a story by Matt Gallagher

Part 1  2  3  4  5
Part 1

“Dad, can I have a pet?” asked Billy.

“No,” said Dad matter-of-factly.

“How come?” Billy was thorough in his interrogation.

“You’re not old enough to take care of a pet,” Dad quipped, without so much as a tip of his newspaper so he could look his son in the eye.

“What if it’s a dog? Can I have a dog?” Billy pressed on.

“Maybe next year, Bill.” Dad always called Billy “Bill,” but Mom always used the affectionate “Billy.”

“What if a stray dog followed me home tomorrow?” continued Billy.

“Then we’d have to look for the dog’s owner so we could return it.” Dad was very matter-of-fact.

“What if we couldn’t find the owner of the dog that followed me home?”

“In that case, we’d have to see.” One thing about Dad, he could be reasonable.

“Okay,” said Billy, satisfied with the exchange.  He walked to the double doors that separated Dad’s study from the hallway, then turned back.  The corner of Dad’s newspaper flickered a bit, but Dad didn’t look to see if his son was still there. Billy went upstairs to get ready for bed.

Part 2  Back to top

The next day, as dusk approached, Billy found himself walking next to the Sunny Acres Memorial Garden on his way home from soccer practice. He didn’t mind walking passed the cemetery. It was peaceful, and the sturdy metal fence that bordered the grounds was covered by ivy.

Over his head, a large moth fluttered its wings.  But it wasn’t a moth! It was a big black bat! It flittered and fluttered and circled around Billy's head. Billy tried to dive under a hedge to hide, but the big black bat followed, flip-flap-flap. Flip-flap-flap, it got closer to Billy’s tousled brown hair, then somersaulted away in into the darkening sky. Billy ran all the way home, and flip-flap-flap all the way, the big black bat raced after him.


Billy’s chest heaved as he leaned against the kitchen door and panted from all that running. There was no way the big black bat could get through the door.


It sure was easy for that devilish dive-bomber to get into the house from the open window over the sink! The big black bat showed off by making three loops around Billy's head, then fluttered right to his shoulder and landed, nuzzling Billy’s cheek with its nose. That tickled. Billy figured there was no way to get rid of the big black bat, so he started to tiptoe toward the stairs that led to his room. The large double doors of Dad’s study were wide open, but Billy figured Dad wouldn’t notice him, as usual. Still, he stepped very carefully, quietly, and quickly past the entrance to Dad’s study.

“Ahem.” Whenever Dad cleared his throat, it meant something important.

Billy stepped a little more quietly, and a little more quickly past the doorway.

“Bill,” uttered Dad.

“Yes, Dad?” Billy closed his eyes, hoping that would help.

“You have a large flying rodent on your shoulder.”

Before his brain could command him to keep quiet, Billy blurted out, "It's not a rodent, it's a bat." He opened one eye and spoke very fast. “He followed me home-He’s really nice -Can I keep him?”

Dad put down his newspaper. “We talked about this. No pets until you are older. Now get rid of that bat before it scares your mother.”

“But Dad... he followed me--”

“Take that flying rodent back to where you found it. Now.”

Billy looked at the bat on his shoulder. 
“Bats aren’t rodents...” Billy said in a very hushed voice.

The bat just smiled and licked Billy’s ear. Billy sulked, turned around, and walked out the front door toward the cemetery.

At the gate of the cemetery, Billy picked up the bat and looked into its eyes. “I don’t think Mom would be scared of you,” he said. “But Dad says I can’t keep you.” He held it at arm’s length, and looked to the side as the bat flap-flap-fluttered away, disappearing into the inky night.

Part 3  
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The next afternoon, Billy walked through the field next to the O’Connell place on his way home from school. It was warm and sunny, and he swung his backpack around like it was a hammer.

As he trundled along, the grass of the field next to him parted this way and that. Billy looked at the grass being pushed and knelt down to investigate. Slender stripes of red and white and black split the green of the field as a king snake wended its way toward Billy.

Billy knew the difference between king snakes and venomous coral snakes. King snakes were good snakes, didn’t bite, and ate rattlers.
Billy looked at the large snake for a while, said hello, then good-bye, and went on his way back home.

Behind him, the grass continued to part this way and that.

At home, Billy pushed open the kitchen door triumphantly. “I’m home!” he shouted. But there was no answer.

He was just about to slam the door shut when he turned around and looked at the large, slender, striped body edging up the steps of the back porch. Billy politely held the door open as the king snake slithered onto the linoleum of the kitchen floor. “Wow,” he thought, “if we had a king snake, we’d never have to worry about rattlers biting us in ours leep.” He thought of the old up-turned milk crate in the garage that he could turn into a house for Ray. He’d already decided to call the king snake “Ray.”

