Rex A Corner In The Shadows
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That morning, in northern Sweden, the temperature rose to forty-two degrees, and the freshly fallen, ankle-deep snow was beginning to melt. The old farmer kicked his boots up against the porch steps.
"Another one's been taken."
"Stig, nej, how is that possible?" Anna, his wife, asked pouring a cup of coffee. Stig removed his boots before walking into the kitchen.
"I don't know, but we've lost three sheep to some strange, wild animal."
"And you didn't hear a thing?" Anna handed him a cup of coffee. "But you stayed awake all night."
Stig did not answer. He sat silently at the kitchen table and sipped from his cup, while Anna poured butter milk into a bowl of dried oats topped with jarred fruit.
"If this keeps up," he said, "we won't make enough money to pay for our supplies next year."
"Let's not worry about that just now."Anna tried to keep him calm. "Have you taken your blood pressure medicine yet?
"Nej, not yet, but if any more sheep are taken it'll ruin us, we have bank loans to pay."
"Take your pill, dear."
Just then, there was a knock at the door. The sound of bare feet smacking against the wooden floor came from the hallway. A little girl with black, curly hair, combed back into a braided pig tail, appeared in the doorway.
"Jag kan gå, mamma."
"Nej, Rakel, your father will go. Now don't forget what we talked about, you must practice your English in order to pass your exam next year, okay?"
"Okej, mamma, jag ska."
"Okay, mamma, I shall."
Stig took the final sip from his cup before standing up. He lost his footing and braced himself against the kitchen table.
"What's wrong, dear, is it your back?"
"Nej, my knee, it's stiff again."
"I'll get you an aspirin."
Stig walked down the narrow hall with Rakel close at his side.
"Who is it dear?" Anna called out from the kitchen, buttoning up her robe.
Stig looked out the front window, but he saw no one. When he opened the door, there on the porch was a cardboard box wrapped in a blanket.
"Looks like someone's made a delivery," he replied.
Low pitched sounds came from the box. Rakel poked her head outside to get a better look.
"Oh pappa, can I come out?"
"Put on your shoes first."
Rakel pulled on her mother's black boots and clopped onto the front porch.
"What do we have here?" Stig asked, bending down to read a note attached to the blanket.
"Please find good homes for the puppies."
"Pup-pees," Rakel mimicked, "Vad är det?" then she removed the blanket, lifted up the lid flaps, and yelled, "Hundvalpar!"
"English, Rakel," her father said.
There were four puppies, whining. Three of the four puppies had small, meager bodies with sparse, brownish coats. The fourth puppy was quite large, almost four times the size of the other three and it took up most of the space in the box. Its paws were enormous and its coat was thick and black, as black as charcoal.
"Oh pappa, can we keep them?"
"I don't know." Stig said picking up the black puppy, "This one looks pretty healthy, but maybe it will be best to find homes for them."
Stig brought the box into the living room and showed it to Anna.
"Oh my goodness," she said, "what lovely puppies."
"Can we keep them mamma, can we?"
Anna read the note.
"I don't know Rakel, four puppies? Who will care for them?"
"I will, I will!" Rakel replied, bouncing up on her tiptoes.
"Think carefully before answering," Stig said, "we already have one problem, we can't afford any more.
"Please, mamma, please!"
Anna looked down at her daughter, into her big brown eyes, and then she looked up at Stig.
"Stig, may I speak with you?" Anna took him by the arm, and led him into the kitchen.
"She has no brothers or sisters."
"I know that," Stig said.
"Ever since we adopted her, she's brought nothing but joy into our lives."
"Ja, you´re right, but-"
"Look at her, she's ecstatic. Are you honestly going to say nej to her?"
"The Elderly Care Centre would make the perfect home for the puppies," Stig said, "they've already asked me to bring a sheep or a goat the next time I visit Farfar."
"Why not give her a chance? Let her try to care for the puppies."
"And if it proves to be too much for her little hands and feet to handle?" Stig asked.
"If that happens, I'm sure she'll allow us to give the puppies to the Elderly Care Center," Anna said.
Stig walked back into the living room.
"Come and sit down, Rakel." He began counting on his fingers.
"You will have to walk them every morning and evening, fresh water and food three times a day, they must be taken to the vet for shots, and you will have to bathe them and comb their hair. Can you really do all this?"
