Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 6
The Fruit Box
As night closed in on Cookie and Nicole they huddled closer together in the smelly box. It was late and they longed for their mother’s warmth in the cool night air. While they dozed they were aware of hollowness deep inside their tiny bodies. They had searched every inch of the box for any remaining trace of the puppy mush, but there was nothing left; not even a smear of gravy to be found in the stained newspapers. They noticed their water bowl missing as well.
A distant howl sounded from the surrounding trees whose whispers echoed around them. For a brief moment they thought it was their mother who had found them. As the sound drew closer they caught a whiff of something new and frightening. The scent made the fur on their shoulders stand up. A twig snapped as the creature made its way closer and closer. Nicole whimpered pitifully.
“Quiet!” Cookie hissed. All her puppy senses screamed out a silent alarm at the approach of the predator. “Don’t move,” she instructed her sister. Together they waited, still as statues, hoping for the animal to pass them by unnoticed.
Trapped in the box, their vulnerability became clear to Cookie. What had begun as a safe warm haven had somehow turned into a prison. The strange creature stalking their box was only a skunk whose curiosity led him to their scent. When a large bird swooped overhead, it scared the creature away but the pups didn't know that. They remained motionless for a long time until there were no further sounds or scent of the intruder.
But there was also no sign of their humans. In the past, whimpering for attention always brought the soft hand that picked them up for a quick cuddle. Cookie understood that whimpering wouldn’t bring back their mother or their humans.
They’d explored every inch of the box earlier during a game of chase. Now she searched in earnest for a way out. She decided it was time to make a plan and issued instructions to her little sister.
“You need to do what I’m doing,” she said as she began to dig at the corner of the cardboard where water had spilled. Nicole watched carefully and took over while Cookie rested. Her claws easily ripped away the wet top layer. Soon they were able to expose the dry thickness underneath. Working together, they successfully opened up a small hole in the side wall. With the opening well underway, they both ripped and tore at the heavy duty cardboard slowly enlarging the hole.
“Just a little more,” Cookie told Nicole who had tired of this hard work and wanted nothing more than a warm meal and a nap. “We have to get out of here before that big bird comes back.” The frightening memory of the swooping vulture inspired a new burst of energy in the exhausted puppy. They both tore fervently at the ever-widening hole testing often to see if they could fit through the gap.
“Almost there,” the larger puppy said pulling her head back into the enclosure. Some of her fur snagged on the rough edges of the opening. “Still a bit too tight,” she remarked shaking off the discomfort of the missing fur on her neck. Even more painful than having her ears and head squeezed by the hole was the growing emptiness in her belly.
Lost and All Alone - Bread
“When will they bring our dinner?” Nicole asked. “I’m thirsty, too. And where’s the water?” Cookie felt it best not to break the truth to Nicole who, as the runt of the litter, remained somewhat naive, protected by her siblings from many such things. Nicole didn’t understand that their mother wouldn’t be coming back for them, nor would the people who left their box in a deserted area of the woods. Cookie saw things for what they were. She clearly knew they were on their own at this point.
Cookie tugged at the last bit of cardboard around the hole that had grown steadily larger with their efforts. Finally it was big enough to squeeze painfully through. She led the way out of the box, sniffing around in the tall weeds for any signs of the creature they’d heard earlier.
“Let’s go!” she called back to her litter mate who was peering out of the opening, still inside the container.
“Maybe we better stay here,” Nicole answered, “and wait until Mom comes back.” Cookie turned around facing the box and stared into her sister’s fearful eyes. She tried to come up with a way to tell her that they were on their own now; no one was coming back to rescue them. Nicole had always been timid, even though she was a few minutes older than Cookie, having been whelped after four others who were much larger and stronger. Their bold and aggressive nature may have led to their adoption when the strangers came to make their choices. Cookie knew she had to take the lead.
“We’ll just look around out here,” she told Nicole. “Maybe there’s some food somewhere close.” They were both quite hungry by now, their hunger outweighing the fear of the darkness that surrounded them. Nicole squeezed slowly out of the small opening. She looked around and turned to go back inside when Cookie headed her off in a different direction. They examined the area surrounding the large box with writing on the outside – “Pineapples – Do Not Stack More than three high.” There was no other scent of food other than the pungent aroma of tropical fruit that permeated the container. Cookie explored a bit further out, following the scent of human feet. The odor led to a set of tire tracks in the soft earth.
“Here’s where they parked the car,” she told her companion. She was delighted at discovering new skills that allowed her to track smells. “Let’s follow the tracks and try to find them.” Secretly, Cookie knew the car had long since disappeared. The fading smell of the gasoline fumes and the car’s exhaust was barely a whiff of a scent by this time. It was clear they had to leave their box behind. She led Nicole down a road that was merely a couple of ruts where tires had flattened down the overgrowth. They walked single-file down one rut for a ways, searching for any sign of the car. As they moved along, they heard the far off cry of a night owl which sent Nicole walking a little closer behind Cookie who led the way.
They traveled along the ruts stopping now and then to investigate a discarded bag of trash, searching amid the bottles and paper strewn about hoping for a scrap of food. They carefully avoided the shards of broken glass. Cookie located a paper plate that smelled interesting. Next to it was a small pool of muddy water from the recent rain. There was only enough for a few laps for each pup, but they drank the stale water with vigor and continued along the path.
“I’m tired. And I’m hungry,” Nicole reminded Cookie, not for the first time. Her small body was unused to this much walking.
“Just a bit further,” Cookie said, “and then we’ll rest.” Up ahead, they spotted a fallen tree that lay on its side, the bend of its curve facing upward. The nook underneath the bend formed a shelter of sorts.
“Wait here,” she instructed her sister. She carefully approached to investigate. Cookie circled the fallen trunk, checking for any other creatures that might have had the same idea.
“Okay,” she called, signaling the all clear. Her sister came running to join Cookie, eagerly crawling into the space where the soil was bare and cool. Her tired eyes drooped nearly shut as Cookie spoke.
“We’ll rest here until daylight, then, we’ll move on.” They huddled together beside the root base from the overturned tree. The tangled tentacles formed a makeshift roof that extended beyond their hiding place. Nicole snuggled close to the tree base with Cookie guarding the outside where she could see if anything crept up on them. Nicole fell into a deep sleep. Her sister held her eyes open for as long as she could but within minutes they both fell fast asleep.
She dreamed of her mom and the flow of warm milk she’d once known. Only she and Nicole shared the free flowing, nourishing liquid with no siblings to push her aside, biting at her tail. She felt the warm touch of soft pink hands that reached into their sleeping box scooping them upward. They found themselves in front of a large bowl with bits of people food strewn over the delicious kibble. It smelled like steak to Cookie whose mouth moved in a chewing motion as she dreamed. Bite after bite, she chewed and swallowed, but the gnawing emptiness in her stomach remained.
When she awoke she sensed the warmth of her sister’s head lying across her body. Nicole slept fitfully, her legs twitching. Cookie pulled free, careful not to awaken the slumbering pup. She stretched and began to search around the tree trunk, hoping to find something for their breakfast.
© 2017 Peg Cole