Little Bit’s Story 

As told to David Gelber

Short Story - Little Bit


Chapter 1.

I.

Dazzling sunlight pierced the skylight as Pomegranate lay on her side, while The Admiral scurryied back and forth as the puppies started to arrive. First a girl, then a boy, two more girls, three more boys, then nothing for what seemed like forever, and, then, finally, one more, a runt, another boy, who was me.

I came into the world as an afterthought, small, but otherwise intact. We little ones all scrunched together, five boys, three girls; naked, blind, shivering and starving. Our mom, Pomegranate, licked us clean and before long we dined on her wonderful, sweet milk. Eight of us lined up; each getting his fill.  The Admiral stood by, ever vigilant to the dangers present in the world around us.

In reality, we were in a closed room with two windows, a skylight, one door, two beds and a little I don't know what scooting back and forth across the floor sucking up everything in its path. I called it Pokey because that's what it was; bigger than me, smaller than dad, whirling and chugging along and leaving a clean shiny floor in its wake. In the beginning, Pokey was always there, moving slowly and unceasingly around our little world.  At first, I slept with one eye open so that I wouldn't wake up deep inside Pokey's bowels, lost forever.

That first day we were cleaned, we ate and we slept. As the sun disappeared all eleven of us lay down for the night. The Companions, as The Admiral called them, came later.

The next morning, my first morning, I woke, warmed by the sun, hungry. I wriggled over to Pomegranate and found a comfortable spot for breakfast. I was soon joined by my brothers and sisters. After breakfast I heard a noise, but it wasn't from Mom or Dad or Pokey. I didn't know what it was but it grew louder and more excited and certainly was not unpleasant.

Shortly after I heard the noise, there was talking peppered with squeals of delight as we were all picked up by giant hands. The Admiral barked and growled, pretending to be tough; Pomegranate told us everything was OK; these were the hands of the Companions and were not to be feared. I relaxed and kind of enjoyed the soft sounds and gentle, soothing strokes that came from these Companions. After a few minutes they gently put me and my brothers and sisters down, all in one bed so we could snuggle together. After all this excitement we quickly fell asleep.

II.

It went on like this for days; eating, sleeping, encounters with the Companions, Pokey and everything else working to keep us safe and healthy. And we grew, finally opening our eyes to see the world, well our little corner of the world. I saw the awesome wonderful sight of Pomegranate, The Admiral, Pokey, my brothers and sisters, and the sunbeam shining through the skylight. We were all white with black eyes, except for Pokey. The Companions came and we heard them call out names: Pomegranate for my mother, The Admiral for my Father; they called Pokey “the cleaner”. Personally, I liked Pokey better. Every time they held one of us they would call out our names: my brothers, "Bruiser", "Bonzo", "Bobbi", and “Ben”. My sisters were "Lilly", "Lola", and "Lavender".

Every time they would hold me they would just shake their heads, stroke my fur and say, "poor little Westie. He's just such a little bit. So, I was named: "Little Bit".

As we continued to grow, our world grew too. The room that was so big that first day got smaller and smaller. The door was left open one day and all of a sudden there was a whole new world to explore. There were lots of new things to run around, chew on, climb over (or under). We kept Pokey busy. However, I have to say that slow, plodding, dull Pokey never complained and never got tired. He just kept chugging along. It was easy to stay out of his way; I was ten times faster, as were my brothers and sisters. We were all faster and bigger than poor old Pokey.

My brothers were strong with two ears that stood straight up and short powerful legs and tails. My sisters were more petite and dainty, very pretty with deep black eyes, two sharp ears that stood at attention; also with short, powerful legs and tails. But, I was different. I was smaller and my bark was squeakier than even the girls.

Pomegranate would look at me and draw me close.

“How come I’m so little, Momma?” I asked.

"You're my angel,” she would say.

The Admiral would then shake his head, utter a loud "Harrumph" and walk away, going to the other boys, teaching them to fight and growl like men. I would try to join in, but Pomegranate would hold me and say, "When you're bigger."

I kept wondering when that would be.

III.

The days passed and we soon graduated from mother's sweet milk to puppy food. We each were given our own bowl and food magically appeared three times a day, sometimes crunchy, sometimes soft and sometimes chewy. There was always a lot of clean, cold water to drink. Our Companions continued to come, sometimes five or six times a day. The littlest Companion, one called Suzy, always picked me up first. I would hear her speak and then she would say "Little Bit" and she would hug me and cradle me close to her chest. She would walk around holding me tightly and one day she stopped before the wall and I saw another little white dog staring at me being held by a little girl that looked exactly like Suzy. I didn't like it at all. She was my special Companion and I did my best to scare that other dog away. I barked and growled, but he just barked and growled right back at me. Suzy laughed and then I realized: it was me. But, it couldn't be. That other dog was small, one ear lay flat, its tail was long and curled, its white fur short and rough and its legs were long and gangly.

I just couldn't stand it. I jumped out of Suzy's arms and ran right up to my reflection and barked and barked, hoping against hope that he would go away and my real reflection would appear. But, he just barked right back and didn't go away. I ran away and hid under the bed. The barking stopped.

That night I asked my mom, "Am I really so little and ugly?"

Pomegranate smiled. "You're my perfect little angel," she said softly, licking my rough fur. "Don't worry about what's outside; it's what's inside, in your heart and in your head that counts. You can be the greatest Westie of all time if that's what you want. Now it's time for bed."

She curled up to sleep, but I just lay by her side thinking about what she'd said. Yes, I thought; I'll be the greatest Westie there ever was. And I finally drifted off to sleep and dreamt of winning dog shows and sporting contests. Little Bit, the greatest Westie of them all.

IV.

Weeks dragged on until the big day came. Our Companions came and a new door was opened. My old familiar friend, sunlight, who previously only graced us from the tall skylight or windows, meandered in through the door. When the door opened we all raced around, excited, but wary of what we'd find on the other side. We inched closer and closer until we were through the door running wildly amid the green grass. The yard looked huge to me, although as I think back it was more playpen than playground. Still for eight puppies whose previous world had been limited to two rooms this was the great outdoors.

We ran and rolled and did all the silly puppy things that become lost to dignity and adulthood. Pomegranate and The Admiral stood by at first demonstrating proper decorum of parenthood until they couldn't stand it anymore. They joined us and our Companions, running and jumping with great joy. My old friend, sunlight, was brighter and warmer than ever as I discovered so many new things.

On a particularly low blade of grass I saw a marvelous, tiny creature; one that I now know is a butterfly. Of course, back then I just knew that it was a curious little thing that flitted away when I came close. I jumped up on my hind legs and tried to pet it as it flew, but it just moved away in a zig-zaggy sort of flight. I raced after it and was delighted when it decided to come back and play. Finally, it grew tired and flew away, over the trees and out of sight. I ran after it as it disappeared, barking, asking it to come back. Bruiser came up to as I was barking.

"I'm going to fly just like that someday", I said.

Bruiser laughed, "You can't even keep your ears up." And he went away.

I stood there and Lavender came up to me. "What are you doing, staring at the sky? You look very determined."

I turned to her and in a very serious tone said, "I am. I am determined to learn to fly."

'Silly Little Bit; you really are the cutest little dog in the world, but I've never heard of a dog flying."

Lavender was always the nicest of all my siblings. She never laughed at me or called me little or ugly.

"I'll be the first, then,” I said as we ran off to play with the others.

That night as I lay down to sleep all that I could think about was flying away. I drifted off to sleep, dreaming about becoming the first dog to grow wings; big beautiful colorful wings, just like the butterfly. I dreamed that I flew higher and higher right into the lap of my friend, the sun.

I woke up the following morning greatly disappointed that I was still an earthbound Westie puppy without wings; just long legs, long tail, short rough hair and one ear that wouldn't stand up.

The days became weeks and we had many outings. My friend, sunlight, was usually there, but there were no more butterflies. I still watched the birds, mesmerized by their grace as they swiftly flew overhead, sometimes swooping around and sometimes a big bird would chase a little one. I always watched until I was sure the little one was safe. Every night I dreamed that I could fly, but every morning I awoke, still firmly bound to the Earth.

V.

When I was about six weeks old people started coming to see us. Young, old, short, fat they came. We would all be led outside and these visitors would carefully examine each of us, pick us up, look each of us in the eye and then go away. They often would look me in the eye, shake their heads and gently put me down. Pomegranate said that they were looking for new homes and new Companions for each of us.

"But I don't want a new home," I protested. "I want to stay with Suzy. Do you want a new home, Mom?"

"The new home would be only for you and your brothers and sisters, dear angel. I would stay here. That's as it has always been for dogs in this world. You must grow and make your way out in the world with a new home and new Companions."

"That's not fair. I want to stay with you and The Admiral and Suzy."

"You may say that now; but you will grow up and move away, find a new Companion and a happy home. And, one day you will be, for one lucky person, the greatest Westie in the world.

I still protested, but she just closed her eyes and told me it was all for the best. As she said this I was sure I saw a tear in her eye and then I finally understood.

My brothers and sisters just laughed, all of them excited with anticipation of a new and wonderful home; that is all of them but Lavender. She came to me and said, "I'm scared, too. Maybe we could go together."

"Is that possible," I asked, my heart filled with hope.

"I've heard that it has happened, once in a while. We'll just have to wish as hard as we can and then it will have to come true.

We both wished, silently, over and over, all the way until bedtime and went to sleep confident that we would always be together.

But, of course it wasn't to be. One by one my brothers and sisters left. Finally, there were only two of us, Lavender and me, with Pomegranate and The Admiral.

"At least we're together", I said, trying to console Lavender who just lay around and cried.

"Yes, at least we are together, for now; but for how long? One of these days, very soon, someone will come and take me or you away. I'll be so lonely I don't think I'll be able to stand it."

Over the next few days nobody came and she felt happier. We played together under the watchful eyes of Pomegranate and the Admiral. I was growing, but not as much as Lavender. She was a perfect, beautiful Westie with short powerful legs, a stocky carrot-like tail, sharp erect ears and a beautiful white coat. As for me, I grew also. My legs grew longer, my tail grew longer and one ear would not stand up unless I tried really hard. My fur was coarse and a little yellow. But, my long legs made me fast, my long tail made me steady and my short nose left me with powerful jaws.

Then, one day, it happened. A man came; an ugly man with short whiskers and yellow teeth. He talked to the biggest of our Companions. I saw them nod their heads and look at Lavender and me. When I saw them walking towards us I felt scared and ran away. I hid under the large couch, just my nose sticking out so that I could see.

"Psst.Lavender.quick, I think something bad is going to happen. Hide here with me," I whispered.

Before she could move the ugly man scooped her up and put her in a cage. He came for me, too, but I wasn't going without a fight. I did my best growling and biting, but he grabbed me by the tail and roughly threw me into a different cage.

I heard a few words between our biggest Companion and the ugly man, "Fight…do well…thanks.” We were unceremoniously tossed into the back of a rickety old truck and taken away.

Chapter 2

I.

We road in the back of that truck for hours, it seemed, jostling back and forth; Lavender was almost tossed out when we went over a particularly big bump. As it turned out this would have been a better fate for her. I tried to keep her spirits up by telling her that our new home would surely have wonderful little companions for us to play with, other westies just like us and a big yard to run around. She just lay in the old crate whimpering, wishing she was home with Pomegranate.

Finally, we pulled up in front of a huge mansion with big white pillars all around and brick walls. The ugly man waited at the door until another older man with wispy white hair and a wrinkled face came to the door. He spoke quietly to the ugly man and then two others came and carried us inside. I saw the old man hand something to the "Ugly" who smiled, jumped in his old truck and drove away.

We were brought to the back of the house where our crates were roughly dropped on the floor and we were finally released. Our new home was huge. The room had a ceiling that looked to be as tall as the sky and it opened up into an even larger fenced area outside. My old friend the sun was also here, shining through the big windows and there was even a "Pokey", although the one here seemed to be Pokey's big brother, much larger than the one I had come to know.

There were two big bowls of food and a stream of cold water that ran continuously from the wall into a little river and out into the backyard.

"See", I said to Lavender, "This is going to be a great new home. I can even hear some other dogs barking, so we can make new friends."

Boy, was I wrong.

II.

However, in the beginning everything was fine. We had lots of room to run around and our food came everyday on a little train that took away the old bowls and brought new ones. We could go outside anytime and run around in our enclosed yard. I used to look through the fence at the huge green spaces and trees that were behind the house, but I rarely saw any people. I missed having Companions to play with, but Lavender and I felt safe and happy as we ran and played together.

"Hey, Lavender", I called one day, "I'm going to get outside the fence and look at that big yard."

I started to dig and in five minutes I was on the other side. As soon as I emerged from my tunnel I heard a loud siren and two big men in black uniforms came running from either side and before I could get away they scooped me up and carried me back inside. My tunnel was immediately filled and I was loudly scolded by one of the men. He tried his best to be cross, but I could tell it was just an act as he smiled and winked at me. A least there is someone here that is friendly, I thought, as he closed the gate and walked away.  I remembered his face, sunburned with red hair and a red moustache. From that day I spent time sniffing about the fence, trying to figure out how I was discovered so quickly.

I sniffed and pawed the ground and looked up and down that fence and finally saw that there were lights shining along the ground. I took a stick and pushed it through the fence in front of one of the lights and, once again, the siren blared loudly. The men came running again and when they saw what had happened they just laughed at me and went away. I could hear them talking, but back then I hadn't learned to understand very much of your language.

The days dragged on as our life became a monotonous routine of eating, sleeping and running around our little world. Sometimes I would push things outside the fence, just to see the men come running. One time I pushed a big branch out and nobody came; I figured they were at lunch. But I did the same thing, in the same place another day and, once again, they didn't come. I studied the lights and the fence and finally realized that there was no light in that little area. I thought about digging a hole right there and escaping, but I worried about Lavender. However, I did remember that spot, just in case.

We still could hear other dogs barking throughout the day, sometimes they would growl and sometimes there would be two dogs barking and growling for a long time. They were too far away to understand, but there bark's sounded angry and ferocious.

All the time I was getting bigger, we both were, but now I was taller than Lavender. I was faster, and I could jump higher and dig faster and deeper. She was happy to lie around and be with me; until, one day, they came for us. Two men in black uniforms and a third in a white outfit came through the gate and carried us away. Lavender started to shake, but I told her everything would be alright and tried to act brave. She wasn't fooled for a moment.

III.

