There is nothing that a writer likes more than to have their work validated by someone other than their friends and family. I had been leery about entering writing contests. I wondered if I’d be able to take the rejection if my story didn’t place. And truth to tell, there have been quite a few where it didn’t. But that’s okay. If you’re a serious writer you know odds are you’re going to get rejected numerous times before your writing resonates with that one special agent or publisher.
You submit your very best work, you hope and you pray, and sometimes you just forget you even entered with the timeframes being so long. An envelope arrives. You don’t even recognize the name on the return address. But instead of throwing it away – you take a moment to open it and read “We (The Institute of Children’s Literature) are very excited to congratulate you on your success in winnig our “Early Reader Mystery Contest. Your piece, “The Night Raiders,” was our panel’s third prize winner.” That’s what happened to me.
Woo Hoo!!! Validation! Maybe I really can write. Just the spark I needed to continue down the path of writing for children.
Because several of my friends and colleagues have asked, I am reprinting the story here. One day I hope to turn it into an actual book. Enjoy!
The Night Raiders by Caren Cantrell
The little black and white bundle wiggled in Maddie’s arms, matching her giggles with sloppy licks. She’d wanted a puppy forever and still found it hard to believe she’d finally gotten her wish.
“Welcome home, Oreo,” she whispered in the pup’s ear.
“Remember Maddie, that puppy is your responsibility,” Mom said. “Make sure he stays out of trouble.”
“I will,” Maddie promised.
They played all day: tossing balls, running in circles, chasing butterflies.
At bedtime she led him to a blanket in a corner of the kitchen and tucked him in. “Sleep well, Oreo.”
“Maddie, Maddie! Come here.”
Her mother’s yell yanked her out of her dreams. She rushed to the kitchen. The trash can was on its side; the mess making a gross painting on the floor. Oreo peeked up at Maddie with his head bowed.
“That dog of yours – look what he’s done!”
“Oreo couldn’t have done that, Mom,” said Maddie. “He’s too small.”
“Well if he didn’t, who did?”
Maddie didn’t have an answer. “I have to go to school now. Please be a good boy while I’m gone,” she begged Oreo.
When Maddie got home, Oreo was curled in his corner. Mom didn’t look happy
“That dog of yours – he’s ruined my lovely cake!”
A big hunk was missing right out of the middle. Crumbs lay like tiny ants all around.
“Oreo couldn’t have done that Mom. Look, his paws aren’t even sticky.”
“Sticky or not,” said Mom, “either you get that dog to behave or back to the shelter he goes.”
“You’re going to sleep in my room tonight where I can keep an eye on you,” Maddie said to Oreo. She snuggled him into a pile of old sweatshirts. Oreo licked her cheeks.
Beep, Beep, Beep! The alarm woke her early. She wanted to be sure Oreo hadn’t gotten into any trouble before Mom got up. On tip-toe, with Oreo close behind, she crept to the kitchen and peeked in. A broken flour sack lay tilted next to an open cupboard door. A snowy powder covered everything.
“I don’t know how you opened that cupboard but if we don’t clean this up quick, you’ll be gone for sure,” she whispered.
Oreo sniffed and circled, yipping as he went. Maddie stopped to look. Paw prints – leading right to the doggie door! But these weren’t Oreo’s prints. Five long streaks made outlines in the dust, almost like human hands.
“I knew it couldn’t be you,” she said. “Let’s show Mom.”
Oreo wagged his tail in agreement sending the flour flying.
“Stop!” Maddie shouted. But it was too late, the prints had disappeared. “Don’t worry Oreo, I have an idea.” She mopped up the mess then headed to the attic.
“Somewhere in here is the video recorder Mom used when I was a baby,” she told Oreo. “I’ll set it up in the kitchen tonight. We’re going to figure out who’s been causing all this trouble.”
Just before bed Maddie and her mom placed the camera on a high shelf. Up in her room she watched the tiny monitor as Mom finished the dinner dishes and took out the trash. All was quiet. Hours passed with nothing. Maddie’s eyes grew heavy.
Beep, Beep, Beep! Maddie jerked awake. Quickly she rewound the tape and watched as a round furry thing slipped through the doggie door, then another, and another. All three wore masks. Silently they jumped onto the table, grabbed some grapes and scampered out the door.
“Raccoons!” shouted Maddie. “Let’s go show Mom. She’ll have to believe you’re innocent now.”
“I guess I owe you an apology, Oreo,” said Mom. “So how are we going to get rid of these rascals?”
That night they set a trap with marshmallows. After releasing the raccoons into the woods far from their house, Maddie said, “You know Mom, it was Oreo who found the prints. I couldn’t have solved this mystery without him.”
“I have to admit you two make great detectives,” said Mom. “Let’s celebrate with ice cream.”
Maddie shook Oreo’s paw. “What do you say, partner?”
Oreo spun around, “Yip, yip, yip!”