The following is a story based on S.E. Eaton’s heartwarming novel, “The Christmas Beagle“:
Arrow looked at Aphee, who licked her paw from where she was perched on the back of the couch. He sighed and peered out the window. Ducks—he and Aphee had already aimed their daily morning barks at the frequent visitors. Trees, grass, rocks—they smelled the same as always, like almost home. Scent after scent talked to his nose, but that late afternoon, there was a new dialect in the air. He whimpered and paced back and forth on the couch cushions.
Aphee leaped on her brother and got a mouthful of his velvety ear. Play? Play, play, play! She barked at his face, leaped down onto the floor, and stuck her bum up to the air. Betcha you can’t get me! Betcha you can’t!
Arrow groaned and pulled away from his sister. No play. Sniff. Do you smell that? It smells like human.
Aphee shot back up onto the back of the couch and sniffed. I smell it. She growled interrogatively, low to high pitch. Her tail went into a hesitant wag, swishing against the suede couch. It smells scary but nice. I don’t know what to think. I want to get closer but I want to stay away, too!
Arrow hopped up next to her sister and sniffed several more times. His hackles stood on end; both puppies scrambled, scraping paws on furniture as the energy in the air shifted.
Aphee pressed her nose against the pane then a frightful bay bellowed from her throat. Danger! Territory! Warning! Intrusion! Stranger! Attack!
Arrow groaned and pawed at the pane. No! Help! Human needs help! Human is scared!
Protect home! Protect Al! Protect Darla! PROTECT! Aphee’s barks grew louder and she paced on her half of the couch’s back.
With a determined gleam in his eyes, Arrow hopped off the couch and ran to the front door. He jumped and swiped at the knob, but he couldn’t perform his sister’s trick. He turned his head back towards the couch. Aphee! Help! Door! Outside!
Aphee leaped to her brother’s aid, jumping at the knob and smacking it with her paw. Five tries later, Aphee squeaked a bark. Won’t! Stuck!
Arrow’s brow danced with worry. Al and Darla must have reinforced the door again. They had made a habit of doing so, Arrow noticed, every time they left the house. Didn’t they understand the importance of outdoor access for Arrow and Aphee? All the best sniffs were out there! Plus there was the little matter of being able to “go” where they had been instructed to go. And now, there was a human in trouble. Arrow’s instincts screamed it at him.
A breeze carried to his nose a thousand smells of outside. He darted to the kitchen, half a beat later, Aphee followed suit. The beagle puppies stared up at the screen-covered open window. Al liked the fresh breeze to alleviate his sweaty face while he washed the pots and pans; Arrow liked to do his part to keep Al warm by lying on his feet.
Arrow lifted a paw and curled it in towards his belly. There.
Aphee whined and turned in several small circles. …How?
With a huff, Arrow ambled over to the kitchen table. Climb
How? Like a loaded spring, Aphee leaped up several times towards the window.
Chair. Arrow wagged his tail as he stared at his sister.
Aphee turned and barked at him. How?
Arrow sighed as he nosed and pawed the chair forward. Push!
Cocking her head from side to side, Aphee watched as her brother pushed the chair over to the kitchen sink. Stupid idea, brother. You look silly. Your noises are silly, too. Chair feels weird on paws! Too dry! Too squishy! Not comfortable! Let’s just play. I don’t want to catch the human anymore. I’m hungry! What smells good?
We’re not catching the human. Arrow hopped up onto the chair and pushed his paws against the screen, which bowed out under his weight. We help the human.
At that, Aphee broke into a fit of grumbles and yips. We don’t know the human! We can’t see the human! What if it’s a monster? What if it wants to hurt us? What if it hurts Al and Darla? I don’t like this! I don’t like this!
Arrow nosed and pushed with all his might against the screen, and with a pop, it broke loose and clattered to the cement outside. He gave his sister one last fleeting look. …BYE! Arrow leaped out of the window.
BROTHER! Aphee squealed angry, panicked barks at the spot where her brother had just stood. The barks dwindled down into whimpers, then mellowed into a somber, pure howl. Her howls went unanswered, however, so with several monkey-like snorts aimed at the kitchen floor to get Arrow’s scent fresh in her nose, she hopped up onto the chair. At the feel of the wicker on the pads of her paws, lifted her legs in an awkward fashion, as though she were walking in mud. Up! She hopped to the sink and scrambled in the basin. Her chin smacked against the faucet. Ouch!
