Authors: Chris Kurtz
She says some very nice things to me. It seems she was very impressed. She carries me for a block or so on the way back to the motel. Even wolves in tip-top shape need some recovery time after a long, hard run.
Back at the motel, as soon as Mona steps into the shower, Glory starts complaining. “I can't understand why people want to go camping.” She fluffs up her feathers. “Somebody tell me why you would go and build a nice big city with air-conditioning and bright lights and flavors from all over the world, and then choose to drive thousands of miles to sleep on the ground and have pine needles in your oatmeal.”
“It's the call of the wild,” I tell her. “Of all the creatures that live in this family, you should
understand the best. You're the only one who has ever been wild.”
“What about the call of the pizza? What about the call of the warm bed?” Glory steps up on the top bar of her cage and swings upside down, hanging by her toes. “Tell me what is so great about not knowing where your next meal is going to come from.” She starts swinging back and forth, still upside down. “And tell me what's so great about shivering in the cold and worrying about who is trying to eat you.”
“One word,” Hector says. “Freedom.”
He is sniffing at the wire corners of his cage. Freedom. Life outside the walls. Hector wants it just as bad as I do. He says he's a wild rat in his bones, and if he ever gets out, he is going to live underground and procreate.
He thinks I don't know what that means. I do. It means he's going to make lots of babies with a girl rat.
“Freedom,” I echo. “The kind wolves have.”
“You're obsessed with wolves,” says Hector.
“At least I'm not obsessed with girls,” I tell him.
“Gentlemen, no fighting,” says Glory. “Don't
act like backyard mutts and barn-raised vermin. Anyway, you don't know what you're talking about.”
Glory swings herself back right side up and turns to face us. “What's wrong with protection? What's wrong with style? Have you thought about teeth and claws and animals looking at you like you are a walking chicken nugget?
You two crazy birds go ahead and get back to your roots. Just don't call me when your stomach starts grumbling and winter is just around the corner.”
Glory turns her back and starts whistling to show that the conversation is over.
“What was that all about?” I say to Hector.
“How sad.” Hector shakes his head. “All the wild has been drained out of her system.” He fluffs himself up and walks around his cage on two feet. “What about teeth and claws and yackety-yackety-yak!” It's a perfect imitation.
That night, Mona and I cuddle on the motel bed and look at photo albums. There's the mountain lake from last year's family reunion. Nice, but no Yellowstone Park! There's Mona's dad and his motor home where we slept. There's Mona's sister.
And there â¦ I wince. Under all the grime, it's a little girl, perhaps. Red hair. A smile that's too big for the face. And what is that in her arms? A doll in a frilly pink dress with a dog's head? A small dog's head? Actually, not too small â¦ it's me!
Alexandra. Mona's niece. She's a fearsome little thing that even a wolf would want to stay far away from.
I let my head sink down on my paws. Maybe she won't be there this time.
Yellowstone isn't a big attraction for some kids. She might be staying with friends. Or her friends might come too, and she'll be too busy playing with them and won't have time to dress up her auntie's Chihuahua in doll clothes. Or she might be too old for dolls any longer. But probably she won't even be there.
Yes. Almost definitely she won't be there. I decide not to worry about it. Even Alexandra can't ruin my mood for long.
Anyone with a good nose and a wild heart can feel the change. I know it the moment we cross the line. Wilderness. I can feel it in my teeth.
Also it helps that there is a big wooden sign that says YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, and a Yellowstone National Park ranger station with a sign that says YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK RANGER STATION. And the other thing that helps me figure out where we are is the ranger who comes out to the car and says, “Welcome to Yellowstone National Park.”
The ranger sounds all friendly, but he turns out to be a rude sort. “Oh, a killer dog,” he says when he sees me. He tells Mona to keep the windows up as soon as we leave the ranger station. He probably knows I'll hate that. He says don't feed the bears. Then he mentions some silly law. “Keep your dog on a leash at all times inside the park.”
Umm, how am I going to meet my wolf pack on a leash?
“Usually we say that to protect the smaller wildlife such as squirrels.” The ranger is still talking. “But in his case, the squirrels might just mistake him for one of their babies that fell out of the tree, carry him back upstairs, and stuff him full of nuts.”
Ha, ha, ha. Oh boy. I am so done with this guy. I give him a taste of my rapid-fire barking to show what I think of him.
“Keep the noise down,” he says. “Otherwise, I'll have to get out my flyswatter.”
Mona starts laughing, and Glory, who has been quiet up till now, starts giggling. And then I hear a snigger. Heckles. That's it. I'm finished with this family and ready to find my pack.
Leash or no leash, I am going to escape.
The ranger obviously likes being Mr. Funny, and he leans down to talk a little longer to Mona.
“Keep an extra close watch on him. We've got mosquitoes in the park that could carry him off and feed him to their young.” I turn my back on the ranger. He probably has a shriveled-up heart from living so close to the wilderness and not being a brother to anything wild at all. I drop to the floor and slump down with my head on my paws. We'll just see how my fellow travelers like having the best traveler in the bunch go on a major pout.
