Doug Dawson hails from Brooklyn, New York, wrote extensively for the US Defense Dept. and as a freelancer had some 40 articles and fiction published by car magazines (“Vette Vues,” “Corvette Enthusiast,” “Corvette” magazine). He holds degrees in music and computer science (American University, Univ. of Maryland, UMBC) has had his short stories accepted for publication by Academy of the Heart & Mind, Ariel Chart, Aphelion Webzine, Literary Yard, Scars Publications in the U.K. (3 stories) and poetry accepted by Page & Spine.
"Here comes Brownie!" said the little boy, looking through the screen door. At the same time Ed Rawley turned to look, so distracted he let up on the mower's safety handle and it stopped. Several other people peered out their windows, smiling as the little dog trotted down the sidewalk. Two pre-teens standing on their front lawn bent down to pet her but missed as she scurried along, just out of reach. Just two months old when she arrived here, the neighborhood's newest resident was a tan, short-haired miniature Dachshund, whose gait suggested a long box supported by pogo sticks on all four corners. If there was a sound associated with her movements it would have been "Boing!" "Boing!" "Boing!" as her squat body bounced along, her long ears flopping, whiskers waving in the breeze, her wet nose carefully attuned to each scent. She turned her head this way and that as she walked, alert to every sight and sound.
The street was Kenwood Terrace, a quiet lane in the shape of a boomerang that ran four blocks between Biltmore and Lexington Avenues. For the most part only residents walked or drove on this street, past the small single-family homes with their neat yards. That was why the place was about as quiet and trouble-free as any neighborhood and why Brownie's owners didn't mind the family's new addition exploring on her own, besides the fact that she wouldn't approach strangers unless they were tiny kids close to her own size. She padded down the sidewalk, carefully avoiding cars when she crossed one of the side streets on the way to Biltmore, where she turned and trotted the four blocks back to Lexington before turning around and heading for home. Her routine was so regular she usually had an audience: housewives in the morning, kids home from school in the afternoon, whole families on evenings and weekends. Residents told their friends and by the end of her fifth month on earth Brownie was a local celebrity, whose reputation went far beyond Kenwood Terrace. Unknown to her owners, someone called a local TV station and said there was a human-interest story their "fluff reporter" might want to cover. A few days later the TV station called Brownie's home and talked to the surprised Lorton family.
The following Saturday morning a brightly-painted green and white van parked in front of the three-bedroom rancher Brownie called home, prompting the entire family to come out to talk to the reporter and her crew. Brownie, out taking her morning constitutional, was at that moment forced to walk around several kids who were a little too big for her to trust. She passed Mr. Greene, who looked down and said "Hello, your puppyship." On the next block two tots stooped to pet her and one said "Bwownie," attempting to imitate what he heard others call her. As she approached her home Brownie slowed when she saw strangers on her family's property. "That must be her," said the attractive blonde reporter. A few seconds later the TV camera followed her movements along the sidewalk, up to the front porch and into the house. Inside, she snuggled in Mrs. Lorton's lap as the reporter and TV taping crew made a fuss over her.
That evening Brownie was at the corner of Kenwood and Lexington, about to turn around when a small, dark colored car came screeching to a halt in front of her. She hesitated just a moment as she surveyed the rude stranger who jumped out, and by the time she turned to run it was too late. A young man picked her up under her front legs and jerked her into the car. He had red hair, just like Mr. Greene, he was bony and he looked older than the Lorton kids, who went away every morning and came back in the middle of the afternoon. He wouldn't let her go even in the car and she squealed as his hands dug into her underside. She'd never felt this sensation before and struggled to get free. "Stop it!" the young man shouted at her, hitting her on the top of her head with his hand. Brownie squealed some more and tried even harder to wriggle away, but he was much too strong. Finally, the man who was driving the car said "Easy! It's still a baby," and the boy who was holding her let up. She was still uncomfortable but he didn't hit her any more. Instead he took her collar off, looked at the metal tag with her family's name and address on it and threw it out the window.
A short time later the car stopped on a street she couldn't remember seeing from her rides in the car with the Lortons. There was uncollected garbage in the street and the smell was foul. The house they stopped in front of was small, like the Lortons', but it wasn't pretty like theirs and the grass was very long. She was hand-carried in the front door, with the boy not supporting her under her back and with his fingers digging in under her front legs just as he did in the car. She squealed again but it did no good and by the time he put her down both her back and her underside hurt. The room they were in smelled moldy, she could see dust balls on the floor and the only things in it, besides her and the boy, were two chairs and a sofa, one of those strange boxes with moving pictures in it and another set of boxes with long wires coiled coiled behind them on the floor. The boy walked over to the latter boxes and turned on loud music, which hurt her ears. After a while the man yelled at him and he walked over to the boxes again and made the music much quieter. "We'll sell her," said the young one with red hair. "Back to the owners." "And who's that?" Said the man. "You threw her dog tag out the window." There was a long pause then the older one said "And don't be stupid, they'd call the cops ... probably be waiting for us when we brought her back." "I know a couple'a people'd love to have a dog like this - they cost a lot, don't they?" "Maybe we'll just keep her." "I need the money, dad." "Let me think about it."
Besides the fear caused by her rough handling and new surroundings, Brownie was starting to feel a hunger she'd never known before. The Lortons always fed her after her walk, which was hours earlier. She'd never felt this bad or this weak. Long after it got dark her drowsiness was overcoming her gnawing hunger when the man said "Don't forget - we got to feed her." "We got nothing to eat around here," said the younger one, "except some milk." "Give her that then." The red-haired one got a carton from the refrigerator then looked around. "We got no bowl," he said. "Put it in a pan," said the man. The boy poured the milk into a frying pan then put it in front of Brownie, who could tell from the smell there was something wrong. She backed away from it. "Lick it up, damn you!" yelled the boy at her, as he grabbed her, forced her head to the pan and pushed her nose into the milk. She choked and sputtered with the milk in her nostrils and the boy let up. He held her tightly enough to hurt her and raised his other hand as if to hit her and she decided lapping up the foul smelling, rancid-tasting milk was better than drowning or being hit. A few minutes later she threw up from the spoiled milk, prompting the young man to yell "Bitch!" as he kicked her and knocked her over. "I shoulda never let you grab that dog!" yelled the father as he grabbed a towel and mopped up what Brownie had coughed up from her stomach.
The man said "Here!" and motioned toward Brownie, who was afraid to go to him. He finally walked over and she dived into a corner, cowering. At least he picked her up gently, supporting both ends of her and carried her over to a blanket, where he set her down. "We'll get her some dog food tomorrow," he said to the younger one then they both walked into other rooms, closed the doors behind them and weren't heard from again that night. Brownie was still sore, hungry and now feeling sick, but she knew she had to get away from this place and these people before they hurt her any more. In the dark she explored the entire house, coming at last to a screen door. The door was locked, but the screen was loose and she prodded it with her nose and then her paws. Finally, she pushed enough of it away from its frame to squeeze though, but only partly. She found herself stuck, her rear legs unable to get through for what seemed a long time. She used all the strength in her tiny front legs, eventually dragged herself through the screen and found herself in the dirt, facing a small back yard she could barely see. She made her way to the edge of the property, where a ramshackle chicken wire fence barred her way. Without out knowing why she started to dig in the dirt. It just came naturally to her, so she kept at it until she'd made a hole under the fence. Gradually the hole got bigger and though she was weakening from fatigue and hunger she felt her very existence was at stake and that drove her on.
At some point her weariness made her stop digging and in the few seconds she closed her eyes she drifted off. When she woke the distant light was coming into the sky. The sickness wasn't as bad now but she instinctively knew she had to get away before the strangers got up and found her. She returned to digging and as the sun came up she squeezed under the fence and ran along the side to the front of the house, where she faced a big decision - which way to go. Neither direction looked promising, but anything beat staying where she was, so Brownie headed in the direction the sun was coming up, as fast as her little legs could take her. She was so afraid to be caught again she didn't even stop to look for food in the garbage that was left at the curb.
A while later she found herself in a busier part of town. There were taller buildings and they were much closer together, with no front yards and no space between them. People were coming outside, opening up stores, walking around and getting in their cars. To continue her journey she could see she'd have to jump curbs and cross the streets, something she was loathe to do, as she'd only gone across the little side streets that crossed Kenwood, where there was hardly any traffic. Now there were cars coming and she was more afraid than ever, but summing her courage, she jumped off a high curb, made her way across the street and started to run when she heard tires squeal close to her. She bounded up the curb on the next street, the hunger tearing at her belly the way the bad milk had. She wasn't sure how much further she could go when she came upon a man all in white. As she stopped to watch he raised a big wire mesh that covered his store then unlocked the front door, from which she could smell all kinds of food inside. He had on a pointed hat and she didn't know why exactly, but he looked kind. He looked down at her and didn't try to pet her or pick her up, which she found reassuring. Instead he went inside and came out a minute later with a bowl in one hand and a carton in the other. He poured fresh milk into the bowl, set in it down, then backed off, so as not to frighten her. Her hunger made her daring and she approached the bowl. The milk smelled sweet and she lapped it all up then looked at the man, as if to say "Give me more!"
