Sheltered Hope is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 by Richelle Renae
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer and leave feedback. Thank you for your support. For permission requests, email “Attention: Permissions Coordinator” at:
Photo credit: “Ridge, the Puppy” by Natalie C.
Cover design: Richelle Renae
Read Write Ponder Series
Are you a reader? Writer? Thinker? This book has been designed for whichever you are.
When a boy finds a stray puppy, it comes as a surprise to everyone that he’s allowed to keep her because his father is a hard man who thinks chores are more important than pets. It isn’t long, though, before Hope wriggles her way into everyone’s heart.
Every story starts with a single idea. The story prompt used by the author to write this story is included in the Write section of this book. Writers can review the prompt and see where their creativity takes them. Prompts can be used to develop characters, plot, scenes, or write an entire novel. What can you create?
Along with a handful of discussion questions, the author has written a note to readers and writers about her own process in writing this story. By sharing her process, the author believes she is opening a dialog that will help other writers explore the depths of their creativity. It is her sincerest hope that she inspires others because all people have stories to tell.
Courage is like love; it must have hope for nourishment.
My father was a hard man who didn’t stand for nonsense. He wasn’t cruel, but he believed every man had a responsibility for the space his family lived in, even more so than their comfort in that space, and he took that job to heart. Any man who didn’t do that, or who wasn’t even willing to try, was an out and out failure. Happiness was always a little more than one step away from him. Except when it came to my mother. She was his radiance, and it was only when he was around her that I ever saw him smile.
“It’s a mutt.”
“I know.” I had found a pup earlier in the day. She was a speckled thing, probably dropped off and not a run-away. When I brought her home, mom just sighed and shook her head. We had been through this routine too many times to count, but she found a tiny collar and helped me hold the pup still to put it on.
Animals were dropped off with some regularity out here in farm country. I don’t know what people thought, but animals that get dropped off in the country either get shot right away or grow up feral and then get shot. Since I found the pup before my dad did, it wasn’t shot. Yet.
“Give it to me.”
“No. I want to keep it.”
Dad’s eyes grew hard and got small. I had only told him no a handful of times, and I had paid for it. I was ready to pay for it again for the wriggling bundle in my arms.
“You won’t take care of it.”
“I will. I promise.”
He stood staring at us and I could feel him wavering for the first time. It had been a long, hard fight for me to earn a pet; years of watching kittens, puppies, and even a couple raccoon kits, whose mother had been hit by a car, get drowned, clubbed, strangled, and shot before my eyes. I hadn’t even named this one yet.
“How’re you going to feed it?”
“I’ll do chores and work.” My heart beat with hope.
Hope-hope. Hope-hope. Hope-hope.
I squeezed the pup, and it squirmed in my hands. Finding it couldn’t escape, it twisted its face up and started licking my chin. It’s tail swept back and forth a mile a minute batting me on the side.
“We don’t pay you to do chores around here. That’s just part of being a family.”
“I’ll help the neighbors.”
“One chance. No mistakes. You feed it. You water it. You lock it up when you’re working ‘cause if it gets one of the chickens, it’s gone.”
I waited. He wasn’t much of a joker, but it still seemed too good to be true, and when he walked away, I just sat there still squeezing Hope. That’s what I named her, right there, right then, right in that moment.
“How’s Hope?” I asked my mom. I had just woken up, and my voice came out in a crackle. It hurt to swallow.
She nodded. “She’s good. She really misses you a lot. Sits and stares out the window all day long.”
She was careful not to touch me, though I could tell she wanted to. Her eyes were red-rimmed and watery. She had lost weight too. I don’t think she was eating.
She started to cry. Tears the size of marbles slid right out of the corners or her eyes and splashed like the raindrops of the first big storm of summer. I didn’t mean to make her cry, but I needed to know.
“They don’t know for sure yet. But he’s a fighter.”
I think she was whispering because her throat wouldn’t open up enough to let the air through. My own throat had a lump in it, but I couldn’t cry even if I wanted to. There weren’t any tears in me anymore. At least, that’s what the doctor said. He said they would come back when my body rehydrated.
I was drifting away again. I tried to stay awake, to reach for her hand. I think I may have smiled at her.
Hope was missing when I got off the bus. For two weeks she had been in the window waiting for me when I got home from school, but today the window stared back blankly. My heart did this little flip-flop when I walked into the house calling for her and she didn’t come running. I checked my bedroom, just to be sure she hadn’t curled up to sleep on my bed, but the comforter didn’t have the dent next to my pillow where it normally did.
