Precious Cargo



All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.

A bit of an explanation may be in order here. In this chapter we introduce the kali. Kalis are domesticated pets, the furry universe's equivalent to the household dog. From the genus Carnivora Kaliska, they are found the world over in Joe and Annie's universe, although there are only a handful of species native to North America. Kalis are distant cousins to canid furs, in the same manner that chimps and apes are distant cousins to humans. They are binocular quadrupeds, ranging in size from one to three feet tall at the shoulders, covered with fur. In a very general sense they are analogous to the common domesticated dog.

Precious Cargo is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003



Mojave

It's hot in the Mojave Desert almost all of the time. In 80 degree heat they had worked their way up grade from US 93 and had crested the final summit on Interstate 40 westbound before it drops down into Kingman, Arizona. To their right the Peacock Mountains stretched away to the north, seemingly chased by the parallel scars of the Santa Fe mainline and old highway 66, To their left on the south side were the Hualapai Mountains, which they would follow down to the Colorado River at Topock. Kingman lay below them under a bright, sunny sky. The distant buildings and roadways of the city shimmered and wavered in the heat waves coming up off the desert floor.

The Interstate was getting busy. A steady stream of semi trucks were heading east, sixty foot reefer vans and doubled forty fives, thirty ton tankers, and all manner and sort of containerized equipment. Westbound traffic was a little lighter, but there was still plenty of traffic to look out for.

They were all looking ahead through the windshield, watching the city approach. "Last chance for cheap Arizona diesel," Joe said aloud. "Anybody hungry? We can grab an early lunch if anyone's interested."

Annie shook her head and turned towards her daughter, who replied "No thanks! I'm still full of breakfast! But I could stand to get out and walk around a bit."

###

She watched the highway from the dusty shoulder of the exit ramp at Andy Devine Drive. She didn't know how long she'd been here. It had been days since she'd been abandoned here in Kingman, days since she'd had any food. The water she found to drink in the ditch next to the railroad tracks was brackish and smelled evil, it made her feel ill. The sun bore down upon her, she panted in the heat.

A whine from the highway caught her attention. A large, two axle truck of some sort was decelerating down the exit ramp, heading towards her. It was too large to be a family vehicle, a bit smaller than a semi tractor. She observed it's different appearance and sound as it approached.

She had been here since her family left, waiting for them to come and get her. At first she had been patient, confident of their return. Then, after a couple of nights, she started to worry that maybe she had been forgotten. As the days went by and her stomach spoke to her less and less, she became resigned to the fact that they were gone and wouldn't be returning. Now she sat in the brush, or lay under it, with no place to go and nothing to do except watch the highway and wait to die. She cried to the stars at night, but they offered neither solace nor advice.

The truck geared down, decelerating towards the stop sign. The whine developed into a rushing sound, she could not know that she was hearing the blowers for the dynamic brake resistors. As the vehicle drew near she could see a face in one of the windows. The face seemed friendly, looking towards her. She tried to call out, but was able to generate nothing more than a muffled woof as the truck stopped at the end of the ramp. It slowly executed a right turn and headed to the Shell gas station behind her. The face in the window still looked at her. She struggled up from under her brush and walked stiffly towards the gas station.

Debbie's voice was full of concern "Dad, did you see that kali by the road just now?"

"What about it, honey?"

Debbie was looking out the side window, back towards the exit ramp they had just turned off of. "That kali back there. She's all dirty and skinny and looks all alone." Debbie sounded a bit sad. Their own kali had died a couple of years ago, after living a much longer and happier life than any of them had expected him to. Since then she hadn't paid much attention to pets, at least in terms of getting another one.

"I missed her, Debbie." Joe was concentrating on identifying an unoccupied pump island at the service station he was turning into. Seeing one on the outbound side, he maneuvered around the building at the center of the islands and pulled to a stop in front of a diesel pump. As he set the brakes and shut down the motor, Debbie opened her door and stepped down to the concrete.

After exiting herself, Debbie's mom headed off towards the station office, which also contained a mini market, intent on buying some cold drinks with which to restock the on-board refrigerator in the truck. Her dad stepped down as well and got busy pumping diesel fuel into the tanks. Debbie strolled over towards the market, idly following her mother. As she wandered around to the side of the building facing the Interstate, the kali she had noticed a few minutes ago stepped onto the asphalt from the dust and sage brush adjoining the parking area.

