EXCERPT FROM Clover and the Twins—
The story is about Channel and Bezel Sini, ten-year-old spokesgirls for Dogs Forever, a dog rescue and adoption organization. They adopt a dog who they call Clover because she has a clover marking on her ears that resembles the branding on livestock. Clover and the twins go on an (adventure-filled) cross-country tour with Dogs Forever, but before they start the tour, Clover has a nightmare and wakens Channel and Bezel.
A Bad Dream
One night in her sleep, Clover was wheezing and whistling. Her legs were moving fast, as though she were running. She made so much noise, Bezel thought the clamor might even wake up her parents. She got out of her bed, knelt down beside her dog, and gently put her hand on Clover’s side.
“My family. My family,” said Clover as she opened her eyes from the deep sleep. Even though Bezel was shocked to hear these words come from Clover, she was also fascinated. She stared as Clover slowly shook off sleep. Then she looked up to see if Channel heard Clover speak. Channel, her eyes only half-opened, looked down at them from the edge of her bed, unfazed, as though she’d already heard dogs talk thousands of times.
“How’d you…” began Channel on the inhale part of a yawn. With the exhale, she finished, “…do that, Bezel?”
“Do what? Didn’t you just hear that?”
“Of course I did. It was clear as a bell. How did you do it?”
“Are you still asleep? What do you mean how did I do it? How did you do it?”
“It was me,” said Clover.
“I know it was you,” said Channel.
“I didn’t say that, Channel. Jeepers. It’s Clover!”
“What do you mean it’s Clover?”
“It’s Clover. Clover is talking.”
“That’s preposterous. Quit fooling around and go back to bed,” said Channel as she flipped herself over onto her other side and pulled the covers up over her head.
“I’m not fooling around. It’s Clover. Tell her Clover. Tell Channel you are talking.” Channel turned back and looked down at Clover giving both sister and dog that “as if” look.
“I am talking,” said Clover.
Channel didn’t say anything. She continued to stare at Clover and Bezel as her expression changed from cynical to confused. Then, her eyes brightened as she decided what she was seeing. “Ventriloquism! That’s it. You have learned ventriloquism,” said Channel, tripping a little over the word.
“Yea, right, whatever you say Channel,” said Bezel. “Talk about preposterous.” She turned to Clover.
“Clover, how is it that you can talk?” asked Bezel.
“I don’t know. I just can. All the dogs in my family can talk. I want to find my family.”
“What family? Do you mean Mrs. Book?”
“No. My dog family. Ever since I lost them, I’ve been having these nightmares. The last time I saw them was in Chicago several months ago. I’m not supposed to tell anyone I can talk. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“You were asleep, Clover. You couldn’t’ help it. But of course we’ll keep your secret.”
Channel was finally accepting that Bezel wasn’t throwing her voice. They went to school together, played together, and worked together on the Dogs Forever campaign. How could her sister possibly become a ventriloquist without her knowing?
“Now wait just a sec,” she interrupted after making herself dizzy looking at Bezel’s mouth, then Clover’s, then Bezel’s again. You really are talking.”
“You’re a little slow, Channel,” said Bezel.
“OK. OK. Clover, when was the last time you saw your family?” asked Channel.
Clover was reluctant to tell them the story she’d been reliving in her nightmares ever since it happened in Chicago. It was scary. But she decided to enlist the help of her new companions, and she needed them to understand the importance of her secret. “I was dreaming about my family. The last time I saw them, I was being chased by an evil man through the Chicago trainyard.”
Clover told the girls about Mama, Papa, One, Two and Four. “We were named in the order we were born and Papa said each of us represents a leaf from the four-leaf clover, like the marking on our ears.” She told the twins about a cozy abandoned shed with a wood-burning stove where they lived in the trainyard in Chicago. She said her parents told them their birthright was to use their special talents to help other dogs in trouble. “They were training us when this evil man separated me from them.
“We didn’t know he was a bad man, but he was scary looking. We called him Red Eyes because he had creepy red-rimmed eyes. We hid when he came around even though we figured he was probably a harmless homeless man who lived in the trainyard like we did,” continued Clover. Little did we know…”
“Know what?” asked Channel.
“Well, we had heard rumors about dogs being seized by a man who would then sell them for medical research, but we never had a reason to think Red Eyes was that man. But now. Well, he was after us for some reason. I think he is that man, and I can only hope my family escaped a terrible fate. I suspect he found out we can talk. I don’t know what he planned for us, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. On Christmas Eve, he raided our shed in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping.”
“Hop up here, Clover,” said Channel patting a place beside her on the bed. “You too Bezel.” Clover snuggled herself in-between the twins on Channel’s bed, and everyone got comfortable. Channel said, “Now, tell us the whole story.” Clover relived the haunting story of her first Christmas Eve. Hard to believe it was just a few short months ago.
The Chicago Trainyard—Clover’s Story
At first sight, the Chicago trainyard doesn’t seem like the ideal place for a family, but we really had so much fun there and it was an exciting place to live. No matter where we went there were tracks, some operational but not all. And those tracks stretched out of the trainyard like tentacles, to cities in New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Texas, California, Florida and places in between. The working passenger station was at the north end. Mama, Papa, and my siblings One, Two and Four lived in a little shed outside an abandoned passenger station in the southwest wedge of the trainyard, which was non-active. The active trainyard was off-limits to us pups.
