PETROL PAWS: A free downloadable book for kids. Can Horace the car-mad dog learn to drive?
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PETROL PAWS

by Emma Laybourn

Chapter One


Midnight.

The house was as dark as dreams; as silent as a secret.

Well, almost silent...

There was the faint pad, pad of four large, careful feet. A shadow stole across the kitchen floor.

A latch creaked: a handle rattled. The door swung slowly open.

Horace stood with his big front paws inside the garage, sniffing hungrily.

His forefathers were hunting dogs: wolfhounds and Great Danes. But it wasn't the scent of deer or wolves that made his heart thump now.

It was the sweet smell of petrol. The sour tang of steel. The earthy odour of rubber. Blissful smells. Horace breathed them in deeply.

Then he walked towards the car.

Joshua had taught him the trick of opening the car door just the other day. Horace had never tried it out before. Could he really do it on his own?

He pawed at the handle until the car door opened. He jumped into the driver's seat.

At last! Horace laid trembling paws upon the steering wheel. He'd waited for this moment for so long...

He pretended to turn a key in the ignition. The real car keys were in the living room.

"Engine on!" he growled happily.

He wriggled around in the seat. Since Horace was an Irish Dane, his legs were easily long enough to reach the pedals. He'd watched Joshua's Dad so avidly that he knew what they all were.

"Clutch, brake, accelerator. Clutch down, first gear," he muttered. "We're away!"

He jiggled the gear stick. "What a great start! Into second gear, third, fourth - and we're already doing fifty. What a driver!"

Horace growled, imitating the engine's roar. "Rrrrowl! Into top gear! We're doing eighty-five, and now we're overtaking the Jag! Up to ninety. We're going like a rocket. Nothing can keep up! We're going for the ton! We've done it! Neeeyow!"

In real life, he'd never done a ton. Joshua's father, Mr Hay, refused to drive any faster than forty-eight miles an hour. But Horace could imagine the thrill.

"Rowll, rowwwll!" he howled. "Go, boy, go! We must be doing at least three thousand revs!"

He peered at the dashboard. It was too dark to see, so he switched on the overhead light that Mrs Hay used for reading maps.

"Bend coming up," he growled. "Change down, check mirrors and... YOW!"

It was the loudest howl so far.

Horace leapt into the air and landed on all fours on the passenger seat, quivering. He stared at the back seat, unable to believe his eyes.

Had he really seen that in the mirror? Impossible!

But there it sat on the back seat, a neat, striped coil with a rearing head and a flickering, forked tongue.

"SNAKE!" yelped Horace. "Help! Help! Snake! Snake in the car!"

"Ssssshut up," hissed the snake. "You want to wake everybody?"

"This is my car! How did you get in?"

"I can ssslip through the smallest holes - and this old car is full of them," said the snake.

"Well, you can just slip right out again! I'll bark! I will! I will! I'll bark!"

"You won't," said the snake calmly, "because think what a fool you'd look. You'll get told off for being here, and I'll be long gone."

As it spoke it began to flow along the back seat, as sinuous as a stream of oil, and disappeared into a corner.

Horace stood panting and shivering. He couldn't see the snake at all until it suddenly reappeared outside his door.

"Ow!" howled Horace. "How did you do that?"

"Eassssy. I told you. Tiny gaps. I'm going now."

As it slithered across the garage floor, Horace scrambled out of the car and blocked its way.

"You're a burglar! I'll bark!"

"Don't be ridiculousss," hissed the snake. "I'm your next door neighbour. They bought me last week. I have to get back in my tank before daylight, because they don't know I can get out."

"Well, what were you doing in my car?"

"The ssssame as you." The snake gazed into the distance. "Just dreaming. Remembering a truck ride in a dusty, boundless desert. Lizards turn and run. The sun beats down like a golden hammer. I'm Kimi."

"I'm Horace." Horace bent down cautiously to snuffle at Kimi.

The snake smelt of leather and car seats. It was striped black and white like a miniature, rolled-up zebra crossing. Arching its long neck gracefully, it held him in a haughty yellow stare.

