The camp was already fading from sight in the trucks oversize mirrors. I left the women with some basic instructions for fortifying the place and before I said my last goodbye protective berms were being dug by the few male captives that remained.
I consulted the map that had been left in the truck by its previous driver and considered my options. Starke and the remnants of the Michigan Volunteer Defense Force were even now likely gathering near Lansing preparing for their push into our erstwhile capitol; the map though showed all the possibilities before me. Hadn’t I wanted to run off in live in the forest like some post-apocalypse version of one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys? Where was that guy?
I rolled to a stop at the intersection of the town and glanced over at the newly abandoned library. I shifted the truck into park and grabbed a bottle of water, loosening the cap and taking a slow sip of water as I scanned around looking for possible ambush sites. With Michael dead and most of the camp’s guard fled or otherwise engaged there were no signs of activity. Word must have traveled fast; the little market that had been set up on the library’s sidewalk had been deserted, leaving only empty folding tables as any hint of the purpose.
Old habits died hard it seemed as I pushed down the stalk to indicate a left turn. I put the truck into drive and started my turn. From the passenger’s side of the cabin I heard a bark of protest. I looked over and saw Sako eyeing me almost curiously.
“Stuff it, pooch.” I told him as I made the turn and accelerated. Sako persisted, barking at me again as if to ask what it was I thought I was doing. I reached over and scratched his ears. “I’ve done my part here, okay? I paid whatever debt I had by saving those women.” Sako barked louder and scooted over closer to me. I thought maybe he needed to use the bathroom and pulled over to let Sako and Tikka out of the cab, setting them on the ground at my feet.
Tikka ran off to a nearby lawn to do his business while Sako remained sitting at my feet staring up at me. “Go on, Sako. Go!” I nudged him with my boot but succeeded only in moving him over a couple of inches. “What? What do you want? If you’re hungry you’re going to have to hunt or at least wait until later.”
Sako walked a small circle and sat down at my feet once more. I looked off to see Tikka chasing leaves in a nearby yard. I refused to make eye contact with Sako. Undeterred Sako began barking insistently, letting out a yip followed by a growl every few seconds. Finally, I caved.
“Be normal!” I said, giving him my best ‘you just pee’d on the rug and it’s just the end of the world for me’ voice. “Go play with your brother! Bark at an empty trash can, will ya?!” Sako sat at my feet, vocal and unflinching.
Tikka came back over and nipped at his brother’s ear then lay down, rolling on his back trying to entice his brother into play. “Yeah! What he said!” I attempted to point out the clearly superior behavior of his brother. Sako snapped at Tikka until his brother gave up and found joy in licking himself instead.
“You’re my favorite.” I said looking at Tikka who wagged his tail happily. Sako changed tacks now looking back the way we came and whining piteously. “Oh, for fu–are you kidding me with this?!” Sako wagged his tail once and looked at me with his head slightly tilted. “No. You be normal. You’re a dog not my conscience.” Sako let out an almost happy growling-bark. “No! You are not winning!” I shook my head. Under my breath I said “Oh yeah, this is normal. I’m arguing with a puppy.” Sako jumped up and began doing a little dance, barking and spinning in circles.
“I kept you from being Pup-burger helper.” I began, trying for some odd reason trying to guilt him into submission. Sako barked rapid fire nonstop barks and he spun around frenziedly. “Really?” I asked. I waited for several seconds in hopes that he might actually answer.
Seeing that all the action was in the barking and spinning game, Tikka joined in with his litter mate, pausing after a few circles to look up at me as if to ask why I hadn’t joined in the fun. “Et tu, Tikka?” I shook my head and did my best to convey to him my grave disappointment. “You’re no longer the favorite.” I told him as I bent down and scooped the dogs up and hustled them into the cab.
“I’m getting a cat.” I told them as I started the motor and began to attempt a U-turn in the big box truck. Sako started barking, even louder now, putting his paws up on the dash to look out the windshield as if to make sure I was actually going back. Sako barked and began dashing around the small cab taking turns looking out the windshield and looking at me. He barked once more, a louder, deeper sound this time as he began to find his big dog voice.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m going.” I reached over and put my finger on his nose. “And when I get there, I’m going to offer you two up for the stew pot.” I said nodding my head gravely at the both of them before continuing “And then, cat. A nice, quiet, non-judgmental cat.” Sako gave me a play bow, wagging his tail so hard his whole body shook with the effort.
I pulled back into the intersection and looked at the map once more and began tracing our route. I looked over at the dogs once more. “You know I’m going to be killed right?” I asked, looking them both in the eye. Tikka yipped happily and stuck his nose up against the windshield. “As long as you’re both okay with that . . .” I said offering them a chance to change their minds.
Sako moved next to me and lay down beside me on the seat. I turned the truck east, toward Starke and his crew. Toward Lansing.