Our shed had a window, and we could look out of it at the only Tree in the area. Beyond the Tree, a brushy ravine led down to the fresh water of a clear brook. That was our safe place, where we could hide when anything curious was going on in the trainyard. You know, like bums camping out or maybe a dog catcher working a hunch.
A small brick stationhouse sits abandoned among dusty tracks no longer in use. Weeds grow from cracks in the old parking lot, telling signs that the earth is taking back the land. Unused sheds and a water tower stand on the sunniest side of the old station. The shell of a wooden train car that has probably traveled hundreds of thousands of miles now sits idle on rusted tracks. Bugs have taken over the rotting wood, and the bugs attract birds. Moma said that there are at least four pairs of birds that nest in the trainyard in spring and they feed on sweet wild strawberries and raspberries that grow between the buildings.
There’s trash in all season but it’s mostly found closer to the working station—broken Coke bottles and Big Mac wrappers from littering passengers. But we just get old newspaper pages and stuff like that. The bums who hang out around trains looking to hop a freight, the yard bulls who try to stop them, and the impatient sounds of people and trains rushing to keep on schedule are not usually found in our little area, which is quiet and pretty much forgotten.
It was Christmas Eve when everything changed for us. Mama and Papa wanted our first Christmas to be special, and that meant a fancy dinner. Finding food was seldom a problem for them. They were familiar with the garbage bins of most of the local restaurants, delis, pizza parlors and grocery stores and they even got to know some of the people who brought the garbage out.
Christmas Eve fell on a Wednesday, and Wednesday nights were special at the Outside Inn, a small restaurant in the neighborhood that offered half-priced early-bird dinners. Because this Wednesday was also a holiday, they were packed with diners. The cook met Papa at the back door with a hefty bag of leftovers. Mama had tagged along, so she helped Papa carry the sack.
Meanwhile, at the trainyard, my sibs and I were chasing pigeons through the old passenger station. We careened down the ravine into the creek. We sped across tracks each trying to get ahead of the others. We knew to avoid the shiny tracks still used by the railroad company. Our parents alerted us to the dangers of moving trains. Still, the trains didn’t scare us half as much as stories about unsuspecting drifters who were electrocuted on the Third Rail.
We headed back to the shed as darkness settled in and our hunger grew. At the Tree, Four and I ambushed our brothers. Four is the youngest, a female and the only chocolate Lab. I’m the only black one, and my family name is Three. One and Two are both yellow males. Anyway, we nibbled EACH OTHER’S their ears and we stumbled over each other. Four scrunched down on her front paws and yipped. Eventually, we went inside the shed from a tunnel that we’d dug a couple weeks earlier.
Inside, the last embers in the potbellied stove were burning down, causing the long, narrow room to cool. But we knew what to do. We spooned together inside one of the dozens of empty cardboard boxes and fell asleep.
When Mama and Papa returned, we feasted.
Then, Mama and Papa added fuel to the fire and in the warm glow of the stove, my sibs and I huddled together again, rounded bellies full. Content. Soon after, Mama and Papa curled up between the stove and us. Before resting her head, I saw Mama look over at us and whisper, “I love you my family. Sleep warm.”
The worst things seem to happen when least expected. All is calm then out of the blue life takes an unwelcomed turn.
As we slept that Christmas Eve, the sinister man who we had often seen using one of the sheds in the trainyard—always the same shed; always at night; always alone—was lurking outside. I only guess that because I was asleep, but he must have moved very deliberately since he did not waken any of us. In the past, when we had seen this man, his movements were quick and fitful. He never lingered in the trainyard. Instead, he would go to his windowless shed, unlock the gigantic padlock he kept on the door, and take a package out or put one in. We never could see what were in these packages. Then, he would leave as quickly as he arrived.
Even though his visits were short, he stayed long enough for us to memorize his face with its pointed nose, pasty white skin and unblinking empty eyes rimmed in red. We often wondered if he was homeless and used the shed for storing his clothes and other belongings. If so, we might have had compassion for him. But as it was, he was not likeable. When he saw us, he scowled at us. He seemed angry all the time. We named him Red Eyes, but of course we never called him that. We never approached him at all. Mama and Papa had told us to keep out of his way.
What a Way to Wake Up
One, Two, Four and I were jarred awake as we banged into each other inside a smelly, dusty burlap bag. Through the loose weave, we could see Red Eyes and, in front of him, Mama and Papa, who were awakened by the commotion and were approaching Red Eyes with a protective viciousness. We tugged and pulled inside the burlap bag, but we couldn’t get out. Red Eyes threw the bag over his shoulder, and we banged into his back and each other. Now we faced the opposite direction.