"How do you do, Horace," it said regally. "I am a king snake from Mexico. Although strictly speaking, that should be a queen snake, since I'm female."

"Oh!" Horace wondered whether he should curtsey. "Where's Mexico?"

"I'm not quite sure," sighed Kimi. "But I yearn for the desert. And for a car to get me back there."

They both turned and looked at the car.

"But you can drive," said Kimi softly.

"No, I can't. I don't have the keys."

"Where are the keys?"

Horace hesitated; though only for a moment. After all, Kimi was a neighbour. "This way," he said.

Kimi glided across the kitchen floor behind him like a dappled shadow.

"Niccccce," she murmured.

"The keys are through here, in the living room," said Horace, padding through the door. "Hallo! Who's left the TV on?"

"Miccccce!" hissed Kimi. "Very nice."

"Move! You're in the way," said a small voice from the table. "We're watching No Speed Limit."

"Wow! Just look at that explosion!" cried an even smaller voice. "I love it when they blow up caravans!"

"They're not mice, they're hamsters," Horace said. "That's Tickety, that's Boo."

"Stunt hamsters!" cried Boo. He somersaulted off the roof of the cage like a small, brown, furry cannonball. Landing on the edge of the table, he glared down at Kimi.

"Don't look at us like we're lunch!" he squeaked.

"I wouldn't dream of it," the snake said meekly. "I only eat on Tuesdays. I'm Kimi, your new neighbour. I take it that you're petrolheads like Horace?"

"Petrol paws," corrected Boo.

"And where are those car keys?" Kimi asked.

"On the top shelf of the bookcase," Horace said.

Kimi slithered up the bookcase, shelf by shelf, until she reached the top. The keys fell, jangling, to the floor.

"Hey, Horace! Are you going to drive the car?" said Tickety excitedly.

"Are you going to do stunts?" asked Boo, his eyes wide.

"Will you hurl it through a wall of fire?"

"Or crash into a caravan?"

"No, no!" said Horace. "I'll just try it out a little bit. We don't want to wake the humans." He picked the keys up in his mouth.

"Brilliant! We'll come too!" cried Boo. He launched himself at Horace's head, clinging to his ear with claws as sharp as tiny needles.

"Ow!" Horace shook his head violently and flung Boo off. Boo flew through the air and cannoned into Kimi.

"Watch it!" hissed the snake, losing her balance. They both slithered off the shelf in a noisy waterfall of books. Volume after volume toppled after them.

"Kimi? Are you all right?"

Horace stared down at the books piled on the floor. A stripey tail was poking out from underneath them.

"Stupid hamster," muttered the books.

"Boo's not stupid! Leave my brother alone!" squealed Tickety. Hurling herself at the striped tail, she fastened her teeth in it and bit hard.

The tail cracked like a whip. The book pile shuddered.

Then it erupted in a volcano of paper and infuriated snake, knocking over a chair, a lamp and a vase of flowers. The two hamsters bounced across the carpet.

"Hush!" begged Horace. "Hush! You'll wake the humans! Oh, no - I can hear them coming downstairs now. Turn off the TV, quick!"

He threw himself at the TV set, and watched in horror as it toppled slowly over backwards.

"NOOOO!" Horace put up his head and howled.

The door burst open.

"Horace!" bellowed Mr Hay, standing there in his pyjamas.

Horace was trying to hide beneath the sofa. The hamsters were scrambling frantically up the tablecloth towards their cage. And a long, striped shadow slipped through the door, unseen.

Mr Hay's eyes bulged. He glared around at the books, the broken vase and the TV that lay on its back blaring at the ceiling. He clenched his fists and opened his mouth.

On the screen, a caravan exploded.

And so did Mr Hay.

Chapter Two

"Horace - fetch!" shouted Joshua. He threw a stick across the park.

But Horace lay down and whined. He was too depressed to fetch sticks. He was too chastened to chase, too sad to sit, too heavy-hearted to come to heel.

Mr Hay's furious bellows still echoed in his ears. He wished he could explain to Joshua and his dad what had happened last night.

But humans weren't as clever as dogs; they could understand no-one but themselves. So when Horace whined mournfully, Joshua just got impatient with him. "Come on, Horace! Fetch!"

