This is a bedtime story I wrote after Julie and I lost our second pit bull, Wallace. His sister Layla died two years before him, and having them both die so quickly was terrible. For those of you who have read any of my other works, you’ll see this story comes from a different place entirely. It’s appropriate for children, written with the soft touch of profound grief, yet in a manner that produces happy tears and hope. It’s an adventure story, about Wallace, on his first day at Puppydog Heaven.
This story is available on Kindle if you want a permanent copy. I can’t price it lower than $.99.
Puppydog Heaven (a bedtime story)
“Wallace! We have to go! She’s after us!”
Wallace opened his eyes to flower petals and pinecones and the familiar scent of his sister, Layla. She nudged his neck and before his body could respond, his heart leapt and a growl whispered from his throat. She jumped in front of him and sniffed his nose, her rapid, excited grunts and pants tickling his whiskers. It was Layla, but not like the last time he’d seen her.
The night she left, she stretched on the carpet, and Wallace crouched in a corner watching, listening to the pain in her shallow breaths. Her ribs heaved until they stopped and he smelled something different across the room. He wriggled to her and sniffed her nose. The scent was strong and foreign and he leapt away with a yelp. That was two years ago.
But now she wagged her tail and bounced around him. Her eyes were wide and the whites were clear. “Wallace!” she said. “Wallace! I’ve waited so long for you, but now we have to hurry!”
His heart grew stronger by the second and as he breathed he recognized aspects of this new place, but the location didn’t fit any memory. Scents cascaded into his awareness, Layla, then rabbits—dozens of them, it seemed—and woodchucks. There were squirrels and even the rich orange-blue scents of butterflies.
Then, with a presence like a dark cloud, another odor came to him. It was the She-Doberman.
“We don’t have much time!” Layla said. “Hurry!”
“I…” he said. She stood behind him and pushed his haunches with her nose.
“Where am I?” he said.
She padded around in front of him. “Wallace, can’t you tell? You’re in Puppydog Heaven.”
“But where’s Julie? Where’s Clayton?”
Layla lay in front so her paws crossed over his. “It’s going to be hard for a while, but you won’t see them anymore. Not for a long time.”
“Do they know I’m okay?”
She shook her head. “We might be able to get a message to them later, but I don’t think they know we’re here. Right now, we have to go. Can’t you smell her?”
Layla nodded. “She still has it in for us.”
“But if this is Puppydog Heaven, how can she be here?”
“Wallace, all puppydogs go to heaven. Even the bad ones. It’s just the bad masters that go to the other place.”
Only a minute had passed, but strength charged his muscles as if he was a puppy again. He licked his forearm and his coat was clean. He couldn’t remember feeling so much energy, and he jumped three feet straight into the air. The ground bounced like Julie’s bed.
Wallace pranced and Layla watched a few feet away. He pounced to bump her shoulder and roll her, like they used to play, but the next thing he knew, he sprawled on his back with his new feet clawing the air. He rolled but when he regained his feet, Layla clenched his ear with her teeth. Even in heaven, they were sharp. She tugged him forward.
“We don’t have time for this. Come on! Let’s go!”
She sprinted and he chased her. The terrain grew familiar, as if he’d been to the same place when it looked different. The contour of the ground seemed predictable, and when he saw a ring of stones and smelled campfire, he knew this was where they had camped so many times with Julie and Clayton. Sort of.
“Why is it so different here?”
“Places aren’t the same here,” she said. “Things are as they are.”
“Then how come I remember so many trees and so much shade?”
Just then a rabbit started from a clump of grass and Wallace yelped and bounded after it. It zigged and zagged and he got so close the whiff was rich and he could almost taste its downy fur. Two things happened at once. The rabbit disappeared and Layla charged in from the side, connected shoulders, and sent him sprawling end over end.
“Hey! Why’d you do that?”
“You weren’t going to catch him anyway. We don’t have time—”
“I was too! I almost had him!”
“You can’t catch rabbits here,” she laughed.” This is Puppydog Heaven, but other animals get to come too.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“It does if you think about it. All the fun is in chasing them. Who wants a mouthful of fur when you’re never hungry?”
