Cal was a Beagle, and he had flat ears that dropped cutely on the sides of his head. He had a loud bark and a proud head and he walked with a gait that was neither brisk nor trotting. But these are all usual things to describe a dog and most dogs come around that, more or less. What could Cal do that needs a mention here?
He is a part of the story.
But, what else?
Oh, he was gentlemanly, and when this story starts, confused. He stood with all his legs but one, down on the concrete. The one that was not was curled up, hung, but it was not limp. He stood like that, outside, staring inside the mart that belonged to his owner, Elias. Cal was moving his head from him, who was sleeping, to the back of the mart, where a deranged person was causing a commotion. Cal, he could not see who that person was.
He was barking a feeble woof, and his lips would flap every time he barked. Nothing about him had any effect on the blond child sitting on the pony ride on his right. That child just stared ahead at the faraway woods, the rhythm of the machine a guide to his daze. But Cal had seen him, and he sensed that the lunatic, who was now half appearing behind a shelf, was the mother of this kid.
For good reason, Cal always carried a pen around his neck and hope in his heart that if needed he would find some paper when he needed his faithful pen. From the collar around his neck hung that pen and a tag that spelled his name in capitals in a fashion that would have rather suited the word ‘pow’.
This pen hung from a thin metal link chain that ended on the top of its cap. By a manner that came to him easily, and which befuddled anyone who saw him do it, he would clutch the pen in his mouth, the nib outside, and anywhere that he knew he could write, he would write. He knew only basics, but he knew them well.
So you had asked what could Cal do for a story of his own? He could write using his mouth, as he was going to do on the half soggy newspaper he had dropped on the ground. But it wasn’t just that, he was going to change Mark’s life.
With his snout, he opened the single folded newspaper and pushed it flat in the direction of the kid, who still did not budge.
He pulled out his pen, with a maneuver that involved his head going down, twisting a little so his wet nose could have an angle to push the pen at. Then he would give it a flick, and in the moment that the pen stayed upright in the air, his swift head would come up, catch it and wedge it between his tongue and his upper teeth. He would pull it, calmly. One click, he knew was what it took, and then the pen came out smoothly.
He wrote on the newspaper, in scraggy lines, “Boy, mother,” and then he stopped. Squinting his eyes in concentration, he recalled all the worlds in his vocabulary and selecting a few, wrote them down. By the end of it all, the finished words were: “Boy, mother, look, listen, what”
The boy, who had been christened Mark by the mother who was busy at the back of the mart emptying the shelves, did not move.
Cal raised his right paw and rapped on the pony. The boy heard scratches, but he was frozen to the spot and so afraid that he could not look down because he half disbelieved in reality now.
Cal kept at it, his paws rapping at the pony furtively, for he was afraid that if either of the two people inside saw him, he would get in some trouble. Whenever there was trouble with him, it ended with Elias not giving him food for three days. He shook the thought from his head and immediately heard something.
There was the noise of shaking and rattling and bottles breaking from afar. The mart was long but narrow. It was named “LY Mart”, in a rambunctious fashion.
Mark was already afraid, scared, and morbid about his life. His mother was inside. And lately, she had been acting like someone else. That could be explained, but for a bony frame like hers, and with the gentle person she was, lately, she had been acting nothing like it.
They were coming back from camping where his mother for a brief while had disappeared into the woods and then came back with her long hair dreadfully clumped with twigs and leaves and dust.
She had gently and sweetly asked him to pack up. The person was anything but who he knew. It was the voice he obeyed and thus in ten minutes or less, they were heading back home which was miles and miles away as Mark could recall, through the wide roads. And they had traveled for miles already, he knew it.
The mother was morphing and morphing, without any change in appearance but the person inside her was fighting for supremacy and command over the body. There was an ancient Red Indian Cannibal that unbeknownst to all, was competing with the mother for precedence over her existence.
When they had been at the camp, and she had gone to relieve herself into the woods, a wild and deranged Red Indian from ages past had resurfaced in his primeval form. He had come up exactly where his home was and the woods where the mother and son camped, with its Elms and Oaks and Mahogany and more, was his home.
Soon as he had appeared, he had flung himself atop a branch of the nearest Beech. He had heard the soft rustle of someone's overcoat against the layer of dead leaves and shrubs and twigs that coated the earth. For all its confusion upon landing right in the center of some strange land he had vague memories of, he had murmured a battle cry. It was a shout that hovered between the shrill and the mad, the savage and the mindful, and it was loud enough for everyone to hear within the radius of a mile. Mark had heard it, but his mother had not, because the Red Indian inside her that she had battled with, in a space of the first ten years of her life and subjugated, that is who heard the cry. Thus, the mother had run on her fragile limbs that lacked the strength for it. She had run after what, no one knew, but she had run and climbed, and the primate in her had arisen in all its vigor.
Cal was agitated beyond control now, and he stamped the pony with his forelegs, with an aggressive purpose. The pony responded by stopping and sinking down. It kept leaping but gallop it would not. The rhythm thus broken, Mark turned and glared at the dog who was now worried and irritated and even more scared than before. However, what Mark saw in the canine was just concern.
Beating the ground with his legs, alternately, Cal pointed at the back of the mart when he was sure he had the attention of Mark. Mark turned around and saw what his mother was doing. At that time, she was pulling down all the colorful items she would otherwise buy him. The pink gummy marshmallows, the confectionary he never knew the name of but could tell by its taste and even the soda pop that was green in the beginning but turned purple within three minutes of opening.
