The Intelligence of Dogs by Tower of Babel (flash fiction)
James Downs was a very sick little boy.
At only ten years old, his doctor had diagnosed him with cancer. And the disease was in its last stage.
But the most devastating effect of James illness was not the fact that it was terminal, but that he was separated from his best friend, Duke, a black, long-haired, Australian Collie, Sheppard mix dog.
James loved Duke very much.
Animals weren't allowed in the hospital, so Duke had to stay at home when James' parents' visited him.
It shattered James' heart to be away from Duke. Duke was seven, and the dog had been with the family since a pup.
James' parents brought pictures of Duke when they visited, but it wasn't the same.
There was an in-room telephone next to James' bed in the Children's Ward of the hospital, and family members used it to call in to talk to him.
When visiting hours were over, the line was connected to the hospital switchboard.
The phone rang now.
James' mother picked it up. "Hello?" she said.
Her eyes narrowed with confusion. She listened intently. There was a low, but continuous huffing on the other end. "Who is this?" she asked.
When the individual didn't answer, she hung up.
The next day, the phone rang again, and James' mother answered it. Again, there was a low continuous huffing, almost like breathing.
"Who is this?" James' mother asked. But there was no answer.
This went on for a couple of days. And every day, it happened like clockwork, when James' parents' visited him in the hospital.
"Who is it, Mom?" James' finally asked, when it happened for the latest time. He sat up in bed. James' father also showed interest.
"Some weirdo who has the wrong number!" she replied, and slammed down the phone.
The hospital finally changed the number, and the phone calls stopped. But only for a short while. Then they started up again.
The police became involved, and a trace was done. And James' parents were shocked to see that the number traced was their home number.
When James' parents' got home - it was approximately the same time of day that they would have been visiting James at the hospital, but today they chose to investigate the strange phone calls instead with the police - they arrived to find Duke in the living room next to the phone with his paw over the buttons.
"Duke! What are you doing playing with that?" James' mother said.
"Mom?" came James' voice on the other end of the speaker phone.
"James?" she said.
Duke put a paw next to the call button. The number to James' hospital room was programmed automatically into the phone, and it was the same button that was lit up.
"Mrs. Downs?" came a familiar voice on the other end of the phone. It was the Oncologist who was looking after James. "This is Dr. Dawson, I've been trying to contact you. But your home line was busy. I think I know why. I have some good news…"
He went on to say that there had been an error in James' cancer results and it was treatable. Normally news like this would wait to be told at the hospital in the doctor's office, but he blurted it out over the phone. Besides, he knew they would want to know immediately.
James' mother started to cry.
James said, "Don't cry, Mom. Everything's going to be okay now."
"Yes, honey, it will be," James' mother replied.
"You have a very smart dog," Dr. Dawson then said.
"I know," James' mother said. Each prior phone call was Duke trying to contact James at the hospital. She petted Duke on the head. "Duke must have seen us use the phone when we called James' room," she said. "Since James' father and I were together when we made the calls, we used the speaker phone."
"The switchboard received a call from this number," Dr. Dawson said. "We have a new operator on duty and she instantly relied the call unaware of the police investigation."
"It was Duke, Mom!" James said happily. "He barked as soon as he heard my voice when I picked up the phone in my room! He's so smart! Speak Duke!"
Duke gleefully barked.
"Yes, dear…" James' mother replied chuckling. "…he certainly is."
"I'll be home soon, Duke," James said.
Duke barked again.
* * *
One week later, James and Duke were reunited. And James was well on his way to making a full recovery.