RILEY AND THE WOOD SHED MYSTERY
A story commissioned by my grandchildren
Riley is a Schnauzer, which, of course, is a kind of dog. As you probably know, Schnauzers come in two sizes, big and small. Riley is a small Schnauzer but he has a big personality.
Riley lives in New Hope, Minnesota, in a big green house with a big, green backyard, along with Joseph, who is eight (the same age as Riley) and Claire who’s six. There is also Dad and Lindsey who are quite old (about 35) but useful for finding food and treats for Riley and for driving Joseph and Claire to Swimming and Scouts.
Lindsey adopted Riley from a dog rescue home and for a long time she thought he was hers. Then she met Dad, and Riley became Joseph and Claire’s dog.
Riley has a big comfy bed. Most dog beds are disgusting but Riley's bed is Waldorf Astoria quality because a) Schnauzers do not shed hair and b) Riley is a perfect gentledog who does not chew his bed.
Riley also has a special cushion on the back of the sofa so he can supervise everything that goes on in Independence Avenue when Dad and Lindsey are at work. He tells the Mailman ‘I see you, I see you!’ and shouts a special greeting to his special friends Betty Crocker and General Mills.
Riley has a deep bark but when Dad and Lindsey come home he puts on his special high voice and sings like a diva to tell them exactly how his day has been.
Riley has a big collection of toys given to him by his many admirers, including Spike, a hedgehog sent all the way from Spain by his cousins Boris, Biggles and Bella. Riley loves it when his friends find time to throw his toys for him to fetch. He likes to play tug of war with Joseph and Claire, using Crockywock, his long green crocodile, as the rope. Crockywock doesn’t seem to mind. To let Joseph and Claire know it’s playtime Riley barks with a toy in mouth. Instead of Woof. Woof, Woof! This sounds like ‘Oof, ‘Oof. Oof! And makes everybody laugh.
The big green back yard turns white in Winter but Riley doesn't mind the cold. He scoots any rabbit bold enough to appear on his territory and he burrows into the snow in search of woodchucks and mice. When he comes back into the house he has snow and ice in his eyebrows and beard.
All Schnauzers have thick eyebrows and beards and can look quite fierce even when they’re not. So can grandfathers. Last Christmas Joseph and Claire’s Grandma and Grandpa came to visit from Spain. Grandma is a little lady with sweet smile, but Grandpa has a white beard and big dark eyebrows just like Riley. Riley took one look at Grandma and knew she was OK but he looked at Grandpa for a very long time with his head on one side and wondered if this was one of the very big, fierce Schnauzers.
Then Grandpa said ‘Hello, Riley,’ and sounded just like Dad, so that was OK too.
PART 2: THE DARK MYSTERY OF THE WOOD PILE
There are squirrels in the big green yard. Cheeky little grey ones with big bushy tails. The squirrels come bouncing along the fence and when they see Riley they stop and stare down at him with their big bright eyes. Riley doesn’t like the squirrels. He barks at them and they chatter back at him: ‘Yah! Boo! Dogs suck! Can’t catch us!
When he first came to the big green yard, Riley used to jump up at the squirrels but the squirrels would just twitch their tails and run straight up one of the tall maple trees. Then they would sit on a high branch chanting like basketball fans: ‘Black-Dogs-Can’t-Jump!’ with a sarcastic expression on their faces.
Riley’s cousin Boris, who lives with Grandma and Grandpa in Spain, is a big dog with long legs and big spotty ears. Boris doesn’t like birds because they used to swoop down and tease him in his pen in the dog refuge before Grandma and Grandpa adopted him. Boris thinks if he practices running very fast he may be able to take off, using his big ears like wings, and catch the birds or even the occasional airplane or helicopter. But Riley has learned that that the grey squirrels are beyond his reach, so now he hunts different prey.
‘You were outside a long time today, Riley,’ says Claire. ‘What were you doing?’
Riley doesn’t answer because he’s on a secret mission, a mission to uncover the Dark Mystery of the Wood Shed.
Dad has made a fire pit in the yard, so on cool Spring evenings everyone can sit and chat and drink pop and beer around a warm bonfire fire while Dad cooks steaks and burgers on the braai. (Most people in Minnesota call it a barbecue but Dad learned to cook in Africa and braai is a long-ago word he remembers from there).
Riley likes these cook-out evenings when Joseph and Claire, Dad and Lindsey, Spain Grandma and Granddad and Minnesota Grandma B all sit round the fire pit together with Riley’s special friends Betty Crocker and General Mills. Riley is not supposed to eat people food but the General will sometimes sneak him a secret treat when Dad and Lindsey are not looking. Grandma B’s dog Sophie comes to cook-outs wearing ribbons and a dress. Riley thinks this is a bit weird but he knows it’s the kind of thing girls do. It’s just fine with him if nobody expects him to do the same.
Dad has built a wood shed and filled it with logs for the fire pit. The shed is really a kind of shelter. The logs are piled on a raised platform, open at the sides, so the air can circulate round the wood. Riley knows there is something mysterious about this big pile of logs. Every day when he goes out into the yard he climbs up the pile and stands on top playing King of the Woodpile.
‘This is a lot easier than chasing squirrels up maple trees,’ he thinks.
It’s quiet in the big green backyard and when Riley is standing on the wood pile he can sometimes hear noises coming from underneath the logs. Riley has definite ideas about noises. There are Good Noises and Bad Noises. Now you might think Good Noises would all be quiet noises and Bad Noises would all be loud noises, but it’s not as simple as that. ‘Bleep, bleep, bleep!’ for instance, is a loud noise but it’s also a Good Noise because it tells Riley it’s time to bark at the Trash Men when they arrive with their truck outside the big green house. But there are quiet noises Riley absolutely hates. Rustling paper is a Bad Noise. While Joseph and Claire were opening their Christmas presents Riley snuggled up to Spain Grandma and shook like a bowl of jello.
Riley hasn’t decided whether the noises coming from underneath the wood pile are Good Noises or Bad Noises. He can hear quiet scrabblings and heavy breathing, as if some animal has its den under there. If it’s a small animal he thinks he’d like to meet it and scoot it out of the big green yard. But if it’s a big animal Riley worries that it might try to scoot HIM.
PART 3: THE THING THAT WENT BUMP! IN THE NIGHT
‘Early to bed, early to rise,
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’
…says Grandpa when it’s Joseph and Claire’s bedtime.
‘I’m not a man. I’m a girl,’ says Claire, with a big smile, ‘so I don’t need to go to bed when Joey goes.’
‘You wish,’ says Joseph.
Grandpa isn’t very wealthy and he has a wonky knee so he’s not too healthy either.
‘And he’s not always wise,’ says Grandma, ‘but he does like to get up very early and write his stories. That’s fine with me as long as he lets me stay in bed.’
When Riley wakes up each morning he stretches and gives himself a good shake to make his dog tags rattle. He lies in his comfy Waldorf Astoria bed until he hears someone else moving around. Then he goes to the big glass door and waits to be let out into the big green yard so he can do his business and check on the wood pile.
This morning Riley wakes up because he hears a noise.
‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh!
The noise is a quiet rustling noise like unwrapping presents, but it doesn’t worry Riley because he thinks he knows what’s making it. The first thing Grandpa does when he gets up in the morning is switch on the coffee machine. When Grandpa is writing his stories he drinks lots of coffee.
‘Coffee stimulates the brain,’ says Grandpa.
‘What brain?’ asks Grandma.
‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh!
Riley rolls out of the Waldorf Astoria bed, stretches again and gives himself another shake. Then he goes to the living room to find Grandpa. But the room is dark and Grandpa isn’t there.
Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh!
The noise goes on and on. It definitely sounds like the coffee machine, but where is Grandpa? Riley goes to the big glass door and looks through it into the big green yard.
There is a big bright moon and the big green yard has turned into silver. Silver bats are hunting silver moths around the branches of the silver maple trees. Riley isn’t at all sure that he likes this new silver yard.
Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh! ‘Shhhhhhh! BUMP!
Something heavy has hit the glass door and made it rattle.
Riley gasps in horror. A huge Creature is staring at him through the glass with great red glittering eyes. The Creature has a black furry body, pointy red ears and a big, red, bushy tail. Whatever this Creature is, it’s definitely not Grandpa.
Riley’s heart pounds like a jackhammer. He wants to howl, but his mouth is as dry as sandpaper. He wants to run, but his paws are rooted to the rug.
‘Riley, can you hear me?’
The Creature’s voice is like ground glass steeped in treacle.
‘I SAID can you hear me?’
‘Are you sure? Wouldn’t you like to open this door so we can have a nice, cozy chat?’
‘That’s a pity. And I thought you were SO eager to talk to me…’
‘…because you stand on top of my den every morning pretending to be King of the Wood Pile and shouting ‘Come out, come out, whoever you are!’
Well, now I’ AM out and you are IN. In it right up to your neck.’
‘In what?’ asks Riley in a very faint voice.
‘In the POO.’
‘But who ARE you?’ asks Riley in an even fainter voice.
‘I’m your worst nightmare. I am Super Squirrel, the Scourge of Schnauzers.’
‘Oh good,’ says Riley insincerely, ‘I like squirrels.’
‘You like squirrels, do you? Would that be boiled or fried? You DON’T like squirrels at all. You harass squirrels. You chase them up trees. And now I’m going to chase YOU up a tree.
‘Yelp! Yelp!’ Yelp! cries poor Riley. He really means ‘Help! Help! Help! but dog diction’s not all that great.
‘Yelp! Yelp!’ Yelp!
‘RILEY! RILEY! RILEY! Wake up and stop shaking!’
It’s Lindsey’s voice. Riley rolls over quickly, opens his eyes and looks around him. He’s still in his comfy Waldorf Astoria bed and Lindsey is smiling down at him.
‘It’s OK, Riley. You’ve been having a bad dream, that’s all.’
A dream! So that terrible Super Squirrel was just part of the nightmare! What a relief!
But wait a moment, the strange rustling noise is still going on, though it seems to have changed a bit.
Shhhhhhh…Pop! ‘Shhhhhhh…Pop! ‘Shhhhhhh…Pop!
Riley starts to shiver again, but Lindsey picks him up in his blanket and carries him into the next room. It’s Grandma and Grandpa’s bedroom! Grandpa has gone to the kitchen to start up the coffee machine but Grandma is still asleep.
Shhhhhhh…Pop! ‘Shhhhhhh…Pop! ‘Shhhhhhh…Pop!
The sheet is pulled right up to Grandma’s nose and the shushing-popping noise happens when she tries to blow it away in her sleep.
Grandma opens her eyes and smiles. ‘Hello Riley, nice to see you,’ says Grandma, ‘Have you been out to inspect the wood pile yet?’
Riley licks Grandma’s face and doesn’t answer. He thinks he may give the wood pile a miss this morning.