She shook her head to recover, then stuck her head out the window, taking in several sniffs. Her ears flapped and fluttered in the air as she soared to the ground. As if to counter her mishap in the sink, she landed on the cement with perfect poise.
Arrow’s musky scent beckoned her. She ran towards it, snuffling and snorting along the way. At the fence, she wiggled underneath the hole that Arrow had dug—it was ridden with his scent—and she continued to track him on the other side.
Within minutes, Aphee caught up to him. His white-dipped tail protruded from the tall grass where they sometimes walked with Al and Darla. Aphee kept her tail neutral, though a slight wag took it over as she smelled mice, raccoons, deer and moles. Hungry!
No, Arrow said. Help human.
Help our humans! Aphee said. Get them food! Tell them it’s here!
Aphee huffed a sigh. I don’t like new human scent. Danger. Intruder.
Arrow ignored her.
They happened upon a ditch, rampant with green muck and acrid water. Arrow slid down into it, then darted into the woods, towards the road. Aphee sighed and scurried after him. After she shook the water from her paws, she stared at her brother, who had come to a halt just along the edge of the road.
Now what? She groaned as she dug her hind claws into her itchy ear. We hunt? There are no humans. The scent was a dud!
Wait, said Arrow.
Aphee tossed her head from side to side, yawned and crouched to her paws. Boring! Play! Sniff! Hunt! She started in on a series of more snorting sniffs, taking in the millions of tantalizing scents in the bushes around them. One in particular called to her; she could almost see its curious notes swirling in the air like ribbons. The ribbons took hold of her nostrils and led her to a mossy rock. She inhaled it. Rabbit urine! Neck first, she immersed herself in the odor, wiggling to spread it along from the top of her forehead to the tip of her tail. She hopped back to her feet and wagged her tail. Brother! I found hunting perfume!
Arrow shifted his weight from one paw to another. Wait.
Aphee sniffed the area again, but hunting without her brother just wasn’t as much fun. With a sigh and groan, she lay down just behind him, near the tip of his tail. Bored.
Arrow sniffed the air. Human. Help.
Aphee rolled her eyes. Your sniffer is broken.
The occasional whir of a car sounded in the distance, but no car approached. Aphee batted at a beetle on the ground, her ears flopping over her face as she angled her head to and fro in conjunction with its scurrying movements.
Then, an engine. Louder. Closer. Faster. The beetle ambled out onto the road. Arrow, spotting it, ambled after it.
Aphee whimpered. Brother? What doing?
The car hurled down the lane, horn blaring and tires screeching as it neared Arrow. The male pup froze, his tail between his legs as he stared at the mass of metal hurling his way. BROTHER, BROTHER MOVE! With a flying leap, Aphee shot out at Arrow, pushing him out of the way, but she yelped as an unbelievable pain shot through her back right foot. As the two puppies tumbled to the other side of the road and halfway down a ditch, the car skidded and came to a stop.
Aphee whimpered as Arrow nosed her. Sister, get up!
Arrow curled up next to his sister and licked her injured paw. Safe. Warm.
Hurt. Dying. Leave me. Go home.
No. Safe. Warm. Protect. Arrow sniffed. Human.
The man’s voice was kind and subdued, but carried a tinge of urgency as he climbed down into the ditch. Arrow sniffed his outstretched fingers, then the man scratched Arrow’s ears and patted various parts of his body, giving his legs and paws small squeezes. He did the same to Aphee, who screamed as he squeezed her injured paw. Her eyes darted from side to side, wide with panic.
Arrow nuzzled her belly. Calm. Protect.
The man’s tone traveled up an octave and oozed with twice the gentility. He scooped Aphee into his arms, said something that sounded like stay to Arrow, then took the girl pup to his car. The sound of her mournful, pain-ridden howls broke Arrow’s heart clean in two. But soon the man returned for Arrow, who had stayed mostly for the sake of his sister, though his tail darted underneath him with uncertainty as the man lifted him. He put Arrow in the backseat, where Aphee lay trembling and silent. Arrow felt her pain and so did the crying for her, his whimpering incessant as the man read their tags.
