual, more like I remembered them from the old days, when we still did Find. I smelled asphalt, exhaust fumes, salty French fries from a store that we drove past, other dogs, people.

When Maya pulled the car up in front of a school, she ran inside quickly with me as the first drops of rain started to fall.

This time, we didn't go to one of the big rooms where the children sat in seats and Maya's voice boomed. Instead, we walked into a smaller place called a classroom. The children sat on blankets on the floor. That looked cozy. If they wanted me to lie down on a blanket, too, I would not have minded.

While I was waiting to see if someone would offer me a blanket, I stretched out on the carpet.

Maya had just started talking when a sudden flash of brilliant light brightened all the windows. Then came a crack of thunder. Some of the children jumped and yelped like frightened puppies. The rain poured down. I lifted my nose and breathed deeply, wishing someone would open a window to let the smells inside.

“Settle down, class,” said a woman standing near Maya.

The door to the classroom swung open and a man, his jacket dripping wet, came inside. A woman was with him. I sat up quickly, looking straight at them.

“We've lost Geoffrey Hicks,” the man said.

I knew the worry in his voice, the tension in his muscles, the way alarm was rising off both of them, like a scent. This was the way people looked and sounded when I was about to Work.

“He's a first grader,” the man told Maya.

“They were playing hide-and-seek when the rain started,” the woman said. “The storm just came up out of nowhere. One minute it was fine, the next—” She put her hand up to her eyes, which were suddenly full of tears. “When I had everyone come in, Geoffrey wasn't with them. It was his turn to hide.”

“Could the dog…,” the man said hesitantly, turning to Maya.

Maya looked at me, and I sat up straighter. Was this Work?

“You'd better call 911,” she said. “Ellie hasn't worked a search or rescue in years.”

“Won't the rain wash away the scent? It's really coming down out there,” said the woman, fighting to keep her voice steady. “I'm worried that by the time another dog gets here…”

Maya bit her lip. “We'll certainly help look. You need to call the police, though. Where do you think he might have gone?”

“There are some woods behind the playground,” the man said quickly. “There's a fence, but the kids can lift it up. They know they're not supposed to, but sometimes…”

“This is his backpack; will that help?” the woman asked, holding out a canvas bag.

“Maybe.” Maya took it. “Call the police! Ellie, Come!”

I jumped to my feet and raced after her as she ran down the hallway. At last! We were going to Find again!

Maya stopped just inside a door. Outside, rain was pounding down. “Look at it rain,” she muttered. Her nervous energy sagged. She knelt down beside me, and I felt her worry and her sadness but her determination, too. “Ellie, you ready, girl? Here, smell this.”

I took a deep whiff of the canvas bag. I could smell strawberry yogurt, cookie crumbs, paper, crayons, and a person. “Geoffrey, Geoffrey,” Maya said. “Okay?” She opened the door and the rain whipped into the hallway. “Find!”

I leaped out into the rain. In front of me was a wide stretch of black pavement and beyond that a playground piled with wood chips. I coursed back and forth, my nose low to the ground. I could smell many children, although the smells were not strong and the rain was starting to wash them away.

Maya was out, running away from the school. “Here, Ellie! Find here!” she shouted over the drumming of the raindrops on the hard ground.

We tracked all the way back to a wire fence. Nothing. I could feel Maya's frustration and fear, and it made me tense inside. Was I doing this wrong? Was I being a bad dog?

Maya found a piece of the fence, next to a pole, that had been bent back to make a triangle-shaped hole. “Find, Ellie!” she commanded. I sniffed all along the fence, but I could Find nothing. “Okay, if he'd gone through that, you'd smell him, right? I hope so,” she murmured. “Geoffrey!” she shouted. “Geoffrey, come on out! It's all right!”

No one came out.

“Keep trying,” Maya said softly. “Find, Ellie!”

We followed the length of the fence all the way around the school yard. Nothing. A police car pulled up on the street outside the fence, red lights flashing through the rain. Maya jogged over to talk to the man driving.

I was still on Find. I kept going, my nose to the ground. It was hard. I wasn't picking up much of anything, and the rain was washing so much away. But I knew if I just concentrated I could separate the smell of the backpack, the smell that was Geoffrey, from all the others. Jakob had trained me. Maya had Worked with me. They'd shown me how to do it. I could still do it, if I just didn't quit—

There!
I had something. I whipped my head around again and sniffed harder. Right in the middle of the fence, there was a gap between two poles. No grown person would be able to squeeze through, but Geoffrey had done it. His scent had been rubbed on both of the poles, strongly enough that the rain had not washed them clean.

