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Savage Survival


Darrell Bain's Monthly Blog - December 2010

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Bainstorming: Darrell's Bain's Monthly Blog.
Copyright © December 2010, By Darrell Bain

Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.

Subjects this month: Tonto is Gone, Progress Report, Book Report, UFO Visitor, Excerpt from Life On Santa Claus Lane (A complete story!), Excerpt from Bark!.

Tonto is Gone

On the 20th of October, Tonto the lovable idiot dachshund, subject of the book Bark! again lost sensation in the lower part of his body. This happened once before and he recovered with steroid medication and rest after about two weeks. This time he isn’t responding nearly as well. It’s been almost two weeks now and he can just barely support himself on his back legs for a couple of minutes but can’t move and has to have one of us balance him. It’s progress so we’re hopeful but if he recovers this time we can see it’s going to be a long process.

Betty and I are already worn out from caring for him. He’s still incontinent and his bedding has to be changed frequently, day and night. He also has to have his steroids, anti-acids and pain medicine at least four or five times a day, which means at least once and sometimes twice at night. And we have to feed him between the medications which means odd hours. One or the other of us is up every two hours or so during the night and during the day, washing towels and bedding and trying to exercise his back legs and so on.
I really, really have to admire the parents with handicapped children that require care of this sort. It goes on a lifetime for them! They must have the patience of Job and the temperament of Saints.

One odd fact. Previous to this illness, Tonto slept in the living room while Susie slept in our bedroom, each on their own beds. For some reason four weeks ago we decided to move Tonto into the bedroom. He didn’t like it and it took a lot of teaching on our part to convince him his bed now belonged in our bedroom (he’s not very bright as anyone who’s followed his story knows) but finally he accepted it--just in time. For now he needs to be in there so we can hear him if he whines or whimpers from pain or being wet. It’s like we had a premonition, an ESP experience, if you will, that induced us to change his sleeping place. Strange.


On November 6th 2010, Tonto was given his final peace. He gave each of us a farewell face lick then went peacefully with the injection. Three weeks previously a disk ruptured in his back and despite all we could do he didn’t recover as he had from a previous episode. He got worse, was in constant pain and the vet held out little hope for recovery. We finally made the awful decision to let him go.

Tonto was an exceptional dog. We bought him as a six week old puppy from a dachshund breeder thinking that his only difference was being the runt of the litter, the very reason we chose him. Or actually, he chose us by running up to Betty and licking her feet then looking up at her with his big brown eyes. As he grew we discovered he had basketful of oddities. We found that he was cross-eyed, although it never seemed to bother him. He only had one testicle but that wasn’t a problem either. As he grew older though, we found that he had a one-track mind. When he was focusing on something he tuned the world out. At first we thought he was retarded and we kidded and teased him about it the rest of his life. We eventually thought he was more in the nature of being afflicted with the mild form of autism called Aspergers syndrome. That sort of autism is commonly associated with very intelligent individuals who tend to be very bright in specific subjects that interest them but totally uninterested in much else.

At a young age Tonto discovered sticks. We have a yard filled with big pine trees that constantly drip branches and pine straw. He loved to play with sticks and to use them to manipulate pine straw. His favorite task was to bring a stick to the tarmac of our driveway that is usually covered with straw. There, he would spend hours with a stick held straight out in front of him and push pine straw into piles. If he couldn’t find a stick the right length he learned to chew them in two and use one of the pieces. All this was totally self-taught. We didn’t have a thing to do with it. The only time he didn’t spend time outdoors with his sticks was either when it was raining (and not always then) or when his back was bothering him. When he was X-rayed after his first episode of paralysis almost half his disks were already calcified. Below is a picture of Tonto shoveling straw with a stick.

Notice the total concentration he is displaying.

Tonto with stick

Another thing Tonto was fixated on was water and water hoses. He loved water. In fact, he loved water so much that when he started drinking he had no cut-off switch. He would always drink until he was so full he gagged and spit up water. We figured that was his body signaling that he’d had enough. And water hoses--oh, man! When Betty watered the yard or garden Tonto was right there, forever convinced that if he just tried hard enough and often enough he could take a bite out of that stream of water and get hold of it and carry it back to the house. Of course all he accomplished was getting himself soaked but the old Asperger’s syndrome was at work. He just knew there must be some way to bite water.

