Friday, March 28, 2014

The Key, Chapter 28

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 28

     Skippy stood at the top of the ditch glancing down the road in both directions as if trying to decide for himself what to do next.  I sensed he was an animal lover too.  Now that Mr. Nebauer was closer to me, I saw the concern in his eyes.  He crouched down and lowered himself into the ditch with me and crouched next to Fangs. 

     Grrrrrrrrrrr….  Fangs growled, true to form.
     “It’s ok, old boy.  We’ll getcha some help here soon,” Mr. Nebauer soothed.  “Ellen, did you see him get hit or did you find him lying here?” he yelled into the wind and rain.

     “I saw him get hit.  He bounced off a tire of a truck and rolled into the ditch.  I saw his leg was bleeding so I dumped some water on it.”  

     I didn’t bother telling him about the Bactine because I didn’t think he’d understand.

     Water.  That reminded me again of how thirsty I was.  I noticed that when I talked, my mouth made an odd clicky sound.   I gazed at the water in the ditch and even considered lapping up some just to get some wetness back in my mouth once again.
     “Smart girl, Ellen.  I could always tell that about you in class---you’re a thinker. That’s good.  Now let’s see here….”  Skippy went on with his thoughts out loud just like he does at school.  “…………. front leg is bent, appears to be broken, no blood coming out of the ears or snout—that’s a promising sign all right….” Skippy assessed.

      While Skippy was lost in the dog evaluation,  I stood up and stretched my legs on the lookout for Jack or Emily.  No sign of them yet, but they had to be coming soon. 

     “Did you get a look at the other side of him, Ellen?” Skippy asked.  “The side that he’s laying on?”

      I pulled my attention from the road back to Fangs.  I shook my head no simply because my mouth was too dry to speak.
     “Maybe we better move him up a smidge.  Look at this water.  It’s rising fast and he’s starting to shake.  Could be shock, or could be hypothermia setting in.”

     Hypothermia?  What was that?  Where was Jack when I needed him.  I think that is when you get very cold, like from water or something.   Didn’t people die from hypothermia?  I wonder if a dry mouth was a sign.

     “Here Ellen, you slide your hands under his haunches real gentle like, and I’ll get him up top.  He’s a hurtin’ so he may snap at ya.  Do you know if he has his shots, by chance?”

    “I know his owners and they take good care of their animals, so I imagine so,” I yelled over the rain.  “His name is Bandit.”

     “Bandit.  Now that’s a good name for a dog that lives his life chasing cars.  A real Bandit you are, now aren’t ya boy?  We’ll getcha back chasing cars here real soon.”  

     Skippy slid his hands around Fangs’s upper body and I could hear him growl a little bit.  “Now on three, Ellen---one, two, three….”

     I looked over to Skippy’s direction to watch for when he lifted.  I always hated that “on three” thing.  I never knew if it meant you were supposed to do something ON three, like when you said the number, or AFTER you said it.  One second makes a big difference when you are doing something like lifting a ferocious farm dog with a broken leg.  

     I kept my eye on Skippy and I guess he meant lift when you say three, because that was what we did.  The dog was much lighter than I expected and we slid him about six inches up the side of the ditch, out of the rising water.  Fangs yelped a little.  I think we were right in our assumption that his leg was broken. 

     It was then that I saw it.  I saw something that no other kid ever in the whole Clark School world would ever see.  I had to blink a few times to make sure my eyes had really seen what I thought I did.  I stole another quick glance just to be sure, and I was positive.  In an instant it all made sense.  I knew why Skippy walked like he did.  Skippy had a fake leg. 

     When he was on his hands and knees ready to slide Fangs up the bank, the leg of his pants slid up a bit.  He had on his weird blue sneakers that he wore all of the time.  They were now soaked with brown mud and stained with water.  The sneaker closest to me was attached to a metal pole that looked like the handle of Grandpa’s Polly Picker Upper.   It went right down into the shoe that was filled with something that looked like white foam.  His leg looked like a potted plant.

     “………….someone you know, Ellen,” said Skippy.  The end of his sentence brought me out of my shock. 

     “Huh?” I said, blinking away the rain as well as my freight train thoughts of fake legs.

     Skippy pointed in the direction of the road and I could see a figure approaching on a four wheeler.  It was Grandpa!  Emily must have gotten home.  I got a rush of relief that ran through my body—a warm feeling that makes you feel so good that you might cry. 

     At the same time I heard the rattle and hum of another vehicle approaching fast from the other direction.  It was Farmer Richter on his tractor with his apple cart still attached to the back.  I could see Jack kneeling in the middle of it, on top of the unloaded apples, with his arm outstretched pointing to where we were.

     “Uh, yeah.  That’s my Grandpa,” I said pointing in his direction,  “and that’s Farmer Richter.  My cousin Jack is riding on the back.  He must have found him out in the barn.”

    Grandpa came upon us first.  The hum of the ATV engine was very loud and it stopped abruptly when he got off of it.  “You ok, Ellen?” Grandpa inquired of me first.

     I nodded my head yes.
     Grandpa then turned his attention to the ditch and said, “I figured that dog would get hit one of these days.  Did you see it happen, Honey?”

     Again, I nodded my head yes.  I was afraid to speak because I feared crying in front of everyone.  I was scared to death of getting in trouble and now humiliated in front of my teacher.  Grandpa seemed more concerned than mad though.

     Farmer Richter and Jack jumped off the big wheeled tractor in tandem.  Farmer Richter trotted up to the ditch and fell immediately to Bandit’s side.  Bandit even flapped his tail twice in response to Farmer Richter’s presence. 

     “Oh, Bandit.  Now what did you go and do?”

     “I did a quick assessment of your animal here, and he seems to have a broken leg, but appears to have no internal injuries.  Douglas Nebauer, by the way,” said Skippy extending his arm.

     “Glad to meet you,” said Farmer Richter quickly shaking his hand. 

     “We got to get this dog to the vet pretty fast though.  He’s starting to shake.  The heart can stop if a dog goes into shock.”

     “Yeah,” said Farmer Richter looking concerned.  “Let’s load him onto my apple cart.  I’ll get him back to the barn and get him dried off and warmed up.”

     “I don’t mean to interject my unsolicited opinion here Sir, but I do believe that time is of the essence.  Perhaps we should just put him in my car and I’ll drive you to over to the vet around the corner.  That way he can lay on a soft seat and be out of the rain right away."

     Farmer Richter paused, considering this a minute.  After all, it was his dog and you could tell that he wanted to be in control of how Bandit was cared for.  He scratched his wet head a minute with his dirt covered and calloused hand.   

     He said, “Well, if you don’t mind your car smellin’ like wet dog, then I may take you up on your offer.”

     Skippy and Farmer Richter squatted down to see about how they were going to grab Fangs to move him into the car.  Even though Fangs was light, it was not going to be a simple task due to the slippery, wet bank of the ditch and moving a dog in pain.  One that bites, at that.

     “Now hang on a minute,” spoke up Grandpa.  “I think I have just the thing we need.”

     Grandpa walked back to his ATV and flipped open the box he had mounted on the front by the handle bars.  The box was an old wooden Coca Cola case from years ago when pop came in glass bottles and cases were made of wood.  I noticed the lid was made from the left over aluminum roofing from my tree house and the hinges looked like the ones from my old toy box that broke when Mom stood on it to paint the bathroom ceiling.  

     Grandpa reached in and pulled out some sort of material folded neatly into a square. 

     “Here,” Grandpa said extending his arm to Skippy, “use this to lay him on.  Slide it right underneath him and he’ll be easier to carry because his weight will be distributed.  It will be easier on his broken leg, too.”

     Skippy grabbed a corner and let the rest of it unfurl like a flag in the wind.  I had almost forgotten how bad it was storming around me.  Even being right in the middle of it like I was, the storm was secondary to me helping Fangs.  The storm was raging, but I had my mind fixed on something else more important, so I didn’t really notice or feel fear.

     Farmer Richter grabbed the billowing end and they stretched out the material like a bed sheet.  It was then that I recognized it.  It was cut from the side of my old pup tent, the one the cat peed on a few years ago.  My mother could not scrub the cat pee smell out and she has a nose like a bloodhound.  Even after we thought the stench had faded enough, she told my father there was no way she was letting me sleep in a stinky tent, and marched it out to the garbage can, crunching the lid on top.  

     “And don’t tell your Grandfather this is in here, Ellen, or your next book bag will be made out of it or something.  That man can’t throw a thing away,” said my mother with annoyance.

     I got a new tent, a bigger one with little rooms that extend out from the sides and a little canopy you can sit and eat under if it rains when you are camping.   After my experience today, I promise you, I will never go camping in the rain.  Looks like Grandpa found it in spite of my mother’s efforts to hide it.  Grandpa is like that.  Stealth.  That’s what Grandma calls him, among other things.

     They stretched the tent material out flat and slid Fangs onto it, again on the count of three.  The pair then lifted fangs up like a sling and carried him to Skippy’s car, gently laying him in the back seat.  The men jumped in the front, stuck their hands in the air to signal a wave goodbye, and quickly drove off in the direction of the local veterinarian’s office.

     “Come on, kids.  Let’s get home,” said Grandpa striding back to his ATV.  “We can all fit.”

     It was then I remembered Jack’s presence.  I looked over at him to see that he was as wet and dirty as I was, soaked through clear to the skin.  Jack was skinny and his shirt was sticking to him and I could see his ribs and also that he was shivering.  He looked like a thin, wet spaghetti noodle, except for the shorts pockets which were bulging with apples. 

     I looked down to see that my right pocket was, too hiding contraband.  I wonder if Farmer Richter noticed and I felt very guilty. 

     I jumped on the ATV behind Grandpa.  Jack got on behind me.  There I was again sandwiched in the middle.  If we were a hoagie, I’d be the salami.  

     For once, I didn’t mind being in the middle.  The heat of the bodies in front of and behind me warmed my core and it felt good.  I put my arms around Grandpa’s belly and Jack put his hands on my shoulders.  We lurched to a start in a jerky movement and Grandpa took off.  I opened my cotton-dry mouth and let the raindrops fly in.  The rain and wind stung my face and I was the one who was the most protected.  I felt sorry for Grandpa and Jack.  

     The closer we got to home, I began to worry about what I was going to say to explain all of this.  There just didn’t seem to be any simple way to tell the whole story.  As I was thinking about all of it a bolt of lightning to the south broke my thoughts, followed quickly by the sound of thunder.  

     In the natural order of things, lightning comes first and is always followed by thunder.  Order.  Perhaps that was the key to all things.  Except in my life, I needed to add one more thing:   first comes lightning, then follows thunder, wait and few seconds and listen for the air horn.  And that is exactly what happened next.  WWWAAAAHHHHHH! 

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