November 18, 2016 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

The howl is echoed through the city. First by one dog and then another, until the entire city seems to be echoing with the sound. Jag lowers his head, staring at the malamute across the street.

The old dog stares back at him. He looks bone weary and tired in a way that few animals ever grow to be. Then, slowly, he looks first one way and then the other. Tail down between his hind legs, he limps his way across the street.

“You were calling for me,” grumbles the dog, stopping several feet away from where Jag and the other dogs are tied. Chase and Zarro look very uneasy over his appearence. They glance at each other, ears flicked back.

Jag nods. “I was. I wanted to talk to you.”

“I don’t know you,” says the dog. “I know all of the regulars to this city. You, you’re just passers.”

Princess’s ears twitch. “Passers?”

“Passers,” insists the old malamute. “You come through once, when your human wants to try taking the trail. “You never stay, and you don’t come back. Andy, she’s a repeat. Andy comes into town every summer. But you, you’re all just passers.”

Jag nods again. He says, “that’s right. We’re just passers.”

“So what,” muses the malamute. “Do a bunch of passers want with me?”

When he sits down, it’s done gingerly. There’s clearly a problem with his hip. It’s arthritis more than anything – old bones that just don’t work right anymore, and muscles that are far too tired to keep at full strength. Or half, even, if the grunt is anything to go by.

“I met a dog out on the trail,” says Jag. He glances at his other packmates. Chase and Zarro aren’t looking at the dog, choosing instead to shuffle closer to the people and beg for scraps while their own meals cook. “And she looked like you. I didn’t get her name, but she kept saying that she was looking for Storm.”

The old dog’s eyes light up. “Is that right?”

“Storm,” calls a woman, peeking her head out of the shop across the street. “Baya, come home! We’re closing up for a while. Storm! Storm, come here!”

The malamute, Storm, looks over his shoulder. His tail thumps against the ground, just twice. “Can you come back here? I can’t stay. My owner, she is very sick. I have to go home with her and make sure that she stays safe.”

Without hesitating, Jag says, “I’ll be here.”

That night, the group settles down in a small section of the city that’s been designated for campers and other large vehicles. Jag waits until he thinks everyone else is asleep before getting up, shaking out his fur and brushing the sleep from his eyes with one large paw.

He slinks across the seat of the Jumbo Jet, over to the passenger door. It’s a hook handle – the sort that Jag knows he can open.

The white husky is just about to hook it with one paw when Chase sticks his head over the back seat. The young dog narrows his eyes. “Really? You’re going to run away again? You already got all of us in trouble! Do you know what’s going to happen if WooFDriver catches you? We’ll all be in for it!”

“He’s not going to catch me,” promises Jag. “Go back to sleep. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” argues Chase. “None of this is fine! What are you thinking, Jag? You’re being really freaky about all of this!”

Jag is thinking about a frightened malamute. He’s thinking about a lack of smell, and those scared blue eyes. The way the other dog’s voice trembled with fear. It was desperation, he’s certain. It was desperation and a longing for something else, for something more.

He’s thinking about wanting someone to help him, were the roles reversed. And then he’s thinking about how crushing it would be if he were lost, and no one was around to help. If the entire world kept passing him by – ignoring him, brushing him off, forgetting about him.

That’s not going to happen to the strange malamute.

Jag won’t let it.

“Tell Princess I’ll be back soon,” says Jag, gruffly. Then he scratches at the door until his paw manages to hook the handle. It’s not easy, but it’s not the most difficult escape, either. Jag pushes the door open with his muzzle, gives Chase one last glance, and slips out into the night.

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author