Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 7
Rover stopped at the edge of the lake and took a long, cool drink while Buddy, unfamiliar with a body of water this large, splashed in up to his elbows enjoying the feel of the cool, mushy sand under his paws. Their arrival startled a family of ducks floating along the marshy bank. They took flight skimming the glassy surface with their webbed toes.
“Ducks are good for eating, too,” Rover explained, “but they’re harder to catch since they can fly.” With that reminder Buddy’s mouth began to water at the thought of a duck for dinner. Mealtime at the house had always come at the same time every day. He missed the regularity of it. Perhaps his master would call to him soon. He envisioned himself scampering toward the sound of the man’s voice and napping in the truck bed and on the cool floor of the garage.
“Let’s go!” his new friend called from the bank of the lake. “Maybe we can flush out a squirrel.” Rover seemed knowledgeable in the ways of the woods, but as he crawled up the muddy bank beside the water, Buddy noticed how thin Rover appeared; how each of his ribs stood out clearly. One of Rover’s ears which normally stood up like his own had a ragged edge and was bent over forward. “Got that little souvenir in a fight,” he said, noticing the other dog’s gaze at the damaged ear. “Coyotes live in these woods. Best if we keep moving while it’s still daylight.”
Buddy realized what a big mistake he’d made jumping out of the truck. The truth of his master’s words rang clear in his memory. “Stick close, boy. You don’t want to get lost.” And yet, here he was in the woods following a strange dog deeper into the tall weeds and trees inching steadily away from his hopes for home.
Call Me to Come Back Home
His tail drooped and he carried his head lower as they resumed their pursuit on the rabbit’s elusive trail. Buddy trudged along behind Rover, following his lead as they made their way through the underbrush. Several times, he stopped to show Buddy things of interest like when they stopped at the site of a burned out campfire. There they found a pile of crumbs inside a crumpled potato chip bag. They tasted good, but the salt made them both thirsty again. Too far from the lake to go back, Buddy was unsure if he could remember the paths they had taken.
He held a fleeting vision of his nice clean water dish that always sat next to his food bowl on the kitchen floor. He wondered if his master was looking for him and if he would ever see him again. Night closed in on the two dogs as Buddy’s hopes began to fade. They chose to rest in the small clearing of the campsite.
Cool, Clean Water
He was lost in thought when an ear-piercing howl sounded nearby. Both his and Rover’s heads came up simultaneously. Rover’s undamaged ear came to attention and remained at full alert. “What was that?” he asked.
“Shhhhhh!” Rover hissed, his body trembling at the sound of a second voice that joined in the howling. “Coyotes,” whispered his companion. Rover and Buddy froze in place, suddenly alert. A chorus of howling was building in the distance as the shrill whistle of a far off train sounded. The closer it came, the louder the whistle. With each blast, more voices seemed to join in.
Buddy had seen a train once when his master’s truck stopped at a railway crossing in town. Their progress had been delayed for several minutes while railroad cars rolled slowly past on the tracks. His master had been displeased at the interruption of their journey through the neighborhood. He wondered if it was the same train he’d seen back then. If he could find the track, maybe he could follow it back to his old yard. He made up his mind to search for the tracks when daylight came. His hopes were lifted by his new plan and he felt so invigorated that he began to howl along with the sound of the whistle.
When the rumbling noise of the train faded into the distance, the howling died down and finally stopped. Rover and Buddy settled back into their places by the old campfire. After the long day’s journey, they fell into a restless sleep. Buddy had grown accustomed to sleeping indoors at the foot of his master’s bed. The night noises of crickets and flying insects were new to him. He awoke several times with a start not knowing where he was. It would all come back when he spotted the sleeping form of Rover nearby. His belly ached with hunger and he longed for a cool drink.
As he lay awake, bits of his previous life played out in his head. He thought about the neighbor’s children who often came to his fence and talked to him, stretching their small fingers through the chain link to touch his soft, warm fur and the times he and Master had taken the truck on different journeys. Once, when his master and he spent the day together, they’d gone to a field near their house. Master had thrown a Frisbee and Buddy had run merrily, chasing it again and again. Another day, he’d watched Master wash and wax the truck, the suds flowing happily down the driveway toward the street. He thought of his pillow behind the recliner where he was allowed to lie quietly during the evenings as the TV played his master’s favorite shows. Buddy was still a youngster but he already had a collection of memories to play back in the quiet of the forest.
He grew melancholy about disobeying his master by jumping out of the truck to follow Rover. When it came daylight he vowed to find the railroad tracks that would take him home. With that happy resolution, he fell back asleep and dreamed of the joyous homecoming he and Master would share.
Buddy awoke to the sound of footsteps trampling through the bushes near the campsite. The full moon cast the shadowy image of a man wearing faded jeans and a flannel shirt carrying an overstuffed duffel bag. For an instant he thought it was his master but the man’s scent was different. Rover listened for a few seconds before dashing toward the silhouette wagging his stubby Doberman tail.
“You still here, boy?” the man asked. “Looks like you found a friend.” Buddy stood on the opposite side of the clearing from the stranger. “I’ll bet you’re both hungry.” The man talked in soothing tones as he pulled out a grocery bag and set it on a tree stump.
He made his way around the edge of the clearing gathering sticks for kindling, breaking the small branches across his raised leg. Then he formed a teepee of sorts using the larger pieces, stuffing the smaller sticks in the hollow underneath. The man pulled a pack of matches from his shirt pocket and set fire to a small twig before holding it beneath the mound of twigs. Within a short time, a warm fire blazed in the pit. He sat down on a stump and arranged some scattered stones into a circle around the campfire. With his pocketknife, he sharpened the long end of two forked branches and stuck them into the ground on either side of the fire. He repeated that process with two straight sticks, this time, sharpening the small ends to a point. Next he pulled a package of wieners and some buns out of the bag. Soon, several hot dogs were sizzling on a makeshift grill that teetered just above the flames.
The dogs crept closer as the enticing smells drifted through the air, their mouths salivating freely. The man chomped the first hot dog down except for the end piece which he bit in two and tossed a piece to each canine. Rover expertly caught his and sat at attention watching the man as he slid another one into a bun. Small packets of ketchup and mustard from his pockets were torn open and squirted across the tops of the beef. Buddy inched closer watching the man intently waiting for another bite. Within a few minutes, the package of wieners and all but two of the buns were gone with each dog getting a fair share of the meal. Rover approached and licked the man’s hand in gratitude.
Stoking the fire with a stick, the man took a pipe and some tobacco from his pocket. He used the twig to light the bowl, sending an aroma of bitter cherry across the clearing. He continued to talk to the dogs as he smoked.
“Yeah, that train ride has me beat,” he said. “I rode that rail car all the way from Kankakee.” He laughed and started whistling a tune about trains. Buddy watched Rover and the man strike up a familiar camaraderie next to the blazing fire. With his belly full and the night grown quiet again, he longed for the company of his own master.
Soon enough the man unrolled a blanket from his back pack and after adding more wood to the fire, he lay down on the makeshift bed. He tamped out the spent tobacco from his pipe, returned it to his upper pocket and fell asleep next to the two watchful and grateful dogs.
© 2017 Peg Cole