Tonto was apparently born knowing how to fetch. The first time I threw something he ran and got it and brought it back and dropped it at my feet. He was always ready to play fetch. He could wear me out with it and still be game for more.

Other than those three fixations Tonto was sort of detached from the world. He wouldn’t listen to commands, he couldn’t be trained, and he always did exactly what he wanted to and nothing else.

The poor little guy had nightmares, too. The first few weeks after we got him he wandered off and got lost overnight in the woods once and the other time stayed beneath a neighbor’s house while big dogs tried to roust him out. Fortunately he was rescued both times. And once he got lost and we searched everywhere but couldn’t find him. That night at midnight Betty discovered a trail of blood from the office to the bathroom in the middle of the house. Apparently he’d crawled under and into a piece of furniture and gotten stuck. He never made a peep even when we called and called. Finally after twelve hours he worked himself loose but he had a deep cut on one hip. The color of his fur changed to white at the site of the wound. Those episodes, and possibly events at the puppy mill where he was a runt, were probably responsible for the nightmares but we’ll never really know.

His whole color gradually changed from brown to almost black during the time we had him. He turned out to be a wirehair instead of a regular dachshund like we thought. 

Tonto had another strange trait. He wouldn’t accept treats. He didn’t like treats. In fact, he didn’t really like to eat. He had to be coaxed to eat anything. Put food or a treat in his bowl and he would circle it, peck at it like a chicken, sniff it, lay down and look at it and usually turn his nose up at it. Dinnertime was always sometime between noon and two o’clock but at times it would be dark before we could get him to eat his dinner. We had his teeth and jaws examined and they were fine. He just wasn’t much interested in food like he was water. We tried everything we could think of and finally settled on balogna and cheese. He would eat a meal of those but certainly with no enthusiasm like a normal dog. There were only two food items he would eat without question or hesitation: ice cream and chicken jerky strips. Other than those two items he could couldn’t care less about food.

In the house his favorite spot was in Betty’s chair beside her with his head hanging down over the edge. You’d think it would give him a headache but that’s the position he preferred. He also liked to lay upside down in my lap and wait patiently for belly rubbing or for me to lean down close enough for him to get a face lick.

In Betty’s words, Tonto was a two and a half foot long, eight inches high brown furry bundle of unconditional love. Whatever we did to him or for him he accepted.

Tonto was buried wrapped in his blanket Betty had made for him only a couple of weeks before his illness. I doubt we’ll ever see another dog like him. He was an idiot but lovable, exasperating but a joy to have and to be able to watch his busy little self play with his sticks and straw. We’ll never know what went through his strange little mind but we’re glad we brought him to live with us and we’re glad we got him instead of maybe someone who wouldn’t have been as patient with him as us. Rest in peace, Tonto. We love you, little fellow.

Progress Report

For the first time, one of my books made the Amazon science fiction and fantasy best seller list! Alien Enigma, written in collaboration with Tony Teora,  stayed on the best selling list the whole month of October and is still on the best seller list as of today, the 27th of November when I’m sending this to my web master. Alien Enigma has been on the best selling Amazon Science fiction list now for a total of 8 weeks and counting!

Starship Down, Galactic Frontiers, Savage Survival and Warp Point are also selling very well at Amazon, though not quite on the best selling list. Those are some of my favorites and they’ve all gotten excellent revues.

I have finished the first draft of the first book of a series, Apertures. I don’t know how many books will be in the series but there will be at least three and perhaps more. Apertures will be the title of the first book. I should be able to send the first book to my editor by the time the December Bainstorming goes live. It should be for sale in the ebook edition by the first of January or thereabouts.

I have another new book just out, written with Mary Ann Steele, titled The Disappearance Enigma. It is now available as an ebook at Kindle, Fictionwise and the usual ebook stores. It will be in print at Amazon and B&N in the near future.

