For Ages
8 to 12

In this fast-paced time travel adventure into the future, a girl and her dog set out to save the world from a deadly plague.

He smells terrible. He'll eat literally anything. And he's humanity's only hope....

When 12-year-old Georgie makes friends with an eccentric retired scientist, she becomes the test-subject for a thrilling new experiment: a virtual reality 3-D version of the future. At first, it's just a game. But when a deadly virus threatens to wipe out every pup on the planet, Georgie and her beloved (and very smelly) dog, Mr. Mash, along with best friend Ramzy, must embark on a desperate quest to save the dogs-- and also all of humanity. And they have to do it without actually leaving the room. This high-concept, astonishing new novel from the author of Time Traveling with a Hamster takes us on an epic adventure, and asks the question: is it really possible to alter the future?

An Excerpt fromThe Dog Who Saved the World

Chapter One 

It’s six o’clock on a warm summer’s evening and Ramzy Rahman and I are staring at the back entrance of the Spanish City entertainment center, not daring to knock. Mr. Mash has just scarfed down a Magnum ice cream bar that someone dropped on the pavement and is licking his chops, ready for another. He even ate the wooden stick. 

There’s a massive double-height steel door in the white wall--one of those doors that’s so big that there’s a normal-sized door cut into it. In the middle of the normal door--looking totally out of place--is a knocker like you’d see on the door of a haunted mansion. The metal is green and in the shape of a snarling wolf’s head. 

Mr. Mash looks up at the wolf’s head and curls his lip, though he doesn’t actually growl. 

Around the corner, on the seafront, men in shorts push babies in strollers; cars with dark windows hum along the coast road; and people pedal FreeBikes in the bike lane. Ramzy nudges me to point out Saskia Hennessey’s older sister, in just a bikini, flip-flops, and goose bumps, shimmying toward the beach with some friends. I keep my head down: I don’t want to be recognized. 

Above us, the sky is the intense blue of late afternoon, and it’s so hot that even the seagulls have retreated to the shade. Ramzy is doing his familiar shuffle-dance of excitement, and I feel I should calm him down. 

“Ramzy,” I say patiently. “We’re just visiting an old lady. She’s probably lonely and wants to give us tea and scones or something. Scroll through photos of her grandchildren. And we’ll be polite and then we’ll be off the hook. That’s not an adventure, unless you’re very odd.” 

Ramzy gives me a look that says, But I am very odd! 

Eventually, I lift up the wolf’s head, which hinges at the jaws, and bring it down with a single sharp rap that echoes much louder than I expected, making Ramzy jump. 

His eyes are shining with excitement and he whispers to me, “Tea, scones, wolves, and adventure!” 

Dr. Pretorius must have been waiting, because no sooner have I knocked than we hear several bolts sliding back on the other side of the door, and it opens with a very satisfying creak. (I see Ramzy grin: he would have been disappointed if the door had not creaked.) 

Now, to complete his delight, there should have been a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning revealing Dr. Pretorius in a long black cape, saying, “Greetings, mortals,” or something. 

Instead, it’s still bright and sunny, not even slightly stormy, and Dr. Pretorius--as long and as thin as a cat’s tail--is wearing the same woollen beach robe as when we met her this morning. 

She just says, “Hi,” in her throaty American accent. Just that: “Hi.” 

Then she turns and walks back into what looks like a large dark storage area. With her bushy white hair on top of her thin dark body, she reminds me of a magic wand. 

She has gone several steps before she stops and turns to Ramzy and me. 

“Well? Whatcha waitin’ for? The last train to Clarksville? Come on in. Bring the mutt if you have to.” 

On the other side of the cluttered storage area is a narrow flight of metal stairs leading up to a platform with a handrail. She doesn’t wait to see if we are following, so I peer round the high, dusty space. It’s piled with boxes, bricks, bags of cement, ladders, planks, a small cement mixer, a leather sofa propped up on its end, and a builder’s dumpster filled with rubble. There’s other stuff too: a horse’s saddle, a car seat, bar stools, an exercise bike, a huge machine for making espresso, and something the size of an old-fashioned wheelbarrow on its side, half covered by a dusty blue tarpaulin.

Ramzy pokes me in the back and points to it. “Psst. Check out the copter-drone!”

I have heard of copter-drones, obviously, and I’ve seen people demonstrating them on YouTube and stuff, but I’ve never seen one for real. I’m thinking that Clem would be dead jealous that I’ve seen one before he has. Then I remember that I’m not supposed to tell anyone that I’m here. 

Dr. Pretorius is saying: “. . . my green wolf knocker--d’you like it? It’s called verdigris. From the old French, green of Greece. It’s copper carbonate caused by the brass tarnishing in the salty air. Same as the Statue of Liberty. But you knew that, didn’t you?” 

We say nothing, following her up the stairs, both of us casting curious glances back at the storage area and what might--or more probably might not--have been a copter-drone. 

She stops at the top and turns. “Didn’t you?” 

“Oh aye. Definitely,” says Ramzy, nodding enthusiastically. 

“Liar!” she snarls, and points her long brown chin at him. I notice that the white halo of her Afro quivers when she talks, then goes still when she stops. “What’s the chemical formula for copper carbonate?” 

Ramzy’s poor face! His mouth droops. Ramzy is clever but not that clever. “Erm . . . erm . . .” 

Dr. Pretorius turns again and marches along the metal landing, her beach robe billowing behind her. “It’s CuCO3,” she calls over her shoulder. “What do they teach you at that school of yours, huh? Is it still self-esteem and climate change? Ha! Come on, keep up!” 

We trot after her, Mr. Mash’s claws click-clacking on the metal walkway. 

She halts by a pair of double doors in the center of a long, curved wall and faces us. She takes a deep breath and then starts a coughing fit that goes on for ages. At one point, she is almost bent double as she hacks and coughs. It kind of spoils the dramatic moment, but then, as suddenly as she started, she stops and straightens up. Her face softens a little. “Ah! Don’t look so scared, fella. I’m just gettin’ old is all. What’s your name?” 

“R-Ramzy. Ramzy Rahman. Ma’am.” 

The side of her mouth goes up and she chuckles. “Ma’am? Ha! Well, you got better manners than I have, buddy. Invitin’ you into my place without even a proper introduction. So we’ve got Ramzy Rahman and . . . ?” 

“Georgina Santos. Georgie for short.” I don’t do the ma’am bit. I can’t carry it off like Ramzy. 

“OK, Georgie-for-short and Ramzy-ma’am. That was my little test, see? But from now on no more lies, huh? From here on in, I’m trusting you. Did you tell anyone you were here?” 

Ramzy and I shake our heads, and both say, “No.” 

“Noooo,” she drawls, and takes off her thick glasses, bending down to peer at us with her strange pale eyes. “So is it a deal?” 

We both nod, although I’m not at all sure what the deal is exactly. 

“Deal,” we say together. 

Seemingly satisfied, she turns round and flings open both doors, growling, “Well, ain’t that dandy? We’ve got ourselves a deal! Welcome, my little chickadees, to the future! Ha ha ha haaa!” Her laugh is like an arpeggio, each bark higher than the one before, ending on a loud screech. 

Ramzy catches my eye and smirks. If Dr. Pretorius is pretending to be a crazy person, then she’s overdoing it. Only . . . I think it’s real. 

Mr. Mash gives a little whine. He doesn’t want to go through the doors, and I know exactly how he feels. 


Chapter Two

I’ve tried really hard to work out where the whole thing started. By “the whole thing,” I mean Dr. Pretorius’s “FutureDome” stuff, the campervan explosion, the Dog Plague, the million-pound jackpot . . . everything. And I think it started with Mr. Mash:

Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like dogs.

That’s number one on my Wisdom of the Dogs poster. I know it sounds a bit final, so I’ve come up with some exceptions:

1.   People (Ramzy’s aunty Nush, for example) who have grown up in countries and cultures where dogs are not pets. So it’s not really their fault.

2.   Mail carriers and delivery people who have been attacked by dogs, though it’s really the owner’s fault for not training the dog properly.

3.   People who are allergic. I have to say that because of Jessica. More on her coming up soon.

But, exceptions aside, I think it’s a pretty good rule. Dogs just want to be with us. Did you know that dogs have lived alongside humans for pretty much as long as we’ve been on earth? That’s why we have the expression “man’s best friend.” (And woman’s, and children’s as well, obviously.)

I was born wanting a dog. That’s what Dad says, anyway. He says my first words were “Can we get a dog?” I think he’s joking but I like to pretend it’s true.

Next to the poster on my bedroom wall I’ve got a collection of pictures of famous people with their dogs. My favorites are:

•    Robby Els and his poodle.

•    G-Topp and his (very cute) chihuahua.

•    The American president and her Great Dane.

•    Our king with his Jack Russell (I met the king once, when I was a baby, before he was the king. He didn’t have his dog with him, though.)

•    The old queen with her corgis.

Anyway, eventually we got a dog. It was March last year, not long after Dad’s girlfriend, Jessica, moved in. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

I knew something was up. Dad had taken a couple of calls from his friend Maurice, who used to be a vicar and now runs St. Woof’s Dog Shelter on Eastbourne Gardens. Nothing odd about that, but when he answered, he would say, “Ah, Maurice! Hold on,” and then leave the room, and once when he came back in he was smirking so much his face was nearly bursting. Of course, I didn’t even dare to hope.

I asked Clem, but he’d already started his retreat to his bedroom, otherwise known as the Teen Cave (a retreat that is now more or less complete). He shrugged. To be fair, getting a dog was always my thing, not my brother’s. If it doesn’t have a smelly gas engine, Clem’s not all that interested.

Not daring to hope is really, really hard when you’re hoping like crazy. I’d look at the calendar on my wall--12 Months of Paw-some Puppies!--and wonder if we’d get one, ranking my preferences in a list that I kept in my bedside drawer:

1.   Golden retriever (excellent with children)

2.   Cockapoo

3.   Chocolate Labrador

4.   Great Dane (I know, they’re massive. “You may as well buy a horse,” says Dad.)

5.   Border collie (v. smart, need lots of training)

I even tried to work out what was going on in Dad’s head. It was like, Jessica’s moving in, Clem’s growing up, Georgie’s not happy about any of that, so let’s get her a dog.

Which suited me fine. And then . . . I came back from school one Friday, walked into the kitchen, and Dad was there. He said, “Close your eyes!” but I had already heard a dog whining behind the door.

I have never, ever been happier than when Dad opened the door to the living room, and I first saw this bundle of fur, wagging his tail so much that his entire backside was in motion. I sank to my knees, and when he licked me, I fell instantly, totally in love.

Dad got him from St. Woof’s, and we didn’t know his age. The vicar (who knows about this sort of thing) estimated him to be about five years old. Nor did he fit anywhere on my list of favorite dog breeds.

So I made a new list, where “mutts” was at the top.

It lasted a month. Twenty-seven days, actually. Twenty-seven days of pure happiness, and then it was over. Trashed by Jessica, who I try so hard to like--without success.


Chapter Three

It wasn’t Mr. Mash’s “gas problem” that was the issue.

I for one would have put up with that. Although sometimes the smell could make your eyes water, it was never for long. No: it was Jessica, one hundred percent.

It started with a cough, then wheezing, then a rash on her hands. Jessica, it turned out, was completely allergic.

“Didn’t you know?” I wailed, and she shook her head. Believe it or not, she had simply never been in close enough contact with dogs for long enough to discover that she was hypersensitive to their fur, or their saliva, or something. Or maybe it developed when she was an adult. I don’t think she was making it up: she’s not that bad.

OK, I did--occasionally--think that. But after Jessica had an asthma attack that left her exhausted, and her hair all sweaty, we knew that Mr. Mash would have to go back.

It’s probably unusual to have the best day and the worst day of your life within a month, especially since I was still only ten at the time.

I cried for a week, and Jessica kept saying she was sorry and trying to hug me with her bony arms, but I was furious. I still am sometimes.

Mr. Mash went back to St. Woof’s. And the only good thing is that he is still there. The vicar says I can see him whenever I like.

I became a St. Woof’s volunteer. I’m way too young officially, but Dad says he persuaded the vicar to “bend the rules.”

Actually, it wasn’t the only good thing. The other good thing was that there were loads of dogs at St. Woof’s, and I liked them all.

But I loved Mr. Mash the best, and it was because of him that--fifteen months later--Ramzy and I ended up meeting Dr. Pretorius.


Chapter Four

It was morning, about nine, and there was a cool, early mist hanging over the beach. There was me, Ramzy, Mr. Mash, plus two of the other dogs from St. Woof’s.

I had let Mr. Mash off his leash, and he’d run down the steps and across the sand to the shore, where he likes to try to eat the white tops of the little waves. Ramzy was holding on to ugly Dudley, who can’t be let off the lead because he has zero recall, which is when you call to a dog and he doesn’t come. Dudley once ran as far as the lighthouse, and would probably have run farther if the tide hadn’t been in.

So there was Mr. Mash down by the shoreline, Dudley straining on his leash, and Sally-Ann, the Lhasa apso, sniffing the stone steps very reluctantly. Sally-Ann’s a “paying guest” at St. Woof’s and I genuinely think she’s snobby toward the other dogs there, like a duchess having to stay at a cheap hotel.

Under the Cover