This week, I've decided I'd like to thank everyone who regularly reads my weekly bedtime stories, by giving away the first chapter of my children's book, Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang for free. The book is available on Amazon.co.uk here and on Amazon.com here, so if you enjoy chapter one, please do check the rest of it out!
The podcast version of this week's story is available here!
Monday: The Mystery of The Missing Dog
At the top of a hill, in a small village overlooking the sea was a pretty little cul-de-sac, lined with cherry trees. The cul-de-sac contained seven houses and the sign as you entered read “Cherry Tree Hill.” Cherry Tree Hill was home to four friends; Milly, Jack, Henry and Flo.
One sunny Monday morning, the friends were sitting in Flo’s tree house, spying into her neighbour, Mrs Maggs’ garden. The summer holidays had only just begun, but already, the four friends were bored.
“Can’t we walk to the park and play football?” Jack groaned, bouncing his ball against the tree house walls.
Flo shook her head. “I’ve told you; we’re on a mission!” She held her bright yellow binoculars up to her blue eyes and peered out of the tree house window. “Nobody has seen Dotty for days.”
Dotty was Mrs Maggs’ bloodhound. She was a big, brown dog with ears so long that they drooped along the ground when she walked. She had a big belly that hung low and she was always drooling.
“My mum thinks Dotty was stolen by a dog thief,” Milly sighed, playing with the end of one of her long, red plaits. “And if that’s true, it’s horrible. I don’t know what I’d do if someone stole Copper.” She sighed, thinking of her own, much loved pet.
Flo spun round to face her. “If that’s true, then it means we could be detectives! We could try to solve the crime ourselves!”
Henry scrunched up his face. “I’m not sure we can,” he replied. “We’re not police officers. We wouldn’t know where to start.” He folded his arms across his chest. “It’s a bit silly to think we could actually solve the crime, if there has been one.”
Jack tutted at his younger brother. “Don’t be mean to Flo,” he scolded. “She’s only little.”
Henry’s big blue eyes widened even further than usual. “I’m not being mean,” he protested.
“And I’m not little!” Flo insisted, with a proud flick of her short, blonde bob. “I’ll be seven next year!”
Milly ignored the commotion and leaned out of the tree house window. She narrowed her brown eyes, as she examined the rose bushes in Mrs Maggs’ garden, before scanning the neat lawn. A pair of birds sat happily splashing in the white, stone bird bath in the centre of the garden. But there was no sign of Dotty. Milly let out a long sigh. “I think Flo’s right,” she announced. “We should try to find Dotty.” She turned back to face her friends, with a determined expression on her face. “Think about it. Since Mr Maggs died, Dotty is the only company Mrs Maggs has! She must be missing her terribly.”
Jack frowned, holding his football close to his chest. “But... Where would we even start?”
Henry pushed his thick glasses up onto the bridge of his nose. “The dog rescue centre?” He suggested. “Mrs Maggs has probably already checked, but it might be worth a try?”
Flo beamed with excitement as she shoved her binoculars into the pocket of her shorts. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
The four friends clambered back down the ladder from the tree house and into Flo’s garden. With a hurried “goodbye” to Flo’s mum and little sister Amy, the gang rushed through the side gate and into the street. Jack led the way, with Milly following close behind as they marched out of Cherry Tree Hill and through the village.
Before long, the spaces between the houses they passed got bigger and the village came to an end. Just outside the village sign, was a dusty old dirt track, which led to the local animal rescue centre. “Keep up, Flo, we’re nearly there,” Jack called over his shoulder.
“I am keeping up,” Flo shouted back, as she trotted behind the rest of her friends.
Jack and Henry’s next door neighbour, Mrs Singh ran the animal rescue centre and she greeted the gang with a broad smile as she rested her hands on the welcome desk. “Hello, everyone! What can I do for you?”
“We’re looking for Dotty,” Flo explained, pushing her way past the others. “Has anyone found her yet?”
