by Gail M Feldman
King was lost.
Actually, he was not QUITE lost. He was... not where he wanted to be. He wanted to be with Richie, and he didn't know where Richie was. Okay, he'd also managed to misplace himself just a little. Call it lost.
He looked around. It was midafternoon. School would be out soon. At this time of year, with the trees all bare and all the humans clad in coats, it would be dark not long after. How had he managed to wander so far from his accustomed stomping grounds? He knew his way between home and school, and in adjacent neighborhoods. He knew where every other dog lived, and which ones stuck to their own lturf instead of venturing onto his. He knew in which homes resided friends of Richie's and which homes housed strangers. He even knew which children, whether friends of Richie's or not, would pet him or give him treats, and which were more likely to throw stones or yell at him. How could he not know where he was?
The sound of footsteps diverted him from his thoughts. He turned to locate them and saw that a child was approaching. He did not know this child. He stood his ground and let the child approach.
"Hi puppy," said the child, who probably weighed less than half what King did. He could tell by the smell of her that this child was female, and by her smile that she meant him no harm. She knew no better than to grab at his ears, but he wasn't worried. He raised his muzzle to sniff at her, and to be stroked. She got the hint and petted him. "Good puppy."
"Woof," responded King. The litle girl jumped back, but came immediately forth again, giggling, to continue petting him. From where she'd come now emanated a frantic adult human voice:
"Carrie! Don't touch that!"
King didn't especially like being called a "that" but he stood calmly as he had before, awaiting the chance to sniff the adult and assess it. He was annoyed that it snatched the child up into the air and simultaneously kicked out at him. He snarled, but backed off, neither wishing to hurt the child in the process of teaching the adult a lesson, nor especially wanting to be kicked again. He turned his back and disdainfully walked away, ignoring the adult who continued to rail at him, but feeling sorry for the now-wailing child. Such bad manners. He shook his furry head.
When ten minutes of walking, then trotting, found him in no more familiar territory, he began to worry. Perhaps he should turn somewhere... but where? Suddenly he spotted a school. He could tell it was a school because there were children playing baseball in a lot behind it, and children visible in the windows on the second floor. He knew, though, it wasn't Richie's school. Still, school was school. He raced toward it, but stopped when he got to the fenced schoolyard. There was a gate, but he wasn't sure he should go through it. He was uncertain of his reception in this strange place.
King was no chihuahua; as an Alsation, he knew he was at least a match for any animal he might meet, human, canine or equine. He wasn't worried about coming to harm. He was worried about failing to find Richie.
"Look!" cried out a boy wearing a catcher's mitt. He dropped the mitt and rushed fearlessly at King, who sat back on his haunches and waited, equally fearlessly, at the gate. A chunky young teacher ran after the boy, but stopped a yard off, seeing how King tolerated, even welcomes, a tight embrace. "Good boy," said the boy, into King's unusually furry neck.
"Okay," admitted the teacher, to no one. Then he addressed King: "Where did you come from? Are you waiting for someone?"
"Woof," replied King, but the teacher didn't understand.
"Well, you can come in and look around if you want." The man was agreeable but King knew Richie wasn't in the school yard and suspected he wasn't in the building either. It just felt all wrong.
"Woof," he repeated, apologetically, and turned to go.
"Bye, boy!" waved the young catcher, running then to rejoin the game.
"Good luck," called the teacher.
Nice folks, thought King. But it's getting late. I have to find Richie.
He decided to backtrack, avoiding the street where he'd been kicked. The sun was definitely going down. Richie would be worried.
Suddenly King was diverted from his quest by a most peculiar phenomenon. There, in a doorway he'd never seen before, stood a cat. He'd seen plenty of cats, chased a few in fact, but this cat was doing something quite amusing: it was standing, staring at him, with its back arched as high as a doghouse door, and all its fur standing up and out. Its tail looked as big as a cat all by itself, and the cat's eyes were as round as the bowl in which King received his meals, which reminded him, he was getting a little hungry. The cat neither ran nor attacked; it stood perfectly still, bristling.
This was about the most humorous thing King had ever seen, unless you counted the time Richie had accidentally replaced his customary bone with a steak intended for human consumption. The look on RIchie's face when he figured it out had been priceless. But the look on this cat's whole body was even funnier. King didn't bark or lunge at the comedian. He bowed slightly and turned away. It was dark, now.
Then he saw something he recognized. It was just a tree, but he knew this tree; he had marked it many times. He flew to it and urinated gratefully upon its trunk. Old friend! Cherished landmark! He didn't linger; he knew the way home, now.
And there was the bus, surely late, but a welcome sight! If he'd flown before, now he was a rocket. He crash landed on the pavement just in front of the bus' opening door, and the first kid out tripped over him. "Hey, King," said the kid, sitting up. "Good spot you chose there!"
"My puppy lover angel from heaven," came a familiar voice, and King wagged all over in the embrace of his beloved Richie. "How long have you been waiting for me? I bet you waited an hour or more! Dogs have such an easy life. Right, boy?"
King agreed, wagging more. Life was good.
"Come on, then. Let's go home. We'll have some dinner and then we'll do some stargazing." The boy who'd tripped had long since hopped up and been on his way, but Richie was kneeling, still hugging King. "How does that sound, boy?"
"Woof." It sounded just fine.
Richie stood up and the two of them headed for home. King wished he could tell his human about the little girl who had tugged on his ears, the women who had kicked him, the boy who'd hugged him, the teacher who had invited him into the school yard and most of all about the cat who had magically doubled in size just to impress him. He wished he could share his joy at finding his tree. But none of this was as important as walking by Richie's side, knowing that soon they would be sitting atop the doghouse Richie's father had built, stargazing and digesting, already dreaming about tomorrow's adventures.