Say No More, my 8th book and my first dog story, is now available on Kindle worldwide. Halo is a compilation of the many wonderful dogs I've been privileged to know over the years. If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can even borrow it for free.
Ever heard of a place called the Rainbow Bridge? Ever lost a loved one, but sensed that they were still there beside you?
Don't expect any history in this novel (unless you consider Bernadette's retelling of the founding of the Faderville Library to be of historical significance). What you can expect are some poignant moments between an Australian Shepherd named Halo and her people, a surprising amount of action as Halo perseveres to find her way home despite a scheming villain who has other plans for her, and a message about the power of love and the extent of a dog's loyalty.
The paperback will be available in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, here are some of the Amazon links:
Here's the Prologue:
A thousand scents surround me: honeysuckle and hyacinth, grubs burrowing through damp earth, stagnant water mingling with black muck at pond’s edge … and bacon frying. I lick my lips and swallow. It’s all I can do to not put my nose to the air and explore until I discover their source.
But I have to stay here. It’s almost time.
I have something very important to do. I’m waiting. For him. And I’ll be here when he comes. The first one he’ll see.
It seems like it’s been forever, yet I can remember every detail about him, as if I left him only minutes ago.
Tender shoots of spring grass tickle my feet. I lower my head until my chin rests on the ground and nibble at them while I wait. After all, I don’t know how long it will be.
To my right, a beetle scampers down a blade of grass before disappearing into the dense carpet of green. My ears perk. I swear I hear its tiny feet rustling. Or maybe that’s the sound of its jaws sawing away on moist stems?
The barest of breezes tugs at my hair. There is a fluttering inside my nostrils. I lift my head, inhale. It’ll rain soon. I know it before I hear the low rumble in the sky or see the clouds darkening on the horizon. I’m not scared of the thunder here. I became that way when I was old. In The Time Before This. But now I’m young again. Here, there is excitement in everything, wonder in the familiar.
Rising, I look toward the top of the hill where the great oak stands. Its boughs are twice as thick around as my middle. Its crown spreads far, every branch densely cloaked in leaves of green. In sunlight, it shields me from the heat. In rain, it keeps me dry. When the wind kicks up and the air cools, there is a little pocket in the earth between the sprawling roots where I have dug a hole and can curl up. Here, no one cares if I dig. It is expected.
The walk is long and steep, but my bones do not weary. I am young again. And I would climb a hill ten times as high, ten times over, ten days straight, just to see him one more time. My heart leaps at the thought.
He’ll come. I know he will.
As I reach the top, a squirrel darts forth and stares me straight in the eye. My heart quickens. Her gray tail stiffens above her back like a bottle brush, then flicks to the side. Whiskers twitch nervously. I crouch in the tall grass, watching, patient. Boldly, she races forward and plucks an acorn from the ground. She clutches it to her chest, as if to say, “Mine, mine, mine.”
Stupid beady-eyed creature. I don’t want the acorn. I can think of tastier things. Squirrel, for one.
I lift a foot, creep forward, pause, step again. Her tail quivers. My head low, I move through the grass. So close now I can smell the wood scent on her fur and —
In a blur, the squirrel whips around and scrabbles up the furrowed bark of the oak, the knobby acorn stuffed in her tiny mouth. She stops above the first bough, gazes down at me, and huffs her cheeks in triumph. Then with another arrogant flick of her tail, she ascends in a spiral, and I lose her form in the tangle of branches and scattering of leaves. Far above, baby squirrels chatter in greeting.
“Halo?” the Old Man calls. “What’re you doing up there, girl?”
At the base of the hill, the Old Man stands, gripping a shepherd’s crook. It’s merely for show. I suppose it makes him feel important, like he’s in charge of things, but I don’t really need him to tell me what to do. At least not as much as he thinks.
He walks partway up, tapping the bottom of the crook along the ground as he goes. Here, he doesn’t need it to lean on. His steps are slow but sure. His spine, once bent, is now straight and strong. He reaches the top of the hill, his breath barely audible, but a sheen of sweat glistens above his brow.
My belly low, I slink to him, then sit and wait obediently. Gone from his face is the mapwork of blue veins beneath papery skin, although there are still creases around his eyes from squinting into the sun for so many years. He reaches his hand out, lets it hover above my head. I sniff his fingers. They’re still spotted with age, but they’re no longer gnarled. He scratches gently behind my ears.
I lean against his knee as his fingernails tickle my neck and then my back.
“Come on, Halo. We have to move the sheep before the storm blows in.”
Silly man. There are no coyotes here. They have their own heaven, separate from ours.
He steps away and pats his leg, but I don’t move. Doesn’t he understand? I’m waiting for someone. What if he finally shows up and I’m not here? I can’t leave my post. This is my job, my responsibility, my duty. Mine alone. My honor depends on it.
The Old Man frowns sympathetically at me. His shoulders lift in a shrug, emphasizing the wrinkles in that same old tatty shirt he always wears. I’ve always loved the smell of it and hated whenever he washed it. I hate the smell of soap. And shampoo. Things should smell as they’re meant to, not like almonds or coconut milk or baby powder.
“We were quite a team, weren’t we, girl?” His mouth curves into a grin. Crinkles form at the corners of his eyes.
“All the ribbons, the belt buckles . . .” His voice softens as he reminisces. “All those titles . . . But they don’t really mean a thing, do they?”
No, they don’t. They’re only things: colored scraps of cloth, metal discs, letters on a piece of paper. What matters were the many hours we spent in the field gathering the sheep, the cold mornings when we tiptoed into the barn to check on the new lambs, the times he let me ride in the cab of the pick-up next to him. I worked hard then, but I was happy. So was he. There was pride in a good day’s work.
“You were always there when I needed you, Halo. Always. That’s what matters.”
“It is,” I say. “And you were there for me.”
Nodding, he turns to go, the wooden staff trailing behind him. The grass ripples in a rising wind and the bleating of sheep carries across the valley. Do the simple creatures ever tire of being afraid?
I gaze across the river, over the arc of many colors that is the bridge to here: the Other Side. There’s no one there. Yet. If I hurry, I can help the Old Man and be back before the boy comes.And he will. Because I’m waiting. Like any good dog would.
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