A sad look came across Mrs Singh’s face. “Nobody’s seen her for four days, now.” She sighed and shook her head. “It’s not like her to run away. And my dog is really missing her; they’re always playing together at the park. Baxter hasn’t been the same since she disappeared.”
Milly sighed. “Copper misses her, too.”
Jack leaned heavily against the desk. “Well guys,” he began. “We tried.”
Flo’s eyes glistened and she swallowed hard. “We can’t give up that easily, Jack,” she insisted. “Can’t we keep looking for her?”
Milly wrapped a protective arm around Flo’s shoulders. “We can look, Flo,” she promised. “But I don’t think we should get our hopes up.”
Henry stared at the ground, shuffling his feet and digging his hands into his pockets. Jack messed around with his spiky, blonde hair, twisting the strands and letting out long, slow breaths. Everyone stayed silent for a while; disappointed by their lack of success.
“I’m so sorry,” Mrs Singh said, at last. “Everyone is keeping their eyes peeled. Hopefully, Dotty will turn up eventually.”
The gang said their goodbyes and trudged out of the rescue centre. They walked in silence to the end of the dirt track, before Jack bounced his ball on the ground, watching as dust clouded around his feet as the ball hit the track and sprang back up to meet him. “Hey,” he suggested. “Mrs Singh said that Dotty liked playing in the park. Why don’t we go there and look?”
Flo sniffed. “You just want to play football.”
“Well, if I want to become captain of the under-twelve’s team, I do need to practise...” Jack dribbled the ball at his feet as the friends made their way along the road.
Milly grinned. “Hey Jack; remember when you kicked a ball so high it got stuck on the school roof?”
Henry chuckled to himself, walking close behind his older brother. “It’s still there,” he said. “Stanley Jones says you can see moss growing on it, if you look out of the library window!”
“Go on Jack,” Milly called, suddenly running ahead of everyone else. She trotted backwards, motioning with her hands. “Kick it to me!”
Jack stopped in his tracks and stood with one foot on the ball. “I’m going to really boot it, okay?”
Milly smoothed down her yellow sundress and put her hands on her hips. “Go on, then!”
Henry sighed. “Don’t show off, Jack...”
But Jack had already booted the ball. THWACK!
It flew over Milly’s head and straight into the field behind her, rolling through the grass until it stopped beside a rather rickety-looking old shed.
Milly howled with laughter. “Missed me!”
“We’ll have to go into the field now,” Henry said, pulling a face. “I hope nobody catches us...”
Jack tutted. “Don’t be a scaredy-cat, Henry. Besides, there’s nobody around. It’s so sunny; everyone’s probably gone to the beach.” He jogged over to the gate at the entrance of the field and pushed it. “It’s locked,” he said. “I reckon Flo could fit under there, though. Then she could open the bolt on the other side.”
Flo grinned for the first time in a while. “Oh, definitely,” she told him. She wasted no time in squeezing her way beneath the gate. When she stood up, her hands and knees were dirty and dimpled. Flo unbolted the gate and gave it a hard tug. As it creaked open, Milly, Henry and Jack made their way into the field.
“The ball’s over there,” Milly said, pointing to the old shed.
The friends jogged through the grass and Jack scooped the ball up into his arms. “Okay, no more big kicks until we get to the park,” he laughed. He began to walk back towards the gate, with Milly and Henry following close behind, when he glanced over his shoulder at Flo. “Come on,” he called.
Flo shook her head. “Can’t you hear that?” She tip-toed towards the old shed. “There’s something in there. I can hear it... Whining.”
Jack hurried back over. “Whining?” He repeated, placing an ear against the unlocked door. His eyes widened. “You’re right! I can hear it!”
Milly and Henry made their way to the shed again. “It might be a wild fox or something,” Henry said.
Milly shook her head. “Sounds more like a dog to me...”
“DOTTY!” Flo shrieked and pushed the door open. There, in the gloom, she could just make out the shape of Mrs Maggs’ dog. “Oh, Dotty! Where have you been?!”
To Flo’s surprise, Dotty growled and snapped.
“She’s usually so friendly,” Milly gasped.
“Maybe she’s hurt,” Henry suggested. “Dogs can get aggressive if they’re in pain.” He held a hand out, but Dotty growled once more, then whined and turned her face away. “I think we need to go and get Mrs Singh,” Henry said. “Jack, you’re the fastest, you go. I’ll stay here.” Dotty growled again and this time, the growl turned into a bark.
“Stay outside the shed,” Jack warned. “Just in case Dotty bites.”
“She wouldn’t bite,” Flo insisted, her big blue eyes looking watery again. “But she’s not herself. Quick, Jack, go!”
Milly, Flo and Henry sat down in the grass, with their backs to the shed as Jack rushed out of the gate and back down the dirt track towards the animal rescue centre. Flo’s lower lip trembled. “She’s not going to die, is she?”
“Try not to think like that,” Milly soothed. “We’ve found her, now. That’s a good start.”
“But she’s so grumpy,” Flo sniffed. “And she’s never like that!”
Even though Jack was a fast runner, it felt like an eternity passed by before he came rushing back into the field, with Mrs Singh and one of her workmates close behind.
“Where... Is... She?” Mrs Singh asked, clutching her chest and huffing and puffing.
“In the shed,” Flo replied, scrambling to her feet. “Please help her, I think she’s really poorly – she’s so cross and she’s usually such a friendly dog!”
Mrs Singh’s workmate crept into the shed and, a few seconds later, he peered round the door at the gang, with a broad smile on his face. “I think I’ve solved the problem,” he said. “Stay there.”
“Why does he look so happy?” Flo asked. Milly shrugged her shoulders.
“What is it, Bob?” Mrs Singh called.
Bob emerged from the shed with a puppy in his arms.
“Oh, my goodness!” Flo shrieked. “A little tiny Dotty!”
“I reckon that’s why she ran away,” Bob said, passing the puppy to Mrs Singh, who wrapped it carefully in a blanket she’d brought with her. “She knew she was about to have her puppies and she wanted to be alone.”
“Puppies?” Jack repeated. “As in... More than one?”
Bob went back into the shed and came out with a second little puppy. “Yep,” he laughed. “Two!”
The gang stood back as Bob and Mrs Singh took care of the puppies and gently coaxed Dotty out of the shed. “You kids did the right thing in coming to get us,” Mrs Singh said, with a smile. “Dotty’s going to be alright and the puppies seem fine.”
“Do you think Mrs Maggs will let me keep one?” Flo asked, clapping her hands and beaming at the thought.
“You’ll have to ask her that,” Mrs Singh laughed. “But first things first, we need to get these pups – and Dotty – back to the rescue centre. Then we can give Mrs Maggs a call and give her the good news.”
The gang made their way back out of the field, cooing over the puppies and chattering excitedly amongst themselves. They waved goodbye to Mrs Singh and Bob, before heading back in the direction of Cherry Tree Hill.
“You know,” Flo began, idly digging her hands into the pockets of her shorts and meandering along the road. “I knew Dotty would be okay...”
“Yeah, right!” Jack scoffed.
Milly giggled. “That’s not strictly true, Flo...”
Flo blushed. “Well, I was right about one thing, anyway.”
“What’s that?” Henry asked.
“We did solve the mystery all by ourselves.” Flo grinned. “And you said we couldn’t do it!”
Henry puffed out a breath of air and fiddled with his brown hair. “Yes, well...”
Milly laughed. “I think we can safely say that this was a good day for the Cherry Tree Gang.” She draped an arm around Flo’s shoulders. “We make a pretty good team.”
And with that, the friends made their way home, laughing and chatting all the way.