My once-vibrant Hometown had lost its sparkle. The salty air seeped into everything, rusting metal and peeling away paint. The sidewalks were slimy with puddles and gritty with sand. The shifty ocean kicked the sand with its waves like it had something to hide.
I pulled up my collar to keep the chill out of my bones and hustled through the sand.
The doll running ahead of me checked nervously over her shoulder, as if making sure that I still had her back.
“Oh Oscar, it’s been months since I’ve seen the sun and I just can’t take it anymore,” Mom moaned in a breathy voice. “You’ve gotta help me.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard the word, bird, but I’m retired,” I said, leaning back on my leash to show that my days of high-speed chasing were over.
“Oh,” she said again in that helpless way that broads in old movies used to get their way before feminism. “But nobody believes me! They all say San Francisco is supposed to be foggy. That I should be grateful that it’s not a hundred degrees like everywhere else.”
“Well, well, well…” I gave her a hard look, letting a wisp of fog curl between us. “Little Miss Know-it-all suddenly needs a private dog-tective, huh?”
“Surely such a strong, handsome, intelligent dumbshoe like you can smell when something’s fishy,” Mom gushed.
I could tell she was hiding something, but Mom’s the kind of dame who always has an angle and never gives straight answers, even when she’s got nothing to hide. At least she was telling the truth about my strength, handsomeness, and intelligence.
“I’ve seen a lot of shadows, kid. Are you ready for me to dig up something that you don’t wanna know?” I asked, not yet letting up on the leash.
Suddenly, a bike galloped past me so close that its wind ruffled my fur and rumpled my ears. The urchin zipped away before I could tackle him, swerving through the crowd like he’d just stolen a stick. His butt waggled over the seat, taunting me to chase.
“Say! Watch where you’re going, Mac,” I barked. I strained theatrically at my leash to scare him a little.
“Shouldn’t these kids be in school?” Mom grumbled, letting the ‘helpless maiden’ mask slip.
“Maybe it’s Christmas break,” I said, dropping the hard-boiled detective tone for the sake of the narrative.
“It’s not Christmas, silly. It’s Aug…” She looked at the clouds and tried to remember what season Og… was supposed to be. “Oh, right. Summer,” she finished, like it was a trick she’d fallen for before.
“Oh goody! Summer’s coming!” I cheered. “This has been the longest winter ever!”
“Summer is almost over, dummy,” Mom said, like I was the crazy one.
“You’re not gonna fool me this time, Mom,” I told her confidently. “Summer is supposed to be full of hot, and hot dogs, and sun. It’s cold, and we haven’t seen the sun in…” I looked at the clouds and tried to remember the last time I’d seen anything shiny up there. “...We haven’t seen the sun since I retired from road tripping. And without truck stops, hot dogs have been even harder to come by.”
“That is summer in San Francisco, dumdum. It’s just that we’ve always left town on summer weekends and weren’t around to notice.” She waved her arm at the miserable riff raff huddled on the sand. “Why do you think all these idiots came to the beach?”
I inspected the scene. Now that she pointed it out, there was something very suspicious about all of those people in board shorts and hoodies shivering on the sand. It looked like the kind of place where dreams go to die.
The lucky ones had brought summer igloos (⛺️) to shield them from the cold. The unlucky ones made blankets of their towels. They pulled the drawstrings on their jackets and stared vegitatively at the waves through tiny portholes in their hoods. The ones too nerdy for hoods pulled the flaps of their Captain Kangaroo hats tightly over their ears and paced with their hands in their armpits.
Only the dogs were unbothered by the cold. They chased balls into the waves and bodysurfed back out again like cheerful penguins.
A few stubborn people-puppies followed the dogs into the water, too foolish to know this wasn’t bathing suit weather. The tykes came out moments later with lips the color of ocean and bones clattering like maracas.
And yet, in the middle of all that despair, there was a hint of hope in the air.
Barely detectable amid the pungent odor of sunscreen and the musk of rotting seaweed, I picked up the scent of grilling.
“A clue!” I announced. I lifted my nose and tracked the lead with the gusto of Hercule Pawrot.
At the end of the beach, a cluster of picnic tables and podiums sat crumbling and abandoned in the cold sand. In sunnier times, the picnic tables made a shady place for dogs to wait for cheeseburgers to fall from the sky. But the podiums? I didn’t know what the podiums were for.
As we came closer, I worked out where the camping smell was coming from. One of the podiums was on fire!
A man disguised as a nun stared broodingly into the coals as he warmed his hands in their glow. His accomplice dozed in the sand under a nearby picnic table.
The man’s disguise may have fooled a less perceptive dog, but this wasn’t my first time around the block. I recognized the blankets that made up his habit as the ones they sold at the 7-11 around the corner.
“That man’s trying to burn down My Hometown!” I barked. “Sick ‘em, Mom!”
But Mom didn’t sick ‘em.
“He’s not burning anything down. Those are grills. I’ve never actually seen someone use one before.”
“Grills?” I sniffed the air for lies, but her story checked out. “Do you think he’ll share his hot dogs with me?”
“That guy looks a bit down on his luck. He may not have extra to share.” Mom gave the leash a stiff yank to pull me off the scent. When she was sure I was following, she pointed her annoyed look at the sky to let it know that she wouldn’t put up with its nonsense either. “Maybe more people would use the grills if the sun ever came out.”
I looked around for signs of sun, but the sky was still as dull and solid as concrete. It would take something big to crack this case.
I searched the streets for residents to interrogate, but the goosebumps and chattering teeth gave most of the fogbathers away as visitors. Luckily, the busybody at the other end of my leash knew all the town’s dirt.
Mom kept tabs on everyone in town. Especially who parked like a jerk, who didn’t come to a full stop at the sign outside our Stuck House, and who lied about their hours on Yelp. If there was anyone who would know when the sun started behaving strangely, it would be Mom.
“Why don’t more people have cookouts around here?” I interrogated. “It’s unusual for people not to have cookouts on the beach, don’t you think?”
“People say it’s too foggy down here,” Mom testified. “I guess they have a point.”
It’s true that My Hometown gets a bum rap, but ever since I became Mayor, the gloom hadn’t dared hang around for long. It came out every now and then for a lap through the beach neighborhoods, but its role was mostly ceremonial. There was hardly enough in the water budget to spare for fog, let alone rain.
That is, until last winter, when everything changed.
Last winter the storms returned. The wind bent the trees to their breaking point and howled through the hills like ghosts in the night. It blew out the lights in my Stuck House so many times that we stopped noticing the flickering, as ghosts do in their own haunted house.
“It’s a good thing that we spent so much time on the road,” Mom said as the emergency internet box lit up the shadowy living room. “Who knew that we would use the backup generator and wireless hot spot so often in our own house.”
The wind brought rain, which refilled all the lakes in California. When the lakes were full, the leftover rain made a waterfall of our street, and a brand new lake in our living room.
The storms had the stealth of a pitbull in a porcelain shop, but the fog was sneakier. It crept into the silence after the storm and shrunk My Hometown to the size of the dog bathroom.
In the old days I used to be able to stand at the end of the dog bathroom and bark my good mornings all the way to Japan. But lately when I patrolled my beat and barked hello to the morning, only blankness waved back.
Like Sherlock Bones, I dug through all the downed branches and deep gullies that had appeared on My Hometown’s trails since last winter, sniffing for a clue that I’d missed.
Before the rain, the sun had always shown up on the hill-side of town first thing in the morning to shine into the eyes of anyone who dared leave town for the day. Once it had terrorized all the commuters, it casually followed the same path to the back exit behind the beach. It always left in a blaze of glory to draw attention to its exit.
“Eureka! Have you noticed that the sky has been missing since right around the time the sun disappeared?” I said. “The two things might be related.”
“Ya’ think?” Mom asked.
“Yeah! We might be onto something! Maybe the sky did something to the sun and then went into hiding. Or… Do you think they might be accomplices?”
Mom woke me up earlier and earlier as the investigation wore on, and yet we found no clues.
“It’s no use getting up so early,” I told her. “The sun never comes out at night.”
“This is the same time we get up every day, spud,” Mom lied.
“You think I was born yesterday? Every time the alarm goes off, it’s darker than the day before.”
“It’s not that we’re waking up earlier, it’s that the morning is coming later,” Mom gaslit. “Summer’s almost over.”
“There isn’t much time before cookout season is over!” I howled. “And we’re no closer to solving the mystery!”
It was time to call in my confidential informant, or C-iPhone for short. Mom held the Witch (📱) to her face like a walkie talkie and demanded, “What’s the weather forecast?”
“It’s seventy-eight degrees and sunny in Daly City right now,” the Witch lied.
“Bologna!” I growled. “Who are you covering for?”
Mom showed the Witch the warrant for My Hometown and demanded, “What’s the weather report for Pacifica?”
“Pacifica? Nobody goes there. It’s too foggy!” the Witch said, showing a wall of clouds as far as the weather report could see.
“Something smells fishy,” I concluded.
“Fog always smells like that,” Mom said.
“Ah! A red herring!”
“Hardy-har-har,” Mom didn’t-laugh.
“No, it’s a clue you chowder-head,” I said urgently. “If the sun is really gone, how can it be on the internet? Don’t you see? Maybe it’s a clue to throw us off the scent!”
“But what does it mean?” Mom asked helplessly.
“Why! I do believe that it’s faked its own death!” I solved.
“I don’t even know why I check anymore,” Mom said with a sigh. “Every day is the same as the last.” She switched off the light on my C-iPhone's face and reached for her pocket.
“No! Wait, I have information,” the Witch (📱) begged. “I’ll tell you everything I know, just don’t send me back there!”
“You have my attention,” I said, casually shining my claws. “Go on…”
“There are record floods in Vermont,” the Witch said.
“Furmont? Never heard of her. How do I know what you’re telling me is true?”
“Vermont is in the northeast,” Mom said, putting a pin in a remote corner of the mapp.
“That’s not paw-sible!” I said. "The sun couldn't go that far in a single summer!"
“It’s happening all over the place: Vermont, Pennsylvania… Everywhere!” the Witch spilled, falling right into Mom’s good-cop trap. “Ask anyone, they’ll tell ya! They’re all in over their heads. There are even floods in Death Valley.”
“Floods? In Death Valley?” I said. “I’ve chased balls not-thrown by professional liars, and you ain’t no professional. You think I’m gonna fall for that?”
“I swear! You’ve gotta believe me,” the Witch pleaded. “It’s even happening in Alaska. The glaciers are turning into rivers and sweeping away anything in their path. Whole houses have been wiped off the map. That’s all I know.”
“Send this fink back to the clink and see if it helps her memory,” I ordered.
“Wait! Wait! Let me tell you about Florida!” the Witch begged.
Mom put pins in the mapp to show me where Florida and Alaska were in relation to Death Valley.
“You could practically cook a hot dog in the Gulf of Mexico,” the Witch blurted.
I tilted my head. “Hot dogs, you say? Tell me more.”
“Wait till I tell you about Phoenix!” the Witch said, more confidently now that she had my attention. “You could grill a hot dog on the sidewalk down there. Over a hundred and ten every day for a month!”
“It’s worse than I thought!” I said. "Wherever the sun went, the hot dogs must have gone too!"
My C-iPhone was really on a roll now. “Wait till I tell you about Hawaii,” the Witch yammered.
“I’m supposed to be the one asking the questions around here. Don’t you Ha-why-me,” I snarled.
“Hawaii is in the middle of the ocean,” Mom explained, putting a pin waaaaay in the corner of the mapp.
“The whole place is on fire,” the Witch went on.
“You don’t say! Fire’s supposed to be California’s racket,” I said thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s a surf and turf war. That could be a motive.”
Mom studied the mapp and stroked her chin thoughtfully. “Strange things are happening all over the country.”
“Maybe we should call in the feds,” I suggested. “Feds? Hot dogs? Get it?”
“It’s no mystery what’s going on here,” Mom went on as if she didn’t hear my excellent pun.
“Look at you, Nancy Drool,” I said. “And I suppose you think you know who dunnit.”
“Elementary, my dear dachshund,” Mom announced. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Mom began her explanation as she led me to the cruiser. “I’ve had so much on my plate lately that we’ve hardly left the house except to go down the hill for groceries.”
“Who cares what you have on your plate?” I said. “Phoenix is baking, Alaska is melting, Hawaii is burning, and Florida is boiling. The important thing is that there are no hot dogs in my bowl!”
“Don’t you see?” Mom said. “The answer was right under our noses all along!”
I leapt into the back seat. Mom slammed the door behind me and ran around to the driving chair. She rolled down the window and reached out, but instead of sticking a woo-woo light on the roof, she just wiped the fog off the mirror.
Then she turned on the blinker. Click-click went the siren, letting the people of My Hometown know to get outta the way.
“Where would you go if you wanted to see everything from the sky’s perspective?” Mom asked over her shoulder.
“That old army fort at the top of the hill! You can see both the Bay and the ocean from up there,” I said. “Or, at least you used to.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Mom asked.
“Step on it!” I commanded.
We halted at the edge of town to let a squadron of fog pass. It welled out of the downhill depths and charged across the ridge to the thinner air on the Bay side. When the light changed, we burst through the galloping mist into hostile territory of the next town over.
As we advanced, the greys got brighter and the fog got more threadbare. We were getting warmer.
Our unmarked car stopped beside the road, and my fur prickled with something like heat as I sniffed the air.
Mom strapped on the packpack and holstered an extra water bottle before securing the chest strap and hanging the leash around her neck.
“We’re close, I can smell it!” I whispered. “Hurry, Mom. Before they get away.”
“Easy, spud. It’s actually kind of warm over here, I don’t want you to overheat.”
“Good point! It might be a trap,” I agreed.
I took cover in the shadows beside the trail, sprinting from one shady spot to the next faster than the sun could take aim.
As we neared the top, I unholstered my tongue. “You feel that?” I panted. “There’s definitely sun in the air. I think we’re getting close.”
Mom poured me a snifter of water. As I glugged it down, she leaned over and said, “Phew! I shouldn’t have worn sweatpants!” Then she began rolling her pants up her leg.
I winced at the glowing brightness of her bare shins. “Put those away! With fishbelly skin like that, everyone’s gonna know what side of the hill you’re from. Do you want to draw attention to yourself?”
Mom swung the packpack back onto her back and we crept the final few steps onto the summit. From here, there would be no cover for the final half mile march to the old fort.
The sun beat down on me with its full force as I turned and walked on the ridge's knife-edge.
“Who goes there?” the sun huffed.
“Gotcha!” I panted triumphantly.
The sun was stunned that a dog and his shaggy running partner had torn away his foggy mask. "I would have gotten away with it too..." he began.
I looked to Mom for backup, but she had wandered into the bushes on the far side of the trail.
“You stay right there where I can see you!” I ordered over my shoulder as I joined Mom in the shade of a bush.
I pointed my eyes in the same direction as Mom's and followed her gaze down the side of the mountain to where the ocean used to be.
“Sheesh, it’s hard to believe that the house is under there somewhere,” Mom said.
I looked across the blank-et where My Hometown should have been. It looked as heavy and solid as the mountain itself.
“How will we ever bring the sun back to town?” I asked.
“It’s the sun that causes the fog to begin with,” Mom solved. “The heat sucks moisture from the ocean, and then it gets trapped by the mountains and collects along the coast. The hotter it is everywhere else, the colder it is at home. It explains why everyone comes to the beach even though the weather is so grim. And why they’re so determined to stay despite the cold. I suppose when it’s a hundred degrees everywhere else, fifty degrees and cloudy is a welcome break.”
"You mean all you have to do when your head is foggy is get out of the Stuck House for a change of perspective?"
“If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I don't need to look any further than my own back yard," Mom said completely originally and un-plagiaristically.
“If the sun was faking, what about the cookouts?” I asked. "Don't I get hot dogs?"
“That’s no mystery,” Mom said, patting my sides. “You said yourself that hot dogs come with the sun.”
“It's cooking out here, and now you're the hot dog!"
"Come on, let’s get you out of the sun before you melt. I have a pack of hot dogs in the fridge.”