Crazy James and Barking Mad


ago
3 min
54
readings
3

Jenny Moore is a freelance writer and children’s author from Devon. She was the first ever UK winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and was shortlisted for the Greenhouse Funny Prize  [+]

Image of Short Circuit #07

© Short Édition - All Rights Reserved

Some Bright Spark tells Crazy James the dog will make his fortune. Says the mutt can smell buried treasure like a pig snuffling out truffles. Of course, James doesn't know the first thing about truffles—or pigs—but he pays up, anyway—swaps ten half-day sleeping credits at the underground shift shelter for the dog of his dreams. Just because he's crazy doesn't mean he can't tell a good deal when he sees one. Who wouldn't exchange sixty hours of recycled air and a pull-out sleep drawer for a world of waiting treasure and a beautiful hound to share it with? Oh yes, he's a beauty all right, from his cloudy white eye to his three legs and clotted tail stump. But it's his powerful bark that James loves best: raw and booming like the shudder-rush of the overhead freight rail, thundering into his dreams like canine music.
By morning, the dog's fallen silent, surveying James with his one good eye as he licks his master's chin.
"What is it, feller?" James asks, his legs, cold and cramped from his night on the civic exercise track. Gone are the benches and shop doorways he remembers from his childhood. No room for such luxuries in the city anymore.
The dog licks his chin a second time, whimpering softly.
"Have you got the scent?" James asks, taking a third lick as an indisputable yes. "Attaboy. Off we go then."
The City Nature Garden isn't quite as grand as its name suggests: a token strip of land sandwiched between the high-rise school and the private hospital. It's wild and scrubby and overrun by rats, just like everywhere else. But there's grass and trees—proper living ones with real leaves—and the rare butterflies flitting across the buttercups are more beautiful than any of the medicinal artwork adorning the hospital behind. The dog's in his element now, bounding off through the tangled undergrowth with another mad round of barking. Either that's a rat he's caught, or the scent of treasure.
It's hard, curious work digging without a spade. Who knew there were so many creatures lurking under the soil? But James is nothing if not determined. By early afternoon there are seventeen holes dotted across the Nature Garden, and seventeen matching towers of earth. The little birds are having a field day, pecking out worms as if they're going out of fashion. There's still no sign of the promised treasure, though.
"Come on boy," says James. "It must be here somewhere."
Unless this is Some Bright Spark's idea of a joke . . .
The dog barks and wags its stump, pawing at the ground with his single front leg—no easy feat, even for a canine wonderbeast like him.
By five o'clock there are twenty-six holes. James is tiring now. Hunger crouches sniper-like in his stomach, firing pangs up through his belly with increasing regularity. He and the dog haven't eaten all day.
"Perhaps we should give it a rest for now, boy," he suggests. "Try again tomorrow."
The dog growls.
"But I'm hungry," argues James. "Aren't you hungry, boy?" His thoughts turn briefly to the spiced tomato soup at the underground shift shelter; to the comfort of a white-sheeted bed drawer. And then he remembers handing over all his credits to Some Bright Spark in return for the dog. But what a dog he is, treasure or no treasure. What a beast.
"Okay, boy. Last try. This is the big one, eh?"
The dog barks, and James musters up what's left of his strength, tearing up another rough clump of grass and digging down into the warm soil beneath.
"How much farther, do you think?" he asks, eyeing the fresh tower of earth next to his knees. But the dog just barks. And barks.
By the time James's nails snag on something hard and solid, the dog's barking so loud he's fit to burst.
The treasure—when James finally works it free—isn't exactly what he had in mind. He was hoping for a wooden pirate chest like the one in Treasure Island, his all-time favourite upload at the city library. He was hoping for rusted metal hinges and a whiff of the ocean—the old, wild ocean that is, not the poor tamed beast trickling through the Energy Board's complex tunnel system. He was hoping for a glittering gold hoard. But the dog doesn't care, and why would he? Treasure is treasure. He wags his stump and howls, drool dribbling off the end of his beard like liquid happiness.
"Well done, boy," says Crazy James, holding up their muddied find to show him. "We did it." He wipes the soil off on his trousers and examines the phone more closely. It's like something out of End of an Era, his second favourite library upload of all time. He especially likes the bit at the end where everyone wakes up from staring at their little screens and realises what they've been missing out on. Phones have been gone a good fifty years now in real life, melted down to use in early air processing units and medical equipment. Which is why collectors will pay good money for such a well-preserved one as this.
"We're rich, boy," says James, holding it up to his ear like they do in the film. Rich enough for a whole month's sleeping credits at the underground shift shelter. Full-day shifts, even, if he wants them. Rich enough to buy that cat Some Bright Spark was telling him about. The one that picks the winning lottery numbers.
3

A few words for the author? Comment below. 0 comments

Take a look at our advice on commenting here

To post comments, please

You might also like…

Short Fiction

Just A Fish

A.M. Dodds-Wade

We spent hours at the store. Allison examined each animal one by one. She studied their movements, their noises and their smells. She looked at their feathers, spots, fur patterns, and colors. She... [+]

Short Fiction

The Night Library

E. E. King

I heard it before I saw it, a jingling of bells like the soundtrack to a corny Christmas movie. Then out of the mist rolled a small carriage, round and bright as a converted pumpkin. Florescent... [+]