Excerpt for Rocket Hound by
& , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Rockethound: A Race for Freedom

By

Erik Daniel Shein & Melissa Davis

Though inspired by true events, this book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © 2017 Arkwatch Holdings, LLC, and Erik Daniel Shein

Co-Author Melissa Davis

Smashwords Edition

Hardback ISBN: 9781629897011

Paperback ISBN: 9781629897028

eBook ISBN: 9781629897035

LCN: 2017942682

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, November 6, 2017

http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com

Smashwords Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. Rocket Hound™ is a Trademark of Arkwatch Holdings, LLC. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic, Digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for the author or third party’s web sites and their content.

Requests for information should be addressed to:

Arkwatch Holdings, LLC

4766 East Eden drive

Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Cover: Arkwatch Holdings, LLC and Melissa Davis

Editor: Maxine Bringenberg



Chapter 1

Bullseye


The sun tipped its rays through the wooden slits of the chicken coop, and landed right on the rooster who was slumbering lightly inside it. Perry’s eyes opened and he shot up from his perch. “Time for work, time for work! I’m going to be late.”

He raced through the door and flew up to his favorite perch on the fence. The rooster had only one volume, extremely loud and obnoxious. “Cocka doodle dooo! Cocka doodle doooo!”

Lola, a black and white goat, was lined up on a bale of hay. She looked backwards and zoomed in on her target. “Got the apple, Simon?”

Her brother Simon placed the apple between Lola’s legs. “Ready and loaded.”

“The next time he croaks out his song, pow!” Lola stood and waited for the rooster to crow again. Perry was like clockwork. The instant he started his annoying song, Lola kicked the apple into the air. Its trajectory was spot on.

“Cocka doodle…oomph!”

“Yesssss! Nice aim, Lola.” The grey goat cheered his sister on.

“Finally!” Lola did a little dance on top of the bale, hopping from hoof to hoof. She got so excited, her back legs missed the bale and she fell on her rear.

“Ers ooo ight.” Perry muttered through the apple now wedged firmly onto his sharp beak.

“No, it serves you right! Infernal alarm clock. Some of us like to sleep.” Simon stomped his hoof on the ground.

Perry lowered his head and used the fence to pry the apple off his beak. “Weren’t you both already up though?”

Lola and Simon looked at each other guiltily. Lola leapt toward the fence. “Yes, but we’ve been planning this for weeks. Next time, I’ll pick something harder. Like a rock.”

Perry shook off her warning. “Farmer Hubbard needs me to wake the farm so the day can begin on time. There’s lots to do every day.” He strutted away mumbling something about “misfits,” and hopped down from the fence. The two goats went back to their hijinks as they practiced leaping over the bale of hay.

Inside the barn, Rusty rolled over on his side. The old basset hound opened one eye and grumbled. “Is it just me, or does he get louder every day?”

“Like a bulldozer with a megaphone.” Rocket let out a disgusted huff of air.

“Yes, exactly. What if we snatched up old man Hubbard’s headphones?” Rusty scratched an itch behind his ear and his back leg started to kick in reflex.

“Bertha tried that once and broke them. Hubbard keeps them under lock and key now.” Rocket’s chuckle shook through his slim frame. The retired greyhound was one of the many rescued animals at Oaktree Farms. Rocket was thankful that Mr. Hubbard had adopted him. “I still can’t believe that old cow made it inside the house.”

“Shh! I wouldn’t call her old if I were you. She’s got more bite than a snapping turtle.” Rusty’s jowls opened as if to demonstrate the cow’s mad biting skills, but the rolls of skin that had gathered around his weathered face made him look all wrinkly instead.

“Aww, she’s not that bad. It’s Jerry you have to worry about.” Rocket shook his head and his ears flopped open. The fly that had been tickling him flew away.

“The pig? You can’t be serious. He’s rounder than a bathtub. How in the world could he catch up to me?” Rusty tried to keep his eyelids up, but they drooped back down and his glare was lost within the folds.

