Read Chasing Redbird Online

Authors: Sharon Creech

Chasing Redbird (8 page)

May said, “I don't think we should have a dog. It'll just chew up everything. It'll get into my stuff, I know it will.”

“Fine,” I said. “I'll give it back.”

“No, no, no!” My brothers wouldn't hear of it. They fell all over themselves promising to take care of it.

That night, after my sisters were asleep, I crept down to the kitchen and rescued the puppy from his lonely corner. I took him back to bed with me, petted him until he fell asleep, and gave him a name: Bingo. The name reminded me of Aunt Jessie leaning down to pick up her
and saying, “Bingo!”

Two days later, when I was in Mrs. Flint's store, I asked her if she had any specials.

“What do you mean, ‘specials'?” she said.

“You know, special prices—or a free bag of cookies—”

“Well, doesn't that beat all creation!” she said. “A free bag of cookies! I'm trying to make a living here—which one are you?”


“I'm trying to make a living here, Zinny. Free bag of cookies! Whatever next—?”

On my way out, I saw this sign on the notice board:






When I got home, the puppy was sleeping on the blanket in the kitchen. “Gobbler,” I called. “Gobbler—” His ears perked up, his eyes opened, and he ran toward me.



y mid-May, the days were getting longer, but I had less time to work on my trail. It was harder to get up there after school because the cleared section of the trail was nearly two miles long, and by the time I got up to where I had left off, it was time to turn back for supper. I couldn't wait for school to be out in three weeks, so I could make some headway on my trail. I was getting frantic, afraid that I'd never be able to finish it, and I'd be doomed.

The tomato plants had taken hold in the field and in our squirt gardens, and I'd crushed up eggshells to surround my plants. That's what Aunt Jessie used to do to keep the slugs and snails away. When the aphids came, I boiled up Aunt Jessie's secret brew: mashed-up marigolds, cigarettes (you could always find a few butts behind the barn where Uncle Nate would sneak his smokes), and onion skins, all boiled up into a stinking brew and sprayed on the plants.

I'd seen Poke twice at the creek, and he wasn't alone.

He'd found a mate, and the two of them often sunned on an old log. Once Ben and I saw Uncle Nate down by the creek, digging for worms. “Going fishing?” Ben asked him.

“Maybe so.”

Later, we saw Poke and his mate sitting on the log, feasting on that fresh pile of worms.

Dad once told me that when May was a toddler, someone had given her a turtle. She tired of it after a few weeks, but Aunt Jessie took a shine to it, feeding it raspberries and worms. As winter neared and the turtle stopped eating, Aunt Jessie put it in a box in her closet, and the following spring she brought it out again.

“Was it alive?” I asked.

“Sure it was. Alive and raring to go.”

“What happened to it?”

“She decided it was lonely and took it down to the creek.”

“Did she visit it?” I asked.

“Nearly every day. She took it raspberries and worms.”

The cricket had made its home on the tree outside my bedroom window, and nearly every night it told me the temperature. And the puppy—well, the puppy was gone.

The day after I'd seen the notice on Mrs. Flint's bulletin board, Bingo and I went for a walk. By the time we got to Bybanks, his fur was matted with briars and leaves, his paws caked with mud, and his nose swollen from a bee sting. When I saw Jake's truck parked at Mrs. Flint's store, we took a detour across the field, over the creek and back to the road. By this time, I was carrying Bingo, who had run out of steam and was looking bedraggled. He slept in my arms as we passed the Methodist Church and headed up Morley Road.

I'd been to the Hiddle Farm so many times when Sal lived there that I could've walked there blindfolded. I'd only met the new renters, the Butlers, once. Bill Butler, who worked with my dad at the county airport, was a nice man, and I'd say most people liked him and his wife pretty well, but his mother—Old Mrs. Butler, as she was known—was definitely off her rocker.

Old Mrs. Butler thought she was six years old. She wore blue ribbons in her hair and a little yellow sunbonnet that didn't fit and sat like a crumpled handkerchief on top of her head. Her hair ran all the way down her back like thin gray rat tails. My Dad and I found her one day playing in a mud hole behind the gas station, and we took her home. That was the only time I'd been to the Hiddle Farm since Sal left.

Now, as I walked along Morley Road, I got cold feet. I didn't want to take the puppy back. He was curled up in my arms so peacefully, nuzzling his nose up my sleeve. He was so much like a dog Sal used to have, Moody Blue. I sat down beneath a maple tree to think this over.

Maybe this wasn't the missing beagle. Maybe his name wasn't really Gobbler—although he leaped to that name each time I'd tried it on him. Finally, I decided I had to find out if Bingo was Gobbler, and I went up the road to Hiddle Farm, and all the way up the road I kept expecting to see Sal running toward me.