“It wouldn’t be heaven for the other animals if we ate them, would it?”
“But don’t you get hungry?”
He chased her. She settled into a confident lope, away from the scent of the She-Doberman.
“Where are we going?”
“She’s been chasing me ever since she showed up a few months ago. She wants to get even for that time I bit her when we were still down there.”
“Can’t we hide?”
“She’s got a really good nose.”
“Do you remember our sister?”
“Of course! Is she—in Puppydog Heaven?”
“She has to be, but I’ve been waiting for you so we can find her.”
“Let’s go!” Wallace jumped to the lead. He stopped and Layla ran into him. “But where should we look?”
“That’s the problem. It was so long ago. She was just a baby—all I can think is to go east—where she left us.
“But that’s so far away.”
“We have a long time to find her.”
Wallace pushed his nose high in the air and sniffed. The She-Doberman was close. Layla jumped away and he followed.
They padded over pine needles. Wallace lost himself in wonderment: his fresh, springy body, his sister whom he’d missed so terribly, the scents of javelina and squirrel and rabbit and elk. The bright sun warmed his coat, and when they splashed into a stream he lapped water until his belly would hold no more. It tasted like melted snow.
Layla jumped to the far bank and shook herself, spraying him in a mist that made a tiny rainbow. He jumped and trotted beside her.
“How can we make sure Julie and Clayton know we’re okay?”
“I met a puppydog a while ago. She said there’s a porch tail where you can send signals down to your family.”
“A porch tail?”
“It’s a Heaven thing. She said it wasn’t far away, just a little south of here.”
“Let’s find the porch tail,” Wallace said. “Julie and Clayton—they were there when I went away. They were upset. When you went away, too.”
“But what about the She-Doberman? We have to keep going.”
“We’ll keep a sharp lookout.”
They turned south and within a few minutes, ran across an open field that started low and seemed to rise and rise. At the top of the hill, a giant circular device sat on a grey metal frame, angled down and away from them. It was huge, even in the distance. Maybe it was the porch tail.
Golden grasses swirled in a breeze that carried the smells of birds and mice and rabbits. Every few steps Wallace jumped high to see far around them, and it was such great fun they fell to nipping at each other and wrestling.
They forgot the She-Doberman.
Wallace and Layla reared on their hind legs, their forearms intertwined like human dancers, and heaved against each other until they both fell to the side and rolled. Layla stood and Wallace braced for her attack, but she stood with her eyes wide, shaking. A wisp of air brought Wallace the scent of the She-Doberman. He jumped and she stood four feet away, grinning with ivory teeth and beady black eyes.
Layla lowered her head and growled. Her coat bristled from her neck to her tail. She took a wide stance and flexed her chest, ready for the worst.
Wallace rolled to his feet and slitted his eyes.
“Layla! No!” the She-Doberman said. “Please wait.”
“Bouwr?” Layla said.
“I’ve been trying to find you for months—I’ve really felt awful.”
“Bouwr?” Wallace said.
“When we fought down there, I just wanted to say, ‘Hi.’ I guess I startled you, charging in like that, and I’ve felt horrible about it.”
“We never had a chance to be friends, and when I heard you were up here too, I was so excited.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Lady?” Wallace said, grinning, “the movie star.”
The She-Doberman cocked her head, and Layla sniffed her nose. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I never learned your name,” Layla said.
They licked faces and frolicked. When they stopped to catch their breath, Loki said, “Where were you going?”
“We heard there’s a porch tail where you can send messages back to your family.”
“A porch tail?”
Layla nodded. Wallace shrugged.
“Oh! You mean ‘portal.’ I know every puppy up here, and I heard about it right away. It’s right over there. Follow me!” Loki jumped away. Wallace leaped after her and Layla ran beside him.
Loki ran far ahead, and at the summit, turned to face them. “Whoa, slow down!” she said, “You don’t want to fall over the edge.”
They reached the top and sniffed the ground at the grey metal circular thing. It was cold and smelled of other puppydogs. Thousands, or millions of them.
“Over here!” Loki called.
A terrible wind came up from the edge and when they reached it, they could see down into another world. There was a mountain, and a highway with a string of cars going uphill on one lane and downhill on another.
