When Pack Leader stumped up to my grave on the back end of our land to invite me to come with her to Ecuador, I was delighted. Not that our yard is not a nice little forest to be buried in, but being dead gets old fast. I’m lucky if the current young fool of a wolf dog, Lord Tyee, comes up to lift a leg every few days. Even Bruno, my old bear friend, didn’t come by once last summer, which is not like him—maybe he’s been repatriated in one of those bear-trap things on wheels.
I was wagging all over when I got the invitation—until I remembered Car-car in the Sky. I’ve never been on one of those infernal machines but I’ve heard from other canines about the terrible cold, the unendurable noise, and the sense of doom that settles down on you as you huddle in a horrible cage with not enough room to turn around in. “Where is this place? I asked Pack Leader suspiciously. “Do we have to take Car-car in the Sky?”
“Unless you’d prefer to swim down the west coast to the equator.” Pack Leader looked at me quizzically. Then her face lit up. “Oh, you’re worried about the baggage hold? Stop worrying! You can come on board with me. You’re my CSD!”
I am? I thought. What the heavenly milkbones is that?
“Companion Service Dog. With that degree, you’re entitled to sit upstairs with me. Of course, you’re pretty big for those little seats—we all are! But fortunately no one can see you, anyway. Just pad alongside me and everything will be fine.”
I don’t remember getting that degree. It sounded good but I still felt cautious. “No cage?”
“No cage,” Pack Leader said.
“Are there lots of wolfdogs in Doguador?”
“In Ecuador? I have no idea. That’s why you’re coming—to investigate the canine corners where a Two-Paws like me cannot go.”
“Okay!” I hopped into the back seat of the car, only to find Lord Tyee taking up nine tenths of it. “Hey! You’re coming too?”
Tyee glowered at me. “Pack Leader says you’re the elder statesdog. I’m going to my other Pack.” He settled, leaving me scarcely a cat’s length to squat on. “With my girlfriend,” he added smugly. “Didjever have a girlfriend?”
Not in living memory, I thought. But then, I didn’t tear up Pack Leader’s boots and car and go nuts over joggers and wheeled things, either. Nor am I responsible for the death of a single tree or the collapse of a single building, which I understand are among your distinctive accomplishments.
That shut His Lordship up. Each of us silently gazed out his own window until the young fool was dropped off, whereupon I stretched out luxuriously the full length of the back seat, all the way to the airport.
Airports are terrifying places. The planes look like moose out of someone’s worst nightmare, and are no smarter. As I watched from the departure lounge (Why is it called a lounge, I wonder? Nobody’s lounging, It’s more like a dogpark for humans, with bathrooms ranged around the corners where humans can leave a goodbye message.), huge winged Car-cars trundled down random paths, stopped barely in time to avoid whacking the windows, or flapped off into the sky whenever they pleased. Or so it seemed to me.
Pack Leader took me to the females’ peemail room and ran me a nice sink of fresh water. “Not too much,” she cautioned. “You don’t want to use the tiny bathrooms on the plane. You might get trapped inside, or worse, find yourself locked in there with a human who doesn’t know what you are. Once you’re in your seat, you’re in your seat, okay?”
We lined up to find our seats. I had to heel-sit, walk a few steps, heel-sit, walk a few steps…until I thought I’d lose what is left of my mind. I tried not to think about the fact that we were entering a cramped metal box which was about to decide to climb into the sky as if it were an eagle. I half hoped that at the last minute the humans at the gate would turn us back and this entire crazy adventure would end at home, on Lord Tyee’s pillow close to the fireplace.
No such luck. Suddenly we were in the box. “Stay close behind me, right behind my suitcase,” said Pack Leader, dragging the little wheeled thing carrying the stuff humans apparently cannot live without for a single day. That proved good advice, as the aisle was about a snail’s width wider than I am and it was tempting to sneak off into the nearest corner, like the luggage area we passed, and hide. Stop, start, stop, start—an obedience class for humans, it seemed, and they were pretty good about it. The only ruckus happened when a tiny dog in its own little luggage case caught sight of me and freaked out, which won the little bitch a clip on the ear from her human, a wide lady in a furry jacket whose hair had been cut to look just like the dog’s ears.
At last we were ensconced in our seats, lucky enough to have two of the three chairs in our row. Pack Leader motioned me to the middle and gave me a hand signal. I lay down with my head in her lap, and she smiled. “Look out the window,” she whispered. With some trepidation, I did, and was reassured to see hordes of humans scurrying around the Car-car in the Sky, thumping suitcases into the level below us as they laughed and joked and slapped one another the way human apes do.
Then the doors closed, stinky air began to flow around us, machines on the wings started to scream, and I put my paws over my ears and squinched my eyes shut to keep from whimpering with puppy fear. This was it: we were actually going to be hoisted into the sky by this crazy bird.
“What’s the matter, Major Caelum? Afraid you’ll die again?” Pack Leader cuddled my head and stroked my paws. That calmed me. After all, what was the worst that could happen?
I pressed myself close to Pack Leader. The worst that could happen would be your death, Pack Leader! Then there’d be no one to remember me. I’ve learned there’s death, and then there’s another death. The first one hurts your body so that it can’t be repaired. The second one does in your soul.
“Come here, you dumb wolfydog!” Pack Leader hauled me onto her lap and shoved my head toward the window. Car-car in the Sky was pointing heavenward—I could feel it and was frankly terrified to see where we were. I squeezed my eyes shut and flattened my ears against the pressure and the unbearable noise. I had just witnessed all those Car-cars lumbering into and out of the sky like overweight raptors but who was to say that our Car-car would succeed? Maybe a wing would fall off. Maybe those screaming engines would lose their voices. Maybe humanity would finally fall out of favor with the gods and their machines would all suddenly stop. Maybe—
Sunlight tried to get under my lids. Wasn’t the day gray and rainy, as usual in the winter season? Where had this delightful sun come from? Cautiously I opened my eyes. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but certainly not this sense of having died and gone to heaven! Below us spread a soft, endless dog blanket, clean and white, ready for celestial canines to curl up on for a snooze in the sunshine. I knew the dog blanket must be made of clouds, of course, but, safe and warm on Pack Leader’s lap, I enjoyed the fantasy. As so often with human toys, we had crossed the line between cold, wet reality and the sunny dream of the possible. Flying was fun!
“Pack Leader?” I snuzzled even closer. “Can I come along on all your trips?”
She pulled my ears gently. “Major Caelum, the intrepid K9 explorer? As long as you write about the canines you meet, and we don’t run into any ghost-busters, you’re on assignment, good buddy.”