The men took us around the big house and into a big room, holding both of us tight. The room was dimly lit and there were books on all the shelves and dark wood panels on the walls. The men stood  in the doorway until an older man inside waved his hand and they carried us inside. The man in the white uniform talked in a low voice to the older man, every so often gesturing towards Lavender and me. I didn't know what they were talking about, but I had a bad feeling about the whole situation. I felt the grip about me loosen and in a flash I leaped from his arms, onto the back of the man in white, who fell into the older man. Lavender jumped to the floor in the confusion and we both raced out of the room, through a large black double door, past  a bunch of lighted pictures, out another door, up the stairs and into another room where there was a big bed, which we quickly dashed under.

"Stay still and quiet", I whispered to my sister. "I think we gave them the slip."

"I'm so scared, Little Bit. What are we doing here?"

"I wish I knew, but I've got a bad feeling about this place. We need to make a break, get away somehow. Quiet.someone's coming."

One of the men in a black uniform came into the room. He was holding a little black box that was beeping. The beeping grew louder and faster as he got closer; the two westies hid as close to the wall under the bed as they could until they saw him stare at them under the bed. The man tapped a button on his uniform and spoke and soon there were five more men in black uniforms standing around the bed. A hand reached under the bed and I could see the man looking at us as he tried to grab Lavender. I give him a sharp bite on the hand and I heard a scream and a bunch of loud words that I didn't understand.

A long black pole appeared under the bed and I started to bark and growl as loud as I could. I grabbed that pole in my mouth and shook it with all my might until it broke in two pieces and sparks started to fly out the end. The next few minutes were eerily quiet. I wasn't sure if they were still out there or if they'd left. Lavender pressed her body close to mine, keeping as quiet as possible, but I understood. Then the bed started to move away from the wall.

"Stick close to me", I said. We moved away from the wall, staying under the middle of the bed as best we could. But, as soon as the bed was far from the wall black poles which were glowing red at their tips were thrust under the bed from three directions. We had to get away and we both made a dash out from under the bottom of the bed, straight into a large cage, where we were shut up and where we stayed for the next three days, receiving food and water, but never being let out.

"I think we're really in trouble now", I said to Lavender.

"You'll think of something, Little Bit. You're smart enough for both of us and much smarter than these ugly men."

I smiled at my trusting sister and looked as brave as I could, but I didn't see any way out. Of course, nothing really bad had happened so far and neither one of us was hurt, but I didn't like the look of that old man. I suspected that it was only a matter of time.

IV.

After three days confinement they let us out back in the same room and small yard that we had previously occupied. Lavender thought that we'd go back to the same life we'd had before, but I wasn't so sure. There were new guards and there were more of them. We can't be that valuable I thought. I still heard the other dogs once in a while, only now they seemed louder and they were definitely ferocious. I stared at the area in the fence, the "blind spot" and told Lavender that the first chance we had we should make for that spot and escape.

"You're so brave, Little Bit; you go, I'll stay here and you come back for me."

"Don't talk such nonsense", I said. "Of course we'll go together; the first chance that we get."

We didn't talk about again that day, but that night I couldn't sleep. Something was up and I resolved to make our escape the next day, the first opportunity that we had. I awoke full of hope, but right after we were fed one of the men came and grabbed Lavender and put her in a small box with holes in the top and sides. I was chained to a post in the ground. I started to bark as loud as I could, mostly telling Lavender not to worry and that everything would be OK. Neither one of us believed it. She barked as loud as she could and as her barking grew fainter the barks of the other dogs started up. I had a bad feeling about the whole situation and started pulling against the chain as hard as I could. The more I pulled the tighter my collar became until I had to stop; the collar loosened when I stopped. I pulled again and the same thing happened.

The barking from the other dogs became more frenzied and I could hear Lavender's high pitched yelps in between the loud barking from the other dogs. She really needs me I thought and I can't let her down. I pulled against the chain again, still without any success. I sat down to think and decide to go the opposite way. I walked towards the post that held me captive and felt my collar loosen even more. When I got right next to the post I put my foot on the chain and gave a sharp pull with my head and the collar popped off.

I raced outside and cleared the fence with a single bound, my feet just scraping the top, as I ran off in the direction of the barking. I saw a crowd of people standing around as the barking grew louder. I ran between and around the myriad of legs, jumped over another fence and found Lavender in a dirt ring, facing the meanest looking dog I had ever seen. She was cowering at one end as the other dog growled and looked like he was about to charge. I jumped in between them as he bounded forward, his red eyes almost glowing and drool coming from both sides of his mouth. He came right for me, his powerful jaws opening to grab me. As they snapped shut, they closed on only air as I leapt straight up and landed on his back, planting a sharp bite on his right ear. He let out a loud yelp and shook as hard as he could, throwing me to the ground. He turned and charged at me again as I ran to the side and then darted at him nipping at his leg. He stopped for a moment, looked at me and then at Lavender. I could see that he thought that she would be an easier target and he turned towards her. I had to think fast.

"You're nothing but a sissy, just a big bully,” I yelled. “What's the matter, I'm too tough for you; me, a little white dog. You should be able to take three of me at once, but no. you want to go after a poor defenseless girl. What a wimp." This got his attention and he turned back to me. I wasn't sure I'd done the right thing.

The crowd of people cheered as he charged again, straight for me. Once again I jumped into the air, only this time he was ready and he bit at my foot and almost caught me. I landed on his back again, but didn't bite his ear, rather I whispered, "Why do you want to fight us anyway. We certainly don't want to hurt you; look at these people, they don't care about you." He stopped for a moment and then rolled over trying to crush me under his muscular shoulders. I did sense that, maybe, I'd hit a nerve and kept on talking to him.

"I'm not the enemy; it's those men. They just want to see blood, my blood, your blood, Lavender's blood; they don't care. What's your name, I'm Little Bit."

All of a sudden he stopped. He looked at me; he looked at Lavender and he looked at all the people and then he spoke.

"Earl, they call me Earl."

"Keep pretending to fight, Earl, but listen to me. I think I can get us out of here. We need to get out of this ring and then we can make a run for it." Lavender had joined them.

"Just follow my lead", I said. I raced around the circle; Lavender and Earl followed me. I saw a small box at one end of the ring. We ran for it as fast as we could and each of us ran up on the box and over the fence and into the crowd. All the people started to run, particularly when Earl started to growl and bark. As the men dispersed, we raced off; I was in the lead with the other two close behind. We raced to the large back yard and to the fence. Men in black started to chase after us, but before they could reach us, I dug a hole and crawled beneath the fence at the same spot where I knew we'd be safe from the men and their machines. Earl stopped at the hole.

"I can't fit", he said as Lavender raced through the hole.

"Yes, you can; I made it extra big", I answered as I ran back through the hole. "Now go."

Earl crawled into the hole as the men got closer and started to draw their weapons.

"Move it, Earl". I pushed him with my nose as beams of light from the weapons started to cascade around. I saw Earl's butt still sticking out and ran up and bit it. Earl let out a loud yelp as he popped through the hole and I raced through after him and we raced away as fast as we could, into a wooded area, along a stream of water. We didn't stop until we were sure that we were safely away.

Chapter Three

I.

So, there we were, three dogs in the middle of who knows where; no food, no water, but free and, for the moment, safe. I was excited as I looked forward to exploring, hunting; ready to face whatever we might find.

I looked over at Lavender, she was shaking and started weeping softly. Earl stood by her, trying to provide some comfort. Right away I knew that I needed to take charge. I saw that Earl, although trying to look brave, was just as frightened as Lavender.

"OK", I said decisively, "we need to get moving. We need to find food, water and shelter. Let's go."

I spoke with as much confidence as I could muster and the three of us started off. Earl stayed close to Lavender as I raced ahead. I scouted under and around every bush and tree, marking each as we passed. I studied the sky and explored every ditch. My two companions maintained a straight and narrow path, but I raced back and forth and all around, savoring this exhilarating, new found freedom. Every sight, sound and smell was new and exciting.

We finally came to a stream and we all took a long drink. One problem solved I thought.

"We'll stay close to the stream", I said. "At least that way we won't have to worry about water."

As we walked along the the sun went down replaced by a full moon. I looked back to see Lavender and Earl falling farther behind. I ran back to them and told them it was time to rest. Our first day of freedom ended with us sleeping under a big full moon. The night was warm and the only sound was the buzzing and chirping of the nighttime insects.

II.

We awoke with the sunrise and I knew that the first order of business would be food. I leaned over the edge of the stream and took a long drink as Earl and Lavender joined me.

"Wait here", I said. "I'll try to find us something to eat." I stared at the water, but I didn't see anything there; no fish, no clams, nothing. "Time to learn to hunt", I said to myself.

"Hurry, Little Bit; I'm hungry", Lavender said meekly.

"I'll be back in flash,” I called as I raced off into the woods.

I quickly came to a clearing in the forest. I lifted my nose to the air and pricked both ears. There's something over there I thought, looking to the right. I saw a pile of rocks and sand and then I heard a rattling sound. I circled around to the opposite side of the rocks as the rattling grew louder. I didn't know what was making the noise, but I was curious and I thought that it might be something good to eat. Finally, I saw the source as the snake raised its head. He seemed to see me at the same moment I saw him.

Of course, I had never seen a snake before, but I sensed that he was an animal to be respected. I also thought that he was pretty big and would make for a decent meal. I circled closer and closer as he lifted his head higher and the rattling grew louder.

Let him make the first move I thought; he looks fast, but dumb. I should be able to fool him. I moved closer and the rattling stopped. We were face to face, no more than a few centimeters apart. Then it came, just as I guessed. The snake darted to the right, I jumped to the left and lunged, bit down, but he was fast and I missed. He raised his head again and thrust it towards my neck, his fangs grazing my fur as I jumped back. He came at me again and darted to my left; I jumped to the side, reached out my paw and swatted him in the back of the head, then bit down hard just below his head and snapped the snakes neck in my jaws. With that one quick bite the snake went limp.

I wondered if rattlesnake tasted very good. It certainly was big enough for the three of us. With my jaws clenched tight I headed back to Lavender and Earl and set the snake down at my sister's feet. I howled in triumph and then we had our feast. Snake meat turned out to be pretty tasty and after breakfast I was ready to face whatever the day would bring.

III.

After our repast we continued to follow the stream. I had a grand time wading through the waters and racing among the trees. I stopped to watch some birds soaring overhead, flying in a straight line like a drill team and then was startled when they scattered. Out of nowhere a huge bird with golden feathers and sharp claws swooped down. As the smaller birds flew in every direction the big golden bird flew straight to the ground, picked something up and flew away as quickly as it had appeared. I thought I saw something squirming in its claws as it disappeared into the sun. If I could only fly like that hunting would be incredibly simple and easy I thought.

As I dreamed of the hunt I heard Lavender say, "I'm tired Little Bit" and she lay down on the ground. She needs a real home; living in the wilds is not for her. Earl gave a weak smile as he lay down next to her. Although outwardly rough and gruff I realized that Earl was no more made for such a life than Lavender.It was obvious that they both needed a good, stable, comfortable place to live.

"Rest here for a minute, you guys. We'll keep following the stream and soon we'll find some new, loving companions. They'll bring us fine food and give us a warm place to sleep. I'm sure of it", I reassured them with as much confidence as I could muster.

The day was sunny and warm; we walked for miles without any sign of any people; no cars, houses, roads, nothing. But, we were safe without any worries as the sun set, the day turned into night, and we settled down to rest for the night.

IV.

That night, as we lay down to sleep the full moon disappeared and the sky became especially dark. As Lavender and Earl slept I looked out at the black sky. The world was quiet and tranquil. I felt secure, without any worries for the first time in a very long time. I had the sense of a cloak settling over me and shielding me from danger. I looked over at Lavender, curled up next to Earl. She looked peaceful as she slept, but I knew that she did not have the strong constitution to live out in the wild, even with my help. And Earl, for all his outward bravado and toughness was a puppy at heart, looking for guidance. He looked to me and trusted me to do what was right.

As I looked up at the sky the stars came out and started to twinkle as the night sky became lighter. I turned my gaze to the horizon above the trees. There was a faint glow, definitely not starlight I thought.

I got up quietly and went into the woods towards the light. I came to the edge of a cliff and looked down to see an endless sea of lights; lights of all different colors on buildings. There must be a million people down there, living in all those buildings; surely there was one family that would want some cute, friendly and loving dogs. I made my way back to our camp and curled up next to Lavender. Tomorrow, I decided, we would start a new adventure among people, away from the wilderness of nature.

Chapter Four

I.

The following morning there was bright sunshine warming us as we headed to the cliff and peered out over the teeming metropolis below.

"How do we get down there, Little Bit?" Lavender asked, a very astute question.

We stared at the steep embankment bedecked with sharp, jagged boulders and nothing else. Earl walked closer to the edge and, as he looked down, suddenly his front paws went out from beneath him and he nearly plummeted to his death. Only Lavenders quick response, grabbing the larger dog's rear leg saved him. The sandy edge had given way and small pebbles and sand cascaded down the cliff to the unseen bottom below. The precipice seemed to go on forever in each direction.

"Come on", I said. "Let's walk a ways and see if there is a trail or something." I ran ahead as Lavender and Earl cautiously followed behind, being careful to stay a good ways back from the edge. As I ran ahead I noticed that the slope became less steep and there seemed to be some long grass growing between the boulders. I waited for my two companions and then we started down together. It must have been two hundred meters to the bottom.

I lead the way with Earl in the middle and Lavender behind him. I thought this was best. Lavender, although of gentle constitution, was still a Westie, bred for climbing over and between the craggy rocks of Scotland. Earl was more fighter than explorer and was comfortable on flat solid surfaces, not jumping from boulder to boulder on a grassy cliff. However, our caravan inched its way downwards and by noontime we were safely on a flat, soft grassy knoll at the bottom of the cliff.

II.

There was a dirt road at the bottom which we started to follow; before long this road ran into a larger hard black road that I was sure would lead us to the big city. We walked along the edge, careful to stay away from the road as cars whizzed by, not one of them took any notice of three dogs traveling together. We passed a sign that I couldn't read at the time, but now I know that it said "Welcome to Oceanside, Gateway to the Atlantic". Within the hour we saw signs that there were many companions nearby, a large truck zoomed by us and then deposited a load of old papers, half eaten food and broken machines into a huge hole in the ground. As we walked to the edge of the hole truck after truck appeared each pulling up to the edge and dumping its payload.

"Some of that smells pretty good", Earl commented. We hadn't eaten all day and the old, half eaten food was tempting.

"Let's go" I said and we raced down the sandy embankment and attacked the human refuse. It wasn't long before we were able to find plenty old food to satisfy the three of us. Scraps of meat, cheese, bread, cookies and every other type of food were there for the taking. The blend of scents wafting up from the garbage was better than the finest French perfume.

"This is good, Little Bit", Lavender observed. "But, we're not going to spend the rest of our days living with human garbage, are we?"

