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Authors: Chris Kurtz

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BOOK: The Pup Who Cried Wolf
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Yes, I'll make my move tomorrow for sure.

12
Freedom!

Two hands wake me up. Mona isn't usually such an early riser. She must need to take an early morning walk to sniff that fresh air. It sounds good to me. A good start to the day will help me forget the problems of yesterday. Good old Mona.

Then I get lifted up so that my legs are dangling. Have I mentioned how much wolf brothers hate having their legs dangled in the air? I struggle a little to remind Mona to hold me the way I like.

I look up. It isn't Mona. It's Alexandra again.

Never mind struggling. I consider a good sharp bite to just one of those little fingers. It would do so much good, but I remember what Glory said about family. I'm about to bark and let someone know I'm being kidnapped when Alexandra begins to speak.

“Are you lonely too?” she whispers.

Me? I look around for another human.

“Are you cold?”

I might be trembling a bit. But I'm not cold.

“Hector and Glory are cold too. And lonely.”

They are? I have never heard of being lonely before breakfast. As I'm trying to figure out what this means, Alexandra unlatches Hector's cage, unhooks my chain, and puts me inside.

Imagine this. I have come to Yellowstone Park with the notion that I might be able to taste a bit of freedom. Instead I am being shoved into a cage that would make a prairie dog feel cramped.

My sleepiness drops away the minute my feet touch Hector's sawdust. Wet.

Glory is here too, and it doesn't look like she's enjoying the experience any more than I am.

She looks at me and I don't have to ask what
she's thinking. Just wait it out and it will be over sooner or later.

I tiptoe around trying to find a dry spot. But the little guy has made a mess of the place everywhere. I try to convince myself that Hector has somehow managed to spill his water. But the smell lets me know the truth of the matter, and the disgusting little black peanut things lying around are … not peanuts.

I try to keep my nose closed and breathe through my mouth.

Hector opens his eyes. He looks as if he can't quite figure out where he is.

Alexandra's face is pushed up close to the wire. If she could fit, I think she would crawl in with us.

Just then I hear footsteps coming from the back of the motor home. That's a good sign. Mona will put us back where we belong.

Alexandra hears it too.

“Uh-oh,” she whispers. “Somebody's coming. We better get you outside before you get in trouble.”

Me get in trouble? What did I do?

She picks up the cage, and the whole thing bucks and heaves while she stands up. “Earthquake,” Hector moans. “Keep to the high ground.”

I don't understand why this is important until I find myself at the bottom of the heap with a rat's foot in my ear and my face smashed into wet sawdust.

We all lurch and sway and knock into each other.

Even with a rat's foot in my ear, my sensitive
hearing can pick up sounds. I hear Alexandra unlatch the door of the motor home. She's making a clean getaway with her stolen treasure. Meanwhile, the treasure is getting airsick.

Then it happens. As she rushes down the motor home steps, the cage slips out of her hands. We flip through the air, clatter to the ground, and roll over two times. I might mention that none of us have on our seat belts. I might also mention that keeping my feet dry is not as important to me now as keeping the wet sawdust out of my ears, eyes, and mouth.

We tumble over each other in a mash of feathers, fur, wet sawdust, and little black peanuts that aren't actually peanuts.

I lift my head, shake my ears, and see that the door of the cage has popped open in the crash.

“Make a break for it!” Hector yells.

He doesn't need to say it twice. I break for freedom and over my head I feel a rush of feathers.

“Que libertad!”
Even Glory isn't going to pass up this chance. She might like sitting around in a cage, but not
that
cage.

“Free! Free!” squeaks Hector. I see flashes of white as he scuttles through the dust of the campsite, over the road, and into the tall grass on the other side. For a short-legged guy he is moving awfully fast.

“Come back, come back,” Alexandra screeches. “I'll get in trouble if you don't come back.”

If escaping her clutches isn't enough motivation, she has just put the gravy on the dog biscuit. I, for one, am going to do my part to make sure she gets in as much trouble as possible.

I dash after Hector through the dust and over the road. I dodge around a root.

“Ulp.” My legs fly out from under me. I land with a thud in a puff of dust. “Save yourselves,” I choke. “They've got me.”

Behind us, Alexandra gives a little scream of joy.

Suddenly Hector is back at my side. “Get up, you lazy mutt. Your ancestors are waiting for you and you'll never find them lying on your back.”

Good advice. I scramble up. Take one step. Hit the dirt again.

“It's the princess necklace,” shouts Glory from the nearest tree. “It's caught.”

I crane my neck and see she's right. The loop in the end of my golden princess necklace has hooked the root, and I'm stuck fast.

Thud. Thud.

Alexandra's footsteps.

I moan and close my eyes.

Then I feel Hector at my neck and hear the
snick, snick
of his yellow teeth. The yarn falls from my neck and lies in pieces in the dust.

“Run,” he says. “Hurry up. Go make us proud, wolfy junior.”

I feel rather than see Alexandra's hands reaching. I scramble up, teeter a moment, then run. Just behind me comes the mighty thump and wail of girl falling into dust.

I streak for the road following Hector's fast feet.

“Don't go too far.” Glory flaps over my head. “Hector, stay out of sight. Your white fur is like a flag calling every predator in the park. And behave yourself with the ladies.”

I find my wolf legs and race by Hector. “Find a hole and run down it,” I shout over my shoulder. “And thanks.”

“You don't have to tell me twice,” squeals Hector. “Where's the rodent hangout around this place? Because here comes the party man.” He disappears into a bush and doesn't come out the other side.