“You walk slower than a turtle, old man. He could easily catch you, especially if you ever tried to get close to his trough,” Rocket teased him.

“Watch who you’re calling old. You’re no whippersnapper yourself.” Rusty stood up and his bones creaked with each movement. His legs wobbled as he tried to walk, and he gave up then plopped back down.

“Need some help there, Rusty?” Rocket was younger than Rusty. The retired racing dog was still in great shape for his age, due in part to being rescued by a man who believed that racing dogs deserved a second chance. Rocket was one of the lucky ones. Not all of them had a desirable fate.

“Just need to wake up these bones.” Rusty started to get up again, and his legs went up and down as he rose then fell into his morning push-ups. What would have taken a young pup seconds to do was taking several minutes. He was used to it by now, though.

Rocket stood up and shook the dust off his coat. “Shall we do our rounds now?”

Rusty nodded his head slowly. “You take the pasture and I’ll take the barnyard.”

Rocket chuckled. He knew that Rusty was just going to pick a spot out in the sun to plop back down in. Not that it mattered. He would spend his morning racing through the pasture. “See you later, Rusty.”

“You too, Rocket.”

Rocket started off at a slow jog as he made his way to the pasture. He dodged the chickens that were scattered across the yard as Jacob tossed down their feed. Rocket stopped when he saw the boy and ran over to him.

“Morning, Rocket.” Jacob reached down and scratched him behind the ears.

Rocket jerked his head closer to the boy’s hand as the scratching seemed to make an invisible itch appear. He moved his head here and there until Jacob sat down and gave him a full body scratch. Rocket was in heaven by the time he was all itched out. He licked Jacob on the cheek and nuzzled him by the neck.

“Aww, good boy. I love you too, Rocket.”

His tail flapped on the ground, quick like the beat of a hummingbird’s wings. He wanted to tell Jacob many things, but humans could not understand his language. Sure, they tried, but there was a disconnection between what Rocket said to him and what the boy interpreted. For example, every time Rocket barked, Jacob assumed he wanted to play fetch. Now, Rocket did enjoy a good ball chase, but sometimes he was just barking at the squirrel in the tree above him.

Those annoying squirrels would be the death of him. Even now, one was giving him the evil eye from the tree above them. The little ball of fluff had a nut in his hand and was tossing it from one paw to the other, as if waiting to pelt him with it. Thor was his fiercest opponent. The grey squirrel was faster than lightning as he flew from branch to branch.

“You better not even think about it!” Rocket called up to him.

“Think about it? I dream about it, mongrel,” taunted Thor.

All of the squirrels at Oaktree had ominous names, for they called themselves tree gods as they looked down on the petty animals beneath them. Rocket tried to tell them that birds were the ones who had it right, because they could see from a higher perch than a squirrel ever could, not to mention they could actually fly in the air without hurtling to the ground in a painful heap. Rocket squinted his eyes as he remembered the missiles the squirrel had launched at him one day. Sometimes his eye still smarted from that attack.

“You’re not worth it,” Rocket answered him with a resounding bark.

Jacob, taking it as a cue to play fetch, picked up a stick and held it up. “Fetch!”

Rocket watched the stick fly through the air and his ears turned back. Even though every inch of him said stay, the rest of him took over. He zipped toward where it landed and grasped it in his mouth. He raced back to Jacob and dropped it at his feet.

“Good boy!” Jacob picked up the stick and tossed it again.

By the time Rocket was done playing fetch, he had retrieved the stick more times than he could remember. Fetch, while simplistic in nature, was one of the most addictive things ever created. Just when Rocket thought he was over the game, Jacob would start it up. For some reason, he could not get enough of it. He was like a cat with its catnip. If he could purr, he would. Instead, his tail shook faster than a windshield wiper as pure joy filled him to the core. His days were filled with more of that, now that he was not running races at the track. What better life for a dog to have?



Chapter 2

Morning Round Up


When Rocket was finally able to squeeze away from the game of fetch, he made his way to the pasture, where Farmer Hubbard was already working with the sheep. Now, Oaktree was not a sheep farm, not really. It was a hodgepodge of different animals that had needed a home at one point or another. Some stayed only long enough to be rehabilitated; others stayed for the rest of their lives. Rocket fell into that category. He was a lifer, and thank goodness for that. He hated to think what was waiting for him in his previous life.

Rocket shuddered slightly. He tried not to think about that life, but sometimes that was easier said than done. Every once in a while he would see a bone that one of the dogs was trying to bury, and his heart would race. The pads of his feet would get sweaty as the rest of him prepared to bolt. At the track, stuffed bones were what all the greyhounds raced after.

“Rocket!” a tiny voice called to him.

Rocket tilted his head and looked around the sheep that were standing in front of him. “Annie?”

“Boo!” The tiny black and white border collie jumped out from behind the ewe, who rolled her eyes as she continued to eat grass.

“Oooh! You got me!” Rocket fell to the ground and rolled around as if he had been completely startled by the tiny pup. He stood back up and let out a sigh of relief. “Goodness, you nearly scared the life out of me.”

“Annie! Apologize at once! Mr. Rocket here does not deserve such a scare,” Lady chastised her pup. Lady was a brown and black border collie who had been there even longer than Rocket.

“Sorry!” Annie looked down at the ground and her ears fell to the side of her head.

“It’s fine, Annie. I was teasing.” Rocket tilted his head at her.

“Even still.…” Lady gave her daughter a nudge with her nose.

“I did warn him this time…,” Annie tried to explain.

“That she did,” Rocket chuckled.

“It’s time to get to work, Annie. You ready?” Lady changed the subject. Her job was to train Annie to herd other animals. In doing so, Annie might find a prestigious job with another farmer.

“Ready, Mama.” Annie waited by the side of the fence.

“You ladies ready?” Lady asked the sheep grazing near her.

“If we must,” sighed one of the ewes.

“Everyone here has a job, Stella. If it weren’t for this job, you’d be on somebody’s plate.” Rocket reminded the sheep why they were there.

“Baaaa! Says you! What do you know about it?” Stella glared at him.

Rocket felt sadness creep under the surface. “More than you’d care to know.” Memories of friends lost to such a fate were never far from the front of his mind.

Stella rolled her eyes. “Fine. Let’s go, ladies.”

The sheep started to run in different directions, creating mass chaos in that part of the pasture. Farmer Hubbard was standing by the fence in his typical overall and flannels. “Get ‘em, girl.”

Lady barked at him in response. She raced after the sheep, trying to keep them in a compact shape. “Come on, Annie.”

“Yes, Mama.” Annie joined her, barking at the heels of the sheep near the back.

Farmer Hubbard lowered his cap and nodded at Rocket, who was staring up at him. “Go get ‘em, Rocket.”

Rocket answered him with a tap of his tail and a boisterous bark. He zipped toward the sheep, weaving in and out of the flock. He spotted one far from the others, and his ears folded back as determination raced through him. Rocket veered toward her and shouted, “Over there, girl. Move it now.”

“Shove it!” Tilly bit out. “I’ll not be trampled on today, thank you.”

Rocket blocked the ewe from moving forward. His cut-off redirected her before she could object. “That’s it. Easy does it.”

Tilly huffed in irritation as she joined the herd. “That was uncalled for.”

“All in a day’s work, Tilly.” Stella nudged her closer to the others. “Now, pull yourself together, will ya?”

“Baaaa! I hate those dogs.” Tilly stamped her hooves into the dirt.

Rocket ignored her complaints and made his way over to where Annie was sitting. “Good job, Annie.”

“Thank you, Rocket!” Annie gave him a goofy grin that only a puppy could pull off.

“Her timing was off slightly,” Lady remarked.

“She’s still young, Lady,” Rocked reminded her. He understood why Lady was so hard on the pup. She was looking out for her best interests, but Rocket was sure that if Farmer Hubbard could not find her a proper home, he would make sure that Annie was well taken care of.

“I know. All right, Annie. Go take a break.” Lady smiled and licked a hair away from Annie’s eyes.