An agency asked to see four of my science fiction novels for prospective movie production. While that was a pleasant surprise I’m not getting too excited. Probably a thousand books are passed over for each one made into a movie. It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic, though, and it’s a nice feeling to know those books are being considered for a movie.

The Cresperian Alliance is not the end of the Cresperian series that started with Human by Choice, written by myself and Travis S. Taylor. Stephanie Osborn will be adding at least one more book to the series. Sorry for the error.

I just finished checking the final editing for the print version of Warp Point, the novel of a starship manned only by a computer that lands on the property of an ordinary couple and puts them in charge of it. The print edition of Warp Point should be available in December of this year!

Book Report

Ken Follett’s  Fall of Giants is a giant book of fiction almost a thousand pages but  well worth the time spent reading it. It is the first of a trilogy of novels that will span all of the 20th century. The first book covered the period up to the end of WWI and slightly beyond. The characters are real, the action is realistic, the book is well researched and the history is accurate. I learned a number of things about WWI which I didn’t know before reading the book. It also covers a load of other history besides the war, including the Russian Revolution, the beginnings of Marxism, and many other interesting aspects of history, all wrapped up in the actions of five different families. Terrific!

Leon Uris wrote a number of notable books but I think Exodus is about his best. It covers the background and history of the formation of Israel beginning early in the 20th century, with a few parts going even further back than that. I learned a lot about Judaism from the book but also found it a magnificent story. I’ve read it numerous times and always enjoy it.

Live Free or Die by John Ringo is a book after any conservative’s heart. It is also a novel of alien quasi-conquest and the narrative of one man who takes the New Hampshire motto seriously: Live Free or Die!

What would happen to the rest of the world if all the people but those in three American states were eliminated by a “wave” that killed everyone in the other 47 states and prevented access to the area? John Birmingham explores the concept in Without Warning. Other nations complain about America but would they really want to see us go? After reading this book I believe the rest of the world is much more dependent on us than they realize. An extremely good read! I hope to report on the sequel by the first of the year.

Surprise! The sequel is out, After America, by John Birmingham. I just finished it. The book continues to follow the fortunes of a number of characters we get attached to in the first book. Now the “wave” has disappeared and the country is accessible again. However, most of the population is gone, leaving only heaps of burnt clothes. Now the remaining Americans from the three states not taken by the “wave” are trying desperately to keep the country going while hordes of pirates and brigands and soldiers from other countries are intent on looting the coastal cities that are still standing, along with all the unused goods in the empty stores and homes. Complicating matters is a renegade ex-general who is slaughtering legal immigrants in Texas because of the color of their skin. Remnants of the Islamic countries nuked by Israel are also invading America, trying to make it their future home. A great tale and the writing becomes almost poetic at times. Yup. The rest of the world needs us, whether they know it or not. These two books show us this fact in graphic detail.

UFO Visitor

I had a visitor the first week in November, a genuine UFO investigator. It seems a neighbor had spoken of strange lights and sounds and wanted them investigated. Poor fellow, I hated to tell him that what was being seen and heard was hobbyists out flying ultra light planes! I don’t know if I convinced him or not that there was nothing here to investigate, but I did promise that if I ever saw a UFO I would definitely report it!
Are there UFOs? Well there are certainly unknown events, but whether they are aliens or not is still undetermined. I’d like to believe in them but I’m gong to have to see at least a piece of a spaceship or a pound of alien flesh first.

Excerpt from Life On Santa Claus Lane (A complete story!)

Each year at this time I include an excerpt from Life On Santa Claus Lane. Following is one of the complete stories contained in Life On Santa Claus Lane. This book makes an excellent Christmas gift for those who like humor and like to read. You can read the whole book here if you wait ten or twelve years, getting one story each Christmas, but I really recommend you buy the book! Below is one of the complete stories from the book.


