More than Barking

Submitted by Christine Hungerford to Contest #10 in response to: Write a story about two friends who have a knack for understanding each other better than anyone else.... view prompt

Astrid clomped down from the last step in the firetruck and then turned around to watch her best friend, Meteorite, descend and then hit the ugly beige and white speckled cement floor underneath the silver diamond-decorated stairs in front of Astrid and him.      

           Once the firefighter and the Dalmatian were out of the firetruck together, she pattered tiredly but happily about the long day of shooting fire from two houses. When Meteorite looked like he had had enough of her words, he gave a lame howl. Astrid agreed reluctantly, turned around and then started walking towards the door to “check my emails and look at Excel spreadsheets,” she told him importantly.     

           But Meteorite whined. Astrid groaned, wheeled around and then concernedly watched him lower his head in submission, his eyes away from her.

           “Meteorite!” Astrid went over to him and knelt down like always. “What’s going on?”

           Meteorite kept his eyes from hers like he was mentally battling whether to tell her something personal. Astrid waited, petting his head repeatedly. Still, Meteorite wouldn’t budge, and Astrid craned her neck and looked at him to see whether she could help him.

               Meteorite remained the same, avoiding eye contact.

               “Okay, buddy. Should there be any real problems, I might not be able to save you.” Astrid got up, knowing that Meteorite wasn’t in any real danger; he just didn’t always tell her because she’d just laugh aloud and tell him he needn’t worry.

               “Well, if you’re just going to be a Dalmatian weirdo and not tell me what’s going on, I’ll walk away now. Besides,” Astrid said, turning around now, “I need to get back to work. It’s been a day!”

Then she spun on her heel and continued down the garage towards the faded brick red door, then turning the knob and entering. I don’t have time for him right now! Astrid regrettably shook her head, ignoring Meteorite’s whines. Yeah—maybe we need to play fetch more or something.    

           As she turned her office door’s knob and then swung the door away from her, Astrid heard one of her fellow firefighters behind her. He was letting her know that there was a visitor at the first door.  

           “Oh!” She turned away and went anxiously over to it. Opening it and seeing no one, Astrid looked confusedly around and then down.

“Meteorite!” Astrid laughed dryly. “What are you doing?”

           Suddenly, the other firefighter laughed, and Astrid stared back at him like Meteorite’s presence was anything but.      

“He sure wants to be with you!” And then he walked away, shaking his red and yellow helmeted head.

           Astrid sighed, returned to Meteorite and jerked the door open. “Come on in, boy!”

           Once Meteorite joyfully trotted into the building like he had invited himself inside, he turned around to see Astrid push the door closed and then walk back to her desired office cove. Hoping to distract her so she could play, Meteorite trotted over to her favorite evergreen lounge chair to make himself comfortable, like he was settling in front of a nice crackling fire. Displaying his rump automatically to the lounge’s big glass windows, he circled around and then plopped down. He finished his little routine with panting, assuming Astrid had seen the whole show. However, his owner was nowhere to be seen. He moved his head and saw the back of her leather striped firefighter outfit through red-rimmed glass windows.

So she had already went back to her office. Astrid, Meteorite realized, had closed herself off to him. He may be the mascot of the fire station here in Amherst, New York—which was because he always barked jealously when all the firefighters boasted that they were proud of their Getzville Knights picture on the side of their firetruck as if he had deemed himself the mascot—but he was also Astrid’s pet. So no wonder Meteorite always buddied up with Astrid whenever she went to work at the fire station as well as everywhere else—including the grocery store.          

           Well, maybe Astrid would leave him in the car, but Meteorite saw it differently—both owner and dog were like mother and daughter, or father and son. Astrid was not only one of the firefighters; she was also his owner, which meant that he expected her to value him above everything else, even her job. Of course Astrid loved Meteorite more than any other animal, much less her office and its computer, but he hoped that Astrid wasn’t going to devote herself to her job and shun Meteorite completely—   

           Meteorite shook his head, his tag jingling as it hit the collar’s buckle. No way! That thought was a lie. He stared at the ground absentmindedly and then just lay his head down. He looked up expectantly at Astrid’s door, waiting wishfully that she’d come through with a toy and the desire to throw it to him outside on the grass.         

           “You okay, buddy?”

Meteorite groaned inwardly but kept looking at Astrid’s door. He felt fingers rub his head and then boots and leather striped pants passed him. Meteorite whined like he just wanted Astrid to come through that door.    

           Suddenly, the fire alarm went off, flashing its blindingly bright light. Meteorite scrambled up and dashed over to Astrid, who was busy fixing her helmet on. She then scrambled out of the building and clambered onto the fire truck. Once she had buckled herself into one of the seats, Astrid made sure Meteorite was onboard.

           He soon flew up the stairs and blocked the two other seats beside Astrid with his body as he stood in front of her right leg and put his head on her thigh. Astrid, like so many times before, rubbed his head, and his tail wagged hard but happily. He always returned Astrid’s affections.      

