Book Review: The Dwarves

The Dwarves by Markus HeitzThe Dwarves, by Marcus Heitz

Summary:

This novel follows three-ish groups who all end up fighting an epic battle.

Tungdil is a dwarf living with a mage. In all his hoping and errands, he has never come across another dwarf. Instead, he has learned to read, speak multiple languages, and be a smith. The mage writes to the dwarves, informing them of Tungdil’s existence. While waiting for an answer, the mage tasks Tngdil to deliver some items to the mage’s former apprentice in Black Saddle. So Tungdil sets off on a long journey.

In the dwarven kingdom, the high king has grown old. Preparing for his death, he has asked the king of the fourthlings, Gandogar, (fourthlings are one of five kingdom of dwarves) to present himself as a potential to be high king. At the presentation, Gandogar reveals his intention to lead the dwarves against the elves in war. The old high king, distraught by the prospect, seeks to delay making Gandogar high king until the council can be persuaded to avoid war. To delay the crowning, the high king states there is a second challenger to the throne, Tungdil.

In a third front, the mages meet. The Perished Land, a dead place full of orcs and revenants where the dead come back to life, presses against a barrier, which the mages maintain. The barrier has started to fail. The mages, including Tungdil’s master, meet to reinforce the barrier. During the spell, Nudin the Knowledge-Lusty betrays the mages stealing their power. He then kills the other mages. He then calls together the mage apprentices and steals their power as well. This leaves the Perished Lands to invade the realm and the orcs to plunder towns at will.

Tungdil meets up with the guards sent by the high king, learns of Nudin’s treachery, and agrees to challenge for the throne. In the challenge, each challenger picks tasks that both must complete. Tungdil challenges Gandogar to a journey that includes reuniting the dwarven kingdoms, killing a dragon, and forging a legendary weapon. On the way, his group is threatened by orc, evil elves, treacherous dwarves, and fate which sometimes guides and other times ignores them.

Having forged the mighty weapon, Tungdil, Gandrogar, the elves, the humans, and the last surviving magus meet on the battlefield to fight Nodin.

My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thoughts:

This was a good adventure. If you are looking for a coming of age adventure with an epic grand battle, this is a solid choice, but it has some pitfalls.

Names and titles. This book, especially at the beginning, is overrun by names and titles. A dwarf cannot introduce himself without giving his name, nickname, and clan. I give you: Boïndil Doubleblade and Boëndal Hookhand of the Swinging Axe clan and warriors of the secondlings; Gandogar Silverbeard of the Silverbeards, king of the fourthliings; Goingar Shimmerbeard of the clan of the Shimmerbeards, Lot-Ionin the Forebearing ruler of the Enchanted Realm of Ionanda; etc. All the names bogged me down and almost convinced me to stop, but I soon stopped paying attention to all the names.

There is a sense of things happening too easily. For instance, with all the names floating around, the evil elves, enslaved to Nou’donn the Doublefold, announce their master to the orcs, while Tungdil eaves drops from a tree. Thereby relieving poor Tungdil of any investigation to determine who his enemy is. At another point, Tungdil is faced with his first orc battle. He is untrained and knocked down, but he is saved by the appearance of the high king’s escorts. Plausible, but then when the group of three dwarves come across Nou’donn, one of the previously dead magus reappears and saves them. At another point, Tungdil’s group is searching for a dragon so they can steal its fire, only to get to the exact cave where it is at and find it already dead. Never fear, however, because the dragon lit the lake on fire, leaving what they needed within their reach without the dragon battle. But fire is tricky and in the final battle before reaching the forge, it is extinguished. Again, never fear because the Perished Lands does not let anyone die, and 11 century old dwarves who have battled their internal anger and evil regained their sanity and have been protecting the forge still lit with dragon fire since their downfall. 11 centuries ago. There are many other instances in the story.

This is a Tolkien realm adventure. Sure the names of the individual players are different, but there are no substantial differences that ever lead me away from thinking of Tolkien. Wizards are magi, but the other races have the same names. The races are described the same down to the bearded dwarven women and the leaf-shaped elf ears. Sure the wizards have to recharge their magic, which is not something Tolkien used, but that alone wasn’t enough to drag me away from the Tolkien realm.

Women have no individuality. Sure there are women in the story. Yes, the women do some cool things. The last remaining magus is a woman. She heals people, balances good and evil, throws lightening, and does some other cool stuff, but she is a woman. So she is hit on and seen as a love interest by one of the males. Her male travelling companion is for a brief mentioned suggested to possibly be something more than just her body guard. The female dwarf the joins Tungdil becomes his love interest. The woman Tungdil is friends with at the start of the novel is fairly consistently referred to in connection with her children. The human actress who joins the party is the lover of one of the other actors, and in the indexes at the end is not noted for her battle bravery or her own actions but rather as the actor’s lover. The female queen of the firstling dwarves has her own independence, but of course it takes Tungdil showing up and suggesting she go north before she breaks the long silence between her clan and the others. (This part was probably more annoying because Tungdil literally only had to tell her to go north, she mentioned she had already considered breaking the silence, and the assumption was that she needed to go to the male kings versus them coming to her.)

All that being said, I still gave the book 4 stars. When I want to read an adventure book, I’m not worried about the role of women and weak plot choices. I’m reading for battles and intrigues and action. This book had a lot of those moments. Once the naming settled down, the story smoothed out, and it was a fairly quick read. I still recommend reading, but go into the book knowing its a Tolkien-esque fantasy adventure. Enjoy it for what it does well.

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Book Reviews: I’m supposed to do those?

Ok. I’ve heard this advice a million times: good writers are good readers.

Far enough. I’m an audiobook reader, which means, I don’t have time to sit down with a real book and actually read, but I am happy to switch my radio time with someone reading to me. I have been a audiobook reader for more than a decade at this point.

What I have not done is write reviews of the books I have “read.” So this is my mid-year resolution. Once a month, I will try to review a book. I will mark them as “Book Review” with the book title.

Let’s see what happens.

By the way, as a newb to book reviews, feel free to leave me comments on how to do it or what you expect from a book review.

Boredom, Research and Coffee

Boredom: It happens. Sometimes it happens often. Other times, I can go months without a true period of boredom.

For me, boredom is one step past procrastination, where I have already broken down and completed all the unwanted tasks, like laundry and cleaning. It’s a time when my writing mind is blank, there is no work to occupy me, and I feel untethered. Adrift. Lost.

So there I was, on a Sunday, bored, mindlessly clicking on a computer game then getting up and wandering the house then sitting outside, rinse and repeat. I suddenly got curious about what other things might be out there to occupy my mind.

Follow this logic if you can: I wanted to find community activities, which lead to adult dance classes (that socially appropriate ones not the pole dancing variety). From there, it became adult fitness programs (remember this because it feeds back in later). Couples activities -> activities to do with your dog -> mommy and me dog treats -> luscious desserts -> why do I crave sugar -> sugar and fitness (see the fitness came back in) -> breaking sugar addiction -> symptoms of sugar withdraw

That’s where I stopped chasing down the rabbit hole of internet research. At the end of it all, I was left with three conclusions:

  • I’ve spread my sugar addition to my dog if his begging is a good indicator
  • While I still eat my sugar happily, I’m ahead of the game since I stopped drinking all soda and in-taking caffeine.
  • I miss coffee: going to my local coffee shop and ordering a barista’s choice, drinking a cup on the front porch with my husband in the morning, and having a reason to go to the break room every few hours at work.

Sadly, I never really found a good article or diary on withdraw symptoms. I thought it would be particularly good information since Felix (one of my four brothers) is an addict and I have toyed with forcing him to quit. When they say to torture your darlings, well, that would be one way to make his life more miserable.

Anyway, just some thoughts about where things go that I wouldn’t expect and why periods of boredom can be truly dangerous.Coffee

A Bit of Magic — Interview with Heather Hayden

Hello again.

Today, I have an interview with Heather Hayden. Why should you care? Heather is the driving force (largely) behind the Just-Us League Anthologies. If you aren’t familiar with them, here’s some cover art for you to see:

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Fueled by chocolate and moonlight, Heather Hayden seeks to bring magic into the world through her stories.

A freelance editor by day, she pours heart and soul into her novels every night, spinning tales of science fiction and fantasy that sing of friendship and hope.

Heather’s other publications include Augment, a YA science fiction novel, and several short stories in the JL Anthology series. She is currently working on Upgrade, the sequel to Augment, as well as a gaslamp fantasy series titled Rusted Magic.

 

I asked Heather to give me some feedback on the newest of the anthologies A Bit of Magic.

Why did you choose to participate in this anthology?

I love writing fairy tale retellings, so when the opportunity came up for another fairy tale anthology, I hopped on board!

What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, if any?

I’ve published a short story in each of the JL anthologies (Volumes I through V) so far, and I’m currently working on one for Volume VI, which will be released in October. I’ve written three fairy tale retellings, a superpowered science fiction short, and even a horror story!

This anthology contains fairy tale retellings and you retold the story of Puss and Boots. What inspired your retelling?

I’ve always loved “Puss in Boots”. However, it was Puss who captured my attention every time I read the tale–the miller’s boy always seemed so lazy and boring in comparison to a hat-wearing, sword-wielding cat! So I asked myself, “Why is the miller’s boy so lazy?” That’s when I realized it could be because he’s a daydreamer like me, someone whose talents lie outside the normal sphere of everyday life (I’m a writer; Pip’s a storyteller.) From there, my short story “Monsieur Puss” was born!

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Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?

 

Fairly close in some ways. However, there are a few things that are different… For one, Puss is very clear about how uncomfortable he finds his boots and hat! However, wearing them is all part of his plan, so he suffers through it for Pip’s sake (and his own).

Who did you write your story for?

Honestly? Myself. Readers who love a good fantasy story that stars a daydreamer and a cat will enjoy it, but I always write stories that I would enjoy reading.

However, the story is dedicated to Echo, a very sweet kitty who left her paw prints on my heart.

It’s a fun story that I enjoyed, but why should readers choose to read your story? What would draw someone to your retelling?

They should choose to read my story if they like fairy tale retellings, cats, adventure, storytelling, magic, or cats. Did I mention the cats? Puss’s scenes were my favorite when I wrote this story!

Do you prefer a happy ending? Will your readers see a happy ending to your tale?

Yes, I do prefer a happy ending. That does affect my writing, but the fairy tale I based my story on has a happy ending, so I didn’t need to worry about completely changing how the story goes.

Because the story is fantastic, let’s assume people will want to red more like it. If readers like your story, what other stories or novels would you suggest they read?

Other fairy tale retellings! There are so many out there, from novellas to novels to anthologies! The Just-Us League has two other fairy tale anthologies, From the Stories of Old and Of Legend and Lore. I also really like Lea Doué’s The Firethorn Crown and Kyle Shultz’s The Beast of Talesend.

There are also many stories with fairy tale-esque settings, such as Kristen Kooistra’s Heart of the Winterland and H. L. Burke’s Coiled.

Very cool, but what if they want to read more of your writing. Where should they go and what should they expect next from you?

I’ve published a YA science fiction novel, Augment, and also have a short story in each of the first five JL anthologies. All of them are available on Amazon.

Readers can connect with me through my website (hhaydenwriter.com), which lists my works, upcoming appearances, and other interviews I’ve done. It also includes a blog where I interview other authors, review books for my monthly Magic Monday series, share my goal-tracking Month Maps, and more.

I also have a Twitter account and a FB page; I can be found as @HHaydenWriter on both. On Twitter, I co-host the #WIPTruthOrDare Twitter game with Allie May, a fellow JL author. On Facebook, I share fun pictures and occasional snips of my works-in-progress.

I have a newsletter as well. Readers can sign up for it on my website, and I send one or two emails a month with updates, giveaways, book recommendations, etc.–it varies from newsletter to newsletter, but I always aim to keep it short and fun! (Plus, readers receive two free short stories for signing up, one of which is a fairy tale retelling!)

You can follow Heather’s writing adventures on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter, or through her newsletter.

Interview: M.T. Wilson

Exciting times! I’m part of a collection of international writers. We have our fourth (count them: 1, 2, 3, 4) anthology being released in two weeks.

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings and adaptations. One of the authors is M.T. Wilson.

M. T. Wilson recently graduated from university, where she studied English Literature with Creative Writing, and now works in marketing. It has been her dream for many years to see her writing published, and she intends to never lose sight of that goal. Although she has branched out into science fiction and experimental literary fiction, her first love was fantasy. Her current main project is a young adult science fiction trilogy, which she hopes to publish in the next few years.

More importantly, you can stalk her on twitter or Facebook. Her website is here.

M.T. has added a retelling of The Glass Coffin (link to an audio version of the Grimm’s story) to the anthology.

Hey, M.T., what inspired you to write this fairytale?

M.T.: 

When I decided to take part in the anthology, I knew it didn’t want to retell one of the ‘big’ fairy tales that everyone’s heard of. I wanted to take the opportunity to read some other fairy tales and find something different. After reading The Glass Coffin by the Brothers Grimm, I was captivated by the concept and wanted to take the imagery of the story and apply it to a retelling that twisted the story and made the glass coffin into a different kind of prison.

I agree. I like to see the lesser known fairy tales brought to life. Do you read many original fairy tales?

M.T.:

I haven’t read many original fairy tales and don’t think I could claim to have a favourite, so I’m going to not so subtly avoid answering this question…

Totally, allowed. Was it difficult working with The Glass Coffin in an anthology setting?

M.T.:

Keeping it short! I very rarely write short stories. I much prefer writing novels and building something sustained that I can add lots of layers to. I always find short stories so hard because I get into the story and characters and want to stay with them and could easily get carried away and end up writing a whole novel.

So will you stay with these characters? Or is there another fairytale that you’d like to work on?

M.T.:

I think Beauty and the Beast is an interesting one. There are a lot of ways you could re-tell it, depending how you wanted to depict the ‘beastly’ element, as you could take that concept into lots of different directions, not just physical beastlyness.

But would you still make it a traditional fairytale with the classic happily ever after (HEA) ending? I kind of prefer the non-happily ever after. How about you?

M.T.:

It depends on the story. If a HEA is well crafted and provides a satisfying ending, yes I like it. If it just makes me roll my eyes I find them disappointing endings. But neither do I like an ending which is total disaster and the heroes have failed. Bittersweet endings are probably my favourite, because there is some happiness there but they are more realistic than a totally Happily Ever After.

Does that mean if you had to pick a favorite fairy tale adaption that it wouldn’t be the standard Disney HEA versions?

M.T.:

This is a tough question! When I was a kid I really liked Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, but these days Tangled is one of my favourite Disney movies ever. I also love the Into the Woods film as a mash up of fairy tales.

Fair enough. Ok. So we’ve been part of the Just-Us League for a number of years. Is your main career writing?

M.T.:

No, I work in marketing for the local museums, parks and cemeteries in a nearby town.

Yet, I know you are working on multiple projects. How do you approach your writing?

M.T.:

Plotter all the way. I find if I don’t plan I end up with a half-finished rambling mess of a novel which I will never finished because it’s gone off in such a tangent it feels like I’ll never be able to pull it back from the brink. I at least like to have an idea of where the story is going, the main plot beats and where it’s going to end before I start writing.

What’s the biggest challenge for your writing?

M.T.:

I’ve always found characters and dialogue hard. Plots and settings tend to come to me pretty easily, but I really have to work at my characters to make them really come alive on the page in the way they’re alive in my head!

And what happens when you’ve gone off on a tangent or the characters have tripped you up and the writing stops? What then?

M.T.:

Usually I move on to a different project for a while. I don’t like to sit and force out ideas. Ideas usually come to me randomly, so I just like to bide my time. Things I might try are watching movies or reading books in my genre to stir up some ideas.

I take it that you keep multiple stories going.  Then what projects are you working on?

M.T.:

For the last few years I’ve been working on a young adult science fiction trilogy. I’m in the process of re-drafting the first book and will hopefully be sending that out to agents in the next year or so.

Agents! That’s scary. Do you have strong supports behind your writing journey?

M.T.:

My mum. Whenever I feel doubt about whether I’ll reach my dreams, she’s always there to tell me never to give up.

Speaking of dreams, is there an author that you admire and would like to meet?

M.T.: 

J.K.Rowling. I know I know, it’s such an obvious answer that it’s practically a cliché. But I really admire how she faced so many rejections but wrote something that has become such a big part of our culture, unlike any other story world or series of books. I’d just be curious to meet her.

Fair enough. She has made a great success out of her writing. I share that dream.

Ok. Last question: what’s your spirit animal?

M.T.:

A cat. Because I like sleeping and cuddles.

Awesome. Thanks for being on a guest on my blog.

If you want to know more about M.T. Wilson, check out her social media (herehere, and here).

Coming soon, check out the anthology: Of Legend and Lore

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For Kristy

*For those not part of the Just-Us League, we are a group of international writers. We are having a virtual not-so Secret Santa. I am paired with Kristy.*

TIme MachineSince I don’t know how to otherwise upload photos, here’s your gift.

I like to give practical gifts, and I saw no reason to clutter up your life, so I thought I’d start by getting you a little extra time. Here is a time machine for you.

 

Next, I felt like any writer needs a bit of color in their imagination, so I found you a rainbow of inspiration.  Here you go.

 

Oh, and I know it is never much fun to rely on someone else when on vacation, so I got you a step ladder in case you need a way to escape.  Here it is:

Trip

 

Finally, I think you deserve some time to relax, so I got you this footstool.

footrest

Merry Christmas, Kristy. I hope you enjoy your gift.

Dog Rescue

I recently had a story performed at the Woodneath Library – Story Center. This story won a Dark Horse award in their scary story competition. Read about it here.

Anyway, as the story was not printed, I am providing it here. (I really want to edit this, but this is the text as it was performed.)

 

Dog Rescue

Mom drops me off in front of school. Teachers smile and wave, but across the street, Caleb’s father stands in his door and watches us as we all file into the building. He crosses his arms over his chest, and I wish I was invisible so he could not see me. I run quick into the school, so he can’t see me around the cars and teachers.

A police man visits our class. He tells us how to call if we are lost and to listen to our parents. Caleb laughs at him. The teacher frowns at him and tells him to obey.

At recess, Caleb punches Sara because she won’t give up her swing. When Sara tells the teacher, she sends Caleb to the principal’s office, and he doesn’t return to class.

When class ends, Caleb sits on the concrete steps in front of his door and stares as parents pick up our classmates. He crosses his arms over his chest just like his father. I’d avoid him, but I can’t run inside. I have to wait for my sister to pick me up.

I sit on the brick wall in front of the school, kicking my feet against the bird etched into the stone sign and leaning against the flag pole.

A dog peeks out around Caleb’s house. Its fuzzy ear perks up when it sees me. It crawls forward. Its belly drags the ground, but its tail wags.

I hop off the wall and stand at the road that separates Caleb’s house from the school. Caleb crosses his arms over his chest and stands up.

“Is that your dog?” I ask. I want to pet the dog and maybe run with it or toss a ball for it.

“What’s it to you?” Caleb moves between his dog and me. The dog inches backwards; his eyes now watch Caleb. Caleb looks like he wants to hit me, but he is over there and the street separates us.

I shrug. “I like dogs.”

Caleb turns and kicks the dog. It yelps and rolls onto its side. Caleb kicks it again.

“You shouldn’t kick your dog.” I lean forward, wanting to cross the street. A car honks, and I lean back.

Caleb locks his jaw and glares at me. Watching me, he kicks the dog again.

I want to stop Caleb, but I am not supposed to cross the street alone. My sister turns the corner and walks toward me. I rush to her, and she takes my hand. I pull her back to Caleb’s. With her, I can cross.

She does not look at the house even though I am pointing to it. She shakes her head.

“We have to get home,” she tells me and pulls me the other way.

“We have to stop Caleb from kicking his dog.”

My sister purses her lips and sighs. She still does not look at Caleb or the dog. “That boy won’t stop. If you stop him now, he’ll do it after we go home.”

“But the dog,” I whine.

She drags me home, but I keep thinking of the dog. It sounded hurt. Its eyes were so sad. It just wanted to play. Caleb won’t kick the dog if it’s not there.

Mom fixes dinner and says I can play in the yard when we are done. I stand at the back fence, staring at the school playground where older kids play basketball. Only the fence and the school yard separate me from Caleb’s house, but Mom does not let me leave the backyard.

The back-porch light on our neighbor’s house comes on. I hear a dog howl on the wind, and I know it is Caleb’s dog. It’s a cry of hunger and pain.

I check the kitchen window. Mom is not watching me.

I climb the fence and drop down on the other side. The school yard at night is different. No one knows where I am. The kids playing basketball are old. I don’t know them. They move fast. They are loud.

The dog whines. I can hear it above the bouncing ball and shouts of the boys. I wait. When the boys take the ball to one side, I run across the playground behind them. No one yells for me to stop, but my stomach flip flops. I’ll be in a lot of trouble when I get home.

I stop at the street. I am not allowed to cross it.

Car lights come up the street. It passes. The air pushes at me. The tire and engine are loud. If one hits me, I will be squished flatter than a pancake. Mom has told me. I want to cross, but more headlights are on the street. If I can see them, I should wait.

A dog barks, and time to worry has run out. I dash across the street. The headlights keep coming. The car horn blasts, and I reach the sidewalk as the car speeds past. Its tires screech. The red tail lights look mean, like the lights on a cop car. If it is the cops, they will take me to home. I know I shouldn’t be here, but I can’t let anyone take me away yet. I don’t look back. I run up to Caleb’s house.

I flatten myself to the house, waiting for the bats in my chest to escape. They don’t. They screech and flap their wings harder. It’s because I am doing something I shouldn’t, but I need to help the dog. I sneak around the side where the dog was earlier. It is not there.

The dog whines from the backyard. I tiptoe to the corner.

The dog is tied to a pole. It lays on the ground at the end of its rope. There is no grass, no bowls, no dog house.

The dog’s chest rises and falls, faster than a dribbling basketball. Its eyes shine in the dark. It stares at me.

“It’s ok. I’m going to take you home. You’ll be my dog. I’ll feed you.” I tell the dog, trying to use the voice my mom uses when I have been crying and she tells me not to worry. I reach my hand out.

The dog snaps his teeth.

I pull my hand back. Chills bump up along my skin, and I want to cry, but I have to stay silent.

The dog pulls on his rope, escaping as far as possible from me.

I sneak up to the pole. The pole has a loop on one end where a kick ball might be tethered. A metal chain hangs off the loop. It only has four links, and a rope is tied to the fourth link.

I tug on the rope to untie the knot. The dog jerks at the rope, tying the knot tighter, harder to get lose. Each jerk clinks the metal chains on the post.

The house creeks, and I freeze. Too many bad things could happen. Caleb could find me. He could come out and kick his dog. He might yell. If he yells, his father might find me.

Caleb’s father scares me the most. He is silent, always staring at us before school. His arms always cross his chest. He scowls. Even my sister will not look at the house. There is something wrong with Caleb’s father. That must be why mom tells me not to cross the street. Why my sister walks me home. Why the dog seems so sad.

I stand at the pole frozen, scared.

The dog stops yanking the rope.

No other sounds come from the house, and I take a deep breath before working at the knot.

It takes a long time. The basketball sounds fade. It gets dark, and still I push at the knot. Soon my mom will look for me.

A light turns on in Caleb’s house. I can’t see anyone in the window. A blueish glow of a tv flickers in another room.

The dog pulls at the rope, a long steady pull which tightens the knot. His eyes stare at the back door. Its tail tucks under its butt. It whines softly.

Something is coming.

The knot is too tight.

I don’t want to get caught.

I run to the side of the house and hide.

I watch the dog. It watches the house.

We wait.

The dog shivers.

Light spreads across the dirt.

“Get over here,” Caleb demands.

The dog inches forward, nose to the ground.

Something thumps inside the dirt ring.

The dog scrabbles against the dirt. His paws digging in as he races forward.

The dog looks mean like the evil dogs on movie posters. It wants to bite. It wants to tear. It could. It will, and I am scared. I duck down small and grab my knees.

The metal links slide along the pole as he races past.

His teeth snap at the object.

Caleb’s foot kicks out.

The dog yelps. His teeth click. He snarls. His paws knock the thing.

I want to run away, but I cannot move. I want to stop Caleb, but I am not supposed to be there. I want to help the dog, but I don’t want to get bitten.

“Stop that,” Caleb shouts.

The dog sinks down, laying on top of the object.

Caleb reaches out to the dog.

It growls and bites at the hand, same as it did to me.

“I hate you.” Caleb kicks his nose again and leaves.

I wait and watch.

The dog stops growling. It bites at the bone.

I sneak back to the pole.

The dog growls at me and watches me. It stays on top of its prize.

I wrap the rope around my wrist, pulling the dog closer. I watch him, but he does not run at me. He does not show me his teeth. Tugging harder on the rope, it loosens at the knot. It takes a long time, but the knot comes undone.

The dog stays still as I pull the rope back toward my house.

“Come on.” I whisper the words, but he does not move.

I yank harder. His lips pull up, and he has lots of sharp teeth.

He is faster than me. If I run, he can catch me. If he wants to bite me, he can. I want to run or throw up, but I don’t. I keep the rope tight, but I wait to see if he will attack.

Finally, he grabs the bone in his mouth and follows me. I have saved him like a hero or a policeman. He stays at the end of the rope.

The street is empty. No headlights come from either way, and he follows me across.

Our fence has no back gate, so I walk him home the way my sister and I go after school.

A police car is parked outside my house.

I run home. The dog follows me.

“Mom!” I shout for her as I get to the door.

A big man blocks me. His arms cross his chest, and I look up. I know him. It is Caleb’s father.

Mom pushes him out of the way and opens the door.

“Oh my gosh. Baby, where were you?” She hugs me. Her arms are warm. She smells of strawberries. The fear and tingles float away because mom is safe and home is warm.

“Where did you get the dog?” Caleb’s father stands behind mom and stares down at me. He wears a police uniform and a gun hangs from his belt. Light bounces from his badge.

I want to run away, but mom holds me tight. My voice shakes. “I-I rescued him.”

Mom holds me back and shakes her head. “You stole him.” Her lips flatten, and she is about to tell me something bad. She wants to send the dog back.

“Caleb kicks him,” I whisper to her because she can’t let Caleb’s father take him back. She needs to know.

She shakes her head. “He is not yours.”

Mom takes the rope from me and holds my hand. We face Caleb’s father together. I want him to take the police uniform off. He makes me think of a villain, and police are heros.

“Thank you.” She offers him the rope.

He takes it, and tears blur my vision.

“But Caleb is mean to him.”

The officer crouches down. “He is not your dog. It is wrong to steal. Do you know that?”

He is big, and he stares directly at me. Mom’s hand stops me from running away. I am caught as much as the dog had been. I don’t want to be hit or taken away, but I don’t want the dog to go back to Caleb either.

I nod and slide behind mom’s leg. I don’t look at him.

He pulls me around so I have to look at him. “Thieves go to jail.” He lowers his voice until he growls just like the dog protecting its bone. “I’m watching you.” He leaves. The dog follows behind.

The next day, mom drops me off at school. Caleb’s father stands in his door, watching us enter the school. Beside the house, the dog curls into a ball and shakes.

End