"Of course not", I answered. "We'll find a proper place to live, with companions and a nice, warm fire, good wholesome food and clean water to drink." She smiled and nuzzled up close to me as Earl returned from a nearby mountain of trash, licking his huge jowls. As he approached I heard some rustling from the back of the nearest pile, followed by a scurrying sound and then much more rustling.

Almost simultaneously the three of us looked up and saw a huge rat. Behind this King rat we saw an endless sea of rats, some as big as Lavender and me, but all of them looking particularly angry that there kingdom had been invaded.

III.

We're in trouble I thought. A few rats wouldn't ever be a problem, even a hundred could be managed; but there we were staring down at thousands of gray rodents and they were displaying most unpleasant dispositions. Lavender stood there, paralyzed while Earl put a brave look on his face, but I could see his legs shaking a bit. Behind us was a mountain of old trash; food, discarded monitors, boxes and perched at the top a large concrete cylinder, the sort of thing used to build an underground pipeline.

The rats were slowly moving closer; an occasional brave (or foolhardy rodent) would charge and be quickly dispatched by the powerful jaws of Earl. The concrete pipe above us was our only chance for escape. I whispered to Lavender, "Can you make it up to the top, to that round thing?"

She glanced over her shoulder and nodded her head. Earl also gave a short nod and, as the "King" started to move more quickly, the three of us turned and raced to the top of the garbage heap. As soon as we started the rats began to run after us; they looked like a gray wave on a beach flowing up the steep bank of garbage. As we reached the top I stuffed Lavender and Earl inside. The pipe was balanced on a few boxes. I set my paws to working and the big round cylinder started to lurch forward. The rats were almost upon me as I jumped on top of the rolling pipe and, using, if you'll excuse the expression, my cat-like balance I scurried up on top. My four paws had to do a fancy two step to maintain my perch as the big pipe rolled down to freedom. I managed to scoot along its top and into one end as it picked up greater speed.

There was squealing and the sound of scurrying as the massive tube rolled over rats and garbage liberating us from the deadly trap. Many of the rats made their way inside either end of our rolling sanctuary; each was quickly dispatched by one of us. Indeed, Earl's fighting skills allowed him to snap the necks of three or four rats at a time. We came to a stop on level ground and quickly scampered out and away to freedom, leaving the refuse, rats and garbage far behind. We made our way back to the road and into the city, happy that this detour was behind us.

Chapter Five

I.

After a short walk along the black road we came to a series of huge buildings, gray with a few trees and a bit of green grass in front. Cars by the hundreds zoomed past us as we came up to the first humongous gray building. There was a big glass door in front and, as we watched from safe point behind some scraggly bushes across the road, we saw people coming and going.

"None of them has a dog", Lavender observed.

Indeed, all the people seemed preoccupied with something or other, all had very serious looks on their faces and no one looked happy. There was a big sign over the door which I couldn't read at the time, but now I know it said "MONMOUTH NATIONAL BANK." Anyway, we decided that the big gray building was not the place for three stray mutts and we continued onward.

There were other buildings, most looked foreboding, cold and heartless, not the kind of place for us. As we walked on, the buildings became smaller and seemed to grow an air of acceptance. There was more grass and trees and the cars didn't seem to be in as much of a hurry. The buildings were still big, but the people going in and out had smiles on their faces. The farther we went on the farther apart the buildings were. Finally, we reached one that had a big green yard in front and a fence running around the back.

"Let's stop here", I said. "I think we can find new Companions; this house looks like it needs three friendly dogs."

Earl nodded his agreement and Lavender gave a faint smile. We went around to the back. Earl and Lavender hid out of sight while I went up to the door, scratched on it and gave a short bark. A light came on as I sat down to see who would come.

II.

A shadow appeared followed by a big burly man with light brown skin, a black moustache and dressed in white. As he opened the door, I gave my best puppy dog look and a short yap to tell him that I was there. He was wiping his hands with a white towel and gave me a big smile as he peered down at me. He bent down and I stood up on my back legs and gave another short yap. Cutenessalways works I thought.

"Cute little fella", he said as he reached out and scratched my chin. This guys OK, I decided and I gave another short yip. At this signal Lavender and Earl came out of hiding. The big man stood up straight and put his hands on his hips and then looked at me.

"Oh, you're the advance man, little guy. Checking everything out for the others, eh?"

I gave a short bark of agreement as Lavender and Earl sat down at my side. Lavender sat very close and I could feel her shaking. I licked her ear and whispered that I was sure this guy was a friendly companion and that we'd found a new home.

The man went back inside, leaving the door open, and returned in less than a minute with three big plates of food and a big bowl filled with ice water. We're home I thought as we gorged ourselves on the tastiest food we'd ever had in our short lives.

"Come on in to the kitchen", the man said. "Let me find the Missus. I'm sure she'll want to greet such handsome guests personally."

He left us alone in the kitchen. I looked around and saw an impressive collection of gleaming, polished stainless steel. All three of us were captivated by the smells coming from every corner of the room. The scent of roasting chicken, fresh bread, cakes, cheese and so much more filled my nostrils and I had visions of sumptuous banquets every day. There wasn't any sign of a food synthesizer, just fresh, wonderful food. Of course, back in those days I wouldn't have known a synthesizer from a door knob.

III.

The man returned followed by a short, slightly heavy woman with gray hair tied into a bun and the kindest face I had ever seen. She gave me a big smile and then bent down and scratched behind my ears and then Lavender's ear. Earl gave a deep, loud bark and she reached around and gave him a long scratch to the top of his head. Earl grinned and rolled on his back and she scratched his belly. After a few minutes she stood up and turned to the man.

"They're simply adorable, Oscar, but they all could use a bit of cleaning; but first bring some food for our guests."

In a flash three huge bowls filled with chicken and cheese, and a bunch of other tasty delights were placed in front of us. We gorged ourselves again, I have to confess, filling our bellies until we could hardly move. After our arduous journey and that wonderful feast all I wanted to do was sleep. I could tell that Lavender and Earl had the same idea. A big yawn escaped from my mouth and a bent down and stretched as much as was possible.

"They look exhausted, Momma", the big man said. "Perhaps the bath should wait."

"Yes, you're right. I'll fix up a nice spot for them", the woman replied.

In no time she had cushions and blankets for us all in a nice clean room. As soon as I hit the cushion I was fast asleep.

Chapter Six    

I.

Our new home was simply a delight. We had all the food we could eat, a warm clean place to sleep, and a large yard to run around and play in. Lavender and Earl were content to live this life of peace and for a time, so was I. Our new companions, whose names were Merle and big Bob treated us like we were royalty.

We had a routine which kept us safe and comfortable. Every morning we woke up with the sun, went outside to do whatever needed to be done, ran around in the big yard chasing the birds and then returned to the spacious kitchen for a sumptuous breakfast. I should have been content to stay there with Earl and Lavender, but I kept having this unsettled feeling in my stomach. For the longest time I tried to ignore it and be content living this life of ease.

We slept in a little room, just off the kitchen with a door that let us go outside whenever we pleased. Every night Lavender and Earl would curl up together in their own large bed, while I prefer to sleep on the hard tile floor. Many nights while they were quietly sleeping I would sneak outside and stare up at the sky. On clear nights I'd watch the stars twinkle in the black sky and once in a while I'd see one seem to shoot out and race across the night sky. At those times, I was sure there was something more than the simple life we were living.

II.

Merle and big Bob were the only two companions that we ever had contact with but there were other people in the house. They would come and go at odd hours, but never came into the kitchen, and we never saw them in large backyard. I guess they didn't care about, three cute little dogs. The few times I saw their faces, they always had very serious, almost angry looks on their faces. But, I never found out anything much about either the man or the woman and it really didn't matter. For the three of us, it was just happy days full of food, fun and leisure.

III.

Of course it always wasn't just fun and games. For instance, there was the day that everyone got excited and treated me like a big hero. Most of my mornings began with going outside and chasing the birds that congregated in the backyard. Every morning, the same flock of birds would be in the backyard eating the seeds and berries off the many trees and bushes. I would stand silently like a statue and slowly sneak up on them. As I approached, one of them invariably looked up and saw me coming. I would pounce into action, but in a flash they would be gone, taking off as I stood on the ground and watched them fly away, my soul filled with envy. I think they enjoyed our little romps each morning. They would soar away and circle around, acting scared but I think they really had fun.

The same group seemed to come every day. There were some big black birds, smaller brown birds, some in between blue and black birds and a few shy red and black birds. Occasionally, there were some new ones, and different birds showed up for brief times as the seasons changed.

My big day started like all the rest. I went into the yard and started the daily routine. As the flock scattered I saw that one of the red and black birds, usually the most shy and the first to take off, only flew a short distance and then returned to a spot next to the big house, right on top of a storm drain. He had a scared look on his face and flapped his wings and bobbed up and down.

Instead of stalking mode I quickly walked over, trying to convey the idea that I was only investigating and that he shouldn't be frightened. I guess he understood, because he just perched there and waited for me. The other birds were all watching from the safety of the trees and bushes that surrounded the drain. I sniffed the air and then the ground as I came up to the drain.

The distinct scent of a bird wafted into my nostrils as I approached the drain. The smell was similar to the red birds scent, but also a little different, a bit sweeter. I peered through the grate over the drain, but there was nothing to see; only a pool of water at the bottom. The scent was unmistakable, however, and I heard a faint flapping from under the ground. It was obvious that one of the birds was stuck. I knew someone had been missing from the morning romp.

I started barking and running about, hoping to bring some help. Lavender and Earl came running and I quickly filled them in on the situation. They also started barking, Lavender with her high pitched yelps and Earl with his much deeper howls and growls. The birds seem to come a bit closer and the red bird started flapping his wings frantically. The sound of faint flapping from under the ground seemed to be fading.

Despite all this ruckus, Merle and big Bob didn't come. I took matters into my own hands and started to dig.

"Do you think you should dig up the garden like that, Little Bit?" Lavender asked, worried that we would be sent away for destroying the flower bed.

I just grunted and kept on digging as Earl kept up his loud, deep howling. I soon reached the plastic pipe that ran underground, a pile of red dirt and tulips built up next to me. I did my best to scratch at the pipe, but I didn't see any way to open it up. I could still hear flapping from inside, but the scent had changed, not as sweet.

Earl stopped his howling and started biting at the plastic pipe with his powerful jaws as Lavender, no longer worried about upsetting our companions, began barking with much greater force. The flapping sound inside the pipe disappeared.

Finally, big Bob came running, his white apron flapping in the breeze and close behind was Merle, walking quickly with a look of concern on her face. Big Bob seemed annoyed at first, not noticing all the birds and unable to pick up the now distressed scent of the trapped bird.

"What are you dogs.?" he started to ask, but then he immediately figured out something was amiss, as I kept barking and scratching at the pipe.

"Let's see what's stuck", he said as Merle arrived. The two of them managed to pull open the drainage pipe at the seam and I reached in and pulled out a brown bird with black eyes. She was still at first and I gave her a nudge with my nose. At first, I thought we were too late, but then she opened her eyes and started flapping her wings. In a flash she was perched alongside her mate and a moment later the two flew away together along with all the other birds.

"It looks like these dogs are heroes", Merle said. Earl and Lavender stepped away leaving me standing next to the open drain and the pile of torn flowers and dirt.

"Oh, so you're the big hero, eh, Little Bit", big Bob observed. "Well, you deserve a parade and a medal. But first we need to fix the master's flowers."

So, we fixed the drain pipe and I filled in the hole and Merle put the flowers back as best as she could. Then we marched back to the kitchen, making our own parade as Merle and big Bob sang a song:

"Hip Hip Hooray for the hero of the day"

They sang over and over as I walked at the front of our little procession. We all got extra big dinners that night and for the next few weeks they called me hero instead of Little Bit. I still chased the birds every morning, but now it was with a wink and a smile. We all knew that even if they were caught it was all for fun. Even still, every morning when they flew away, I watched them until they were out of sight, wishing I was a bird and could fly away whenever I wanted.

Chapter Seven        

I.   

I lived in that house with Lavender and Earl for about six months, spending my days chasing the birds and the nights guarding the house against any unseen vermin: rats, mice, snakes, roaches, anything that could disturb our peaceful lives. 

One night Earl came to me as I stood guard, barking my warnings to any stray rats.

"What's wrong?" I asked, although, judging by the look on his face, I already had an idea.

"Little Bit, I always feel so restless; I don't think that I'll ever feel completely at peace. I mean, I really love being in this home with you and I love Lavender more than my own life," he explained. "But, in the past, before our first, brutal encounter, I was so bad. Before I met the two of you I did some terrible things; things I almost did to you and to..." he paused for a moment "...Lavender; tore little dogs like you to pieces and..."

"Don't say another word, Earl", I said as gently as I could. "It wasn't your fault. You did what you were taught to do. How could you have done anything different? It isn't your fault that you were with some bad companions. You have so many more years ahead of you. You'll have so many chances to make up for what you've done before."

"What can I do? I don't think I'll ever be able to get all the squeals and whimpers out of my head. Every night when I sleep, all I see are all the Yorkies and Chihuahas and I don't know how many other little dogs; their little bodies broken and bleeding. It's so horrible."

I really felt sorry for the big guy; he looked so tormented. "That life is gone now and all you can do is your best to atone for the past by being as good as you can in the years to come. Look after Lavender; take care of the children I know that you'll have in the future. I think time will be the best medicine for that empty gnawing feeling that is at the center of your soul."

Of course there are things I've learned since then that would have had much more meaning than my empty words, but that was the best I could offer at the time. I gave him a short nuzzle behind his ear and then I told him.

"I was planning to tell you at sunup, but since you're up I'll tell you now. I'm going away; soon, tomorrow, I think"

In the night air, under the faint moonlight I saw Earl's eyes grow wide.

"Wh-what do you mean, going away. You're not going to leave us; we need you."

"You don't need me, you big lout. You and Lavender need each other and your safe here. These companions are nice and have taken good care of us. But, I'm so restless. I feel like there's something out there for me, something new and different and wonderful. I know that I could live here with you two and be safe and content, but every night I look at the stars and wish I was up there with them. I know it's silly, but it's time for me to move on."

Earl's face softened as he realized I was right. "You know", he started, "from the first time we met, when you beat me the way you did I knew. I knew that there was something extra special about you. I don't know what you'll find out there, but someday I suspect that I'll hear your name again. And, when I hear the name Little Bit I'm sure that you'll have done the most wonderful thing anyone could ever imagine. What time are you leaving?"

"At sunrise. I don't think I can stand saying good-bye to Lavender. You tell her for me, and", I paused for a moment, "take good care of her. You two are made for each other. And in the years to come I'll always keep an eye open for some West Highland White Bull Terriers or, perhaps, Pit Bull Westies. Whatever they are you'll be a great Dad and Lavender will be a perfect Mom."

We sat together for a while and, as the sun started to peak over the hills in the distance I put my paw on Earl's back, said a last good-bye and headed out into the vast unknown world.

II.

I didn't have much of a plan, really. All the cars were headed in the same direction, zipping silently along the road. I figured that they were all going somewhere and so I followed them, staying along the road until I came to the city. There were huge buildings and cars whizzed by every second and, soon I saw more people in one place than I'd ever seen before. The first order of business was to find some food. There were no friendly companions about and I couldn't find anything to hunt so I had to improvise.  It was at this point in time that my career as a thief started. I never intended to become a criminal, really, but a dog's got to eat. Of course, I never intended to become so successful at thievery that even the police started looking for me. Here's what happened:

As I found my way among the big buildings I soon discovered that along the narrow streets between the tall buildings I could find food. There were huge metal boxes that were filled with what I soon learned was garbage, uneaten food and such. Twice a day a big truck rolled through the narrow alleyways between the buildings and the "food" was dumped into the trucks, only a lot of times big chunks fell to the street. At these times it was possible to scramble along the alley and find plenty to eat.

It seems that all the various animals that lived in the city knew the times to scrounge. Other dogs, cats, rats, mice, birds, they all scrambled into the alleys to scarf up humanities' refuse. But, sometimes there wasn't very much. It was then I learned to steal. If a squirrel or another dog beat me to a choice scrap, I quickly learned to sneak up and spirit the garbage away. I learned that most dogs have short attention spans and that an upset garbage container or a startled cat often caused them to forget about their food, leaving it to the first person to stumble across it (me). During this time I also learned that most cats scare easily, at least the first time, but that some also have very sharp claws. If you look closely you can see the scar on the side of my nose. I was quite good at stealth, the months of practice with the birds had some benefit, and it wasn't long before I set my sights on things that were better than mere scraps of garbage. After a few weeks, I stumbled upon the open air market; smorgasbord for someone as deft as me.

III.

Of course, I didn't spend my days just looking for food. Once I figured out that I'd be able to find enough to eat and that mere survival wouldn't be difficult, I explored the city. I learned that the name of the city was Washington. It was a huge place, filled with cars and people and more cars and more people. I spent hours every day going to new areas. That's when I found the market.

All the food I'd eaten up until then had tasted pretty much the same. I learned years later that the synthesized food, which was the standard fare of the day, started to breakdown into its components after a few hours and, although you could live on it, it wasn't very tasty. That's why the smells from the market attracted me. I climbed up on a ledge that overlooked stalls and carts filled with all sorts of fresh goodies; vegetables, fresh meat, sausages, chickens, cheese, everything and it all looked so good and all just there for the taking.

I spotted a sausage stand at the edge of the market and saw that one set of links was hanging a bit low. Child's play, I thought. I zipped in, made a quick lunge, a quicker bite and scurried off with a string of about a dozen reddish brown sausages hanging out of my mouth. I heard some shouting behind me, but the voice faded quickly as I hid away from all the people and enjoyed the finest repast I'd had in weeks. I ate half of my prize and saved the rest for a nighttime snack. The following day the market was open again and the next and the next and every morning. I became a regular visitor.

No matter how all those vendors tried, there was always one that was just a little careless and I never went hungry and I never got caught. I quickly learned that if I created a little diversion, say by chasing a cat or, even better, a rat, through the market, then all I had to do was dart in, make my move and zip out. I think the people that worked there stayed on the lookout for me, but nobody ever came close to catching me; at least not until much later, after I’d found a new job and a new mentor; one that took full advantage of my special talents. Alistair was his name and he showed me that there were other things worth stealing besides food.

Chapter Eight

I.

Alistair, the name brings back some amazing memories. How he discovered me I'll never know, but somehow he pulled me away from my life of petty thievery and brought me to lofty heights of larceny I never imagined.

It all started after a typical day near the market. I had just made off with a few pounds of real roast beef and was happily munching away when I noticed a new smell, an aroma that was fresh and sweet and I just couldn't resist investigating. I quickly downed the rest of my dinner and then followed my nose.

It wasn't long before I found the prize I was seeking. Down an alleyway, a few hundred yards from the market I saw a big ham turning on a spit over an open flame. It seemed to be on one of those automated rotisserie things and it just looked so inviting. Even though my stomach was full and I was breaking my unwritten rule about stealing more than I needed, I couldn't resist.

I took a good long sniff, sensing that it could be a trap, but all I smelled was the ham, no people around, no other dogs, nothing. It was just there for the taking I thought; zip in, zip out and I'm set for the next few days. I made my move, pushed the door open and raced towards my prize. As soon as I was in and I'd knocked down the ham I felt a breeze and heard a slam. The breeze stopped and I immediately sniffed a flowery fragrance and a cat. Before I could move I was scooped up and popped into a small cage. I was caught. My first thought was that the authorities were going to an awful lot of trouble for a few sausages and chickens.

I started barking loudly as I looked through the wires of my tiny cage and saw him, my new patron, Alistair. He was tall, thin, with a black moustache and a dark complexion. He smiled at me, revealing the whitest teeth I had ever seen and he said, "My little friend, you are pretty good, but I will teach you to be the best."

II.

I barked my loudest, acting angry and belligerent, but I remember that I thought the whole thing was really intriguing. I understood a bit of what he was saying and after he gave me some of the very tasty ham I calmed down. I looked around the room. I have to say it wasn't much, but it was functional. There were some chairs and a table; the walls were a bit dirty, painted green and without decoration. There was a bed in the corner and a small food synthesizer, but also a real refrigerator that actually contained real food. I still didn't completely trust this Alistair, but I was curious. After a while I fell asleep, still locked away in my small cage.

It was dark when I awoke and I gave a short yelp to remind everyone that I was still there. I heard a brief purring sound and then she came over, Esmeralda, a black cat. She sauntered around my little cage, still purring softly, almost taunting me. I did my best to ignore her and then she spoke.

"Little Bit", she purred demurely; I assumed they had learned my name from the chip that was embedded within me, "You and I will do great things. Mr. Alistair" and she nodded towards the still sleeping man, "will show you things that you never even imagined. You're pretty good at stealing chickens, but there are so many better things out there. For instance."

She jumped up on the table and came back with something in her mouth, a knobby sort of string. She came around the cage until the moonlight struck the object and it started to sparkle.

"This is much better than bits of food", she purred as she laid the dazzling necklace in front of me. "A few months ago I picked up a collar like this and I even wore it for a few days, until Alistair sold it. Such beauty, such style." And she picked up the diamond necklace and carefully put it back on the table. I quickly surmised that Mr. Alistair's interest extended far beyond sweet ham. I was looking forward to working with him.

III.

The next day my real education began. I was still in my little cage, although Alistair did let me out on a leash for a short time, to stretch my legs and do a few other essential items. But, as soon as I was done it was back in the cage for a short ride and then walk to a real store, with windows and a roof. Esmeralda road with us, although she wasn't in a cage. Alistair was dressed in a fine black silk suit and looked like a perfect gentleman. We went into the store; just the two of us, I didn't see the cat anywhere.

As we entered the store Alistair started to look at all the jewelry. There were several other customers there, being attended by, what seemed to me, a very vigilant sales staff. As my new companion perused the various showcases loaded with fine, luxurious jewels he put his hand into the cage and pinched me. I let out a short yelp and then he pinched me again, harder. This time I let out a yelp and a bark. When he tried to pinch me again I snapped at him and started barking, very loudly. I guess this did the trick, because various salespeople and customers came running and I soon got the idea.

In addition to my loud barking I started to bare my teeth and growl like a rabid dog and more people came as I noticed a sly smile on Alistair's face. He rapped the side of the cage and yelled "hush.quiet" but I only barked louder. He turned to the crowd of people and offered his apology.

"I don't know what's gotten into this little dog", he said, holding their attention. "He's never acted like this before. He's usually such a friendly little Westie. I better take him outside."

He picked up my cage and we scooted out quickly, ducked down a side street, and then quickly hopped into a taxi and sped away. We stopped about a kilometer away, opened the taxi door and Esmeralda hopped in. Nobody said a word until we were back at Alistair's old room. They put the cage down and Alistair even let me out. Esmeralda was sitting on the table and she opened her mouth and produced two pairs of diamond eaarings, three rings and a diamond and emerald bracelet.

"Not bad, my little lady, not bad at all for a few minutes toil. And you, my new friend", he said to me, picking me up and staring into my eyes. "You learn very fast. I can see this is going to be quite a profitable business arrangement."

I wasn't sure what it all meant at the time, but I was beginning to like this Alistair; and Esmeralda, even though she was a cat.

Chapter Nine

I.

At this point I have to stop and state that I really had no idea that there was anything wrong with stealing. Alistair had been very good to me and there seemed to be so much of everything that a bit of redistribution wasn't going to cause any permanent harm to anybody. It certainly brought great joy to Esmeralda every time we managed to purloin a fine bit of jewelry and I really enjoyed the challenge.

So we spent our days happily pursuing this wonderful pastime. We pulled about one job a week and managed to clear enough to keep Alistair dressed in the finest silk shirts and provide Esmeralda with a different fancy collar for each day of the month. As for me, I really didn't care if I had much. A full meal, the challenge of the hunt, Alistair's companionship were all the things I wanted. Although he wasn't quite the same as some of my later companions, Alistair really was fun to be with. He had his serious moments, particularly when he was planning our next job, but besides this he would take me out for walks and romps; most often to places that were out of the way and fun to explore.

He took me to this wild park once, at least I think it was a park, anyway, there was a lot of open space, trees, and a big lake. It reminded me of those first few days when Lavender, Earl and I escaped and we were out in the wilderness. At this park Alistair and I ran together, chased squirrels, swam in the lake and had the grandest of times. He wasn't any match for me in a race, of course no human ever was, but he tried and he was sneaky. One time we were racing along a path through some woods; of course I was way ahead, but as I rounded a big thicket of bushes and approached the finish there he was about to cross the line. Of course, I started barking FOUL, but I'm sure he didn't understand and it was all in fun any way. Esmeralda, being a cat, remained aloof from all such nonsense, content to lounge on a tree branch or crouch at the lake's edge and catch fish.

II.

Despite these carefree moments, there was far more time spent working and planning our sordid capers. This was all Alistair's doing and he really had it down to a science. Sometimes it was he and Esmeralda causing the disturbance, sometimes it was me alone or him alone; no matter, the pattern was always the same: a diversion, distraction, a quick lifting of the desired items and then a fast getaway. He was always careful to keep his true appearance and identity hidden and he was a real master at disguise. Sometimes he even put a disguise on me. My favorite one was when he dressed up as a blind nun and I was his seeing-eye dog. We had the cat run across our path and into Finklestein's Fine Jewelry. I took off after her, pulling the presumably blind nun haplessly with me. Once inside, I broke away from my leash and chased Esmeralda all over that store, setting off alarms and upsetting everything we could. During all the distraction that slick Alistair managed to scoop up a surprisingly large haul and deftly hide it inside his artificially inflated nun's habit. After that job we relaxed and ate well for months.

III.

The next big thing came with the arrival of a new companion, someone that Alistair called "Spider". I don't why he called her that; she certainly didn't look like any spider I'd ever seen. She was, however, a dark haired, dark skinned beauty who seemed to be very special to Alistair, certainly more special than Esmeralda or me. When she arrived the two of them disappeared for hours at a time. I don't know what they did, but Alistair seemed happy; always smiling and she was pleasant enough. I figured that during those times when they went off together they were planning our big heist. I say this because it was only a few weeks after she came that we went after the biggest prize ever. This was the big jewel exhibit at the Smithsonian. All I can say is that it took all of our special skills to carry out the plan and it almost worked. We spent weeks planning and rehearsing, rehearsing and planning until we had the whole job timed and laid out to the millisecond.

Alistair and Spider built an exact replica of the exhibit hall in a big drafty warehouse with colored lights and display cases. They practiced shooting wires from one end to the other and Esmeralda and I spent hours learning how to balance on those wires, walk across them, open the display cases and scoop out the jewels. I had to do all my work wearing a backpack of sorts. Esmeralda was careful to keep the weight even so that I wouldn't lose my balance during our escape.

At this point I'll say it again, throughout this period of my life, I never thought twice about what we were doing or that any of it might have been wrong. I guess I really didn't know any better. I can say that it was definitely fun. After weeks and weeks the big day came. I suspected something was up because the night before Alistair was up all night. Being the loyal dog that I was I stayed up with him, pacing back and forth, back and forth.

 Of course, all night long Spider and Esmeralda slept like it was just going to be another day. I realized then that there was a big difference between men and women and dogs and cats. We practiced and rehearsed, rehearsed and practiced for weeks until the big day came. Alistair had a new costume; he looked like a soldier, but it turned out he was really dressed like one that museums security people. Spider had on her usual tight, black body suit, with a white skirt and jacket over the suit. I had a special collar with small handles on the side and Esmeralda was just herself, without any special props or apparatus.

Alistair left right after breakfast, while the three of us sat around all day, doing nothing but waiting. At about four in the afternoon Spider announced it was time to go. She picked up her oversized, leather bag, opened a little door near the bottom and Esmeralda scooted inside, while I grabbed my leash, which Spider hooked to my collar and we were off.

We arrived about fifteen minutes before closing and went around to the side of the building, away from any crowds. Spider let Esmeralda out of the bag and took my leash away. The cat and I waited by that side door while Spider showed me why she had earned her name. I watched as she climbed up that brick wall as if she really was a spider. White skirt and jacket were left discreetly in the bushes and she shimmied up to the roof just like a real spider.

About thirty seconds later, Alistair opened that side door and we scooted inside, right into the closet just inside the door which we knew would be waiting for us. All the weeks of preparation and timing was paying off. Exactly twenty minutes later Alistair returned and we made our way to the display room. Through the glass door we all could see the showcase, still lit up and sparkling with the magnificent jewels; the Brady collection I learned later, valued at close to $150 million. I wondered where the rest of the guards were, but only for a moment. I saw some of them sleeping down unoccupied halls. It seems that Alistair had been pretty busy.

As we stared through the glass doors at the jewels, Alistair pulled out his little gun, already loaded. He hit a button on the wall and the doors flew open and the game started. I saw a mark on the floor and our mentor stood with his left foot on that mark and aimed his gun at a spot on the wall opposite us. With the steadiest hands I had ever seen (that is up to that time, Major Sanders was steadier) he fired and a sharp dart pulling a plastic coated wire hit the mark perfectly.  Alistair fired a second time and, once again, hit his mark exactly on the spot. Two wires now formed a bridge that ran across the room, a short hop from the bight display of jewels. Now it was time for me and Esmeralda to go to work.

The black cat jumped on my back and hooked her claws into the handles on my collar. I jumped up on to the wire bridge and started across the floor. During training there were red light beams criss-crossing the room and the wire bridge passed through the only clear space that was close to the precious jewels. As I steadily crawled along the tight rope, Esmeralda whispered in my ear.

"Steady, Little Bit; those wonderful jewels are so close I can smell them. Almost there; are you sure you're not a cat?"

I wasn't sure if I it was a compliment or an insult and it really didn't matter. I concentrated on making my way smoothly and calmly to the jump off point. Any little slip and one of the invisible light beams would be interrupted and then we'd be goners. Despite the obvious dangers, that black cat kept her inane chatter.

"I'm going to get me the finest platinum collar, dine on herring and caviar everyday and give up the business for good; settle down to a nice quiet life, just Spider and me."

This last comment caught my attention; what did she mean, just Spider and her? Well, it was certainly not the time to start an argument as we approached the jump off point. It was time for her to carry out her part of the caper. She jumped up and over the light beam we knew was there and landed right in the middle of the top of the display case. She looked up and saw the cable with the hook and the cutter descending from the ceiling. I stood and watched silently, not moving, as she guided that cutter around the top of the case, only the faintest whirring noise providing any clue that something was up.

The whirring stopped and Esmeralda hooked one her claws into the groove that had been created and slid the circle glass to the side. Now came the tricky part, the quick switch, scooping the prizes into the bag that should have appeared, replacing each piece with one of identical weight; so as not to set off the alarm. At that moment I learned what Esmeralda meant when she talked about her future.

I looked up and there was Spider climbing down that cable like the devious Black Widow I always suspected she was. In a flash she was dangling just above the open case, Esmeralda was gathering all the jewels with remarkable speed and Spider was stuffing them into her suit. The alarm sounded, very loudly, but Spider continued deftly scooping up precious jewels until her black suit was bulging from every angle. I looked over at Alistair and saw a look of shock on his face as he turned to escape. I looked up and saw another Spider staring down from the glass skylight, only this spider had white skin and blonde hair. I looked over at the display and saw Spider scoop Esmeralda into her arms and the cable to started to retract. Alistair was gone and there I was, about to be left holding the bag.

I'm not taking the fall for this, I thought. I gave a strong push with my back legs and sprang into the air and grabbed Spider's ankle in my strong jaws. She gave a short scream and shook her leg, but I held on tight. In a second we were on the roof. I let go of her ankle and the two ladies and cat jumped into a vehicle of some sort that was hovering just off the roof.

I felt a hot breeze as they sped away. It was getting dark and beams of light from the gathering police cars could now be seen cutting through the evening sky. I took a quick peak over the ledge and the flashing lights and wailing sirens almost knocked me over.

I am not going to jail, I thought. I waited by the door to the stairwell, ready for the opportunity to dash for freedom. I didn't have to wait very long. I heard the door open after only a few minutes and, as soon as it was open far enough, I made my move. I knocked a big wooden plank down with a loud crash. The authorities turned to investigate and I raced through the door and down the stairs.

I heard them start to give chase, but I knew they couldn't catch me. Along the way down the stairs I saw a few officers, supposedly securing the premises, but they didn't seem very interested in a little white dog. I made my way for the front door, but saw at least a half a dozen uniformed and plain clothes policeman blocking my escape. I made a quick turn into the museum and, as I hoped, most of them followed. There was only one fat uniformed officer blocking the door; as I gave my pursuers the slip I turned back to the front door. I jumped right into the arms of that fat policeman, licked his face,  jumped out of his surprised grasp and out the front door.

As I raced down the street to freedom I saw Alistair sitting behind the screened windows of a police van, looking somewhat forlorn. I never found out if it was the double cross by Spider or being caught which made him feel worse. I suppose it didn't matter, really. I'm sure he was locked away for a long time. I never found out what happened to Spider, but I think she made a clean escape. The jewels showed up in a new exhibit, miraculously recovered about six months later, minus one diamond encrusted bracelet that is probably around Esmeralda's neck as we speak.

As for me, I headed back to the street. This affair ended my days as a jewel thief. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to start on a new, more important and totally wonderful part of my life.

Chapter Ten                      

I.                  

So, I got away and started out on my own again. I left that city and headed east, towards the rising sun. I stayed away from the roads, preferring the fields and trees to the exposure of the open road. I was still a bit worried that the authorities, whoever they were, might still be looking for me. I went from house to house, finding food in the piles of garbage that accumulated, occasionally giving chase to rats and mice and the infrequent cat.

After several days and a couple of hundred kilometers there was a new scent in the air, the distinct smell of salt water. I heard birds screaming overhead, seagulls I learned later, flying rats if you ask me. There was a smaller city near the water and that's where I headed. I was sure that where there was a city there were people and where there were people there was edible garbage. I was ready to renew my life as a petty thief. It turns out that I should have been a bit more careful who I tried to steal from, although, in retrospect it was all preordained and it was for the good of all humanity and dogs everywhere that the two of us should cross paths.

It started like all the other days. I sat on the hill above the open air market, scouting out the vicinity, looking for likely, unsuspecting targets. I don't know why I picked him out. He certainly was not my typical mark. This guy was big, robust and, even from my elevated vantage point, self confident. Maybe that was the reason, a new challenge; a chance to relive some of the thrill I had experienced in the past. Whatever my motivation, I had him, and what appeared to be a package of sausages, in my sights.

II.

I inched my away along the top of the hill until I reached the optimum point to start my run. The sun was at my back, which would add some surprise to my charge. I watched him as he bent over to admire some fine looking apples and then I raced towards him; I was almost able to taste those sausages. I timed my leap perfectly, snatched the package with one clean snap of my jaws and landed a couple of meters away and made a quick turn for my getaway. I thought I was home free, but what happened next amazed me.

That man threw down his bag, made a the quickest turn I'd ever seen and, as I raced by to make my escape, his hands shot out and snatched those sausages right out of my mouth. I really was so shocked that I did one of the stupidest things ever; I stopped dead in my tracks, sat down and barked at him. He just stood there, laughing at me, which just made me even more aggravated. Some of the finer points of thievery came back to me and I raced straight at that man as he continued to grin, holding the package of sausages out, taunting me. I knew he was no thief as I jumped right past his shoulder and landed smack dab in the middle of a table set up right behind him.

That stall was selling some type of tomato sauce and there were jars and an open container, which all went flying in every direction, mostly drenching the back of my unsuspecting adversary. I raced under the tables as that man tried to wipe off his back. He became careless with the prized sausages and I grabbed them out of his hands and raced away, up the hill and out of sight. Once I was safely away I turned and saw that man at the edge of the marketplace looking in my direction, staring right at me, really; staring and still grinning. I had the sense that he had enjoyed our little rendezvous as I carried my dinner to a secluded spot to partake of my illgotten booty in peace.

III.

Those sausages were enough for a few days and I didn't go back to that market for about a week. I knew that they'd be on the lookout for me, at least for a while. I lived off stolen sausage, and a few fish I'd caught, for the next several days, but I kept wondering if that man would return. If my intuition was correct, he'd be back; he didn't like being beaten, even by a dog.

It wasn't long before my adversary returned. On my second day back at the market I saw him; the tall, muscular, tanned figure stood out from the crowd. He tried to look inconspicuous, nonchalantly wandering from booth to booth, but it was obvious he was on the lookout and I was sure it was me he was waiting for. He was dressed a bit differently; he had been in a blue uniform on our initial encounter, but today he was wearing a loose fitting outfit. He was carrying a package and the same sausages were sticking out the top; bait for the dumb, unsuspecting Westie.

Perhaps it was the faint growling in my stomach or the obvious gauntlet he had laid out, but I decided to play his game. It was a bit of arrogance on my part, also. I was sure that no ordinary man could catch me, even with such an obvious trap.

I decided on a different plan of attack, however; making my way to the opposite end of the market, taking extra care to remain out of sight. As I crouched behind a bush, I saw him coming towards me, stopping at random booths, pretending to admire the wares that were being offered for sale. When he was about thirty meters away I made my move. I zipped out from my hiding place and raced towards my quarry, made a bold leap, snatched the sausages and raced away. I heard a laugh and, as I ran, I noticed a cord trailing alongside me. The bait was rigged. I didn't dare stop, as I was sure the man was in pursuit. This was going to take some fancy footwork and a bit of imagination.

The first thing was to drop my prize and disappear. Without breaking stride I let the sausages fall to the ground as I raced on ahead, then ducked behind one of the booths. I quickly made my way back to where the bait lay on the ground, only now it was my bait for the man. I saw him stop and look around, the sausage and the cord still on the ground. As he scanned every corner of the market I darted out from my hiding place, grabbed the delectable prize and then ran in circles around my unsuspecting adversary; wrapping the cord around his legs. Once I was sure he was caught and the cord was pulled tight, I took that rope in my mouth and gave a strong bite, freeing my prize and leaving the man "tied up" for the moment.

I started to make my escape, but couldn't resist stopping about twenty meters away, turning around to bark at my defeated enemy. A little trash talking never hurts, I thought. But, I didn't count on that man being a modern day Houdini. He was out of his prison almost as quickly as he'd been trapped and from that moment the race was on.

IV.

He was pretty fast, for a human, but I was much faster and I was familiar with every rock and root in that area. Still gripping my lunch, I raced away. It's true he wasn't nearly as fast as me, but he certainly was tenacious. Every time I stopped to see if he had given up I saw him running; up hills over rocks, around boulders, always coming closer. He ran at a steady pace and seemed to have a sixth sense about my location. We played cat and mouse (excuse the expression), like this for hours until I decided, that perhaps it would be interesting to meet this worthy opponent.

I put my stolen lunch down and sat down behind a large rock formation and waited. It wasn't long before he came trotting by; he ran right past me, but stopped and turned around. He was looking at a device on his wrist and, at that moment, I realized that he was no fool. As he approached I tore open the sausage package and saw a tiny, dime sized device tumble to the ground. He nonchalantly walked over and picked it up as I watched, perhaps a bit frightened, but far more curious. He took another look at his wrist and then walked towards me, extending his hand.

"Hello, Little Bit", he said in his low, forceful voice, "My name is David Sanders and I believe you have something that belongs to me."

As he approached I gave him a low growl and grabbed as many of the sausages as I could in my mouth. He stopped for a moment and I stopped my growling. However, I started to feel a bit light headed and a moment later everything went black. I woke up in a very different place.

Chapter Eleven

I.

I was in a dimly lit room when I awoke, trapped in a steel cage, big enough for me to stand and turn around, but not much else. There was a bowl filled with cold water in one corner, no food and a thin blanket on the floor. I lifted my nose to the air and caught the scents of a variety of other animals. There was the strong smell of rats and mice, at least one other dog and a few odors I didn’t recognize.

I felt a bit woozy still and my head hurt as I stood up, but I figured I should let everyone know that I was up, so I let out a few short yaps and then a series of long barks. In response I heard a loud scream which I later learned was from the monkey. Right next to me I heard soft purring sound almost like a cat, but this was from the other dog, a little black and white dog, smaller than me; she softly purred her name “Lucia”.

“What is this place”, I asked. “I don’t like being in this cage.”

“None of us likes it very much”, she answered with a bit of an accent; Italian I thought at the time. “We’re caged up most of the day; sometimes we get out for a while and sometimes they come by and give us food and water. The humans are either wearing white coats or blue uniforms. Just don’t make any trouble and you’ll be OK. The troublemakers get taken out and never come back.”

“Thanks for the tip”, I answered. “My name’s ‘Little Bit’, Lucia. I’m pleased to meet you.”

I thought about Lavender for a moment. Lucia was older, she had gray hairs mixed in with her black patches of fur and on her nose. She seemed tired, as if she had been beaten down all her life, but there was also an air of wisdom around her. I liked her immediately.

She told me her story and how she came to be in a cage in that lab.

“I was born into aristocracy in Italia,” she began. “My first companion was Heloise, a sweet lady with white hair who lived by the sea. She had a servant named Ilana who fed me every day, but Heloise always brushed my fur herself and took me for a walk every day, rain or shine. We walked along the water; sometimes she let me run free along the beach. After our walk, she would sit and read while curled up in her lap. There was tea every afternoon with small pastries. She always gave some to me, even though Ilana would scold her and tell her it was bad for me.

“My life went on like this for quite a few years. It wasn’t very exciting, but we were happy together, the three of us. But, then things changed. Heloise would cry and look worried. She would receive messages every few days and some of her fine jewelry began to disappear. But, we still went on our walks and she still brushed my hair. I think I was the only thing that made my dear Heloise smile. As time went on almost everything in our home was taken away. No furniture, no clothes, even my little bed. Heloise looked so old and tired. One day, after our walk, we came home and tried to go into our house, but the door was locked. Heloise tried to call Ilana, but she never answered.

“At first, poor Heloise just sat down in front of our home and cried and cried and cried. She didn’t know where to go or what to do. All she had was the clothes she was wearing and me. I did my best to cheer her up and I rubbed my fancy collar against her leg trying to tell her that she could sell it and then we’d be able to go back to our home. She looked at me and picked me up and held me close to her chest, but she wouldn’t stop crying.

“Finally, she got up and started to walk. I don’t think she had the faintest clue of where to go or what to do. All she could was walk. We walked along the river and then to the park and then along some streets where there were some fancy shops. Every so often she would stop and look in the window of one of those shops and then she’d start to cry again. That night she lay down on a bench in the park and she fell asleep right there. I tried to sleep, too, but I was worried and didn’t even close my eyes. It was a good thing, too, because a couple of big mean dogs came by, but I showed them my teeth and they went away. The next day it was the same thing. I was getting hungry and when she put me down to walk I ran ahead and found some old food in a garbage can. I brought it back for her, but she wouldn’t even look at it. I ate it, however and I drank some water from the gutter. By the middle of the day my poor companion was exhausted. She sat down on a bench in the park and put her head down, holding me with both arms. After a while I thought it was time for us to find some more food and I tried to wake her up. She wouldn’t move and she wasn’t even breathing. My darling Heloise was gone; at least she was at peace. I, however, was on my own for the first time in my life.