The problem is, when we get moving again, I want to smell everything. I hop back up on the seat. It's not easy pouting when you're this excited. Unfortunately, Mona has listened to the ranger and is carefully following the rules. The only air is coming through Mona's air-conditioning system. I start whining and whimpering.
That doesn't get the window to come down, so I put my slobber setting on high and go to work
licking the windows. That almost always works, but not today. Today all I get is Mona telling me she's going to stick me in the backseat. That gets my tongue back in my mouth pretty quick. There is a powerful odor of rat pee coming from back there, and it isn't getting any fresher with the windows rolled up.
We drive slowly, and pretty much the only thing to see is the big butt of the motor home crawling along ahead of us. Finally we turn into a campsite. I start whining and slobbering again. I can't help it, I'm so excited.
“There's Mom and Dad's motor home,” Mona says. “And oh look, there's little Alexandra.”
I stop slobbering. I stop whining. I stop breathing.
No! It can't be. How could her parents let her come to a wild place like this?
Alexandra is not hard to spot. Just look for the critter with more energy than a gerbil on an exercise wheel and more freckles than common sense. We see her before she sees us, which is a good thing. I drop down out of sight.
“You're so lucky.” Mona reaches over and
scratches my ears. “She loves animals extra-much.”
Hector moans a little rat moan.
” says Glory from behind her towel. She and Hector and I have all had experience with Alexandra who loves animals extra-much. My last memory of the little darling was me hanging upside down, her grubby little hand holding me by my left hind leg.
“You three are in for a good time,” says Mona. “No brothers or sisters. No pets allowed in her apartment, poor thing. She loves you guys!”
Less love. Please, less love! As we pull into the campsite, I peek over the windowsill. Poor thing jumps up and knocks over her chair. She shrieks and comes running with her pigtails flying. Alexandra looks just as wild as ever. In fact there is only one difference I can see from the last time I was dangled like a chew toy in her hands.
“Prepare for the attack.” I jump into the backseat. The passenger side door is ripped open before Mona can even stop the car.
“Did you bring Lobo?” Alexandra shrieks. She has a voice that could scramble an egg.
I scurry down to the floor to hide.
“Grab the dog,” says Hector. “Please grab the cute little dog.”
A freckly, nail-chewed hand reaches behind the chair and latches on to me.
“Oooh, he's so cute, Aunt Mona.”
No amount of digging into the carpet helps.
“Be kind,” says Mona.
“Be careful,” says Mona.
Alexandra hauls. I'm being reeled in like a fish on a line. Backward.
“Alexandra, be gentle,” says Mona.
I'm dragged out of my hiding spot. There's nothing kind or careful or gentle about this. I'm about to be hoisted into the air by my left hind leg.
“Alexandra, no!” Mona's voice reminds me of my puppy days, when I thought it might be fun to piddle on her shoe. But it's too late.
Being upside down is starting to feel very familiar.
Mona scrambles out of the car and dashes around to the other side. It is my secret dream to watch Alexandra get a swat on the hindquarters with Mona's appointment book. And then Mona might remind Alexandra that I am a dangerous creature with wild ancestors who can never be fully trusted around small children.
Instead, “I know you're not used to animals, sweetie,” is all Mona says. “Here. Let me show you.”
Mona's soothing hands get me right side up.
It's good of her to try, but “sweetie” has been up to these same tricks longer than I can remember. Glory tells stories about Alexandra that happened before Hector and I were even born. The minute Mona turns her back, I'm in trouble.
Now that I'm upright, I get hugged in the much-too-tight way.
“Easy, honey,” says Mona.
Easy, honey? How about bad girl! Bad, bad girl. My ear is crushed against Alexandra's bony chest so hard I can hear the drumbeat of her heart.
“You have to be very, very kind to my little family.” Mona reaches down and eases my position. “Okay, Alexandra? Promise?”
“Okay, Aunt Mona. I promise.” Alexandra pats my head. “Sorry, Lobo.”
“Now, you wait right here,” Mona says, “and hold Lobo very gently while I say hello to everyone.”
Uh-oh. Mona is turning away to get hugs from her mother and father and sister. Alexandra is not waiting right here. I have a bad feeling about this.
At least Alexandra is holding me gently now. But she takes me straight to her tent. I see a
familiar box. A box filled with beads and scarves and ribbons and bows.
“Lobo.” Alexandra gives me a mostly gentle hug. “You are going to be the best-looking one at the whole ball!”
Best-looking? This doesn't sound so bad.
“Aunt Mona, come play with me!” Alexandra hollers into my ear. “I'm the princess and Lobo wants to be my long-lost twin sister!”
I change my mind. Lobo does not want to go to the ball or be anyone's twin sister, and she â¦ he does not care any longer if he is the best looking. Fortunately, Mona understands the emergency and comes running.
Unfortunately, Mona does not put an end to the game but instead joins in. For a half hour that seems like forever, I am the lovely sister to Princess Alexandra. She ties strings of plastic pearls and leopard print scarves around my neck.
Mona spends most of her time saying things like, “Not too tight, honey.” Or “Be gentle, angel.” Or “Sweetheart, I don't think Lobo likes it when his dress gets tangled around his legs.”