Horace lay down with his nose on his paws.

"Oh, you're hopeless!" said Josh. Dropping the stick, he walked off.

Horace dragged himself up and followed with his tail drooping. How could he possibly run around when he felt so miserable?

He moped behind Joshua out of the park and plodded after him down Tintern Lane.

Then his ears pricked up. His nose twitched. He had detected his favourite smells of steel and petrol.

They were mixed with the rich, enticing scent of car polish. They came from the car showroom on the corner.

MORDLE'S MODERN MOTORS
said the sign. On the forecourt, behind a low wall, stood a row of brand new sports cars. Red, green and black, they gleamed like precious stones. Josh stopped to admire them.

This was one of Horace's favourite places. He loved it when they had new cars on show. New cars smelt so wonderful!

He hopped over the wall and began to sniff the tyres, his tongue hanging out with longing. He rubbed his back luxuriously against the black car. Its shiny panels felt as cool and smooth as water. If only he could own it...

He could put his mark on it. By instinct he began to raise a leg beside a tyre.

"Oh, no! You're not really going to, are you?" said a voice from above. A large, fluffy white cat leapt down from the wall and stalked round him.

"Of course not!" Horace lowered his leg hastily.

"Dirty, dirty dog," said the cat in silky tones. "You'd better not. And don't go leaving nasty hairs on all my perfect paintwork."

"Sorry!" Horace backed away and bumped into a jade-green car behind him.

"Don't touch!" hissed the white cat, glaring at him. "These cars are very expensive. They're much better than yours. Your car's rubbish."

"What? What?" yelped Horace.

"That old blue biscuit tin on wheels. I've seen you with your head hanging out of the window and that stupid grin on your face. Why can't you keep your tongue inside your mouth? You look such an idiot."

"I don't! I don't!"

"Oh, you do," the cat retorted. "And the funniest thing is, you look just like you're pretending to drive. Hah! It's hilarious. As if a dog could ever drive a car!"

"I will! I will!" barked Horace.

"Dear me. What an idea! A stupid mutt like you?" The cat sniffed. "I wouldn't let you within a hundred miles of any car of mine, you filthy, scruffy hound."

"I'm not! I'm not!" By now, Horace was getting all hot and bothered.

"Oh yes you are. And your horrid boy's no better. Look at him, putting his grubby little fingers everywhere."

The hackles rose on Horace's neck. "That's Joshua! He's mine! Leave him alone!"

"Why? He's a snotty little slug. And you're just a mouldy mongrel! Pah!" The white cat arched its back and spat at Horace.

Quivering with indignation, Horace leapt at the cat. It turned and ran.

"Rouf! Rouf, rouf!" Barking wildly, Horace set off in pursuit.

The cat jumped lightly up onto a car bonnet. Horace followed, not so lightly. The cat ran across the shiny green roof. Horace thudded after it.

The cat slid elegantly down the windscreen. Horace launched himself behind it like a ski-jumper, ignoring the crack of a windscreen wiper snapping off.

As he rolled off the bonnet to the ground, the cat was waiting for him. Teeth as sharp as daggers nipped his paw.

"Ow! Ow!" Now Horace was really angry. He hurled himself at the cat, which dodged away. He smashed into the car door with a clattering thud.

"Hey - you there! Get away from that car, you horrible hound!"

It wasn't the cat shouting. A huge man was running towards him, his stomach wobbling, both arms waving furiously. The white cat disappeared beneath the car. As Horace dived after it, he was pulled backwards by his collar.

"Erghh," he gasped.

"You, boy! Is this your dog?" The big man lifted Horace up in one strong fist, almost choking him.

"Can't you keep it under control?" he shouted.

"What?" Joshua looked terrified.

"Your dog's nearly killed Fang, my poor little kitty! It's left footprints everywhere - and look what it's done to my car!" He brandished the broken wiper.

"S - sorry, Mr Mordle," stammered Joshua.

"Oh, sorry, are you? Your father will be, when he gets the bill. That dog's a menace!"