He said a few words Arrow recognized. Beagles. Arrow Rothman. Aphrodite Appleton. But Arrow was too distraught to bother cocking his head at the familiar sounds. The man pulled his talking-thing out of his pocket, held Aphee’s tag, and pushing the talking thing to his ear, waited. After a while, he spoke into the talking-thing, then returned it to his pocket.
Then the man said a word that zapped the moisture right from Arrow’s mouth. ….Vet.
At first, Arrow’s whimpers were stunned into silence. Then the panic rose within him like a flood. Whimpering and howling, he pawed at the windows and doors, ignoring the man’s soothing voice.
When the car came to a stop, Arrow was resolute. He locked his limbs and pulled back away from the man, displaying every ounce of beagle stubbornness he could muster. A woman came out from the building and with her came a most delectable scent. Arrow’s tail went into a wag as she gave him the treats, but he groaned when she scooped him up into her arms. Another man took Aphee, who squealed and shrieked as the strangers took them into the building.
They took Aphee into another room. The man who had first taken them leashed Arrow and kept him in the lobby. Arrow paced as far as the leash would allow him. Everything felt wrong. Danger. Help. Panic. Alarm! Warning!
But it wasn’t Aphee. She would be okay. They would help her. It wasn’t pokes, either. There would be no pokes today, at least, not for Arrow.
Arrow trained his gentle eyes towards the human who held his leash. The man scratched Arrow’s ears and muttered something in a kind tone.
Arrow growled. The man frowned. Arrow’s eyes flashing now, he barked and bayed at the man, ferocious and loud. Danger coming. Not safe. Get help. WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!
The man clutched his chest and fell to his knees. Arrow screamed louder still. HELP HUMAN. HELP HUMAN. HELP HUMAN! ASSIST! ASSIST! HUMAN IN DANGER!
The man from before emerged from the hall, carrying with him a scent of panic. He shouted and more humans joined him. A woman crouched over the hurt man. Scared and anxious, Arrow backed into a corner and howled. Soon something from outside howled right along with him, and more humans came inside the building. They put the man on a long flat thing and carried him away—Arrow danced in circles, his tail a-wag as he looked from face to face. Several people hugged him and told him good boy, good boy!
It hit him all at once. Sweet. Wonderful. Comforting. Treats. Love. Home. Alpha. Darla! DARLA, DARLA, DARLA!
The door flew open. “Arrow!” Darla’s hands flew open and she crouched, bracing herself as Arrow galloped towards her. He whimpered with a nervous excitement, bathing her face in kisses. She laughed and her voice tinged with emotion, she repeated all his favorite words. Arrow. Treats. Love. Baby.
It was a collaborative effort, his jump and her hoist, as he settled into her arms. She stood, and Arrow nuzzled her neck as she spoke to the other humans. She said some words he knew, like house, car, Aphrodite, and Al. His tail flew into a wag as he heard the latter. Darla also said other words he didn’t know, like heart, attack, lucky, hero, and brave. She squeezed Arrow in a tight embrace, which Arrow didn’t care for much, but he knew it was her way of showing affection, so he held back his groan.
At the mention of Aphee again, Arrow wiggled out of Darla’s arms, and trotted after her as the other humans brought them into the other room. Aphee lay on the metal table. Her energy had shifted from panic and pain to sleepy and relaxed.
Arrow’s bum jiggled with excitement as they pulled up to their house. Darla helped Aphee to the ground. As they walked to the front door, Arrow sniffed at his sister’s leg, now thickened with some sort of odd-smelling cover.
Al and Darla smothered them in kisses and snuggles that night. The new word, hero, sounded again and again, and was followed with nuzzles and belly scratches. Hero, Arrow decided, meant good dog. It meant loyal. It meant love.
With a soft groan, he curled up next to his sister on the foot of the bed and nuzzled into her neck. Hero.
Thank you for reading! I encourage you to leave your feedback in the comment section below. To read the original, sweet story, click here. To read other free short stories from the world of “The Christmas Beagle”, check out these pages: