Smeagle was scared. He hadn’t flown before unless he counted jumping off the hay pile in the barn, which was great fun. He liked the rush of the wind in his ears and the soft landing in the loose hay far below.
The hay would stick in his fur, tickling something fierce. He would shake and shake his little body until all the tickly bits fell away, and then run up the pile to do it again. As fun as it was to jump off the hay pile, he didn’t think it would be fun to fall from this far up.
Smeagle looked down and watched the tops of the green trees as he sped above them, the long rope attached to his harness brushing the branches of the tallest of them. He flew over fields covered with sparkling snow and here and there, a ranch house with smoke coming out of the chimney.
Smeagle saw a creek that wound in and out of the trees and the smooth, white surface of a frozen lake. His fear deepened. He was getting farther and farther from home.
He could feel sharp talons pressing into his back. They wrapped around his harness, which had probably saved him from getting wounded. The talons hadn’t cut into his skin yet, but they were uncomfortable. He feared that soon, the huge bird that was carrying him would use its talons and sharp beak to tear him apart.
In spite of his fear, the smells coming to his curious little nose were driving him crazy. Some of the smells were familiar. The tangy scent of the needles on the fir trees and the smell of the smoke coming from the chimneys reminded him of home, but many of the smells were new and strange. He was eager to explore.
If he ever got out of the trouble he was in right now, Smeagle vowed that he would find out what those scents were. But he couldn’t think about that right now, not when every beat of the bird’s mighty wings was taking him farther away from all he’d ever known.
The day had started like most other days. He’d woken up on top of the covers of Ben’s bed, cuddled next to the warmth of his sleeping friend. He loved his family, and he especially loved Ben. The boy played with him, fed him, and scratched his belly.
Smeagle yawned and stood up, stretching. Ben didn’t have school today, and he looked forward to spending the whole day with him. He made his way up to Ben’s pillow and gave his mouth a big slurping lick to wake him.
“Smeagle, what are you doing?” Ben said as he wiped the doggy slobber off his mouth.
Smeagle just wiggled his small body and did his best to give Ben his most excited doggy grin. He could hardly wait to go outside and play. He gave a little bark, then grabbed the covers in his mouth, and pulled. He growled playfully as the covers slid off Ben’s shoulders.
“Hey!” Ben exclaimed, trying to grab Smeagle and the covers. “Get back here, you little stinker!” Smeagle didn’t know what a stinker was, but Ben had said it in his gentle voice, so it must be something good. Ben used a different voice when Smeagle did something wrong, and he told him, “No.”
Smeagle jumped off the bed and trotted toward the door. He got a start when he spotted his reflection in the full-length mirror that was attached to the closet door. He understood now that it was him, but the first week he was here, he had barked and growled at the dog, and it had barked right back at him. It wasn’t until he’d walked up and put his nose on the cold glass, weaving his head from side to side, that he realized that the dog was him.
When he first came to live here, he’d been confused about his name. Ben’s mom, Sara, had called him handsome, and other people had called him cutie, sweetie, beautiful, and pooch.
After a while, though, they mostly called him Smeagle. Looking at his reflection, he didn’t know if he were cute, but he didn’t care how he looked. He could see that he was black and white, and had long, floppy ears. He gave his reflection a bark just to see it bark back at him, then hopped this way and that to see his ears go up and down.
Bored with the whole mirror thing, he glanced back to see Ben sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling on his socks. Shoes! How could he have forgotten the shoes? Running around the end of the bed, he spotted one and jumped on it, growling and biting the leather as he rolled.
Smeagle on top, shoe on top, Smeagle, shoe, Smeagle, shoe, until he thumped into something. He found himself on his back, up against the wall, still holding the shoe tightly in his teeth. He shook his head, growling furiously, then rolled over on top of the shoe.
“Come here, Smeagle,” Ben said, interrupting Smeagle’s work of chewing up one of the shoelaces. Smeagle dragged the shoe by the lace over to Ben, not wanting to let go of it. Ben pulled the shoelace out of his mouth. “Yuk, it’s all slimy.” Cocking his head sideways, Smeagle barked as he watched Ben pull the shoe on and then tie the wet lace. “You’re such a scamp,” Ben laughed, his messy brown hair bobbing up and down.
Scamp. Another name to add to the list. It was getting hard to remember all of them. Ben finally got his shoes on, and Smeagle ran around him in circles as he headed for the door. Breakfast. Now he would eat breakfast before he went outside. His stomach growled just thinking about it.
Ben’s room was upstairs, and Smeagle, with his short legs, still had a little trouble going down them. They were much easier to go up than down. He had taken a nosedive once, rolling down the remaining stairs, and bumping into the rug at the bottom. Then he had stood dizzily while his eyes slowly focused on the grumpy-looking statue of a dog in the hallway.
The dog had a sign hanging from its collar with the letters W-e-l-c-o-m-e on it. Weird! Today, he was more careful, even though he was in a hurry. He could smell bacon cooking, and his stomach growled again. Maybe they would give him a piece. They had given him one once, and it was the best thing he’d ever tasted.
When they entered the kitchen, Smeagle saw Ben’s mom standing by the stove with a fork in her hand. Sara was working in town today, which she did for part of the week. The other days, she worked out of her shop at the end of the driveway. Sometimes, she would let him hang out with her while she doctored other animals. Smeagle liked her a lot too. In his eagerness to greet her, Smeagle forgot that he wasn’t supposed to jump up on people.
“Smeagle, get down,” Sara scolded. She looked a little grumpy, but then relented and bent down to give him a scratch behind the ears. He liked that and felt a bit better. He trotted across the floor toward his food dish in the corner, his nails clicking on the floor tiles. It was empty. He stood there for a minute, wondering what to do, then glanced at Ben and whined.
“Okay, Smeagle, I’ll be right there.” Ben opened the lid to the dog food bin and reached in. Smeagle stood on his hind legs, front paws propped against the side. He tried to see in, but he was too short. As Ben bent over with the pitcher to pour the food into his dish, Smeagle crowded in, knocking some of the food onto the floor. “No, Smeagle. Sit.”
Ben had been teaching him to sit, so Smeagle sat down, but he got right back up, being very impatient to eat. “No. Smeagle, sit.” Smeagle sat down again and tried to be more patient. Ben waited a minute and then told him, “Okay.” Smeagle launched himself at his dish and wolfed down his food. He even cleaned up the loose pieces scattered across the floor.
After taking the edge off his hunger, he got a drink of fresh water in his water bowl. The bacon still smelled yummy to him, and he wandered back over to Sara, hoping she would give him a slice.
Drool began to fill Smeagle’s mouth. Soon, long strings of slobber were hanging from his lips and dripping onto the floor. All he could think about was what it would taste like to have that bacon in his mouth. Smeagle sat on the floor next to Sara, whined, and gave her the saddest look he could muster.
Sara laughed and showed her teeth. He had learned that when people showed their teeth and made the laughing sound, it meant that they were happy. It was much different than when an animal showed its teeth and made growling sounds. He decided that people were strange creatures, but he adored them. They made him feel special.
Sara bent down with a piece of bacon in her hand, which sent him into hopping mode. He hopped and jumped around, being careful not to put his paws on her. “You can’t have this until you sit,” she said. “Smeagle, sit.” He sat, and she handed him the bacon, which he barely even chewed before swallowing. Most of his pleasure came from the smell anyway. She just shook her head and proceeded to ignore his further attempts to beg another piece from her.
Sara eyed the puddle that had formed at Smeagle’s feet. “Ben, before you take Smeagle outside, would you please wipe the slobber off the floor?”
Yes, it had been a typical morning until he and Ben had gone outside. The spring air had a cold bite to it, even though the sun was shining. Smeagle had been intent on following his usual routine, but Ben had put his harness on him and attached a long rope to it, which dragged around in the snow, distracting him.
Ben kept telling him to do his duty. He tried to find just the right spot, but that rope made noise and wiggled. Smeagle ran through the yard and up the piles of snow that Ben’s dad had pushed out of the driveway. He had so much fun playing with the rope that he got wound up in it, and Ben had to untangle him.
As soon as he was free, Smeagle took off, running with the rope trailing along behind him. Laughing as he ran too, Ben tried to grab hold of the line, but Smeagle managed to keep it just out of reach. That was when it happened. With no sound of warning, one minute, he was running as fast as he could go, and the next, he was snatched up into the sky, his legs thrashing uselessly in the air.
At first, he couldn’t understand what was happening. He could hear Ben yelling, “Help. An owl’s got Smeagle. Mom, help!” Smeagle didn’t know what an owl was, so he looked up to see. What he saw nearly made his heart stop.
Above him was the biggest bird he had ever seen, larger than Sara’s chickens. Its wings seemed to stretch out forever in each direction. The gray wings were eerily quiet as they pumped up and down, taking him higher and higher. The bird looked down at him, and he could see that it had large round eyes and a wickedly sharp beak.
A fear like he’d never known in his life gripped him. He looked down at Ben, hoping that he would rescue him from this nightmare. Ben was still yelling but had stopped running. The rope was already out of reach.
Smeagle instinctively knew that he was in danger. He wondered where the large bird was taking him. Why had it snatched him away from his home? He decided it wouldn’t hurt to ask. He looked up at the fierce, round-eyed bird. “Where are you taking me?” he asked in his most polite voice.
“To my nest,” it replied.
Smeagle noticed that the owl looked wise, so he guessed that it must have a good reason for abducting him. “Why?”
The owl’s eyes became even larger as they widened in surprise. “Why? Because you’re food, of course.”
“Food! Food is something Ben gives me in a bowl!” This whole thing made no sense to him at all. How could he be food? “You mean you eat dogs?”
The owl gave an abrupt laugh. “I eat dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, mice, gophers, and anything else small enough for me to carry.”
Smeagle quivered in fear. He was beginning to sense that he was in big trouble here. Ben was too far away to save him, and he didn’t see any chance that he could get away from this huge bird with its sharp beak and all-seeing eyes.