"Help! Help! I can't breathe," croaked Horace, dangling from Mr Mordle's iron grip. "He's suffocating me!"

At last Mr Mordle let go. Horace crashed to the tarmac.

Whimpering, he hobbled to Joshua's side. His paw was throbbing where Fang had bitten it. He raised it pathetically for Joshua to see.

But there was no comforting pat for him. No kind word. Instead Joshua grabbed his lead and ran out of the forecourt, dragging him behind.

"Josh? Josh?" yelped Horace.

"Shut up, you stupid dog! Look at the trouble you've got me into. Bad dog!"

Joshua's face was wet, even though it wasn't raining. He ran all the way up Tintern Lane to the Hays' house, and dragged Horace into the living room where Mrs Hay was vacuuming.

"Mum! Mum!"

She switched off the vacuum cleaner. "Josh? What's wrong?"

"It's Horace! He tried to kill a cat at the car showroom and he broke a car and Mr Mordle shouted at me, and it wasn't my fault! It was Horace!" Joshua's voice was shaking.

"Cat! Cat bit!" barked Horace desperately, trying to explain. When Mrs Hay didn't seem to understand, he took her hand between his jaws to show her what the cat had done.

"Don't you dare bite me!" she snapped.

Alarmed, Horace let go and backed off. He backed into the vacuum cleaner, which started up with an angry snarl.

Horace whirled round. Now what was attacking him? He leapt on the hose and wrestled it to the floor.

"Get off that, you daft dog!"

With the vacuum cleaner subdued, Horace rolled over. He lay on his back, waved his damaged paw in the air and began to whine for sympathy.

"Be quiet, Horace," snapped Mrs Hay. "You've caused nothing but trouble. Bad dog! I don't want you in the house!"

And to Horace's dismay, she shut him in the garage. At tea time he was given food and water: but no pats or cuddles. He lay down by the car and whimpered.

He was a bad dog. He was stupid. Daft and hopeless. He'd only been defending Joshua. How had it all gone so wrong?

Nobody loved him. Nobody understood. He might as well run away.

But he wouldn't get very far on foot.

Horace laid his head upon his paws and sighed. If only he could drive away...

Chapter Three

"What was that?" Horace lifted his nose from his paws.

A scratch came from behind the kitchen door. There was a thump, and a faint squeal.

Then, slowly, the door swung open. Boo was on the other side of it, dangling from the handle by a string. Letting go, he tumbled into the garage and did a double roll.

"Ta-dah!" he yelled, bouncing to his feet. "Stunt hamsters to the rescue!"

Tickety came in through the open door, dragging the car keys along the ground. "Right, Horace. Let's get this show on the road!"

"What show?" asked Horace, bewildered.

"Let's go for a drive, of course! It's the perfect time for it. All the humans are asleep."

"That is what you wanted, isn't it?" added Boo. "You did want to drive?"

"Oh, yes," said Horace. "I want to drive away. So far away." A lump rose in his throat. Once he had left home, he would never see Joshua again.

"Well, come on, then!" Tickety and Boo were already scrabbling up the front tyres of the car. "Open it up!"

Obediently, Horace pawed at the car door. As soon as it opened, the hamsters dived straight in. Boo sat expectantly on the dashboard while Tickety ran down the steering wheel to put the key in the ignition.

Horace heaved a deep sigh as he climbed into the driver's seat. This was the moment he had waited for - yet now it had finally come, all he could think of was Joshua's disappointed face.

"Don't forget to unlock the garage door, unless you want a two-second drive to disaster." The silky voice came from behind him. Kimi was coiled on the back seat of the car.

"Okay. I'm on it!" Tickety pressed the button on the key ring. In front of them, the garage door began to lift up smoothly and quietly.

"Chocks away!" squealed Boo.

A little nervously, Horace turned the key. Would it work?

His heart thumped as the engine growled into life. It worked! This was it!

He took a deep breath. Pretending to drive the car was one thing. Actually doing it was quite another.

He told himself that he'd watched Mr Hay drive often enough. He knew exactly what to do. And since Mr Hay had backed the car into the garage, Horace didn't even need to reverse it out. Simple!

