Emily snapped awake at an alarming sound—“Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!” She grabbed her pink Hello Kitty blanket and threw it off. “Butterball!” she yelled and then she clasped a tiny hand over her mouth. She didn’t want to wake her parents. The old box springs of her bed creaked as she swung her legs over to the floor. Her bare feet padded along the cold, dirt covered linoleum in the kitchen. She quickly reached the laundry room’s familiar smell of dusty, dirty, laundry lint. She heard an eerie, mournful sound that stopped her in her tracks.
"Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo."
She answered the call. “Who, who, who?” She opened up the laundry room’s back door. The night air was crisp, illuminating every star available with a crisp clarity. She thought about the dangers of the dark; how her parents were always telling her not to talk to strangers. Dog in trouble or not it would be better to go. With a hand still on the cold brass doorknob she headed back inside.
“No!” said something outside in the darkness. “It's, Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo!”
“Who, who, who?” She said nervously, making sure to not let go of the doorknob in case she had to quickly shut the door behind her.
“No, child, don’t go anywhere, I want to talk to you!” The owl followed his statement with another "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo." Suddenly a dark shape thumped on the wet grass in front of her. It leaped ungracefully to a top of a patio chair and teetered there. “Well, I won’t be attacking your dog tonight; I seem to have hurt my wing very badly.” He wrapped his razor sharp talons around the back of the chair to keep from falling off.
Emily giggled with delight and said the first thing that came to mind. “Oh! You’re a bird!” And then she put on her serious face. “What do you mean attack my dog? Where’s Butterball?”
The owl puffed out his chest “I beg your pardon. I am not just a bird. I am a Great Horned Owl.” The owl turned his head slightly and stared into the distance with his large yellow-orange eyes, while whistling a guilty tune. He cast the little girl a cautious glance.
She frowned, while taking a step forward and pointed at him. “You look guilty like you did something.” She looked hard into the night at all visible areas. She looked under the backyard trampoline and at the old, wooden shed, leaning over, with wet pine straw on top, with its fragile roof about to cave in. “Where’s butterball?” she said again.
“I didn’t do anything,” said the owl hastily.
“Butterball? Where are you?” she said and her voice trailed off into the night. At the sound of his name the little dog yipped again. “I can’t see you! Where are you?” She sighed and addressed the owl. “You know where he is and you’re just not telling me!” She wrapped her arms around herself and turned back inside. She grabbed the large handle of the outdoor freezer, located in the laundry room and yanked its door open; the cold breath of the freezer hit her in the face and she grabbed an item in a white wrapper. Plastic crinkled as she timidly uncovered the chocolate covered vanilla bar on a stick.
“What’s a Butterball?” said the large owl. He shook his one wing that did work, but winced in pain as he tried to move the other.
“You know where he is?” She said frustrated, cracking off a piece of rich dark chocolate with the side of her teeth. The cool of it washed though her mouth with its intense creamy, chocolaty flavor and she took another bite.
“Do you care about your dog?” asked the owl. The cold metal of the patio chair was beginning to hurt the center of his feet and he shifted around to get more comfortable.
“Of course I care about my dog!” She was careful not to use the word ‘Butterball’, because she didn’t want to make him yip with distress again. Solid rings of brown from the ice cream bar surrounded her mouth now and she licked at it.
“I think you missed some,” said the Owl, shaking his head. There was a long silence and then...“I swooped down from an Oak and dive-bombed your dog Butterball. He ran into his doghouse. I lost control and accidentally pushed the opening of his doghouse against the fence. The grass is wet and it slid and now he’s stuck in the doghouse. I see you mistreating him all the time.”
Emily stared at the ground and thought very hard. “I don’t know what mistreat means!” and she stomped her feet, near tears and threw down the leftovers of her ice cream. “I’m going to go get my dog!”
She stepped a cautious foot down a cold stone step. It was a scary step because she knew it was cracked with many holes in it and very large rats came in and out at night.
“Wait a second!” said the Owl quickly.
Emily looked down and hopped back up a step. “Did you just see a rat?”
“A rat? No. If I saw a rat I wouldn’t be perched up here right now. Mistreat means your dog is going to die, because you do not appear to love it. You do not feed it and you do not bring it in from the cold during the winter and you do not bring him inside at night to protect him from dangerous animals like me.”
Emily crossed her arms again. “You said your wing hurts very badly. How about, you promise not attack my dog and I will promise to call the animal doctor to get your wing fixed.
“Look, said the owl,” and his eyes glistened, large, yellow and beautiful. “How about you stop mistreating your dog. Meaning that you will feed it and bring it in from the cold during the winter and you will bring him inside at night to protect him from dangerous animals like me. I only go after pets no one seems to care about.”
“Okay,” said little Emily. She stood back on one foot looking at him curiously. “I like those horn thingy’s on your head,” and she pointed at the top of her own head, “they look neat.”
“Thank you,” said the Owl. “After you free your dog can you still call the animal doctor?”
Emily put a fist in front of her mouth and let out a big yawn. “When I wake up in the morning, I will call.”
“Sounds good to me,” said the Owl.
Emily walked across the cold grass to the doghouse. “Mr. Butterball. You get to sleep with me tonight okay?”