“Can I play with the goats?” Annie’s eyebrows rose hopefully.

“Sure. Stay out of trouble, though. Perry was complaining about his beak earlier. Something about apple missiles,” Lady cautioned her pup. “Don’t do anything to upset any of the barnyard animals, Annie.”

“Got it! Thanks, Mama!” Annie scampered away from the pasture, her eyes almost glowing with happiness. Annie might have a big job to learn, but she was still just a pup. The first thing any puppy ever wanted to do was play. Annie was no exception.

Rocket watched Annie until he could no longer see her. He smiled thoughtfully. “It’s good to have a pup around here.”

“Yes, I suppose. I think she might be my last one. I’ve had too many to count. All gone to good homes, of course.” A few tears lined the corners of her eyes as Lady took a deep breath.

“It must be hard to let them go.” Rocket had never had any offspring. He’d had only had one purpose at the track, and that was to win. When he stopped winning, then his usefulness had run its course. That was the way of things.

“It is, but I know Farmer Hubbard cares about us all. He found good homes for all of them. Such is life. You can only raise them for so long before they leave the roost.” Lady looked off in the distance, her eyes wistful as she thought about the pups that had come and gone at Oaktree Farm. “Sometimes, I swear I see them dashing off along the ridge there.”

“Well, there are a few sheep farms around here. I bet you do see them.” Rocket did not know what to say. Usually, Lady was so brisk in everything she did, even in the way she raised her pup. Clearly there was a sentimental part of her buried further inside.

“Perhaps. I need to get the rest of these girls in their pen. Good day, Rocket.” Lady zipped over to the sheep before he could answer her.

As he crossed the pasture, the clouds started to roll above his head. The sky darkened slightly as the sun disappeared behind their coverage. Rocket looked up. “Looks like we might get a bit of rain.”

“Who you telling? I knew it was coming yesterday,” Thor taunted him from the trees just as he made it out of the pasture. “We’re omniscient like that.”

“Right.” Rocket shook his head and muttered under his breath. “You’re something all right.”

“What was that, dog?” Thor pulled a branch back and used it to catapult an acorn his way.

Rocket dodged the tiny nut easily and shook his head up at him. “Just you wait, squirrel. I’ll knock you off your throne when you least expect it.”

“You and what army?” Thor crossed his furry paws over his chest, and his front teeth seemed to flash as he glared at Rocket.

“Whatever army I choose.” Rocket picked up the acorn in his mouth and tossed it behind him. He swung his tail at just the right time and smacked the nut into the air. It was not nearly as high as he’d like, but it did hit the leaf beneath the irritating rodent.

“Missed me! Missed me! Nah, na-na, nah, nah!” With his paws sticking out like antlers on the side of his head, Thor shook his fingers and stuck his tongue out at Rocket. He got so into his taunting that the squirrel lost his footing and toppled to the ground.

Rocket laughed so hard he fell back on his rear end. His loud guffaws could be heard from all around. When he looked up he saw that Thor seemed disoriented, as his head rotated in tiny circles. “You all right there, Thor?”

“I think I see stars…no, lady bugs…no, fireflies.” He closed his eyes to clear his head and looked over at Rocket. “This never happened.”

“Right.” Rocket chuckled as he watched the grey squirrel climb slowly up the tree, where he disappeared from sight. At that moment a loud crack filled the air, and rain gently purged itself from the clouds above. He made his way to the porch of the farm house and curled up next to Rusty, who was snoozing through it all.

Rocket could not help thinking that this was the life. Fresh air, plenty of food, a warm place to curl up, and enough friends to last him a lifetime. Nothing could bring him down, not even the slow drip drop of water that leaked from the porch roof above him. His nose twitched every time a drop fell. He scooted over a few inches and sighed as he closed his eyes and started his afternoon nap.



Chapter 3

The Saddest Song


The water poured from the sky as two little shapes huddled on the leaking porch of an abandoned house. The two shivered together in the cold, and their sadness amplified with each drop that splashed to the ground.

“Why?” Cody whined pitifully. The chocolate lab’s coat was now like a wet towel of mud and dander.

“I dunno, Cody.” Taz snuggled up against him. The Australian shepherd was just as lost when it came to why their owners had left.

“Did we do something wrong?” Cody swiped at his cold nose.

“No. They just left, Cody. I don’t think they’re coming back.” Taz sneezed and water shook from his fur.

“And they call us fickle.” A calico cat slinked up the porch steps, as slowly as she could tolerate with the rain drenching her coat. She sat beside them and started to clean her fur. “Sometimes, they leave.”

“What do you know about it? You weren’t theirs.” Cody’s words seemed like an accusation.

“Did you not see the family next door? They left me to fend for myself too.” Callie’s eyes slanted at them. “At least I know how to hunt. You two are looking a little scrawny.”

Taz grunted. “They’ll be back. Any day now. You’ll see.”

“It’s been over a week. They left you one large bowl of food and water. They’re not coming back.” Callie’s words were not intended to be mean. She was a kitten without a home herself, not old enough to really be an adult, but still older than the two pups on the porch.

“I’m not ready to give up either.” Cody whimpered as he thought about the little girl who had played with them every day. Her laughter and smiles were the best part of his day. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed her to suddenly appear, but nothing happened. He put his head down on his paws and more tears fell down his face.

Callie took pity on him and snuggled up against him. “Hey, it’ll be okay. Once it stops raining, things will look better.”

The trio laid down on the porch and let the sound of the rain rock them to sleep. They were so deep in sleep they did not see the truck pull up into the driveway. Farmer Hubbard had been called by one of the neighbors nearby. They had seen the abandoned pets, who seemed tethered to the house with an invisible rope. That was the way most abandoned pets were. They were lost and confused as they waited for their loved ones to return. Loyal to a fault, sometimes abandoned dogs and cats did not survive their abandonment. Oaktree Farm took in quite a few of these pets over time, until they could be adopted to new loving homes

“Well, Jacob, would you look at that.” He pointed to the three animals curled up together.

“Is that a cat?” The ten-year-old was surprised. Hardly any cats snuggled up with dogs like that.

“Sure is. That’s not something you see every day. Bring the blankets. They look drenched.” Farmer Hubbard walked over to the shivering animals and looked them over. The cat was the first one to notice his approach.

She looked at him warily, but when he pulled out some canned food, her stomach turned a flip flop. Callie nudged the pups next to her. “Guys! Wake up! We’re saved.”

“Whadya mean? Are they back?” Taz muttered without opening his eyes.

“Maybe she’s dreaming.” Cody yawned and slowly opened his eyes. When he saw the man standing before him, he inched back a little. Men were not his favorite. The man from the house behind him had hit him several times with a rolled up paper any time he made a mistake. “Watch out, Taz! It’s a dog catcher!”

“Dog catcher? What?” Taz finally opened his eyes and saw Farmer Hubbard standing a few feet away from them. “He doesn’t have a net, Cody.”

“And how many dog catchers bring a kid with them?” Callie nodded to the boy who was carrying the blankets closer.

Farmer Hubbard seemed to notice the fear in the animals on the porch. “Careful, Jacob. They’ve been through a lot. We have no idea how well they were treated. Toss the blankets here.”

Jacob tossed the blankets at his father and stayed far enough away from them. “Poor things. They really look hungry. Let me get some more food.”

“Good idea, son. We’ll set it on the steps there.” He pointed to the bottom run of the steps. “Hey there, little ones. We’re here to help.” Farmer Hubbard tried to soothe them with his words, but the only one who seemed ready to move was the cat.

Callie stood up and stretched her back legs. Her tail lowered slightly and hung loose behind her like a curvy s-shape. “Don’t be scaredy-cats…I mean dogs, of course. Cats are never scared.”

“Right. We saw you run from that squirrel last week,” teased Taz.

“Everyone runs from them. Nasty little creatures.” Callie shook her head as if something distasteful was in her mouth.

“I think they’re just misunderstood.” Cody looked up at the tree near them. In this rain, the squirrel had already found his hole to hide himself away. Cody could not help thinking how lonely the squirrel’s life had to be.

“Misunderstood? Seriously?” Callie’s eyes blinked momentarily. She was about to launch into the many reasons why squirrels were obnoxious pests when a long wafting stream of delicious yummy goodness tickled her nose. She closed her eyes and purred lightly. She walked slowly down the steps, her nose leading the way, as her eyes never once opened. When she stopped just before the can of food, Callie meowed her thanks to Farmer Hubbard before she took small delicate bites. That lasted all of three bites before she started to drown herself in the can to quench the hunger in her empty belly.

The dogs were not so easily won over. Taz put his head between his paws and fought the urge to bolt down the stairs. “What if he wants to hurt us?” he whimpered between his paws.

“Yes, but that food….” Cody was mesmerized by the delicious cloud of smells that seemed to taunt him. His stomach turned flip flops inside him, and a loud gurgling protest made its voice known. Cody could not remember the last time he’d eaten. His head seemed to follow the way the wind manipulated the tasty aroma as it moved side to side, like a snake charmed by a magical flute.

“What are you doing, Cody?” Taz looked up at him. “Don’t do it, Cody. Stay strong.”

“I can’t. I must…eat…the…food….” Cody walked down the stairs in a daze. The chocolate Labrador retriever barely acknowledged Farmer Hubbard as he guzzled the food in the can. When he licked the can free in seconds, he whimpered up at the man, hoping he had more for him.

Farmer Hubbard smiled at the pup before him. He opened up a can and walked carefully to the step. Placing the can on the ground before him, he moved back carefully, to show the animals that he was not trying to snatch them up. “Good boy,” Farmer Hubbard called to him.

Cody wagged his tail in glee. “Oh…yeah…this is…good.” He gulped the food and ate until he finally felt full.

Taz continued to watch from the porch. “How can you just give up like that?”

“You have to try this, Taz!” Callie encouraged him.

“Don’t be afraid, Taz. I don’t think he’s here to hurt us. Plus, he brought a boy with him. We love children, remember?” Cody tried to remind him.

It was almost as if Farmer Hubbard understood. He called his son over to him. “Jacob, bring more food. I want you to try to give it to the other one. He looks afraid of me.”

“Do you think he will be too scared to take it from me?” Jacob glanced at Taz with concern.

“I don’t know, Jacob. Animals are not always predictable.” Farmer Hubbard took off his hat and scratched his head before putting the hat back on.

“Poor little pup,” Jacob crooned to the shepherd on the porch. The mottled colors on his fur barely hid the bones that were starting to show through. “Come on, pup.”

Taz eyed the food in the boy’s hand. He really was hungry. What could it hurt to take just a little bite? His belly ached so bad he knew he had only one choice to make. When Jacob set the food down at the top of the stairs and stepped away, Taz almost leapt at the food. Before he knew it, his mouth was filled with tasty goodness. “Ah…this is….”

“Delicious, right?” Cody called up to him.

The animals barely noticed as Farmer Hubbard and his son wrapped warm blankets around them. They carried the animals safely to the truck and positioned them in the back seat. Their tummies were full, and their bodies warm inside the snuggly blankets. Before they knew it, the loll of the wheels and the humming engine sang them to sleep as their rescuers drove them to a place that would soon become their new home.



Chapter 4

New Arrivals


The barn was very quiet the next morning as the first tiny rays of light filtered through the slits of wood. All of the animals were safely tucked in their beds fast asleep. Well, most of them. One tiny pup was wide awake, ready to appease her curiosity. Rumors had spread that Farmer Hubbard had brought a few new animals to the farm. Since he had taken them inside the house right away, no one knew for sure what kind of animals they were.

“Is it a leopard?” Annie was bouncing all around her mother.

“Highly unlikely, Annie. Leopards on a farm?” Lady shook her head and tried to hide a smile.

