Whimsical Bedtime Stories for Children of All Ages
The Night Watch
Christopher’s Dad wasn’t the same anymore. Oh, he tried to be. Christopher was old enough—eleven now—to see that.
But it had been almost a year since Grampy died, and Christopher had grown accustomed to the sadness that often crept into Dad’s voice—a tired, flat sound, like the broken key on the old piano in the basement.
They all missed Grampy, but sometimes Christopher found himself wishing the sound would go away, and Dad would be his old self again.
Then one spring day, things changed.
It was amazing to Christopher the way it happened, especially the part the animals played.
It had been a beautiful Saturday in May, and Christopher had asked Dad if they could pitch the tent in the backyard and spend the night there, the way they did sometimes before the Atlanta weather got too hot. His father agreed, but an afternoon shower doused their plans.
Christopher suggested an alternative. They’d spend the night on the screened porch behind the house.
“Bug-free camping,” Dad said.
“Camping-free camping,” Mom joked. She declined the invitation to join them. “Too much pollen out there anyway. You guys enjoy yourselves.”
So Christopher and Dad pulled two pool chairs out of the storage shed in the backyard, outfitted them with pillows, sheets and blankets, and prepared for their night out. They fixed popcorn and hot chocolate. They moved the portable TV and VCR onto the porch and they watched movies—two of Christopher’s favorites—A Bug’s Life, and Disney’s Fantasia.
“Can Blue and Max sleep with us, too?” Christopher asked.
Blue had been Grampy’s lazy old hound dog. He’d lived with Christopher’s family ever since Grampy had gotten sick.
Max was the sassy white female Spitz Christopher had found abandoned in the parking lot of their church a few months ago.
Though different as night and day in age and temperament, Blue and Max had become great friends. They were quite a pair, playing together in the backyard, endlessly, it seemed to Christopher, through the lengthening days of spring.
House rules dictated that the dogs stay off the screened porch, but Dad agreed to let them join the campout, too.
“Just for tonight,” he said.
And for Christopher, it was a rare night indeed. The moon was full and bright, and there was a gentle breeze across the porch that made Christopher’s blanket feel extra snuggly.
The two dogs were soon curled up on the floor by the makeshift beds, and their rhythmic breathing lulled Christopher to sleep in the middle of Fantasia—even before they’d come to his favorite part about the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Christopher awoke as his father gently took the small bowl of popcorn from his hands and set it on the shelf above him. “’Night Christopher Bear,” Dad said, tucking the blanket around him and kissing his forehead.
The chair creaked as Dad returned to his bed. Then things were quiet for a moment except for the cicadas chirping softly in the trees.
“Dad?” said Christopher. “Do you miss Grampy a lot?”
“I miss him very much. I couldn’t have asked for a better father. Or a better grandfather for you.”
“Or a better master for Blue?”
Dad laughed. “Or a better master for Blue. But Grampy’s in a better place now. Where there’s no cancer or pain.”
It was Dad’s standard response about Grampy. The answer was meant for a child’s ears, thought Christopher, and he felt as if his father was once more closing the door on a subject Christopher needed to talk about. Really talk about. The way grown-ups did. The way he’d heard Dad talking to Mom not long ago, on the day that would have been Grampy’s 70th birthday.
Dad had been exceptionally quiet at dinner, and afterwards, as his parents loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, he heard Dad say, “I’ve lost my anchor, Bev.”
Christopher, doing his homework in the next room, had stopped to listen.
“I never realized how much I counted on him.” Dad’s voice shook, but he went on. “When I was little and had a bad dream I’d wake up and know everything was OK because my Dad was asleep down the hall, keeping me safe through the night. I’m forty now and I realize I’m still that little boy. As long as Dad was alive—in the house down the street or around the world in one of his timeshares—he was there, keeping me safe. Now there’s nothing …”
“My sweet Steven,” Mom had said.
Christopher remembered that night now, as he reached out and patted Blue, who was sleeping beside him on the porch.
Tonight he wanted to reach out to Dad and say something... anything, just as he’d wanted to do that night of Grampy’s birthday.
But it was too late.
“Go to sleep now, Christopher,” Dad said, and soon he could tell, from the sound of the quiet breathing next to him, that his Dad was asleep.
Christopher dozed off, too.
He was awakened by Blue pushing the screen door open with his big black hound dog nose to go outside.
A few seconds later, Max entered the porch by her usual trick, pulling the door open with her paw just far enough to insert her nose in the space, then flinging the door open with a quick snap of her head.
Max took the place by Christopher’s bed, while Blue stayed outside, pacing along the fence that separated the back from the front and side yards. Blue barked once, twice, then was quiet again, and Christopher went back to sleep.
When he woke up a few hours later—3 a.m. by his Indiglo watch—the dogs had changed places again. Blue was sleeping by his side, and it was Max’s turn to be on duty, her slender white shape patrolling along the fence.
The dogs continued this routine until morning.
Sleeping intermittently, Christopher counted four changes of position between the dogs during the night.
“Did you see what the dogs did?” he asked his Dad when the first rays of morning light broke through the tall pines behind the porch.
“How could you miss it? They worked shifts, didn’t they?”
“I never knew,” Christopher said. “I thought they slept all night like we do.”
“So did I,” his Dad said.
It made sense. Both Christopher’s and his parent’s bedrooms were in the front of the house. They heard the dogs bark occasionally if a possum or stray cat wandered into the yard, or their neighbors came home unusually late. But neither Christopher nor his parents had seen what the animals did after the family went to bed.
“Morning, guys,” said Christopher’s mother, carrying a tray of coffee and juice onto the porch.
“Mom, you’ll never guess what Max and Blue did last night. It was really cool.” And Christopher proceeded to tell her the story.
“They work while we’re sleeping. They have a system for guarding the house.”
“I’ve read dogs will do that,” Mom said. “But I’ve never been sure about these two…”
It was then that Christopher realized his father was crying. Sitting on the edge of the chair, Dad had cupped both hands around Blue’s big floppy ears, his face pressed flat against the dog’s broad forehead, his shoulders trembling.
Christopher saw the concern that flashed across his mother’s face, but it left quickly, for Christopher and his Mom understood at the same instant what was happening, why Dad was crying and holding Blue so tight.
“They keep us safe, Dad,” Christopher said softly. “Safe through the night.”
His Dad looked up at him, tears glistening in his eyes. “Yes,” he said, his words barely audible. “Safe through the night.”
He gave Blue one final loving pat. Max was there, too, at Dad’s knee, demanding her share of affection, which Dad duly delivered, Max’s tail happily thumping on the concrete floor of the porch.
Then Dad wiped his eyes and let out a long breath. He took a swallow of the coffee Christopher’s Mom gave him, and clasped her hand in his. “Is anyone else as hungry as I am? How about some waffles for breakfast?”
“Grampy’s special waffles?” Christopher asked.
“You bet,” Dad said, standing, his voice clear and strong. He squeezed Christopher’s shoulder, and for the first time in a long time, Christopher saw a broad smile cross his Dad’s face.
“Bev, we have sour cream, don’t we? And strawberries?”
“We’ll see. Christopher, come help set the table, please.”
“In a minute, Mom,” Christopher said.
And as his Mom and Dad went inside, Christopher opened the door to the backyard. Max scampered after him, barking with excitement, and Blue lumbered along behind.
Christopher took a generous scoop of chow from the bin they kept under the eaves of the house and heaped it in the dogs’ bowl.
He found another bowl in the kitchen and filled it with milk and cold meatloaf left over from last night’s dinner.
Finally, he carefully placed two doggie biscuits on top of the mixture and set it outside by the bowl with the chow.
Then and only then was he satisfied he’d fixed a proper breakfast for the two animals, a reward for their faithful watch through the night.
About the Author: Mike Coleman is writer and director for an Atlanta advertising agency that specializes in work for technology companies. A degreed journalist, he has more than 20 years’ experience in the field of business-to-business communications. He describes fiction writing as “the good struggle, one that I want to find more time to pursue.” He dedicates The Night Watch to the memory of his grandfather, Amil Tschache, to animal lovers everywhere, and, of course, to Max and Blue. You may write to Mike Coleman at email@example.com
Interim Illustrations by Bedtime-Story.
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