DOOFUS, DOG OF DOOM. Can Clive and Holly discover the mysterious black dog's secret? A free full-length children's ebook.
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DOOFUS, DOG OF DOOM

by Emma Laybourn

Chapter One

"What a noise!" shrieked Mum, clapping her hands over her ears.

Holly did not cover her ears. She listened carefully to the painful din inside the dogs' home. The rasping barks sounded like shovels hitting the concrete floor. They echoed over and over in sharp, frantic waves.

None of them sounded anything like the right bark. None of the dogs was Pancake.

"Let's just go, Mum," begged Holly; but Mum couldn't hear her.

"Which one do you want?" she yelled over the barking. "Go on, Holly, take a closer look! This is your treat!"

A treat? thought Holly. How was this a treat, with Pancake only three weeks buried?

The assistant unlocked a metal gate and pointed out a bundle of spotty, yappy, long-eared puppies.

"How about one of those?" she suggested. "They're nice, cheerful dogs, and just desperate for a home!" The puppies bounded up and down as if their legs were springs. They looked ridiculous and cute. Holly shook her head at them.

"Well, what about that golden labrador over there?" said Dad hopefully. "It looks like a friendly fellow."

Holly followed his gaze. The labrador sprawled lazily on a blanket, tail slowly wagging, too comfortable to get up. That was Dad's sort of dog.

She could see Mum's sort of dog as well: a thin, wiry terrier with bright eyes and boundless energy, scurrying busily to and fro inside its pen. That would be the perfect dog to accompany Mum on her ten-mile runs.

There was even a dog for Matt, her teenage brother: a haughty boxer with a throaty bark, which tried to stroll nonchalantly across its enclosure and tripped over its own feet.

But nowhere was there a dog for Holly. Nowhere was there another Pancake. No little brown barrel with short, skittering legs, rocking like a lifeboat while she ran, carrying the newspaper all over the house and not letting anyone read it.

Holly's throat began to ache. She wanted to feel the scrape of Pancake's bristly coat, to hear her huffy growl, to smell her doggy smell of bins and biscuits. She did not want a new dog.

"Shall I fetch one of them out for you?" asked the assistant.

"Come on, Holly!" said Mum. "Which one do you want?" Mum was getting impatient. She wasn't good at waiting around.

Holly sighed, thinking that maybe she should just choose a dog at random, so that they could go. It didn't matter which one she picked. After all, Mum would take it for runs up on the moors. Dad would feed it. Matt would try to train it. Holly wouldn't have to do anything at all.

Gazing gloomily at the bouncing puppies, she raised her arm to point. While she was still wondering which one to choose, she saw behind them a dog that she hadn't noticed earlier.

That was probably because it was completely black: as dark as a patch of shadow. It sat quite still, not barking, not bouncing, not wagging its tail. It didn't even look at her. It was staring into space.

She moved her arm, and pointed. "That one," she said. "The black one."

The assistant looked startled. "Are you sure? It's not very sociable, that one. Don't get me wrong, it's not troublesome. It's just...well..." Her voice tailed away uncertainly.

"That one," said Holly firmly.

With a shrug, the girl went through the gate and waded through the sea of yapping puppies to reach the black one. Scooping it up, she carried it to Holly. When Holly didn't hold out her arms for it, the assistant set the puppy carefully on the floor at her feet.

The puppy drooped on the concrete. Dad squatted down to offer it his fingers, but it didn't sniff them. On all sides, dogs were leaping up and yelping in eager desperation: Me! Me! Me! The black pup looked as if it would much rather just crawl back into its pen.

"Is it all right?" asked Dad doubtfully.

"Oh, yes. The vet's okayed it," the girl assured him. "It's had all the jabs. It's just a bit quiet... well, usually, anyway."

"It doesn't bark too much, then?" said Mum.

"Bark? Oh, no. It doesn't bark at all." She pulled a face. "Not exactly bark, as such."

"So where is it from?" Dad wanted to know.

"It was abandoned, like most of these dogs. They're generally pets that people can't cope with. This one was found by the roadside on the top of Whitten Moor, out in the middle of nowhere. He was probably a Christmas present that someone got fed up with and dumped."

"Poor little thing!" Dad began to stroke the dog, which showed no sign of even noticing him. "No wonder he doesn't look very happy. Poor old boy."

"Holly?" murmured Mum. "Are you quite sure this is the one you want? I mean, he's nothing like Pan-"

"This one," insisted Holly. There could never be another dog like Pancake. If she had to have another dog, she would choose one as different to Pancake as possible. This puppy's thick black coat was quite unlike Pancake's. Its eyes were so dark they seemed expressionless after Pancake's enquiring, bright brown gaze.

"There's just one thing I ought to mention," said the girl. "He's a mixed breed. It's hard to tell what he's a mixture of, but I think there's some mastiff in there, and possibly ridgeback, and probably some wolf-hound too. They're big dogs. He could grow to quite a size."

Pancake had been small and noisy. "I don't mind that," said Holly, and she looked at Dad.

"Well, we've got enough room," said Dad. "We'll just have to make sure he gets plenty of exercise." He looked at Mum.

"That's no problem," said Mum, "as long as we don't have to drag him out for walks. He's not very lively, is he?"

"He's quiet," argued Holly, suddenly desperate to make Mum agree and just get out of there. "Some of those yapping puppies might have bothered Nan. She won't mind this one."

"Big dogs are often the most docile," added the assistant.

"Good point," said Dad. He picked up the silent black puppy, and Holly heard him whisper to Mum.

"Let's take this one, if it helps Holly to snap out of it!"

Holly stiffened with indignation. Snap out of it? As if her grief for Pancake was something she could just break out of?- like somebody falling through a window in a film, then standing up to shake the bits of glass off, quite uninjured.

They made those film-set windows out of sugar. They couldn't cut anybody. They didn't hurt. They weren't like real life.

She turned her back on Dad and her new dog, and marched out of the door.




Chapter Two

Nan stared down at the puppy, one eye almost closed in a pirate's leer. Her wheelchair rocked a little on the lawn of the back garden. Holly could not tell what Nan was thinking, because it was hard for anyone to tell what she thought. Nan wasn't saying.

Nan was old. She wasn't Holly's grandmother, but her great-grandmother. She was Mum's gran: she had looked after Mum when Mum was small and her own mother was ill.

Now, in turn, Mum was looking after Nan. It hadn't seemed like that, though, until recently. Nan hadn't needed looking after. She had trotted round the house in an apron and a smile, full of laughter and funny sayings. She had taught Holly how to bake and knit, and told her stories about her own childhood in the second world war, and how she had been evacuated with a gas mask and a label round her neck.

But Nan had never seemed old until last year, when she had a stroke. One day she was joking as usual: the next morning she was speechless and powerless, unable to withstand gravity. The stroke decided she should sit in a wheelchair and become a watcher, not a speaker or a doer.

Nan was not content. Bewildered by her new state, she would try to rise out of her wheelchair, stuttering her made-up words that nobody could understand.

Holly thought a stroke sounded too gentle for what had happened to Nan. A wallop on the head would have been more like it.

On the other hand, nobody told Nan to snap out of it.

Now Nan was trying to get out of her wheelchair, speaking in her own unique language which no-one else spoke except perhaps Lily the toddler next door. Nan's hand was shaking as she raised it to point at the doleful black puppy.

"Isn't he sweet?" said Mum. She picked up the puppy, which was limp and unwriggling in her arms. "What shall we call him, Nan?"

Behind Holly, Matt groaned.

"Don't ask her," he muttered, looking pained and shuffling his too-big feet. Matt was embarrassed by Nan.

Annoyed with him, Holly jumped up to get Nan's notebook and pencil and put them on her lap. Nan had been known to draw things that she couldn't say. She would laboriously draw a flower, or a heart, or a kiss-cross to express her love.

"Can you think of a name for him, Nan?" asked Mum.

"Do," said Nan. "Doo."

"Doo?"

Nan grabbed the pencil and began to draw frantically, jerkily. She did not draw a tick or a heart. She drew a fish.

