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Authors: Jessica Scott Kerrin

Spotted Dog Last Seen

BOOK: Spotted Dog Last Seen
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Copyright © 2013 by Jessica Scott Kerrin
Published in Canada and the USA in 2013 by Groundwood Books

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801, Toronto, Ontario M5V 2K4
or c/o Publishers Group West
1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) and the Ontario Arts Council.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Kerrin, Jessica Scott
The spotted dog last seen / written by Jessica Scott Kerrin.
Also issued in print format.
ISBN 978-1-55498-388-9
I. Title.
PS8621.E77S66 2013 jC813'.6 C2013-900399-1

Cover illustration by Sam Kalda
Design by Michael Solomon

the little boy who lost his little brother


cemetery for such a small town. And old. You told us once that some of the gravestones date back hundreds of years. But I didn't make a habit of hanging out in cemeteries when you were doing the telling. Believe me, I'd rather have been anywhere else.

Did you know I arrived alone that first day? Pascal Bender and Merrilee Takahashi were supposed to meet me at one o'clock by the iron gate. There I stood. It was three minutes past one. And then it started to rain.

The first raindrops plopped against the grave markers, which teetered this way and that over the lumpy ground. I was sure that even a ghost could knock down some of them, just by floating past at sunset.

Sorry. I know how you felt about ghosts.

And vampires. And zombies.

I could see that there were different types of stones — brown, white, bluish gray — but I didn't know which was which.

And all those carved symbols on the stones? Well, the angels were easy to spot. Their wings were a dead giveaway. But I didn't know what the other symbols meant, like the ones with clasping hands or a baby lamb. And all those skulls and crossbones? I was sure that meant the cemetery was full of dead pirates!

When Pascal and Merrilee didn't show up, I thought I must be waiting in the wrong section. I was standing in the oldest part of the cemetery, where the stones were covered in lichen and eroded words. Maybe we were supposed to start in the newer section and work our way backwards through time.

But I didn't know where the newer part of the cemetery might be. I certainly didn't know who would be buried there.




Reading Weathered Marble

through the trees that surrounded me. Boughs overhead moaned. The roots beneath my feet wrapped tightly around the buried coffins to hold the trees to the ground.

And all the while, I stood at the cemetery gate trying my best to ignore the posted warning signs:

Beware of Falling Gravestones

Enter at Your Own Risk

Closed at Sunset

No Dogs Allowed

Just who did the gate think it was fooling? Sure, it looked secure enough, but when it was locked at night, the gate would be useless at keeping anything inside that wanted to get out.

And I wasn't worried about the living.

Then I heard a shrill four-fingered whistle across the street from the cemetery.

“Derek!” the whistler hollered from the front steps of the old stone library that had once been a church. “We're in here!”

I grabbed my knapsack and bolted from the cemetery gate, cold heebie-jeebies charging down my spine. But when I got to the crosswalk, I stopped in my tracks.

I looked left, right, left, and then left, right, left again before taking a careful step off the curb. The extra checking was a safety habit that I couldn't seem to shake, not even when fleeing a spooky graveyard in the cold rain. After crossing the street, I scrambled up the granite steps to the library with relief.

I'd never been to this library before. Even though it was no longer a church, its stained-glass windows had been saved. Each one was filled with scenes of people in robes and sandals — the men with beards, the women's heads covered by hoods, many of them weeping or looking up to the sky with their hands clasped, some on their knees, heads bowed, beams of light shining down.

“You must be Derek. I'm Loyola Louden.”

Loyola was basketball-player tall compared to my own husky self. If you asked me what my favorite subject at school was, I would not say, “Gym.” But I was guessing that Loyola sure would. She effortlessly held a large stack of books with one hand as she shook my hand with her other gigantic one. At least she didn't squeeze hard. I really hated that.

“Do you supervise cemetery duty?” I asked.

“No. I'm a university student,” Loyola said. “I work here part-time.”

“I'm supposed to report for cemetery duty by the gate,” I explained.

“The Twillingate Cemetery Brigade gives lessons here whenever it's raining.”


I repeated with alarm. I thought cemetery duty was supposed to be dead easy, like picking up litter or planting flowers around that ugly towering gate or straightening gravestones that looked like they were about to topple over.

She ignored my unease and led me inside, past stacks and stacks of books, to the research area where Pascal and Merrilee sat waiting.

“Hey,” I said to them without much enthusiasm.

Merrilee answered by pushing her glasses higher on her nose. Pascal gave me a tight nod. They looked about as glum as I felt about our new school assignment.