"Ja, pappa, jag kan."
"You must practice your English, Rakel."
"Yes, pappa, I can."
"Well, since you're going to be home-schooled until next fall, I guess we can give it a go."
"Thank you, pappa!" Rakel gave her father a tight hug around his neck.
"Now remember, if you're unable to manage, we will give them to the Elderly Care Center, is that understood?
"Yes, pappa, I understand, the Elderly Care Centre. Now, can we keep them in the little barn, there's a heater inside and it will keep them warm. Kom pappa, hjälp mig!
"English, Rakel, speak English."
Rakel grabbed her father by the hand and pulled, "Come, pappa, help me."
Stig gathered some supplies and took the box of puppies out to the small, falu red barn. Inside the barn was a gated pen made of wooden posts and chicken wire. He took some straw, stalks of threshed grain, and used it as a bottom layer for the bedding, and then he threw a blanket on top to help make the area warm and soft. Anna and Rakel brought in short, ceramic bowls with roasted chicken puréed with cereal, along with warmed goats milk.
"This will have to do," Anna said, "until we are able to purchase puppy food."
Stig turned on the overhead heaters.
"Are you sure you can manage these puppies?" he asked Rakel, picking up the black one. "This fellow is pretty big."
"I'm sure," Rakel said, and then she took the black puppy from her father and cuddled it.
"Look pappa, he has blue eyes. I'm going to call him Rex."
Stig smiled, "And the other three, do you have names for them as well?"
"Yes, I do. I will name them Atom, Arty, and Astro."
"How will you ever tell them apart?" Anna asked.
"When we go to town to buy their food," Rakel said, "we will buy collars and name tags and toys and..."
"Okay, okay," Stig said, "where will all this money come from?"
Rakel looked up at her mother.
"Do we have the money for such an expense?" Stig asked.
"Yes," Anna replied. "I think it would be a wise decision to invest in these puppies, hopefully they will grow up to help protect the sheep and possibly save our farm."
"Well, in that case," Stig said, "I'm willing to try for at least one year."
"You'd better fasten the gate to the pen, dear" Anna said, and then she walked out.
"And don't forget to lock the barn door," Rakel yelled to her pappa.
"Me? How did I end up with this job?"
After everyone had gone, and the barn was quiet, the three brown puppies stood up and walked toward each other.
"I like your brown coat," said Atom, "it looks just like mine."
"Oh, and your brown eyes!" shouted Arty, "I have brown eyes too."
"Look, we are all the same height," yelped Astro.
And then they all shouted in unison, "We are the same! We look alike, we talk alike, and we even walk alike."
The three brown puppies began to play with each other, they jumped, they barked, and they ran all around the pen, but they did not play with Rex, the black puppy.
Rex wanted to play too, so he stood up on his enormous paws to join in on the fun. But when the brown puppies saw him coming toward them, they began to laugh at the way he walked.
"We don't want to play with him," Atom said.
"No, he doesn't look like us," Arty shouted.
"Look, his paws are so big that he can't even walk," Astro yelped.
Then all three started to bark and laugh at Rex.
Rex lowered his head and walked away.
'Why don't they like me? Why won't they play with me?'
He looked up and saw a corner in the shadows and sat there and did not come out.
Rex soon became hungry. He started chewing on the blanket, but it did not taste good. He chewed on the straw, but that only made him thirsty. He looked over at the bowls filled with food and milk, but he was too afraid to walk over there, too afraid of the laughter. Soon his stomach began to growl and to ache.
'I must eat something, I must!' So he stood up and slowly walked towards the bowls.
The brown puppies looked up and saw Rex walking toward the food.
"He doesn't need any food," said Atom.
"He's already too fat," said Arty.
"Yea, he needs to lose some weight," said Astro.
So the brown puppies ran to the food bowl and ate up all the food, and then they went to the milk bowl and drank up all the milk.
Rex could not believe what they had done.
'Why are they so mean?' Rex lowered his head and walked away from the empty bowls. He sat in the corner, in the shadows, and did not come out.
It was now noon, and Rakel came out to the barn to rinse out the bowls and give the puppies fresh food and water.
When the brown puppies saw her, they jumped up and began to bark.
