Something didn’t smell right.
Ginger stopped halfway down Ashmore Street and sniffed the air.
Her nose tingled.
Her insides tightened.
She couldn’t be sure.
All the normal walking-to-school smells were there. The soft tang of carports warming up in the sun. The faint but exotic fragrance of mums and dads frying breakfast for their kids. The lovely minty aroma of families cleaning their teeth and telling each other jokes and laughing and spraying toothpaste around the bathroom.
Ginger sighed and tried not to feel jealous.
She could still smell something else.
Something not right.
I’m going to ignore it, Ginger decided. I’m not going to let it spoil my day.
She turned her walkman up, headed along the street and concentrated on making up swearwords for her school assignment.
Suddenly Ginger’s nose went mental, tingling so hard her eyes watered.
The smell was exactly what she’d feared.
Oh fuguggle, she thought, screwing up her nose.
She sneezed. A big wet sneeze that made her stagger and almost drop both schoolbags and fall off the kerb.
Embarrassed, Ginger squinted around to see if she’d sprayed anyone. Luckily the street was almost deserted. But not quite. A car went past and Ginger was pretty sure it had its windscreen wipers on.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
A fuguggling cat, she thought as she got ready to sneeze again. That’s all I fuguggling need.
It was bad enough Mum and Dad rushing off to a meeting without asking a person if she needed a lift to school. Leaving a person to lug her little sister’s left-behind schoolbag. But finding a cat had invaded your one cat-free way to school was enough to make you weep.
Ginger sneezed instead.
It was another big one and it nearly flipped her walkman headphones out of her ears.
She wiped away the sneeze tears and peered up and down the street, trying to see if the cat was a sneaky tabby or a snooty know-it-all Siamese or one of those explosions of fluff that look like they’ve had gunpowder up their bum.
Not a cat to be seen.
Just a dog.
A big shaggy dog, standing across the street, staring at her.
Ginger stared back.
She could see it wasn’t wearing a collar. She always felt sad when she saw dogs like that. Poor mutts without anyone to care for them.
Probably a victim of workaholic parents, thought Ginger. She gave the dog a sympathetic smile.
Then she felt several more sneezes starting.
Fuguggling great, she thought. Now I’m allergic to dogs too.
After Ginger finished sneezing, she pulled herself out of the hedge she’d fallen into, slung the schoolbags over her shoulders again and staggered down the street towards school.
Her nose ached.
She hoped the cat was behind her and not hiding up ahead, planning an ambush. She’d read somewhere that repeated sneezing while you’re weighed down with two schoolbags could damage your spine.
She glanced across the road.
The dog was walking along on the other side of the street, keeping up with her.
What a weird dog, thought Ginger.
It looked like a cross between a shaggy Eskimo dog and an overgrown cattle dog, except it was black.
Ginger wondered how a stray dog without a family to groom it or give it marrowbone jelly could stay looking so glossy. By spending hours licking its fur, probably, so people wouldn’t spot it was a stray and chuck things at it.
The thought made Ginger’s eyes prickle, and she knew it wasn’t a sneeze starting.
She stopped and turned her music down.
The dog stopped too.
‘G’day,’ said Ginger, giving it a friendly smile.
The dog bared its teeth. Ginger saw how big they were and how sharp. But for some reason they didn’t look scary. Perhaps it was because of the puzzled glint in the dog’s eyes.
Poor thing’s probably confused, she thought. Probably used to people saying g’day with rocks.
‘Sorry I can’t stop and play,’ she said. ‘You know what it’s like. Parents with busy careers. Plus I have a very forgetful little sister. I’ve got to keep moving so I can get to school before my shoulders fall off.’
Ginger pointed to the bags. The dog looked like it understood. Almost like it felt sorry for her.
Suddenly Ginger wished people would be kinder to animals.
Well, some animals.
‘You can walk with me if you like,’ she said, setting off again.
Across the street the dog trotted along, keeping level with her.
I bet it’s hungry, thought Ginger. She wished she could do something to help. But what? It was hard to think with the bags thumping her in the hips and her neck killing her and only five minutes till the bell.
Then Ginger had an idea.
If you have to carry your sister’s bag, thought Ginger, you should be allowed to share her lunch. Specially as she never finishes it.
‘Do you like Vegemite and fishfinger sandwiches?’Ginger asked the dog.
As far as she could see, the dog wasn’t screwing up its face or gagging.
‘Good,’ said Ginger. ‘I’ve got some breakfast for you.’
Without stopping, she stuffed her headphones into her pocket and tried to unzip Mitzi’s bag. She couldn’t because the bag was swinging about on her shoulder so much. She stopped to make it easier.
The bag kept moving.
Ginger stared at it.
Something was moving inside the bag.
Oh no, she begged silently. Please no.
Another big sneeze said yes.
Ginger regained her balance, wiped her face and unzipped Mitzi’s bag, just a fraction. She peeped in. And saw exactly what she’d dreaded she’d see.
A pair of accusing eyes. A bunch of indignant whiskers. All surrounded by very irate orange fur.
Ginger wrenched the zip shut and sneezed again.
She felt faint. No wonder Mitzi’s bag was so heavy. It wasn’t overdue library books in there, it was Cornflake.
Why would anyone put a cat in their schoolbag?
Suddenly, as Cornflake started meowing loudly and crossly, Ginger remembered why.
School Pets Day.
Ginger was seized by the desire to yell so loudly that Mitzi would hear her all the way down the road in school.
Pets Day, she wanted to yell, isn’t till next Thursday.
Ginger was halfway through planning the type of diary she was going to buy Mitzi, and the type of torture she was going to invent to make Mitzi use it, when she remembered the dog.
The dog must have stopped when she had. It was still staring at her from across the street, eyes glinting, not looking at all worried by the amount of saliva and snot that had been flying around.
Its ears had pricked up.
In the bag, Cornflake’s muffled complaints were getting even louder.
Oh fuguggle, thought Ginger. I’ve just offered breakfast to a starving stray dog and it thinks I mean Cornflake.
Now the dog’s teeth did look scary.
Ginger wondered if she should try and explain to the dog that it was all a mistake. That it wouldn’t be fair to attack a person who only had a cat on them by accident.
She decided not to.
The dog wasn’t standing still any more, it was moving across the street, coming at her, its breath rasping out through its fearsome teeth.
Pausing only to sneeze two more times, Ginger grabbed the bags and ran.
Teacher’s Pet is available in bookshops and libraries in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and online:
The audio track on this page is an excerpt from the Bolinda Audiobook Teacher’s Pet, read by Morris Gleitzman. Buy it online: