Well… there was nothing that Alba
liked better than to wander the
fields behind Uncle Harold’s barn.
They called them the flats because … well,
they were flat. Table tops of rocks jutted
through the surface of the soil making the
land lousy for trying to grow crops but great
for exploring. Alba would search for
salamanders and frogs and explore the
abandoned barns and chicken houses in the
surrounding area. This weekend she was
alone because Penny and Aunt Helen were
at an art gallery with her parents. Alba had
decided to stay behind with Uncle Harold
who was finishing up making his famous
pickles with a recipe he got from the
Internet. Alba had no idea why he got
recipes off the Internet because he always
changed them anyway. It didn’t matter how
good they sounded, Uncle Harold had to
give each recipe his own original touch.
“Hot peppers,” mused Uncle Harold. “I
think I’ll double the amount. I think a little
more spiciness would make it a lot better.”
There were an awful lot of jars from Uncle
Harold’s recipes in the back shed untouched
by human tongues.
Today, Alba had been given one of these bottles by Uncle
Harold for her lunch. She also had strict instructions from
her mother and Aunt Helen not to eat any of it.
“Don’t hurt your Uncle’s feelings, but whatever you do,
don’t eat the pickles” whispered Aunt Helen.
When everyone had left, Alba got her stuff together and
took off across the creek where they dug clay for
pottery and then climbed up the embankment to the old
Hollinger farm. Most of the farms were now sold and
the new owners were waiting for the land to be rezoned
so that they could put up houses or sell it for industrial
land. No one farmed any longer except for Uncle
Alba noiselessly slipped through a crack in the barn
door and adjusted her eyes to the darkness within.
There were streams of light pouring through the board
siding and lighting up the hay dust as it filled the barn
like bubbles in a shaken pop. Alba always sensed danger
and adventure whenever she came here. Each floor
board squeaked under foot and mice scurried from one
hole to another. There were old harnesses from the
cattle teams that used to plow the fields. Rusty farm
combines were covered in cobwebs. But today there
was something different as well. There were signs of
things being pulled on the floor and the straw was all
going in the same direction. There were also truck tire
tracks that had deeply rutted the approach to the barn.
Someone had been here since last week and this was the
first time that Alba had noticed anything different about
the barn in three years. She ducked behind a bale of hay
because something in the air didn’t seem right. She
slowly felt her way around in the semi darkness until her
foot hit a milk pail. She heard a growl. This wasn’t the
growl of something friendly, this was the growl that said
“Don’t come a step closer or else I’ll attack.” Slowly
turning around, Alba faced the direction the noise was
coming from and was surprised to see a dog and six
new-born pups on the barn floor. They were golden
brown with floppy ears and legs that wobbled like jelly.
Alba wasn’t allowed a dog at home because her dad
was allergic to them but she had spent hours watching
them in the pet store window at the mall and playing
with Uncle Harold’s dog “Wonder.” Alba wasn’t
surprised that the mother was so fierce. She was
protective of her pups. Just as Alba was kneeling down
to try to get a better look at the dogs she heard voices .
“Now get rid of those stupid dogs before they give us
away” said someone on the far side of the bales of hay.
“I’m not going to all the trouble of stealing these engine
prototypes and have a dog ruin our pay day. Who
would have thought that a racing car company would
spend so much money to see the new engine of their
rival before the big race?”
“But Frank, I want as much money as you do but these
pups can’t be moved until they’re older.”
“Listen Petey, it’s either you or them that I’m gonna
move so you’d better make up your mind pretty quick.
We’re gonna be here for a couple of days so I don’t
care how you do it. Just get rid of them!”
This made Alba furious and she had to do something.
When Petey came up to the dogs, Alba stayed hidden
behind a bale of hay and planned her attack. She was
going to jump Petey until she saw him. He was huge.
Alba would have no chance of even tripping him. The
mother dog growled at Petey but couldn’t do anything
as he grabbed the two biggest pups and started to haul
them away. This was too much for Alba. Danger or no
danger, hurting these dogs was wrong. She ran out from
behind the hay, jumped on Petey’s back and threw the pail
over his head so he couldn’t see where he was going.
Surprised, Petey dropped the pups. Fortunately they
landed in the soft hay on the floor. Petey twirled round and
round like a wrestler doing a flying windmill move until he
stepped on an old rake and clunked himself in the head like
in one of those old Three Stooges TV shows. It would
have been funny except that Alba knew there was no way
she would get away with this. Within seconds, she had to
let go and went flying through the air, landing in a
somersault in a dark and smelly horse stall. Every muscle in
her body ached and when she looked up she was staring at
the most menacing eyes she had ever seen. She was in
bigger trouble than she had ever been in before and even
though this would make it a record for fear, she didn’t feel
much like celebrating. Alba looked around and noticed that
the two pups had found their way back to their mother. The
mother dog was licking her babies while keeping a careful
eye on the robbers.
“Drat,” muttered Petey. “Now we’ve got real trouble
After Petey locked Alba in the horse stall with a nearby
padlock, she heard Frank, the leader growl “We’ll wait
’til dark and then have to get out of here. We’ll have to
speed up our exit and keep an eye out for anyone else.
It won’t be long before people start to search for the
kid. And for cryin’ out loud keep that key to the padlock
with you at all times.”
Alba was glad they thought people would be searching
for her soon but she knew that she was often gone until
dark and that Uncle Harold had no idea where she was.
Through the thick slats of the horse stall she could see
that she had no way to get out and that her kidnappers
were sitting down at a packing crate across the barn. Alba
suspected that the men had the engine prototype in the
crate all ready to sell to the dishonest racing car company.
The men had spread their lunch out on the table and the
leader was cutting Polish sausage into thin slices with his
sharp, gleaming hunting knife. Petey complained that he
was still hungry.
“Stop complaining,” scolded Frank. “Go check on the kid
and the dogs.”
The animals all growled at him as he walked by and he
gave a swift kick in their direction to silence them. He
approached Alba’s stall and peered in and said “Well,
what have you got in the bag with you kid?”
He opened up the padlock with a key on a big key ring
that he pulled from his pocket. Petey reached in and
said, “Let’s take a look.”
He reached down, snatched Alba’s knapsack, and
locked the stall as he exited.
“Hey look boss, more lunch” he said as he crossed back
to the crate, rummaging around in the bag. “Sandwiches,
muffins, juice and homemade preserves. Man this looks
delicious. Don’t mind if l do little girl. You won’t be
needing food anymore.”
A chill went up Alba’s spine. Was this the end of her
adventures? She was scared but she was also angry
because of the way that she and the animals were being
treated. But this time she knew she had to control her
anger because the last time it got her into big trouble.
The men greedily ripped into Alba’s lunch and fought
over who would get the sandwiches. Alba could hardly
believe how immature they were acting. In their
struggle, though, the ring of keys fell out of Petey’s
pocket and thunked softly to the floor.
“Boy, could I ever use that key,” thought Alba but there
was no way she could reach it. It was all the way across
the barn. She dropped her head in dismay and then looked
at the pups. One of them stared back at Alba with a look
full of intelligence and mischief. It was as if Alba’s act of
bravery had created a real bond between her and the
Alba thought, “This is crazy. These are only pups. How
could they help me?”
Without a word from Alba, the brave, adventurous pup
sneaked out of the hay bale and crept across the floor
towards the crate where the men were still arguing. The
pup kept low to the ground and stayed in the shadows.
How could he ever cross the open floor behind the men
without being seen? Alba knew that would be
impossible without a diversion and the men wouldn’t
stand for any interference from the dogs. As soon as the
pup started to crawl out into the open Alba started her
best coughing fit. This was sometimes useful when she
didn’t want to go to school or practise the piano. lt
certainly attracted the attention of the two men who
raced over and shouted at her to shut up. The other
dogs growled as the men approached but they were
frightened by the boots of the men. While this was
happening, however, the brave commando dog reached
the key ring, grabbed it in his mouth and started back
into the shadows for the return route. In what seemed
like an eternity, Alba lost sight of the dog and
concentrated on the men because she knew that sooner
or later they would realize that the keys were missing.
She looked to see whether she needed to make another
diversion. Then something horrible happened and Alba
almost let out a terrified scream. She suddenly felt
something wet on her hand. You can imagine what went
through her mind. Locked in a dark and smelly barn
with something wet crawling up her arm. No chance to
make a run for it. Slimed to death before she turned nine.
But then she heard some soft panting. Her brave puppy
was licking her hands and right beside the puppy were the
keys. Alba kissed the pup right on the nose, grabbed the
keys and slowly, ever so slowly, reached her hands through
the slats of the stall and slipped the key into the padlock.
With a glorious click she could hear the lock open. She
gently slipped it off the hasp. All through this secret
operation, the puppies were watching her closely and
she shook her head to try to stop them from calling
attention to her. As if the mother knew what Alba was
thinking, the mother dog started distracting her pups by
playing with them again. They all growled in mock play
fights with each other.
“Shut up dogs if you know what’s good for you,” yelled
Alba now knew that the most difficult time had arrived.
She knew that she would have to plot the escape for
herself and the dogs. If only Uncle Harold were here,
he’d think of something. Alba pondered her plight and
looked at the men. She saw them greedily eating her
lunch at the table and then it dawned on her. Uncle
Harold was there in the form of his killer pickle relish. It
was the relish that tasted fine at first but could burn you
badly if you had too much. The recipe had called for
three tablespoons of hot pepper and he had somehow
miscounted so that there must have been three times as
much hot pepper in it as necessary.
“Hey what are you looking at kid” mocked the leader.
“Yeah, haven’t you ever seen anyone eat before,”
laughed Petey with his mouth full of Alba’s egg salad
sandwich. “Hey kid, do you like sea food?” He opened
his mouth wide and said “see food” and then laughed
Alba thought that was the oldest joke in the world but she
got up her courage and said, “I wish I had some of my
uncle’s delicious relish. I’m starving.”
Now we all know she really didn’t want the relish but
instead wanted to remind the men that they hadn’t
started it yet. It was a calculated risk calling attention to
herself because she knew the lock was off the stall even
though the door was still shut tight. She had been trying to
act as if nothing was different but she was counting on
the greed of the robbers to keep the relish to themselves
and to eat it quickly before the effects of the hot peppers
kicked in. And Alba wasn’t disappointed. Frank and
Petey didn’t even eat the relish with a spoon, they just
drank it straight from the bottle. With a knowing look
and a faint whistle towards the animals, Alba swung the
door of the stall open and ran to the puppies. She picked
up the two runts of the litter as the other dogs dove
through a hole in the floor down to the old cattle stalls
below. Alba vaulted over bales of hay and crashed
through the bam door that she had entered earlier in the
afternoon. The two startled kidnappers jumped up and
tore after her.
By this time, the moon was starting to come up but it
had been hidden by a dark ominous storm cloud and
Alba tripped on a rock in the semi-darkness and
dropped the dogs. Alba heard the footsteps of the
robbers in hot pursuit.
“Think Alba, think,” she said to herself.
“You get the kid. I’ll finish off the dogs” shouted Frank
“Go with your heart,” Alba thought to herself. “Protect
the dogs. They need you.”
Alba lost precious seconds as she searched the
surrounding area and finally found the two frightened
pups in the bushes. She tucked them into her shirt and
scrambled to her feet just as the robbers came upon her.
Petey was just about to grab her when the strangest
thing happened. The skies started raining dogs. You’ve
heard of it raining cats and dogs, well this time it just
rained dogs. The mother and the other puppies had
followed the men to protect Alba and to reunite the
litter. Puppies flew off rock ledges and dropped from trees.
Woofs and barks filled the still night air. This confusion was
enough to let Alba get a fresh head start but the robbers
were far too big and fast for her. Just as the men started to
catch up with Alba, though, the wonderful effects of Uncle
Harold’s pepper relish started to kick in.
“I can’t breath,” gasped Petey.
“Water” cried Frank and they both collapsed to the
ground in pain, holding their throats.
As you can imagine all of this shouting and commotion
attracted the attention of the search party that was out
looking for Alba and it was only a couple of minutes
before the neighbours had surrounded the robbers and
only five minutes more before Sergeant McGillvray was
at the barn with a backup of three police cars. He
listened incredulously as Alba relayed the story of her
capture and showed them the stolen engines. Everyone
was horrified at how Alba and the puppies had been
treated but everyone laughed at the story of the “too-hot”
relish. Everyone that is except for Uncle Harold who
was a little embarrassed about his cooking and terrified
at the danger that Alba had gone through.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Harold, we can sell your relish to
the police in the fight against crime” chuckled Alba.
“Maybe we could use it as a secret weapon” agreed
This time everyone including Uncle Harold broke into
laughter. When Alba looked down at her feet, she saw the
reunited dog family and it looked like the mother dog and
her pups were also snickering. Alba reached down and
patted them all. It was too bad that her dad was allergic to
animals. Well, maybe it was a good thing. They were all so
beautiful, she wouldn’t have been able to choose just one
Uncle Harold kneeled down beside Alba and put his
arm around her shoulder.
“Looks like you’ve found yourself some friends for life,” he
said. “If we can’t find who owns them, they can come live
over at my barn. That way you can see them anytime you
want. Only next time you come, promise me you’ll let
me know where you’re going on your adventure.”
Alba knew that Uncle Harold was right. He didn’t want to
stop her from having adventures. He just wanted to make
sure that they were safe ones.