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Authors: W. Bruce Cameron

Ellie's Story (4 page)

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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Jakob pointed the thing in the air and it made a horrible bang that hurt my ears. I jumped and whined. But when he did it a few more times, I decided that it was simply noise. I didn't like it, but it wasn't going to hurt me.

“No reason to be afraid,” Jakob promised. “It's a gun, Ellie. A gun. It makes a loud noise, but you're not afraid, are you, girl?”

I wasn't afraid. Guns, it seemed, were part of Work. And Work was nothing to be scared of.

 

4

A few days after Jakob had shown me the gun, he took me to a new park. There were several people—most of them men, a few women—sitting at long tables, and I noticed that a lot of them had guns as well. They called out to us.

“Sit down, Jakob!”

“This the new dog?”

“Haven't seen you in a while!”

“Hey, Jakob made it! Somebody take a picture!”

This didn't seem to be Work. The people at the table were talking and laughing and eating. I found a potato chip on the ground—delicious!—and went to lie down near Jakob, hoping for more.

Jakob was eating and someone had given him a brown bottle to drink from, but he wasn't talking or laughing, like the rest of them.

“Isn't that right, Jakob?” someone said.

Jakob didn't answer. I sat up and nuzzled his hand. He petted me, but I could sense he wasn't really thinking about me.

“I said, ‘Isn't that right, Jakob?'”

Jakob turned and looked at everyone watching him, and I sensed his embarrassment. “What?”

“If there's ever a riot in the city, we're going to need every K-9 unit we can get.”

“Ellie's not that kind of dog,” Jakob said coldly, not looking at anyone in particular. “She doesn't attack people.”

I straightened up at the sound of my name, in case this was Work after all and a command was coming next. It didn't. But everyone was looking at me now. I moved a little closer to Jakob. When the rest of them started talking again, it was to each other. No one spoke to Jakob. I nuzzled his hand again, and this time he scratched my ears.

“Good dog, Ellie,” he said softly. “Let's go for a walk, huh?”

Walk? That was a word I knew and one I liked. I wagged my tail with enthusiasm. A walk was almost as good as more potato chips.

There was another playground at this park, the human kind, and some paths that wound around. I barked at one squirrel that was enough of a show-off to run past a foot away, but mostly I just walked at Jakob's side. We ended up by a wide, deep pool. Water was shooting up out of the middle of it in white spray and bubbles. I stuck my nose in and lapped up a little, just to see what it tasted like.
Yuck!
Something sour and chemical had spoiled this water completely. I shook my head hard.

Jakob chuckled. “The fountain doesn't taste like your water bowl at home, huh? Okay, Ellie.” He'd picked up a stick. “Get it!”

Fetch! I loved Fetch! Jakob held the stick up over his shoulder and threw it hard. It landed right in the water.

Right in the water!

I bent my nose down and sniffed at the strange-smelling water. Then I dipped a paw in it. Cold! I jerked the paw back.

I wasn't a little puppy scared of my own water dish anymore. But still, I didn't really like this. That was a
lot
of water. I knew what Jakob wanted, though. He wanted me to get the stick for him. He never liked to lose his sticks for long.

I put two paws in, expecting to support myself with my forelegs, but to my utter shock I didn't touch bottom. I fell in the pool! Water flooded into my eyes and nose. Sputtering, choking, I scrabbled and clawed my way out of the pool in an utter panic, shaking myself off violently.

“Fetch! Get the stick, Ellie!”

Forget the stick. I wasn't going back in there, ever. Plunging under the surface of the water reminded me too much of my dream about the boy. What was his name? Ethan. In the water, sinking down and down. The fear from that dream haunted me now, strong as any real-life memory.

The fountain was cold. And worse, the water was constantly moving up and down, sloshing back and forth. It was dangerous. I didn't want to do this.

“The stick!” Jakob insisted.

You want a stick?
I scampered across the lawn, jumping with both feet on a nice big stick. I picked it up and shook it to show Jakob how fun it was.

“Ellie, come!” he commanded sternly.

Oh-oh
. I went to him with my tail lowered, dropping the new stick at his feet.

“You don't like water, huh?” Jakob had crouched down and was eyeing me. “That could be a problem, you know. C'mon, Ellie, get the stick. You can do it. Go Swim”

Swim? I couldn't do it, if Swim meant going in the water.

Jakob picked up the new stick and threw it, too, in the water.
Oh no!
“Go on, Ellie. It's not that bad. Fetch!”

Why didn't he just throw the stick the other way? I ran a few feet, to show him where I wanted him to throw it.
Come on, Jakob. This way! Throw the stick on the ground! The ground is so much nicer than the pool!

But he didn't. He threw another stick into the fountain, and another. I whined a little, letting him know this was not a good idea. Water was not safe. People should not go into it. Dogs should not, either.

“Okay,” Jakob said thoughtfully, staring at me. “Okay.…”

And he jumped in.

One minute he was standing next to me; the next he was gone. He flopped forward in the water, made a few motions with his arms, and sank.

He sank! Just like that boy, Ethan!

I barked so Jakob would know to come up. I paced back and forth by the edge of the fountain. Jakob! Jakob had gone into the water!

He hadn't given me a command, but I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to Fetch him, the way I was supposed to Fetch the sticks. I was supposed to go into the water.