Geoffrey had left the playground.

I dashed back to Maya. She was speaking to the policeman when I got to her feet. “We tried, but it's no good. Ellie can't—”

Then Maya turned to look at me, shocked. “Ellie?” she said. Her voice came out as a whisper. Then it got stronger. “Ellie, Show me!”

We ran back through the rain to the two poles. Maya peered through the small gap. “Come on!” she shouted, running along the fence toward a gate. I followed. “He left the school grounds! He's on the other side of the fence!” she shouted. The policeman got out of the car and ran after us.

Maya threw the gate open and we both raced through it, then back along the fence to the two poles. I could still smell Geoffrey there. I put my nose to the ground. The smell was not as strong, but I could follow it. He had gone this way!

Then the smell faded, not two steps away from the fence. I stopped, lifting my nose into the wet air.

“What is it?” asked the policeman.

“He might have gotten into a car,” said Maya, worried. The policeman groaned.

I put my nose to the ground and backed up a few feet, and that's when I picked Geoffrey's scent up again. The trail was going the other way.

Maya gasped. “She's got it. She's got him!”

I ran down the sidewalk, Maya and the policeman behind me. Beside us, water rushed down the gutter and gurgled down a storm drain. I leaped into the street and shoved my nose into the gap where the water was rushing from the street into the drain. The flowing water carried all sorts of smells with it—grass, dirt, garbage, dead leaves, the faint scent of water itself—but I ignored those, concentrating every thought on my nose. If I needed to, I could have wiggled into that drain to follow the trail. But it turned out I didn't need to. I could smell Geoffrey strongly now. He was right in front of me, although I couldn't see him in the darkness. It was a good place for Geoffrey to hide, but I'd done it. I'd Found him!

I looked up at Maya.

“He's in there! He's in the sewer!” Maya shouted.

The policeman pulled a flashlight off his belt and knelt down beside me in the rushing water to shine the light into the drain. We all saw it at the same time: the pale face of a frightened little boy.

“Geoffrey! It's okay; we're going to get you out of there!” Maya yelled to him. She knelt in the street, getting her uniform soaking wet as she strained to stretch her arm into the hole far enough to touch him.

But the water that was pouring into the drain had pushed Geoffrey back. He was clinging to the far wall of the sewer, to the edge of a black tunnel that stretched out behind him. The water roared around him, pouring past his body and into the long, dark space, and Maya could not reach him.

The sense of terror that was rising off Geoffrey was so strong it was blinding. I whined anxiously. My Finding of Geoffrey wasn't finished. He was there, so close to me, but I couldn't get to him, and neither could Maya. I understood that this Find would not truly be done until Geoffrey was out of the water.

Water. I'd never really liked it, and here was proof that I had been right. It might be fun to splash in the ocean where the water only reached my paws or to jump into Maya's bath, but this water—I knew it was dangerous. It was deadly. It was going to hurt Geoffrey if we didn't finishing Finding him soon.

“How did he get in there?” the policeman shouted.

“It's a tight fit; he must have squeezed in before it was raining. It's really coming down!” Maya's voice was full of frustration.

A round circle made out of iron was set in the concrete right above Geoffrey's head. The policeman pried at it with his fingers, trying to pull it up. He couldn't. “I need to get a tire iron!” he bellowed, and handed the flashlight to Maya before he ran off, his feet sloshing in the water.

I stayed crouched down by the opening to the drain, right beside Maya. Inside, I could see that Geoffrey was soaking wet and shivering with cold. His jacket was a thin yellow rain slicker, with a hood pulled up over his head, but it wasn't doing much good.

“Hold on, okay, Geoffrey?” Maya repeated, leaning down so that Geoffrey could see her face. “You hang on. We're going to get you out of there, okay?”

Geoffrey didn't answer. His eyes, in the yellow glow from Maya's flashlight, were dull, as if he hadn't heard her or he didn't care.

I heard a siren wailing, and in less than a minute a patrol car swung around the corner and braked right beside us, skidding a little on the wet street. The policeman jumped out and ran around to the back of the car.

“Fire and Rescue are on the way!” he shouted.

“There's no time!” Maya shouted back. “He's slipping into the water!”

Maya was very afraid. I yawned with my own fear, panting with it. We had to get Geoffrey out of the water!

The policeman grabbed something from the trunk and ran back to us with a long, thin rod of iron in one hand. “Geoffrey, hang on! Don't let go!” Maya yelled. The policeman slipped one end of the metal rod under the edge of the circular plate in the cement, and he leaned on it hard. When Maya jumped up to watch, I went with her.

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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