“Terrified does not adequately describe my feeling at that moment. I was just a little white dog all of a sudden alone in the world after years of comfort and pampering. At first I just sat by my poor Heloise. She didn’t need to be alone even if she was gone, but then people began to gather and some of them looked mean and angry. I barked at all of them, telling them to stay away from us, but before too long some men in blue uniforms came up and tried to grab me.  I wasn’t having any of it. I mean it was men like that put us out of our home. I became even more frightened and I ran away. Heloise couldn’t really help me and I decided I was better off on my own than with those men in their blue  uniforms.

“I ran and ran until it was dark. I finally stopped when I reached the water. There were a lot of birds squawking overhead and I caught the scent of rats and mice everywhere. It was a tough situation.”

I nodded my head in agreement. Her story sounded like mine, only worse. “how did you end up here?” I asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Lucia answered. “Like I said I was down by the water, at the docks. I was looking for food when I caught the scent of some fish. It’s never been my favorite, but beggars can’t be choosers, or so I’ve heard. I followed my nose and came across a big box. It was empty except in the far corner I saw two little fish squirming. Hunger got the best of me and I jumped in and tried to catch those poor fish. One of them kept jumping, but I finally held it down with my paw and was able to wolf it down, if you’ll pardon the expression. The second one was easier to catch, but as I was finishing it off the big crate started to move and I found myself loaded onto that ship and headed out to sea, an unintentional stowaway on a fishing boat.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. I cowered in the corner of that empty fish cargo hold, afraid to make even a little yip. But, it wasn’t long before the fishermen started loading the hold up with fresh fish; wriggling, squirmy, stinky fish, all shapes and sizes. I couldn’t stand it and I had to let myself be heard. I started yapping my head off.

“When I started, my barks were muffled by all those fish flapping there gills on top of me, but as that big box filled up I was able to climb on top of that mound of living sea food and proudly announce my presence. It was the end of the day and all the sailors had just finished their dinner. One of them reached in and grabbed me by the tail. He was holding me upside down by my tail as he started arguing with another of the men and soon everyone was arguing about me. I was worried they were going to throw me overboard. As the shouting continued, somehow, they let go of my tail and left me free. I saw a rat out of the corner of my eye. He was sneaking up on the cargo hold, planning to make off with some of  the hard earned catch. I don’t think he realized I had seen him, because when that nasty beast made his run to snatch some fish I shot out and grabbed him by the neck and with one quick bite, I dispatched that rodent. I think one of the men saw me, because he pointed and then they all pointed and smiled. I was lucky, I suppose. I’d proven my worth and they decided to keep me with them. They even gave me a new nickname “Vermin Destroyer”.

“I stayed on board for quite some time; my main companion was Nicki. He was the cook and he treated me like a queen. I did my part, kept that boat free of rats and mice and any other vermin. I loved all the boys on that boat. We fished the Mediterranean for a few seasons and then moved to the Atlantic. In retrospect, we should have stayed where we were.

“The first trip out from Spain we had a great haul. huge Tuna and Swordfish filled the cargo hold; it was amazing. When we returned to the fish market the boys made more money than they’d ever seen. They were so eager to get back out to sea that they ignored the warnings, the north wind, the red sky, the large waves that were building. None of the other fishing boats went out. As soon as we made it away from the market I could tell that Nicki was worried. Just as the nets were cast out there was a bright flash followed by the sharp clap of thunder. The waves grew to monstrous heights and crashed over the side. The motor sputtered and died and I was sure it wasn’t going to be long for the rest of us. Nicki grabbed hold of me and put me in a wooden crate as the boat started to break up and sink.

“I couldn’t see a thing and before that boat broke up and the entire crew was lost. I managed to survive, floating in my tiny life boat, tossed up and down the entire night; I never felt so sick. Well the storm eventually passed and I was able to poke my head out to see that I was surrounded by water, water and more water. At that point I realized there wasn’t much that I could do; floating in a makeshift life boat in the middle of a vast ocean, bobbing up and down without food and the water didn’t taste right. There was only one thing for me to do and I started right away.

“Rowf, rowf, bark, growl…rowf,” I started barking as loud as I could and I kept at it.

“Rowf…rowf,” I barked at sharks and scared them away.

“Ruff…bark,” I yelped at fish as they jumped out of the water next to me.

I kept at it for hours and hours. I guess my stubbornness paid off because after nearly nonstop barking for almost a day I heard a horn and I heard it coming closer and closer. It wasn’t long before I was picked by a big luxury yacht. Sadly, Nicki and the rest of the crew were gone, down with the ship I presumed.”

Tears filled her eyes and she had to pause for a few moments.

“To continue. I found myself  aboard this really fancy boat. There was a big galley, big bedrooms and a nice old lady who reminded me of Heloise. Her name was Danielle, Dani for short; she picked me up right away and brought me to her room, gave me a big bowl of food and water and then a nice, hot bath. I thought I’d finally found my place, but my happiness and feeling of relief didn’t last long. Lulu and Lilly made sure of that.”

 Lucia sighed a big sigh as light started to shine through the windows, which were high off the ground, and the room grew brighter. I took a look around and saw cages stacked on cages. Across the room were the rodents; dozens of mice and rats, their strong pungent scents almost overpowered my nostrils; at the end of the room was a lone monkey, I’m not sure what variety, and next to me was Lucia.

“We’ll finish the story later,” I whispered. I was anxious to learn more about my new home.

I took a long drink of water and then stood up and started to bark, loud and long. It’s time someone came to check on me, I thought. My head felt better and I was hungry. Before long I was rewarded for my persistence. A man dressed in a blue jumpsuit came in, yawning and scratching his head. I continued my barking, to be sure that he knew it was me that had called him.

“Quiet down, you pipsqueak”, he said with a stern voice. “It’s not breakfast time yet. Let me sleep.”

He wrapped a broomstick against the side of my cage, but I just kept on barking, even louder.

“Quiet, Little Bit, or they’ll take you away”, Lucia warned me.

“I don’t think so; I think they have something special planned for me. They went to a lot of trouble to catch me”, I said.

The man looked at a sign that was hung on my cage and then he shoved a bowl of food through a little slot in the door.

“That outta shut you up for a while”, he muttered as he left the room.

It was only dry food, not very tasty, but it was edible. I gobbled it down, ignoring the bland flavor and then I sat back to see what the day would bring.

II.

I didn’t have to wait very long for something to happen. The lights came on and two men in white coats came in and walked right up to my cage. The taller one, carrying a clipboard, looked a bit nervous as he glanced at me, then at his clipboard, then at the other man and then back at me.

The other man, short, bald , with a red face, unlocked my cage and started to reach in. I gave a low growl, just to let him know who was boss and he quickly pulled his hand out.

“Better put on some protective gear”, the tall man said.

“I’m not scared of some mangy, little white mutt”, the bald man responded. He put his hand back in and I barked and growled longer and showed him my sharp white teeth.

It’s best to establish the proper hierarchy at the beginning, I thought. At that moment my captor from the market came in and strode quickly towards me. Without hesitation, he opened the door and grabbed me under my front legs and pulled me out.

“Hey there, Little Bit, I see you’re showing the hired help who’s in charge around here”, he said to me and then he turned to the two men, Mutt and Jeff he called them, and said, “I really need to get going; you two clowns go feed the mice or something. Little Bit and I are going for a spin.”

I was becoming really fond of this human. I wondered how he knew my name, but then I remembered the little chip under my shoulder; he probably knew not only my name, but when and where I was born and who knows what else. He deftly wrapped collar around my neck and clipped on a leash and off we went.

We went outside and climbed into a funny looking vehicle, which I soon learned was the latest model astroplane. He strapped me into the seat and closed the clear top and then settled into the seat in front of me. He put on a hard white hat, pushed a few buttons; there was a brief roar and we started to move. Of course, I had to let out a few barks, just to remind him that I was still there. A few moments later we were off the ground, flying through the clouds, going higher and higher. I stopped my barking; completely fascinated by that wonderful, special moment; the dream of my puppy days was coming true.

“Quite a sight, eh, Little Bit”, I heard my companion’s voice coming through the speaker next to me. I let out a short yap to voice my approval.

“Hold on tight”, he added, “we’re heading out to space.”

It seemed like we were going faster and faster, there was a loud boom and then the sky outside was black and I saw a billion white lights, the stars filling the black void of space (pardon me while I wax poetic).

We raced around the moon and flew past Mars, all the time my companion, David was his name, talked to me. At the time I didn’t understand all he said, but now I know he was telling me that he thought I was the perfect choice for a very special flight and that he would teach me to fly my own space vehicle. Even though I didn’t understand it all, I barked and howled with joy; I was flying like the birds I used to watch as a puppy, a distant time that was becoming only a vague memory.

III.

After the flight David took me to a fenced in area and took off the leash and harness that had kept me tethered and let me run around for a while. The area had soft green grass, but wasn’t very big. The fence was polished metal and pretty high, but I could look through it to the compound and world beyond. There were lots of low buildings, lots of seagulls flew overhead and the distinct smell of the ocean filled my sensitive nose. David was talking to someone while I explored and didn’t pay me much attention, assuming that I couldn’t cause any trouble or escape from the small yard.

While I was running around a big truck rolled by outside the fence and the scent of fresh bread and sugary pastries caught my attention. Dry food is OK when desperate, but fresh donuts are better any day. I looked back at David and gave a short bark. He didn’t even hear me. The donuts were getting away and David was oblivious. I searched around, but escape looked impossible. Over the fence? Or under? A quick survey revealed an area where there was a space between the fence and the grass. I raced to that spot and quickly dug a tunnel in the soft ground. I raced after the truck, which was forced to move slowly along the narrow alley between the buildings. I followed close behind until it stopped. The driver opened the back to unload his wares and cart them inside. He conveniently left the back of the truck open for me, an obvious invitation to help myself. I quickly scarfed down one powdered donut and picked up three more, gingerly holding them in my mouth. I was able to follow the scent from earlier in the day back to the animal lab.

Breaking in was no trouble and I scrambled up into my cage, dropping two donuts in Lucia’s cage while devouring the third. Lucia’s eyes lit up when she saw the sweet, tasty lunch I’d brought. She also finished hers, just in the nick of time as I heard voices coming towards the door to our room.

“Major Sanders took that new dog out to see how he handled flying and the other dog has been locked up all morning”, the voice of Mutt said.

“Major Sanders lost that new dog; the beast is probably long gone, but let’s check in here anyway”, a new voice replied.

An older man in a blue uniform entered accompanied by Mutt and Jeff. Those two buffoons almost fell over when they saw me in my cage. The older man, who looked remarkably fit and trim, just smiled as he walked towards me.

“I guess I don’t have to worry, boys, it looks like he’s all in one piece”, the older man observed.

At that moment, I heard the sound of running and then David popped through the door. He was still in his flight uniform and his face was red.

“There you are, you little Houdini”, David said. He stared into the cage, a bit longer than necessary as I covered my whiskers to hide the powdered sugar. I’m sure that both he and the older man noticed it, however. Mutt and Jeff didn’t even know if it was day or night, as far as I could tell. The two men in uniform talked quietly for a few moments and then the older man left. The gray haired man was called General, General Moosewood.

David came up to my cage and spoke softly. “You’re lucky this time, you little troublemaker. It’s a good thing you took to flying so well and you’re pretty  resourceful, otherwise you’d be gone for good. Oh, and the next time you steal some donuts, take one for me.”

He turned and walked away and I breathed a sigh of relief; I was beginning to like this human and his elderly commander.

IV.

After they left Lucia told me the rest of her story.

“Lulu and Lilly. Their names should have been Mean and Meaner. These two dogs were  Dani’s twin Yorkies, pampered, preened and spoiled. They  were not going to tolerate an interloper, nor were they going to yield one inch of their place of prominence to me. I, for one, didn’t care one bit. I was happy to have a warm dry place to sleep and food and water. But, even that was too much for those two demons.

“When I slept, they dumped water on Dani’s bed and then I was blamed for the mess. Dani loved to paint and she started a portrait of me. But Lilly opened her paint tubes and smeared paint everywhere and then on my paws and I was spanked and scolded and my painting was thrown into the ocean. Things became so bad that I was taken away and forced to sleep with one of the crew. It didn’t matter much to me, but it wasn’t right that Dani believed that the double L (that’s what I called those two beasts) were little angels.

“As it turned out the crew man who took me in was a very nice, kind man named, ironically, Daniel. He fed me, took me for walks on the deck and every night he would talk to me in the quietest, friendliest tones. I really loved him. The voyage came to an end, however, and somehow I knew I couldn’t stay with Daniel forever. He lived his life going from boat to boat. I think he knew one of the pilots in this place. Maybe he thought I’d b a good flyer, which I’m not. Anyway, I ended up here. But, after flying a few times I think they figured out that I wasn’t what they were looking for. I think you are the dog they want. And now I wonder what’s going to happen to me. I don’t want to be sent away.”

I looked at her sad eyes and answered, “Don’t you worry one little bit, pardon my pun. As long as I’m here you’ll be safe. I guarantee it.”

“You’re so kind, Little Bit. And, I do feel safer with you here.”

She didn’t say another word the rest of the day. After our meal, we both went to sleep. I was exhausted from my escapades and Lucia was just tired.

Chapter Twelve

I.

The days that followed were filled with flying and games and more flying as my new companion tested me in every way possible. Sometimes I flew in other planes with other pilots, but they seemed more annoyed than pleased to have me along. Sometimes I just sat by a big screen and pretended to fly. A voice would come out of the air and would repeat the same thing over and over. There were some images that appeared and the voice would say push this or that, but I was not sure what I was supposed to do. After about twenty times a young woman appeared and she would direct my paw to one or another button depending on what the voice said. After the first time I figured out that the voice was a command and she was showing me how to respond to each command. I learned that I was supposed to push a big blue button if I heard a loud, shrill siren and a different big button if it was a chiming noise. When I saw the big gray spot on the screen I was supposed to push the green button in the middle. Every time I pushed the right button a tasty treat slid down a little ramp. If I did it wrong I didn’t get any treats. I think I gained a lot of weight, I got so many treats. Training, as they called it, went on for weeks and weeks.

All this time Lucia just stayed in her cage. She seemed more and more depressed. Maybe it was her advanced age or the hard life she had led, but I could tell she was fading away. Sometimes, I saved her some of my treats and this would cheer her up for a short time. Still, I worried about her. She never trained at anything; almost never was allowed to leave her cage. I was worried they would send her away.

“What’s wrong, Lucia, you look so sad”, I whispered softly to her.

“I’m so tired, Little Bit; I just don’t have any energy. I only eat a little and I don’t even know if these rickety old legs will even hold me up.”

I put my paw up against her cage and she put hers against mine. I decided that the next time David came I would do something to get him to notice her plight. It was almost nightfall and soon Mutt and Jeff would bring some food. I hoped that she would be able to eat. As it turned out, it’s a good thing she didn’t.