Cal laid his right paw on Mark's sneaker, who had a mop of blond down his forehead and gray-blue eyes that made him look sadder than he was. But Mark kept looking at the conflict of his mother which felt like his own conflict.
To get a reaction and break him from his daze, Cal barked a spittle ejecting bark that sounded like a threat.
"Ow!" cried Mark, and palmed his ears. "What do you want?"
With his right paw, Cal tapped at the message that he had written on the newspaper. Mark looked at it, squinting his eyes for a few seconds. Cal realized he could not read it, so he turned his head at an angle and looked at Mark and sighed in his brain. He expected that all humans could read. Then he quickly understood and with his nose, turned the paper around. Mark read it, though he didn't find any hope in it, and only looked more melancholic.
That thing in question had started looking less like a mother and more like an alien in recognizable form.
Mark could not comprehend the message by the dog, so Cal bent down to write some more.
He wrote: “run, us, away” with the stem of the 'y' trailing the whole length of the paper and going far out.
When Mark responded by reading this new information, he looked quizzical and unsure. A dog that writes? What was the world coming to now? He looked into Cal’s eyes to examine them, to look for some oddity which would alert him and then he would run, run away from everyone. But he found nothing except sincerity and truth.
Mark had been watching his mother the entire ride to this mart, and she had been fighting a lost battle with the other person, who was ruthless and feral. He had seen more of the other person all that time, and less of the woman he loved the most in his life and always would. He had a feeling that Cal was right about this. He knew it too. But...
"She, she has my action figure…" he muttered, hoping that would be a plausible excuse to give for being so passive and afraid, and that Cal would understand. But Cal was not a common dog, he was an unusual one.
Mark slapped his forehead and looked inside, "My Optimus Prime."
Now understanding this was tough. Cal could understand that the boy's mother had something of his with her, but he was slightly baffled by the boy’s stupidity. He had expected a human to be better than him.
As soon as he turned his head back from looking inside to Cal, he said, as if Cal had asked him already, a straightforward "No". He would not leave without his Optimus. It was an easy answer, thoughtless, trivial, important.
They looked back and saw the woman, the reincarnated Red Indian approach the reception. It looked strange, and it was pure agony and hurt for Mark to watch this. The Red shabby Indian in his mother winked at him, just like his mother frequently did to make him smile.
She tapped on the tabletop and at no response, hit the buzzer. Elias awoke with a start and looked up.
What he saw was unusual, but he could see that it was beautiful too, maybe after some work. Yes, the woman required some work on herself but she was fine, he thought.
"How can I help you, miss?" he asked, questioningly. His sight turned outside and he saw Mark, and corrected his hope.
"I have an issue. I need your computer. It must be at your office? But I don't know how to use a computer. Would you help me with it? You must have the internet, I suppose?" the Red Indian sweet-talked the way her rival would, and that was the horror that the kids were watching. The two had merged, or the mother had capitulated in servitude to her stronger opponent.
"Of course!" Elias spoke, although he did not get what to make of this request. But he hoped she wanted what he wished she wanted and he wanted.
But he smiled, thinking that this was easy and he kept smiling all the way back to his office.
Suddenly, Cal was seized by urgency. He bit the lower end of Mark’s jeans and pulled him.
“Hey, what are you,- but, why – alright stop doing it, I’m coming down,” he said and he descended. Soon as he was down, Cal bit the lower end again and pulled the boy inside the mart.
Cal pushed the door lightly with his nose, though he had wanted to do the opposite to hear the chime of the bell on top of the entrance door. One last time.
They went in and they were running for the room at the back but a decisional snap told Mark to stay away. He did not want to go there now and he preferred fleeing suddenly. He cowered before Cal, who now seemed vexed at this child.
But Mark had made up his mind and they made a dash for the exit. As they went out, Mark skidded to a halt right at the doorway for he had seen the purse, at the counter!
He retreated his action figure, and for a moment, stood rooted to his spot, adoring it and running his little fingers over its gloss and colors. But when they heard a loud smack like a blunt tool striking soft flesh, Cal leaped up at the counter, and grabbed Optimus Prime in his mouth, and ran outside.
Cal easily outdistanced Mark, Optimus whipping through the air in his mouth, and stopped after half a mile. Mark, who ran and ran as the little kids do, felt like in one stride he had covered three. Soon, he stopped where Cal was now sitting, and panted, bent down with his hands clutching his knees. He could not rest for long, for in the next moment, he heard a familiar hum, a hum of an engine behind him. There were at a bend so he looked to get into the woods, but he didn’t find Cal anywhere until the dog barked. Mark ran after him. They stood at a distance from the road so the dense foliage hid them well, their view in little patches visible to the outside. All Mark could see was his mother, in her grace and confident poise, the real driver of that car, but it was really the Red Indian driving it.
He looked forlorn and was on the verge of tears when he heard a loud bark from behind him. He almost fell but as he got up from the ground in annoyance, he looked at Cal, tongue hanging out of his mouth, looking back. He was standing under the spread of sunlight, and he glowed. He beckoned Cal to come, and Cal did come, albeit with a slight feeling of trepidation about the future that he had now. But he went, into the sunlight, that was still as warm as it would always be for him.