I run with Glory above me until I can see we're safe. She lands on the branch of a tree and I stop.

“Thanks for your help back there,” I say.

“Stay right here with me.” She tips her head to one side. “You're not as big as you think you are.”

“Stay here?” I say. “I can't. This is my chance for the wild life. You should run for it too. Or fly for it.”

“Oh, no.” She shakes all her feathers, and little bits of sawdust fly off. “I'm a city girl. I don't need any of that kind of trouble. I'm just going to hang around here for a while and play it safe. You should too.”

“Thanks, Glory.” I stare up. “After I find my pack, I'm sure we won't meet up again, but you've been a great friend.”

She looks sad. “Lobo, listen to my advice just this one time. Go and take a peek around if you have to, but stay out of sight. Get this wild thing
out of your system and come right back. It's too dangerous out there, Lobo. It's no place for a pup like you.”

I grin. “Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Think about yourself for once. You can get back to the wild life of your childhood.”

She snorts. “I'm going right back to my cage just as soon as the little kidnapper gets what she deserves, and the coast is clear.” Then she fluffs her feathers and tucks her neck down into her shoulders. “It's cold out here. I just hope Mona wakes up soon.”

“Well, bye then.” I can't wait to be on my way. I head down a track in the direction I heard the howls coming from last night.

13
My Destiny

After a little bit of sniffing, I find a trail through the brush. It has footprints and droppings and all the stuff a wild trail should have, including dust.

I'm so happy, I pick up one of my hind feet and skip down the path on three wheels. Then I remember that wolves probably don't do too much skipping.

Just in case someone is watching, I decide it's time to start fitting in. Skipping will never do for an alpha wolf. But neither will my usual run. It's more like a skitter.

Somewhere down the line I got into this bad habit of skittering. Since I never had a true wolf role model, there was no one to correct me or show me how to run properly. I was going to have to figure this one out on my own.

Loping
, I think.
That's how wolves run.
Legs high, feet together and kind of bouncy. First the front end bounces up and then the back end. Loping is like a horse galloping, but happier.

I'm going to tell you right now, loping isn't as easy as it might appear. It takes a little while to get the hang of a good lope. In fact, a lope might be the sort of thing that works better on a long-legged animal. Not that my legs are short. A little undersized, maybe.

A few steps down the trail, I think I'm getting the hang of it. My paws are flopping around like the big dogs I watch back in the city. I'm leaping forward with each powerful thrust of my hind legs, and I can feel my tail flowing out behind me.

Then one of my front paws forgets to flop forward, and I stumble. I pretty near sprain an ankle and definitely eat some Yellowstone trail dirt. It tastes about as bad as you might think. Dusty
with a strong aroma of dirt. And since this is a foot trail, it has just a hint of bottom-of-foot flavor.

Now, this is an experience I don't want to repeat, so I decide to take a break from loping and go back to skittering—temporarily.

The sun is just beginning to come up. The air is fresh and clean. Each puff of breeze brings a whiff of smells that are wild and new.

But something is missing. I try to think what it is. My dream is coming true but somehow something feels wrong.

Mona.

I stop. What will Mona think when she sees I've run off? A very bad feeling comes into my tummy, and for the first time in my life it isn't hunger. What about Mona, who brought me home when I was just a puppy and made me feel safe? Who will protect her on road trips? Who will look at photo albums with her and go for walks in the park?

In my mind I see Mona wandering all over Yellowstone calling my name.

I almost turn around right there and run back.

Almost.

Then I come to my senses. What am I thinking? I have a wolf family out there. Any dog with any pride at all takes his very first chance to join the wild pack and never looks back. He lives to hunt with the big boys. Mona can get a cat if she wants something that sleeps all day and never thinks about his wild side.

I go back to skittering and put all thoughts of Mona right out of my head.

After a while the trail ends at a big grassy meadow. There are smells of all sorts here. Most noses, of course, wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

I can tell that deer have used this meadow. My nose is assisted by the fact that there are piles of little black marbles lying all around that are too big for rabbit … marbles.

I lope … that is to say, I half skitter, half lope around the edge of the grassy meadow. I am looking and smelling for something. Deer smells are just fine when you're looking for a deer. But I'm after a different smell.

When I find it, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I sniff the bush again. Yes! All wolves and their
descendents leave their calling cards on bushes. Now it's my turn to add my calling card to the stack.

Leaving a calling card is something dogs practice every day of their lives. Especially boy dogs. It's not an easy thing to explain. An animal without my mental toughness would probably get embarrassed by this explanation, but not me.

First, you lift up your leg. It doesn't matter which leg, exactly, but it should definitely be a back leg. Lift it up high, because the next part could get a little messy if you aren't careful.

Now balance, wait for it, and if everything is operating correctly, pretty soon you'll feel something like a tickle. Or maybe it's more like an itch. No, it's not a tickle or an itch, but it
is
a feeling. (I know this is getting complicated, but stay with me because we're almost done.)

Then the last thing is to check behind yourself to make sure you aimed correctly. That's it! This whole process leaves you feeling proud and puts an extra bounce in your lope. Everyone should try it. Ask any wolf or his relatives.

I lift my leg, leave my calling card—very, very
expertly, by the way—and then lope off to find myself a place to wait.

I know from the fresh smell of the calling cards that wolves like to come to this meadow often, and I am sure that they will be back soon. I don't want to scare off any potential prey, so I decide to find a hiding place.

BOOK: The Pup Who Cried Wolf
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