He switched the headlights on. That went well.

Then he carefully pressed his hind paw down on the accelerator pedal. Nothing happened except noise.

"First gear would be good," said Kimi. "Let me help." She twined herself around the gearstick. "I'll do the gears. You put your foot on the clutch and take it off again. Slowly!"

A grinding noise came from the engine. Cautiously, Horace pressed the gas pedal again. The car began to jerk and bump its way out of the garage.

I'm driving away from my past life, he thought mournfully. Maybe when Joshua and his parents see my cold and empty bean-bag, they'll be sorry...

"G-g-g-gently!" begged Tickety, jolting up and down on the dashboard.

"I'm t-t-t-trying," replied Horace, his teeth rattling. The car bounced down the drive like a startled rabbit.

Now he had to turn off the drive onto the road. He managed to steer the car on to Tintern Lane with only a tiny scrape against the gate post.

"Second gear!" said Kimi. "Clutch!" The engine coughed like a bulldog with flu. The car lurched and gathered speed as it trundled down the road.

"Left! Left!" yelled Boo, swinging from the mirror.

With a screech of tyres, Horace swerved left. "Why?"

"I just felt like it," said Boo.

The car zig-zagged down the dark street, the beam from the headlights swinging madly from side to side.

"You're meant to go in a straight line," said Tickety.

"I know," said Horace. "I'm just about to get the hang of it." His paws gripped the steering wheel rigidly. He dared not let it go; so it was just as well that Kimi had the gear stick under control.

"Third gear!" she called. Crunch went the gears.

"Where are we going?" asked Tickety.

"To the desert," said Kimi, winding herself more tightly round the gear stick.

"Anywhere!" cried Horace, wild with misery. "Anywhere that's far away!"

"Left! Left!" shouted Boo.

Horace swung left. Everyone slid right. "Where does this road go?" he asked.

"Who knows?" said Boo. "But it's fun."

It was almost fun. Now that Horace was learning how to steer, the car no longer swerved and jolted quite so violently. If he hadn't been consumed with grief, he might even have enjoyed himself.

"Left! Left!"

"Righty-ho," said Horace as the car whipped round.

"How far to the desert?" asked Kimi plaintively. "I'm beginning to feel a bit sick."

"Not far, I expect." Horace peered out at the dark street. "We must have gone about fifty miles already."

"Left! Left!" yelled Boo.

Horace wrenched the wheel around.

"Uurgh," said Kimi. "No more bends, please."

"It's a straight road ahead. Hold on to your fur! And your scales!"

Now Horace put his foot down. This was more like it: they were flying along. Soon his house and all his problems would be a hundred miles behind him.

"Stop!" screamed Tickety.

Alarmed, he hit the brakes.

The car squealed to a halt, and stalled. Kimi fell off the gear lever and lay in the footwell, moaning.

"What is it?" Horace asked.

"Look at that!" said Tickety excitedly. She pointed at a sign.

"Mordle's Modern Motors?" read Horace. He was baffled.

Then he realised. They were not a hundred miles away at all. They had only gone a hundred metres.

He had driven round in a perfect square, and was back on Tintern Lane.

Tickety pressed her nose to the windscreen.

"Just look at those beauties! Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!" she cried. Before Horace could say anything, she and Boo had hurtled out and were heading for the row of gleaming sports cars.

"Wheee!" sang Boo as he scampered up onto the nearest bonnet and rolled across it.

"Vroom vroom!" shouted Tickety, jumping up and down on its roof.

"Come back!" called Horace in a hoarse whisper. "Let's keep on driving!" The two hamsters ignored him.

Kimi raised her head enough to peer through the window.

"Hmm. Quite nice," she murmured weakly. "A Kazlo Burlap DB7, if I'm not mistaken. 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds. 251 brake horsepower."

"Horses?" said Horace. "Where?"

"That car's as strong as 251 horses. Very large horses, I might add."

"Wow!" Horace considered this. "So what would that be in dogpower?"

"Ooh, about five thousand, I expect," said Kimi. "Or twenty thousand Yorkshire terriers."

"Five thousand dogpower!" gasped Horace.

