Tragedy at Midnight


Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving; Teach us tolerance and love (Hymns, no. 172).

The house was dark and warm, but a cool breeze filtered through the open window and brushed across Maggie’s face as she slept. Suddenly Chip’s excited barking made her sit up in bed. She blinked her eyes open and looked out the window at the moonlit yard below, where Chip tugged at his chain and barked frantically. Then she heard Father rush down the stairs and stumble through the kitchen. The back porch light flicked on and instantly flooded the backyard with light. Maggie quickly wiggled her toes into her slippers and reached for her robe.

From his room, eight-year-old Robbie demanded sleepily, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Maggie replied. “Chip’s barking at something in the yard.”

Downstairs, Maggie and Robbie joined their mother, who stood near the kitchen door. They watched as Father raced back and forth across the lower end of the yard.

“He’s trapped something!” Robbie shouted.

Maggie slammed out the screen door and ran across the dew-covered grass to see that Father had cornered a stray dog. He finally got close enough to clamp an empty bushel basket over it. Instantly the dog whimpered and scratched, trying frantically to escape. Father carefully raised one edge of the basket, grabbed the dog by its scruff, and secured him in the shed.

“Two of them were at the rabbit cage,” Father said softly. “They got in by digging under the fence. The other one got out the same way.”

They stood at the rabbit cage where Floppy lay stiffly. His fur was stained with blood, and Maggie did not have to be told. “Floppy’s dead,” she whispered.

Her father hugged her tightly. “Yes, honey.”

They walked slowly back to the house and explained to Mother and Robbie what had happened.

Robbie’s face puckered, and his chin quivered. Without a word, he turned and ran to his room and slammed the door. Maggie looked up at her mother and father. They were both crying silently.

Maggie didn’t think that she could fall back to sleep, but when morning came, she knew that she had. Wearily she stretched, then remembered: Floppy is gone—all because of two vicious stray dogs! She sat up and looked out at the shed. That dog ought to be shot! she thought. Floppy was our pet, and he never hurt anyone. She remembered the day when her parents had brought him home. He had hopped playfully around the yard while Father built his cage. Tears welled in Maggie’s eyes as she forced herself to look down at Floppy’s pen. It was empty. She sprang from her bed and dressed. “Where’s Floppy?” she demanded when she reached the kitchen.

Mother turned from the stove. “Your father put him in a box, honey. When we return from town, we’ll bury him beneath the plum trees in the meadow.”

Maggie nodded and began to set the table.

Later, as their parents climbed into the truck, Mother asked, “Are you two sure you won’t come to town with us?”

Maggie shook her head. “I’ll stay and dig the grave.”

“I’ll stay, too, and help Maggie,” Robbie said.

“I’ll get new fencing,” Father told them. “And the dogcatcher will pick up that stray dog this afternoon.”

“What will they do with him?” Maggie asked.

Father shrugged. “Make sure that he doesn’t have rabies, then try to find his owner, I suppose.”

“Do you want anything special from the grocery store?” Mother asked.

Maggie and Robbie shook their heads. As soon as the truck drove away, Maggie said, “I’ll do the dishes. You get the shovel.”

Robbie nodded, then turned and shuffled toward the shed.

“And give Chip food and fresh water, OK?” Maggie called.

Robbie nodded and kept walking, his shoulders drooping. As Maggie went inside, angry thoughts churned in her head. She wanted to get a big stick and beat the dog that had killed Floppy. She hoped that it died of hunger! No punishment is too cruel for it, she decided.

She washed the dishes, and each time she looked at Floppy’s pen, tears slid down her cheeks. Finally she was done, and she went out on the porch. Funny—things looked just as they had: White daisies bloomed by the porch, and purple irises waved their filmy heads in the morning sun. The vegetable garden sported tiny green sprouts, and birds chirped around the feeder. Only one thing was different—and nothing could erase last night’s tragedy. “Robbie?” she called.

When she saw her little brother step out of the shed with the shovel, Maggie stepped off the porch and walked toward him. “Did you feed and water Chip?”

He nodded. “I fed and watered the stray dog, too,” he told her. “Father said that he’d put a pan in there last night, but it was empty. I guess that he finished whatever was in it long ago.”

Maggie stared angrily at Robbie.

“He’s just a little dog, Maggie,” Robbie explained quickly, “and he’s really hungry and scared. He gobbled the food down and didn’t even try to run away.”

Maggie didn’t care how hungry and scared he looked—he’d killed Floppy!

Robbie kept right on talking. “I thought about Chip. If he didn’t have a home or anyone to feed him, maybe he’d have done the same thing . …”

Maggie blinked, and her anger turned to understanding. Robbie’s right. Jesus taught that we’re supposed to forgive … especially those who hurt us … even a hungry stray dog. … Maggie’s frown softened. “Come on,” she said, taking the shovel from him. “Let’s go dig the grave. Then we’ll make a marker for it.”

“What will it say?” Robbie hurried to keep pace with his sister.

“How about ‘Here lies Floppy, our loving pet’?”

“He was a nice pet, wasn’t he?” Robbie asked.

“He sure was,” Maggie agreed as she started along the path to the meadow. “And nothing can take that away.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann