Finding Pooky

Trains are full of stories, some of them on the noir side.


Five hundred dark miles until we arrived at our next stop. People were already settling in with blankets and cushions. Some of them even planned on sleeping.

I walked the cars checking tickets before they got too involved. The sleeper cars were next. I tapped on the door and a hand would show me the appropriate number of tickets, except for Cabin 31. It was flung open by an old man who made a move toward where his pockets would have been had he been wearing pants.

“Where are my pants?” he asked. An old woman paused in her undressing to reach under a pile of clothes on the floor and hand him the tickets. I checked them and closed the door.

There are certain things that are not meant for mortal eyes to see.

That was one of them.

I finished my walk and sat at my desk in the closet they call the “Conductor’s Office” I hadn’t been there five minutes when a woman flung the door open.

“You the conductor?”

“Yes’m”

“I’ve lost Pooky”

“Pooky?”

“Yes, she’s about eight pounds and wearing the cutest pink sweater.”

I looked at the woman again, taking in the once carefully coiffed hair, the expensive suit. the even more expensive implants. I made a bet with myself.

“She’s a toy poodle,” I said.

“Of course.”

I owed myself about a million dollars. This was the biggest part of my job. Passengers were always losing things on the train; purses, wallets, their virginity. Most things I could find, some not.

“Where did you last see her?”

“I left her with a man and his daughter in coach. He was wearing a black leather vest. I needed to get off at the last stop.” She sniffled a little. “I broke a nail, and I just couldn’t find my manicure kit.”

“I see.” I send her back to her seat and headed for the dining car. A bit of cheese goes a long way to befriending vicious little dogs. Then I was off to coach.

I found the big man in the leather vest making serious inroads on a bottle of something cheap and alcoholic. When I interrupted him he came off the seat at me. I pushed him back into it. He lunged again. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him back. As he gathered himself for a third try I asked him a question.

“Do you know how fast this train is going?”

“Why should I care?”

“Because it has a lot to do with how painful it will be when I throw you off the train.”

“What do you want?”

“A woman left her poodle with you, she would like it back.”

“That vicious little critter chewed my vest. I sent my daughter to take it back.”

“When was that?”

“How should I know? It was before we left the station.”

“Where is she now?” He just shrugged.

“She is your daughter.”

“Only until I get her to her mother’s. She’s fourteen and can take care of herself.”

I took away the bottle and deposited in the garbage before I looked for the kid.

She sat in the dining car holding a torn shirt with one hand and a coke with the other. I sat down across from her.

“Everyone else was doing it,” she said, “He didn’t like it when I changed my mind.”

“What does he look like?”

“I left him in a fetal position, moaning.”

“Good girl,” She burst into tears, so I offered my handkerchief and waited.

“Aren’t you going to lecture me or something?”

“No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I am looking for the poodle.”

“Pooky? Didn’t they get her back to her owner?”

“Who’s they?”

“An old couple. They acted like kids in love. You know, holding hands, bumping against each other. It was kind of cute. They were in cabin….” She paused in thought.

“Thirty-one,” I said and she nodded.

“Thanks,” I stood up, “You stay here as long as you need.”

“The waiter told me I had to order something to sit here.”

“Usually you do, but tonight is different. If you do want something, just ask. It’s on the house.”

I waved a signal at Frankie and he came over. I left her ordering enough to feed an army.

Back at cabin thirty-one I could hear high pitched barking mixed with other sounds. I knocked on the door and a moment later the old timer flung the door open.

“You’ve come for Pooky,” he said as he deftly caught the small dog that was leaping and snapping at him. “She’s a nice dog, but I’m too old for a threesome.” He handed me the dog and I let Pooky smell the cheese in my hand. She quieted.

“We are running away from our kids,” he said, “They are going to be so angry.” He winked and closed the door. The kid was right. It was kind of cute.

Pooky’s mistress was delighted to see her so I took myself back to my closet.

“Another victory,” I said to the picture of my wife. Twenty years ago she had vanished from this very train. I never found her. I’m still looking, but some things can’t be found.

I turned and watched the darkness pass outside.

Holy Bolts

I can’t remember the nature of this contest, but it must have been a strange one. The combination of Religion and Engineering will produce interesting offspring.


