A Hot Summer's Day
The Mountain Trail
Stranger in the Forest
Another couple of miles to go, Rusty told himself. He did the math in his head filling the silence with his calculations. Figuring an average of 30 inches per step, he started his countdown from a thousand adding a familiar cadence to maintain his pace.
"Your left, your left, you had a good home and you left," he chanted to the sound of his footfall. Nine ninety-five.
Birds sounded in the trees above and around him, calling out alerts for their mates and offspring. Stranger in the forest.
It had been a while since his travels took him to this particular place. The lush green foliage and profound quiet called to his nature. He hoped the dogs would still be at the campsite when he arrived.
Packed into his gear was a collection of useful items including a small can of dog food, a package of hot dog buns and some frankfurters wrapped in ice from the convenience store. His mouth watered thinking of the franks roasting over a small campfire later that evening.
Your left, your left, he quickened the pace.
He'd never forgotten the two beautiful dogs he'd met on his last camping trip. After a long haul aboard a rail car, he was ready for some peace and quiet and the company of the animals.
Buddy the Stray
Buddy waited on the cool dirt, lifting his head at each new sound that echoed in the forest. He cocked his head catching the sound of a train whistle in the distance. Every time a train passed through, he imagined seeing his friend Hot Dog Man coming down the dusty trail. His ears went up and he began to tremble.
It had been too long since Buddy's last good meal. He'd grown adept at hunting down the stray mouse or slow critter but the sustenance was meager and random. His prominent ribs were concealed by wiry fur thatched with brambles and a collection of twigs. His ragged appearance never mattered to Hot Dog Man whose loving touch and friendly banter could calm even the hungriest of dogs.
The train whistled again, an eerie sound. Buddy listened for footfalls headed down the path. No one appeared at the edge of the campsite where he lay by the cold remains of a spent fire.
City of New Orleans
Get a Rhythm
Seven forty. Rusty's boots pounded out a rhythm as he strode through the brambles, each step, one step closer to a well-deserved rest. His journey had been fraught with unexpected strangers whose motives were sometimes nefarious. One such encounter left him nearly penniless when he'd reached out to help another traveler and been repaid with theft. But the encounter had only strengthened his determination to set aside his rail-car hitchhiking and settle down into a quiet place. His multiple talents and strengths would allow him to be self-sufficient, calling on his skills as a woodsman.
He'd found an abandoned farm house nestled within a pecan grove. With some repair and carpentry, he could revive the place and live out his days, surrounded by the friendly strays that gravitated toward him. A couple of chicken coops, some domestic animals and a chance to return the much-neglected orchard to its former splendor. Selling a pecan crop would provide the essentials that he couldn't grow. He was a simple man with few needs. Right now, he needed some sleep.
Four seventy-five. Four hundred seventy-five steps. Rusty counted each one as his boots crashed through the undergrowth of the forest.
Chain of Fools, John Travolta from Michael
Buddy's ears went up. The sound of twigs breaking along the trail were either his friend or danger coming. He wasn't sure which it would be. His muscles tensed and he felt a low, rumbling growl roll out of his nostrils.
Emerging from the growing dusk of the woods, two pairs of glowing eyes appeared at the mouth of the trail. From his hiding place under an upturned plastic kiddie's pool, he watched the two scraggly dogs enter his space. Their noses caught his scent and they stood rigid, poised for a confrontation.
What Buddy saw was perplexing. The two dogs that stood by the campfire were tiny, but emitted a strong aura of fierceness. He could see from their overgrown teeth, adult sized in a puppy's mouth, they were not much more than babies.
He crawled cautiously out from his makeshift shelter and bowed, extending his stretch longer than normal to relax the intruders. The smaller of the two bolted to safety finding refuge under a nearby bush. The other one stood her ground waiting to see what would happen. Buddy welcomed the newcomers with a loud yawn, lying down with his back to the big sister who beckoned to her litter-mate to come out.
They had a quiet stand-off that lasted for a time before the little one came out from hiding and the exhausted pair lay down across the way from Buddy.
Timid But Tough
The sun had dropped below the horizon when Rusty found the worn path he'd traveled so many times before. Only a thousand feet or so before he'd reach the campsite. "Divided by thirty inches, that's only four hundred to go!" His pace quickened as he made the final approach to the worn and secluded campsite he'd used often in the past. It was only on his last trip that he'd run across the pair of strays. It had nearly killed his soul to leave them in the woods, but he had one more trip to make, another series of labor-intense jobs to fulfill before he'd have enough to buy the farmhouse.
Your left, your left. He plodded forward in anticipation. Fears of every kind flushed through his mind as he made the final turn. What he saw at the campsite was not the two dogs he remembered. Buddy was standing there, waiting as usual, but his original companion had been replaced with two gangly, puppy-looking mops that slept hard until they heard his footsteps approach.
"Hey, old friend!" Buddy's tail wagged at warp speed. The two strange dogs stood abruptly and backed away at first. Rusty dropped his back pack on the ground and dug inside it's cavernous depths for a couple of dog biscuits.
Once they watched Buddy chomp down on his treat, they came closer, inch by inch, warily, but starving for food and affection they'd missed for so long.
Rusty gave them some much needed reassurance, then gathered some firewood and twigs from the area and built a fire. Soon, the irresistible aroma of grilled meat filled the small campsite and they all ate as much as they could for the first time in what had seemed like a lifetime to the dogs.
Rusty fell asleep in the comfort of a soft sleeping bag, surrounded by the warmth of the grateful and contented strays. Tomorrow would begin a new life for all four of them, a family of his own at last.
Thanks to Bill Holland, Billybuc, for his photo challenge 5 that inspired this story.
© 2020 Peg Cole