“Hey!” Wallace said, “that’s the Jeep!”
“Right there, coming around the turn! Hey, up here!” Wallace barked. “We’re up here!”
“They can’t see you, Wallace,” Loki said. “You have to get their attention with this.” Loki jumped to the metal circle. “It’s a signal. We can shine it through the portal, and when your masters look up, they know it’s you. I don’t know how, but it works.”
“Quick!” Layla said. “Before they’re past the mountain!”
Wallace and Loki joined Layla and they pushed and heaved against the mirror. It wouldn’t budge.
“It’s stuck,” Wallace said. “We have to get it to move!”
“Clayton’s driving. They’re going so fast!” Layla said. “Hurry!”
Wallace jumped and rammed the shiny metal disc with his shoulder. When he was level with it in midair, he saw his reflection and was surprised. His muscles were full and his coat shiny. Schwartzen-pitbull. The disc rang like a bell and creaked backward. It caught the sun and shot a beam of light across Puppydog Heaven.
“More!” Layla cried.
Wallace bounded again; the disc rang and the gears creaked. Finally it moved on its own, drifting downward, until the light found the Jeep. Clouds split the beam into two columns.
“Bowrrrrruuuu!” Layla howled.
“Bowrrrrruuuu!” Wallace joined.
“Now they know,” Loki said.
“I miss them so much,” Wallace said.
“Ohhh,” Layla said. Wallace didn’t like her voice.
“Oh, poo,” Loki said. “Look. There’s five of them.”
Wallace turned. Coming up the hill, five pit bulls raced toward them at full speed. Their heads were like anvils and their coats were red. They fanned across the hillside and they would arrive in seconds.
“What can we do?” Wallace said. The edge to the other world was behind them. “What if we jump?”
“You won’t go back to their world,” Loki said. “You go to the other place. We have to face them. But…”
“But what?” Layla said.
The pit bulls charged closer. They were almost upon them.
“They look like you. Are they–?”
“Layla? Is that Sis?” Wallace said.
The pit bull in front barreled in and skidded on the yellow grass. Her scent! It was Sis!
The others arrived and the seven of them circled and wagged tails, sniffing ‘hellos.’
“We were taken away so early, we didn’t even get to know you,” one said, after introducing himself as Thunder.
“I don’t remember, but you smell like family,” Wallace said.
“I’m Killer,” another said. “I’m the oldest of all of us.”
“By three minutes,” Champ said.
“First to get here, too,” Biker said.
“How long have you been here?” Layla said.
Sis led Layla and Wallace a few feet away, and spoke quietly. “I was here first,” she said. “I passed in the shelter, right after we were rescued from the woods. Our brothers, except for Wallace—were taken away for fighting. They don’t like to talk about it. It’s tough to remember, even up here. They only lasted a couple of years. We’ve been looking for you ever since, waiting here, mostly.”
“We hoped you had a good life.”
“What do you mean?” Wallace said.
“The puppydogs that had good lives always want to say goodbye. This is where they come.”
Wallace walked away and lay in the grass, alone. He plopped his head to the ground and closed his eyes. The sun was bright and made orange dots on his eyelids. He thought about Julie and Clayton, how they cried when they hugged him, right before he went to sleep. He whined.
“Are you okay?” Layla said. “They know we’re up here now. Everything’s okay, and we’re all reunited.”
“I didn’t want to go,” he said. “I wanted to see you, but I didn’t know about this place. I didn’t want to leave them.”
“Oh Wallace,” Layla said.
Loki stepped closer. “That’s the way things are down there. No one ever remembers the best always comes right after the worst.”
“But I miss them,” Wallace said.
“They miss you,” Loki said. “That’s love.”
“I didn’t want to go.”
“You couldn’t have stayed. But don’t worry, they’ll visit, someday.”
“What do we do until then?”
“Well, I haven’t found my brothers and sisters, yet,” Loki said.
“I’ll bet eight of us can sniff them out.”
You might also enjoy Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her, a novel set forty years later involving some of the same characters…
Or my novel My Brother’s Destroyer, which I wrote because I hate the “sport” of dog fighting, and frankly wanted to distance myself from it after writing Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her.