It’s the Missing Link, Charlie Brown - Uncharted

It’s the Missing Link, Charlie Brown

By Olivia Payne

I found a rock that was good to hold. A trip to Beachy Head, one of my days with Charlie. He liked the rock too, kept bringing it back, preferring it to his tennis ball, picking it out of the other uncountable, small, smooth stones. He kept it in his mouth after I told him to drop, drop, and he kept it there for the two-hour drive home. When I was packing his things to give over to Linda for her weekend, I found it hidden in his bed. There’s a book in the library, I never got it out, but there’s a book in the library – not exactly a self-help book, but it had some general tips that anyone could use – that suggested hiding money in your winter or spring coat at the end of the season, that way you rediscover it in a few months. It’s a little treat, to make you smile. You’re looking out for yourself. I don’t have two different coats, so I kept the rock in the pocket of my good-jeans. And I only wear my good-jeans to see Linda, so she knows I’m doing okay. Maybe not her-and-Mark-okay, but okay. It was a nice thing to still have for myself when I handed over Charlie. I would feel that weight, and I wouldn’t see her, or the service-station car park or Mark – sometimes she just sent Mark as if it was his dog – or sometimes her kids couldn’t help themselves, and they would come out of the car, Doggy! Doggy!, like it was their dog. That would go away, and I could see Charlie on the beach. No clouds, no crowds, but still people in the distance, a general hum of others also enjoying themselves, and us being a part of that. As he chased down the beach, after the rock, his fur would melt into the sand, and I could only make him out by his tail, darker brown ending in a white tip, like he carried a candle on his back, a light to know him by. He was really going that day, running non-stop, jumping, swimming, and throwing himself against the waves. If I walked five miles, he would have done twenty with his zagging and looping.

‘What a good boy he is!’

‘Cute dog.’

‘Hello, you!’

‘He’s so calm!’

People stop and speak to me when I have him. Or, they speak around me. They ask his name and some of them get it, and they laugh. Sometimes children misunderstand and call me Mr. Brown; they even introduce their dogs to me with their names, like Bailey Dodds or Patches Robertson, and their parents laugh because dogs aren’t family. I don’t tell them, I’m not that sort of man, I don’t need to tell strangers my life story, so I let them stroke Charlie, but I don’t say that Linda and I named our dog Charlie Brown making a vow to name our firstborn child Snoopy. We would joke about it, I even think we were serious. We would say it could be a middle name, so they wouldn’t get bullied, so it could be a loving family joke. When our parents asked if we had any names in mind, the first time, before they stopped asking and we stopped informing, we would sometimes say, Luke S. Cooper, or Nicola S. Cooper, and then laugh if they asked about the mystery initial. And when he saw us laughing, Charlie, just a puppy then, would thump his candle-tail on the ground, laughing along with us. He’s a smart dog. Beagles are a smart breed. So, of course, he knew the rock was special before I did.

Charlie himself was with Linda when I found out. He was busy pretending to be their family dog on their summer holidays. She’d sprung it on me at the handover.

‘Is it alright, Neil? The kids would love it if he could come.’

‘Yeah, I just worry that he’s a little old for such a long trip.’

‘He’s fine. He’s a trooper, aren’t you, boy? Aren’t you?’

‘Yes, you are, good boy Charlie.’ We petted him together for a while. If life was a romcom, our hands might have met in his fur, and we would have looked at each other. But she has Mark, and together they have children, and we have a leftover dog, and after him, we’ll have nothing. And I’d already given her nothing the first time around.

‘Please, Neil?’

‘Yeah, of course. I don’t want to spoil your holiday. I was just worried, that’s all. But if you think he can make it…’

‘Thanks, they’ll be so excited. Plus, this means you could get away yourself. Why don’t you get out for a little bit? Somewhere sunny. I would kill just to get away somewhere by myself, to relax.’

She smiled, trying to ignore the rising sound of her children’s restlessness in the back of the car. So he left with them, and I waved them off with one hand, the other gripping onto the rock.


‘Is it drugs?’

‘Not any drug I know.’

‘Maybe it’s new.’

‘Right, all those new drugs they’re releasing.’

‘Gen Z, I’m telling you–’

‘Gen Z? That guy?’

I pretended not to hear because I was pretending not to be anxious. It had been years since I’d flown anywhere, I didn’t know any of the new rules, and I was already sticking out. A single, nondescript white man, traveling alone, light luggage – I looked so inconspicuous that I looped right back around to being suspicious in the line of families and friends, children riding their parent’s luggage, women already in beach wear like they’re going straight from the plane to the shore, serious, young couples in shorts with huge rucksacks, people wearing sashes and funny hats off for weddings, birthdays, conventions. And me and my rock. I didn’t want them to know how much the rock means to me because then they would’ve definitely thought it was drugs. It’s not their fault, they’re trained to think of things that way. The job narrows them. They looked at me again, looked at the rock. A normal-looking rock.

Having passed that trial, I thought nothing of the security dog. Another little beagle, just out of puppyhood, with bright eyes and a smart harness.

‘Hello! Hello there – I probably can’t pet him, can I? He’s working. Probably smells the dog on me. I have a beagle at home, yes I do, older than you though.’

I tried to pet him without obstructing him, respectfully, but maybe it looked like I was trying to move him away because they did not like that. Eyes and whispers, louder than they would be if this had been any other public space. They already felt out of the country enough, free enough to whisper, uh-oh, doesn’t look like a druggie, doesn’t look like a terrorist, you never know, see that, god was he going to be on our plane do you think?

‘Sir, what is this?’

And I explained again to one, then another, that it was a rock that Charlie Brown had found. Maybe their dog liked it too. My dog loved it, I said, over and over. It’s a good rock. He’s a good dog.  More dogs came. German Shepherds and Spaniels and Labradors. ‘Serious dogs,’ I was told, ‘ more experience.’ These serious, senior, been-around-the-block-and-then-some dogs, these no-nonsense, cut-the-bullshit, weren’t-born-yesterday dogs were all in agreement with their junior colleague. They expressed this by pulling at leads, whining, scratching, various tail manoeuvrers, barking. Their handlers were suitably impressed, but it was all inconclusive.

I went through the scanner. The rock went through the scanner. There were several different levels and sizes of scanners. We went together and apart.

‘I am picking up something here–’

I got put in one room whilst the rock stayed in another.

‘I’m afraid you cannot bring this into – where is he going? Ha, right, where was he going – I’m afraid you cannot bring this rock with you to America.’

‘Oh. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I didn’t know. I really didn’t mean to, but it’s Charlie’s favourite,’ I tried to laugh, ‘didn’t even realise, you know?’ They didn’t seem to know. ‘Is there anywhere I can bring it? It sounds silly, but I tend to keep it on me. I think I’ve missed my flight, like you said, haha, but I got travel insurance; I don’t usually, so that’s sort of lucky, isn’t it? So I’ll probably book something else but of course don’t want to cause all this again, obviously, so uh…?’

‘Mr. Cooper, sir, it is illegal to transport undocumented livestock to any country.’



‘This is a rock. I thought livestock was, I mean, it’s like cows, isn’t it? Cows and sheep and horses. Farm things. Farm animals?’

‘Look, I know,’ the guard leaned in close to me, ‘it’s stupid, but it was the best they could come up with. This rock is, well, it’s alive. And I know, right, pull the other one, but they didn’t explain it to me, so I can’t tell you, but it’s not a plant or a pet or food, so the nearest thing it is in regulations is livestock. Like I said, I know it’s stupid, but they can’t risk having it travel, you know?’

‘Oh, like an invasive species thing. It might eat endangered pebbles. Mate with the local boulders.’

‘Exactly, so, I’m sorry about your flight and what you’ve been through today, and we would like to offer you some complimentary air miles with your airline of choice–’

‘But it’s a rock.’

‘Mr. Cooper, please, we know it was an honest mistake, and this whole thing is unprecedented, so we won’t be pressing charges, but we do have to ask you to leave the airport now. With your livestock.’

‘What do you even mean by alive? Is it some kind of egg? I’ve just had it in my pocket for years–’

‘Look, it was just giving off,’ she waved her hands, ‘something. Life. Brainwaves or some kind of wave or electric-thingy. A vibe. You’re lucky they aren’t calling MI6 or whatever.’

