June 17, 2015

'The Adventures of Opal the Hound Dog'

While we were on vacation in South Carolina last week, I was telling someone about Opal the redbone hound dog in my novel Earth’s Imagined Corners.  You know how it is. In order to make death real in a book, you actually have to kill someone off.  And so, in this case, I had to kill the lovely Opal. 

My daughter heard and was very upset. “You killed the dog?” she said.

I explained that you don’t actually see the dog dead, but the last glimpse you see of her is on top of a house in a great flood as the house rolls over.  So she may not actually be dead. She may have swum to safety.

“Mom, you have to write another book about just Opal,” my daughter said. “She has to swim to safety and have a long life and then meet up with Sara’s cousin at the end.”

And, so, guess what I’m doing? I’m writing a fun children’s book called The Adventures of Opal the Hound Dog.

And so you can get a taste of Opal’s life, here is where we meet Opal.
As Sara and James made their way home, they saw a young girl in a white pinafore walking along dangling two red puppies with big floppy ears from her arms and talking to a man on the street. The man listened to what the girl said but then shook his head and walked off. As Sara and James came by, the girl turned to them and said, “Would you like a puppy? They don’t cost nothing. My papa says he’s going to throw them in the river if I don’t find someone to take them on.” At closer view, the puppies were indeed small but older than Sara had first believed. They were just beginning to lengthen into grown dogs.

As the full day of liberation left Sara with such a good feeling, she did not want to let this pass—it seemed like a good omen—so she said spontaneously, “Of course, we would love to have such fine specimen of a dog. That’s so kind of you to try to save them.” Relief crossed the girl’s face, who said, “Would you take two, then?” Sara considered it but then glanced at James’s face, which was contained but set. James did not want one dog, much less two. “Oh!” Sara said. “James, would a dog be all right?” James did not respond, so she said, “It could be my birthday present. Please? Just one.” He stood for a minute and then relented with a small shake of his head. Sara turned to the girl. “I’m sorry, but we can only take one of them off your hands.” The girl handed over the larger of the two, a female, and Sara took its wriggling mass into her arms. Its skin felt too big for its body, which was warm and solid and alive, and Sara was immediately overcome with a maternal kind of love. “I think I’ll name you Opal,” she said. She turned to James and said, “Opal was my mother’s name.” He nodded, smilingly resigned to the new acquisition. Sara hummed the whole rest of the way home, holding close the alternately limp and wriggling warm body.

Opal filled their little apartment with enthusiastic motion. When first set down, she immediately put her nose to the floor and seemed led by it on a meandering path all through the space. It was as if the nose had a mind of its own and the dog’s body merely followed on a tether. Opal nosed under the bed and behind the stove and put her paws up on the shelves and tried to sniff the dry goods. She made her way over to the bed and tried to leap onto it but made it only halfway before flopping onto her side on the floor. She stood back up and shook herself, undaunted, and continued to sniff about. After a time, even James seemed charmed by her earnest zeal as she nosed his ankles.
This is the last time we see Opal.
But then James heard the strangest sound. It was low and then undulated higher, and he realized that it was the baying of a hound dog. He twisted to look behind him, upstream, and there, canted at an angle, was the roof of a building, the very peak jutting from the water. On the peak stood a wet red dog, baying. It could not be, but it was. Opal stood there straddling the peak, her head facing downstream. She lifted her muzzle once more, and the sound of her baying voice was time-delayed coming over the water. James searched beside her and what little he could see of the roof, but there was no one else. It was a relief, but then it was not. “Opal!” James screamed. “Ooooh-paaall!” The dog turned its head in his direction as the building swept past the tree, not too close, but the dog did not seem to see him, and then her head turned back downstream to what lay in her future. Just then the building rolled in the water, and James lost sight of the dog’s form behind the tipping roof and then the walls that followed. That was the last he saw of her, though he frantically searched the waters nearby. At that, something broke within him, and he began to cry, though the sound of his loud convulsive sobs were drowned out in the roar and his tears mingled with the rain.
And here is the beginning of Opal’s continuing adventures.
Opal the hound dog stood on the peak of the house roof as the flood raged around her. The house swayed and shook underneath her as it swept down the wide expanse of the Missouri River.

She lifted her muzzle and let out a long mournful howl.

Under the overwhelming muddy smell of the flood, Opal could smell other things, like dead bloated cows and freshly felled trees and even, once, a soggy loaf of fresh-baked bread.

Opal had a really good nose.  She was a redbone hound dog, after all, and she could smell a raccoon track ten days gone.  She could tell you if a bird flying by had nestlings and if a person was likely to pat her on the head or swing a boot.

The house lurched underneath her and she was thrown forward into the roiling river.  The water was cold as it hit her and she gasped just as her head sank below a wave. She kicked hard and her back legs connected with something under the water, and so she shot upward and her head broke the surface. She gasped again, welcomed air flooding her lungs.

She kicked and paddled and kicked, and often a wave threatened to bowl her over or an undertow threatened to pull her down.  But she kept going. She knew she couldn’t swim upstream, and downstream kept her in the middle of the maelstrom, and so she swam at a crooked angle until finally, exhausted, she paddled into a quiet sandy eddy.

She pulled her bone-tired body out of the water and, too tired to even shake, she found the curve of a tree root a safe distance from the water. She curled up and slept.
I’m having such fun with it!

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