The man went back inside and soon reappeared with a small can, which he opened up and put in front of her. The Lortons had been feeding her a special food for small dogs with delicate stomachs and this food was nothing like that, but it smelled delicious and it was chewy. After she finished it she wasn't sure she could hold it down, but her ravished little digestive system handled it and she looked up again, for the food had made her thirsty. The man understood and he poured her another small bowl of milk, which she lapped up hastily. He squatted down but didn't move toward her. She'd never been bold enough to approach a stranger before but she inched up to him, licked his fingers and let him pet her. Soon she was bounding down the street in the direction she hoped her home was, her strength renewed. People looked down as she carefully stepped between them on the busy street. Several people tried to pet her but she kept moving as quickly as her little legs would take her. Dire necessity forced her to learn quickly and now before she jumped off curbs, she waited for people to come - for they seemed to know when it was safe to cross - and she went with them.
Finally, she was past the busy part of town and in a neighborhood like her own. This one was a decided improvement over the slovenly place she'd been held kept captive in and it didn't reek of garbage. She trotted toward a yard with a boy and two dogs in it. The boy was younger than the one who'd taken him away from his home but older than the Lorton kids. Neither dog was large but they were full grown and a lot bigger than Brownie. One looked like a much larger version of herself: barrel-chested, long and low to the ground and colored black and tan with short hair. It didn't growl but it looked mean and she was glad for the imposing wire fence which stood between them. The fence wasn't like the loose screen she'd been able to tear away from the door or the flimsy chicken wire she dug under; this wire was heavy stuff, held up by thick, sturdy-looking silver poles that looked like they were buried deep into the ground.
"Look mom!" yelled the boy as Brownie approached the yard. She heard the front door open then looked over to see a woman around Mrs. Lorton's age coming outside. "She doesn't even have a collar," the boy continued to yell, followed by "I'm gonna get her!" "I don't know," said the mother too late, for her boy was over the fence in a jiffy and chasing Brownie down the street. She ran as fast as she could, but she was still a baby and the boy caught her and scooped her up in his arms. He brought her back to the yard, opened the gate and presented her to his mother, who only said "I don't know ..." "Look, no collar," said the boy, "nobody owns her - I'm gonna keep her. Can I, mom?" The mother looked perplexed for a minute then said "Oh, I guess so" and went back inside, followed by the boy. He didn't dig his fingers into her sides or hit her, but she knew she was in trouble again. "Maybe she hasn't eaten," said the boy, "Let's feed her." "She can wait till the others eat," said the mother. Brownie couldn't understand what they were saying but she wasn't hungry in any case. The boy carried her over to the sofa, where he set her down then proceeded to pet her. He was gentle and he seemed genuinely fond of her.
When it was finally time for the dogs to eat Brownie was hungry again. The lady put three bowls of food on the floor. It was food Brownie hadn't tasted or smelled before, not horrible like the sour milk and not tasty like the pungent-smelling treat the man in white had given her. It was edible, though and by the time Brownie had stopped smelling and tasting it the other dogs had wolfed theirs down and turned their attention to Brownie's dish. They pushed her aside and devoured her food. She'd only gotten a few bites and it was only the meal from the man in the street that kept her from going hungry like she had the night before. The bullying and stealing her food were bad enough, but it was only the beginning. The big Dachshund was named Fritzy and immediately after eating Brownie's food he seemed to need some exercise, which he got by using his head to knock her on her side. She wasn't hurt so she unwisely got up and was immediately knocked down again for her trouble. This time she stayed down and Fritzy glowered at her, as if to say "Just try to get up again."
"Fritzy, you're being bad," said the boy, who picked up Brownie and set her on the couch again. She thought she was safe, but the other dog, a true mutt by the name of Sammy, jumped up before the boy could stop him and bit her on the ear. When Brownie yelped the boy knocked Sammy off the couch, yelled at him and at the mutt ran away. The rest of the day was spent alternating between the couch, trying to find places to hide and exploring the front yard, where the three dogs were allowed to roam several times a day. As expected, Fritzy knocked Brownie down over and over, daring her to get up and Brownie was afraid she wouldn't even be allowed to relieve herself, but sooner or later something always distracted the bigger dog and when he turned his attention elsewhere Brownie ran into the bushes next to the house, where she could both relieve herself and attempt to hide.