Engineer Third Class Jones looked at the access panel and said a few words that would have earned him penance from the Most Reverend Captain, assuming that said Most Reverend Captain could fit his fat behind through the engineering hatch. Jones gave himself a penance for the disrespectful thinking and looked at the panel again.

No matter how many Notre Maters he said, the bolts were still .675 Specials. As an Engineer Third Class, Jones didn′t have access to the Specials. He looked through his tool pouch anyway in case the Lord Mother had seen fit to put one in his kit. No such luck. Jones wasn′t nearly pious enough to rate the attention of the Lord Mother herself. He glared at the panel and wished it to a bright and fiery place. Since it was only a inanimate panel he didn′t feel guilty about his thoughts. Much

Time was wasting and Deacon Engineer First Class Apollos was expecting him to check the filters on the waste scrubbers before shift end. Those filters stubbornly remained on the other side of the panel. If they weren′t going to come to him; he would have to get to them.

Jones when through his kit again, still no .675 Special, but there was a possibility. It was almost blasphemous, but didn′t Deacon Engineer always say that the Lord Mother helps those who help themselves?

He pulled out the .675 Normal and fit it over the bolt. His needle nosed pliers, opened as far as they would go and one point just fit in the hole in the centre of the bolt.

″If you′re going to strike me dead, Lord Mother″ he said, ″Make a quick job of it. I don′t want to have to listen to Deacon Engineer′s lecture before I die. That and hell would be just too much.″

He twisted the bolt one way while he turned the pliers the other. It always looked so slick when Deacon Engineer used his Special with the gears that formed the words of the Notre Mater so he knew when to stop. Jones just muttered under his breath and guessed. The bolt loosened as easily as a Normal and soon dropped on the floor.

He picked up the bolt and examined it curiously. Other than the hole in the centre there was nothing special about it. He tried the next bolt with just his Normal. The shock ran up his arm and left him lying on the floor twitching. By all Maxwell′s little demons that hurt!

He put the pliers in the hole and once again removed the bolt easily. He didn′t play with the other bolts but quickly took them out and lifted the panel free. He carefully set it to the side and laid the bolts in order beside it. First off, last on; that was first catechism, he followed it religiously.

The light on the other side of the access panel glowed dim and red. He double checked his flash as he put his tools back in his kit. He would only use it in an emergency. It was scripture that things were the way they were for a reason. Introducing a white light into this hellish red glow might have catastrophic consequences. Jones ran through the fourth catechism and decided that he was still safe, but he

wouldn′t waste anytime exploring this new territory.

Jones followed Deacon Engineer′s instructions carefully. Forward six lengths then left two. Pause for two Notre Maters, then forward again to a panel which all glory to the Lord Mother had Normal bolts. He had this panel off in seconds and peered at the filter covers. They were held on by .675 Specials.  The filter cover was directly over a grate on the floor. He cursed a bit, then said his penance. He said a bit extra for later; he was sure he was going to use them up. The first bolt wasn′t too bad or the second. For the third bolt he had to lie on the floor and somehow fit both arms through the small access hatch. The last bolt was impossible. He just couldn′t reach it with both hands. Somehow he would have to hold the pliers and wrench in the same hand and twist them in opposite directions. He lay on his back and looked at the situation. He practised the necessary motion. He might be able to do this.

″Once again, Dear Lord Mother,″ he breathed, ″Instantaneous death is much preferable.″

He was astonished when everything went well; until the bolt almost fell through the grate. Unfortunately in his wildly fortunate catch of the bolt he dropped his pliers. They bounced on the grate  then slipped through the spaces. He heard them clattering down into the Engineering level below him.

He spent several minutes running up his need for penance. He should have known. It was the sixth catechism.. He was a fool, a charlatan. He didn′t have the faith or the knowledge for this job.

Jones calmed himself down enough to pull the panel off and checked the filter. It looked like it needed cleaning. He pried it out and prayerfully fit in the replacement.

System flush of replacement filter in three minutes.

