Beau’s Lost Chapter by Dan Gemeinhart
I love stories about animals.
More specifically, I love stories about kids and their animals.
There are plenty of reasons that I love these kinds of stories. One reason is that animals can show us a lot about ourselves. They can teach us about loyalty. And courage. And friendship.
Another reason I love them is that these stories have as their beating, vital heart that pure love that exists only between children and animals. Do you remember the pets you had as a child? The cats you dressed up in doll clothes, the dogs that walked you to school and crawled into your bed at night? Do you remember how purely and completely you loved them? There is nothing like the love between a kid and an animal.
But perhaps one of the most important reasons that I love stories about kids and their animals is that kids love these kind of stories. And as a teacher-librarian working to connect kids with books that they’ll love and read and rave to their friends about, I just kinda have to love stories that kids love.
And middle grade literature? Man, middle grade literature is full of great stories about kids and their animals. Starting with the classics – Old Yeller, Black Beauty, Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows – and right up to the modern day, with Love That Dog, War Horse, and Because of Winn Dixie.
Kids love these books and they connect with these books and (most importantly) they read these books because kids get that love between a kid and animal; the know that love, they love that love. In a world that is ruled by grown-ups and defined by grown-ups, the love between a kid and an animal stands out pure and bright and apart…and it stands out as theirs. As readers they connect with the animals in the story just as much as they connect with the kid – maybe even more so.
So it was no real surprise to me that when I started talking with kids about my debut novel, The Honest Truth, most of the things that kids had to say to me were not about Mark, the main character, but about Beau, his steadfast and courageous canine companion. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to do lots of school visits and readings and Skype visits with classrooms, and what the kids want to talk about most is Beau – that beautiful dog who stands by his boy through thick and thin. And I get it.
So to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the publication of The Honest Truth (and the 2015 “Nerdy” award that I was so honored to receive for it!), I’ve written a new bonus chapter to the book…from Beau’s perspective. Finally, Beau gets a chance to tell his own story!
Now, this is not a stand-alone story…if you haven’t read The Honest Truth, this chapter won’t make a lot of sense. It happens near the climax of the story, when Beau and Mark are lost in the storm atop majestic but perilous Mt. Rainier. And it does contain some spoilers. But for those who have read the story, this new chapter would come right after chapter thirteen (but before chapter thirteen-and-a-half…would that make it chapter thirteen-and-a-quarter?).
I’m so happy to share it, and so happy to spend a little more time with valiant Beau. And I’m especially happy to share it here at Nerdy Book Club, a community I am so continually impressed by and grateful for.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Honest Truth: Beau’s Chapter
I have to save him. I have to save him.
That’s all I know.
He’s my boy. He is mine and he is me and I have to – have to – save him.
Because I know, deep and true and real, that he needs saving. My boy is still. He’s frozen like winter mornings. I can tell, I can feel, that soon he’ll be all still, and all cold, and never moving again, and then gone. No! I’ll go!
I have to.
I give him one last lick, there in that dark little hole he crawled into, that tiny icy space out of the wind. I whine into his face and he still doesn’t move and I know it’s time to go. It kills me to leave him. I circle once, I circle twice, tight and desperate and scared. But I know I have to go. To save him.
I’ll go back. All the way. I’ll go down. I’ll jump anything. I’ll face anything and everything with my biggest bark, my meanest growl, my hardest bite. I will never, ever stop. That boy is my boy and he is every beat of my heart.
But: cold, cold, cold.
It’s almost all my body feels. Cold.
It’s cold that turns my paws numb, turns all my muscles to shivers, turns my breaths to sharp icy stabs in my throat. In my ears is nothing but the terrible wind screaming, and my own whining. I whine with every step and I don’t even mean to. It just comes from me, like my coughing breaths and my painful panting. I whine and I cough and I pant and I walk down through snow and through wind and darkness and through all this cold because of this one thing: I love my boy.
There is nothing on this mountain, nothing in this snow, nothing in this world like my love for that boy. Nothing.
He is my hero.
I stumble, my paws stiff from the cold. I fall and my face gets buried in the snow. I shake my head and blow it out of my nose with a fierce breath. I look back; my boy is already lost in the swirling wind, already gone. I whine louder, on purpose this time. My feet race faster, taking me down this steep slope that we worked so hard to climb. It is hard to run with such tired legs, such icy paws, in such deep snow – but I run anyway, searching for speed. I can run, for him. For him, I can almost fly.
But, there: the smell. That dark, deep, dead smell. It smells like nothing, except maybe cold. And then, the sound of it. The sound of the wind whistling over the top, dipping down a bit and moaning.
The great black hole that almost swallowed me on our way up. The hole that my boy almost walked right into before I stopped him. Somehow he didn’t smell it, didn’t hear it, and nearly stumbled right into its toothless waiting mouth.
I slow down, sniffing and blinking. There. There it is. I whine. Dance my feet. Inch up to the edge of it. It howls, the black crack. The wind is its breath and it howls at me. I shrink back, one step, then two. It squeezed me, earlier. Held me in its jaws of ice, and squeezed until I could hardly breathe. Another step back, shaking my head. My whine grows louder but it is drowned in the roar of the wind, the howl of the hole. I remember the feeling of sliding down, of being swallowed, of looking up at the world going away forever. Such fear. Terror! Another step backward, away.
But: my boy. He’s the one who pulled me back. Who brought me back up. He saved me. He reached down into the darkness and pulled me out and hugged me tight. And he is in darkness now, right now, with only me to save him. Only me!
A step forward, then another, then two more. Right back to the edge.
I feel the whine rising inside me and I tighten it down, harden it into a growl, strong in my throat, and then I feel the fire in my chest and I let it out as a bark. A brave bark, hard and rough with teeth and claws in it. I bark right into that howling black hole. Because it does not get me. And it does not get my boy.
The gap is wide here; too wide. I shift from foot to foot, pump my leg muscles, but I know I can not make it. Not now, after this night.
There is no time to wait.
I turn and walk down, down along the crack. My walk becomes a jog, then a run again, down the snowy slope. My eyes stay on the crack. It gets a little wider, a little narrower, wider again. I run, looking for my chance, hating every step that is not in the direction I need to go.
And then: the crack is gone. To my side is only snow, smooth and unbroken. I stop, blink, shake my head. The terrible crack is gone.
I look back the way I came: there is the crack, jagged and black. I look farther ahead, the way I was going, and see it again, just a little ways away. But here: nothing. The snow extends straight across, like a bridge.
Even in all that storm, my tail wags. My ears perk up. I step forward onto the snow. One step. Another. My paw lifts for another step – and then the world falls away beneath me.
My front paws break through the snow into nothingness. My body lurches forward. I yelp and pull back but feel myself falling. The crack has reappeared to snap me up, the snow I was walking across tumbling down into the blackness, an evil trick.
In that one awful half-breath of a moment as I begin to fall I scoot back, sliding desperately backward with every last bit of anything I have in me. My front paws swing down against the sheer side of the crack and I stick, my head down in the hole and my rear still up in the wind.
I hang, unmoving, unbreathing; not falling, but not not falling. Stuck. Half in the world. Half on the way out. Ahead of me is only blackness, only nothing, only down. I whine and it echoes on walls of ice, eerie and thin.
I try, carefully, to inch my front paws up the ice wall. But the movement only makes me slide farther down. Another inch and this terrible balance will be lost; I’ll tumble headfirst down
I raise my head. The other side is far. Farther than I’d want to try.
But: I don’t get a choice. I know that. Any moment my front paws will slip and I will be gone. I have to either jump across, or fall down.
I ready my back legs. Gather any strength I have left. Tighten my muscles. Take a shaky breath, hold it. Lock my eye on that far edge, half a body’s length away and a bit above my head.
And: I go.
I push off the ice wall and let loose all the fear and tension in my muscles and leap forward, springing in a scrambling dive toward the other side.
A moment: silent, slow, soundless. The other side surges toward me. I’m flying out, and up. Away, and over.
My front paws just make it high enough, clipping the edge as they skim over it. My belly, too, scrapes the snow and I slide, my back half dangling for only a second before I get one and then both back legs up and then stutter forward, shaking and shaky.
But: I’m there. The hole is behind me. Ahead of me: only a downhill run. I shake my whole body like I just had a bath.
And then I’m off.
I care nothing for the stumbles, for my senseless paws, for the shivers that almost knock me down. I run! I run and I run and I run. I run for my boy.
The wind is behind me now, going my way, helping me down the mountain. I trip, I roll and tumble, I flounder . . . but without a beat I am back to running.
I don’t even feel cold anymore.
I don’t feel anything.
Until: I do.
My run slows to a jog, then a walk. My feet stick in the snow. I work with each step to raise them, to pull them up out of the snow. Clumps of ice, hard and hurting, have formed on the fur between my toes. I stop to chew at them, try and work them out. But they are hard and my mouth is dry.
I lay a moment, panting. Shivers shake my body like boot-footed kicks.
I squint ahead: snow. Night. Storm. Lights.
I close my eyes. Open them.
Two little lights, flickering ahead of me. Bobbing. Flitting. Flashing, then disappearing, then flashing again. I struggle to my feet.
The two little lights become three. They float closer. I take a shuddering step toward them. And another.
I hear: voices. Voices? No. Just wind. Just – no. Voices. A shout. A call.
Two more fast steps forward, three more, four running bounds.
The three lights become four, then the lights grow shadows. Shadows that stretch down to the ground. Shadows that gain size and shape and become bodies, bodies thick with coats and snowsuits, bodies of people walking up through the storm, bodies wearing round lights on their foreheads, lights that all turn toward me when I bark once, bark again, bark and bark and bark and bark and run and run and run and the bodies run, too, up toward me.
Hands, then: hands rubbing and petting me, hands scratching my ears, hands pulling at the ice that covers my paws.
And voices: voices that talk and shout and cheer, voices that say my name and ask questions I don’t understand but also say, again and again, one word I do understand: Mark.
My boy. They know my boy. They want my boy. They can help my boy.
The lights flash in my eyes and the hands try to pick me up but I wiggle away, slip from their fingers, stumble away on my ice-block feet.
Back. Back up the mountain. I look over my shoulder and bark and they are following me. Calling my name, calling me back, but following. They will follow me and I will take them there. I will take them to him.
Up and up and up and up. There are no legs, there is no cold, there is only: up. Up, and my boy. Up, and my boy, and the people who follow me.
It does not matter that there is no smell to follow. It does not matter that there are no tracks to see. It does not matter that all the snow looks the same in every dark direction. I can feel my boy up ahead; I can feel my boy deep inside me, feel his heartbeat, feel his voice. I can feel him like a rope stretches taut between us. I follow that heartbeat, that voice, that rope up through storm and shadow. I will lead these people to my boy and I will save him.
And, there, ahead: the crack. I growl. I growl as I run and I don’t slow for one single step. I do not look for a narrower spot. I do not stutter, I do not dance. I do not think of how twice this death has tried to drag me down into it.
Because: my boy. I can still run, with dead paws, for him. For him, I can fly.
The crack comes closer, closer, closer. Five steps away, four. Three, two, one . . . and I am flying, the blackness hungry below me but my eyes are only ahead, my heart only on my boy, and then I am on the other side, all four paws, and I am running again.
I look back, see the people stopped. They turn, they talk. I bark and they nod, they wave, they shout my name. Ropes are pulled from packs, there is tying and readying. I circle, I pace, I run ahead then double back. I bark, I whine.
One by one they come over. Careful. It is smart. It is safe. But it is slow. I bark, I whine.
My boy, up ahead, is fading. He is going away.
My own heart, my own beating life, is fading. It is going away, too. My legs are almost gone. My body is wobbly, it is weak, it is almost empty. We need to go. We need to go now. Before I am gone. Before my boy is gone.
Then they are over and they are following me again. I spin and bark and run again and up we go, up and up.
The little hollow, the little space, the little cave. I stumble, I stagger, I scramble. I don’t look back anymore, don’t waste a breath on barking, don’t waste a bit of anything on turning my head.
My boy. My boy. My boy. My boy!
He’s there. I’m there. I’m here.
I crawl up to him, up onto him, up onto his chest.
I can feel, just barely, just barely, the rise and fall of his breath.
I wiggle up to lick his face. I lick his cold face with my dry tongue. My boy.
I shiver, I shiver, I shiver.
But: it’s all right. I’m here.
Behind me: voices. Lights.
They followed me.
They shout, they talk, they yell. Hands poke at my boy, pull at him. There are blankets, there are questions. My boy does not answer. He does not wake. He does not lift his hand to scratch behind my ears. The voices are afraid. I can hear it. I can feel it.
But: it’s all right. I’m here.
They pull at me, gentle but strong. But there is no moving me. Not from my boy. My boy, who I love.
I can feel it: I might be out of breaths. Out of heartbeats. Out of shivers. I may be going away. Fading.
But: it’s all right. I’m here.
There is jostling, there is moving. We are lifted up, my boy and me. We are wrapped up. We are raised. Together. We slide and bump and jerk and I don’t know if we are going down or going up or if this is all dark dreams and I am gone.
But it’s all right. I’m here.
I’m right where I have to be. Right where I should be.
I am with my boy. I am with my boy.
I am with my boy.
I saved him.
Dan Gemeinhart is a proud K-5 teacher-librarian and the father of three wonderful book-crazy daughters. He’s also the author of THE HONEST TRUTH (2015) and SOME KIND OF COURAGE (January 2016).