This story is by Sarah Nelson and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Moore boys were running down the street, and I knew if they saw me they would try to steal Oscar from me. He was nobody’s dog, really, but there were three Moore boys and only one of me. Oscar had been eating cornbread crumbs from my hand but when I saw the boys I grabbed him by the collar and ducked behind one of the metal trash cans in my yard, my heart thudding like feet pounding on concrete. Oscar sniffed and nudged my free hand, hoping for more crumbs. I didn’t always have food for him but he always came back to my house, just in case. He was hungry and scrawny like me.
I peeked around the side of the trash can and saw the boys running with their arms full of chips and pop, their pockets bulging with candy. They had just stolen from Mr. Q’s store. A bottle of Coke shattered to the ground and one of the boys yelled a curse word dirty enough for a mouth full of soap. One of them whipped around and started running backwards, trying to get the others to catch up. “Come on!” he yelled, then spun back around and jumped over a tree stump without missing a beat. I held my breath as they ran past, squeezing Oscar’s collar so hard my knuckles turned white. Once their footsteps started to fade, I whooshed the air out of my lungs and loosened my grip.
“Atta boy,” I said, standing up and giving Oscar a pat on the head. See, I told myself. He wants to stay with you. But as soon as the Moore boys rounded the corner, one of them whistled and the dog went flying, leaving me in the dirt. He knew that they had food, knew what their running meant.
At the other end of the street, I could see Mr. Q standing behind the glass door of his shop, looking like a sad ghost.
“Patrick!” my mama hollered. “Where’d you get to now?”
I had snuck away from the dinner table when she was washing dishes. She came to the front door with a hand on her hip like it was glued there.
“Didn’t I tell you to stop feeding that dog?” she said through the screen door.
“Mama, the dog’s way up the street,” I said, waving my hand in the direction of the Moore boys and Oscar tailing after them. “How can I feed the dog when he’s up there?”
“Doesn’t mean he was always up there,” she said. My mama was sharp like a knife. You wouldn’t know it looking at her, at least not until you got to her eyes. Her apron said she was a dumb waitress but her eyes could slice you like a tomato. “Quit giving that damn dog our food,” she said, bobbing her head.
“I will,” I said. But just like stealing, I only lied when I had to.
I wanted that dog. I wanted that damn dumb dog. I sat on the curb, thinking about Mr. Q’s refrigerated section full of hotdogs and eggs and cold cans of pop. I pulled up some grass behind me and started tearing it into pieces.
The sun was starting to set, which meant Mr. Q’s store would be closing soon. I had to do it. I didn’t want to be like the Moore boys, but I had to make Oscar stay.
The walk there was the longest of my life. The bell rang out when I walked through the door, letting Mr. Q know that I was there. He stopped sweeping to give me this cold hard look, but after a moment he went right back to it.
I acted like I was looking at the bubblegum near the counter, then slowly made my way to the back refrigerator. There, behind the glass door were rows of Oscar Mayer hotdog packs. I slipped one out and let the door swing shut, my reflection staring back at me – along with Mr. Q’s. I jumped away from the reflection and knocked into him, the hotdogs falling to the ground.
“Wouldn’t be stealing nothin’ would you?” he asked, voice gravelly.
“N-no sir,” I said. I quickly bent down to pick up the hotdogs, which slid under the nearest shelf. Something green caught my eye and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t a dollar bill. I shook my head a little and blinked real hard, but it was still there.
“No, sir,” I said again, my confidence back. I swiped the money with my back still turned and then whirled around, pretending to get it from my pocket. Mr. Q. squinted his eyes, looking from the dollar, to my face, then back again. “The hotdogs are a dollar eighty-nine,” he gruffed.
“Oh, right.” I put the hotdogs back in the refrigerator, but once Mr. Q had walked away, I opened a pack and slipped a single one into my pocket. I knew what I was going to use that dollar for.
I stood in line at the counter with a chocolate bar in one hand, my dollar in the other. Mr. Q was ringing up Zany Delany who worked at the pet shop in town. She was rolling an empty baby stroller back and forth.
The dollar was getting damp in my, it was so hot in there. The glass ice cream case by the counter danced in the sunlight, winking at me like it knew a secret. Sweat dripped down my neck as I stared at the ice cream sandwiches. “$1.50” was stuck on the glass in crooked stickers. The cash register rattled open, coins clanking around like bones. Mr. Q tore off the receipt and handed it to Zany, all without taking his eyes off me. When Zany left I put my chocolate bar on the counter, not looking at Mr. Q. I started to reach out my dollar, but the bell over the shop door dinged and the loud voices of mean boys drifted my way. I froze in place like a popsicle, my hand hovering over the counter.
“I don’t care,” I heard one of them say. “Mom didn’t make no food tonight.”
“Should have come to my house,” another one said. “My mama made beans. Tasted like crap.” They all chuckled, sneakers squeaking against the tile floor. I could see the tops of their heads over the shelves, but they hadn’t seen me yet. I glanced at Mr. Q who was standing there looking at me like he was expecting something but was too tired to fight it.
“Oh, look boys,” I heard from behind. “Patty’s got something for us.”
Without looking back, I snatched up my chocolate bar and took off like a bat out of Hades. I heard shoes thump behind me, but I was already pushing open the door. As I ran, I unwrapped the chocolate bar and ate it as fast as I could. The dollar was still in my other hand and for a split second, I thought about eating it too.
I made it to the fence of the basketball court and started climbing. A bark rang out and I jerked my head up, spotting a dog tied up to the fence with rope. “Oscar!” I yelled. He wagged his tail and pulled at his rope. I hopped over the fence and glanced behind me, but the Moore boys were just outside Mr. Q’s store. They had him on the ground, all of them taking turns kicking him. Did he try to stop them from chasing after me?
I ran over to Oscar and begin working on the knot in the rope. After a few yanks, I freed the rope from the fence but kept it in my hand. Oscar pulled at the rope, whining to get to the boys.
“No!” I yelled. I had him. I really had him. I could take off with him right now.
Mr. Q stopped making sound, but the boys kept kicking. His body lie limp between their feet. Oscar tugged on the rope again, trying to free himself. “Stupid old man!” one of the boys yelled. Something boiled inside me.
I took a deep breath and let go of the rope. Oscar ran and jumped over the fence like he had wings. He dashed to the Moore boys but, amazingly, he bit into one of their legs, hard. “Ag!” The boy fell to the ground and Oscar let go, a nasty growl coming from his throat. Blood dripped down the boy’s leg. The others stopped kicking and backed away, then ran away with Oscar on their heels.
I climbed the fence again and sped toward Mr. Q, his face bloody and his eyes closed. “Mr. Q?” I said. His eyelids fluttered, but he didn’t make a sound. I fumbled for the hotdog in my pocket, then laid it along with the dollar on his chest. Then I ran to get Mama.