Debbie and the kali both stopped, regarding each other. The kali woof ed once, and Debbie slowly squatted down on the asphalt, holding out one paw, open pads up, to the kali. The kali wagged her tail briefly, hesitantly, and walked slowly up to her. After sniffing her paw for a few moments, the kali allowed Debbie to slowly reach up and scratch her head behind her ears.

"Where is your family, sweetheart?" Debbie asked the pooch. "You look hungry and dirty." There was no collar on the kali, and the dust and mud on her coat of fur told much about where she'd been for the past several days. The kali licked Debbie's arm briefly, enjoying the attention and the ear scratching.

Annie observed what was transpiring between her daughter and the pooch from within the market. Putting two and two together, she walked across the market to a food counter and, looking at the menu, ordered up two double cheeseburgers to go.

Outside Debbie was petting the kali, feeling for any signs of abuse. Aside from her pitiful thinness, the kali seemed young and healthy. Her eyes were clear, her nose was dry but not hot to the touch. Her ears stood up straight when Debbie spoke to her. "You need something to eat, my friend."

Standing, she was beginning to turn towards the market when she saw her mother coming out. Her mom proceeded directly to the place where she and the kali stood. The kali was shy and stepped back a step, but she could already smell the contents of the bag and was wagging her tail slowly. Debbie looked down at the kali, and then to her mom, her own tail wagging slowly as well. Before she could ask her question Annie held out the bag to her and said "For your friend, dear."

Well, by the time seventy eight gallons of diesel had gone into the AC300AT, the kali had filled up on two double cheeseburgers and a quart of Arrowhead bottled water, and was laying in the shade under the truck. Annie was in the cab storing items in the refrigerator.

"Who's your friend?" Joe asked his daughter as he hung up the pump nozzle.

Debbie was sitting on the floor of the cab in the open doorway of the passenger seat, running a brush through her own hair. "That's the pooch I was telling you about, daddy. I think she's lost."

"She certainly looks like she's been on the road for a few days." Joe could see the dust and mud on the kali's fur, and could also smell the grime of the railroad tracks and the brackishness of the water she'd been in. Retrieving the sales receipt from the pump, he turned to face his daughter as he placed the receipt in his wallet.

The hair brush stopped. "Daddy, can we keep her?"

Joe looked up to his daughter. She had an earnest look to her face, but her eyes caught his attention. They had a look of determination in them, as though in her mind the decision had already been made.

"Well..." Joe looked into the forward part of the cab of the truck, and immediately saw his wife looking down at him. She had heard Debbie's question as well. He raised his eyebrows slightly and motioned gently towards the kali with his right paw. She nodded her head in assent. "Tell you what, Blondie," he said, turning his gaze back to his daughter. "Let's take her to a vet and get her cleaned up. If the vet says she's healthy, you may keep her."

There was no outburst of glee from his daughter, but the look on her face melted to one of gratitude. "Thanks, daddy. I'll find out where a vet is." Placing the brush in her purse, she hopped down to the concrete and started off towards the market to find a phone book.

The kali rose as Debbie walked away, but a calm word and head scratch from Joe kept her by the truck. The kali never stopped watching Debbie, though, even after she had walked into the market. Joe looked down at the pooch. "Looks to me like we're about to be adopted," he said aloud to himself.

###

Two hours and $150.00 later they all walked out of a local vet's office on old Highway 66 just west of old downtown Kingman. A westbound AT&SF manifest was slowly rolling west through town, raising a bit of dust and filling the air with a rumbling sound. The engineer was whistling the grade crossing at Old Trails Road, the horns sounded sweet in Joe's ears. Looking down he noticed their new friend's ears, they were up and facing the sound of the horns, also. Her tail wagged briefly.

After the vet bathed the kali he proclaimed her to be a very young Yukon mix, guessing also that she might have some wild kali in her as well. She was perhaps eighteen months to two years old. She stood about two feet tall and about fourteen inches across at the shoulders.

Yukons are leggy, better than half their total height is measured in open air between the ground and their bellies. Their fur is very thick and bushy. Yukons are so named because they are native to the cold mountain country of inland northwestern North America in what is now known as the Yukon Territory.

This Yukon's head was roughly spherical, her eyes spaced closely together on either side of her narrow, eight inch muzzle. Her nose was dark brown, a deviation from the normal grayish pink color most Yukon's possess. Her ears were large and triangular, placed at the rear of her head near the top of her neck. Her mouth was full of teeth, two fangs in each corner for a total of eight.

