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I once got paid to spend the summer telling lies to little kids. I ran a mountain man program at a district Boy Scout camp. I told my guests I was born in my log cabin and I traded for everything I had. Late evenings I shot muzzleloader rifles with campers and then told ghost stories around the fire. Oh, how I wish that would pay enough to be my career instead of just a one-time summer job.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Killer and Max

    The two little dogs had met in the pound. The miniature pinscher and the pug became friends by commiserating with each other each time families walked past their kennel and chose larger dogs, cuter dogs, furrier dogs, or – heaven forbid – cats. Finally, at the end of the week, e-day had arrived. Since the dogs were small, the pound employee wasn’t paying too much attention. The man in puppy dog scrubs was quite sad about the odious task that fell on his shoulders, so he delayed until the very last possible minute. Just as the bosses were beginning to lock up, he relented and started preparing the drugs. Right when he opened the small kennel, a huge commotion arose nearby. Lucy, an over-excited Dane, crashed through her kennel and started running laps around all the other kennels. All employees started chasing her, and Killer saw their chance. The two little dogs, normally quite yippy when excited, very quietly trotted out of the kennel when everybody was working on cornering Lucy. The boss had accidentally triggered the automatic door, so Killer and Max quietly scampered into the darkness.

    For the next few days, they scavenged what they could. They worked together to catch a stray lizard or grasshopper. They mostly only hunted in the late evening or early morning. Nighttime was spent hiding from coyotes and daytime was spent hiding from the heat. On their fourth day of freedom, Killer realized they weren’t getting enough water. Max was reluctant to follow, but slowly the pair started exploring backyards on the edge of town. The first yard was xeriscaped with cacti and gravel. The second yard had a leaking sprinkler head, but the sight of an unfriendly Rottweiler kept them away. In the third yard, a grumpy middle-aged man was sitting on his patio and waving a fan in front of his scruffy face. A glass of ice tea sat on the ground next to his chair, and even though it was a dry day, some moisture had condensed on the glass. Slowly, Killer snuck into the yard from the side of the house. The min pin was too focused on her objective and how the cold, wet glass would feel against her dry tongue. She didn’t notice the man stop fanning himself when his peripheral vision caught slow movement.

    She was just a couple feet away. She would have to crawl under the man’s chair to get to the glass, but the payoff was worth any risk. The man had slowly turned his head toward the dog. Just a couple seconds after she entered his shadow, he simply reached down and scooped her up. Killer was too thirsty and hungry to make a fuss, so she just whimpered once and went slack. Max watched from the shadows of the bordering shrubs as the man examined Killer from nose to tail. The person grumbled something about “mangy-looking dog” and “acceptable anniversary gift”, and then he took Killer inside. Max whimpered quietly in the shadows and laid down.

    About an hour later, Max awoke to an uncomfortable feeling. Something was in his ear. Something wet. Something slimy. He opened his eyes and recognized Killer. She looked happy. She started pushing on Max’s side with her muzzle. Reluctantly, he got up. She went out from the comfort of the shade, but Max stayed. Returning to her friend, Killer started pushing on Max again. Stubbornly she pushed against his rump until he exited the shade. Killer trotted over to the patio and then turned to look at her companion. She gave a couple little yips and then started trotting in circles around a bowl of water the man had given her. Max was wary because the man was out of sight, but his thirst compelled him forward. Just as his tongue was about to begin lapping up the water, giant hands from out of nowhere scooped him up. The grumpy man examined Max with the same lack of excitement he showed to Killer, and then grumbled something about “guess she gets two anniversary presents.”

    At first, things with the new family went very well. The wife was very excited to have two little dogs. Max took a little longer to warm up to them than Killer did, but after the first week they both relaxed. After about a month, both dogs wagged so constantly that they seemed like little balls of energy. In their eagerness to show their new people gratitude, at least one dog was licking a person at all times. Even at night just before falling asleep, both Max and Killer scampered around the bedroom until they got picked up so they could slobber affectionate kisses all over the people. The woman seemed to enjoy it, but the man seemed to endure it.

    After a couple more months, the man stopped picking up the dogs for his evening showering of affection. He began closing the door to his den. He began reading the newspaper on the patio despite the heat. Finally, instead of an afternoon “business” walk he just started pushing the dogs out into the backyard and leaving them there until they were done.

    One day, Killer overheard the man grumbling words like “pest”, “craigslist”, and “money”. She trotted into the bedroom and saw the man typing on his laptop. He looked up and said something like “get rid of you both” and set down his laptop. Killer recognized the look the man gave her. It was the same look her first owner had when he dropped her off at the pound. It was a look of disgust. She scampered off and hid under the couch.

    The man shrugged his shoulders and took out a camera. He snapped a picture of Max. “Both small dogs, picture doesn’t matter”, he thought to himself. He turned down the lights in the dining room and began shaking the camera just a little. He snapped another picture of Max. Figuring somebody’d care more about the dog than the picture, he went back to his computer to finish the ad.

    Killer knew what would happen next. Somehow, they’d end up back at the pound. That was no place to be, so she decided to make her escape. She had become so fond of Max though, so she knew she’d have to drag him along. That night, as soon as the man pushed them out the door Killer started shoving Max toward the edge of the yard. He thought it was a game, so he started pushing back. Killer yipped a little warning, but Max returned a playful yip and charged her. Being more stocky than the min pin, Max knocked her over. Each time she’d get back up, he’d knock her over again. She realized he was having fun, so she finally just stayed down. Max waited for her to get up, but when she didn’t he lost interest and took care of business. She reluctantly did the same and sat patiently but sadly next to the door.

    The same scene played out each night. Each day, Killer sat remorsely in the window, sad that the previous night’s effort had failed but determined to try again. Each day the man grumbled something about “nobody else wants you either” and the woman became a little more concerned about Killer’s behavior. At the end of about a week, Killer noticed some strange activity. The woman didn’t seem happy, and she had made a call to somebody named “vet”. Killer became quite nervous. She started whimpering, and finally Max noticed that something wasn’t right. The woman noticed Max’s change, and said something like “better take them both.” She scooped up both dogs and took them to the car. After fastening her seatbelt, she noticed there were no keys in her hand. Hurridly, she got out of the car and rushed back to the house. Even though the keys were swinging in the door lock and she was back to the car in less than a minute, that was all the time the little dogs needed to vanish.

    On their own again, the two spent a few days chasing lizards and grasshoppers. It was the middle of fall, but the days were still too warm to be really active. This time Max was the one to realize the need for water. Killer didn’t want anything to do with people any more, but she stuck to her friend out of devotion. The pug led the way into a few yards. They had wandered around the desert near town, but they were nowhere near the house they’d just left. Quietly, Max would sneak around a yard looking for water while Killer would hide in whatever cover she could find nearby. Yards were going into hibernation for winter, gardens were harvested and drying out, pools were covered. Max was beginning to give up hope because it seemed like no payoff was coming for all of the risk he was taking.

    The last yard he approached was surrounded by a gigantic fence. He could smell something unusual, but couldn’t identify the faintly familiar odor. In the corner of the yard, the ground was quite disturbed. It looked as if a gigantic chunk of earth had been removed and then replaced. This seemed recent because the ground was still soft. Max pushed aside teaspoons of dirt at a time with his tiny paws until there was a hole just big enough to squeeze through. Peeking around a large tree, he saw what appeared to be a little table with little cups. He didn’t think people came in packages small enough to drink out of cups that small, but there seemed to be some water spilled near the cups.

    Very cautiously, Max crawled across the ground toward the table. As he neared the table, his attention switched from scanning for danger to anticipating the liquid. Just a couple body lenghts from the table, he had completely forgotten everything but that water when he was completely eclipsed by a shadow. Freezing, he began to growl. When Killer heard her friend growling, she reluctantly left her hiding place and crawled through the fence to the base of the tree. Peeking around the corner, she nearly fainted at the sight.

    Max nearly exploded with panic as he noticed the changes to his environment. On both sides of Max’s head were a dog’s paws, either of which was nearly as big as Max. Attached to the paws were two legs almost twice as long as Max’s body. When Max looked up, he saw just inches from his head a dog’s mouth into which he could fit. Staring down at him was a pair of eyes that seemd to Max to be bigger than the entire sky. Between the mouth and the eyes were a pair of nostrils into which Max could fit his entire forepaw. Above the eyes were a pair of ears either of which Max could use as a blanket. Perched askew between the ears was a pink rhinestone tiara with ringlets of fake golden blonde hair. When the two dogs’ eyes met, the giant mouth opened and the ground around Max shook with a single bark. From that angle Max didn’t recognize the Dane that broke from her kennel the night Max and Killer escaped, but Lucy’s tongue licking Max and covering him with slobber from tail to nose and flipping him over caused any dread to evaporate from Max’s heart.

    Killer darted out from her hiding place determined to protect her friend. When the Dane lay down, Killer grabbed one of her hears and started to shake it as fiercely as she could, growling. Lucy simply shook her head and Killer sailed through the air, landing in a heap at the feet of a squealing 6-year-old girl decked out in a pink princess gown. The little girl scooped up Killer and scampered off to her mom, pleading to please rescue the poor little thing. The mom looked at her daughter and saw from the welling tears that the little girl’s birthday wish had changed from a pony to a min pin.

    That night, Lucy and Max slept in the same room. They shared a queen-size mattress bought just for Lucy in a room others would describe as a guest room, but these people described as their Dane’s room. Lucy stretched her long legs all the way across the bed and dangled her toes over the edge and Max used her ear as a blanket. The birthday girl insisted on sleeping in her princess gown and sharing her bed with the new queen of her bedroom. Killer still felt terrified from the giant dog’s head shake and thought she might’ve been a little bruised, so she winced no matter how gently the little girl stroked her. Just before falling asleep, the little girl yawned and whispered “Your highness, I hope you like your new kingdom enough to stay here with me forever and ever. I love you.” Despite the misadventures of the past few months, Killer found herself completely at ease as she licked the child’s cheek once and then fell asleep.