Chronogram received dozens of entries for this year’s Story Contest. The guest judge was Abigail Thomas,
author of best-selling memoirs A Three Dog Life and Safekeeping, two novels, and two collections of stories.
She writes: “For First Prize, I chose ‘Red Rover’ by Timothy Tocher. I tend to read for voice, and if there’s
a narrator I would keep turning pages for, I pay attention. Tocher’s narrator is fresh, funny, and sympathetic.
I’d follow this story anywhere, and not just because it includes a dog. The runner-up is ‘Falling From the Garden Into Wonder’ by William Sheldon. I’d also like to include for Honorable Mention two other stories I admired: ‘Happy Valley’ by Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang, and ‘A Partial Catalog of Harold’s Major and Minor Epiphanies’ by Brent Robison.”
First time I saw that dog, he was lying between the marble pillars that flanked the front of the Richardson house. I pushed aside some leaves and twirled the dial on the binoculars until he was in perfect focus, red coat gleaming in the summer sun.
“What kind is it?” I asked Eddie, tilting my head toward the higher branch where he was hidden. Eddie is only two years older than me, but for as long as I can remember, I’d looked to him for answers.
“The kind that’s in our way,” he snapped. “How are we supposed to rob the place with that dog there?”
The dog stiffened, then raced across the lawn. I swept the binoculars after him, making myself so dizzy that I almost fell out of the tree. I lowered the glasses and watched him speed for a squirrel that sat on the grass. The squirrel let him get within 20 feet, then zipped across the road to safety.
The dog gave a disappointed yip and headed back to the porch. I looked at Eddie. “Invisible fence,” he said. “Dog goes near the edge of the property, he gets zapped. There’s a sensor on his collar.”
I felt relieved. Maybe for once we could leave a town without doing something that would prevent us from ever coming back. I made the mistake of joking around. “Too bad we can’t take the dog. He’s a beauty.”
Eddie leaned down and slapped me on the back so hard that my knees nearly lost their grip on the branch I straddled. “That’s it. I’ll bet Richardson will pay plenty.”
We returned after dark, creeping close to the front lawn. The dog sensed we were there, and started barking. I wound up and chucked a baseball-sized hunk of chopped meat toward the sound. In a split second, the dog was too busy inhaling beef to make noise.
The following night he bounded toward me, a happy woof his only sound. I threw the meat closer to the sidewalk. While the dog bolted it down, I moved onto the lawn and squatted in a spot where I was screened from the house by a large tree.
The beef a fading memory, the dog trotted over to say thanks. He flopped on his back so I could scratch his belly. While one hand dug in and made his leg thump the ground, the other loosened his collar. When it came off in my hand, the dog shook free of my grip. He let loose a howl of pleasure, and streaked for the road. Before I could react, he was racing down the block, his long ears stretched out behind him.
A light came on in the Richardson house, and I took off myself, bent low, and keeping the tree between me and the front porch. I knew Eddie was somewhere nearby in his van. Two blocks ahead, he snapped on the headlights, and I caught a glimpse of the dog as it sped past him. The van pulled away from the curb and I ran after it. Eddie would expect me to go in the opposite direction, leading trouble away. I was too scared. All I could think of was climbing into the van and roaring out of town for good.
I heard a crash as the dog sent a trash can flying. The headlights showed that everything except his thrashing tail and hind legs had disappeared inside it. Eddie eased the van to the curb, got out, and opened its side panel door. I sucked in air and ran harder.