Jones moaned. This was beyond cursing. He had to get that panel back on. Without a Special, without his pliers. He picked up a bolt and looked at it more closely. He fit his wrench on it and gave it a tentative turn. The shock was milder, but it still made him swear. But he learned something. The head of the bolt moved; not much, but enough. He fit his Normal wrench over the bolt, then pushed down with his thumb and turned. No shock.


″Great glorious Lord Mother!″ he shouted. ″I can do this!″

He fit the panel in place and hand tightened the first bolt carefully keeping pressure on the head of the bolt. The other three went on just as easily.

System flush of replacement filter in one minute.


The .675 Normal went over the first bolt with his thumb pushing firmly down. He said a Hail Joseph as he tightened it down. Second one.


System flush of replacement filter in thirty seconds.

Third bolt, then last one. He slapped the access panel on and had the bolts on and tightened in seconds

Stand by for system flush.

A gale rushed by on the other side of the panel, but he didn′t hear any bolts coming loose. He followed the path back to the first access. The white light looked garishly bright. He quickly fit the panel in place and started the bolts.


″It might be easier with this.″  Jones jumped and almost cursed as Deacon Engineer passed him a .675 Special. ″And Engineer Second Class Jones.″ Jones was sure he saw a smile. ″You will need them to recover those pliers you dropped.

First Boy

This story was a response to a challenge to write about a first pet. I took a little different slant on the idea and come up with this.


 

The place smelled like a dozen dogs had peed in the corners; about right for a dog pound. Nicer than some places I’ve stayed. When you’re a pit bull you see a lot bad spots. The yard had real grass even. I was alone when they brought in a litter from a puppy mill. Sad cases every one of them. Breaks my heart how people abuse us in the name of having a pet.

One pup broke loose from the squirming mound drinking from their mom, and staggered over to the cage that divided us.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hey,” I said and eyeballed him from where I lay on my mat. The rest of the pups were black, but this one had black blotches on grey fur. Reminded me of this Aussie I once met. The kid had these crazy blue eyes. All pups have blue eyes, but I wondered if his wouldn’t glow a little when the humans turned off the lights.

“What are you doing?” He tried pushing his nose through the mesh, but the humans were onto that and it was too small for even his nose. I crawled over to put my nose against the mesh and we breathed each other in.

“Sleeping, kid.” I said after we’d done sniffing each other.

“Where are we?” He shook himself and peed on the floor.

“This is the pound,” I said, “The beginning for some, end for others. You might want to pee over on the paper there,” I pointed with my nose. “Humans are funny that way.”

“So what about the humans?” he said. “I don’t need ’em”

“Yeah, kid,” I said, “you do. I was only a little older than you when I got my first human. Boy came in and didn’t know a pit bull from a poodle, He wanted me on account of the black patch on my eye. It reminded him of some movie he’d just seen. I was going to be his very first pet.”

“What’s a movie?”

“Beats me, kid. Never seen one. Anyway they put a collar on me and he led me away on a leash. He named me Patch; proudest day of my life. I had no clue. The boy put out some of that paper in a box and a bowl of food and left me there. All night I howled in terror. I had no idea where I was or what was going on, and I missed my mom and my litter mates. The mom came and shushed me, then the dad came and yelled at me. The boy came after them and carried me up to his room. Don’t tell Mom. He whispered to me. I slept on his pillow. He took me outside in the morning to do my business on the grass.”

“I thought you said to do it on the paper?”

“On the paper when you’re inside and a pup, but outside the rest of the time. Nothing makes a human happier than a dog peeing on the grass.”

“Oh.”

I could see the wheels turning in the kid’s head. This pup was a smart one. He stumbled back to the pile and attached himself to his mother. She hardly had the energy to look at me. Poor girl was worn out, but then I was pretty worn out myself.

Woke up next morning to the sound of pee on paper and opened my eye to see the kid whizzing like a pro on the paper. He pranced over to me.

“Tell me more about humans, Patch.”

