“Shelby! Come, Shelby!” 9-year-old Kitty Armstrong called, bouncing up and down, her strawberry blonde hair swinging. Eva Armstrong, Kitty’s twin sister, giggled as their golden lab puppy bounded over, his drooling tongue lolling out of his mouth and his ears perked up in the air.
“Good boy, Shelby!” giggled Kitty, wrapping her arms around the excited puppy, who tried to squirm away.
“Let’s see if he’ll fetch the tennis ball!” said Eva in her soft voice. She picked up the bright pink tennis ball from the ground and handed it to her sister. Kitty grinned and tossed the ball as far as she could to the other side of the backyard. The ball bounced along the ground and rolled to a stop next to the twins’ swing set that their dad, Andrew Armstrong, had made.
“Fetch, Shelby! C’mon, go get it!” called Kitty, pointing at the ball. Shelby cocked his head and sat, hoping for a treat.
“No, Shelby! The ball! Go get the ball!” Eva’s giggle was louder than usual as she watched the lab puppy’s confusion. Finally, Shelby broke into a run and raced to the ball, barking happily. He skidded to a stop, picked up the ball with his mouth, and ran back, dropping it at Kitty’s feet.
“YAY! Good dog!” cried Kitty, trying to hug the wriggly dog once more.
Kristin Armstrong, the girls’ mom, opened the screen door and stepped outside into the sticky heat.
“Girls! It’s dinner time! We’re having your favourite: sausages!” she called. Kitty ran towards her mom, still laughing. Eva was close behind her.
“We taught Shelby how to fetch, Mommy!” Kitty cried. “He can actually do it!” She bounced up and down excitedly. Andrew Armstrong joined Kristin on the back step.
“You girls taught Shelby how to fetch?” he asked.
“Well, he did it once, anyways…” Eva said, sticking one of her braids into her mouth and sucking it gently. Kristin leaned forward and plucked the braid out of Eva’s mouth.
“Gotta break that habit, hon,” Kristin said softly. Eva nodded, her face turning red. She was embarrassed by her bad habit, and she never liked when people noticed her chewing on her hair.
“We need to get inside, ladies. It looks like there’s a storm coming,” said Andrew, clasping his hands together.
“It makes sense after this humid weather!” Kristin said, ushering the girls inside the cool, air-conditioned house.
“Oh no! Shelby doesn’t like storms!” Eva said, her bottom lip beginning to quiver.
“He’ll be okay, Eva,” said Kristin, quickly wrapping an arm around her daughter and kissing her cheek.
Andrew shut the door, waving to Shelby, who sat eagerly by the door, hoping to be let in. “Wash your hands and then come to the table, okay girls?”
“Oh, can’t we let Shelby in? Just for a little while?” begged Kitty, clinging onto her dad’s arm.
“Not right now. Maybe after dinner,” Andrew said firmly, but he was smiling. They walked through the back room into the house together. But little did the Armstrongs know, the back gate was still open; swinging, swinging in the wind.
Randolph Hale grabbed his worn book of ‘101 Challenging Crossword Puzzles’ and sighed heavily. His back ached as he sat down on his rocking chair and opened the crossword book. Randolph looked around him at the room: one chair, one small table and a few books on a little bookshelf. His only cup, plate and set of cutlery were on the table from dinner still, but he was too tired to wash them.
The strong, pre-storm wind blew through the house, making the battered, old curtains blow in the air. Ginger, Randolph’s cat, meowed at his feet, rubbing her soft fur against Randolph’s wrinkled old legs. My only friend, thought Randolph sadly. Ginger meowed again and padded out of the door, presumably to chase some birds.
Some friend she was. A window flew open with a bang, and Randolph jumped. He shuffled to the window and heard someone coughing outside.
“Uh…who’s there?” he called nervously, adjusting his thin glasses and peering out the window. But the only reply Randolph heard was the eerie caw! caw! of a crow.
He shook his head and shuddered, shutting the window with a slam. Then he slowly lowered himself back into his rocking chair, still a little unsettled.
Only 4 more spaces to go, he thought, as he opened his crossword book again. He scratched his stubbly chin with the end of his pencil and filled in a word.
Randolph couldn’t concentrate, though. He kept thinking about the window that had opened. Had there been someone outside his house? What could they have been doing?