"Hey, come and play with me," said Atom.
"No, play with me, I can jump higher," Arty said.
"No, me, see how I shake my tail?" Astro asked.
Rakel unfastened the gate, sat down, and played with the brown puppies.
"Hey, there are only three of you. Where´s Rex?" Rakel whistled.
"Here Rex, where are you boy?" But the three brown puppies began to bark even louder.
When Stig entered the barn to see how Rakel was managing with the puppies, he smiled. It made his heart glad to see how they played with her.
But his smiled turned into a frown when he looked around and saw Rex sitting alone in the corner, in the shadows.
"He doesn't look like us," Atom said.
"Yea, he's different," shouted Arty.
"We don't want him here with us," yelped Astro.
Rex heard them talking about him, and did not say a word. He felt bad because he could not understand why they did not want to play with him. So he sat in the corner, in the shadows, and did not come out.
"What's wrong with him, pappa? Why won't he play with the other puppies?"
"I don't know, baby." Stig walked over to Rex.
"Come here boy, come on." But Rex did not move.
"Pappa, is he sick?" Stig picked Rex up in his arms.
"He didn't appear sick this morning. What's the matter boy?"
"Maybe he's hungry," Rakel said.
Rakel washed out a bowl, and then poured Rex some warmed goats milk.
Stig finished placing food and fresh water in the other bowls.
"Go ahead, drink it," she said to Rex.
Rex sniffed the bowl, and then he tasted the milk. Within seconds, the milk in the bowl was gone. Rakel praised and petted Rex.
"He's hungry, pappa!" She shouted. "Now you must eat your food."
Rakel sat down with Rex until the bowl was licked clean.
"Pappa, I think he is still hungry."
"Try giving him some water," he said.
Rakel poured water in a bowl and gave it to Rex.
"Pappa, he drank it all. Should I give him some more?"
"Yes, make sure he has plenty of water."
"I do, but he keeps drinking it up. I think he needs a bigger bowl.
"Ugh! What is that?" Rakel showed the bowl to her father.
"That's drool," he laughed. Clean it out each time before you give him fresh water."
When Rex had finished drinking, he shook his head hurling drool all over Rakel's face and in her hair.
"I think Rex is going to need you to sit with him while he eats," her father said.
"Ja," wiping her face with her sleeve, "he's a little shy, but that's okay. I will take good care of him.
"Okay, you guys," Rakel shouted, "let's all go out and take a walk around the barn."
After the puppies finished their walk, and had eliminated, Rakel pulled out her list of things to do from her pocket.
"Pappa, you mean I have to go around the barn and pick up their poo, all of it?"
"That's right," her father said, "puppies go to the bathroom just like people, except someone must clean up after them."
"Oh...alright," Rakel dragged herself over to the shovel and walked around the barn, picking up dog poo.
When she finished, she dumped it in a hole that her father had dug, out back, beneath a patch of trees. Rakel fastened the gate to the pen, and Stig locked the barn door when they left.
All that special attention given to Rex made the brown puppies very jealous, and their jealously made them more vicious.
"Why are you here with us?" Atom asked.
"No one will ever play with you, you're too big and black," Arty shouted.
"We, on the other hand, are perfect. We are the perfect size, the perfect color, and we even have the perfect bark," yelped Astro.
Rex did not say a word. He tried to ignore them and their barking, but their words pierced his heart. For all he truly wanted was to have a friend, someone he could play with. So he sat in the corner, in the shadows, and did not come out.
The brown puppies continued to laugh and play with each other, but they never played with Rex.
Weeks past, and Rex grew bigger and stronger, but the brown puppies grew very little, they were still very small. Rex´s corner was becoming uncomfortable, for it too had stayed small. Rex walked around the pen, searching for a new place to sleep, but even the pen appeared small. Everything and everyone was small except for Rex.
"You can't sleep here," said Atom.
"This is our place," said Arty.
"There isn't enough room here for you," said Astro, "you're too fat."
"Enough!" Rex barked. And with a shriek the three brown puppies fell back and huddled together. "I don't want to stay in this tight, noisy, little pen. I will go out and find myself a new home.
"And how do you plan to do that?" Atom asked.
"I am going to jump over this gate." Rex said.
"But you're too f...," but Astro did not finish, for Rex gave him a hard stare.