“Sure, kid.” I got up and stretched, then shook the cobwebs out of my head. Enough exercise for the day. I lay down on my mat. “Well, soon as I learned to pee on the grass, the boy started teaching me tricks.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when a human tells you to do something silly, then gives you a treat, food usually, but I’d do tricks just to get him to scratch behind my ears. The boy, his name was Sam, taught me to sit, and stay, and rollover, simple stuff really. When I got good at those he started teaching me to shake a paw or play dead. We had this game where he’d put a biscuit on my nose and I’d balance it until he said Go then I’d throw it in the air and catch it. That game was my favourite thing in the world. Most of the time we just ran around and wrestled.”

“Wow,” The kid panted at me, a natural. “So, then what happened?”

“Sam went back to school. That’s some place all humans have to go. It’s like peeing on the grass. Doesn’t make sense, but they do it anyway. I waited by the door for him to come home and we’d go play in the yard or he’d take me for a walk. Every night I slept on his bed.”

Thinking about those days made me want to howl like a puppy. You can’t go back, you just can’t go back. The kid wandered off and piled into his litter mates, and left me with my thoughts. If I could only do that one thing over again. I closed my eye and snoozed a while. To be honest, just watching that much energy made me tired. Hadn’t thought about Sam in ages. Even if humans didn’t grow as fast as us, he’d be a lot older; maybe even finished with that school thing.

The door opened, and some humans came in. A little girl ran over to the cage with the puppies.

Look, aren’t they cute?

The kid pulled himself out of the pile and wobbled over to her.

He’s an unusual colour, looks like a seal.

He’s a catahoula.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the kid’s something more than an odd looking mutt.

Can I pick him up? Please?

The pound human opened the door of the cage and put the pup in the girl’s arms.

“Remember, pee only on the paper!” I said to him. I know what pups are like when their excited. Sure enough he wriggled away from her and went to pee on the paper like a champ. She picked him up again when he came back.

“Lick her face, kid,” I said. “They can’t resist that.”

He did what I said, and the girl laughed. Sam used to laugh like that. I put my head on my paws and watched them.

I want this one, Mom.

Are you sure? We haven’t looked anywhere else.

Please, Mom? I want this one. I’ll call him Patches.

Ok, Sue, if you want.

You’ll have to wait a week for him to be weaned and get his first shots…

The adult humans walked away while the girl cuddled the pup. A little while later they came back. They put a collar on the Patches, then left. The girl walked backwards out the door waving at him.

The pup came running over to me.

“Did you see that?” he said. “This thing feels funny.” He scratched at the collar.

“Wear it with pride, Patches,” I said. “The collar tells the humans that you belong.”

“Wow.”

“Listen, Patches,” I said. “I have to tell you something, so you don’t make the mistake I did.”

He sat down and wagged his tail at me.

“Sam took me for a walk one day. I was grown by then. Humans grow slower than we do, so Sam wasn’t much bigger. We met another kid. He was bigger than Sam. I could tell Sam was afraid of him. The other kid came over with his friends. They yelled at Sam and pushed him around. I growled at the kids. Sam told me to stop. One kid laughed at Sam and punched him in the face. I bit the kid.”

“That’s brave,” Patches said.

“No,” I said, “it was bad. We mustn’t bite a human. We can growl or bark, but we can never, never bite, especially a young human.

“The kids ran away screaming and Sam took me home. Later that night a human came and took me away from Sam. They brought me to a place like this one. I went off with another human. He liked me cause I was a pit bull. He tied me on a chain and left me in his yard. I think I went a little crazy. Another human bought me and put in a worse place. I don’t want to tell you, or I’ll give you nightmares.”

“Is that when you lost your eye?”

“Yeah,” I said, “my eye and more than a little of my soul.”

“So pee on the grass and don’t bite,’ Patches said and panted happily.

“That about sums it up,” I said. “Just make your human happy.”

The week went by in a flash. Patches went off with his girl and the rest of the pups went too. Even the old girl went to a new home. I ate my meals, did my business on the grass though the humans had to help me out there. The place stank of pee, but I didn’t care. There were worse places. I’d been to most of them.

I dreamed Sam put a biscuit on my nose. We stared at each other. All the horrible things melted away. Every part of me waited for that magic word. The one that would make everything right.

Go!


 

The Midnight Clock

“Wake up Maddie, we’re making relish today.”

Maddie groaned and glared at her stepmother. She dragged herself out of bed to begin a long day of chopping, grinding, and stirring, then pouring the mixtures into hot jars. How much relish do we need?  Maddie pushed her long, damp hair out of her face.