“Oh come on! You must know.” Annie charged at her mother and was about to head butt her, but Lady held up a paw and caught her in the air. She rolled her pup underneath her and started to tickle her. “I got ya!”

“Oh, Mama! Stop! That tickles!” Her puppy squeals echoed through the barn.

“Keep it down in there!” Bernard yelled at them. The grumpy duck’s honking was louder than Annie. “Even the rooster is asleep. Do you mind?”

“Shh!” Lady warned Annie. “We’re waking up the others.”

“Sorry, Mama. But I just can’t sleep.” Annie tried to give her mother a serious look, but her excitement was too hard to keep still. She squirmed in Lady’s arms, still hopping around trying to see over the stall.

“Relax, Annie. We’ll take a look later. For now, I think a few rounds outside might help you.” Lady’s serious tone had returned.

“Oh, Mama…do we have to?” Annie hated when her mother got in work mode. She was so much more fun away from the fields. Sometimes the young border collie did not understand why they had to do so much work around the farm, but her mother was always quick to remind her that their job was very important. Keeping animals together kept them safe from the wild animals just beyond the border of the farm’s fences.

“We do. Besides, maybe we’ll get close enough to the house.” Lady winked at Annie and held her paw up to her mouth. “Remember, quiet as a mouse.”

“A mouse? Those squeaky things? They’re not that quiet, you know. What about a caterpillar?” Annie suggested.

“A caterpillar?” One of Lady’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“Yes. I saw one the other day. He was quite nice actually, but he was very busy eating. Had to bulk up for his next move or something like that.” Annie sniffed the ground by her feet and sneezed when dust got caught in her nose.

“Shh! Let’s move quickly before Bernard gets in attack mode.” Lady warned her. The duck, when cranky, seemed to forget his manners. His beak spoke louder than his words when he pecked out his annoyance.

Annie shivered as she remembered the last time Bernard’s temper flared. “Yeah. I don’t want to lose my tail. He’s pretty snappy.”

“Come, Annie.” Lady led her out of the barn and into the quiet barnyard. There was barely a sound outside. Even Perry had not come out of the coop to crow for the first morning light.

“It’s so quiet.” Annie had not been out this early in quite some time. She had almost forgotten how empty the farm looked when all the animals were sleeping.

“They are still asleep. Unlike someone else.” Lady’s eyebrows rose as she nodded at her pup.

“Sorry, Mama. I just couldn’t sleep. I love when we get new friends. Will they be our friends?”

“We still don’t know what they are. What if they are garden snakes? I would not want to make friends with them.” Lady shuddered.

“Oh, come on. Mama, even you know they are harmless.” Annie smiled at her mother. “You’re not afraid of them, are you?”

Lady rolled her eyes and a hot huff of air left her mouth. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Me either, then.” Annie stood in a proud stance, one that her mother had taught her. It made the sheep listen to them a little easier when they looked like they were all business and ready to wrangle any stragglers.

“That’s my girl.” Lady moved across the yard and made her way to the large farmhouse, with Annie trailing right behind her. “All right. If you hop onto the barrel there, maybe you can see inside the house.”

“Really?” Annie could not believe her mother was letting her do that. Usually, she was so serious and restrictive.

“Well, if you’d rather not….” Lady pretended to turn away from the house.

“Wait!” Annie jumped into the chair beside the wooden barrel and then jumped from the chair to find her new perch. She put her furry white paws against the glass and scrunched her eyes closer to see if she could get a good look inside the house. She saw three furry shapes next to the fire. “Oh, Mama! It’s not a snake.”

“What is it?” Lady’s voice could not hide her curiosity.

“Two dogs and a cat.”

“A cat?” Lady rolled her eyes. “Just what we needed. We already have enough of those here.”

“Well, we have plenty of room, though,” Annie reminded her.

“Still….” Lady stuck her tongue out in a display of personal disgust.

“Well, I like cats. Especially Tiger. He’s not like the other barn cats.” Annie was ready to defend her friend.

“I like Tiger too, Annie. You’re right, I suppose. Maybe this one will be different too. I suppose it could be worse.”


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