Excerpt of The Curse of Cuddles McGee
I blame Mr. Boots. Sure, I accept responsibility for my actions — I’m not saying I don’t. All I’m saying is that none of this would’ve happened if Mr. Boots hadn’t gone around flaunting his privates so much.
Mr. Boots is our dog — basically a mutant Chihuahua — and up until a couple of months ago he was a regular fashion plate. My mom and my sister, Tina, kept him decked out in doggie fashions that had the double advantage of making him a style icon while keeping him decent, if you know what I mean.
I don’t want to get into the whole thing here, but a couple of months ago Mr. Boots got into a little trouble, and Tina blamed the outfit. We all decided that it would be best if he just went au naturel for a while. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and Mr. Boots was all for it. And that was the problem.
Let me say right here that I, Arlene Jacobs, have no problem with canine nudity. I’ve seen other dogs go around in the buff and it’s fine, they look perfectly normal. But for some reason, Mr. Boots always looks like he’s posing for his Playdog pictorial. It’s pretty disconcerting. I’ve learned to avert my eyes, but Mom, well, she’s not handling it quite so well. Let me put it this way — we never used to have to stock smelling salts. (Mom likes to call them her personal aroma-therapy crystals, but come on, we know what we’re talking about here.)
We thought things would get better after a while — you know, Mr. Boots would start acting a little less pervy and Mom would get used to him — but it just wasn’t happening. Not to mention the fact that his wardrobe malfunction of a couple of months ago made him a kind of a minor celebrity in our town, resulting in a “Boots Watch” column in the local tabloid and occasional gawkers on the lawn. So in the middle of dinner last week, Dad had announced that he and Mom were heading out to a spa for a weeklong seaweed wrappapalooza. He said it was because they had mucky pores or something, but everybody knew it was just so Mom could get away from Nudieboots for a while.
So if it hadn’t been for Mr. Boots, me and my best friend Ty wouldn’t have been killing time at the construction site of the new town pool. But when your dad hands you a naked dog and banishes you from the house so your mother can pack, your options are pretty limited. The construction site was Ty’s idea, and I was all for it. I figured, how bad can it be? I mean, bulldozers — that’s pretty exciting, right?
Actually, bulldozers are not so exciting when all they’re doing is sitting there parked. Apparently bulldozing is not a 24/7 activity, and we’d missed the actual ‘dozing for the day. So instead of an afternoon of wacky bulldozer hijinks, we ended up with a field of churned-up red clay and a couple of hibernating bulldozers. Which is exciting for about thirty seconds, I’d say.
Mr. Boots immediately began a thorough inspection of the area, and me and Ty made the best of it. But honestly, there are only so many ways you can rearrange little flags and only so many times you can pretend you’re getting run over by huge bulldozer wheels. “Arrrghh, Arlie, the pain! I’m totally squished.” Ty writhed in front of the bulldozer. Ha-ha, right? Maybe the first time, but I’m serious here, ten times is way too many. It’s not even like he looked squished.
“Arrrrghhhhh…can’t move my legs!” Ty gurgled.
“Getting old, Ty,” I said as a big blop of water hit me on the forehead. I peered up at the sky and groaned. Nothing like threatening storm clouds and minor drizzle action to make my day even better.
I squatted down on a clump of clay and tickled Mr. Boots’s foot. After his inspection had turned up nothing unusual, Mr. Boots had passed out in a tire track. His face was crusted with red muck and he looked pathetic, but what was even more pathetic was that he looked really comfortable. I tickled his foot again, and he kicked the crap out of my hand without even opening his eyes.
“Agony! I’m in agony, Arlie! Arlie? Aw, crud.” Ty finally stopped writhing and got up, shooting me a disgusted look. “Well, fine then.” He tried to brush the clay off his pants, but really just succeeded in smearing it around. “Got any better ideas?” He kicked at a big chunk of dirt, spraying me and Mr. Boots with a fine layer of grit. Pretty inconsiderate, if you ask me. And I wasn’t thinking of myself — I was thinking of poor Mr. Boots buried nose deep in a shallow tire track grave.
Ty grinned at me. “You see that? Check out this shot.” He kicked at another clump of dirt.
“That was awesome, thanks.” I spit grit out of my mouth. Seriously, if Mom and Dad wanted mud baths, they should’ve just come here. “Let’s head back. Dad won’t care. Especially if it’s raining.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Ty said, doing some fancy soccer footwork and batting at a chunk that promptly disintegrated. “Check this out, though.”
I groaned and looked around. There were way too many big chunks of dirt lying around. I should’ve brought protective eyewear. Ty’s decided that he’s going to be the next big soccer star, so his big thing this summer has been kicking everything that isn’t nailed down. He calls it “training.” Beats me if he’s any good, but I bet Coach Miller’ll go for it, no problem.
Another blop of water landed on my arm. Definitely starting to rain. Mr. Boots was examining a piece of yellow paper, so I waited until it passed inspection and then scooped Mr. Boots up (the element of surprise seems to be the key when he’s in a bad mood). I grabbed the paper, too — it looked like it was some kind of f lyer. I figured it was probably just some kind of car wash ad, but it would double as a dog wash device in a pinch.
I smoothed out the piece of crumpled paper while Mr. Boots hissed at me. That dog needs to go to anger management classes.
“Hey, Ty, check this out.”
Ty had gone into some weird tai chi pose, and I guess I must’ve startled him, because he kind of toppled to the side in a dorky way.
“Geez, Arlie, ruin my concentration, why don’t you?” Ty wiped his mouth and started eyeballing the clump again.
“Forget it.” Sure, I was being sulky. According to the paper, the TV show America’s Most Talented Pets was having auditions at the movie theater this week. An actual, real-life TV show. Big news, okay? But if Ty thought his dirt clump was more important, he could just hear about it later. I stuffed the f lyer in my pocket.
Ty had gotten back into his tai chi pose, pointed at a tree at the edge of the lot, and then kicked the heck out of the clump. Except this clump didn’t just disintegrate. This clump clanged.
“What the heck?” Dirt clumps don’t clang. I jumped up, jostling Mr. Boots so bad that he hissed again. I swear, it’s a good thing that dog doesn’t have britches anymore, because he’d definitely be too big for them.
The clump went sailing a good distance, and wouldn’t you know, it hit that tree with another clang.
Ty puffed his chest up like he was a blowfish. “Did you see that? Just where I said.”
“Yeah, but what was that? That wasn’t dirt.” I started for the tree.
Ty high-fived himself and danced along behind me. I dropped Mr. Boots and let him take the lead on this one. For some reason that clanging dirt was giving me a bad feeling.
Mr. Boots was nosing the big clumps of dirt scattered under the tree when we got there, and one of them in particular seemed to catch his attention. He stopped nosing as we walked up and sat down next to it with a what the hell expression on his face. I swear that dog has been watching too much TV. I half-expected him to whip out a notebook and give me his report.
I squatted down next to the clump and poked at it. I was right — there was definitely something non-dirt-like inside the clump. I poked at it again. When it didn’t move, explode, or otherwise act dangerous, I figured it was safe, so I swiped at the protective dirt covering enough to figure out what was inside. When I figured it out, I couldn’t help but grin. Sometimes I’m way too paranoid.
“Oh Ty, you dork, that wasn’t dirt, that was a can.”
“What?” Ty wrinkled his forehead and peered at the can. “Okay, fine, but did you see my shot there? That was awesome.”
Mr. Boots got a hopeful look in his eyes when he saw it was a can. Tina had recently introduced him to Snausages, and he hasn’t been the same since. Kitchen-related items get his salivary glands going.
Never in my life have I been afraid of cans, so I wiped the dirt more vigorously. It looked like it was one of those big metal tea canisters that they sell at the grocery that are supposed to look decorative and nice. Blue and swirly and all. I felt like an archaeologist or something — I mean, who knows what ancient cultures left this can in the lot, right? Okay, since it was a grocery product, it was probably pretty recent, but you never know. It could be valuable.
But as I wiped off the lid, I apparently forgot to use my gentle wiping skills. I knocked off the lid, and the contents of the can came tumbling out onto the grass. I jumped back, almost squashing Mr. Boots in the process. And it’s not because I’m afraid of tea, okay? It wasn’t tea. It was a skeleton.
Copyright © 2008 by Emily Ecton