Before the relish had been pickles; before that had been jams. Since my father vanished, I’ve become a slave to the mad queen of preserves.

“I think we are done for the day,” her stepmother said, “I would like….” but Maddie had grabbed her cloak; one of the the last things she had of her mother and run from the house before her stepmother could ask yet more work of her.

The sun was out, but the air was cool enough to make her glad of the cloak. She wandered down to the market. She had no money, but liked the busy atmosphere. Then there were the young men standing around as well. She’d got to know them a little. Jonas, a muscular blond, was the obvious leader. He smiled and flattered her. He even bought her a treat when her stomach growled. Over the last few weeks whenever she could escape she had run to the market and to walk with Jonas and the others, wishing she had her own money to spend..

If Mom were alive, if Father hadn’t married a stranger, then left; if life was fair… But life wasn’t fair, She understood that now; life was sharing home and anger with her stepmother, but no understanding

Maddie decided to go to the Midnight Clock with her aching heart. She would wish for Jonas to carry her away from her miserable life. She lit the match with the first strike. The warm glow of her lamp showed the clock peeking through the vines on the wall. It was one minute to midnight on the full moon – magic time. The minute hand moved and she touched the face of the clock to make her wish. But all the carefully prepared words deserted her, leaving an inchoate longing in their place. The hand moved again. It was done. She climbed down the ladder and walked home.

The next day she went to the market and laughed and talked with Jonas. Something was different, she thought, he was paying much more attention to her. She flirted with him, laughing and teasing. They would fall in love, get married and live in a house with no jars to fill. At noon they walked over to the food side of the market to buy a snack. Maddie’s stepmother was there in a tiny booth with jars lining the walls.

“No,” Maddie whispered, “You’re selling them? All that work just so you could make money?”

“Maddie, wait,” her stepmother called, but Maddie had already fled, running through the streets until she was completely lost.

Evening came and the streets had emptied. Tired and hungry, Maddie tried to find her way home. Jonas and his friends leaned against a wall. He’ll save me. Jonas smiled at her and her heart thumped. Not until he pulled her into an alley did she recognize it as fear. The other boys followed licking their lips.

“Just a poor market brat,” Jonas sneered. “There’s only one thing you’re good for. If you behave I may even pay you for it.”

Maddie twisted and pulled, but the heavy cloth of her cloak had become a trap. He pushed her against the wall and fumbled at her dress. In rage and panic Maddie stomped on the top of his foot. Jonas yelled and let go of her to strike her. Maddie stepped close and kneed him. His yell became a gurgle as he fell to the ground.

She glared at the others until they hung their heads and melted into the shadows. Maddie walked out of the alley. She knew  where she was now. Time to visit her mother. The almost full moon lit the graveyard, but Maddie borrowed a small lantern to read the letter that was the only other thing her mother had given her. She read it through as she had so many times – her mother’s promise that all would be well, that her mother would always look after her, that she would always love Maddie.

“You lied to me,” Maddie cried as the clock struck twelve, “There is no love, no hope.”

“She didn’t lie, Maddie.” Her stepmother walked across the grass to kneel beside Maddie.

Maddie turned to look at her stepmother ready to scream her anger, but tears flowed down the woman’s face.

“But promises are like wishes, they change shape as we hold them.” Her step-mother sighed and put her arm around Maddie. “I thought I would find you here.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I married your father so I would have someone to take care of me. Instead I’m alone trying to be a mother to a girl who hates me.”

“I’m scared,”  Maddie admitted as much to herself as her step-mother.

“So am I.”

“What do we do now?”

“I don’t know. We will have to find out together,” her stepmother handed her some coins. “Your share of the sales today.”

“People liked our relish?”

Her stepmother smiled, “It was the best seller.”

Maddie handed the coins back to her stepmother, “Maybe you could hold on to these for me.” She picked up her mother’s letter. “I’ll help you at the booth tomorrow.”

“Let’s go home.” They stood, and Maddie touched her mother’s tombstone.

“She isn’t you,” Maddie said to her mother. “But I think she will be a good friend.”