“Excuse me, miss. I’ve finished my adventure, and I’d like to go home now.”

They were small words, and Franny Reston was surprised to hear them coming from the even smaller puppy blocking her way along the sidewalk.

She shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, it is common knowledge that puppies simply cannot say no to an adventure—what isn’t so commonly known is the source of this stubbornness.

Now, experts have debated this matter for years. Some blame it on a lingering primordial canine assertion of dominance. Others, on an innate biological instinct to spread urine samples as far and wide as four paws and a full bladder can manage. A rare few have had the audacity to suggest that this unique character trait may be due to a lack of a sufficient understanding of the human language which, consequently, inhibits a puppy’s ability to say the word “no.”

This is, of course, an absurd notion.

Nevertheless, the real reason that puppies can’t say no to an adventure is so blindingly simple and so utterly unpretentious and uncomplicated and unassuming, that humanity will likely never quite understand.

And despite her best efforts, Franny just so happened to be a member of said humanity.

“Are you talking to me?” she asked.

“Yes,” the puppy replied. “I said I’ve finished my adventure, and I’d like to go home now.”

“OK. Well, good luck with that.”

The puppy scooted its way in front of Franny just as she went to take another step.

“But I need you to bring me home.”

Franny stopped again. “Wait a second. How does this involve me?”

The puppy gave her a funny look. “Because I want to go home,” it said a bit too matter-of-factly for Franny’s tastes.

She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Yeah. I get that part. But, why me?”

“Because we’re both here.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “Sure. And where exactly is home?”

“Home is where I love,” its tail wagging at the notion.

“No. God. Stop that. I mean physically. Where is your home physically located?”

“Oh.” The puppy looked over its right shoulder. And its left. And then back towards Franny. “I don’t know.”

Franny shrugged. “Then you’re shit out of luck dude. I don’t know where you live either.”

For a second, Franny thought her words had somehow broken the puppy.

It started to malfunction. Its tail curled between its legs, a tear welled up in its eye, a whimper squeaked its way out of the back of its throat.

It was a pathetic sort of whimper too. Which was very, very unfortunate for Franny. Because, as everybody knows, equally as baffling as a puppy’s propensity for adventure, is a human’s susceptibility to a puppy’s whimper.

Especially the pathetic sort.

Franny threw her hands up.  “Jesus. Alright. Fine. Stop crying. I’ll help you. Just never do that. Like, ever again.”

The puppy wiped its eyes with a paw. “Thank you!”

Franny let go yet another sigh.

Too many sighs, really, for one afternoon.

Sure. On the one hand, she was glad that the whimpering had stopped. But, she was less than thrilled about the whole disruption in general. This was not the way she had pictured herself spending the waning hours of her afternoon. Granted, she hadn’t necessarily pictured herself spending those hours in any particular way. But if she had, this would certainly not have been one of them. That was for sure.

No matter.

She surveyed the area. If there was any consolation in this whole ordeal, she figured, at least it wasn’t so large a neighborhood. And with those stubby little legs, there was no way the puppy could have wandered off too far.

It was something, Franny figured. They may not know where home was, but at least it wasn’t so far away.

Franny thought for a moment, and then pointed down the sidewalk. “You were walking this way, right?”

“Yeah,” the puppy nodded.

She pointed towards the opposite direction. “Which means you were walking from that way, right?”

“That sounds right.”

“So…” Franny floated the idea.

“So?” It nodded along.

She sighed. “So, that means that your home is probably that way.”

The puppy smiled. “I knew you’d be able to help me.”

And so, they walked.

The puppy trotted alongside Franny, the nails of its paws pittering and pattering against the cement of the sidewalk. A warm breeze rustled the heavy tree branches above and rays of sunshine danced with the shadows around them. Afternoon lazily cozied its way down towards dusk.

“I can’t wait to see home again,” the puppy said. “It’s great there. There’s a fire hydrant out front to sniff and all of these great other smells and also this big grassy area out back and my humans love to give me belly rubs and treats.” The puppy looked up towards Franny. “I think the belly rubs are my favorite,” it added.

“Sounds wonderful,” Franny replied. She scaned the houses around her as they walked through the neighbourhood.

“It’s the best.”

“I bet.”

“I can’t wait to get back.”

“It’s a wonder why you’d ever even leave.”

The puppy crooked its ear. “What do you mean?”

“What?” Franny looked down. “Oh. I don’t know. I mean. If you love your home so much, why would you ever even leave? Sounds like you’d just want to stay there.”

“I don’t understand,” the puppy said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

They walked some more. A car drove by, the sound of its engine rising and falling before disappearing back into the nothingness of the evening.

“Don’t you ever like to leave home?” The puppy asked.

Franny scoffed. “Yeah. Way ahead of you there. I haven’t been home for years.”

“Why not? Don’t you miss it?”

“Not really. Where I come from, there weren’t exactly tons of belly rubs being handed out.” She paused. “I guess there were plenty of smells, though.”

“Oh, I get it. You haven’t been home because you’re on a really good adventure. Right?”

Franny shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess you could call it an adventure when I left. But now it’s just—what do you call the opposite of an adventure?”

The puppy scrunched its face. “I don’t get it. If you’re not home, and you’re not on adventure, then what are you doing?”

“I don’t know. Working. Trying to get by. Going out. Eating. Drinking. Errands. And apparently, occasionally wasting my afternoons helping overgrown rats look for their home. You know. Basic stuff.”

“Not really,” the puppy said. “You made friends with a rat, too?”

“Just shut up and look for your home.”

The sun continued to set.

Rays of sunshine slowed their dances, and the shadows grew heavier.

And heavier still.

And Franny and the puppy continued their walk.

To Franny, each house looked like a replica of the next. Sure, maybe they were a different color or a different style of porch. Or maybe there was some different sort of stupid looking lawn decoration. But deep down, Franny knew each house was the same thing. Over and over again. Carbon copies. One page printed after the next after the next. Laden with the same words. The same stories. The same worries. The same boredom. Over and over again.

A terrible realization began to envelope Franny.

A realization that this was useless.

Utterly useless.

Franny realized that, as hard as they’d try, they’d never be able to find what they’re looking for. They’d just have to keep on walking on and on aimlessly like this, her and that puppy, on the tail end of an adventure and constantly missing home and—

“Found it!”

Franny shook the thoughts from her head and looked up to see the puppy scurrying its way towards a house. A house that, just as she thought before, looked no different from the others.

“Wait. Are you sure?” Franny asked.

“Yeah. I can always tell.”

The puppy skipped towards the front door with its tail wagging. It heaved itself up the first step and turned back towards Franny.

“Thank you so much!” It squeaked.

“Yeah. Sure thing.”

“I’ll see you the next time you help me find home after I get done with an adventure.”

“Wait, no—” Franny began to say.

But the puppy was already through the doggy door, slipping clumsily along its way.

Franny stood there for a moment.

She looked over one shoulder.

And then the other.

She had walked for so long that now she didn’t know where she was. Or, where she was supposed to go. She thought of home. She thought of adventure. She thought of which option she should pick.

And something odd happened.

Something she couldn’t quite explain.

She found herself unable to decide.

 

David Novak

Dave Novak works in a fairly serious office that sends him to strange and mysterious places throughout Northern New Jersey. Whenever he feels like being more or less serious, he writes.

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