           “Are you his best friend because you’re his owner?” A firefighter mocked while the crew’s vehicle screamed down the car-infested street, but someone chided her.

           “Close it, Cameron!”

           “Just asking.” Cameron smirked, but then she looked away. Astrid looked out one of the windows. Suddenly, Meteorite shifted nervously away from her and then actually leapt up onto one of the chairs and climbing up, head facing the back window. Astrid whipped around as he started barked furiously.

           “Meteorite!”

She unstrapped herself, and got up on her knees to look behind her. She widened her eyes. “There’s a child on the tracks!” She yelled hysterically to the rest of the truck. “I think she’s struggling to get off!”  

           The firetruck driver responded by turning the vehicle safely but hurriedly into the grass so the firefighters could blast out and save the girl in time.                     

           Astrid was barely out of the firetruck before it halted immediately upon exiting its lane. Once the firefighter hurriedly opened the doors, Astrid leapt like a gazelle across the stairs. Dashing towards the railroad-bound child, she screamed back for the other firefighters to hurry it up. Astrid whipped her head backwards for a split second, but the other crew looked like they were running in slow motion. Returning to the terrifying scene, Astrid forced herself to run faster. She felt like her coat was weighing her down, so she shed it and then yelled for Meteorite to come help her.        

           A flash of black and white appeared, and the Dalmatian was right on the track, growling and pulling fiercely at something. It looked like the child’s shoelace. Throwing herself down besides the sobbing, assumedly terrified girl, Astrid told Meteorite that he was a good boy, and whipped her head over to see the train. It was coming closer, but she still had time.                     

           “It’s going to be okay, honey!” Astrid kept a calm voice as she worked at the shoelace tied to a metal hook sticking out from the edge of the rail. Meteorite did his best to try to get it free, too, but it was tied too tightly. Astrid looked up, wishing a malfunction or rust would stop the train. But no, it had to keep coming towards them. She had to act fast. She told Meteorite she had it, but the dog started barking and angering Astrid. She had no patience at a time like this, and started yelling fiercely at him. This harshness only made the Dalmatian bark louder and jump and down like he was indirectly telling Astrid to play.

           “Get away!” Astrid yelled for all her worth and then screamed, “Get out!”

           Meteorite finally took this rage of fear as a sign he should back off. He leapt crookedly off the rail enough so he would not get hit by the train.     

           “Okay, honey—Patty,” Astrid wanted to be consoling, so she made a name up to help the girl calm down. “Patty, I’m going to get you out of here.” Astrid grabbed the shoe’s heel and then pulled downwards, but that did little to get the foot out. She then fumbled in her pocket for a knife, and found one. Switching it open and then looking up at the nearing train, Astrid knew there was no time. She was just going to have to get the shoe off the kid. She jammed the knife back in her pocket and then grabbed Patty’s ankle, struggling to pull it out. Fortunately, Patty, who was calm enough to hear Astrid tell her how to get free, lifted her foot up out of the shoe. Finally, Astrid cupped the girl’s underarms and dragged her backwards off the track a few seconds before the train’s engine came whistling down the track. She turned Patty around and then put her arms around her, rubbing her back and talking soothingly to her as Patty heaved and asked for her “Mommie.”       

           “I want my Mommy!” Patty then cried, tears starting to escape from her eyes. “I’m not Patty. I’m Trina!”

           “We’ll get you to your mother, Trina.” Astrid answered calmly. She looked to the left and saw a car with firemen and women surrounding it. Astrid led Trina by the hand over to her parent’s car. Once the girl was tucked safely in the silver Lexus with a blanket wrapped around her and her seatbelt locked into place, Astrid closed the car door and just managed to keep her anger in check as she leered down at the woman who was getting out to personally thank, of course, all the other firefighters. The black-jacketed parent stuck her hand out to shake a fellow crew member, but he pointed a finger at Astrid.                

           “No, ma’am. None of us get any credit. It was all Astrid and her dog, Meteorite.”

           Meteorite! Astrid suddenly felt a sickening jolt. Where was he? She searched frantically, but couldn’t find him.  

           “Meteorite!” Astrid yelled through her cupped hand. Then she remembered something that reduced her panic—she knew he always came when called.    

           “Meteorite!” But Astrid still had a terrible feeling despite the calm that was the only sensation she wanted to have. What if …? Then she had a heart-stopping moment. What if Meteorite never made it off the track? What if he …   

           No, Astrid believed, he did not get hit. He saved himself. He was smarter than that. So Astrid started shouting for Meteorite. After a half-hour of attempting to find Meteorite, Astrid saw something white over in the strip of forest way beyond the tracks. Leaping over the tracks and onto the grass on the other side, Astrid barely hit the ground barely before she scampered wildly, keeping her eyes focused on the white. It didn’t move. But Astrid just couldn’t doubt it.       

           When she approached the patch of white, Astrid halted herself roughly and slapped back a leaf to self-reveal a black and white Dalmatian with his head down and his forepaws turned under his forearms. His hindquarters shook and his tail hid completely under his rear end so his tail was a mere stump of whiteness.              

           “Meteorite—it’ll be okay.” Astrid kneeled took a hold of the terrified dog’s collar, and Meteorite climbed shakily up from the grass and leaves to go with her back on the grass and towards the railroad. To Astrid, who was walking straight up next to Meteorite, the firefighters had spread out. Some were assessing the situation to make sure all was safe. A couple of them asked whether Meteorite and Astrid were safe.       

           “He’s here.” Astrid called, and one of them nodded. Someone in a gruff voice called her out from everyone else.

           “Here, Chief!” Astrid walked quickly up to the white-shirted, decorated man with a grey moustache and blue eyes. “I’m fine.” She looked from Meteorite to the captain. “He’s shaking, but I think it was just the train that scared him.”

           The chief looked at Meteorite and then shifted his eyes over to Astrid. “Train him.”

           Then he walked away, leaving Astrid and Meteorite standing there. Astrid thought about what her superior said, sighed in frustration and looked down at Meteorite as they walked back to the firetruck. “Well,” she said, letting her fingers fall and touch his head so she wouldn’t allow the chief’s verbal blow to be too harsh, “I guess we have to work on saving lives better.”  

           Meteorite barked. Astrid walked a little past him.

           “Yeah, well, maybe you need to work on it!”

           And she ruffled the Dalmatian’s head hair, but then whined and let out a sound Astrid’s never heard before.

           “Meteorite!” Astrid whipped around, checking to see what was causing the dog to cry out in such pain. She then saw a bloodied right hind foot, and yelled for some firefighters to carry Meteorite to the firetruck. Boots pounded on the grass and then some hands scooped Meteorite up as Astrid told them the problem while the firefighters ran towards and into the truck.         

           “We’ll get him to an animal hospital, quick!”

           The order was direct—the driver shut the doors, stepped on the pedal and the truck was blazing towards the hospital as fast as, well, a Dalmatian running. Which was speedy.   

           As Astrid watched Meteorite pant beside her as he lay on the two chairs beside her, it was all she could not to let her anger loose. Take it out on the train, the railroad, the fact that Meteorite was hurt but, most importantly, her own captain. The chief was the one who saw them get along unstoppably—from cookouts on Fourth of July (with Meteorite eating a hotdog right out of one of the chief’s hands and the chief standing there and staring in disbelief while all the crew roared and clapped) to Christmas parties with Meteorite getting a new bone stuffed with meat and bacon Astrid gave him. He knew how close those two were.

           Now he was telling her that she couldn’t do anything else but watch a dog get hit by a train, it seemed like. Astrid didn’t do anything rash once she was riding with the firetruck and its members to the hospital. But she wanted to stand up for herself and have the same thing happen that occurred before—someone pointed out that she was the one who had saved the girl—because Meteorite had been trained. Trained to care about others and thus save their lives. Either himself or with Astrid.    

           Suddenly, the chief spoke up, and Astrid looked up at him. “That dog is going to have to stay in the hospital for some time now, Astrid. Unless you can come up with some way to keep him from getting hit or banged up or some other life or death situation, I would keep him at home.”      

           “But sir, we’ve been together for so long. We can’t just break apart.” As Astrid ended, she could hear the begging tone.  

           “I saw him run away into the forest like a coward!” The chief’s eyes blazed. ““If he can’t handle a train, then he’s not fit to work with you. If you can’t handle keeping him home as your pet, you can’t work here, either.” And he pulled something out from behind him. “Here’s your coat.”

           “What are you saying, sir?” Astrid asked, catching her coat. “And thank you.” She could barely hold the dynamite of feelings and truth from exploding and being understood. But she held it in for Meteorite’s sake.

           “I’m saying that Meteorite needs to be the mascot, and only the mascot. If you want to train him better, do that. Meanwhile, work your job. Dalmatians are mascots, not partners.”  

           “So … he can’t work anymore?”

           “He’s your pet. Keep him that way.” The chief then asked the driver when they would reach the hospital.

           “Fifteen seconds, sir.” He answered.

           “Good.”


           Months passed, and Astrid started to see that Meteorite really needed space other than her home to run he began doing once his foot healed two weeks ago. She then brought him to the chief’s office the next day, and showed him what he could do.

           But the chief denied it.

           “Tell him to do that at home.” He returned to his paperwork.

           “Yes, sir.” Astrid said, and then closed the door only to open it back up half a year later. The chief waved her in and told Meteorite and her to sit down.      

           “That dog succeeds, and it stays. It doesn’t, and you’re not working here anymore!” The chief growled.

           Meteorite barked, as if to tell the man that he would succeed.

           “I better.” The chief narrowed his eyes at Meteorite.

           Meteorite barked again only to reassure him.


           Astrid woke right up a few mornings later. She was determined not to get fired or have Meteorite lose his job, either.

           “Let’s go show him, Meteorite!”

               This line started the day.    

           When the chief asked, “Coming tomorrow?” Meteorite barked his response loud and proud.

           “See you bright and early, Dalmatian!”

            And this line ended the day.  

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