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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

A Dog's Promise

A Novel

A Dog's Purpose (Volume 3)

W. Bruce Cameron

Forge Books


{ ONE }

At first I knew only my mother’s nourishing milk, and the sheltering warmth of her teats as I fed. It wasn’t until I had become much more aware of my surroundings that I realized I had brothers and sisters with whom to compete for Mother’s attentions, that as they wiggled and squirmed against me they were trying to shove me to the side. But Mother loved me, I could feel it when she nuzzled me, when she cleaned me with her tongue. And I loved my mother dog.

Our den was formed of metal floors and walls, but Mother had arranged a soft roll of cloth into a warm bed up against the back side. Once my siblings and I could see and move well enough to explore, we discovered that the surface beneath our pads was not only hard and slick but cold. Life was much better on the blanket. The roof over our heads was a brittle tarp that flapped in the wind with a crisp rattling chatter.

None of this was as interesting to us as the alluring, empty rectangular hole at the front of the den, through which light and outdoor smells poured in an intoxicating blend. The floor of the den jutted out past the roof at that point. Mother often went to this window to the unknown, her nails clicking on the metal shelf that thrust out into the world, and then she … vanished.

Mother would leap out into the light and be gone. We puppies would huddle together for warmth in the chill of her absence, squeaking comfort to each other, and then collapse into sleep. I could feel that my brothers and sisters were as distraught and anxious as I was that she might never return, but she always came back to us, appearing in the middle of the rectangular hole as swiftly as she had departed.

When our vision and coordination improved, we pooled our collective courage and followed her scent out onto the ledge, but it was terrifying. The world, dizzying in its compelling possibilities, was open to us there below the shelf, but to access it meant a free fall of impossible distance. Our den was literally off the ground. How did Mother jump down and then back up?

I had a brother I thought of as Heavy Boy. My siblings and I spent most of our time trying to shove him out of our way. When he would climb up over me to sleep on the pile it felt like he was trying to flatten my head, but extracting myself from the compression was not easy, especially with my brothers and sisters pushing back. He sported the same white muzzle and chest, with the same mottled white, gray-and-black body as the rest of us, but his bones and flesh were just somehow heavier. When Mother needed a respite from feeding us and stood up, Heavy Boy always complained the longest, and he was always seeking to nurse, even when the other puppies were satiated and wanting to play. I couldn’t help but be irritated with him—Mother was so thin that her bones were visible through her skin, and her breath carried a rancid, sick odor, while Heavy Boy was plump and round and yet still always demanded more from her.

It was Heavy Boy who strayed too close to the lip of the ledge, his nose sniffing at something in the air, maybe eager for our mother to return so he could continue to try to drain the life out of her. One moment he was precariously stretched out at the very edge, and the next he was gone, falling, an audible thump reaching our ears.

I wasn’t sure this was a bad thing.

Heavy Boy began a panicked squalling. His terror infused all of us in the den, so that we, too, began squeaking and crying, anxiously nosing each other for reassurance.

I knew right then that I would never go out on the ledge. That way meant danger.

Then Heavy Boy went completely quiet.

The silence in the den was instantaneous. We all sensed that if something had gotten to Heavy Boy, it might very well be coming for us next. We huddled together in soundless dread.

With a loud scratching sound, Mother appeared on the ledge, Heavy Boy hanging, chagrined, from her teeth. She deposited him in the center of our pile and of course immediately he was squeaking in demand for a teat, heedless of the fact that he had frightened all of us. I am sure I was not the only puppy who felt our mother would not have offended us if she just left Heavy Boy out there to face the consequences of his venture.

That night I lay on top of one of my sisters, considering what I had learned. The ledge at the front of the den was a dangerous place, not worth the risk of trespass regardless of the succulent odors offered by the world beyond. By staying near the bed; I reasoned, I would be completely safe.

I was entirely wrong, as it turned out a few days later.

Mother was napping with her back to us. This upset my littermates, especially Heavy Boy, because the fragrance of her teats called to us and he wanted to feed. None of us were strong or coordinated enough to climb over her, though, and she was wedged in the back corner of the den, denying us access around head and tail.

She raised her head at a sound we heard every so often: a humming machine noise. Before, the sound always rose and fell swiftly, but this time it came close and whatever was making it was obviously motionless for a time. We heard a slam, and that’s when Mother stood up, her head tenting the flexible ceiling, her ears back in alarm.

Something was coming—heavy thuds were getting closer. Mother pressed herself to the back of the den and we followed suit. None of us went for her teats, now, not even Heavy Boy.

A stark shadow blocked the light from the rectangular hole, and with a loud boom the ledge to the world was slapped up, making the den a sealed enclosure, no way out. Mother was panting, white rims under her eyes, and we all knew something was about to happen, something awful. She tried to force her way over the side of the den, but the ceiling was down too tight; all she could do was stick the tip of her nose out into the air.

The floor of the den rocked, and there was another slamming sound, and then with a grinding roar the surface beneath our feet began to tremble. The den lurched, flinging us all to one side. We slid on the slick metal surface. I looked to Mother and she had her claws extended and was struggling to stay on her feet. She could not help us. My siblings were crying pitiably and trying to make their way to her, but I hung back, concentrating on not being thrown. I did not understand the forces pulling at my body; I just knew that if Mother was afraid, I should be terrified.

The bouncing, banging, and shaking went on for so long, I began to believe this would now be my life, that my mother would forever be dismal with fear, that I would be flung back and forth without cease—and then suddenly we all were tossed in a crush at the back wall of the den, where we piled up and then fell when the noise and the sickening stresses on our bodies magically ceased. Even the vibrations stopped.

Mother was still afraid. I watched her as she alerted at a metallic slam, and saw her whip her head around as she took measure of a crunching sound tracking to the place where the ledge had always thrust out into the world.

I felt real fear when I saw her lips draw back from her teeth. My calm, gentle mother was now fierce and feral, her fur up, her eyes cold.

With a clank the ledge fell back down into place and astoundingly there was a man standing there. The instinctive recognition came to me in a flash—it was as if I could feel his hands on me, or remember how it felt, even though I had never set eyes on such a creature before. I caught sight of bushy hair below his nose, a rounded belly, and eyes widening in surprise.

Mother lunged and savagely snapped her teeth, her bark full of angry warning.

“Yaaah!” The man fell away in shock, vanishing from view. Mother kept barking.

Copyright © 2019 by W. Bruce Cameron