"Brake dogpower, measured at the crankshaft."

"Yes, of course," said Horace. He opened the car door to summon the hamsters, and paused. "What's a crankshaft?"

"It translates the pistons' motion into rotation."

"Oh, that," said Horace. "What?"

Kimi rolled her eyes. "The engine burns petrol," she explained. "That makes pistons go up and down. But you don't want the car wheels to go up and down, do you? The crankshaft changes the movement to make them go round instead."

"The wheels went up and down when I started driving just then," said Horace.

"No, they didn't! You just weren't driving very well!"

"I thought I was doing quite-" Horace broke off.

Boo was screaming.

"Get outta here, you horrible moggies!" shrieked the hamster, sitting on top of the Kazlo Burlap.

Then Horace saw them. Slinking out of the dark shadows came the fluffy white cat, Fang.

But Fang was not alone. A burly tabby slunk after him, followed by a third cat - the biggest of all, as black as midnight.

Fang's back arched. "Rats!" he spat, glaring at the hamsters. He didn't notice Horace sitting in the silent car. "Vermin! They're trespassing on our land. Let's get 'em, gang! We'll teach them a lesson!"

Snarling and spitting, all three cats began to charge.

Horace barked a frantic warning. "Run! Run!"

The hamsters ran. Leaping from car to car, they slid over wheel-arches, bounced off bonnets and tumbled across roofs. The cars clanged and banged as the cats pounced in pursuit, leaping from one car to another with a sound like a giant baby banging on a set of saucepans.

"Over here! Here!" barked Horace. He turned the key and started up the engine.

The hamsters raced towards him, two flying balls of fur. As he held the door wide open, they shot inside the car. Horace slammed the door shut just before three angry cats splatted into it. Whang! Bang! Clang!

"First gear!" he barked at Kimi, and stamped his foot down.

The tyres screeched as the car roared off.

"Great getaway!" said Tickety admiringly.

"Nah nah-nee nah nah," chanted Boo out of the window at the incredulous cats staring after them. Horace had never felt so good as when he saw the amazement on those feline faces.

Their eyes were like saucers. Their mouths fell open. They couldn't believe a dog was driving! He chuckled as the car sped away from them.

"Are you all right, Tickety-Boo?"

"Of course we are. That was cool!" cried Tickety. "Can we do it again?"

"No!"

"Left! Left!" yelled Boo

"But that's our house!" said Horace. "Aren't we going for a drive?"

"We've had a drive. We're just in time to watch The Manic Motor Show!" said Tickety. As the car rolled into the garage, she and Boo leapt out and raced into the house.

Kimi slithered out more slowly and lay limply on the garage floor.

"I still don't feel well," she complained. "And we never found the desert."

"We'll find it next time," Horace promised with a grin.

He hadn't managed to drive a hundred miles. But it didn't matter.

What mattered was the amazement on those cats' faces. The feel of the road speeding past beneath his wheels. The roar of the engine as he put his foot down.

He had done it! He wasn't stupid! He wasn't hopeless! He could drive!

***

Want to read more? The whole book is too long to fit on a web page, but you can read it all online or download the free ebook in all formats at Smashwords here.
The ebook is also free at:
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Read the second book about Horace and his friends, Race Night.

Read the start of the third book about Horace, Flying Fur.

the cover of the free children's ebook Petrol Paws by 
Emma Laybourn, about a driving dog

Go to the list of free stories.

Copyright 2013 Emma Laybourn

Download the free ebook of PETROL PAWS:
from Smashwords (for all ereaders)
Kobo Books,
the Nook Book store,
and Apple iTunes.

the cover of the free children's ebook Petrol Paws by 
Emma Laybourn, the first in the WHEELers series about Horace the driving dog and his friends the stunt hamsters

Click here for a printable crossword about cars (pdf file)

Try another free book:

the logo of the WHEElers series of books by Emma Laybourn the cover of the free children's ebook Race Night by 
Emma Laybourn, the second in the WHEElers series about Horace the driving dog the cover of the children's ebook Flying Fur by 
Emma Laybourn, the third in the WHEElers series about Horace the driving dog