"Lightning bolts are all around, but don't worry folks. I'll land this plane. I can't see because of the clouds and one engine is about to breakdown, but I'll get us home.
Co-Pilot Smitty, radio my Mom and tell her I might be late for supper."
Co-Pilot Smitty barked in acknowledgement and wagged his tail as the jetliner disappeared into a froth of dark clouds.
Danger was everywhere and only the best and most courageous pilot could get them down safely before Daddy got home.
For 11 year-old Sandra (not "Sandy" as she would be quick to tell you) the old blue swing on her front porch looked out on more than 14th Street. For her there was a vista free of time, space and logic. It was everywhere she wanted to go and let her do everything she wanted to do. And it was there whenever she wanted it or needed it.
"Yes, Pasha Taj Mahoopa, with my flying carpet I can rescue your kidnapped son and return the treasure chest full of rubies and pearls. All I ask is my usual fee: one million dollars and a bag of potato chips.
What? You have no chips? Very well, I am reasonable as well as brave. I'll take some Twinkies and chocolate milk. Have them ready when I return with Prince Fazool."
And away she would fly on her magic carpet, slicing through the clouds over the dusty mountains of ancient Egyptistan.
Sandra's imagination was so complete that the porch, the house and all of 14th Street disappeared when she launched her swing. Her eyes stayed open, but they didn't see the tile floor of the porch or Smitty the family dog and sometime Co-Pilot. They saw...everything.
She composed her thoughts clearly. She could really smell the jet fuel, feel the desert heat and hear the roar of the lions just outside her campsite high on an escarpment in the remotest reaches of her Africa.
Sandra's imaginary worlds were painted in the most minute of detail. All the edges were crisp, all the raindrops, sweet and wet. The buzz of every bee sang in her ear.
The believability of the worlds she visited on the porch swing rivaled the one where she was just Sandra, "Smitty" was just a dog and the swing was just blue painted wood hanging on chains.
The giant bird swooped down, coming at them out of the sun. It caught "Sky General Sandra" by surprise.
"Hold on", she yelled as she sent them into a steep dive. The bird reached out with its razor sharp talons and scraped at the tail of the jet. It left a jagged bit of claw in the metal and a long scratch in the blue paint.
Sandra punched the afterburner button and two spears of yellow flame leapt from the jet engines and they left the bird behind.
The bird was no longer a problem, but the frozen surface of the glacier was. As the jet continued its dive the ice covered earth loomed ever closer.
Sandra pulled on the controls with all her strength. She looked over and saw Co-Pilot Smitty. He had his paws wrapped around the yoke, trying to force the jet out of its dive with all the power his yellow Labrador ancestry could muster.
At the last second the plane, shaking with the effort, turned its nose toward the sky and the promise of more adventures to come.
"That was close, Smitty."
"Yes, it was, Sky General Sandra", he said.
She looked over at Smitty, her eyes growing like a rising sun.
"You just talked."
"So did you."
"I didn't know you could talk. Your a dog."
"I can fly a jet plane. You're surprised I can talk?"
"Good point. Why haven't you spoken before?"
Smitty reached out and adjusted something on the control panel.
"You never really wanted me to talk before. This is your universe. Things are as you imagine them."
"Cool. Want to go home and get a snack?"
"Sure, Do we have any of those little liver treats left?"
When they landed and returned to the porch on 14th Street Sandra looked over at Smitty sitting there next to her on the swing.
"Chips for me and liver treats for you, OK?"
The handsome retriever gave a sharp yip, jumped down and headed for the screen door. Sandra followed and they both went straight to the kitchen. Close calls high in the skies called for frequent snacks.
Neither of them had noticed the flecks of blue on the porch floor. On the back of the swing was a ragged scratch on the middle slat. They also failed to see the small piece of crescent shaped talon embedded in the blue painted wood.
"What did you do today, Sandra?" Her father was home for supper early tonight.
"Not much, Dad. Smitty and me played on the porch some."
"Did you have fun?" He reached for the potatoes.
"Oh, sure. We love the swing." She sprinkled salt on the drumstick. Sandra liked chicken. It was her favorite food in the whole world, after potato chips.
"Sometimes", said her mother as she passed the peas, "I look out there and, I swear, those two look like they're a million miles away."
Sandra looked down at Smitty who was sitting by her chair. He reached out and licked her hand. She scratched him behind his ear and slipped him a bit of chicken.
The water lapped against the sides of the gondola as Secret Agents Sandra and Smitty kept sharp eyes out for "The Scourge Of Venice", the notorious Dr. Angelico.
They had been cruising the canals for hours, looking for the evil genius that had been drilling holes in basements around the city. Venice was sinking and he had to be stopped.
As their bright blue gondola came around the corner by St. Mark's Cathedral, a shot rang out. The Gondolier grabbed his shoulder as he fell into the water.
"There" said Smitty! "In the bell tower! High above the plaza, its Dr. Angelico!"
Sandra looked heavenward and saw the sunlight glint off the toothy grin of the madman.
"Smitty, we're sitting ducks. Get us out of here."
The powerful dog moved to the rear of the small boat, dipped his tail into the canal and began to wag for all he was worth. The gondola flew across the water toward the pier and safety.
Angelico fired another shot. It hit the pavement at Sandra's feet as she and Smitty ran across the plaza toward the tower.
The two Super Spies knew that the fate of Venice was in their hands and paws.
As they sprinted up the steps they could hear the maniacal cackle of the dastardly Doctor.
"You can't stop me. I'm going to sink this city!"
His screeching laugh echoed throughout the tower.
Just as they reached his high perch, Dr. Angelico raised his rifle and fired at Sandra. She ducked as the bullet whizzed by her ear.
Smitty leapt at the insane genius. Angelico staggered backwards and, locked in a death grip they both fell from the lofty tower.
Helplessly, Sandra watched as Smitty, without ever letting go, used the evildoer as a sky-surfboard and expertly rode him down and into the dark canal far below. The splash was enormous.
As he dogpaddled to safety, Smitty watched the mad Doctor sink to a watery grave, deep in the very canals he had hoped to control.
Sandra met Smitty as he climbed out of the water and gave himself a vigorous fur-drying shake.
"Smitty, that was fun, but we'd better get home. Mom is making 'Sloppy Joes' tonight."
"Excellent idea Sandra. I saw her set down a can of 'Beefy Bits' for me. It's really quite good, you know."
As she stirred the saucepan filled with the "Sloppy Joe" mixture Sandra's mother watched her daughter come down the hall toward the kitchen. Smitty, as always, a few steps ahead.
"Oh, for crying out loud. How do you do it?"
"Do what, Mom?"
"You two can just sit out there on the porch swing and still manage to make a
mess. I just mopped an hour ago."
Sandra looked at the hardwood floor. Smitty had left a trail of wet, muddy paw prints all the way in from the porch.
The sun was low in the sky. Another summer day was slipping away, lost in the shuffle of countless other summer days that fill a child's memory.
Sandra sat on the stone porch steps, Smitty at her side watching the cars that passed by. They both avoided the blue wooden swing. It had been days since they had launched the swing into fantastic travel.
"Smitty, we gotta talk."
"Oh, right. Thats only on the swing."
Smitty let out a short whimper, got up and started to walk across the tile floor, into the day's last warm spot of sunlight.
"I need to talk to you Smitty. I really, really wish you could talk. I really, really, really want you to be able to talk." Smitty turned and looked at her over his shoulder and shook his head like a fly was at his ear.
"Sandra, what have you done?"
"Smitty! You talked! Say something else."
He looked around carefully.
"I'd rather not. Let's walk to the park."
Sandra jumped down the steps one at a time. Smitty took them all in a single leap and together they walked quickly to the small park a block or so away. It was almost empty this time of day. They shared the wide top of a green painted picnic table. Blue jays complained from the trees above them.
"Sandra, this is not a good thing."
Why? I think its great that you can talk."
"I know you do, but...dogs have never talked. We're not supposed to talk, I believe."
"You talk to each other, don't you?"
"Yes, except for some of those dogs from Texas - that accent. And Poodles, of course."
"Well, they tend to stay to themselves. Its a long story."
"I wonder what Mom and Dad will say when they know you can talk?"
"No! They can't know."
"Think about it. I'd be a freak. A talking dog? Other people would be sure to find out. I'd be put on display - 'Smitty the Talking Dog'. Some crazy scientist like Dr. Angelico would try to get his hands on me. No, for my sake, this has to stay a secret."
"Oh, I see what you mean. OK, our little secret, I promise."
They both relaxed. Sandra lay back on the table and tried to spot the blue jays high in the leaves. Smitty stretched out, resting his chin on his paws. After a couple of quiet minutes Smitty lifted his head and looked at his human beside him.
"By the way, what did you need to talk to me about? You said you really needed to talk."
She sat up and patted his back. He closed his eyes in delight.
"Right. It's kind of related to this, I guess. Some strange things have been happening."
"I've noticed," said Smitty. He sat up and scratched his side with his back leg.
"You left paw prints on the floor after you jumped into the canal in Venice."
Smitty nodded, a bit ashamed at the memory. He was normally very fastidious.
"And," he added, "Have you taken a look at the back of the swing? There's scratch marks from that big bird that attacked the jet last week."
"Why is this happening? Those things weren't real. We were just playing."
"I'm not sure, Sandra. Maybe they are becoming real. You have always had a very powerful imagination."
"But these things can't really be real. Can they?"
"You and I are sitting here. I'm a talking dog. Tell me again that they can't be real."
School was going to be starting again in a week. The long warm days on the porch would have to wait for another year to pass. Time was making its inexorable way toward winter.
Sandra thought about what had been happening and what Smitty had said. Strange things were going on that shouldn't be. The worlds she had been creating in her mind were starting to linger on into the real world. She was causing it.
She knew that she had a power, a power to do things, all things. The Genie in the bottle only gave three wishes. She had a very important decision to make.
"Smitty, I think I know what I have to do."
"I'm going to 'unimagine' the things that have happened here and then I'm going to stop."
"Stop imagining? That's impossible Sandra. You can't stop it. You just have to learn to be careful with it. You must decide wisely what you should and should not do with this gift of yours, and it is a gift."
"Open the door for me. It's going to rain."
Sandra sat alone now on the swing. She was moving purposefully deep inside herself and setting her plan into action.
A late summer storm was moving close. The air was thick and the smell of rain was saucy in the nose.
As Sandra rocked slowly back and forth a smile came to her face as things began to happen.
With a shimmer of the light, the blue paint on the back of the swing spread over a ragged scratch and a small piece of talon disappeared back into Sandra's memory.
Smitty looked at her through the door. He wanted to avoid the imminent rain and he knew that it would soon be time for his plate to be set down. He also knew that she needed to do this alone.
Sandra looked around and saw him through the screen. She laughed out loud, clapped her hands, and got up from the swing. She felt very good about her decision. She felt very mature, almost twelve.
A thin flash of lightning illuminated her face and a low roll of thunder alerted the world that a change was coming.
All around the neighborhood, screams and the sound of glassware hitting the floor could be heard, along with the low, articulate tones of Smitty, Chelsey, Spike and Chopper, all asking for their suppers.