Authors: Duncan Ball
For Ian, who knows Selby
as well as anyone
Selby was the only talking dog in Australia. For all he knew he was the only talking dog in the whole world. He was born an ordinary dog but had learned to talk while watching TV with his owners, Dr and Mrs Trifle, in their home in the little town of Bogusville.
It all began one day when Selby realised that he could understand everything that was being said on TV. Learning to talk was another matter. Selby spent hours and hours when the Trifles were out of the house repeating what the people on television were saying until, finally, he could speak perfectly. But before the thrill of learning to talk had worn off, Selby panicked. What would happen when people discovered that he could talk? At first the Trifles would be
happy to have a talking dog for a pet, but soon they’d ask him to do things around the house. They’d have him answering the telephone or mowing the lawn or even going out to the shops.
“I don’t want to be their servant,” Selby thought. “I want to be their pet.”
It could even be worse: the Trifles might send him off to a laboratory where he would spend the rest of his life answering scientists’ stupid questions. And that would never do.
“I like my life just the way it is,” he thought, “and I’m going to keep my talking a secret even if it kills me!”
Selby almost gave away his secret many times. One of the closest calls was the day he was swinging on branches and vines through the jungle when suddenly a branch broke and he fell and was grabbed by cannibals and thrown into a pot. But just as he splashed into the lukewarm water he woke up screaming, “No! No! Don’t cook me! I’m Selby, the only talking dog in the world!” It was only when he looked around him and saw that he was lying safely on
a carpet in the Trifles’ house in Bogusville that he realised he’d been having a bad dream.
“I probably ate too many of those awful Dry-Mouth Dog Biscuits Mrs Trifle keeps feeding me. They always upset my stomach and give me nightmares,” Selby thought as he dashed to the front window, opened it, and saw that the car was gone. “Thank goodness the Trifles have gone out. I’m just lucky they didn’t hear me talking.”
In fact the only one who
heard Selby talk was Pinky, a pet galah which the Trifles were minding for Mrs Trifle’s cousin Wilhemina.
Selby put his paws up on the tall cage and stared at the little bird.
“Hello Pinks. Say something to me. Say, ‘Hello, Selby my good friend,'” Selby said, knowing full well that the only thing Pinky ever said was, “
Help! I’m drowning!
” — exactly what Cousin Wil had screamed when she fell in a fish pond during a garden party ten years before.
“'Help! I’m drowning!
‘ is a strange thing for a galah to say,” Selby added. “I suspect Cousin Wil screamed so loud that it got stuck in
your little pea-brain. Go ahead, my little panic merchant, say it. Say,
‘Help! I’m drowning!'”
“I’m Selby,” Pinky screeched, “the only talking dog in the world!”
Selby froze like a statue.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I’m Selby, the only talking dog in the world!” Pinky squawked again.
“That’s what I thought you said,” Selby said. “Now, you aren’t Selby, I am. So shut your beak before you give away my secret and ruin my life forever.”
“I’m Selby,” Pinky screeched even louder, “the only talking dog in the world!
“You’re supposed to say, ‘
Help! I’m drowninng!
’” Selby yelled as he wondered how long it would be till the Trifles returned.
the only talking dog in the world!”
“I’ve got it,” Selby thought as he put his face up to the cage. “Maybe if I scream really loud he’ll repeat what I say.
Help! I’m drowning!”
Selby cried at the top of his lungs.
Pinky’s eyes popped open at the sight of the screaming dog. In a fright he flew against the
side of the cage, knocking it to the ground. All of which would have been okay if the cage hadn’t broken in two. In a second Pinky was free and flying around the room.
“Come back here you silly seed-swallower!” Selby yelled, chasing him. “You’re not supposed to be flying around loose!”
“I’m Selby, the only talking dog in the world!” Pinky squawked and, before Selby could head him off, Pinky had disappeared out the window and into the cold night air.
“Come back here you little twittering tattle-tale!” Selby yelled. “You can’t survive out there! It’s too cold. And besides, you don’t know how to find food! You’ve been in a cage all your life! Why am I wasting my breath talking to a bird?” he asked himself.
Selby stared out into the darkness for a glimpse of Pinky.
“This is terrible,” Selby said, feeling suddenly sad. “The Trifles will be awfully upset when they come home and find Pinky gone. Of course, they won’t know it’s all my fault. They’ll think Pinky knocked his cage over and broke it — which is true. And they’ll think
window open — because they’re kind of absent-minded about those things. Pinky will fly away and freeze or starve to death. This is awful,” Selby said, blinking back a tear. “But I guess he won’t be blabbing out my secret.”
Then, from the top branches of the silky oak in the front yard, came a terrible cry which pierced the night air:
the only talking dog in the world!”
“All right, big mouth!” Selby yelled as he jumped out the window and looked up at Pinky. “Shut up or everyone in Bogusville will hear you!”
Suddenly Selby remembered his swinging-through-the-jungle-on-branches-and-vines dream.
“My only chance is to get to the top of that tree,” he thought. “I’ll grab little Pinky and scream ‘Help! I’m drowning!’ in his face so loud that he has to repeat it.”
Limb by limb Selby crept up the tree towards the unsuspecting parrot. In a minute he was hidden in a clump of leaves on the top branch, only a leg’s length from Pinky.
“I’ll make a sudden lunge,” Selby thought, “and grab him. He won’t know what hit him.”
Selby sprang forward and grabbed the stunned Pinky with his front paws, teetering for a second on the thin branch. Then, just when Selby had screamed out the Help! part of Help! I’m drowning! there was a crack and a thwack and a twang and Selby and Pinky hurtled down through the leaves toward the ground.
“I’m falling!” Selby screamed, and before he knew it he was staggering around the front lawn. After a moment of staggering in circles, Selby fell into a bush, unconscious.
He woke a few minutes later to the sound of running feet and Mrs Trifle’s voice.
“He’s dead! He’s dead!” she yelled as she dashed down the path and picked Pinky up, not noticing Selby in the bushes. “Oh, Pinkums, how will I ever explain this to Cousin Wil?”
“I don’t think he’s dead,” Dr Trifle said. “He’s just unconscious. Look he’s opening his eyes. He’s moving his beak. I think he’s about to say something.”
“Oh, no!” Selby thought, feeling suddenly happy about Pinky being alive and then
instantly sad. “In a minute the news will be out. I’m done. I might as well confess. It’s better they should hear it from the dog’s mouth than from that big-beaked blabbermouth.”
Selby stepped out of the bushes and was about to say, “I confess. I can talk. I don’t care who knows it now. Go ahead and send me off to a laboratory to be asked stupid questions by scientists for the rest of my life,” when Pinky screeched:
“Help! I’m falling!”
“'Help? I’m falling?'” Mrs Trifle asked. “Did he say falling? That’s very odd.”
“I do believe he did,” Dr Trifle said thoughtfully. “Well, at least it’s a lot better than ‘Help! I’m drowning!'”
“And it’s even better than,” Selby thought as he shook himself off and started on his evening walk, “some of the other things he’s been saying lately.”