I didn't want to. But Jakob was down there. I had to get him back!

The next thing I knew, I was in the water, too.

My paws seemed to know what to do—I paddled as best I could, and I was moving toward Jakob. But the water was every bit as awful as the first time. My coat got so heavy it was hard to keep moving. The strange-smelling stuff splashed in my eyes and surged into my mouth and nose. It stung! I couldn't smell Jakob. I couldn't smell
anything
. Panic was creeping up on me. It had been so long, and Jakob hadn't come up, and I couldn't Find him. Finding was my job; it was my Work; it was our Work. I was supposed to Find Jakob!

Bubbles from underneath me tickled my belly. I looked down, blinking hard. There he was! Jakob!

He surged up, grabbing hold of me. Somehow he could stand, the water up to his waist. He shook the water out of his face and laughed one of his short laughs.

“Good girl, Ellie. You did it. You came in after me! Good dog!”

He gave me a push back toward the edge of the fountain and heaved me out, following me. We sat there, dripping, and he patted me more, scratching my wet ears.

“Hey! Hey there!” Someone ran out to us, someone in dark clothes like Jakob's. “No swimming in that fountain. What are you doing, letting your dog play around like that?”

“She's not playing,” Jakob said, unhooking something shiny from his belt and holding it up for the other man to see. “She's working.”

 

5

I knew Jakob had been happy that I'd gone in the water. I was glad he was pleased, but I was also very relieved when we went back to our old park the next day. I liked Find a lot better than Swim.

Wally wasn't around; I was used to that by now. I looked up at Jakob, my ears alert for “Find.” But Jakob did something new. He had carried an old coat with him from the truck, and now he held it out to me. “Find, Ellie. Find!”

Find the coat?
That was strange. The coat was right there over Jakob's arm.

Jakob moved the coat closer to me, so that I could smell it. I breathed in the aromas of the person who'd been wearing it. It wasn't Wally. The coat smelled of someone else, another man. My nose picked up sweat, something sweet that had spilled, coffee, smoke from those strange white sticks people liked to put in their mouths.

“Find, Ellie!”

I was still confused, but I sniffed around a little on the grass. Find usually started with smelling. And there it was—the same smell that was on the coat.

I remembered how I often found Wally's socks or his T-shirts and showed them to Jakob. This seemed to be the same sort of thing. Except that I was not supposed to find this coat and bring Jakob to it; I was supposed to find the person who had worn the coat.

Now that I knew what to do, it was easy. The trail was fresh and strong, and it wasn't hard to follow it along the grass, between two benches, under the trees—and there he was. A man in a yellow sweater and a brown hat, with one of those white sticks in his mouth. When I ran back for Jakob, he knew right away that I had something to Show and he followed me to where the man was still waiting. The man got up and shook Jakob's hand, and I heard Jakob thanking him after I got a good game of tug-on-a-stick.

The next day was even stranger. Jakob and I went back to the park, and he did nothing but look down at me. “Find!” he said.

I sniffed. No smell of the man with the coat. No smell of Wally. I looked up at Jakob. What did he want me to do?

He was watching me intently. “Find!” he repeated. “Find, Ellie!”

I went back to sniffing the ground, hoping that would give me more clues. There were a lot of interesting smells: the grass itself, the dirt beneath, places here and there where other dogs had peed, some popcorn that had been dropped, a trail where a raccoon had wandered past in the night, another where a rabbit had hopped by a few hours ago. Feet had crisscrossed this area, and so had paws. I sniffed harder.

“Sometimes I need you to look for any people you can, Ellie,” Jakob said. I looked at his face when I heard my name. “Okay? Find!”

At the command I lowered my nose.

There
was
one smell that was fresh and stood out: female, human, not too old. I followed the trail a few feet. She wore rubber shoes. She'd eaten something with cream cheese for breakfast. She'd gone this way. I looked back at Jakob, to see if he'd tell me I was doing this wrong. He stood still as I moved away from him, watching me with that look he only got when we were Working, as if I were the only thing in the world he could see.

I put my nose back to the ground, not quite sure if this was the right thing to do. Still, Jakob had told me to Find. The easiest thing to Find around here was the track of the girl who'd eaten cream cheese. I started to follow her.

Her trail led me to a bench. I stopped and sniffed hard. She'd sat here for a little while; I could smell her shoes and her clothes, her skin and her hair. But she wasn't here now. So Find was not over yet.

I followed the girl's trail away from the bench, across a lawn with soft grass. Some young humans were throwing a ball there and shouting. I moved quickly across the soft grass, and a red ball rolled right in front of my nose. It would have been so easy to pick it up and run back with it to the boy who had thrown it. Jakob wasn't here to see me do it, and it would only be a minute or two of play. The ball was right there, just inches from my nose.…

But what about the girl? I was supposed to Find her. Jakob had said so. I couldn't stop and play now. There wasn't time for that. This was Work. Play came later.

The girl's trail led me across a muddy path. Then it started to wind around the roots of trees. I jumped across a thick root that twisted like a snake, and there she was, sitting under a tree with a book on her lap.

She looked up at me and smiled, then looked down and turned a page.

I ran to find Jakob, dashing back across the lawn, running right through the game of catch, feeling a little worried. Was this right? Was this what he'd wanted me to do?

BOOK: Ellie's Story
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