Red Eyes stepped back, probably in fear of my parents ferocious growls, and when he did, he lost his grip on the bag and One and I got out. Red Eyes regained his composure all too soon, however, and managed to grab One as he entered the tunnel leading out of the shed. I was luckier and found a hiding spot behind a big cardboard box. I watched my parents approach Red Eyes slowly with bared teeth and hunched backs, tails straight out, parallel to the ground. When Mama and Papa didn’t attack, Red Eyes puffed himself up and went after them with renewed confidence. Mama ran in one direction and Papa in the other. When Papa ran by my hiding place, I shouted in a whisper, “Papa. Here!” I told Papa I had an idea.
Meanwhile, Red Eyes cornered Mama. He was about to grab her when Papa said “Now. Go,” and wished me luck. Red Eyes turned towards us as I dashed from behind the cardboard box, growled mimicking Mama and Papa and bared my little puppy teeth at him. The fur was up on my downy back.
I remember the look in Red Eyes’ strange red-rimmed eyes. He was in total disbelief, probably thinking, “How could this skinny little dog think it could scare me?”
Our eyes locked. I ran straight towards Red Eyes. He watched, unable to acknowledge that I could be a threat. His arrogance made him vulnerable, and I used all of the power in my little hind legs to leap into the air towards his face. I had my first teeth and even though they were small, they were pointed and jagged and I was able to lock solidly onto Red Eyes’ nose. Once there, I held on tight because I knew my family’s life depended on it. Red Eyes tried to knock me off, slap me off, pull me off with his one free hand, but I wasn’t letting go. In his other hand, he stubbornly held tightly to the burlap bag containing One, Two and Four.
Then, I watched Papa as he snuck behind Red Eyes and bit him in the behind. Surprised again, Red Eyes finally dropped the burlap bag. Mama, working from instinct, grabbed the bag in her mouth, dragged it over to the tunnel, shook the bag until the puppies fell into the tunnel and climbed outside. Mama followed with Papa close behind.
And Then There Was Three
Only when my family was safely out of the shed did I release my jaws and drop to the ground in a daze as Red Eyes clutched his bleeding nose with one hand and his behind with the other. His anger seemed to increase along with his pain.
My mouth ached where my baby teeth had once been. The coppery smell of blood filled my nose. My body throbbed. But my job wasn’t done. So, I regained my equilibrium and ignored my pain as best as I could. I jumped into the dirt tunnel and ran outside. I spotted my family, who were hiding behind the Tree, and knew I had to get Red Eyes out of there so they could find a safe place to hide.
“I’ll get you,” shouted Red Eyes, when with renewed determination, he pushed through the door. I was running between a pair of railroad tracks just to put a little distance between us, but I stopped and turned to face him—an invitation for him to chase me. I noticed the marks on his face where my teeth were embedded along both sides of his swollen nose down from the bites into the creases around his mouth. With his blood-painted face, snot-thick breathing and red-rimmed eyes, Red Eyes looked like a deranged clown. He surveyed the surroundings but saw no trace of the other dogs. Then he turned to me and the chase was on. His gait was different since my Papa bit him in the arse, and that gave me a definite advantage. Still, he kept up a pretty good pace.
The Chase Continues
I ran through the old section of the trainyard into the off-limits area Mama and Papa warned us about where all the active rail lines converge. I leaped in and out of boxcars, around the giant steel wheels of trains and back and forth across tracks in my effort to lead Red Eyes farther and farther away from my family. I prayed that Red Eyes would step on the Third Rail, but the villain was too savvy about the trainyard. I was panting so rapidly I thought my heart might explode. I HAD to stop. Exhausted and in pain, I used the last bit of energy I could muster to jump into a boxcar.
Lying flat in the doorway, panting, I scanned the yard for a trace of this man who had become my nemesis. Suddenly, the train began to move. I was getting ready to jump out, when I saw Red Eyes jogging along with the train, looking underneath and inside of each car, fast approaching mine.
Before I could duck out of sight, Red Eyes lifted his head and saw me. His speed increased. He reached the door to my boxcar just as the train picked up speed. I backed into a corner wondering if I had the energy to go another round. Red Eyes ran faster and faster to keep up with the train. Snot and blood were crusted around his clown nose. His red eyes bulged. He grabbed a bar outside the boxcar door and used the speed of the train to propel himself off the ground. He landed on his chest on the floor of the car and began pulling himself inside using the strength in his arms while his legs dangled outside. I knew I had to act quickly before Red Eyes could get a more secure foothold. I drew together all of my reserve strength for what would be the final bout. I barked and snarled and finally jumped on Red Eyes’ hands and nipped at his horror of a face. Red Eyes’ grip on the boxcar floor slipped ever so slightly, upsetting his delicate balance. Outside the car, one of his feet hit the moving ground. That was all it took to cause him to lose his hold on the boxcar floor. Red Eyes fell from the train.
I approached the doorway to see Red Eyes’ pale howling face disappear into the dark night, looking like that famous painting The Scream. The train was moving too fast now for me to risk jumping off. I had no energy left. My mouth ached and so did all of my puppy muscles. I dropped to the floor, almost involuntarily. I finally felt safe from Red Eyes, but still afraid for my family. Where would they go now to escape from this horrible man? Before I fell into a fitful sleep, I wondered if I would ever see them again.
I didn’t know it then, but when I woke up I would be in Westchester County, just outside of New York City, some 800 miles from my home.