The second day in this place was a repetition of the first, except there was no delicious breakfast given by a kindly man in white clothes. Brownie just managed a few bites of food before the rest of it was "liberated" by the other dogs, who seemed to delight in her abuse. The boy was protective and he managed to fend them off quite a bit of the time, but he went out a lot and then she was on her own. The mutt had bitten her ears several times and they stung. She was desperate for places to hide, but there didn't seem to be any safe ones. The times she was left alone in the yard by the other dogs she made her way to the fence, which she tied to dig under, but here it was rough going. The crab grass went right up to the fence and it was so thick she could barely tear through it. Any time she started to make some headway along came one of the other dogs, which sent her scurrying away as fast as she could, to no avail. They always caught her within seconds, at which point she had one of two options: fall down and stay down if Fritzy caught her or if it was Sammy, squeal before and during the inevitable ear biting and hope the boy was home to grab the mutt and make it stop. She learned it was pointless to expect help from the woman.
By the third day at this house Brownie was feeling as weak from lack of food as she did the morning after she was taken. But this day the boy stayed home and he gave most of his attention to her. He put her on the couch and looked at her, like he was concerned. He'd been chewing from a soft brown-colored stick of food, which he took out of his mouth and gave to her. It was the sweetest thing she had ever tasted but even that little bit of food gave her strength. He looked closely at one of her ears and touched it, which made her yelp, as it stung from all the bites. He yelled toward the back of the house: "Mom, you should see her ears - we got to do something about this." "What?" came from another room, sounding far away. "Her ears, they're all bit up. The other dogs musta done it. She doesn't look so good ... I think she's sick." "What?" came again from somewhere in the house. "I think we should take her to a vet." That brought the woman out to the living room. "The vet? You think we're made of money?" The boy answered "We don't want her to die, do we?" The woman looked pensive "Oh, she'll be all right - dogs are tough, especially puppies. She'll mend OK." "Look at her ears - there's blood. She really got bit - she's in pain. I just touched 'em and she screamed. And I don't think she's eatin' - look at her." "Well, let me look." The woman grabbed one of the injured ears, prompting Brownie to yelp as she never had in her life. "Stop it - you're hurtin' her!" yelled the boy. "No, I'm not, let me see," said the woman, reaching for the other ear.
The boy was too quick for her. He knocked his mother's hand away, jumped up with Brownie in his arms and headed out the front door, followed by Fritzy and the mutt. "Come back here," his mother yelled as he opened the gate and ran down the sidewalk, the other dogs taking advantage of the open gate to run off in the other direction. Apparently, the boy was as perplexed and frightened as Brownie, for he just kept running, so far and so fast she felt like she was getting a ride in a car. Finally, he stopped and looked around to find himself in a neighborhood with huge houses surrounded by spacious, well-manicured lawns. The boy carried Brownie up to an enormous white house, set her down in front of the door and rang the doorbell. She looked around at the large wooden porch, with its rocking chairs and small tables and colorful plants hung everywhere. She could smell food coming from inside and looked up at the door and noticed a huge brass knocker and small windows above it. She'd never seen a house this big, which momentarily distracted her from the pain in her ears and from the boy who'd just risked his mother's wrath to save him from a house of horrors. She turned to see him running away at a speed she didn't think humans were capable of. Within a few seconds the boy was down the block and out of sight.
"Well my goodness, what do we have here?" came a kindly-sounding female voice from the door, which had opened when Brownie was studying the disappearing form of the boy she could only regard as her savior. In other times she would have run at the sound of a stranger's voice, but now she was so frightened and weak from lack of nourishment she just sat there, looking up and hoping for better luck in this new place. "Francine, come here, quick," said the lady, who appeared to be quite a bit older than Mrs. Lorton. Soon a younger lady appeared and quickly bent down to look at Brownie. "Look - her ears are bitten up," said the younger one. The older one said "She's not wearing a collar - I don't understand. She's a Dachshund, isn't she? Dachshunds are pedigreed - now who'd let a dog like that run loose without a collar?" "She's been mistreated, you can see that," said the younger one. "Let's take her in. I hate people who abuse their dogs ... let's feed her, poor thing looks like she's starving." The younger one carefully picked her up, one hand under the rear legs, the other under her chest and soon they were all in a large kitchen, where Brownie was gently set down on a throw rug as the two women ran around looking for food. The older one said "We don't have any dog food - can she eat what Rani does?" "Cat food? I don't see why not," said the younger one, opening a small can of food that smelled exactly like what the kindly store owner had fed her on the street. "Here, baby - this is tuna," she said. "It's good." She put the contents on a plate and Brownie devoured it in seconds. She started to cough and choke, not from the food but from eating too fast. "Oh, I forgot, she'll still a puppy, maybe that's too heavy for her," said the young one. "Let me think ... we've still got some baby formula in the house; I'll give her that." "Good idea," said the older one, who retrieved milk from the refrigerator, put it in a pan, mixed in the formula and heated it up. A few minutes later the three were on a couch, with the younger woman holding Brownie in her arms and feeding her the warm mixture from a baby bottle. Her ears still hurt, but it was the first time she'd felt safe since having been stolen. As she sucked the liquid, she started to feel her strength come back. After draining the bottle, she fell asleep.