Queensview Elementary has been getting grade-six students to do community service work during the last three months of the school year for as long as anyone can remember. Usually, everyone gets to pick from a list of places that need volunteers. Soup kitchens. Homeless shelters. Seniors' residences. That kind of thing.

I thought the seniors would be okay. I'd sit around playing cards with them and whatnot. Talk about whatever war was going on. How hard could that be?

But I was sick at home the day we made our selections. Not really sick, I just had an eye infection. Pink eye is what they call it. Supposed to be highly spreadable. By the time I got back to school, all that was left was cemetery duty.

“Do you want me to call your teacher?” my mom had blurted as soon she found out. “See if someone will switch with you?”

“No one's dying to go to the cemetery,” I had said, which is pretty funny, now that I think about it. “And anyway, I'll be fine.”

She had turned away, but not before I saw her frown.

“I'll be fine,” I had repeated, trying to convince myself more than her.

I slid into the empty seat beside Pascal. I was not used to seeing him out of school uniform, or Merrilee for that matter, although I spotted her familiar red plastic jacket with the bunnies-and-carrots print draped over her chair. I hoped they would notice my t-shirt. It read,
Change is good. You go first

I like to collect sayings I've heard and print the best ones on t-shirts. Lately, I had been giving them away as gifts. My dad got,
I'm fine
, with a bloodstain printed beneath the words. He likes to wear it in his workshop in the garage or when he goes to the hardware store.

I thought that if I were to make a t-shirt for Pascal, it might read,
There are three kinds of people: those who are good at math and those who aren't
. Pascal had an answer for everything, even if he had to take a wild stab in the dark.

But I wasn't so sure about Merrilee. I didn't know her as well as Pascal, although I remembered that she was quite the archaeologist when she was little. She had a peculiar habit of burying things in the school's sandbox, then later digging them up. Maybe her t-shirt would read,
X marks the spot

The cemetery work crew we were assigned to arrived in full force — all three of them.

“Students, I'd like you to meet the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade. This is Mr. Creelman, Mr. Preeble and Mr. Wooster,” Loyola announced.

Each one glowered more fiercely than the next. All three stood dripping in their raincoats. Loyola eyed the stack of books that Merrilee had been leafing through and quietly moved them to another table for protection.

Creelman broke away from the trio. His thick white eyebrows reminded me of a portrait of my grandfather that I'd done back in grade one. I had been really inventive by gluing on cotton balls for his eyebrows.

“No sense cleaning grave markers today,” he announced, digging out a thick wad of wrinkled yellowed notes from inside his raincoat pocket. “Instead, you'll have your first lesson on how to read weathered stones.”

Creelman paused. Was he expecting us to clap? All he got was the sound of rain slamming against the cheerless stained glass above our heads.

“Let's see how much you know,” Creelman said, plowing along even without applause. “What are most of our nineteenth-century stones made out of?”

“Nineteenth century,” Pascal repeated. “You mean the really old ones?”

“Not old! Weathered!” Creelman barked, pounding the table for effect.

I startled. Merrilee flinched.

“Concrete?” Pascal guessed undaunted.

As I said, he had an answer for everything, but even I knew that he was way, way off.

Creelman stared him down, probably trying to figure out if Pascal was joking or not. His cotton-ball eyebrows collided into one straight line.

“Anybody else?” he growled, turning to Merrilee and me.

We quickly shook our heads, me unable to look away from those comical brows.

“Marble,” he pronounced. And then he repeated himself as if we were idiots. “Mar-ble.”

We shifted in our hard wooden seats.

“Does marble last forever?” he asked, eyebrows now arched.

It felt like a trick question. Merrilee and I didn't bite, but Pascal quickly weighed in.

“Yes, it does. For sure. Look at the ancient Greek statues.”

Creelman snorted.

“Ancient Greek statues aren't forever!” he declared, pounding the table again. “That's why there aren't many left and they end up inside museums for protection!”

He had a point. It even silenced Pascal for a moment.

“And do you know why marble doesn't last?” Creelman continued, laying another trap.

I looked around for help. Preeble and Wooster were standing off to the side appearing smug, as if they knew the answers but weren't about to share. Loyola was gone. I spotted her back at the front desk helping a daycare group sign out picture books.

“Sulfur dioxide,” Creelman declared, but he didn't pound the table. Instead, he stood with his arms crossed, giving us plenty of time for this fact to sink in.

I wondered if my mom should make the call about cemetery duty after all.

“And where does sulfur dioxide come from?” Creelman demanded.

He was relentless!

Desperately, I looked over to Loyola, who had finished checking out the books. I caught her eye, but then she quickly busied herself by sharpening pencils. She was not coming back any time soon. Traitor!

