Brooklyn and Yellow Boy were sitting under the great oak drinking beer. Relaxing. Watching the last of the laborers fuss in the sod fields.
“This establishment used to be considerably larger,” Yellow Boy said.
“That so?” said Brooklyn.
“Went on for miles.”
They could smell someone in the kitchens grilling food. Stuck their noses up to taste the air.
“Ribs,” said Brooklyn.
“With that brown sugar glaze,” Yellow Boy said.
They both sat there awhile sniffing and thinking about that.
After a while Yellow Boy continued, “And they grew real food back then. Not all this grass. Corn and watermelon and peppers and guacamole and pineapple and cucumbers.”
Brooklyn looked at the older dog. “Pineapple,” he said.
“Okra too,” Yellow Boy said. “You don’t believe me go ask them yourself. Bet you a gumball.”
“The dogs who used to live here. Like, eighteen hundred years ago or however long.”
The two sipped their beer. After a while Brooklyn said, “Fine, I’ll bite. How exactly might one go about doing that?”
“Just ask them,” Yellow Boy said.
Yellow Boy, who was an old orange mutt with white legs, told Brooklyn, who was a black Australian shepherd/rat terrier mix with a splotch of tan on his forehead, all about the ghosts. He explained how when the house and barn animals died and got buried out back they just kept on living as usual at the edges of the property. How it was basically one big party that went on more or less forever. How you could see them, but only if you swallowed a special concoction and did some little ritual and only if it was nighttime. And of course only if you were a house or barn animal yourself.
Yellow Boy was getting on. He had arthritis in his back legs and a bum eye but still had enough bounce to chase after squirrels when the mood struck.
“I do believe you’re joshing me,” Brooklyn said.
“Don’t take my word,” said Yellow Boy. “Talk to Bernard.”
“Which one’s Bernard? He the excitable one with glasses?”
“And the orange socks. And those shorts.”
When Brooklyn caught up with the mice, they were sitting in a circle of chairs in a corner of the tractor barn. The chairs were high for them and their little mouse feet swung in the air. A girl mouse in a pretty gingham dress was reading from a book. The other mice were trying to conceal their giggling and so every so often she’d put the book down and say, “Would you grow up,” then start reading again and the others would try to listen respectfully but soon one would start snickering and then another would stifle a snort and before you knew it they would all burst out laughing again and the girl mouse would put the book down again and scold them for being such immature babies, too immature for book club.
“Hi Brooklyn,” she said.
“Rosie. What’re you reading?”
“I am trying to read Mr. D.H. Lawrence to these doofuses but obviously not getting very far.” She scowled at the rest of the mice who burst into giggles again.
“Mind if I chat with Bernard a sec?”
“Oh my goodness, please. He’s the worst of the lot. Keep him long as you want.”
Bernard slid off his chair and wiped his nose. Which got the others laughing again and Bernard too. He and Brooklyn walked out to the rain barrel.
The dog pulled from his shirt pocket a plastic baggie full of crumbled up cookie pieces and shook it out on the grass in front of Bernard who said, “Well hello.” While Bernard nibbled Brooklyn talked about how he wanted to check out the ghost animals but heard he’d need to prep for it somehow. Drink a potion, do some exercises or some such.
Bernard, mouth full, said, “Float Juice. And you gotta do the dance.”
Brooklyn waited a while to see if the mouse was going to elaborate. He was not.
“Well Bernard, I am curious as to how one might get hold of this juice of which you speak. Learn the dance too.”
Bernard remained mesmerized by a chocolate chip he was holding in his hands like a magic eight ball.
The mouse looked up, chocolate on his face. “I can get you some from the moles, he said. They make it for us all the time. And the dance part’s easy, I’ll show you.”
“That’d be kind of you.”
Bernard nodded, took a bite of his chocolate. “I go there all the time,” he said, mouth full.
A few days later Bernard handed Brooklyn a blue bottle.
“This one’s on them.”
“Moles,” said Bernard. “Don’t uncork it yet. You got to wait ‘til you’re ready to cross over.”
They spent much of the afternoon learning the dance. It was difficult for Brooklyn on account of Bernard’s tiny little feet being so hard to see but after a while he got it.
Bernard said, “I’ll go with. I haven’t been there in weeks. Meet me after dinner by the birch tree on the far side of east field.”
Later when they met up Bernard uncorked the bottle and poured the contents into a tuna fish can. He dipped his nose in and drank and Brooklyn did the same. Then they did the dance as Bernard had taught them and when finished Bernard said, “Now close your eyes and count high as you can and keep counting ‘til you hear them.”