"Well, lets see you jump over the gate," Arty said.
Rex examined the gate, how it was fastened tight to the wooden posts with chicken wire. I can jump over that, he thought. So Rex took his front legs and stretched them up high, trying to reach the top of the gate. To his surprise, he found it very easy. He made it to the top, but his left paw slid down between the fence post and the gate frame, and he could not pull it free. Rex heard the sound of a snicker from behind. He pulled and pulled, but his paw did not budge, it was too big.
Rex was stuck.
"So much for your big plan," Arty said, and then the three brown puppies walked away, leaving Rex to hang from the fence, alone.
After a while, Rex´s leg was starting to feel numb. 'What am I going to do? How will I free myself? I must do something, but what?'
"Rex, No! What are you doing?" Rakel screamed, "How did you get up here?" She tried to lift his paw, but Rex cried out in pain.
"Pappa! Pappa!" Rakel cried out. Stig came running into the barn.
"Pappa, hjälp honom!"
Stig bent over the fence and lifted Rex´s large body, freeing his leg.
Rakel cuddled Rex.
"Looks like he was trying to get out," Stig said.
"I don't understand him, pappa. He is so different from the others."
"That's because he is different." A voice said, coming from the doorway. A tall, white haired man walked into the barn.
"Doc," Stig stuck out his hand, "you made it."
"I just came from old Bert's, seems like that wild animal is over at his place now. He lost two sheep last night, and just like you, he never heard a sound."
"That animal's got to be stopped," Stig said.
"I agree," said doc, "but how do you stop something you can't see?"
Rakel interrupted, "Dr. Greenberg, what did you mean when you said Rex was different?"
Doc walked over and took Rex from Rakel's arms. He held him up, looked into his eyes, turned him from side to side, and then said, "Ja, he's mixed."
"Mixed with what?" Rakel asked.
"Well...," Doc turned Rex around again, "I see some Mastiff and-"
"Mastiff, you mean as in the English, giant, horse size?" Stig asked.
"Ja," Doc said.
"What's that, pappa?"
"What else do you see?" Stig inquired.
"Well," Doc continued, "looks like he's got some wolf in him."
"Wolf!" Stig shouted.
"Rex is half wolf?" Rakel asked. Doc continued to examine Rex.
"Ja, looks that way. See those yellow eyes, they were once blue, right?
"Ja, when he came to us," Stig said.
"Wolf eyes," Doc said, "and his powerful built and massive skull, Mastiff. Does he drool a lot?"
"Ja!" Rakel said.
"Is he calm and shy?" Doc asked.
"Very," Rakel said.
"Well, start taking him to Basic Obedience Classes weekly," Doc said, "and start spending more time with him, even let him sleep near your bed. He needs lots of human contact."
"Great, he can sleep in my room," Rakel said hugging Rex.
"Not so fast. First we must discuss this with your mother. Come on, Doc, let's take a look at the sheep."
Rex was placed back inside the pen, and the gate was fastened behind him. Rex sat in his corner, thinking. 'Now what do I do? I'm right back where I started.' Rex looked at the gate. 'It's not very high. I'm sure I can jump it if I try real hard.'
Rex took a few steps back, and then ran toward the gate with all of his might. When he reached the gate, he jumped up into the air, lifting his legs high over the gate, and in one big leap he landed on the other side.
"I did it!" he barked, "I made it over the gate!"
"Good," Atom said, "I'm glad he's gone."
"Yea, and don't come back," shouted Arty.
"I hope you catch a cold," yelped Astro.
Rex looked all around. "This is not so bad," and then he jumped up on top of a bale of hay.
"In fact, it's fantastic!"
He jumped down from the hay and started running around the little barn. He jumped up on the farmer's tool box, and then back down again. He jumped up on an old tractor, and then back down again. He jumped and ran, and ran and jumped, so fast, and for so long, that he did not stop until he was out of breath.
Finally, after about an hour of playing, he became tired and began to look for a comfortable place to rest. Behind the tractor and in the shadows, he found the perfect spot, but the floor was cold and hard. So he went to the bales of hay, tore out pieces of straw and dragged them over to the corner until the spot was soft and warm. When he had finished making his bed, he fell asleep.
Time past, days grew into weeks, and weeks grew into six months. Each morning, when Rex awoke from his sleep, he heard the brown puppies barking and playing. So he too barked in a long, drawn out, and high pitch.
"Oh, how I wish I had a friend."
Even though Rex had a new home and lots of things to jump on, he was still lonely, for no one talked to him, and no one jumped with him. When Rakel brought fresh food and water, and when he stood up to eat, the brown puppies would laugh and bark at him, for he was growing bigger and bigger.
There was a window at the top of the barn. One night, before going to sleep, Rex looked up into the clear sky, past the many stars and barked in a long, drawn out and high pitch.
"I hope the farmer brings home another puppy, someone that will play with me and not laugh at me. It's okay if he doesn't look like me, that's not important, just as long as we can jump and play together."
Just then a sound was heard. It was the sound the wood makes when it is split with the farmer's axe. The brown puppies barked at a fast and continuous pace.
"Who's there?" asked Atom.
"This is our home," shouted Arty.
"Show yourself!" Astro yelped.
But there was no reply. The splitting sound was heard again, but this time is was much louder. The brown puppies began a repeated howl and huddled together.
'Could it be?' Rex thought. 'Is there a new puppy in the barn? Maybe he will be my friend. Maybe he will jump with me and run with me. I can hardly believe it, my very own friend.'
Rex watched as a strange looking animal with very small ears slowly approached the pen, sniffing as he went.
'Well,' Rex thought, 'he doesn't look like much. He's not very tall and he certainly isn't fat, but I guess he will have to do. One can be a friend no matter what one looks like.'
So Rex thought it proper to stand up and make an introduction. He gave two short, high pitched barks, but the sound that came from his throat was so fierce that it caused the strange looking animal to stumble back onto his hind legs and run out of the barn.
"Wait!" Rex shouted with a faltering bark, "Come back! I only want to play."
But the strange animal had disappeared through a hole in the side of the barn. So Rex squeezed through the hole and ran after it, barking. Rex ran into the back yard, but he saw nothing. He ran into the front yard, but still there was nothing.
"Hey, where are you?" He barked. "I just want to say hello. Don't you want to be my friend? Don't you want to play and jump?"
But there was no reply, nothing, just the chirping sounds of male crickets rubbing their front wings together.
Stig ran out onto the porch.
"What is it boy?"
Rex whimpered, "No one wants to play with me."
Stig stepped down from the porch and walked toward Rex. He knelt down and gave him a big hug, rubbing his coat.
"Good job, boy, good job! It'll think twice before coming back here, right boy? I wish I had a hundred like you. Come on, time to turn in."
Disappointed and still friendless, Rex went back into the barn, behind the tractor, and sat in the shadows.
A few days later Stig and Rakel came into the barn as they usually did, but this time they were not alone. The brown puppies began to jump and bark, but Stig ignored them. Instead, he walked over to the tractor.
"Come here boy, come on."
Rex stood up, stretched his long legs, and yawned.
"We have something for you," Rakel said. Rex poked his head from behind the tractor. At Rakel's side stood a beautiful yellow puppy. She was tall and fat just like he was. He could not believe his eyes, but he wondered if she would run away from him too? So he started to bark a fierce bark. But instead of running away, she began to bark back at him! Rex slowly walked over to the yellow puppy.
"You smell nice," he said.
"Thank you," she barked, "you have a lovely coat."
"Would you like to run out and play?" He asked.
"Sure," she said, "last one out is the rotten egg." and then she turned around, and ran out of the barn. Rex followed close behind.
Meanwhile, back in the pen, the brown puppies began to bark, and one even tried to push open the gate.
"We want to go out too," said Atom.
"Can we follow?" asked Arty.
"Let us come too," yelped Astro.
"Oh, no you don't," said Stig, pushing the brown puppies away from the gate, "You guys must stay inside for now, they may trample you."
Stig made sure the gate to the pen was fastened tight. He walked out of the barn, locking the door behind him. In the yard, Rex and the yellow puppy played with each other. They jumped and barked and they ran all around the yard, from the front to the back, over and over again.
Soon, the yellow puppy moved into the barn, and slept behind the tractor with Rex. And each night before falling asleep, Rex looked up through the window in the barn, out into the heavens and said, "Thank you."
Rex was never lonely again.
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