This story is by Andrew Mark and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A short story of how a smile changes everything.
Exuberance, the puppy, lived in the village of Light. Light is located on the eastern slope of the Big Mountain. Light is as pretty as could be, and everyone living there smiles, always. The baker bakes with love.
Exuberance woke early one morning and ventured outside to pee. Boy and his family were still asleep. It was Saturday, Exuberance’s favourite day, and he couldn’t wait for the adventures to begin. Exuberance loved weekends because Boy, his favourite human, didn’t have to go to school.
Exuberance spotted a very black crow on the grass across the road. He decided to have some fun. Because that’s what puppies do. Exuberance was a very fit puppy, who could run all day without getting the least bit tired. He began to chase the crow up the sunlit mountain. The crow seemed to enjoy the game too. Waiting playfully for Exuberance to catch up before he flitted off again.
The game continued until they were near the top of the mountain and the village houses looked like small specks below. Boy woke up and called for Exuberance. The puppy stopped, and with his uncanny hearing, heard Boy calling. But he didn’t want to give up the fun game. And so he barked loudly to let Boy know where he was. Luckily Boy also had very good hearing. In the quiet of the early morning, Boy clearly heard Exuberance’s barking. And the chase was on! The puppy couldn’t believe his luck, He chased Crow, while Boy chased him. What a brilliant Saturday morning this was turning out to be!
But then he and Crow arrived at the crest of the mountain. Boy had nearly caught Exuberance once or twice. But the puppy was a master of the game. He would hide in the shadows of the bushes, and when Boy got close, he would dart off after Crow. “Exuberance!” called Boy, “Come back, you must not cross over to the dark side!”
Too late. Crow flew over the crest and Exuberance bounded after him. For the first time that he could remember, Boy’s smile fell from his face. For a second he thought about running back to the baker to ask for help. But by the time they got back, there would be no telling where Exuberance would be. Maybe even as far as the Black Village. Boy knew if he wanted to save his puppy, he would have to act quickly.
Boy tumbled over the crest, chasing after Exuberance and the crow as quickly as his legs could tear through the thorns that seemed to only grow on this side of the mountain. Then he heard footsteps and a deep big-dog bark.
“What is the problem Boy?” It was the baker. With his mountain dog. Where had he come from?
“I saw you running right up the mountain, quick as a rabbit after your puppy. And usually, you would know better than to cross over to the Dark Side, so I thought you might need a hand,” he said.
“it’s Exuberance,” said Boy. “He is chasing after a bird.
“A black crow?” asked the Baker.
“I think so,” said Boy.
“It is not the first time the crow has done that,” said the Baker. “He tricked Mrs Smart’s puppy into going over the mountain too. He never came back and Mrs Smart didn’t smile for an entire year.” Mrs Smart was the village schoolteacher.
“We need to hurry before they get to the Black Village.”
With Boy running ahead, the baker and his dog followed, but the thorn bushes were thick now and then the Baker’s dog yelped. “You go ahead,” said the Baker, “I think Simba has a thorn in his foot. I will catch up.”
Boy ran, walked and crawled as fast as he could. It was cold on this side of the mountain, which made the thorn scratches sting something awful, and made the blood from their wounds look like marmalade with pieces in.
Exuberance was slowing too. Maybe this game wasn’t so much fun. He turned to see if Boy wanted to stop, but right then the puppy stepped onto a patch of slippery moss. Before he could let out a yelp, Exuberance had slipped into a muddy rivulet, that would turn into the stream, that would lead to the waterfall, which would eventually drain into the large underground cavern below the Black Village. Boy stopped. Where on earth had that exasperating puppy gone? And then he knew.
There were scuff marks left by Exuberance’s paws in the slippery moss. He had gone down the mountain on a slippery slide of water! Boy didn’t just have good hearing. He had great big dollops of bravery in his heart too. Without hesitation, he launched himself down the slippery slope.
“Hold on Exuberance, I’m coming!”
Down he slid, gathering speed, scratches and bruises. Ahead of him, he could now hear Exuberance yelping. Faster and faster he sped towards the waterfall. There was no turning back, not that he would. His puppy needed him and that was all that mattered.
Boy shot over the waterfall like a cannon. The drop felt endless, and then the water below knocked the breath from him. Boy found himself deep underwater, bubbles boiling around. He didn’t even know which way was up. But Boy wasn’t just brave and have good hearing. He was smart too. He opened his eyes and looked at the bubbles. They were rising and so he followed them to the surface. As soon as he could, he drew in ragged sobs of air.
A big hand grabbed his arm and plucked him out of the water. The hand belonged to a scowling man with cold eyes. Boy dangled there, his feet off the ground. It was one of the Black Villagers. “What do you think you’re doing here?” the man said.
“I am looking for my dog. He fell into the river and went over the waterfall,” said Boy.
“Well, he is gone now,” the man said, pointing at a boiling hole where the water disappeared. “That is The Giant Cavern, and once you go down there, there’s no way out.”
There was a crashing of foliage breaking and the Baker arrived. He was huffing and puffing and his face was red. He too was scratched and bleeding. And his dog was limping. “Let him go!” he said. Boy was dangling from the man’s sausage fingers. Boy fell to the ground.
“Wait!” yelled Boy, and then leapt towards the swirling whirlpool where the water gushed into the giant underground cavern. “Listen!” Boy yelled over his shoulder. Before they could stop him, Boy was back in the water, clinging precariously to a branch attached to a tree that had long ago given up trying to escape the shade of the riverbank.
With one hand clutching the alarmingly bendable branch, Boy thrashed about in the water with his other. Then, with a cry of triumph, Boy scooped Exuberance from a branch floating on the water.
Boy’s smile was back. Boy didn’t just have good hearing. He also wasn’t just smart and brave. Boy had dimples. Those dimples, only visible when Boy unleashed his contagious smile, were his superpower. It was a smile that everyone said was impossible to resist. With his puppy safely in his arms, Boy turned the full force of that smile directly at the man from the Black Village. The man was helpless. His leathery face that looked tired and craggy and worn down by dark things, twitched into a grin, then a smile.
The Baker undid the straps of a bag he carried and held it out to the man from the Black Village. The smell of fresh croissants baked with love, albeit that they were a little squashed, and the boy’s irresistible smile, even caused the sun to come out.
No one recalled why the feud began between the Black Village and the Village of Light. Elders said that it was because even though the Black Village had an abundant water supply, it never got sun. And having no sun turns anyone grouchy.
They agreed that it was Boy’s smile that ended the feud though. Smiles are extraordinarily powerful things. You should try unleash yours on someone who is sad or unhappy, and just see what happens.
The people of the Black Village visited Light most weekends after that. To buy croissants baked with butter and love, and to sit in the sunny square chatting with their neighbours.
One Sunday a dog followed the people from the Black Village.
“He’s a stray. He arrived one day and now he lives under the schoolhouse in the Black Village,” a man said.
There was a squeal of delight, and everyone turned to see Mrs Smart, the schoolteacher, run toward the dog.
“Becky, is it really you?”