Kalis are hunters and run very fast. They were originally domesticated, it is said, to help ancient furs hunt. A single wild kali can bring down an elk if it can get within six feet of it's neck. Yukon kali's tails are long, usually about the same length as their legs, and hang straight while the kali is standing still. The tails are extremely powerful and muscular. Unlike a canid's tail, the kali tail's skeletal structure is much heavier. The tail does not taper, but rather ends in a flat stub. Kalis hold their tails straight out above the ground while running and use them like rudders for guidance and balance, and also as weapons of defense.

Once bathed they had all been taken aback by her beautiful markings and the shiny, healthy appearance of her fur. She was a marvelous deep forest green color, with woodland brown accents at her eyebrows and on her ears. Her legs and tail were also a woodland brown color, her paws were black. Mojave's eyes were very dark, almost black, and glowed a brilliant blue when a light was shone in them. A nail trim and a good brushing and she looked good enough to be in a show. Some shots to maintain her health and a brief physical exam and she was pronounced fit. Leading her new friends at the end of a new collar and leash, she almost pranced out of that vet's office.

"Come on, girl, let's go for a ride!" Debbie exclaimed as they headed down the street towards their truck. The kali yipped at her, wagging her tail. Debbie took the leash from her father and preceded them to the truck, trotting beside her new friend.

Hanging back, Annie said to Joe "Looks like our daughter has made a new friend."

"I'd say they both have good taste," Joe replied. "Thanks for going along with this, Angel. This means a lot to her, for some reason." He put his arm about his pretty wife's waist and pulled her close.

"How could I say no?" Annie grinned as she wrapped her arm around his waist in turn. "She's cute, and appears very friendly and well behaved. And I think Debbie's been missing a four-legged companion since Tex died."

They looked at each other briefly, sharing fond yet unspoken memories of their old Sonoran kali. Tex had been their best friend for years. They still missed him. Joe stopped their walk and turned to her, tilting his head forward slightly and kissing his wife.

"Mmmm..." Annie said as they parted.

"Yeah..." Joe sighed.

From several yards ahead Debbie's happy voice called over her shoulder. "Daddy! Can you open the doors for us please?"

Joe used the remote to unlock the doors for Debbie. She reached up and opened the rear door on the passenger side. Debbie tapped on her seat and said "Up girl!" Even though the seat was a good four feet from the sidewalk, the Yukon kali took the jump with only a slight bounce on one of the steps. Joe stared in admiration. It was obvious this kali had been around large vehicles before.

As they settled in Debbie folded down the split seat adjacent to her in the back, making a flat area for the kali behind the front passenger seat. The pooch immediately sat down here, looking at Debbie, tongue out slightly, ears up, a mischievous look in her dark eyes and on her face.

Settling in himself Joe cranked over the diesel, which rumbled to life. Their new friend tilted her head, ears up and forward, as she tried to locate the source of the whine the turbocharger was making as it spun up. The A/C was on, and cold air blew into the cab from the overhead vent registers. The kali stood and raised her head to the draft and sniffed. She sneezed once, wagged her tail, shook herself, and then laid down, looking at Debbie again.

By the time they were back up to speed on the Interstate, the pooch's eyes were closed and her ears had relaxed. She slipped into the first comfortable sleep she'd known in days. She knew instinctively that her time alone in the heat and dust were over, and that she had found a new family to run with. In her dreams the stars sang gentle songs to her in the night.

"So what are you going to call her?" Joe asked his daughter.

"I'm going to name her after her former home," Debbie replied from the back seat. "We're going to call her Mojave."

"That's a good name, sweetie, but we'll all be calling her Mo before you know it," Joe said.

"I like Mojave," Annie said. "It has a very culturally applicable feel to it." She smiled slightly, looking out the windshield.

"Are you saying something about my ancestry, my lovely fox?" Joe asked quietly, smiling at the highway himself.

"Heavens no, dear. Would I do that?" She leaned over and kissed him. Lingering near his ear, she said softly "Tu eres mi coyote, mi amor."

He turned to face her. "Te amo, Angel" he replied.

He looked at her briefly, smiling. Their eyes met and locked for a few seconds, and he turned back to the road. The world by the tail... he thought.





To Chapter Twenty Two: Homecoming Interrupted.

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