"Is it a dolphin?" asked Holly doubtfully. "I don't think we can call him Dolphin."

"It's a shark," said Matt. "Look at that fin."

Nan crossed out the fish with two vehement stabs of the pen and drew another one. "Do," she said. "Doo. Dooda."

Mum put the puppy down on the grass. "Whew! He's heavier than you'd think!" He sat immobile, as black as a dog-shaped hole in the ground.

Nan tore off the page with fumbling fingers and started again. A wobbly house, some stick figures, a bird flying above them, or perhaps a plane.

"That's a nice picture, Nan," said Mum. Nan flung up her hands and pushed the notebook off her knee on to the grass.

"Doobers," she said.

"Doofus," muttered Matt.

"Doofus?" said Mum. "You want the new dog to be called Doofus?" The old lady shook her head, then nodded vigorously.

"What's a Doofus?" said Holly.

Matt grinned at her. "It's an idiot. A numpty."

"Like you," said Holly. She looked at the dog. It obviously ought to be called Shadow, or Midnight. But it didn't really matter. It could be Tinkerbell, for all she cared. Anything but Pancake.

"All right," she said. "I name this dog Doofus."

As she spoke, the limp and silent puppy stirred at last. He sat up, pointed his black nose at the sky, took a deep breath: and howled.

It was a long, long howl, as cold and desolate as winter. It swirled around the garden like a chilly, dreary wind.

"Good grief!" said Mum.

"Well, at least it's alive," said Matt. "I was beginning to wonder."

"I hope it's not going to do that too often," remarked Mum. "I thought the girl at the dogs' home said it never barked?"

"She didn't say it never howled."

Holly saw a thin, hopeful face appear over the top of the garden fence.

"Was that a dog I heard?" it asked.

"No, an elephant," said Matt.

"Come over, Clive," Holly told the face. "Meet our new puppy. He's called Doofus."

Mum wheeled Nan back into the house, while Clive ran down to the end of the garden and squeezed through the gap in the fence that they kept unmended on purpose. He was carrying a large bundle of bare twigs, like a bouquet of long-dead flowers.

"A dog!" he breathed in admiration. "A real dog!"

"The only one in the world," said Matt. "You can pat him for a quid."

"Don't be daft, Matt," said Holly sharply. To Clive she said, "Go on, give him a pat. He's very tame."

"Hold these," said Clive. He handed the bouquet of twigs to Holly and squatted down to stroke Doofus lovingly.

Clive from next door was in Holly's class at school. Despite being animal-mad, he had never had a dog, and never could have one. His mum had put her foot down.

Although he had dozens of pets, they were mostly of the small, many-legged or slimy sort that could be collected in the garden. Clive did have a hamster and two goldfish, but anything larger than that was out of the question. No animals were allowed in his house. Even the goldfish had their bowl inside the garden shed.

Clive was enraptured with Doofus. Doofus wasn't enraptured at being patted and prodded and having his ears and paws inspected, but he put up with it resignedly.

"Can I help train him?" begged Clive.

"You're welcome," said Holly. She wasn't looking forward to training the new puppy. She didn't want him to sit and beg the way that Pancake used to.

The thought of Pancake clouded her head again like a ghost, so that she barely heard what Clive was saying.

"They have Puppy Parties in the village hall - I've seen a notice. Help Your Puppy Make Friends And Learn to Socialise. Could we take him to a Puppy Party, do you think?"

"Aaargh," said Matt. He strangled himself and toppled over backwards on the grass. Doofus raised his head and gave him a look.

"All right," said Holly. "We could go together." She thought that with a bit of encouragement, Clive might take Doofus over completely. "Can I put these down now?" She held up the bundle of twigs she was still clutching.

"No! They'll run away!"

"They're sticks," said Holly.

"Some of them are sticks," said Clive. "Some of them are stick insects."

"Which ones?"

"The ones with legs."

Holly looked more closely. None of the twigs showed any sign of running away, but some of them did have legs.

"I bought them off Tom Boyle," explained Clive, "only I think the shed's a bit cold for them, that's why they're not moving much. I had to break the ice on the goldfish bowl this morning."