She was awakened by the sound of older woman, who was talking on the telephone. "That's right, she's a foundling. We opened the front door and there she was, just looking up at us: dirty, her ears all bitten up, looking like a starved and abused child." There was a long pause and then she said "OK, we'll clean her up then bring her over." A few minutes later Brownie was in a large pan in a bathtub, feeling warm water wash over her. The water contained soap, a smell she remembered coming from a certain room in the Lortons'. Some of the soap got on her ears, which made them sting, but she wasn't afraid anymore and felt these new people were caring and loving, like the Lortons. The two women dried her off with large towels and were careful not to rub her ears. The younger woman carried her out to the car and held her as the other one drove. A short time later they came to a one-story brick building, inside which other people were sitting with their dogs. She was set down by the younger woman on a long bench, where she fell asleep.
This time she was awakened by a man's voice. He was all dressed in white, like the kind man in the city who fed her. He gently picked her up and carried her into a large room, where a girl looked her over and petted her. Brownie felt a pinch as the man inserted a needle into her. It was like the ones she'd received before being taken home by the Lortons. Next, he put something wet and cold on her ears, which made them sting again, but she was starting to mind the pain less and less, as she instinctively knew the two women and this man were taking care of her. Finally, the man and the girl brought her back into the waiting room. "I think she'll be all right," said the man. "I don't think the baby formula hurt her, but I'd give her this - just follow the directions on the cans" he said, handing over a good-sized package. The older woman took some green pieces of paper from her pocket and gave them to the man.
She soon found herself back at home on the sofa, where she fell asleep again, this time for much longer. When she woke it was dark outside and the two women were watching the box with the moving pictures inside it. Brownie had a feeling the pictures were only meant for the humans but she could follow them too, even though they kept changing and sometimes didn't make any sense. What confused her the most was that it could be night time outside like it was now, but the box showed people in the daylight and sometimes it was the other way around. This time the box showed first a man talking and then a woman and they were both seated at desks. It wasn't the most exciting thing she'd ever seen, but the two women who'd taken her in seemed engrossed in it, so she figured what the people in the box were saying must be important. She was about to doze off again when a small dog appeared in the box. It was long and short with tan hair and appeared to be a baby, like her. Her sore ears picked up when she heard her name, "Brownie," coming from the box. She jumped up and squealed at what she saw next: the Lortons, all four of them, right there in the box. She was so excited she jumped around the couch and barked, making her new parents look at her. Finally, the young one said "That must be her home - she's the one they've been saying was stolen along Lexington Avenue." "I hate that area," said the older one. "So many crummy people around there." The younger woman got up, ran over to the black thing on the table that people talked into and came back to the couch with a sheet of paper and a small, thin stick. "We've got to call her family," she said. Now the box had funny lines on it, which made the younger woman touch the stick to the paper many times, after which she walked to the box and touched it to make it silent. Next, she walked back to the black thing, picked it up and spoke into it. Then Brownie heard the familiar name again: "Hello, Mrs. Lorton?"
A short time later she was getting another ride in a car, being petted and fussed over in turn by all four of the Lortons, who seemed awfully glad to see her again. No matter how glad they were it couldn't approach the way Brownie felt. Soon she was back home and in her little basket with the blankets, where she slept for the longest time she had in days. When she woke it was daylight and she felt the twin needs to eat and to relieve herself. She expected to be let out the front door and proceed on her walk the way she always had, but this time things were different. Her mommy put another collar around her neck, tied a leash onto it and took her for her walk. It felt funny, not being able to go wherever she liked and at her own pace, but she felt safe and after her ordeal that - and the love of her family - were all that mattered.