‘Well, it would be MI5 – but you’re saying something alive is in the rock or? What?’

‘No, the whole thing. The whole shebang, as far as we can tell. You’ll get your air miles in three to five working days.’

I said thank you, thank you, as they hurriedly walked me off, armed guards pressing tight to me until I was all the way out of the airport, sharp looks until I was out of the car park, the rock wrapped in three bags screaming HAZARDOUS in my pocket.


It’s a good rock, nice to hold, and fits in the palm. I looked closer. For lack of a microscope, I found a heavy, Holmesian magnifying glass. Nowhere near strong enough to show the cells, but the surface suddenly became rougher, pockmarked, scarred. I held it to my ear (nothing). I smelt it (nothing. But I then had to find several other rocks to smell to confirm if this was normal rock behaviour. Conclusion: yes). Rocks are inorganic matter. I knew this already. And some rocks are dead life all pressed together, like the chalk cliffs that make up Beachy Head, where the rock was found but probably not where it came from. The rock could have been in a glacier, maybe some long extinct animal was trapped in the ice, held in stasis, and millennia later, it has thawed out from the heat in the pocket of my good-jeans. Not a rock at all but some long extinct animal that disguised itself to avoid predators. Or maybe it was just a normal rock, but Charlie chewed the life into it. Maybe his saliva and his DNA got mixed into the sediment, seeped into its hidden core, and I incubated this dog-rock offspring in my pocket. Maybe it was hit by lightning. Maybe it isn’t a rock but an asteroid. Aliens did cross my mind at least once, which led me straight to the computer to see if I could find an explanation more suited to a grown-up man. I already live alone, I didn’t want to become that guy, the guy who thinks his living-rock is more than it is. There was nothing clear, a lot I might have needed to know was hidden behind scientific journal paywalls, but I got an idea.



‘Neil? Are you in California? You don’t sound like you’re in California.’

‘I’m not, I’m at home.’

‘Oh, Neil. That’s – that’s really stupid. It’s just really stupid of you not to go. It’s disappointing. I try so hard–’

‘No, no, I wanted to go, really; I packed, I showed up, but they wouldn’t let me on the plane.’

‘Wouldn’t let you on the plane? What did you do? What – hold on, Nicola, no. No, Mark, would you? I’m on the phone–’

‘It was this rock that Charlie found–’

‘Mark, would you please

It’s alive. Our Charlie found a rock that is actually alive.’

‘What? Hold on, I missed all that. Charlie did what? He’s doing fine here, you needn’t have been worried. He’s been such a good boy–’

‘He’s a great boy, a brilliant boy, he found the missing link between organic and inorganic matter. The starting point of all living things, the god rock–’

‘Do you want to talk to him? Let me put him on, here, Charlie, Charlie –’

A rough panting came down the phone.

‘Who’s a clever boy?’

More panting, some whining. I could feel the wiry hairs of his chin on the receiver, the flecks of spit, the heat of his meaty breath.

‘You did it, Charlie Brown, you really did it. This is a huge leap in abiogenesis, a mystery of life unlocked,’ he started to whine a little; it was heavy stuff, even for a beagle, ‘I’ll explain when you get back. But think: first, the planet was formed, and it had ordinary rocks, and then things like your rock developed, and then bacteria, plants, what have you, and then BAM, all the way up to you and me, Charlie!’

He started to bark; maybe a part of him understood, my smart boy, and the noise was whisked away into the air. All was faint against the sound of Linda and her family, the phone pressed against her shoulder. Down Charlie, you’ll get dinner in a minute. Mark! Linda in the bustle of her new life. She forgot to say goodbye.

‘Goodbye, Charlie. See you soon,’ I said to the dial tone. ‘Come here, Woodstock.’

I put him back not into my jeans but my shirt pocket, the one nearest the warmth of my heart, and we waited for Charlie to return to us, his real family.

About the Author

Olivia Payne is a librarian working in London. She is an alumni of the Faber Academy and proud member of the Write Like a Grrrl community. She has previously had work published or forthcoming in Litro Magazine, STORGY, The Amphibian Literary Journal, Cobra Milk, Corporeal, and Alphabet Box. She is currently working on her first novel.

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