After the angst fest of last week, I figured I’d do a kid’s story. I actually came up with this in 2008, while on a road trip with a small child that insisted on hearing a story I made up myself. Anyone who wants to write should have to entertain a child on the fly at least once.
The Dog That Couldn’t Bark
In the middle of downtown, there used to be a little green house with a white picket fence. In fact, that was the first house in the city. In fact, before the city was a city, it was a town; and before the town was a town; it was just that house and before the house was a house it was a bunch of trees that had to be cut down and arranged into a house shape in the middle of the prairie. The person who cut down the trees and arranged them into a house was a man named Charles Shackleby. Many years later after the city, with its big silver skyscrapers and coffee shops, had popped up around it; the house still stood, owned by Mr. Shackleby’s great great great granddaughter, Ms. Corrine Shakleby.
Ms. Corrine Shakleby was a very nice old lady but unfortunately confined to her bed on the second story of the house. To help her, she hired a maid by the name of Mary Ann Johnson, a kind young woman who made sure that the bills were paid, the house was clean and the Ms. Corrine was as comfortable as possible. Whenever she needed anything, Ms. Corrine would ring a little bell and call out: “Oh Mary Ann, would you bring me a little soda, please?” or “Oh Mary Ann, I’ve dropped the television remote again and I cannot find it,” and Mary Ann would dutifully come and help her.
Ms. Corrine also kept a little white dog named Ice Cream Cake. Ice Cream Cake liked running around the back yard, sitting on furniture when he wasn’t supposed to and, most of all, he liked to bark at people. He spent all day with his front paws up on the big window at the front of the house and barked at any one who passed by. He barked with a squeaky: “Yip! Yip! Yip!” and didn’t stop until the person was out of sight.
Every morning, when the milk man and the paper boy delivered their wares to Ms. Corrine, he went: “Yip! Yip! Yip!”
Every afternoon, when the business people went to eat their burgers and talk about business, even though they really wanted to talk about fishing or superheroes or anything other than business, he went: “Yip! Yip! Yip!”
Every evening, when people walked back to their cars after a night at the opera or a comedy club, he went: “Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!”
And so on and so forth for as long as anyone could ever remember. He even yipped at Mary Ann when she came in every morning but stopped once she swatted him with a rolled up newspaper. Ms. Corrine was all the way upstairs, usually with her hearing aide turned down low, so she could hear him. If Mary Ann had to stop Ice Cream Cake every time he barked, she would have spent her days doing nothing but hitting him with a rolled up newspaper and the little green house would fall apart.
On Tuesday, Ice Cream Cake had the run of the house. It was Mary Ann’s day off and he always woke bright and early to get as much barking in as possible. One particular Tuesday, the witch who usually stays in her condo on the edge of town, had to go into town to get a loan from the bank. Like everyone else before her, when the witch passed Ms. Corrine’s window, Ice Cream Cake went “Yip! Yip! Yip!” at her.
Unlike everyone else, when the witch heard his “Yip! Yip! Yip!” she stopped and glared at him. He kept barking. She wrinkled her nose. He kept barking. She wrinkled her nose. He kept barking. She raised her hands, magic and irritation coursing through her fingers, and whispered “Cainus Mutius,”
Ice Cream Cake kept barking. He barked as loud as he possibly could but, to his shock, no sound came out. The Witch smiled, watching the little white dog panic as he realized that though he was bouncing and moving his mouth just as he always did, he couldn’t make a single noise.
The witch turned away, walking happily towards her bank loan, and left Ice Cream Cake to his silent vigil.
For a dog who had spent most of his waking life barking, to suddenly be unable to bark was unnerving. Ice Cream Cake made a valiant effort to bark but the spell was too powerful. Dozens of people passed by his window without taking any notice of him at all. Once a neighbor passed by and remarked on how quiet the street was and that “that nasty little dog must be out for a walk,”
Eventually, as the day passed into night, Ice Cream Cake gave up hope. He slunk upstairs to his little bed in Ms. Corrine’s room, turned around three times and tried to go to sleep.
The next morning, Mary Ann arrived at seven o’clock to fix Ms. Corrine’s breakfast. She was still groggy so she didn’t notice the unusual silence until nine when she started up the vacuuming. Normally, Ice Cream Cake hated the vacuum. He’d alternate between barking and lunging at it, and hiding under the couch and whining. Today, he was nowhere to be seen. Mary Ann ignored her concern to finish up the house work but when she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him by lunch time, she got truly worried.
She found Ice Cream Cake in his little bed upstairs, where he hadn’t moved from since settling in for the night. Ice Cream Cake and Mary Ann were never real adversaries but neither were they truly friends. He respected her as the person who made sure he got fed but his heart and loyalty belonged to Ms. Corrine. She knew that, and that the little white dog made her sweet old employer happy, but she often wished he would just learn to shut up.
When she saw him, staring at the wall with big sad eyes, Mary Ann immediately regretted that wish.
“Ms. Corrine, I think there’s something wrong with your dog,” she said, kneeling down in front of him.
“Ice Cream Cake?” The old lady said, looking up from her romance novel, “My Goodness, dear, I thought he was down stairs!”
