This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyrighted by Parker Sheaffer, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
© 2012 Parker Sheaffer
Noah Osgood and his little brother, Arthur, were looking forward to a long weekend of camping with their scout troop, but because it would be their first time sleeping in the woods they decided that a practice session was called for.
After all, they didn't want to be embarrassed by doing something stupid in front of the other scouts so they set up in their backyard and roasted hot dogs over a small campfire which they had prepared according to the scout manual. The wieners were surprisingly tasty with a smoky flavor that reminded Noah of the times when their father used to grill dinner on the patio. It was three years since his father had passed away and Noah still remembered little things like that.
At twelve, Noah was pretty smart about figuring out how to do things so his wieners and marshmallows came out pretty close to perfect. Arthur, who was only nine, burned his, but ate them with enthusiasm anyway. He was having an adventure with his big brother and that was a sauce that would make anything taste good.
As the fire died down and the neighborhood grew quiet the boys settled back and relaxed. After a minute or two of silence Noah said to his brother, "Sherlock Holmes and Watson went camping one time and they were laying on the ground, looking up at the stars that night. Holmes asked Watson what was the first thing he thought of when he looked up at all the bright stars in the sky and Watson started telling him about how big space is and how little we are. Holmes interrupted him and said, 'Watson, you fool, someone has stolen our tent.'"
Artie laughed loudly, but secretly wondered if he really got the joke.
Noah asked, "Are you about ready for bed?"
"It's so quiet, I know I'm going to sleep good tonight," Artie replied.
"It does seem quiet. Hmmm, there are no dogs barking. Cinnamon, the Granger's dog, is usually barking by now. They must have her inside for a change."
"Wish I had a dog."
"Really? You've never said. What would you name a dog if you had one, Artie?"
"Dunno, maybe Heyou."
"That's a weird name. What does it mean?"
"Nothing, but it would be funny if I had to go looking for him around the neighborhood and I walked around hollering 'hey you, hey you'", Artie said with a grin.
Noah laughed at his brother's quirky humor. He said, "How about naming him Stop Thief."
Arthur giggled loudly and offered, "How about Looks Like Rain."
Both boys laughed loudly.
They did enjoy a good sleep and woke up to the smell of bacon frying the next morning. They stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and were greeted by their mother who was setting a plate of eggs on the table.
"Thank goodness," said Noah. "I was afraid I was going to have to cook breakfast over a fire. Thanks a lot, Mom."
"Yeah, I would have starved, or died of food poisoning if Noah had cooked," quipped Artie, catching the piece of bacon his brother threw at him.
"Well, I certainly hope you have someone who can cook for you next weekend when you're out in the woods," Mom said. "And Artie, you did confirm with Mr. Jacobs that you could go, didn't you?"
"Sure did, Mom. He said any Cub Scouts that want to go are welcome. I think it's just me and Mark, though. We're gonna share a tent."
"That's nice. Hurry now, and get ready for church."
"Yeah," said Noah, "we don't want to miss seeing Mr. Frost fall asleep playing the organ again. That was so funny the way that note kept on going down, down, down while his head nodded forward."
"Yeah, it was like wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a," said Artie, imitating a droning organ. "I thought I was gonna bust out laughing."
"Hush now," said their mother, trying to keep a little smile off her face, "it wasn't funny. Poor Mr. Frost was just very tired."
"I thought it was the sermon that did it to him. It got me a couple of times," Noah complained.
Noah didn't really mind going to church because it meant getting to see his best friend, Adam. They were in the same grade at school and in the same Sunday School class, too. To Noah, Adam was a dreamy hunk. He had brown eyes, long eyelashes and just a sprinkling of freckles across his cheeks. Noah loved looking at Adam and had to be careful not to get caught staring too often. He didn't know what Adam would say if he knew that Noah sometimes dreamed of kissing him.
After Sunday School, Noah and Adam sat together along with Noah's mom and brother.
His mother asked, "Adam, are you looking forward to the big camping trip?"