II.

When the food came I noticed that Mutt had made a mistake and gave me Lucia’s bowl, while giving mine to her. I’d always been given the green bowl, while Lucia’sbowl was white. It didn’t really matter much, the food was all the same. I ate mine in a few big gulps, but Lucia barely nibbled at hers. As she picked at the food, I picked up a new smell and it was coming from my green food bowl.

“Something is different with your food”, I told her. “Don’t you notice that new scent?”

“My nose seems to be as tired as the rest of me; but, you’re right, something is different”, she answered. “Maybe it’s medicine…”

“Or poison,” I interjected. “Just leave it and, when I get the chance I’ll check it out. Check your water; anything funny there?”

She sniffed around her water bowl. “I think it’s OK”, she said.

I wondered if someone was trying to poison me and that stupid Mutt had mixed the bowls up. I had no idea why they would want to do anything to me or Lucia, but there was some evil afoot; evil that was trying to sabotage my flight training.

“Do you think you can knock your food bowl over so that everything lands on the floor?” I asked. “Maybe that will let those two jokers know that we’re on to whatever devious game they’re playing.

Lucia pushed her bowl towards the heavy wire door of her cage. She managed to get her paw under the rim of the bowl and flipped it up against the door and half the food ended up on the floor, while the other half stayed inside her cage. She used her back paws to push the rest of it out on to the floor. Nobody seemed to notice a thing and the food just sat there in a big pile. As a matter of fact, Mutt and Jeff didn’t come back all night, which was unusual.

That night, however, a wild mouse managed to find its way inside, no doubt attracted by Lucia’s dinner. He must have called his buddies because before long there were five mice dining on the floor. I started to bark, trying to warn them that the food might be deadly, but I couldn’t speak mouse at all. At first they all seemed OK. They cleaned up every speck of Lucia’s dinner, but then they started acting funny, running around in circles, then bumping into each other and the wall, and finally, keeling over dead as they tried to make their escape. There they were, five big, gray mice lying in a heap, dead, a sad prize for Mutt and Jeff. It could have been Lucia.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” I whispered to her. “Otherwise, we won’t make it to next week.”

She just nodded her head in agreement as I started to plot our escape. Shouldn’t be too hard for such an accomplished thief, I thought. But then I thought about flying and David. I didn’t want to give that up.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I’d been through so much in my short life, braking out of a kennel guarded by two dimwits like Mutt and Jeff shouldn’t have been much of a problem. But, it did occur to me that they were out there and we were inside these cages. In particular, Lucia hadn’t been let out for weeks. And, I still wondered what a jailbreak would do to my future as a pilot, a role I’d dreamed of all my life. Trust your instincts, look to the good humans; seek out David’s help; he wants you to fly with him and he’ll be the one to understand about Lucia. That was my solution; David would be the key.

III.

The next morning David arrived early, before it was light, to take me flying. As he picked me up out of my cage I turned to Lucia and started barking, hoping to alert him to our dire situation or, at least, make him think that she wanted to fly with us also. Lucia, to her credit, put on a show, despite her weakened state, jumping up and feigning enthusiasm.

Luckily, David demonstrated almost canine perception and intuition, as he stared at Lucia, scratching his chin.

“You want to go today, too, little lady,” he remarked. “You’ve got more energy than usual, I must say. I suppose Little Bit brings out the best in all of us.”

She wagged her tail and gave an approving bark, even though, she had no idea what he’d said. David fastened my leash and then opened the door to Lucia’s cage. He let me go as he searched for her leash in Mutt and Jeff’s tiny office. I noticed while he was in there he stopped and hesitated for a few moments before he picked up her leash. He picked up something from the shelf above the desk, stared at it and then put it back. He had a bit of a solemn look on his face when he returned and there was none of the usual chatter.

We went off together to his jet and he fastened the both of us in the back seat. I was feeling pretty good at this moment; I was sure that David had discovered the poison and Mutt and Jeff would get what was coming to them. David flew with more than his usual abandon that day, as if he was trying to lose himself in the flight; trying to banish some horrible thought. And, he didn’t do much teaching as he flew. By this time I’d become pretty good at reading the various gauges and such and I knew that we flew faster and farther than ever before. I thought it was great, but Lucia was not much of a flyer. She just lay on the seat with her head on my rump. I, for one, barked my approval as David pushed the envelope, to borrow an aviator term.

After the flight we didn’t go straight back to the animal lab. Instead, David loaded us up into his fancy sports car and drove to a place quite a distance away. He led us up some stairs and he knocked on the door. A thin, sandy haired man appeared; he smiled at David and then let us inside. The two of them went into the other room where I could see them speaking quietly. Even with my keen hearing I couldn’t hear what they said, but they both were smiling when they came back.

“This is Joshua, a friend of mine,” David announced. “He’s going to watch over Lucia for a while.”

“Hello, little girl,” he said in a soft, comforting voice. “I’m going to take good care of you and soon we’ll find you a home where you can run and play and not worry. And you, Little Bit, I’m a bit disappointed that you don’t remember me. I guess that’s OK, after all you’re just a dog.”

I wasn’t sure I liked this last comment, but he had a smirk on his face and his voice had a touch of whimsy so I went along and gave him my most playful growl and then jumped up into his arms and licked his face.

“Let’s go, Little Bit,” David said. “Lucia is in the best of hands and we’ve got a bit of unfinished business.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but I was ready for anything. We drove back to the compound and entered to find Mutt and Jeff just passing out the evening meal. I noted the same scent that was in Lucia’s food the day before, only now it was in my bowl and all the other food bowls. I raced ahead and jumped on Jeff and knocked the food to the ground. Mutt raced in brandishing a heavy club and tried to knock over the head, but I was too fast for that buffoon. David came right behind and, with a whirl of arms and legs, left the two assassins lying on the floor in a heap, battered and bloody. David then calmly called for security, scooped up some of the food and found the bottle he had discovered earlier in the day. Mutt and Jeff were taken out handcuffed to stretchers and I never saw them again, at least not in person. I was never sure why they wanted to kill all of the animals, but some years later I saw their pictures on the television. They were being taken away again. Only this time they had killed some people. It just goes to show that anyone that will stoop so low as to kill animals is just as likely to do the same to humans. Of course, my later adventures suggested that Mutt and Jeff were acting on orders from someone determined to undermine my mission.

Chapter Thirteen

I.

After this brief distraction my training intensified. I was put into simulated planes that whirled me around in big circles while they continued to teach me to push certain buttons and push levers, all the while rewarding me with various treats. I didn’t need to do much and it wasn’t very hard. I certainly got a lot of treats. During this time I didn’t do much real flying and I only saw David once in a while. They also brought in a new guy to take care of me and the other animals, Joe. I think Joe was short for Jose. He was a big improvement over Mutt and Jeff, of course, Jack the Ripper would have been an improvement. But, Joe smiled all the time, fed us extra food and snuck in treats and such whenever he could. He used to let me out of my cage when none of the big shots were around and let me run around outside.

But, back to training. Most of it was grueling, rote practice; the same thing over and over. Sit in the chair, watch the dials, push and occasional button, but don’t do too much. I guess I was going to be more passenger than driver. Still, I kept my eyes open and learned all I could about real flying. After a few months David came back and we did some real flying. And, there was the time I was forced to land one of the jets. That was a big test. It happened one day when David took me up in his F-300. He was flying and I was in the co-pilot seat, doing the spectator thing.

We lifted off just like every other day. I was strapped in my chair behind David and he was doing all the work. It was a clear day with blue sky as far as my eyes could see. David did some loops and spins, a couple of dives and then we climbed to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The blue sky grew darker and darker, nearly black as we climbed. It was at that moment it happened.

David had shut off his telemetry to the ground, so we were completely on our own. He always said it was nobody’s business what we did up there. I think he sometimes flew in ways that his superiors frowned upon, because it was dangerous or something. Anyway, we were in the upper limits of the earth’s atmosphere and all of a sudden we start to dive. Now, I know you probably are thinking “Big Deal”, David probably puts his planes through dives all the time. This, however, seemed different. We were plummeting to the Earth in, what seemed to me, to be a free fall. At first I wasn’t concerned. After all, David was the best pilot around. But, I looked up front and David was slumped over. I barked as loud as I could, but he didn’t move.

I saw dials and gauges moving rapidly, faster than I’d ever seen them move before. I jumped up on the seat and looked down. The ground was moving closer and closer, at a pretty fast rate.

We’re in trouble I thought. Do something, you’ve seen him land this plane before; do what he did.

And I did. I grabbed the control stick with my mouth and pulled it back. I moved one of the levers with my paw, exactly as I’d seen David do it before. I watched the gauges slow and I felt the plane settle down. Before long we were cruising along comfortably. I relaxed and then I looked to the front and there was David, awake, with a big smile on his face. I barked and all he did was nod his head. To this day, I have no idea if he had really passed out or if it had all been a big performance on his part to put me through a test. I do know that after that day my training changed. I began what turned out to be final preparation for my big ride. The voyage that changed my life and, ultimately, the life of everyone.

II.

My heroics in the plane that day must have signaled to David and the General that I was ready for the next step in my training, and what a step it was. I was put into a sleek black space ship. The first time all I did was sit and look at the controls. There were a variety of new dials and gauges, which were much different than the planes David and I had flown in up to that time. The first ten times I went into that special vessel all I did was sit. Different lights went off and on, always the same pattern and sequence. I suppose they were getting me used to a routine, what to expect during my flight. Each time I was completely alone and nothing unusual happened. There was always a voice repeating the same commands over and over.

“Sit, lie down; dumb commands that I could do in my sleep, commands that had nothing to do with flying. I realized pretty quickly that I was not really expected to do anything but be a passenger. I didn’t really care, as long as I got to fly.

It was shortly after these solo training sessions that the focus of my education shifted. David began to take me on flights farther and farther out in the solar system, past Mars and even to Jupiter. I paid close attention to his every move and kept watch on all the various dials, gauges and levers. I really didn’t expect to be doing the flying, but it’s always best to be prepared.

After a month of these deep space flights our home base changed. We left our old training center and flew to the Moon. I surmised that whatever I was training for would take place on the Moon. I was now out of the cage and sharing living space with David, still training like before, but outside our apartment I saw the real sleek, pitch black vessel that was to be mine. By now, I was starting to get pretty good at understanding human speech and I was able to figure out that I was scheduled to leave on my voyage in five days, Everyone around was becoming noticeably nervous; everyone but David that is. I could tell that he was as cool as always. At night he would sit down with me, pat my head and rub my fur and talk to me as if I was another person.

“You’re going to a place no one has ever dreamed of before; travelling across the galaxy and back. If your trip works out then, maybe, I’ll be next. That is if all my planning works out.”

I would stare into his eyes, then bark, pretending I understood everything he was saying. At that time I knew he was concerned about me and maybe a bit jealous, but I didn’t learn to understand most human speech until much later, after my flight, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The big day came. There was a great deal of excitement, cameras everywhere, a mob of people arrived on the shuttle from Earth. People in dark suits that looked important, other pilots like David and, in the middle of it all, there was me, a little white dog getting to be a passenger in that pitch black space vessel. I knew I wasn’t really going to be actually driving, but I was going out into space, alone, to a place no one had ever gone before. I also figured out that there was something special about this voyage, at least to all the people.

III.

The big moment finally arrived. I was put into my space suit, wheeled to the ship like a baby, strapped in to the seat and waited for lift off. I waited quite a while. I’d hear some counting and see the numbers on the monitor in front of me start to go down and I’d get ready for the big moment, but then nothing would happen. The numbers would stop and I’d wait. It got to be really frustrating and I started barking, loud and long. Maybe they’ll get the idea, I thought.

“I know you’re anxious to go, Little Bit. Be patient; it’s almost time,” David’s voice tried to calm me.

After my nonstop tirade the numbers started moving again and this time they didn’t stop. I didn’t really know one number from another except I did know zero. I knew that when the number zero appeared it was time to go. All of a sudden I saw it. There was a slight vibration, a short lurch and then, with an almost eerie silence that sleek black space vessel lifted off. I was on my way, by myself to somewhere. Better than the birds was my first thought.

The flight turned out to be long, at least longer than any of the other flights I’d been on. I watched empty space zip by on the big screen in front of me. I had never sat still for so long and I became bored, as there really wasn’t anything for me to do. I took the time to think about days long past. About The Admiral and Pomegranate, Lavender, Earl, Alistair, Esmeralda, Spider, Lucia and, finally, David. What a life I’d lead.

And, now here I was flying through space, fulfilling the dream I’d had so long ago when I watched the birds scatter in response to my barking. I’m sure those birds would envy menow as I flew through space, millions of miles from Earth. If I died now, I’d be happy was my last thought as a big gray image appeared on the screen; my destination had been reached.

Some lights started flashing and some dials began to twitch, just as they did in all those practice sessions. The gray area grew bigger and bigger as it seemed I was about to be swallowed up by the big gray cloud. There was some noise, some more flashing and twitching and, just as it seemed chaos had taken over, everything stopped and I was sitting on my chair in total blackness. I couldn’t even see my paw in front of my face.

“Rowf,” I barked, just to let anyone present know I was there. “R-rowf, rowf.”

No answer. Hmm, no sense sitting around doing nothing I decided. I jumped out of my chair to the floor, taking care to jump to the side, away from all the monitors and dials. Don’t want to break anything. I’ll need the ship to get out of here.

The floor wasn’t any better, but at least I could stretch my legs.

“R-R-Rowf, ROWF, ROWF,” I barked at the top of my lungs, hoping someone would hear me.

At that moment the door to my space vessel popped open and I saw a faint light far away. I started to run towards it, while at the same time the light grew bigger and brighter. Everything else was black and I felt like I was running on the air. I really didn’t know if I was going anywhere or if it was just the light moving closer to me. That light just kept getting brighter and brighter and before long all the black was gone and I was completely enveloped by that light. I stopped running and started to bark. I wasn’t sure what I was barking at, but I kept at it.

Perhaps, I was trying to scare away an unseen assailant, demonstrating how tough I was, maybe it was a way for me to forget that I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my life. But, the terror disappeared, almost as quickly as it came. It was replaced by a feeling of warmth; warmth and comfort, the way you feel when you’re a puppy and you cry for your mother and she comes and picks you up by the scruff of your neck, and then lies down with you until whatever demons were attacking have been vanquished. That was how I felt at that moment, like I was safely home and nothing could hurt me and I would never again want for anything.