When he was done with the dance Brooklyn stood panting a little bit and counted and counted and counted with his eyes shut. And just when he was about to open his eyes and have words with Bernard for tricking him, he heard music. Laughing. Voices.
He opened his eyes.
All around him were animals.
There was a longhaired cat wearing an apron and stirring stew in a pot.
There was a collie surrounded by a bunch of kittens and teenage cats listening to him tell a (rather complicated) tale about a chew toy that had lost its squeak.
Grazing under a tree and acting silly were a couple of old horses and a pony. In the distance there were cows, sheep, chickens. Pigs. In fact it seemed to Brooklyn that as far as he could see there were clusters of animals conversing, eating, dancing.
Bernard scooted over to the collie and plopped down to hear his tale, hands folded in his lap. Brooklyn wandered through the groups and as he did so some of the dogs came wagging their tails. They told him they could tell he came from the other side because of his smell and said they were happy to have him as a guest.
under a skinny-bean tree he saw a large cluster of dogs, boys mostly, camped out at the feet of a black spaniel. She was singing and wore a lime bow and stood quite still except for one paw which tapped time. A cat who had lost her tail was playing accompaniment and occasionally yowling backup.
The dogs were entranced. Brooklyn most of all. He sat down in the back row to listen.
She was in the middle of a song about almonds and elderberries and whipping cream pie. Then she segued into a song about rabbits gone crazy in the haymow. Followed by a somewhat detailed bit of instructive verse about where the best place to get water is when you’re deep inside Blue Woods, wherever that was.
For her closing number she sang a quiet ballad about a boy dog she had once loved and was now gone. The last part of it went:
At his Passing we all searched
turning o’er each river stone,
but signs of him we would not find.
Burrowed deep into the earth,
we knew too well by then,
we were too far behind.
I showered out a storm of tears
and knew no song might bring him back,
his absent comely glow
There was a pause and some sniffling then all the dogs broke into applause. The black spaniel bowed shyly and walked over to a table where other girl dogs were drinking dog punch.
Brooklyn asked an Irish setter next to him:
“Who is she?”
He said, “Aren’t you new here. Everyone knows Missy Dog.”
It took Brooklyn a fair amount of loitering about before he mustered up the courage to approach her table. He tried hard not to wag his tail. Playing it cool.
He said, “That was some awful nice singing I thought.”
The other girl dogs snickered but Missy Dog smiled and said, “I was wondering when you’d get around to telling me that.”
He blushed. “Your name’s Missy Dog,” he said, more statement than question, and one of the girl dogs said, “Brains and looks both,” and they all laughed.
Missy Dog said to Brooklyn, “You have the advantage of me sir. Might you have a name.”
Brooklyn told her. He told her about the other side, and the sod farm, and how he was fairly new there. How he was born in the city where some hipsters named him B&T, short for Black and Tan, but they’d given him up for adoption while still a pup. How he changed hands a number of times until finding himself out here on the sod farm where his new owners had changed his name to Brooklyn because he’d come from the city even though he’d never stepped foot in that particular borough.
Missy Dog told him all about what the farm had been like 80 years earlier when she was living on it and how it sure seemed things were different now. And how she liked the name Brooklyn more than B&T.
They were sipping the last of the punch when Bernard poked Brooklyn’s foot and said they had to go as the Float Juice was about wore off. Brooklyn asked Missy Dog if she minded if he came back to talk visit some time and she said, “How about tomorrow?” and he said, “Okay.”
“I’m going to need all the juice you’ve got,” Brooklyn said.
Boss Mole looked at his colleagues then turned to Brooklyn and said, “We’re a tad low on supply. We can give you maybe one more bottle. Best I can do.”
“I need a case of the stuff,” Brooklyn said. “Two would be better.”
The other moles laughed until they spit.
Brooklyn said, “Okay, just two bottles. I’m begging. And in return I’ll bark a heads up every time the men try to flush out your tunnels. All summer I’ll do that.”
The moles huddled. Then Boss Mole responded.
“Fruit cups. For each of us. Weekly deliveries, all season long. Understood?”
“Agreed,” Brooklyn said.
Brooklyn discretely paid a visit to the crows. Bernard too, who had taken to spending time with the dog even though it meant missing out on book club.
Brooklyn explained to the crows he needed them to take one bottle of the Float Juice and break it down for him. Deconstruct, figure out the ingredients, learn how to make more. Because there was no way he could fill the moles’ (rather unfair) request.
The crows, who pass between the realms all the time and do not die as other animals (save mice), insisted that it would be inappropriate to tread in the secret science of the moles.