Old Mrs. Butler was sitting on the side porch, stringing beans. She wore her scrunched bonnet and blue ribbons. At her feet was a grown-up beagle, who leaped up and howled. Bingo woke with a start and squiggled from my arms, falling clumsily to my feet. He sniffed once, howled in answer, and took off.

The two dogs met each other in the yard. The older one sniffed Bingo protectively, and Bingo leaped up, nuzzling her. Old Mrs. Butler clapped her hands, squealed, grabbed a broom, and headed toward me. “Shoo, shoo—” she said, waving her broom. She wasn't shooing the dogs. She was talking to me. “Go on. Shoo. Get away—”

Old Mrs. Butler let out a high-pitched giggle, an awful, frightening sound if ever I heard one. It sounded like the whinny of a mad horse. “Gobbler, Gobbler, my Gobbler,” she called. Bingo ran straight for her and jumped against her legs, pawing at her thick stockings, which had been rolled down to her ankles.

I tried to explain who I was, but she kept swishing her broom at me. Then I decided maybe it was better if she
know who I was, so I said I'd heard they'd lost a puppy and this one had appeared at our house. It wasn't a complete lie. I just didn't mention
it had appeared or who had brought it.

“Shoo, go on, get away—”

“But is it
?” I asked. “Is this the dog you lost?” It was a needless question. From the way Bingo was behaving, it was obvious that he had come home and was as happy as could be.

?” Old Mrs. Butler said. “Get on out of here. Shoo—you
.” She chased me down the drive, and as I ran off down the road I could hear that terrible whinnying giggle.

At home, Ben was already in a fit. “Zinny, where's Bingo? Have you seen him? He's gone!”

I wanted to tell the truth, I really did, but I didn't want to get Jake in trouble. If he had stolen that dog, and it certainly seemed he had, I didn't want anyone to know it. I didn't know if I was trying to protect Jake or save myself from a load of embarrassment. “I took Bingo for a walk,” I said.

Will grabbed my arm. “Then where is he?”

“Got loose—”

They were beside themselves. “Then let's go after him! Where did he get loose?” They formed a search party and made me show them where I'd lost Bingo.

I led them down the drive and turned in the opposite direction from the way I'd gone with Bingo. About a hundred yards down the road, I stopped. “He went through that thicket there—I've already looked. I searched and searched—” It was awful to lie. I hated it. But more than hating the lie, I was beginning to hate Jake for bringing the puppy in the first place. We looked for a long time, but of course there was no sign of Bingo, and we returned home, a sad, disappointed group.

I was desperate to get back to my trail, but at home everything was a mess. All through dinner that night, Bonnie, Gretchen, Will, Sam, and Ben moaned and whined and nearly drove me out of my mind about poor lost Bingo. Dad said, “Zinny? I haven't heard too much from you about this. It was
dog, after all. You don't seem very upset.”

Ben said, “Didn't you like him, Zinny?”

“Sure did. Sure, I'm upset.” I tried to show it. I frowned, sniffled, and looked as forlorn as a half-dead mule. I was pretty sure I was going to get zapped by lightning, too, for continuing this lie. I wanted to blurt out the truth, but I couldn't.

“Well, shoot a bug!” Uncle Nate said. “Then go and
the dag-blasted dog! Don't just sit here twiddling your thumbs.”

Dad suggested I put up a lost-dog notice in Mrs. Flint's store, and Bonnie said, “Maybe you should call Jake—”

“What for?” I asked, my heart thudding in my chest.

“He'd help,” Bonnie said. “I know he would—”

“Don't anybody tell Jake yet, okay?” I said.

“Why not?”

Mom said, “Maybe Zinny doesn't want him to know she lost his present. Right, Zinny?”

“Right,” I said. “That's it.” I wanted to crawl under the porch and stay there for a year or two.

All that evening, they pelted me with questions. Had I done the notice yet? Did I want any help? In the midst of this, Bonnie said, “Wait a minute! If Zinny puts up that notice at Mrs. Flint's store, then Jake will see it because he works there, and Zinny doesn't want Jake to know—”

I could have kissed her. Instead, I had to pretend that this was a puzzling problem. “
what can I do?” I wailed. “I can't put the sign up at Mrs. Flint's—darn, darn, darn.” I felt such plunking relief, but found that it was almost too easy to pretend the opposite.
Zinnia Taylor: professional liar.

My relief didn't last long, because everyone quickly decided that I would have to tell Jake. I
it to him, they insisted. He would understand, they said. Gretchen was firm about it. “It's settled. You put the sign up tomorrow and then tell Jake. He'll want to help us find Bingo.”

I made a quick decision. I'd make a sign and
to take it to Mrs. Flint's. “Here,” I said, dashing off a notice. “How's this?”



“You forgot to put our phone number on there,” Gretchen said. “And the address. Here, I'll do it.” She sat down at the computer and spent an hour devising a sign that was, in my opinion, too bold and too prominent. “There!” she said. “Much, much better!”



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