I remember that I closed my eyes and almost went to sleep and then I opened them and I was being held. I was in the strong arms of a man. He was sort of like David, only more so. I sensed that he was strong and confident, a true and faithful companion. And then, he spoke, soft words that resonated in my head, words that I understood loud and clear, as if another dog was talking to me, but even clearer. It was as if those words were digging their way into my brain. I looked up into his eyes, dark, brown eyes that stared back at me and spoke a thousand words that said to me “You’re Home.”

It was then he put me down, the light faded, the black faded and we were in a field running free. He was laughing and I ran and ran without a care or concern for anything or anyone, only the confidence that this man was my true, and eternal, friend and companion.

IV.

My carefree days went on and on as I grew to love that man, more than anyone I’d ever met. He understood every little thing about dogs, my life, about me. But, of course, all good things must come to an end. One day while we were running together he suddenly stopped and stared at me.

“It’s time to prepare,” he said, is voice resonating with a very serious tone. “My wonderful Little Bit, you were chosen for a very special task; chosen since the dawn of time. You are a most special dog. All dogs are special, created to be helpers to humanity, to guard men, protect and serve, work alongside, be companions, to be man’s friend. Let me show you.”

He gathered me up in his arms and that green field receded into the distance.
We were back on my world and I saw a dog, maybe the first dog. There was a group of men and women, primitive, living together and there was a young boy with them. This boy carried a puppy, perhaps an orphan, it looked so young. The young pup looked to be more wolf than dog, but the boy loved it so, that much was obvious. We watched the two grow, boy and wolf/dog. They did everything together: ran, wrestled, ate, slept, hunted; everything a boy and his dog should do together.

Then, one day, while they were hunting, this dog, Pal is what he was called, had run off ahead of his companion, looking for game, when the boy, now more a young man, fell down a steep ravine and hit his head. I could see he was bleeding and, almost instantly, he was surrounded by a pack of wolves. Pal looked almost exactly like them, but these wolves had most foul dispositions. They circled around the helpless lad, preparing to attack when Pal appeared. He put himself between his friend and the leader of that vicious pack, as if he were drawing a line in the sand.

The two eyed each other circling around and then the wolf leader attacked. Each went for the throat as the rest of the pack looked on, as if this fight to the death would determine who they would follow. While the fight went on that young man awoke. He tried to intervene, but the remainder of the wolf pack kept him at bay, forcing him to view the spectacle. That young man realized that his fate was tied to the outcome of that struggle.

The fight went on for several minutes, neither wolf seemed able to gain the upper hand. Sometimes I had trouble separating Pal from his adversary, but then I saw the white spot on his rump and knew it was Pal. The snarling and growling went on as blood stained the ground and each wolf’s fur. Then I saw the vicious leader get his jaws around Pal’s throat and I thought the fight would soon be over.

Those powerful jaws and sharp teeth began to sink into Pal’s neck and that noble wolf started to go limp. At that moment, the pack leader must have relaxed for a moment and loosened his grip. Pal wrenched himself free and took a bite out his opponent’s ear. Blood poured out and then Pal clamped his jaws around the leader’s neck and with one sharp bite ripped a huge gash open, blood squirted out and the fight was over. Pal stood triumphant over the vanquished wolf pack leader; he let out a loud howl announcing his supremacy and then returned to the boy. The rest of the pack followed. That pack of wolves became the first dogs, the first true canine companions to humanity.

Pal and his new pack faded away as my companion showed me more; dogs came and went; new varieties, colors, sizes, temperaments and personalities. I saw dogs at the side of men tilling the soil, I saw dogs marching into battle alongside Pharaoh of Egypt and with Alexander the Great. Dogs warning men of danger, playing, running, climbing, working, doing everything with their human companions. But, there was also the darker side, dogs beaten and abused, abandoned and worse, but despite such suffering these dogs maintained their fine nobility and loyalty. The spectacle made me cheer for my canine ancestors and made me hate some men. Finally, the images ceased and I was left with that man.

“You will be the greatest of all dogs, Little Bit. Even now humanity watches your every move, awaits your triumphant return to Earth; this homecoming will bring hope into the world. However, the hope must truly come from one who is older than time, not from an uncertain future. It is time for you to go, to fulfill the mission you began the day you were born and realized the first time you looked up at the sky and wished you could fly like the birds.”

A blinding bright light appeared and, for a moment, I saw something so glorious, so wonderful and amazing, words cannot describe it. In my head I heard these words:

“Go with my blessing, my son.”

I found myself standing besides my space vessel, the man was still with me.

“All is ready for your departure. Don’t worry, you will know what to do, who our friends are and what they must do. You will know how to help them, you are my eyes, ears and hands. And, after you’ve finished your mission I will bring you home.”

I jumped back into that ship as the door closed behind me. When I looked at the controls it was as if I was seeing clearly for the first time. Every knob, dial and button had clear meaning. I knew how to fly that ship. I nudged one dial, pushed another button, watched the monitors come to life and in just a few moments was on my way.

Chapter Fourteen

I.

My ship took off like a light and I was back in space in just a few moments. My destination, Alpha Base One, loomed just ahead and I made an uneventful landing. A small crowd of men and women were there to greet me, cheering and carrying me on a soft pillow, feeding me a fine meal and acting like I was a great hero. I realized they thought I’d only been gone a few minutes, time must have stood still while I was with that man. I had so much to say, but I was still a dog, I could only bark and growl. To the people of that deep space settlement that’s all I was, just a dog. But, I saw them differently. They were all people, of course, but I could look at some of them, eye them up and down, give a bit of a sniff and I knew that they had only concern for the well being of others in their heart. Other humans did not strike me as being quite so noble. I could sense hatred, greed, anger and so many other qualities, both good and bad. I realized that this new sense of discernment was a gift from my benefactor.

I didn’t really expect much to happen during what was supposed to be a brief visit to Alpha Base One. All my training had prepared me for a brief respite, a good night’s sleep and then I’d be on my way home. But, I couldn’t get away without at least a small adventure. After all these years it seems that trouble and the unexpected had become my constant companions. Looking back, I should have expected someone to try to upset all the carefully laid plans that were designed to bring hope to the planet Earth. Evil was everywhere and that distant outpost, light years away from earth was no exception.

Alpha Base One wasn’t much of a place, just a few buildings and a couple of dozen people. I later learned that they had been sent there via conventional space ship, a journey which took years. The outpost had been established close to one of the portals, all for the purpose of  being a destination for these test flights, of which mine was the latest and, apparently, the most important. The air was thin and gravity was weaker than Earth. The entire complex was enclosed within a large clear dome. My space vessel had landed in an outside hangar which was then carted inside on a huge track. After my grand reception and a smattering of applause, everyone abandoned me and went about their business. One man gathered me up in his arms and brought me to his room. He gave me some food and water and then went back to his work. I started barking , for no real reason, but I thought I was entitled to some attention. Of course, in my mind I’d been gone for months, not minutes.

He turned to me and finally spoke.

“Hello Little Bit, I hope your trip was uneventful. My name is Jackie. I’m sort of in charge here. You certainly look no worse for wear from your little voyage. Don’t worry. Spencer is getting everything ready for your return home tomorrow. Just get some rest now. I’ve got to finish this report to send back with you. I’ll tell you what, you can go and explore our little world. Just don’t stray outside the dome; we don’t want you getting hurt. You carry the hopes and dreams of everyone here on your little shoulders.”

He opened the door to his room and I zipped out to see what this foreign world was like. It wasn’t much of an exploration. The rooms were sparse, the few people all seemed preoccupied, there weren’t any trees or grass, in short, it was a Spartan little camp which I was more than ready to leave. I wandered over to my space ship where I found two men and a woman checking out all the systems, running all the tests that the ground crew back on the moon had run. I sniffed around for a while; nothing unusual except that the woman had an unusual odor, sort of sterile, different for everyone else. But, I didn’t get the sense of evil from the men and the woman didn’t give me any sense of anything, like she was an empty vessel. This should have made me suspicious, but at that time I wasn’t as adept at interpreting such feelings as I am now.

Probably some special soap I assumed, regarding the sterile scent. I went back to Jackie’s room where I found him just finishing up his work. He had laid out a bowl of food and another with water. I realized I was hadn’t really rested in a long time. I curled up in the corner and went to sleep. I guess I was exhausted because I didn’t wake up until it was almost time to leave.

II.

I woke up the following day. I didn’t know if it was day or night. I don’t think either one really existed on that lonely outpost. I thought about what Jackie had said, about carrying everyone’s hopes and dreams, and it quickly became crystal clear, at least to me, what he meant. These people, men and women, technicians and scientists, were prisoners on a desolate rock with little hope for parole. I suppose they left Earth full of anticipation of a new world, a new life, but they’d been away from their homes for years. First they were trapped on a small space vessel and now they were imprisoned in this transparent dome, a meteor away from disaster. They wouldn’t be able to return home the way they came. I was sure the vessel they came in would not have enough fuel to lift off and make it home.

In their minds they had only one chance; one hope that they would ever be released from that desolate rock they called Alpha Base One: my success. I wasn’t quite convinced that I was their only way of escape, however. My recent experience told me that there was hope no matter what transpired, but I had no way to tell any of them this truth.

It was soon time for me to make the return trip. I was actually looking forward to this journey; hoping that I’d get to spend more time with the man I’d encountered on the first leg of my space odyssey. I could see everyone scurrying back and forth, looking at handheld monitors, punching numbers into their little computers, checking and rechecking systems.

I heard one of the ladies ask Jackie about some number she had on her clipboard that was outside the norm. Jackie studied it for a while, pushed a few buttons and then smiled. I guess everything checked out because he called my name.

“OK, Little Bit, it’s time for you to go home, you lucky little dog. Let’s get you all strapped in for the trip into history.”

He scooped me up and carried me inside, put me in my chair and watched as the automatic restraint system snaked its way around my chest and back, leaving me snugly, and comfortably, secured. I let out a short bark of approval as he exited and he turned around and smiled as he gave me the thumbs up sign.

A short, uneventful trip home, I hope.

I sniffed the air inside, as any self respecting dog would do. Nothing unusual, but I did smell the same sterile odor I’d noticed the day before.

That same person must have been checking things inside here, it’s good that these people are so thorough.

After only a few minutes the lights came on, the screens lit up and I was on my way. I glanced at the monitors as I was enveloped by the darkness of space. Nothing looked out of the ordinary and I could see that the flight to the exit portal was only going to be about one hour. I saw the display of the checklist that always appeared before a portal entrance was attempted.

Speed; check

Ship’s Integrity: check

Vibration Initiation: check

Distance to Portal: check

Proper ship’s Mass to velocity ratio: error

What was that? An Error?

I hit the repeat test button and the same error message came up. I checked the ship’s velocity and saw that it was .25 light speed, which was perfectly adequate. I checked the ship’s mass and there it was, the source of the error. Mass was off by about 50 kilos, 52.7 to be exact.

Just great. Somebody put a big rock on board. But, there was no rock. I jumped down from my seat to investigate and then I noticed it. The same sterile odor was present, just as strong as before. That must be the source of the increased mass. I started sniffing around and it wasn’t long until my Westie nose brought me to one of the few cargo holds on board. I scratched and pawed at the door to the hold and then stopped for a moment to listen. I could hear what seemed to be a regular ticking, like a clock. I studied the door to that cargo hold and saw that it was held closed by a metal latch. I stood up on my hind legs, but couldn’t quite reach it.

Perhaps if …

I jumped up on the counter and reached down to the latch and managed to pop it open. The door sprang open and there she was, the same person I’d noticed yesterday; the one with the peculiar “sterile” odor. She didn’t seem too happy to see me. Being a dog I couldn’t do much except bark. She just lay there, not moving, like she was dead or something.

Get up, get out of there, whoever you are.

I jumped up and sank my teeth into her arm. She didn’t even flinch. My teeth bit into something metallic and I realized that this woman not a woman; she was some sort of robot and she was “turned off”. Not only was she off, she was also ticking, like a bomb. I listened a bit more closely. The ticking was from her chest. I clawed and scratched and bit at her chest until her uniform and fake skin were gone and there was a big hole. I saw what looked like a clock and it was getting close to zero. At the same time I looked at the clock on my ship’s monitor and it also was getting close to zero.

“Portal intercept in thirty seconds,” announced the ship’s monitor.

Only one thing to do.

I grabbed onto the clock in her chest and pulled as hard as I could, hoping to dislodge it, turn it off, anything.

“Portal entry not possible. ITP activation incomplete, Mass to Velocity ratio incorrect.”

At that moment my silent companion began to make a loud, high pitched noise and I saw a spark.

I’m a goner, I thought,  At least I had my chance to fly.

But, it was not the end. I saw a man, the same man I’d met on the first part of my journey, appear next to me. He picked me up and held me close to his chest as the noise grew louder and the pitch higher. Then, I heard it, an even louder

“KABOOM”

The bomb went off , but I was safe in the protective arms of my friend. At that moment, my ship reached the portal, zipped past it and headed out into space and oblivion . But, after the all the rumbling from the explosion passed the ship suddenly jerked and lurched. It was as if a huge hand had reached out from that portal and grabbed me and the ship and pulled us inside. Anyway, that’s the only explanation I have for what happened, because the next thing I knew I was with that man, back in the green field, at least for a few moments.

“Evil forces are afoot,” the man said. “Evil will do all it can to stop you and the others. You must be always on your guard. I am depending on you and I know you won’t fail me. When the time comes for you to act you will know what to do.”

Then he was engulfed by light, a bright white light, brighter than the sun. When the light had faded away I was back on my ship. I could see that his light shined in me. My fur was whiter than it had ever been as some of his power seemed to stick with me. I looked at the monitor. I was back on my way home. As the journey continued the light faded, my fur started to fade and I saw the moon growing larger and larger.

A few minutes later I was greeted by a huge crowd at the Lunar landing site. A few hours later I was in an astroplane with David, on my way back to Earth and a hero’s welcome.

There was a huge crowd that greeted me when I arrived. I was escorted to the compound by a motorcade with sirens and flashing lights. I did have to have a bunch of tests done,  nd then there was a big parade down the big streets of a big city.

After all this exhilarating celebration I was finally left alone. My wild ride through space was over and I went to live with David in his “quad” home. I was ready to settle into the quiet life of a house dog. My urge to fly seemed to have been fulfilled; I’d accomplished everything any dog could ever dream of. But, I never felt quite at ease. I wondered about the bomb on my ship. I did learn, after a while, that the real Stephanie had been found tied up in a closet. She had no idea who had accosted her and, as far as I know, no one ever found out how that explosive android made its way to Alpha Base One or on to my ship. I also never could fathom why Mutt and Jeff had tried to poison Lucia and me. I do know that the man I’d met on my space adventure was correct. There was evil afoot and my adventures were just beginning. But, enough of me; my later exploits have been recorded elsewhere.

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