Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 21
The wind blew across the campsite scattering the cold ashes of the once-warm fire. Whirligigs of dust circled about in the clearing where the strays had taken shelter trying to stay out of the wind and rain. Rover and Buddy nestled in a shallow depression under the blue plastic pool. Cookie and Nicole snuggled behind the girth of a fallen tree. In a still moment between gusts of wind, the dogs sensed someone tromping noisily down the trail.
“Hey boys!” the friendly voice sounded. “Are you still here?” Buddy’s large tail sent out a thumping all-clear message. He crawled out and greeted Rusty with a deep bow and noisy yawn. Rusty spotted two new dogs hiding in the brush nearby.
“Who is this little girl?” he asked, speaking to the larger of the two pups. Cookie wiggled out with a tentative greeting. Buddy and Rover glanced at the place where Nicole was hiding.
“Well, come on out here little one,” Rusty said. “My, aren’t you the pretty one?”
Cookie ran over and whispered to Nicole. “This is the Hot Dog Man, you know, the one the boys told us about.” Nicole cringed and remained skeptical until Rusty opened his backpack, took out a sack of dog biscuits and shook it. He ripped open the bag, glad he’d picked up supplies at the store before all the excitement with the police. Three dogs ran over and formed a neat half-circle around Rusty’s feet. He passed out one to each dog, then, cautiously approached the little dog in the underbrush. He squatted and patted the grass in front of him.
“Come on out and get a treat,” he coaxed. “Don’t be shy.” Before the feast of bread she would have come out for the slightest scrap of food. With her hunger satiated, she remained in the brush while the others chomped their biscuits and begged for another.
“We need to get to shelter right away,” Rusty told them glancing at the ominous skyline. He pulled out a small can of Vienna sausage and popped off the metal lid. The irresistible smell of meat won over Nicole who crawled out and joined the others.
“Who wants a Veener Schnitzel?” he asked, pronouncing it like his dad always had. Four sets of eyes watched his fingers reach into the can. Rusty tore one sausage into four bites and gave a piece to each dog. He turned his collar up against the rain, buttoned his coat and began the soggy trek toward the farmhouse with four dogs trailing along behind.
Finally reaching the rickety front porch he tried the doorknob. It turned with a loud creak. But the door was stuck the doorjamb swollen and tight from disuse. He set his backpack down and shoved against the door with his shoulder. A couple of sturdy hits and the door broke loose and opened all the way banging against an ancient backstop. An odor of stale, musty air drifted out causing Cookie to sneeze.
“Come on in here,” he called grabbing his gear and ducking out of the rain. The dogs crept inside behind him. They looked around before shaking out their wet coats and taking places at his feet. He passed out four sausage pieces and then reached over and gently closed the door behind them.
The howling wind grew quieter inside the house despite making its way in through broken window panes in the front room. He dug through his backpack and pulled out a small, powerful flashlight and shined it around the large parlor which opened into a long hallway. On the right, an archway opened to the heart of the house, its enormous farmhouse kitchen. Half of the room held a dark wood hand-built table that stretched nearly the width of the room. His mind pictured The Walton’s from TV eating dinner at the table. Several of the hardback oak chairs were lined up along the side wall under faded curtains that flapped eerily in the breeze.
The flashlight beam passed over the kitchen floor. An old-fashioned tapestry rug stretched heavy and solid in front of the cast iron enameled sink. Rusty lifted one corner of the rug and spotted a rectangular outline in the floorboards. Seconds later he was fitting Eleanor’s key into a concave brass lock set in a panel on the longest side. The antique lock sprung open, its well-oiled mechanism still in excellent condition after a hundred years of service. He pulled up on the brass ring and lifted the hatch. The flashlight panned over a set of steep concrete stairs leading down about ten steps before they turned to the left. The unmistakable odor of underground spaces grew stronger as he descended.
The dogs looked down from the top of the stairs watching their new friend descend into another world. The shelter occupied a space as large as the house above it. Rusty glanced around as his flashlight revealed gadgets that any man good with his hands could put to use.
“Looks like William and Eleanor liked to plan ahead,” he said noting the built-in shelves filled with canned goods, gallons of drinking water, and staples that would feed a large family until the worst of storms blew over. The first room held an old-fashioned wood burning stove vented along the wall in a complex set of pipes designed to take the smoke up and out. Past the rustic table with long benches on either side he entered a second larger room where workbenches lined the walls. Etched into the 8 x 8” timbers supporting the benches were ax marks and the distinctive patterns made by old fashioned hand saws.
Tucked under one workbench he found a battery-powered indoor generator. Attached to the handle was a laminated sheet with operating instructions. By flashlight he studied the details and within minutes he fired up the generator and low wattage LED lights flickered on in all the rooms.
With the rooms lit, he could see pegboards above the workbenches with every kind of tool imaginable: chisels; wrenches; hammers of all sizes; saws; screwdrivers; an old fashioned hand drill; and wood planes. Around each, a penciled outline was drawn designating its place for tools that would satisfy the most versatile carpenter. Along the back wall hung every sort of tool needed for metal fabrication; tools he knew how to use to repair practically anything made of metal.
The dogs had waited only until the lights came on to creep down the stairs, eager to explore the strange new world where Rusty had gone. He sprinted up the stairs once they were down to lock the hatch securely over their safe haven.
Shelter from the Storm
Connie tried to get comfortable on the metal cot in the jail cell. Although the door remained unlocked and open, the confined space made her squeamish. Vibes of former residents circulated in the room, their whispers hissing in the howling wind outside the wall. Detective Brannigan had found a spare pillow and an army blanket which she’d folded to cushion against the hard surface of the bed. While she studied the graffiti on the ceiling she thought about Queenie, the pups and her old flame, Rusty who’d long ago abandoned her and their dreams.
© 2018 Peg Cole