August 22, 2016 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

The opening into the tunnel is small and littered with loose debris, knocked free during the original collapse of the mine. There’s no way to bring the entire WooFPAK into the tunnel. At least, not without bringing down the whole pit crew to keep them in line.

Instead, WooFDriver has wrapped Chase’s lead tightly around his wrist, letting the dog power on ahead of him. The top of the tunnel is low enough that it brushes against the very tips of Chase’s ears; WooFDriver has to crawl through on his hands and knees.

Randy brings up the rear. The man was reluctant to join in on the impromptu search and rescue mission, be he was even more unwilling to hand over the map to someone outside of the family. He says, “it’ll open up soon, no worries about that. Just give it a few more minutes. You tell me if we pass any turn off’s, alright?”

Chase snorts. Dust and dirt fills his nose. It’s harder to find the track this way. “Okay,” he says, even though neither of the humans can understand him. The young husky dog hates being quiet, and he would rather talk to no one than not talk at all. “We’re looking for a curve in the tunnel. But what if the scent doesn’t go down the curve? It could go straight. I bet that’s what it’s going to do.”

He’s right. The head lamp WooFDriver is wearing shines a bright circle of light on the wall; there’s a black opening, leading off into an adjacent tunnel.

“Chase is still going straight,” says WooFDriver, concerned. “Is that a bad thing?”

Randy shrugs. “Can’t think of many good things we might come across while we’re down here. It means they’re probably holed up in the old ace tunnel. That was pretty sturdy the last time anyone came down here for a check in. They’re probably just cut off from the main entrance. We can reach ‘em from the James Nelson service tunnel.”

WooFDriver laughs. “I’d say lead the way, but – “

“Your dog’s been doing a pretty good job of that,” says Randy. “I’m thinking that it might just be best to leave the leading to him.”

Not far after the first branch off, Chase catches wind of something strange. It’s a sickly sweet smell, and one that’s vaguely familiar. He parts his jaws, trying to get a better grasp on the odor. It’s so faint that the humans can’t smell it yet.

Even though he knows that the scent itself doesn’t mean danger, Chase can’t shake the feeling that he needs to speed up. “This isn’t good. I know this smell. I know it! Guys, where do I know it from?”

None of the other huskies are around to answer him. WooFDriver and Randy can’t.

Chase gives a frustrated growl. The tunnel starts to open up, growing taller and easier to move through. There’s a certain tang to the air. He darts forward, eyes casting around in search of the culprit.

Randy asks, “do you smell that?”

WooFDriver frowns. “Smell what? There’s so much dust in the air, I can’t half breathe.”

“I know. I just – I swear I caught a whiff of something. It’s already gone but…” Randy trails off, unable to find the right words.

It’s a horrible feeling, and one that Chase understands all too well. He whips down a side tunnel, because that’s where the kids are. The air is more clear this way, but it does nothing to soothe Chase’s nerves. If anything, no longer being able to smell that sickly sweet thing makes his chest twist with unease

A flickering shadow appears on the wall. Then a second, a third. Muffled voices – Chase all but howls with excitement. He races around the final bend, barreling right into the body of a slender blonde. She screams – her feet slide out from under her. She hits the ground, still screaming.

“It’s okay,” says Chase, eagerly. “It’s okay! I swear, we’re here to help! Look, I brought my people down here with me. They can show you the way out without any problems, and then you’ll never have to worry about getting lost down here again.”

“Easy,” shouts WooFDriver, taking hold of Chase’s lead and pulling him off the frightened young woman. “We’re here to help!”

The oldest man out of the group lets out a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I thought we were going to be stuck down here for days.”

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author