Billy held out his arm and Ray coiled himself around it,allowing the boy to pick him up. Billy carried Ray into the garage.
After dinner, Mom announced that she had a special dessert waiting in the freezer outside. That could only mean one thing! Ice cream cake! Billy licked his lips and rubbed his palms together, while Dad looked at Billy’s plate. There was one more Brussels sprout on it. Just. One. More. With a face, Billy speared the offending vegetable with the long tines of his fork and forced himself to eat it.

He was just about to swallow the large sprout when the scream came from outside.
Mom screamed. And then she screamed again! Dad bucked out of his chair and rain toward the garage. Billy raced after him, the Brussels sprout still in his mouth.

Mom was standing on a chair, screaming. Her eyes were really wide, and her face was red like the beets they’d had last night for dinner. Dad looked in the milk crate under the workbench at which Mom was pointing hysterically.

Dad nearly fell back on his rump when he saw Ray flicking his forked tongue at him. He was trying to smell Dad, to see what kind of guy he was.

“A snake! In the garage!”

“He fowed meh home,” Billy tried to say, the bad-tasting ball of bad breath roaming around his mouth and slurring his speech.

“What?” asked Dad. Billy had a feeling that Dad already knew what Billy had said, but he swallowed the sprout anyway and repeated.
“He followed me home.”

“You brought a poisonous snake into this house?” Dad’s voice got louder, and the little veins on his neck popped out a bit.

“He’s not poisonous. He’s a king snake. His name is Ray.”

Mom nearly fainted, and she lost her footing on the chair. Dad caught her so she wouldn’t fall. Billy was kind of glad that Dad had his hands full at the moment.

“Take that snake back to wherever you found it, Bill. I said no pets.”

"But he’s not a pet. He’ll protect us from rattlesnakes, and--”

“Now,” commanded Dad. “Don’t make me tell you a second time.”

Billy picked Ray out of the box and walked slowly out of the garage toward the field near the O’Connell place. Ray coiled around Billy’s arm lovingly and licked the Brussels sprout residue off his fingertips.

Billy didn’t get to eat dessert for a week. Dad ate most of the ice cream cake himself, and he seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Part 4  
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After being thoroughly punished, Billy was allowed a sleep over at his best friend Jake’s house. Jake lived a really big house, with both an attic and abasement, and Billy loved going on mysterious adventures there. Together, Billy and Jake fought off pirates, or sometimes were pirates themselves; the went to down into the caverns beneath the moon’s surface; sometimes they even went back in time.

There was one place in Jake’s big old house where they never went, though: the deep, dark closet in Grandpa’s Old Room. When Grandpa was alive he had told Jake that there was a large scary ogre who lived there, and he was never-ever-ever to go into the closet. Jake knew he was real because one time he opened the closet door and the ogre’s cold, smelly breath blew out at him immediately. Jake had shut the door with a loud THUD and ran out of the room.

Billy wasn’t sure that there was an ogre in the closet of Grandpa’s room, but he did want to see for himself. That night, after Jake’s arm fell limply from the top bunk, indicating that he was fast asleep, Billy snuck out of Jake’s room and made his way to Grandpa’s old room. The door creaked when he entered the room, but not too loudly. The room was grey and dark, and it was hard for Billy to make his way around the large furniture to the closet door. The knob to the closet in Grandpa’s Old Room was large, larger than one of Billy’s hands. So with both hands, he twisted it to the right and pulled the door open...

Jake was right! The cold, smelly breath of the ogre hit him in the face! Billy shuddered with excitement and blinked until his eyes could see better in the darkness. No ogre. Just some old fur coats and large trunks with stickers all over them. He wanted to go into the closet and explore more, but heard someone in Jake’s family walking down the hall to the bathroom. Billy waited to hear the water faucet running, then closed the door as quietly as he could and tiptoed back to Jake’s room.

The next morning, Billy skipped back to his own house. He didn’t tell Jake anything about the closet in Grandpa’s Old Room, and how he had not found an ogre living there. On the way home, Billy got that weird feeling that he was being followed. He turned his head to look behind him, but no one was there. As he passed the large oleander bushes that grew alongside the wall next to his school, he ducked underneath the branches. Footsteps crept behind him, then passed him, then stop, then crept back again. Someone was looking for him. Billy stuck his head out of the oleander bush to see the feet. Large, bare feet they were Ð with three toes each! Billy looked up to see a big broad bug-eyed face smiling down out him. Billy had never actually seen one before, but knew right away that he was face to face with the ogre from Grandpa’s Old Room.

The ogre grunted a “Hello!” and bounced up and down a bit onits haunches. It didn’t look like it wanted to eat Billy, but acted more like it wanted to be his friend. Billy guessed that the ogre had been trapped in Grandpa’s Old Closet for a long time, and was thankful to be released at last!

Billy shrugged. What could he do? The ogre was too big to shoo away. So Billy continued his walk home, the ogre lumbering behind, sometimes hopping, sometimes skipping, and just plain happy to be free.

When they got home, Billy thought about the other strays that had followed him home. Dad was not going to like this one at all, and Mom, well... if a snake scared her....
The ogre seemed to know what Billy was thinking and came u pwith its own solution. He picked Billy up in with his big, big hands and put Billy on his shoulders. Billy held on to the ogre’s matted hair as it climbed the side of Billy’s house up to the window that led to his bedroom. Billy whispered to the ogre that it could live in his closet if it wanted to, and that Billy would let it come out and play every day, whenever it wanted.

Once the ogre was secured in his bedroom, Billy ran downstairs for lunch. That walk home had made him very hungry! He hugged Mom, who was very surprised to see him.

“I didn’t see you come in, Billy.”

“I, uh, dropped my stuff off in the garage first,” he said, hoping that would suffice as an explanation.

Billy started to make his lunch. He’d been making his own lunch on the weekends for over a year now. Today, he acted as if he were particularly hungry, and made a five peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Mom looked at him with eyes almost as big as the ogre’s upstairs.

“Mom, can I eat lunch in my room?” he asked politely.

“I don’t know...” Mom was obviously not too sure about what was going on.

“I just want to get a head start on cleaning my room,” he explained confidently.

“Well, in that case, of course!” How easy it was to make Mom proud!

Billy ran upstairs with the sandwiches and a thermos of milk. He hoped the ogre liked the sandwiches. And like them he did! The ogre gobbled three and a half of the peanut butter and banana sandwiches before Billy finished his first one. Just as Billy picked up his second sandwich, the ogre looked at it. Knowing that ogre’s have very big bellies, Billy broke the sandwich in half and shared it with him. Yum, yum! They rubbed their tummies afterwards, quite satisfied. Billy told the ogre that he had to clean his room, but the ogre had other days. He once again picked Billy up and put him on his back, then bounced around the room like a horsey. Pound! Pound! POUND! Billy laughed and laughed and hurt, because his belly was so full.

A loud knocking on Billy’s door made them both freeze.

“Billy, are you cleaning your room?” Mom called inauspiciously.

Billy flew to his closet door and pushed the ogre inside just as Mom opened his bedroom door.

“I’m right in the middle of it!”

Mom looked around the room. It was worse than it was before Billy got home! The homework desk was toppled over, and Billy’s bedclothes were scattered all over the floor... and hanging from the overhead light!

“This is what you call cleaning your room?!?” Mom suddenly had her Mad Face on. “Charles!” Mom called downstairs.

Dad’s footsteps were heavy, even on the carpet of the stairs. He poked his stern face into Billy’s room. “What is going on here?” he asked, as if he didn’t know that Mom was mad and that Billy was the one causing it.
“Look at what he’s done to his room! Do something about your son,” Mom said, and turned to go downstairs.

The door to Billy’s closet swung open. The ogre had been too big to be stuffed in the small closet for too long! It fell onto the messy floor of Billy’s bedroom with a loud THUMP. His big eyes bugged out at Billy’s parents, and he smiled sheepishly at them. His cold, smelly breath hit them both in the face.
Mom didn’t scream when the monster fell at her feet. She didn’t jump on a chair. She went white, then collapsed right next to the huge creature’s body. This time, Dad didn’t yell either. He just went white, and fell right down next to Mom.

Billy knew what he had to do. He explained his plan to the ogre very quietly. Of all the strays that had followed him home, he liked the ogre the best, because he liked to jump and bounce and play.

Before Mom and Dad woke up, Billy took the ogre by the hand and led him back to Jake’s house. He introduced Jake to the ogre, and told him that his closet back home was too small for the ogre to live. Jake was kind of scared at first, but quickly got over it the first time the ogre gave him a horsey-back ride. Jake promised to let the ogre out of Grandpa’s old closet every day, and play with him.

Part 5  
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Billy didn’t get punished like he thought he was going to. When he got home from Jake’s house, Mom and Dad acted like it was the first time that day he’d been home. Mom didn’t seem to remember all the peanut butter and banana sandwiches Billy had made, and Dad didn’t say anything about waking up on the floor of Billy’s messy bedroom. Dinner was very quiet that night, and afterwards, Mom and Dad went to bed early. Billy spent a good part of the evening cleaning his bedroom.

The next morning, Billy awoke to a soft knocking at his bedroom door. As he rubbed the sleepy-sand out of his eyes, the door curved open slowly. Dad stood in the doorway, with Mom behind him. Both had curious looks on their faces. In Dad’s arms was a large cardboard box that seemed to jumble about on its own.

“Morning, Bill,” said Dad, his voice soft. Mom clasped her hands together, as if she was anticipating something.

“Morning,” yawned Billy.

Dad placed the cardboard box on the floor near Billy’s bed. Over the top of the box poked a cold, wet nose. Attached to the wet nose, a friendly, furry face stared at Billy. Billy moved his own face closer, only to get licked all over. Dad and Mom didn’t say anything else. They just backed out of the room quietly to let Billy and his new pet get better acquainted.
"STRAYZ" copyright Matt Gallagher. All rights reserved.