Cautiously, Holly poked at a stick insect with her finger. It fell off its perch and lay on the path with its legs in the air.

"It's dead, Clive."

"What?"

"I didn't kill it. It was dead already."

"Bother!" Clive picked up the twiggy corpse and held it regretfully in his palm. "I knew it was too cold in there."

"Shall we bury it?" suggested Holly. Pancake was buried under the peonies at the end of the garden. The sunny spot, Pancake's favourite place to bask.

Clive shook his head. "No. I think I'll save it and see how long it takes to rot."

Doofus took a slow breath and raised his head. Closing his eyes, he pointed his nose at the sky and howled a second time.

It was even more chilling than the first. For a strange moment Holly felt she was adrift on a wide grey ocean, lost in the sea-fog, alone and freezing.

"You've gone and bought a flipping werewolf," said Matt, as another stick insect tumbled from the bunch of twigs onto the path. He inspected it. "Died of shock," he said.

Mum came hurrying out of the house carrying a bowl of water.

"That poor dog! We haven't given it anything to eat or drink! No wonder it's howling. Here's some water, Doofus, and you can have some yummy meaty chunks as soon as I've opened the tin." She put the bowl on the ground and hurried back inside.

Doofus studied the bowl, his dark eyes glistening. He padded over to the water and put his nose to it.

He did not drink. Instead, with a long, deep sigh, he lay down on top of the bowl.

"Hey," said Holly. Doofus ignored her. His black eyes gazed at nothing.

"An incredibly brainless werewolf," Matt declared.




Chapter Three

It did not take long for Holly to become quite sure that, whatever else Doofus might be, he was certainly not brainless.

On the contrary, he learnt very quickly, and without fuss. He only needed telling once about not weeing in the kitchen, for instance; and after the second time she had shown him how to sit and come to heel, he remembered without difficulty. She suspected that he knew what to do after the first time, but just wanted to be sure that she did.

What was more, Doofus never jumped up at people's legs with muddy paws or went mad barking or chased squirrels or stole sausages, or did any of the naughty and delightful things that Pancake had done.

Holly was glad. To have Doofus behaving in that way would have meant being constantly reminded of Pancake.

She tried to explain this to Clive when she went round to his shed one Saturday morning. Clive was very keen for them to take Doofus to a Puppy Party, as soon as he had finished cleaning out his hamster cage.

Clive frowned at her halting explanation. "But Doofus ought to jump up at you and bark and chase things. Puppies are supposed to be active and naughty," he pointed out. "It's not normal for them to be so listless." He tried to stroke Doofus's ears. Doofus didn't care for being stroked; he pulled away and stared intently at the door of Clive's shed.

"He's fine. He's eating plenty," Holly said defensively.

"But he's not interested in anything. Look at him!"

"He's interested in the door," said Holly.

"Does he want to go out?" Clive opened the door of the shed wide. Doofus stood in the doorway, neither in nor out.

"No, he just likes doors," said Holly. The only bad habit Doofus had acquired so far was to lie down in the middle of doorways, usually when somebody was just trying to get through them.

Clive shrugged and went on cleaning out the hamster cage. "Here," he said, "hold Mr Finney."

Holly took the curled ball of brown and white fur gingerly in her hands. She could feel the tiny, rapid beat of Mr Finney's heart.

"And you call Doofus listless," she remarked. "Aren't hamsters supposed to be more active?"

"He's a very nocturnal hamster. I have to get up in the middle of the night if I want to observe him."

"What do you observe?"

"Everything," said Clive. "What he eats, how he plays, where he puts his nose. I write it all down in my notebook." Holly couldn't even see Mr Finney's nose. "The thing is," Clive continued, "dogs aren't nocturnal. Doofus should be livelier. He might be depressed. Is he sleeping all right?"

"Well, he doesn't make any fuss at night," said Holly, avoiding a direct answer. On the first night in his new home, Doofus had ignored the bean bag put in the kitchen for him and tried to sleep on top of his water bowl, before deciding he was more comfortable curled around it.

Since then, he'd nudged his water bowl over to the kitchen door every evening and spent the night draped round the one and in front of the other. It was, admittedly, an odd way to sleep.

What was equally odd, though, was that he didn't seem to do much actual sleeping. When Holly crept down to the kitchen for a drink of milk, Doofus was awake. He was awake when Dad went late to bed. He was awake when Mum got up early for her morning run.

"He still howls. I've heard him," said Clive, taking the little bundle of pulsing fur back from her and replacing him carefully in his clean cage. Mr Finney never uncurled himself during this process.

"Not very often."

"I heard him howl twice yesterday. Do you think he's pining for his mother? Or maybe he misses his old owners."

"Of course he doesn't." Holly was exasperated. "Why would he miss them? They abandoned him on top of Whitten Moor."

"That doesn't mean he didn't love them," Clive pointed out. "Howling in dogs is usually a sign of distress."

"He's not distressed," insisted Holly. This was all rubbish. She knew Doofus was fine. She didn't want to have to start worrying about him. "Does he look distressed?"

"No," said Clive. He took off his glasses and rubbed them on his jumper. She noticed for the first time that his eyes were a little pink. "I'm distressed, though."

"Why?"

"Rover and Dobbin. The goldfish. They're dead."

"Both of them? Oh, no, Clive!" Holly saw that the goldfish tank was empty. "What happened? Was it too cold? Did they freeze?"

"Lily got them out yesterday to play with them and forgot to put them back." Lily was Clive's sister. She was two. "Still." Clive took a deep breath, and replaced his glasses, looking more cheerful.

"At least I'll have somewhere to put the frog-spawn now, when I find some," he said. "I thought of making the tank into a wormery, but the worms seem happy enough where they are."

"Where are they?"

Clive led her out of the shed to a yellow washing up bowl lying half-buried in the soil. He pulled out a worm that seemed to go on forever, like spaghetti.

"This is Renaldo," he said proudly. "He's the champion: 28 centimetres, and I think he's still growing." He looked over at Doofus, and frowned. "Doofus is growing."

"Of course he's growing. He's a puppy."

"No, but he's growing fast. Have you measured him?"

"Stop going on about him," Holly said. "Are we going to this Puppy Party or not? We don't have to."

"Yes, I want to! Just let me get my notebook." Clive made a vague attempt to brush the sawdust off his jeans, and loped into the house.

Holly sighed, and clipped Doofus's lead to his new red collar. She liked Clive in general. She certainly felt she knew him back to front, having lived next door to him since they were both five. In some ways she was closer to him than to her other friends at school; for Clive seldom sulked, or took umbrage and flounced off in a huff, unlike some people. But the notebook business could be a little wearing.

The village hall was at the other end of the long, thin road that snaked between the houses, following the line of the river. Their Derbyshire village was a large one - almost a small town - but bootlace-shaped, with odd knots and bows of houses clumped at intervals along it, while the bare, grim hills reared up on either side.

They could hear the Puppy Party from a distance. On entering the village hall, they found themselves inside an echo-chamber full of yelps and growls from over-excited puppies, and yelps and growls from over-excited owners who were trying to keep them under control. Clive opened his note-book, bright-eyed and happy.

"This is great! Did you see that poodle just try to pull off the beagle's ear?" he murmured. "Whoa! Look at that terrier eating the chair-leg! Now why do you suppose it's doing that?"

Holly shook her head and sidled round the edge of the room, hoping Clive wasn't going to try and interview any of the owners. They looked harassed enough as it was. What was worse, they were all adults: she felt totally out of place.

"Come in, come in, and welcome to our party!" cried a lady with frizzy, oddly yellow hair. Holly knew her by sight. She had often seen her around the village, being dragged along the pavement by the straining leads of three fluffy white poodles.

"I'm Vera. Do take a seat! Down, Kiki darling! Leave poor Fifi alone. Naughty, naughty!" She wagged her finger at a poodle, which took no notice but kept chasing two more identical poodles round and round a table, skidding and whirling, snapping at their tails as if they were a cartoon. The three of them had legs like pipe-cleaners.