“The periodic table?” Pascal guessed.

The periodic table?
I was tempted to inch my chair closer to Merrilee so that Pascal had plenty of room to dig his own grave. Good grief!

“Burning coal power!” Creelman replied, his eyes widening.

Even though we knew it was coming, all three of us jumped when he pounded the table yet again.

“Sulfur dioxide is the enemy of gravestones,” Creelman continued, as if he were talking about some new plague or a campfire ghost story. “It steals letters and makes our grave markers unreadable.”

Pollution. Got it. I sneaked a peek at the wall clock. This was going to be a very long afternoon. I almost wished I was back in the cemetery, despite the rain.


“Part of your job will be to read and record our gravestones so that the information doesn't disappear,” he leaned in, “

As if rehearsed, Preeble pulled a small mirror from the pocket of his raincoat, handed it to Creelman, then took a precise step back beside Wooster. Creelman moved beneath the nearest stained-glass window and held the mirror in front of the engraved plaque mounted in the shadow of the windowsill.

“If there's plenty of light, like in this library, you can use a mirror. You hold it over the gravestone like this,” explained Creelman, flashing the mirror across the plaque, “and redirect the light at an angle so that the carved words are highlighted in shadows. See?”

The words etched on the plaque really popped out. It read,
Restored by the Twillingate Cemetery Brigade

Despite the table pounding, I was a little impressed.

“But sometimes there's not much light,” Creelman said, his eyebrows casting a shadow, his face clouding over.

That was Wooster's cue to pull out a paintbrush from his pocket and hand it to Creelman, then return to his spot beside Preeble.

“What you do is take a brush and some plain water.” Creelman demonstrated by brushing the air. “When you wet the surface, you move the dirt into the carved letters and lighten the surrounding surface at the same time. Then it's easier to read.”

Makes sense, I thought. It was simple to follow now that the table pounding had stopped.

Creelman began to lay out his yellowed sheets of paper in front of us.

“Even with all that, you'll still need to become an expert at deciphering engraved characters that have partially disappeared. Have a look.”

The three of us leaned in. Creelman's papers contained charts of what carved numbers looked like after they had weathered for one hundred years and then two hundred years.

“I need someone to demonstrate,” Creelman said. He slowly scanned the three of us, and his eyes landed on me.

“Okay,” I croaked, having very little choice.

He handed me a nubby pencil.

“Write the numbers 1 through 9 on this piece of paper,” he instructed.

I did.

“Now look. See how all your strokes are even?”

Everyone inspected my numbers. I have to admit that I do write neatly. My notebook where I record my collection of t-shirt sayings is a thing of beauty.

“But it isn't so with numbers hand-carved in marble. They are carved by uneven chisel strokes. Take the number 4. The carver has to lean in hard to make one long downward stroke, and then finish the rest of the number with short light taps. Over time, those little strokes fade away, leaving only the deep downward stroke, until finally you can't tell a 1 from a 4.”

“How do we figure out which is which?” Pascal asked.

“Good question!” Creelman replied, not scowling for the first time that afternoon. “Your only clue is the spacing. Look here. The downward strokes in the year 1811 are spaced more evenly than the year 1814.”

Even Merrilee nodded in interest.

“The numbers 2, 3 and 5 are in the next group. Over time, only the deep curve on the right side of all three numbers remains — here at the top of the 2, here at the bottom of the 5 and here, twice for the number 3.”

By now, I'd completely forgotten about the cemetery. As we studied Creelman's charts, I began to feel as if we were training to become detectives for hidden codes.

“Next are the numbers 6, 9 and 0. They also have deep curves on both sides that remain over time. The number 6 will have a long curve on the left and a short curve on the right. Nine is just the opposite. And see here? Zero will have two long curves.”

Look at that, I thought, taking in the lesson.

“Last are the numbers 7 and 8. When carvers engrave an 8, they have to cut a deep diagonal line in the middle that is the last to fade away. But unlike the number 8, the number 7 has a long deep diagonal cut that runs all the way to the bottom.”

Then, just when I was not expecting it, Creelman pounded the table and declared, “Sevens never die!”

From the safety of her desk, Loyola Louden looked our way with a startle.

The lights flickered overhead.

“Now, we're going to leave you to study these charts. When we get back, there'll be a quiz. We can't have you making any errors when you're recording our gravestones.”

With that, Creelman, Preeble and Wooster marched past the book stacks and out the front door, leaving behind the yellowed sheets, a mirror and three puddles on the marble floor.

BOOK: Spotted Dog Last Seen
5.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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