Brooklyn told them about Missy Dog. How while he had planned on being a bachelor dog pretty much the rest of his days one look at her and he was thumped. Flummoxed. You could have tipped him over with a feather, he said. That lime bow just plum did him in, he said.
One of the crows said, “So you’re smitten is what you’re saying.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Brooklyn said. “Don’t know how to put it any clearer than that.”
Bernard, preoccupied with a crumb on the ground, mumbled absent-mindedly, “A more smitten dog you never saw.”
The crows mulled the matter over until eventually Joe Crow said, “We’ll do it. Missy Dog’s been without a fella long enough.”
“But it’ll take us three days to do the job,” Joe Crow said. “And mark, the moles’ll be mad when they find out. Boss Mole in particular. But that’ll be your problem, not ours.”
And the crows who, as everyone knows, are the wisest of animals in the arcane arts took one of the bottles into their lab and got to work.
That night Brooklyn used the remaining bottle to visit Missy Dog. (Bernard, having a date himself, did not join him.)
Missy Dog had set up a blanket for the two of them. Sandwiches and pop.
They spent the night talking about their lives. Missy about hers before she’d died and the one she’d made after. Brooklyn, his ambitions until joining the farm. Ambitions which, he had to confess, now seemed like so much sassafras since he’d laid eyes on her. And she confessed that she was fond of him and maybe, probably, too fond. And Brooklyn said if he could live there with her and not go back he would. And she told him he shouldn’t say such a thing and he said, “If I mean it I can say it,” and she said “Okay, then you can say it.”
When dawn approached and he had to leave he said it would be three days before he could return. She asked him why and he explained he needed more Float Juice. She didn’t know anything about that, she said, but he should return as soon as he could because three days sounded like an eternity which was something she knew a little about.
On the third day Joe Crow brought Brooklyn a bottle. Just the one. Seeing how crestfallen Brooklyn looked the crow said, “Relax chum. It’s concentrate. Put a drop in a little cup of water and it’ll do the trick. Should last you a year at least.”
Brooklyn said, “What do I owe you.”
“Naught to worry. Bernard took care of it.”
That night Brooklyn and Bernard went to the clearing at the edge of east field. They took out their tuna can and poured in some water. Just as Brooklyn was about to add a drop of the Float Juice a voice behind them said:
“O no you isn’t.”
Boss Mole and his mole army were standing there. Visibly upset. Clutching little rocks in their hands.
Brooklyn said, “I’m real sorry boys. I had no choice in the matter.”
“Hand it over,” Boss Mole said.
Brooklyn said, “I can’t. I’m sorry. There’s this dog.”
Boss Mole rolled his eyes and said, “Dog love, cripes.” Then he said, “Get it boys.”
The moles began to advance but at that moment Bernard stepped in between Brooklyn and the angry army of stone wielding moles. He held up one finger, looked over his shoulder at Brooklyn and whispered, “You know what to do—the whole caboodle. I’ll dance you in.”
And then he faced the moles, snapped his suspenders, and right there in front of them did the secret mouse dance. Not the dance that sent one to the other side, though it was a powerful enough dance for that. No, this was the most secret mouse dance of all. And of course the moles were mesmerized. Frozen and positively stunned.
As Bernard did his dance, hopping from one foot to the other in his orange socks and lederhosen, tongue sticking from the corner of his mouth in quiet concentration, Brooklyn poured the entire bottle of concentrate in his mouth and disappeared.
Missy Dog was there waiting. Tail wagging.
“Hey. I got you something.”
She handed him a little rubber teddy bear that squeaked when you chewed it.
Brooklyn said, “Oh.” His tail wagged considerably. He wasn’t shy to show it.
Then he said, “I brought you something too.”
And he pulled from his vest pocket a very smart belt he had asked the mice to make for his girl. A braided belt made of daises and phlox and trumpet vine, strung with loosestrife and Queen Anne’s lace.
The girl dogs in the background all made aw noises when they saw it.
“Well, put it on me,” she said, and he did.
Then Missy Dog looked startled. “Your smell,” she said, “it’s gone.”
“I drank a lot of that Float Juice. Kind of a lot.”
“You’re one of us now. You can’t go back.”
“Why would I want to go back?”
“Kiss her, kiss her,” all the dogs and cats and other animals hollered.
And so, the touching of the noses.
Back under the birch tree Bernard did a little spin, snapped his fingers, and stopped on a dime.
The moles shook their heads and rubbed their eyes, spell broken.
Boss Mole said, “You mice. Why’d you go and help that lovesick pup anyway. You know he oughtn’t have messed in mole science.”
Bernard shrugged his shoulders. “A more smitten dog you never saw,” he said.