My stomach hurt. I imagined Hope’s mouth bloodied, downy chicken feathers caught at the corners, her tail wagging because she didn’t know better, and I looked out the window to the back yard where the coop sat, not far from the vegetable garden where my mom spent most of her summer days. Chicken wire, decorated with bells and tin plates, ran around the whole of it to keep out rabbits and deer looking for early morning nibbles, but also to stop the wily fox who’d slaughtered every hen in the house a few years back. Mom had collected the eggs that morning and put them in an incubator that she had rigged up using Dad’s work lamps, the ones he used when he worked on the tractors at night, but not a single egg had hatched. And when she cracked them open to make breakfast the next day, they had spoilt inside.
Far out in the fields, I could see the top of the combine working its way slowly down the rows of corn. Mom was in her garden, stooped over and pulling weeds around the cabbages. She had a scarlet bandana tied over her hair, but I didn’t see any other red around the coop. I didn’t see Hope either. My mouth got a sour taste as I walked outside.
“Where’s Hope?” I asked. I was gripping the chicken wire fence so hard that the tiny bells were tinkling with the vibration. I thought it might cut through the skin of my palms, and then I’d have a reason to cry.
Mom looked up and swiped at a bead of sweat rolling down the side of her face. She frowned and looked toward the field. “She must still be with your dad.”
“What’s he waiting for?”
“They’ve been at it since lunch.” She stood up and brushed her hands together. “Suppose I should get dinner started. They’ll be in before too long. Do you have homework?”
“Is he going to make me do it?” Heat had worked its way up my neck. It felt prickly.
Mom frowned at me. “You don’t want to do your homework? What’s gotten into you?”
“What did Hope do?”
“Well,” she started, then paused and squinted at me. “She followed your dad all over the place this morning. He walked out without his thermos when he left for the barn and came back for it and she wouldn’t leave him alone. She snuck out the door and followed him to the barn, and he had to bring her back.” Her eyes were crinkled up with laughter. “And when he went to shut the door, she scooted out behind him again. So, he let her go to the barn with him. When they came in for lunch, he said he was taking her to do the fields.”
“She was being a good dog?”
“Good as gold. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you didn’t answer me about the homework.”
“I finished it on the bus.”
“You have your chores then. Come help me with dinner when you finish up.”
It was strange not having Hope by my side while I did chores. I had gotten used to her tagging along behind me and tugging on my pant legs. My eyes kept drifting out to the combine slowly creeping closer to the house as it ate up row after row of corn.
Hope woke me up. She was barking in my face at the side of the bed. The nightlight made the white fur on her muzzle glow blue. When she saw me open my eyes, she ran to the door and scratched at it. She’d never acted like this, and I sat up rubbing at my eyes and trying to get her to hush.
“Hope. Come, girl. Here.” I patted my bed, and she bounded up and crashed into me. She licked my face once and then jumped back down barking in fury at the door. I glanced at the clock beside my bed. Dad would be up in an hour to start chores, but he’d be angry as a hornet if he was woken early. “No! Shush! Here! Come!”
She ignored me and started whining and jumping and biting at the door handle, and she must have hurt herself scratching at the door. There was blood on her paw and smeared on the floor.
“Hope! Shush!” I crawled from under the covers and tried to pull her back into the bed with me. She was having none of it and jumped at me, leaving bloody footprints on my pajamas. I caught her and tried to look at her paw, but she leapt away and was back at the door and pawing at it. “Okay, I’m coming.”
The minute the door opened, a whoosh swept past me, through me. I hurtled backward to the bed while flames licked at my face and Hope fled. I could smell sulfur and charcoal and knew my hair had been singed, but I lay dazed with the confusion of why a fire would be inside my house. All those lessons at school, year after year, about what to do in a fire…stop, drop, and roll…those flew right out the window when I was faced with the fury of the fire and the hot roll of the smoke gathering in my bedroom. They don’t really prepare you for that, and I just stood there staring in awe at the red and yellow and blue green flames as they danced around me and reached out for the firemen papered on my walls. It was Hope’s barking that brought me around, and I started yelling for mom and dad.
I could see their bedroom straight down the hallway, and Hope was barking and jumping at their door the same way she had been working at mine. Mom must’ve wanted to hush Hope, same as me to keep her from waking Dad, because she was the one that flung open the door. I’d never heard my mother scream before, and it scared me even more than the sparks that were popping off the wall and biting my arms.
“Go! I’ve got him!” My father scrambled out the door behind her and pushed Mom toward the steps. She went, and Hope started to follow her, but then swept past Dad and pulled at my pajamas. My mom stopped on the steps, and my father roared at her again. I never knew a fire could feel so loud. In two steps, my father had wrenched me into his arms and started down the steps. Hope sped by and out of sight.
The fire must have been burning a while because the steps collapsed as we started down.
“Look who’s here!” The nurse was holding the door open. I couldn’t sit up on my own yet. It still hurt too much, but I rolled my eyes that way.
“Hope!” I started crying. Like a baby. I was bawling. I don’t know another single twelve-year-old that cried like I cried just then. Except for maybe Jordan Calvin, whose dad said he was the next coming of Pedro Martinez. In fifth grade, he had a no-hitter going and won the game. He was so happy he cried like a baby just like I did when I saw Hope.
Mom had her on a leash, and Hope was pulling her so hard her feet were sliding on the floor. “I had to give her a bath. She didn’t like it much. I don’t want to let her go. I’m afraid she’ll jump on you.”
I held out my hand, and Hope came up and cautiously sniffed me over. She licked and licked at me and whined because Mom was holding her down by her collar.
“Your dad wanted to see her. The hospital said yes since…”
“Did he see her yet?”
“I wanted to take you with me. They’re going to wheel your bed over so we can all go together.”
The nurse had been moving around and unplugging things, but I hadn’t really noticed because of all the tears and, well, because nurses can be invisible without trying very hard. Unless you’re sleeping. And then they stomp around with cement blocks on their feet.
“Ready?” she asked. I nodded and she gently wiped the tears from my face. I guess so my dad wouldn’t see them. “Okay, here we go.”
The front wheel squeaked each time it made a revolution, and Hope’s nails clicked on the tile floor, but other than that, the hallways were long and silent. Hope stayed beside my bed as we went down the hall to my dad’s room, and I kept my hand out where I could feel the bump of her cool, wet nose each time she made sure I was still there. I wondered if the hospital would let her stay over with me.
Dad was lying on his stomach and had gauzy white fabric covering nearly all of his backside. We had both caught fire when the stairs collapsed, but he put my flames out first. His eyes were closed, but he must have heard the click of the nails on the floor because his head shifted a bit as we came up beside his bed. He couldn’t talk above a whisper, but Hope started whining and her tail went crazy when Dad said, “Good girl.”
We all stayed together in Dad’s room for most of the day, him and I dozing off and on, Mom sleeping in a chair, and Hope curled on the floor between the head of our beds where Dad could see her. Even after I went back to my room, Hope stayed by Dad. I cried like a baby all over again when she came to my room in the middle of the night and laid down by my bed because I knew there was only one reason she would have left his side.
Tone is how the author feels about a subject or his reader audience. Mark Twain, who wrote “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, is probably one of the most adept authors I’ve ever read at setting the tone of a story. Twain was a master of irony, wit, satire, and sarcasm and used every one of those to expose the bigotry and superstitions of the society of his time period.
Through Twain’s works, we see tone achieved by choice of words and sentence structure. By narrating from Huck’s point of view, readers are submersed inside the mind of a boy who is then used as a foil to exposing slavery as an evil of pre-Civil War America.
Think about a time you were happy or sad or angry or elated. Write down as many words and phrases as you can think of that are related to that moment, and then try writing a short scene through the eyes of an imaginary character who is experiencing that same emotion. Write from the perspective of a mother or a grandparent, a young child or a teen, a mythological creature or a Greek god, whoever strikes your fancy. If, while you’re writing, a story comes to mind, make some notes to begin plotting, or just dive right in and write.
Tone can also be achieved by varying sentence length. Think about using long wandering sentences versus short punchy ones. Long sentences can work well with a scene whose tone is casual, like a long, meandering walk on the beach, whereas several short sentences in a row “feel” like running or high action. A single short sentence at the end of a scene or chapter can build suspense and make the reader want to keep reading. Review your scene from the writing prompt above, or another work that you’ve written, and try modifying some sentence lengths to compliment the tone of the piece.
Roll the Dice
Roll a six-sided dice and adjust the tone of your story to adopt that of the coordinating number below:
How would you characterize each of the primary characters in the book?
Would the story have the same effect if it has been written from some other point of view?
What does the boy think of his father? Does his opinion, or your stance, change at all as the story progresses?
Besides being the puppy’s name, what do you think the title of the story references?
What marks do you think the father will leave behind?
Who are the heroes of this story, and what makes them heroic?
I honestly can’t remember now why I wrote Sheltered Hope or where the story originated. I know it was part of a month-long challenge for Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a less stressful version of the full-blown, month-long challenge with its stricter rules about what is acceptable writing for the contest. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo.org is the founding organization that encourages people to write their book, or at least 50 thousand words of it, all in the month of November. Writers can sign up for free and then commit to writing 1667 words each day. The company sends out emails filled with encouragement, contests for cover design, invitations to attend live online engagements, and reminders that success is a direct result of the writer’s commitment. They have a wonderful, worthwhile story of their startup at http://nanowrimo.org/history. Seriously, someone should make a movie about it.
In addition to the online community, local NaNo user groups have popped up across the world. The local user groups find a place to meet and then writers gather for word sprints, food, and fun. The importance of the local user groups is to, not only bring writers together with writing activities and discussions, but also keep them socializing, because writing tends to be a very solitary activity, and writing can sometimes take its artist to a dark place.
As I mentioned above, Camp NaNo is NaNoWriMo Lite. You can make whatever commitment to writing or editing that you’d like. In 2016, I did July’s Camp NaNo with a goal of writing 15 short stories. While I failed to accomplish that goal, completing only six or seven stories, I still won Camp because I spent well over the committed number of hours writing them.
Sheltered Hope was one of those stories, and the first draft was written in a single sitting. Far from perfect, though the central storyline was strong, I spent about 120 hours editing it. Editing included some scene rewriting, several washes through grammatical editing (by myself and others), and some additional character development. I felt I hadn’t developed the father and mother or even Hope very well and went about adding and modifying scenes to make improvements. The whole scene where the boy comes home and Hope is not in her usual spot to greet him was added as a new scene during one of the last rounds of revisions. I wrote it focusing on the idea that Hope had wiggled her way into the father’s heart, just as puppies often do. I also wanted to capture the boy’s fear that Hope had been a bad dog. I thought there might be a bit of that same hardness in the boy’s heart as there was in his father’s, knowing what his father might do to Hope if she got ahold of a chicken. Fear would collide with that desperation of needing to know what happened when he couldn’t find her.
I tried to write the portion of the scene with the mother in the garden in a way that portrays she’s been working all day, knows Hope is with the boy’s father because the father had decided to take her along to the fields, and doesn’t have a sense of anything out of the ordinary. With the boy playing it hard, as he’s observed his father being for his whole life, she doesn’t grasp his inner turmoil, and her focus is on the daily tasks at hand. She has her garden to tend to, is thinking about dinner, and wants to make sure her son is doing his homework. I think we’ve all been in this position at some point in our lives!
Thank you for reading Sheltered Hope. I’d love to hear what you think.
Mac shook his hair out and frowned. Drops of water covered the mirror and raced through the fog for the sink. For half a heartbeat, he considered leaving the streaks for Lisa, but he just didn’t have time to do battle. But Saturday was coming, and Saturday mornings were made for finding some small way to goad her into an argument. It was the one day of the week they could match wits, and then he could take his time making up with her under the bed covers.
Today, though, he just didn’t have time. Once again, he had slept through the alarm. With a swipe of a towel, he cleared the beads of water and fog from the mirror and admired his chest, still muscled a year after his last day of training for college football. He leaned in closer to look at the dark circles that puddled under his bloodshot eyes. Late nights studying at the law library were taking their toll.
The sting of eye drops made Mac hiss. The liquid that didn’t make it into his sinuses rolled down his cheeks like tears. He snatched a tube from inside the cabinet, squeezed a dab of gel into his hands, and smoothed back some of the wild, sandy blond strands curling at his temples.
“Late again?” Lisa swatted his bare butt as she walked by the open door on her way to the kitchen for coffee.
“Always,” he said. He stuck his head out the door and admired her pajamaed curves. “Would be better if we could drive our car.”
Mac had griped about not having a car closer to their apartment from the first day he had moved in with her. Their flat inside the heart of the city had no parking garage of its own and the closest one that wouldn’t break their budget was more than two miles away. Everyone had a car in the midwestern town where he grew up. It wasn’t the discomfort of waiting at the bus stops in the damp chill of the October air. Shoot, gun season hadn’t even started yet. He could sit in a snow-covered tree stand all day dressed in little more than a sweatshirt and his winter camo. No, it was the inconvenience of having to depend on someone else to get him around the city.
Mac squeezed the toothpaste too hard and it fell off his brush into the sink. He growled and scooped it onto his brush. After a few quick brushes and a swipe of the toothbrush across his tongue, he rinsed and dropped the brush with a plink into a jelly glass in the cabinet. A speck of toothpaste mocked him from his stubbled chin. He dashed it away, and then snatched a brush from a drawer to drag through his damp hair. A pink, elastic hair band was wrapped around the handle of the brush like a good omen. He wouldn’t need to make a mad dash looking everywhere for one of his own rubber bands. With a quick flick of his wrist, he pulled the pink band around his mass of long curls. Well, not too long. Lisa had said when they first started dating that she wasn’t looking for a Fabio, so he kept his hair trimmed to shoulder length.
“Nobody who lives in the city drives their own car to work. Too much traffic to deal with and there’s no place to park.” Lisa walked in and sat down on the toilet lid with both hands wrapped around her coffee mug. “We’ll get a new place once you have your degree. Is that my hair tie?”
“Was on the counter. I gotta run.” Mac headed toward the bedroom to get dressed.
“No, you gotta find a different hair tie.”
Mac didn’t stop. “What? No. I’m late.”
Lisa’s feet rapped a quick tattoo as she rushed in behind him. She had abandoned her cup in the bathroom and stood with both hands on her hips. “I’m serious.”
“What are you talking about?” Mac snatched a shirt over his head and pulled on a pair of pants. The bed squeaked as he sat down on the edge and slipped his feet into a pair of black sneakers. He didn’t bother tying them. “Lisa, I’m late.”
Lisa pounced on the bed and made a grab for Mac’s hair, but he ducked and stood up, then leaned away as she swiped at him again. Her face had turned a mottled red and Mac wondered why she was getting so riled up over some stupid hair tie. Especially, when she knew he needed to get out the door to catch the Madison Ave bus. If he didn’t catch that one, he’d be too late, maybe even fired.
She jumped from the bed and grabbed his shirt. “It’s mine. It’s my lucky hair tie.”
“Why are you acting so weird about this?” He brushed past her. “I gotta go.”
“No.” She stepped between him and the door and put her hand out.
“Really? This is what’s important right now? Now? When I’m late?” He pushed by her through the door.
Lisa’s elbow thumped against frame. “Ow!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled without turning around. “I’ll give it back later.”
“I just want my hair tie back.” Her voice bounced off the walls and followed him down the hallway where he snatched a camouflaged coat from the hook by the entryway. The bathroom door slammed behind him.
Lisa held her breath. She counted to ten, and then opened the door to hover with her ear to the crack. Other than the measured drip of the shower at her back, the apartment was quiet. The hinges pleaded for a drop of oil as she opened the door wider and stuck her head into the hallway. It was empty.
As she walked across the room, she chewed a fingernail. In the last week, all her nails had been whittled down until they bled at the corners, so it was no surprise when she tasted blood. Through the front door, the muffled ding of a bell announced the elevator, and Lisa froze. She waited a heartbeat, then swiftly moved to her coat and reached inside a pocket to extract a pink and white box.
The instructions on the back of the package were incomplete, so she opened the box and dug out the sheet of paper. As she padded back to the bathroom, she tucked the box under her arm and unfolded the page. She read it top to bottom, then flipped it over to read the other side. Her single year of high school Spanish was not going to help her read page two. Lisa pressed the paper flat on the counter and willed her hands to stop trembling. The applicators rattled against the sides of the box as she tipped one into her hand.
“Just pee on the stick.” She swallowed hard and stared at the stranger in the mirror. “Go ahead. Have your fortune told.”
Richelle Renae’s A White Crow is available on all major reading platforms.
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When a boy finds a stray puppy, it comes as a surprise to everyone that he's allowed to keep her because his father is a hard man who thinks chores are more important than pets. It isn't long, though, before Hope wriggles her way into everyone's heart. Sheltered Hope is a tragic story that explores the notion of compassion and how mercy offers its own rewards. It is the fourth workbook in the Read Write Ponder series, a collection of short stories constructed to engage readers, writers, and educators. Each novelette-sized book is comprised of a single short story, writing prompts to encourage creative writing, discussion questions for thoughtful analysis of characters and theme, and a letter from the author about her inspiration for the story and the techniques she used to write it.