Holly perched on a chair between Vera and an old man with a shy retriever puppy the colour of honey. He smiled at her kindly.

"Bill Barton," he said, and offered her a gnarled hand to shake. "This is my Joey."

She patted Joey, who gave her a tentative lick. Nobody else seemed very friendly, including the dogs. A poodle strutted over to sniff disdainfully at Doofus.

Doofus gave it one of his looks. Then he sat up by Holly like a sober uncle majestically ignoring his silly young nephews.

"What a very, um, remarkable dog," said Vera doubtfully. "What breed is it?"

"We're not quite sure yet," mumbled Holly.

"Oh, a cross-breed...Well, never mind. Now, now, Lulu!" She admonished her poodle fondly as it dug its claws into the quivering Joey. "My darlings are pure pedigree, you know, and rather highly strung. Aren't you, sweetie-pie?"

Lulu yipped petulantly in answer and pounced on Clive's pencil. Wrestling it from his hand, she attacked it with vicious snarls. Clive tried to get it back and quickly retreated, sucking his finger.

"Yours might be a mongrel," said Bill Barton, pointing at Doofus, "but he's definitely a hound."

"A hound?" Holly was puzzled. "Aren't all dogs hounds?"

He shook his head. "Oh, my word, no. Hounds are trackers, chasers, runners. Hunting dogs. Look at the legs on him! You can tell he's a hound."

Holly studied Doofus. The old man was right. Doofus was growing muscles. He was becoming fast and powerful. As she watched, he let out a deep, doleful sigh and lay down with his nose on his paws.

Could Clive be right? she wondered. Could Doofus really be depressed? He got plenty of food, and pats and fuss from Dad, and runs with Mum, and occasional walks around the park with Holly and Nan's wheelchair. What more could a dog possibly want?

"Is he always this quiet?" asked Bill.

"Oh, yes," said Holly, but the old man had leapt up in sudden alarm to rescue his puppy from a poodle that was trying to tear off its tail.

"Bad dog!" he told the poodle sternly.

"Little Kiki's only playing!" said Vera indulgently. Little Kiki growled ferociously, sprang at the cowering retriever and bit it on the nose. Bill flicked the poodle away with the back of his hand.

The poodle jumped away from him and spun round in a frantic circle, yelping. Then it streaked across the room and dashed out of the open door like a rocket-propelled cotton-wool ball.

"Kiki! Come back, Kiki!" shrieked Vera. She grabbed the collars of the other two poodles, who had immediately tried to follow Kiki. They began to yap shrilly in protest, and were followed by more and more dogs starting to bark until Holly felt as if she was back in the dogs' home.

Doofus did not bark. Instead, in the midst of the raucous din, he raised his head. He pointed his nose at the ceiling, and he howled.

It was the longest, loudest, most mournful howl that Holly had yet heard come from his mouth. It made her want to cry.

All the yapping puppies were subdued into mere whimpers. Clive was staring at Doofus open-mouthed: and he wasn't the only one.

Into the suddenly silent hall strode a young man. He wore a leather jacket, and carried a motor-cycle helmet in his hands. He stopped and gazed around, looking sombre and anxious.

"I'm awfully sorry," he said. "It ran straight out in front of my motorbike. I didn't have a chance to stop. I'm afraid it's..."

He held out the helmet. Inside it, Holly could see a limp body made of cotton wool and pipe cleaners.

Vera clapped her hand to her mouth and let out a wail. "My Kiki! My little sweetie-pie!"

"Oh, Lord," said Bill Barton.

Holly felt herself growing cold inside. She stared, not at the dead poodle, but at Doofus, who had closed his mouth, and now sat as black and immobile as if made of stone.

* * *

What is the secret of the mysterious black dog? The whole book is too long for a webpage, but you can read it on screen, or download it as a free ebook in all formats from Smashwords here.
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the cover of the free children's ebook about a mysterious legendary black dog, 
DOOFUS, DOG OF DOOM

Copyright Emma Laybourn 2014




the cover of the free kids' adventure ebook, DOOFUS, DOG OF DOOM by Emma Laybourn

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