Canto Twenty-Six – The Secrets of Stupid Dogs
Valerie-squirrel, despite the almost endless supply of squirrel energy provided by a fast-pumping squirrel heart, was panting and out of breath as she stopped at the corner of Cecily Dettbarn’s porch roof. She needed to catch her breath, but she could see Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House on the other side of the Norwall water tower, just across the street. Even better, she hadn’t seen Skaggs the cat for at least two blocks.
The evil cat had nearly caught her as she ran along the fence back at the Kellogg place. When he had lunged at her, he missed, and he toppled into the concrete birdbath that sat between the fence and Mrs. Kellogg’s big bay window on the west side of the house. She hadn’t seen the cat since she had left him behind there, sputtering cat-curses and spitting out old sparrow feathers.
Valerie-squirrel had gone back up into the trees to travel the rest of the way north on Whitten Avenue, and then from maple to maple along the north side of main street.
Now, looking carefully all around for signs of danger and lurking cats, she climbed down the trellis on the side of the Dettbarn house. She then sniffed the air and scampered quickly across the street to tall grass under the water tower.
“Boof! Boof! Boof!” barked Barky Bill from the end of his chain behind Martin’s Bar and Grill.
“What does boof mean, stupid dog?” Valerie-squirrel thought in the direction of the stupid dog.
“Well, it means boof, or possibly bark in dog language. How is it you don’t know that already? You are a dog, aren’t you?”
Valerie-squirrel was stunned. “I thought the cat told me dogs can’t speak. You’re Barky Bill, aren’t you?”
“I answer to that, yeah. But also, Stupid Dog, and Ijit Dog, and Damned Dog… and some other strange words that end in dog.”
“Skaggs the cat told me you couldn’t speak.”
“Yeah. The cat’s right. Dumb dogs can’t speak.”
“But you’re talking to me now. What do you mean dogs can’t speak?”
“You are a dog, ain’t ya? Dogs can talk to other dogs. We do it by waggin’ tails and sniffin’ butts and stuff. You know about that, right?”
“I’m not a dog. I am a girl, actually. Valerie Clarke. But I’ve been turned into a squirrel by black magic.”
“Oh, yeah. You are a squirrel! I can smell you from here. But not the eating kind of squirrel. I can smell that you are not a real squirrel.”
“Do you smell the cat? Skaggs? He was chasing me, trying to kill me.”
“No. I hate the dumb cat. I will kill him some day. I don’t smell him now… no.”
“Good. Promise you won’t eat me if I go over to the Gingerbread House?”
“The witch’s house? You don’t want to go there.”
“Yes, I do. And I don’t want you to attack me when I try to get there.”
“Oh, I would never eat you. You smell like the prettiest little squirrel-girl that ever lived in this town. I will protect you. I will boof at the cat if he comes near. And one day I will kill him. But I could never eat you. Barky Bill is a good boy, yes, he is.”
Valerie-squirrel was a little worried that Barky Bill might not be completely sane as dogs go. She didn’t know if she dared run past too close to the chained and perpetually angry dog. So, giving him the widest possible berth she could manage, she slipped under the water tower and down the alley behind main street into the back yard of the Gingerbread House. “Boof! Boof! Boof-boof-boof-boof!” was how Barky Bill ended their brief conversation.