I found him in Happy Hollow, the woods that's on the outskirts of the city. He was a little ways off the path me and my sister, Nahla, take to school, 'cept Nahla was sick that day so it was just me by myself. It's not the fastest way to get to school, but we can't go through Northampton or else the bullies that live there will throw dirt clods at us. After I found him I took him to this old shed out there. It's got a hole in the roof but I figured the little guy'd be safe there on account of it's a good ways away from the Northampton houses; plus you can't hardly see it through all the leaves and branches and stuff. His fur was real white and real soft, just like snow 'cept it wasn't cold. It was warm and fuzzy so it made you wanna squeeze him real tight. I liked playing with his ears cuz they was all floppy, 'cept when you made a weird noise, then they'd stick straight up and he'd tilt his head sideways and look at you funny. He had a long bushy tail and sharp little baby teeth that he'd use to chew at your shoelaces if you wasn't paying attention. I got mad at him the first time he chewed my shoelaces, so I gave him a smack on the nose. He yelped when I did that. I was gonna give him another smack but then he sorta curled into a little ball and looked up at me with this real sad look. You should've seen him; bluest eyes you ever saw. That's when I knew I couldn't never hit him again.
Every morning on our way to school I told Nahla I'd catch up with her at the end of the path, so I could sneak off to the shed and feed him some breakfast. He'd always whine real loud when he heard me coming, and even louder when I left. At lunch I'd put some of my food in a napkin and hide it in my pockets to give to him on my way back. He ate everything I ate! I bet I could've gotten him to talk too, if he'd been around longer. It always smelled real bad in that shed on account of he couldn't get out to use the bathroom. He mostly went by the flower pots though, so it wasn't too big a deal. On weeknights, after my homework was finished, I'd tell Mom that I was gonna go hang out at my friend's place but I was really sneaking out to the shed to let the little guy out. I figured it'd be good for him to stretch his legs. I felt bad about lying to my mom, but I figured God oughtta forgive me on account of I was doing it to help one of his creatures. Plus it wouldn't be safe for me to try and bring him home, one of those bullies might see.
The worst bully is Chris Atkinson. I hate him. He's in the sixth grade and he always picks on me and my sister, but mostly me. Even threw rocks at us one time when we was walking through Northampton. At school he always pushes me over whenever he sees me in the hallway. He says people like us are why his dad has to spend his Christmas in some other country. I forgot what country it is, but I know I've never been there. Me, my mom and dad, and all my brothers and sisters was born here. But Chris doesn't care; that's why I hate him. But as long as I had my new friend in Happy Hollow, things didn't seem so bad.
Nahla got wise to what I was up to. She's almost two years younger than me but she's still pretty smartfor a girl I mean. Last Friday she asked me if I was hiding candy somewhere in the woods on account of we're not supposed to be eating candy this time of year. We don't have to stop eating and drinking during the day like our older brothers and sisters do, but we can't have anything sweet between sunrise and sunset. I told her it wasn't no candy in the woods, then she asked me why I kept sneaking out there.
I told her it was a secret and she said: If you don't tell me what it is, I'll tell Mom you been sneaking out to the woods instead of going to Mamed's house.
So I said: Fine, I'll tell ya', but you have to keep it secret, alright?
She said okay, so I told her about my new pet. She asked me if she could see him and I told her she'd have to wait til tomorrow on account of it was already too dark out. The next morning I told Mom that me and Nahla was gonna head over to Mamed's house. Nahla had her little pink umbrella with the yellow polka-dots on account of it was supposed to rain that day. She balanced that crazy umbrella on her fingers while we walked, asking me all sorts of questions.
How big is he? She'd ask. What's his name? Does he do any tricks?
I told her to just be patient; she'd see him in a minute.
I couldn't hear no whining coming from the shed when we got there, but I figured it was just on account of the leaves. The wind was blowin' real hard that day and it shook the leaves up so much you couldn't hear yourself think. When the wind blows in Happy Hollow all you can hear is that rushing water sound the leaves make. We still couldn't hear no whining, even when we was outside the door. I just figured he must've been shy, since I had someone else with me. I told Nahla to wait outside while I go in to check on him. The hinges on the door creaked real loud. They made that noise that gives me goose bumps all over.
Inside the shed was bloodblood and white fur. It was on the floor and the walls, and on the rusty tools hanging on the hooks by the workbench. I found him in the corner, next to the flower pots. His belly was all sunken in and those great blue eyes of his was staring at the sky through the hole in the ceiling. There was a piece of paper tied around his neck, right above this big gash.
The paper said: We don't want things like this in our neighborhood.
I heard Nahla at the door. She said: Is he in there?
I said: Don't come in.
I went back outside. Nahla was balancing her umbrella on her fingertips.
She said: What's wrong, Malik?
I said: Nothin'
he must've jus run away I guess.
She told me we oughtta go look for him, but I told her it was too dangerous, a storm was coming. I hate lying to my little sister, but I figure God oughtta forgive me on account of she's too little to understand these sorts of things. I told Nahla to go back home and that I'd stay behind and try to find him. Nahla looked me square in the eye. I could see from the look she had that she knew somethin' was goin' on. I coulda' swore she was gonna ask me what's inside the shed, but all she said was: Okay. But be careful when you find 'im.
I waited til I couldn't see that pink polka-dotted umbrella no more before I went back into the shed. I took one of the shovels from the wall, went outside and walked over to the back of the shed where the ground's real soft and the dirt's real black. A cloud must've moved in front of the sun on account of it got real dark all of a sudden. When I looked up to the hill I could see smoke comin' outta the chimneys from the Northampton houses. The wind shook the leaves up. They didn't sound like rushing water no more. To me they sounded more like a great big fire, burning somebody's house down. The little gaps between the leaves looked like eyes. This is their neighborhood. Everything from Happy Hollow to Plymouth Road belongs to them; the school, the playground, the library and the Supermarket. It's a nice neighborhood and it's all theirs.
I dug into the earth.