"I sure am, Mrs. Osgood. Got my tent ready and everything."
"The weather report says there's a chance of rain next weekend so you boy's be sure and take a change of dry clothes and some towels."
"One time," said Adam, "when I went with my dad, it wound up raining all day and all night, but I didn't mind it. I had lots of snacks and games and stuff to read so it was kinda nice to stay in the tent with the rain pounding on the outside while I was dry and warm inside."
Noah pictured himself and Adam snuggling up in a sleeping bag while rain beat down on their tent until he realized he was making a tent in his trousers so he quickly tried to think of something else.
"Hey," he said, "Mr. Frost looks a lot more lively today than he did last week. Think he'll doze off in the middle of Amazing Grace again?"
The organist did seem more lively than usual as he sat down at the organ bench and began to shuffle through some sheets of music. Then he began to play something lively and made it through the entire service without a hitch.
When they returned home, Noah and his family saw the Grangers, their next door neighbors, taping up fliers on the telephone poles around the neighborhood. The fliers said: Lost Dog, brown setter answering to the name of Cinnamon, and gave their phone number and offered a reward.
Mrs. Osgood said, "Oh, poor Marge. She loves that dog. I hope nothing bad has happened to her."
"We noticed she wasn't barking last night like she usually does," Noah said.
"Sometimes it's hard to sleep when she's really barking," Artie observed.
"I know, most of the neighbors have complained to Marge at one time or another. Still, I hate to see her lose her pet."
Noah looked at himself in the bathroom mirror that evening after his shower. His hair was a darker brown than Adam's and his eyes were blue and sort of nice but he didn't feel like he was nearly as good looking as Adam. To him, his face was rather plain, his lips too thin, his ears too large. He was happy with his body which was nice, trim, and athletic because he rode his bike a lot. He just wished he had a prettier face so Adam would like him better.
The next day as they rode to school Noah saw a few more posters advertising lost dogs in their area. He mentioned it to Adam who said, "Yeah, Teresa said her dog ran away and so did Tom Sutton. Ray Philips says it's because of that new Korean restaurant that opened at the mall."
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, everybody knows that Koreans eat dogs. Dog meat is a big thing over there. They call it gaegogi, or something like that. I googled it. The restaurant probably chops them up so nobody will recognize them. If you ever eat there don't ask for chow."
"That's sick. They wouldn't be allowed to do that, would they?"
"Once meat is ground up, who can say what kind it is?"
Noah was grossed out by the idea and thought it surely must be a lie.
"Still," he wondered, "what happened to those dogs?"
The police knocked on the Osgood's door that evening and a chubby officer in a snug fitting uniform said, "We're following up on reports that several dogs have gone missing in this area. Take a look at these photos and see if you recognize any of the dogs."
He handed Noah a sheet of paper with pictures of several dogs printed on it.
"I know Cinnamon, she lives next door, but I don't know the others."
"And you haven't seen any of them wandering around here?"
"When was the last time you saw your neighbor's dog?"
"A few days ago. Last Friday, I think. She was sniffing around our garbage cans."
"Alright, well, hang on to the flier, it's got our number at the bottom so call us if you should happen to see something."
Noah and Artie were riding their bikes around the neighborhood, just enjoying the early evening. The days were getting longer as summer approached and they loved being outdoors. A couple of blocks from their house Noah spotted something odd and stopped to take a look.
"What is it, Noah?" Artie asked.
"It's some fur sticking out from under that garbage can. I hope it's not dog fur, but it might be a clue about what's behind these disappearances."
He approached the fur with apprehension and pushed the garbage can off of it. To his relief it was only an old stuffed toy.
"Wow, someone's didn't like this toy. Look at all the holes in it. It's been beat all to pieces," he said.
Right then an arrow whistled through the air and thunked into the wooden gate beside him and a gruff voice snarled, "Put that down. That's private property."
Noah jumped back and looked up to see Kevin Johnson with a bow and another arrow nocked and pointing right at him. His initial reaction was fear but then he became angry.
He said, "Put that thing down before you hurt somebody, you idiot. Besides, when stuff is on the sidewalk for collection it's not private property any more. Don't you watch Law and Order?"
Kevin Johnson was seventeen and a lot of kids were scared of him. He was what passed for a juvenile delinquent in their town.
He warned Noah, "I can put this arrow right between your eyes, asshole, if you don't get out of here."
Noah threw the dirty, raggedy toy back down and told his brother, "Come on, Artie. His stupidity might be contagious."
Noah knew that Kevin was mean and dumb, but would he be cruel enough to shoot dogs with that bow and arrow? What if that stuffed toy had been a practice target for him. He obviously had been shooting arrows into it. Noah wondered if he should mention it to the police.
A few more dogs disappeared that week. A few more fliers went up on poles around the area. Megan Greene swore that the barbeque that her family had ordered at the Korean restaurant tasted funny, like it wasn't pork or beef.
"I think it was somebody's pet," she said with malicious glee.
On Thursday, after school, Noah and Artie saw a police car in front of the Grangers' house.
"Mom," he said, "what's going on next door. Why are the police there?"
"It's about Marge's dog Cinnamon. I'm afraid they received a ransom note. They said they want five hundred dollars or they will kill Cinnamon. Marge asked me what she should do and I said she should call the police, no matter what the letter said."
Noah started trying to figure out how many dogs were missing and how much money the dog-nappers were going to get for all of them. It was a lot.
His mom said, "Remember, tonight you boys have to get ready for the campout. They will be picking you up at nine in the morning so be sure and have everything packed and ready tonight. I've washed your uniforms for you."
"We haven't forgotten, Mom. Come on, Artie, it's a good thing we made that list. Now all we have to do is make sure we have it all together."
Morning came too quickly but after a shower and a big bowl of Cap'n Crunch the boys were ready and eager to go. The scoutmaster, Mr. Jacobs, pulled up in the van and honked. He already had three other scouts with him and this was his last stop. The other scouts were meeting them there.
They were soon on the road and the boys chattered away excitedly as they sailed down the highway. They were headed to a state park, about fifty miles away. When they left the highway they had to slow down a bit because the country roads were winding and narrow. Mr. Jacobs was an excellent driver and soon they were approaching the park. As they went around a sharp bend they encountered another vehicle, a big, black van being driven by someone in a cowboy hat. The hat was pulled down low over the driver's face but Noah had a feeling that he knew the man somehow. There was just something familiar about him.
Suddenly they were at the campsite and they all poured out and were greeted by their waiting friends.
Mark took Artie to show him the tent site he had picked out for them.
He said, "I waited for you to get here before I tried to set up the tent. I figured you would want to help."
"Yeah, it'll be fun," said Artie. "Let's do it."
Noah looked around for Adam. He spotted him walking up the trail from the toilets so he waved at him. Adam waved back and began to trot to the van.
Together they unpacked Noah's gear and took it to Adam's tent. He already had it set up and ready. It was a big, six-man tent so there was plenty of room for both boys' things.
Adam said, "I figured we could use the extra room. No point in being cramped in some pup tent when we can have a mansion. I got two of the guys to help me set it up."
Noah agreed that it would be comfortable sleeping in a big tent. He said, "The scoutmaster told me that if your sleeping bag is touching the side of the tent when it rains then it will wick the water right in on you and you'll wake up in a wet sleeping bag. There's no danger of that here."
After checking on his brother and making sure that Artie had everything set up right Noah and Adam hung around the camp for a bit and then went to join some of the other boys in the lake.
It was a wonderful weekend for camping and there couldn't have been a better place to be as far as Noah was concerned. There were deep woods on three sides of them and a large, clear lake on the other. The lake had a sandy beach that was perfect for swimming, and canoes could be rented at a place up the shore a bit. To make things even better, there was almost no one else around. Their troop had almost the whole campground to themselves.
There had been sandwiches and apples for lunch. It seemed like a long time ago and now with all the playing and laughing the boys really worked up an appetite. The scoutmaster and his assistant grilled burgers and hot dogs for everyone. He told them, "For this first night we will share a meal but tomorrow night I want everyone to try and cook their own suppers. We will be around to help you if you need us."
After the food was eaten and the mess cleaned up they lit the campfire and sat around quietly talking, enjoying each other's company. Adam's bare leg was lightly touching Noah's. It was a casual touch, Adam probably didn't even realize it, but Noah felt something stirring in his shorts. When marshmallows and roasting sticks were passed around the boys moved and the moment was broken. Noah almost felt relieved.
After the marshmallows came the stories. Darkness was falling and the woods were looming darkly around them. It was a perfect time for scary stories. They would never have admitted to being scared, but Artie and Mark moved a little closer to Noah and Adam.
There was a tale, sworn to be true, about a headless boy who wandered the woods looking for a substitute head.
They were told about the Native American brave who was drowned in the lake by soldiers and now, if he caught someone swimming at night he would drag them down to the bottom and drown them.
The worst story for Noah was about something that had frightened him since he was a little boy, a werewolf. His mom had caught him watching a werewolf movie one day and had turned it off, but it was too late. Even now, at night, the shadows in his room sometimes looked like clawed hands reaching for him and every little sound became padded feet shuffling toward him, the panting of a predator's breath and the throaty snarl of a monster. He tried not to listen to the story, tried to tune it out, but it was no use. He had werewolves on the brain now and it was going to be hard to sleep. To make things worse something back in the woods began to howl and everyone, even the scoutmaster, jumped a little and then laughed.
When the stories were over the boys all laughed nervously as they headed for their sleeping bags.
"There aren't really any wolves around here, are there?" Noah asked one of the older scouts.
The boy grinned at him and said, "I'd sleep with one eye open if I was you."
Back in the tent Adam hung the battery powered lantern from the top of the inside of the tent. "If you put the light on the floor it makes shadows on the walls and everyone can see us, but with the light over us our shadows are on the floor. Look over at the guys in those tents. See how you can see them moving around?"
Noah said, "Good thinking. I'm learning all sorts of things this weekend."
Adam said, "Here's another tip. Sometime tonight I'm going to have to go pee and I don't want to have to get dressed in the dark so I sleep in my hiking shorts. That way I can grab the flashlight and get to the toilet and back in a hurry." Noah was a little disappointed that he wasn't going to get to see Adam in his undies.
Despite his earlier fears and doubts Noah had no trouble going to sleep. His eyes closed almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. A couple of hours passed and he slowly came awake again. There was a noise in the tent, a shuffling of feet and heavy breathing. Noah sat up quickly, his heart pounding as he felt around for his flashlight. He clicked it on and the beam illuminated someone standing over him. It was Adam.
"Sorry, dude, did I wake you? I'm trying to get my shoes on so I can go pee."
With a huge sigh of relief Noah sank back onto the sleeping bag. All at once he realized that he had to go pee, too.
"Wait for me," he said. "You almost scared the pee out of me. I'd better go with you."
Adam laughed and unzipped the tent flap. With their flashlights leading the way the boys tripped down the twenty-five yard trail to the portable toilets.
The world looked so different in the darkness of the countryside. The noises were different, too. There were owls hooting and tree frogs singing shrilly in the tops of the trees. After they did their business they started back to their beds but Noah's light picked up something in the darkness between the trees, two red dots, eyes staring at them. Whatever it was began to howl in a mournful way. The eyes moved closer and Noah shouted, "Run."
They sped up the trail with something behind them. It was something large and it was catching up fast. Whatever it was it slammed right into Noah's back and knocked him down. A wet tongue began licking his face. Stifling a scream Noah opened his eyes and pushed the creature away from him.
"Cinnamon!" he cried. "Hey, Adam, it's Cinnamon. What are you doing way out here, girl?" His heart was still racing but he was so relieved that there was no monster that he started laughing.
Adam came back and knelt to pet the dog, too. He said, "I thought you said she got kidnapped. She looks alright to me."
They took her back to their tent and looked her over under the lantern's light.
"She looks kinda thin. I'll bet she's hungry," Noah said, so they went to the van to look for any leftover burgers or anything else a dog would eat.
The scoutmaster woke up and interrupted their search.
"We'll have to deal with all this in the morning," he told them, after giving Cinnamon a handful of raw hamburger. She gulped it down quickly and followed them back to their tent where they all three slept until morning.
The scoutmaster went to the campground office after breakfast and called the police who sent a patrol car around. After the boys explained the situation the police called animal control and Cinnamon was soon on her way back home to her family.
The rest of the weekend was wonderful. Noah even laughed with everyone else when Adam told about their adventure in the dark with the werewolf. The scoutmaster took them aside later and told them that when it was dark out it was okay with him if they just used a tree to pee on instead of stumbling around on a dark trail. That night Noah and Adam slept in their briefs instead of their clothes and Noah got a long, casual look at his handsome friend.
Noah and Artie got home in time for dinner that Sunday and their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Granger, came over. They wanted to thank them for finding their dog for them and offered Noah a reward.
He refused it, saying, "I didn't do anything special. She just recognized me and came to me. I don't need a reward, really."
"Well, you saved us five hundred dollars so at least take this twenty."
"Okay, thanks. Say, what happened with the kidnappers?"
"It turned out to be a hoax. Several people with missing dogs got the same letter that we got so the police set up a stakeout and caught two boys when they came to collect their ransom. It was that Kevin Johnson who lives a couple of blocks over and one of his friends. They thought they would be clever and scam some people out of their money but now they're both in jail."
When the boys went to bed that night, Cinnamon started to bark and howl. Noah thought, "Maybe I should have left her in the woods."
It was a couple of days later that Noah was watering his mom's flower bed when he saw something that surprised him. It was that same black van he had seen near the state park, and the same man with the cowboy hat was driving it. Noah dropped the hose and hopped on his bike so and took off after the vehicle. Several blocks later the van turned into a driveway. The garage door was opening and the van drove straight in.
"I know who did it," Noah thought. "Now, I just have to find out why."
Noah went home and found the missing dog flier that the police had left them. At the bottom was a phone number so Noah called it and asked to speak to someone in charge. A detective came on the line and Noah laid out his suspicions for him and to his surprise the detective took him seriously. He said he would look into it right away. Noah got his brother and said, "Come with me. Something is about to happen."
On their way Noah explained to Artie about his suspicions and when they arrived at the house where the van was hidden they found that the police had just arrived. They parked their bikes across the street and waited and watched.
Soon another patrol car arrived and officers began to search the house and garage. A little while later they led out a man whose hands were cuffed behind his back and put him in a patrol car.
Noah and Artie approached the officer and said, "I'm the one who called it in. I was right, wasn't I?"
"Yeah, kid, you hit the nail on the head. Once we found the dog in his van he confessed to everything."
"Did he say why he did it? Was it because of the barking?"
"That's exactly right. You're a pretty smart kid."
"Mr. Frost is the organist at our church and he was always tired. Once he even fell asleep in the middle of a song, but when the dogs started to disappear he seemed a lot more rested. Then I almost recognized him out by the state park and when I found our neighbor's dog I figured there was a connection. When I saw him again this afternoon I remembered who he was."
They were standing beside the patrol car and the back window was rolled down so the organist could hear them talking. He looked at Noah and said, "I hate those damn dogs. Bark, bark, bark, howl, howl, howl, all night long. I pleaded with their owners to shut them up but they wouldn't do it. What else could I do? I didn't hurt them, I just fed them a little hamburger laced with a sedative, then scooped them up and took them out to the country where they can howl and bark all they want. All I can say is I hope it's quiet at the jail so I can get decent night's sleep."
Noah looked at him expectantly.
Mr. Frost scowled at him and said, "What? You waiting for something?"
"I was sort of hoping to hear you say it."
"And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids."