James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, Donald McCaig’s Nop’s Trials, W. Phillip Keller’s Lessons from a Sheepdog, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Steven King’s Cujo.
They all gave us memorable “characters,” ones we can cherish — well, all but Cujo. Bad dog. Bad dog!
So I decided to back through my novels and introduce you to my favorite four-legged characters: Kat Cardova’s border collie, Tuck; Francis Asbury’s favorite horse, Spark; and Max Braxton’s, well let’s just call him by his name, Thunder, a rodeo bull.
Then I want you to tell me of all the books you’ve read what is your favorite fictional creature?
Here are my own entries.
- Thunder, an appropriate name for a bull bent on destroying any who would dare straddle his back. “Crusher” or “Gravedigger” would also be apropos. Here’s a scene from the upcoming Operation Jeremiah’s Jar:
Max decided to turn Bridges’s request [to walk the night streets in a dangerous Arab neighborhood] into a personal dare as well as a professional necessity. He remembered being tossed off a bull once when he’d competed in youth rodeo in Dallas-Ft. Worth. He’d landed hard on his right collarbone. His first thought had been whether he’d be able to shift the gear stick on his dad’s F-150. His second was of the bull—Thunder, they called him.
Later, his right arm in a sling, Max had walked to the barn where the bulls were penned. He’d found Thunder, stalked to his pen, and looked him in the eye. The encounter began as a stare down. The top rodeo bulls are the ones with red in their eyes, snarl in their mouths, and “kill” in their hearts. Thunder possessed all of these.
As Max peered at his foe, he realized Thunder had been provoked to anger since he was born. The bull knew nothing else. Indeed, rage was his reason to live.
- The tenacious, brave and protective, forgiving and dedicated Tuck in these two scenes from the Thrill of the Hunt Series — the first from Chasing the Music and the second from The Three Sixes:
Suddenly, the face of her four-year-old border collie sprang to her mind and Kat blurted out, “I miss Tuck.”
“Tuck who?” Max asked.
“My dog. He’s the smartest and coolest dog in either Hemisphere. He usually serves the role as my protector.”
“So you want to send for him rather than me?” Max grinned.
Kat shrugged. “I just suddenly miss him. He’s always at my side—in the classroom, in my apartment, out and about everywhere.”
“But not here [Israel].”
“The quarantine period’s too long.”
“He’s smarter than some people I know.”
“I do not jest. He is,” she said.
“You’re saying Tuck could be a librarian?”
Kat reached over and smacked his hand. “Easily—and I miss him.”
“So, if he’s as smart as you say, phone him up.” Max chuckled. “Where is he?”
“He’s staying with a friend, Alice, back in the States.”
“So call Alice, find out how Tuck’s doing and ask to speak to him.”
He was joshing with her now and, darn it, she’d show him a thing or two about Tuck.
Kat checked her watch and dialed…
What Max heard was Kat’s end of the phone conversation.
“Yes, it’s Kat.”
“Well, I’m fine, but my friend Danny Arens was shot yesterday morning and lies in the hospital unconscious and fighting for his life.”
“Yes, right at his dig site.”
“We’re pretty sure it was Islamic terrorists.”
“No, I’m okay. We weren’t there.”
“Oh—‘we’ because I’m with a new friend. Max.”
“Not sure, but we think because Danny stumbled onto something they don’t want known.”
“I’ll write you an e-mail filling you in. I just wanted to see how Tuck is doing.”
“Really? To their school?”
“No. No, I don’t think he’s ever been a ‘show-and-tell’ before.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. I think he knows half of what I say. I have to spell some words and he’s figured them out, so I go to the Thesaurus and find another word to spell—”
“You, too? I should have mentioned.”
“Yes, you, Bill and the kids will figure it out.”
“Can I speak to him?
Kat looked at Max and said, “You remember that old TV show ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th-grader?’ Well, I think Tuck is.”
Max laughed. “Of course.”
Kat held up her hand for silence. “Tuck?”
“Tuck, it’s Mommy.”
A bark. Two barks.
“I’m sorry, but I’ll be gone longer than expected.”
“I’ll bring you a gift.”
A low growl.
“You don’t want a gift?”
“Then I’ll just bring me.”
Kat looked at Max. “That’s my boy.”
Max chuckled. “And a lucky boy at that.”
Kat slapped his arm.
“Tuck, I love you. Be a good boy.”
And from The Three Sixes:
Max looked [Tuck] over. Appropriate. A stunning dog for a stunning lady.
“Tuck,” Kat said, “meet Max, the man I’ve been telling you about.”
Max kneeled down and extended his hand. Tuck met it with his paw and they shook.
“Handsome boy,” he said.
Tuck smiled. The dog smiled!
“He’s better than good-looking,” Kat said. “He’s my protector, best friend—well, second-best—and he’s a bit smarter than some high-school graduates I’ve met.”
- Spark, an Arabian stallion of whom Bishop Asbury said, “He’s been the altar at which I pray; the pulpit at which I preach; the pillow on which I lay my head at night. And, with God’s help, Spark has saved my life.” Indeed, Spark saved Francis out of trouble when chased by Indians, wolves and, in this case, highwaymen in the southern Maine woods:
Francis would need more than skill on his horse today. Even Spark couldn’t outrun a bullet.
He lifted a prayer toward the heavens. “Lord, quicken our step.”
The path was barely two yards wide, an old Indian trail not wide enough for a carriage or wagon to pass—a shortcut he had used before. Francis turned to look behind him. Dark silhouettes on horseback rode in chase, probably a hundred yards away, visible only in the shafts of light flickering between the shadows of the trees. Two, maybe three that he could see. No. There was a fourth, to his left—probably the one who had fired the shot.
Francis turned to look forward. A branch! He ducked just in time, and reached to catch hold of his hat as the limb nearly snapped it off his head. Spark, sure-footed through years of riding narrow trails in the dark of night, avoiding roots that stuck out of the ground, shouldered around a turn in the path as if he knew to tighten the turns to shorten the distance he must run.
Behind them, men were shouting directions to one another. Cursing. Other, muffled words he could not understand. Did these men know of a shortcut, through a field perhaps, to get in front of him?
“Lord, guide our path!” Francis called, thinking his creaking joints were too aged for a dash through the thick woods.
As he rode on, his senses heightened. He heard the sound of the leather saddle creaking beneath him, felt the lungs of his horse expand and contract, smelled the sweat that glistened on the great stallion’s neck. He looked for a landmark. He had been so absorbed in his reading that he hadn’t known precisely where he was. Somewhere approaching Scarborough—near the meeting hall at Massacre Pond, where most of the townspeople had been slaughtered by hostile Indians more than one hundred years before, back in the 1690s. The salt marshes and ocean would be somewhere, not far, eastward to his right.
Another shot rang out, and another, one bullet snapping through a branch just a yard or two to Francis’ right. A shiver of fright flew down his spine.
“Giddya!” he hollered, and Spark seemed to stretch out his stride and drop lower to the ground. Francis pulled his hat down to his ears. Yes, he knew this path! There was Dunstan’s Brook up ahead. Putting his right hand to Spark’s neck, he spoke into his ear, “Don’t slow down at the water, boy. Fire right through it!”
As if understanding every word, the horse leaped into the fifteen-yard-wide stream, causing Francis to hold on for dear life, and plowed fiercely through the quickly flowing water. Asbury prayed that they would get to the other side before the highwaymen reached it. If not, he was a dead man.
Another shot sounded and a bullet hit the water beside him with a muffled thud.
“Too many souls still to reach, Lord!” he called out. “Protect Your child!”
A verse from a Psalm flashed before him—“May the Lord fulfill your purpose”—and he called again to the heavens, “Lord, my purpose isn’t fulfilled yet!”
Suddenly, as if sprung from a jack-in-the-box, Spark and Francis bounded out of the stream. Springing to the top of the four-foot-high stream bank, Spark bent into a turn in the path, entering a thick grove of balsam fur trees. Francis knew he was only a quarter of a mile or so from the village at that point. He heard loud cursing behind him; the rogues must have reached the stream.
Then, from his right another gunshot rang out. This time the bullet crackled through branches overhead. The rifle sights must be off, Francis thought with a strained smile. He lay prostrate along Spark’s back and settled his head to the left of the horse’s grand neck.
Francis refrained from digging in his heels. He and his horse were of one mind. He was sure of that. Speed to safety. Speed. Safety. His senses now fully awakened, he didn’t feel his sixty-four years of age at all. He simply felt he had to hang on now. A moment later, they dashed out of the woods and into an open field that led into the village of Scarborough some two hundred yards away.
Still surging toward the town, he leaned down to Spark’s ear and cooed, “You’re the best, Spark. I’ve loved all my horses, but you’re the brightest and the best.” Thinking of the close call he had just escaped, he laughed and added aloud, “And the fastest.”
So, these are my own three favorites — keeping in mind that authors should be careful not to cross the line and make an animal human. Man alone is created in God’s image.
Tell me, what (make that “who”) are your favorite fictional animals?