67 hours ago, Between Thompsonville and Mount Silver, Virginia.
A loud clap of thunder rolled through the Appalachian hills startling the small dog from its troubled sleep, the sharp sound echoing through the corrugated metal culvert pipe that provided the canine with shelter. Minus a small trickle of water flowing through its center, the elevated tubing had been remarkably dry considering the storm raging outside. The Pekingese sat up, stretched, and scratched at its consistently itching ear. It leaned forward and lazily tapped its tongue to the stream of water flowing only centimeters away. It lifted its head and yawned, still tired thanks to the restless night spent in the pipe.
The dog leapt away from the sound emanating behind it. The canine turned to find two barely visible orbs floating in the dark. It bared its tiny teeth and growled in fear.
A flash of lightning briefly illuminated a black and gray horizontally striped face, perched above a row of several thin white fangs protruding downward from its open mouth. It came closer, the tiny hands of the creature plopping down carelessly into the light river of water tracing its way through the mud and slime in the bottom of the pipe. The creature hissed once more.
The Pekingese backed fearfully toward the exit of the tube, its rear foot finally reaching open air. Rain began pelting its lower back, the drops matting the now dry brown and white fur to the dog’s skin. It quickly turned, glanced at the muddy, leaf-covered ground only a few inches below, and then back at the strange, hissing threat approaching it from inside its former shelter.
The raccoon charged forward, sending the dog sailing from the pipe and into the rain. The gray and black animal flew from the tube in hot pursuit, splashing down only inches from the Peke, swatting at the canine’s rear quarters.
The dog yelped from the pain of the raccoon’s claws successfully slicing across its hind leg, encouraging it to run even harder and distance itself from the slower, deadly creature.
Vick sat up in the driver’s seat of the black SUV, alerted by the sound of the tracker’s alarm. “Doc! It’s back and it’s moving!” he shouted. “It’s close to the same spot it disappeared. Not too far from here.”
“Wha?!??” the scientist asked, startled awake. He quickly shot up from the rear bench seat and banged his head against the roof of the SUV. “Dammit!” he exclaimed, his glasses lay angled on his face. The scientist straightened the metal and glass objects and leaned forward over the driver’s seat.
“Did you sleep well, Doc?” Vick asked with a grin.
“Piss off, DeJue, this is why I hired you. It’s not my forte.”
“You wanted to come along.”
“Yes, to make sure it gets done. So, where is it?”
“We are almost on top of it,” Vick said, pointing at the tracker’s screen. He tapped the glass for emphasis. “But, we need to move because it’s running toward a neighborhood of coal houses and fast.”
“Shit. Alright, alert the others and tell them to use tranquilizer guns only if they can do it without being seen. I can only imagine the shitstorm we would start if some old lady or little kid sees a bunch of guys in black SUV’s shooting at a Pekingese in the street.”
Vick stifled a laugh. “Yeah.” He leaned over and grabbed the mic hanging from the vehicle’s installed UHF two-way system and keyed it up. “All units, set your GPS to 36.7° north and neg 83.35° current location of target. Appears to be headed toward a populated area.”
“Roger,” squelched a voice.
“Acknowledged,” said the other distant voices.
“...and Doc wants you all to watch for observers and keep the tranq guns out of sight. No shooting out in the open! Understood?”
“Yessir!” they replied in sequence.
“Let’s go get this damn dog, Vick.”
“You got it,” he replied and turned the key to start the SUV. Vick turned the wiper motor’s setting to high in an attempt to clear the water dumping on to the windshield.
“Crank up the AC, DeJue, it’s hot in here,” he said and pointed at the glass. “The windows are fogged up.”
“Sorry boss, I couldn’t leave the engine running. There’s no gas stations way out here and we already used my spare can driving around last night.”
“Yeah, I know. Hang on, I’m coming around,” the scientist said opening the door, inviting the downpour to enter the vehicle. “Goddamned rain!” he said angrily, stepping into the torrent of water falling from the sky. He ran around and grabbed the handle of the passenger door. It was locked and his hand slipped from the wet object. He banged the glass angrily.
“Oh shit! Sorry boss,” Vick said, stabbing at the unlock button.
The soaked Dr. Royal opened the door, glaring at the driver. “I know that was not intentional.”
“No sir,” Vick said and meant it.
The angry man threw his right hand before him. “Let’s go!”
Radii Defense System’s security chief threw the shifter into drive and pressed the accelerator. Nothing happened. “What now?”
“Well, why are we not going, Vick?”
The man pressed the accelerator harder. Nothing. He pressed the brake pedal, shifted into four-wheeled drive, and once again stepped on the accelerator. The SUV lurched forward only a few inches then stopped with the engine racing. Nick closed his eyes, let his hands fall from the steering wheel into his lap, and exhaled in frustration. “We’re stuck, Doc.”
Lawrence looked out of the passenger window into the rainy woods. “Can anything else go wrong?”
“Who knows at this point, Doc.”
The Pekingese slowed to a trot as its paws padded up onto the wet blacktop of a road. It sniffed the asphalt and then carelessly continued its journey across the highway.
A large semi blew its loud air horn as it crested the hill, the surprised driver spying the poor animal standing in its path. The truck’s operator slammed on the vehicle’s brakes without thinking and unfortunately for the driver, the wet pavement removed any necessary traction needed to actually stop the mechanical beast. The massive eighteen wheeler began to careen wildly as the driver pressed both feet to the brake pedal and prayed for his truck to return to normal. It did not.
The dog did not know what to do, so it froze.
The semi’s cab skidded to the opposite side of the road. The operator desperately attempted to return the large machine to the right lane before any oncoming traffic happened upon it by yanking the wheel to the right. Like a whip the trailer reacted to the sudden change in direction. Its back end now skidded to the left, the rear tires digging into the grass and mud on the left side of the road, pulling the cab back, wheels spinning, like a rubber band. It narrowly missed the animal. The trailer, now sliding at a 45° angle over the road, sailed above the top of the little dog, one of the interior tires only inches from the canine’s nose. The entire tractor-trailer fell over with a horrendous boom onto its side several meters beyond the animal still lying motionless in the highway. The cab of the truck disconnected from its cargo and flew into a ditch on the right side of the road, smashing headlong into a large tree and rendering the driver unconscious. An explosion of steam expelled from the bursting radiator and disappeared into the rainy air.
The dog nervously stood realizing the immediate threat was now gone and ran off into the woods to distance itself from all of the chaos it unwittingly caused. It tore through the forest at full speed until it could no longer run.
Passing an open cattle gate lying to the side of a muddy rutted road, the Pekingese walked with its head held down, the large drops of rain battering its exhausted body, wracked by pain and fear. It was hungry and could smell the aroma of something cooking drifting its way through the storm to the dog’s tiny nose. The smell guided the four-legged creature toward a home with a sagging roof, its front yard littered with objects of various sizes and shapes; faded children’s toys, appliances, and an old rusting swing set.
It gingerly stepped up onto the porch, locating a bowl of rain-moistened, dry dog food. It took a couple of small cautious bites before it noticed a very large dog sitting in a wood box intended to be a dog house.
The American pitbull raised its flat, square head and bared its teeth spying the furry invader. It began barking profusely and charged at the Pekingese on the porch.
“Whut the hell is goin’ on out there?” a young woman shouted, flinging the front door open. She spied the small, gnarly-looking dog trembling on her front porch through a tattered screen door and then noticed her pit running full steam toward the poor thing. “Buster! Stop!” Before she could get the screen door open to grab the tiny Asian dog, it leapt from the porch barely avoiding the larger dog’s teeth descending upon it.
The angry pitbull snarled and it too jumped from the porch, only to be yanked backward in mid-stride as the length of the chain attached to its neck ran out.
The Pekinese darted in and out of the various items lying haphazardly in the yards of several other neighboring houses in an attempt to avoid danger. It hid behind an old car to briefly take a breath only to be chased off by one more angry dog, fortunately chained to another dog house. With a yelp, the little canine streaked away into the safety of the woods.
Vick tapped the scientist on the shoulder. “Hey doc, we just got report of an overturned semi up on Highway 58.”
“And?” the doctor asked sarcastically, lifting the headphones from his ears.
Vick could hear the sound of Bach’s Minuet in G Minor playing from the tiny speakers. “The driver said he slammed on brakes trying to avoid a, ummm, Chinese dog, I think he put it? Evidently this guy was a new driver and didn’t know how to handle the thing too well.” Vick said.
“Well, he won’t be driving anymore, although, I do have to say it’s lucky he didn’t just run over it. Who knows what would have happened, you know, Vick?”
“Oh, I didn’t even think of that, Doc! Damn, that would have been bad.”
“Hand me that mic,” the scientist ordered.
Lawrence lifted the device to his mouth, “This is Dr. Royal, where are you with that winch, Team Two?”
“Five miles out, sir. Waiting for them to get this semi mess cleaned up,” the disembodied voice responded.
“Oh, I guess I should have mentioned, Team Two were the ones who reported the accident,” Vick said sheepishly.
There was no place for the dog to cross. It nervously wandered back and forth along the edge of a wide drainage ditch dug by a coal mining company, until finally deciding to jump in and swim across to the other side. The dog desperately wished to escape the threat the canine still perceived might be pursuing it and saw no other choice. The animal’s light body was quickly caught by the fast moving storm surge.
In desperation, the dog paddled against the flowing water and managed to secure itself onto a broken tree branch that splashed into the water from a tree above. The swift current carried the animal and its makeshift flotation device for quite some time until the surging flood spilled from the concrete pipe and into a wide natural stream. It was here that the tree branch embedded itself into a sand bar rising above the flowing rainwater. The dog climbed onto the tiny refuge as the rain came down harder. The water continued to rise, further trapping the animal and stretching the receding shores even further away. Soon, the surge would overtake the poor creature. The dog whined and lay down helplessly on the wet grassy island, batting its eyes with each drop of water popping it in the face. It was so tired it could now only wait for the end to come.
“Dammit Raven, why’d you have to up and run away?” Kaitlyn said, towing her little sister by the arm behind her.
The dog sat up as it heard the distant voices.
“I wanted to see daddy today an’ all. You’re the one who told me you saw him in town. Let me go!” Raven said snatching her arm away from her sister. “An’ Jesus heard you say that word, even if momma didn’t.”
“Whatever. I just don’t know what you was thinkin’ girl, you know it was gonna rain purty good!” the older girl retorted as the trio of children walked over an old wooden bridge traversing the swollen banks of a typically light meandering stream. Today, however, this peaceful flow of water had quickly turned into a river.
“Well, momma’s gonna whup you good, I tell ya,” Hunter said with a grin. “You runnin’ off this close to dinnertime.”
“No she ain’t, I’m her favorite!” Raven said smartly.
The Pekingese barked.
“Hey, what’s that?” the boy asked excitedly. “Did ya’ll hear that?”
“Yeah, look over there, it’s a dog!” Kaitlyn said as the three of them ran to the railing of the bridge.
“That ain’t no dog, stupid,” the small girl shot back. “That’s some sort of ugly cat.”
“Cats don’t bark, Raven,” Kaitlyn said, peering through the sheets of rain soaking her and her siblings. “Whatever it is, it’s gonna drown if we don’t go and fish it out.”
“I’ll go get it,” Hunter said. “I’m wet and all, anyways. Can’t let it die like that.”
“It sure looks ugly,” Raven said.
“So are you when you talk mean like that,” Kaitlyn fired back.
Hunter waded out into the water until it was up to his small chest.
“Boy, you better be careful, momma’d skin us alive if you got yourself drowned,” Kaitlyn shouted from shore.
“I got it...” Hunter’s head went under water.
“Shit! Stay here and don’t move, girl!” Kaitlyn dropped Raven’s hand and ran to help Hunter. She jumped into the torrent of water and splashed toward where she last saw her little brother.
Raven saw Hunter’s fingers for only a moment. “He’s over there!” the small girl yelled, pointing behind Kaitlyn’s head.
The frantic older sister turned. “Hunter!?!! Kaitlyn held her breath and dove beneath the rushing torrent of water.
“Kaitlyn? Hurry up!” Raven said, worry covering her small face like a mask. She looked up and blinked as the raindrops splattered against her skin. The sky was getting darker and the rain was coming in sheets.
Several seconds passed and then Kaitlyn bobbed up with Hunter in her arms like a pair of fishing corks when a fish breaks the line. They both gulped in a mouthful of air upon reaching the water’s surface.
“Swim!” Kaitlyn exclaimed breathlessly as the pair splashed toward higher ground.
“I’m sorry, Katie!” *Gasp* “I didn’t know a log was gonna grab me by the pants leg and pull me under,” the boy said as his toes touched the grassy bottom.
“Stuff happens,” Kaitlyn said, swimming upstream behind Hunter.
“Whut about the dog!” Hunter said, climbing onto the grass. He pointed at the animal standing on the sandbar wagging its tail.
“Oh yeah, I’ll get it!” Kaitlyn said. She turned and nervously tiptoed through the water, now fearful of what might be under her feet and very concerned that she, too, might be swept away with no one to save her. Regardless, she couldn’t just let the poor creature drown. “Come here, puppy,” she said softly, feeling the land rising below her feet as she approached the dog. The Pekingese trembled in her hands as she lifted it into her arms. It continued to wag its tail. She noted its body was a sad patchwork of skin and fur. There were even stiches in a couple of places. Kaitlyn teared up. “Oh, what a pitiful baby you are. Let’s get you to our house, okay?”
The dog attempted to look up at the girl, but the hard rain forced its head back down.
“Alright, we are going to have to go back through this here flood one more time, puppy. I’m sorry. You hang on, okay?” she said, wading back into the rapidly flowing water. She held the dog into the air as she pressed forward, once again tiptoeing bravely through the flowing water. The girl sputtered as the water lapped at her face, entering her nose and mouth. Finally, the frightened Kaitlyn felt her feet beginning to give way and she quickly tossed the dog toward Hunter. “Catch!”
Kaitlyn lost her footing and feverishly fought against the strengthening current, fearfully realizing she was being swept away. Raven ran to the edge of the water dragging a large stick twice as large as she was behind her. She managed to swing it out toward her sister using all her strength.
“Stay!” Hunter said to the dog as he set it down to go help his sisters.
“Pull!” the two children shouted as Kaitlyn grabbed the end of the branch. The girl fought against the water, pulling herself to shore hand-over-hand up the branch. When her toes finally made contact with the ground, the duo fell backwards as their sister released the improvised lifeline.
Kaitlyn splashed to shore and collapsed at the edge. “Let’s go home ya’ll...and no one ever tells mom!”
Hunter and Raven both agreed.