“I think he might be sick,” Mary Ann said. She reached forward to pet him. On instinct, Ice Cream Cake tried to bark at her but once again, nothing came out but silence. He flopped back down on the bed. Mary Ann looked up at her employer, “He’s definitely sick,”
Yet, after a quick check up at the vet’s, they realized Ice Cream Cake was perfectly healthy. He just couldn’t bark. There was no damage to his vocal cords or lungs or any of the parts necessary for barking; he just couldn’t.
When Mary Ann told her the news, Ms. Corrine frowned. She took Ice Cream Cake into her arms and gave him a tight hug. He whined silently. “Poor thing,” she said, “What’s a dog without his bark?”
Mary Ann didn’t say what she was thinking.
“If the veterinarian can’t find an explanation, it must be some magical ailment,” Ms. Corrine continued, “Fetch my walker, Mary Ann. We must pay a visit to the witch.”
Mary Ann gave a little gasp. Ms. Corrine hadn’t left the house in almost ten years. Still, she knew better than to argue. In a few minutes, they stepped into Mary Ann’s minivan, with Ice Cream Cake in a small carrier in the back.
Two hours later, they arrived at the witch’s condo. “I was expecting something more sinister,” Mary Ann said, looking up at the beige building. She pulled Ice Cream Cake out of the back and followed Ms. Corrine up to the door.
The Witch answered wearing a large purple t-shirt and cargo shorts. She raised a very thick eyebrow and said, “What do you want?”
“I want you to fix my dog,” Ms. Corrine said. Mary Ann held up Ice Cream Cake.
The witch squinted and smiled when she recognized the little white dog. “No. I made that ankle biter mute for a reason. Why should I undo it?”
“Look at him!” Ms. Corrine fumed, “Who asked you to interfere with my dog? You’re lucky I didn’t call the police first!”
The witch sniffed and rolled her eyes. “Tell you what, old lady. I’ll give your puppy back his bark but not for free. Two hundred bucks and I’ll do it.”
“Two hundred-“ Ms. Corrine sputtered, “Now see here, you-“
“Ma’am,” Mary Ann interrupted, “This isn’t helping Ice Cream Cake.”
The old lady sighed, glancing down at the carrier. “I suppose you’re right,”
“What kind of a name is Ice Cream Cake for a dog,” the witch asked.
“A perfectly good one!” Ms. Corrine huffed, “Two hundred it is but you fix him right now!”
“Sure!” the witch grinned, “Come on in!” She stood aside, holding the door open.
The condo smelled funny; a weird mixture of magical herb and chemicals but a lot of it was definitely some kind of pee. Mary Ann set the carrier down on the saggy green couch, the only spot in the living room free of clutter, and took Ice Cream Cake out. He barked angrily at the sight of the witch but of course no sound came out. She just tilted her head back and laughed, thick black curls bouncing.
“Are you sure you want him unmuted?” she asked, “It seems a lot better for everyone to have him quiet.”
“Of course, we do!” Ms. Corrine exclaimed, “Look at how miserable you’ve made him! Get to it!”
“Alright, lady, geez,” the witch scowled, reaching for her spell book, “I don’t remember the exact reversal so this might take a bit. Stick the dog down on the floor unless you want to get hit as well.
Mary Ann quickly placed Ice Cream Cake on the floor.
The witch squeezed her eyes closed, waved her fingers and said “Shmoock La Poof!”
A puff of pink smoke filled the room and the instant it cleared, Ice Cream Cake was gone!
“What did you do!?” Ms. Corrine shouted, “You killed my dog!”
“No, I didn’t!” The witch said, thumbing through her spell book, “I flipped to the wrong page! He’s just invisible! Here, I’ll fix it.” Then she shouted; “Abra Oliphant!”
This time purple smoke filled the room but when it disappeared, Ice Cream Cake wasn’t back. Instead, an elephant appeared in the center of the room, right where he’d been sitting, looking very confused. Ms. Corrine and Mary Ann stared, speechless, while the witch squinted at her book. “That’s not right either,” she said, “I should really find my glasses.”
“You think?” Mary Ann squeaked, backing away from the nervous pachyderm. She was fine with elephants in a zoo but a living room was unacceptable.
“Here we go: Xandy Flem!” the witch said. The elephant shrunk down into a little dog again, that looked very much like Ice Cream Cake except it was green instead of white. He gave a silent, worried bark.
“You’re not fixing him at all!” Ms. Corrine yelled, “You’re just making it worse,”
The witch glared at her and pushed her hair out of her face. She wiggled her fingers, squeezed her eyes shut and shouted; “Blanca Fermonicon Babblucos!”
Bright blue sparks shot from her fingers and Ice Cream Cake’s green fur faded back to white. He let out a happy “Yip!” of surprise and wagged his tail as it echoed through the condo.
The Witch grinned wide and said “That will be two hundred dollars, please.”
Ice Cream Cake ran back and forth between Ms. Corrine and Mary Ann, barking happily. They paid the witch, packed him back in his carrier and returned to the little green house downtown. Ice Cream Cake barked all the way home.