            In the city, about the only animal one runs across is an occasional dog or cat. Ah, but the countryside is different. Very different, as we learned. Especially on Santa Claus Lane. There are varmints everywhere here--in the most unlikely places.
            We had no problems with our house for the first 365 days we lived in it. Not a one. Now for anyone who doesn’t suspect where this story is going, 365 days equals one year, which is how long the warranty on our house lasted.
            On the 366th day, Betty began complaining to me. “Honey, we have a leak in the kitchen.”
            Fortunately, although not very much mechanically inclined or talented, I knew what to do about a leak. “Call the plumber,” I said.
            “You’re the man, you call the plumber,” Betty answered.
            (Betty grew up in the old school as you can tell from that remark).
            I called. The plumber promised to come out the next day.
            Next day. No plumber.
            I called. The plumber promised to come out the next day.
            Next day. No plumber.
            I called.........repeat several more times.
            “I want that leak fixed!” Betty told me in no uncertain terms one night in the bedroom. Orders from bedrooms are serious business. It doesn’t take a man long to get a message that’s put in that particular way.
            Lacking a plumber, I decided to tackle the job myself. After all, somewhere in my library of a couple of thousand books there must be something about fixing a simple leak under a kitchen sink. But first I decided to locate it.
            I crawled under the kitchen sink, no mean feat in a space cramped with drain pipes, coils of copper tubing, wooden bracings and odds and ends and bottles and jars and cans of things Betty keeps in that space, most of which I didn’t recognize except for a jar of vinegar that I promptly tipped over and broke, thereby delaying the job for several more days until the fumes abated. (Men, take note: keep a convenient jar of vinegar anywhere you don’t want to have to work, especially during football season).
            The vinegar only postponed the job that once since Betty didn’t replace it, a smart move on her part. Eventually I had to crawl under the sink again--and by this time I could sympathize with Betty’s concern. My knees and hands got wet. I did discover where the leak was coming from, though: behind the wall.
            “The leak is coming from behind the wall,” I announced as I backed out.
            “What are you going to do?”
            “Tear the wall out,” I said, gathering up a hammer, saw, crowbar and other implements inherited from my father, which I had never used, mainly because I always placed them in the category of things which might cause work, and secondly because I didn’t have a clue as how to operate them.
            “Maybe you should call the plumber again,” Betty said, knowing my limitations.
            “Plumbers don’t exist. They’re only a figment.”
            “They’re listed in the phone book.”
            “The phone book lies. All the plumbers in Texas have migrated to California where they have unions.”
            “What do unions have to do with it?”
            “How should I know? I’m not a plumber.”
            “Then why are you going to fix that leak?” My wife asked.
            Maybe some men would have answered that, but not me. I crawled back under the sink and proceeded to wipe out the wall as if fixing the leak had been all my idea in the first place. Actually, tearing up the wall was sort of interesting and kind of fun. There was a layer of linoleum, then some sort of plywoody stuff, then a bunch of pink panther insulation stuff, then a mice nest, some stray nails the carpenter had left in the wall, a few two by fours going this way and that, and everything under the sink was intertwined with copper pipes and PVC pipes and electrical lines and finally a heavy, immovable support beam which appeared large and solid enough to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And naturally, the leak was coming from somewhere behind that beam. I backed out, or rather tried to. I couldn’t move. I had torn out so much of the wall and piled the debris behind me, blocking my exit.
            “Help!” I shouted.
            Several more shouts brought Betty, sloshing through a small river of water Then she started shouting. “What have you done to my cabinet! What did you do to the wall! Why are you tearing our house down?” This while shoveling away debris so I could back out of the cabinet.    
            “I’m fixing that leak, just like you asked me to, remember?” I said, as soon as I could stand up.
            “No I don’t. What I remember is asking you to call a plumber!”
            “I did call a plumber,” I said virtuously. “In fact I called several of them.”
            “Well, where are they?”
            “They have gone to wherever plumbers go when they say they are going to come out the next day; that is, if in fact plumbers really exist. I’m beginning to have reason to doubt it lately.”
            “Well, all right. Did you fix the leak?’
            “No,” I admitted. “I can’t get to it from this side. I’ll have to go through the brick wall from outside.”
            Betty looked at my simple tools. She grinned. “Ha! You can’t go through a brick wall with that little hammer and saw and crowbar. You better try calling the plumbers again.”
            I had given up on the plumbers but since I had to go to the building supply store anyway to buy sixteen tons of materials to replace the wall inside the cabinet I had torn out, I picked up a handy dandy brand new sledge hammer while I was at it.
            As soon as Betty felt the house shaking from me pounding a hole through the bricks from outside, she screamed and ran for the phone. Amazingly, a few hours later a real, live plumber showed up. I have since concluded that they will only and always show up when a woman calls, assuming women know nothing of plumbing like me and other men do, and figuring they can rip unsuspecting women off easily.
            Not me. I proved that easily. The plumber worked a toothpick around in his mouth, shook his head at the pile of bricks displaced by the new hole in the house, that ran through the bricks into the cabinet where the leak was. We went inside and he shook his head again when he saw the pile of stuff I had ripped out looking for that stupid little leak. He pulled a little gadget out of his pocket, knelt and reached in under the cabinet and two seconds later stood back up.
            “It’s fixed,” he said.
            “What was wrong?” I had to ask.
            “Carpenter got careless with a nail when the house was being built. It was in the pipe, then worked loose. Here’s my bill.”
            I paid the man $457.63 for his two seconds of work, glad he hadn’t come when Betty was by herself or he would surely have overcharged her.
            Well, the leak was fixed. I headed for my easy chair and a well-deserved rest. Fixing leaks is hard work.
            Betty come over and stood in front of me. “What about that hole in our house?”
            “I’ll fix it after the football game,” I told her. However, this was the height of the season and it seemed as if there was a football game on every day for the next two weeks.
The hole stayed open, but heck, I didn’t see where it was hurting much of anything, especially since we could keep the cabinet door closed. However...
            One day while I was busy watching football while laying on the couch with my eyes closed (this is something only men can do), I heard Betty shout from the kitchen .
            “Honey, come quick!”
            “How about at half-time?” I asked.
            “How about now!” Betty said, in a voice I knew well. Something was dreadfully wrong. I got up and came to look.
            “What is it?” I asked.
            “Just look!“ She said. Betty pulled open the cabinet door. She had moved some of the stuff back into it, in particular the garbage compost bucket. I bent over to look--and saw what she was talking about. Right there beside the bucket, some critter had gone potty.
            “Uh oh.” I said.
            “Uh oh, my hind foot. You get that varmint out of there.”
            I looked closer. “I think it must be a rat that got in while the house building was going on.”
            “Well, if that’s so, what has it been living on all this time?”
            “Mice! You get that thing out of here right now! And take its mice with it!”
            “It’s not that easy,” I told her. I had had some experience along these lines, having had to exterminate mice in another house. But from the droppings I saw, this was obviously a rat, not a mouse. A big rat, too.
            “I’ll buy a rat trap pretty soon,” I said.
            “How about right this instant?”
            “I would, but it’s Sunday. Besides, what’s more important, a little old rat or a football game?”
            I guess I don’t have to tell you what the response to that statement was, but I promised faithfully that I would go to town the next day and get a rat trap, and I did.
However, the next day also happened to be when we had invited a few couples over for dinner. Nevertheless, I baited the rat trap with a big piece of cheese and set it right by the compost bucket. And by the way, if any of you city folks are wondering what a compost bucket is, just imagine a home without a garbage disposal in the sink and without regular garbage pickup service--and a little woman who loves to feed her chickens all the kitchen scraps the dogs and cats don’t like.
            The dinner went well and afterward, we were sitting around talking when there came a loud Snap! from the kitchen. Everyone stopped talking for a moment. Neither Betty nor I said anything, not wanting to admit that we had a rat and possibly mice in our new home. However, after the Snap! came a series of Crash! Bang! Boing! Klunk! noises impossible to ignore. I knew that the rat had tripped the trap!
            “What’s that?” Someone asked.
            “Uh, maybe branches falling on the roof?” I suggested. Who wants to admit they have rats in their kitchen?
            “I didn’t notice any trees by your house,” that someone said with a grin, obviously seeing my discomfiture and not wanting to let me off the hook.
            “Maybe the cat and dog are feuding,” Betty said, a poor excuse since the cat was sitting in her lap at the moment and the dog was outside barking at the moon.
            “It sounds like something is loose in the kitchen,” one of the ladies said.
            “Impossible,” I said. “It’s just a plain old kitchen.”
            “Let’s go see,” one of the other men said.
            I hate curious people, especially dinner guests, but the idea took hold. Everyone got up and trooped into the kitchen, then we all stood around, with Betty and I holding our breath, hoping that by this time the rat was laying down dead in the trap. Our hopes were in vain. Another series of crashing, thumping noises came from beneath the sink.
            “Something is loose in there!” One of the ladies said, backing up a bit.
            “Sounds pretty big, too,” the curious man said.
            “It’s just a rat in a trap,” I said, finally deciding to confess and end the suspense.
            “It’s my husband’s fault. I told him he needed to fix that hole in the wall.” Betty has always been very supportive of me in front of other people.
            “But it’s football season!” I said.
            The men nodded sympathetically. The women stared at me as if football and beer were my only occupation. Betty didn’t say anything, maybe because at times it sort of approached the truth.
            “Well, anyway, it sounds as if you caught it,” one of the other men said.
            Some more crashes and banging sounds came from the cabinet beneath the sink, not quite as loud as before. In fact, the noises sounded almost purposeful. Now I was curious. I stepped forward and gingerly pulled open the cabinet door.
            I guess I’m a slow thinker. Everyone else not only cleared the kitchen but the house as well, while I stood there stupefied, watching a small black animal with a white stripe down its back struggling with its neck caught in my rat trap.
            Now a rat trap is designed to break a rat’s neck when it snaps on it, but perhaps little skunks have stronger vertebrae or something. Anyway, while I stood watching and trying to decide whether to run for my pistol, try to stick my foot in and stomp the skunk or just close the door and hope for the best, the little skunk went about determinedly figuring out how to get the trap off its neck--and finally it did. It placed both forepaws on the edge of the trap then very slowly, exerting all its strength, gradually raised its neck and began to slide it out from under the steel band of the trap.
            That decided me. I hurriedly closed the cabinet door and simply hoped I had been hallucinating. I wasn’t about to stand there and wait for the skunk to work itself loose then turn its attention on me!
            About that time Betty crept cautiously back into the kitchen. “Is it dead?”
            “No,” I admitted. “In fact, I think it’s loose from the trap.”
            “You mean I have a skunk loose in my kitchen cabinets? No more football for you, mister. Get that skunk out of my house!”
            “You let him in, you get him out.”
            “I know, I’ll call a plumber,” I said.
            If I remember right, Betty decided at that point to go visit her mother for a couple of days, leaving me with the skunk in the house and instructing me to call her when it was gone. I went and turned on a football game so I could think the situation over. I thought and thought and finally something occurred to me: the skunk hadn’t smelled like a skunk, not even a little bit. Obviously, it wasn’t grown up enough to operate that infamous skunk defensive/offensive system which repels all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Dallas Cowboys’ coaches should only take some lessons.
            Now that I had young Mr. Skunk figured out, I got up and went and opened the kitchen cabinet again with a big hammer in my hand, no longer afraid of the consequences should I whap the skunk into submission with it. I peered inside. The skunk was gone and the trap was empty. I looked closer. The old piece of plywood I had stood up against the house to sort of cover the missing bricks and interior wall had been knocked over. The skunk obviously had decided that getting caught in a rat trap was no longer worth living in happy proximity to a compost bucket and a leaky pipe, even though judging from the potty piles it had subsisted on both for several days.
            I blocked off the hole in the house temporarily then bought some cement mix and plugged it back up. For some reason it didn’t match the rest of the exterior of the house, perhaps because I don’t know much about brick laying. I bent a convenient Azalea bush over far enough to hide my work and went back to watching football. When Betty called I told her the skunk problem was cured and she could back home.
            “How did you get rid of it?” was the first thing she asked.
            “Easy,” I said. “I just laid a trail of compost out to the chicken yard and it followed.”
            “You mean now I have a skunk in my chicken yard?”
            “Just kidding,” I said.
            I don’t think Betty believed me. From that day on, I not only had to carry the compost to the chicken yard, I became the designated egg-gatherer for evermore. Which shows that it is dangerous to kid around with your wife, no matter how much she loves you.
            I know Betty loves me.
            I’m still watching football, aren’t I?


Excerpt from Bark!

            I usually only include one excerpt per issue of Bainstorming but this month I’m adding an extra one in honor of Tonto. Bark! Was written with him serving as an avatar for the dachshund in the story. The book also includes Tonto’s autobiography.

            Gordo dressed just about the same as Damon, in jeans and an old western shirt, for the mild Houston weather had chased the last bit of winter away and spring was in full flower.
            Damon and Gordo were easy to tell apart, though. Gordo thought time spent on shaving or getting a haircut was wasteful. When his beard or hair started falling onto the keyboard of his computer or into the can of beer he carried everywhere, he hacked a few inches of it off, but otherwise pretty well ignored it.
            The two men shook hands. Gordo’s right hand was twisted from an injury in an automobile accident while driving with one too many nips under his belt.
“Hi, Beth,” Gordo said, then turned to Damon. “You sumbitch, how come you retired before I did? I thought you were going to run this goddamn farm forever. Now what are the little kids going to do? They’ll think Santa Claus retired, too.”
            “Yeah, one of our grandsons asked his dad if there would still be Christmas after Grandpa closed the Christmas tree farm. They’ll get over it, though, and I don’t miss it a damn bit,” Damon said.
            “Hell no! If you ever froze your hands dipping those damned wreaths in that green goo a dozen times a day, or going out at midnight so a customer could cut a tree because he forgot what our hours were, or growing purple tentacles out your ears from getting into all that pesticide and wrestling with contrary tractors on cold winter mornings, you wouldn’t miss it either.”
            “Huh, guess not. Hell, I’m retiring at the end of the semester myself. I combined some fuzzy logic with chaos theory and the color of the dog food the greyhounds get for breakfast and found out I can beat the odds at the dog races. I made six K last month.”
            “I’m obviously in the wrong profession,” Damon said. “I made six dollars last month writing. Come on in, I’ve got the Coors cooling.”


            Gordo noticed Tonto after they were inside, and greeted him after he had his hands on a beer, the first thing he always looked for wherever he went. “Well, hello, pup. You’re new here. Come see old Gordo and I’ll give you a sip of beer.”
            Tonto cocked his head and eyeballed the hairy apparition with his impaired vision. He approached cautiously, trying to decide if it was human or not. Gordo poured a dollop of cold beer into the palm of his hand and held it out. Tonto sniffed, circled the hand, and sniffed some more.
            “Hurry up, dog, or I’ll drink it myself.”
            Tonto touched his nose to the beer, then shook his head. He came back, touched it again, then gave it a lap. And another lap. In a couple of seconds he had Gordo’s hand clean.
            “Okay, I guess we can be friends now,” Gordo said. “But you’re a tiny little fellow; you better grow some more before we let you try the hard stuff.”
            Tonto left Gordo and bumped into the leg of a chair. He backed up then headed for the door. In his little addled doggie mind, it was time to go to work.
            “Hey, Gordo, you have to see this,” Damon said to their guest. “Our new pup is going to work.”
            “Work?” Gordo appeared to be horrified. “Poor little fellow, not even grown and already having to carry lunch buckets and punch fucking time clocks. What’s the world coming to?”
            They followed Tonto toward the back door. Damon opened it and Tonto bounded away, heading for the clear area of the tarmac behind the parked car and trucks.
            “Now he’s on the job,” Damon told Gordo as he closed the door behind them. “You’ve never seen anything like it.”
            But instead of working, Tonto began barking, a frenzied torrent of shrill yelps neither Damon nor Beth had ever heard before.

Chapter Four

            Having progressed up the scale of intelligence to the fox, and having increased their numbers somewhat, the Testers were now ready to try for bigger game, meaning access to the dominant species of the planet.
            The imitation fox directed the scouting, using one of its members in the guise of a rabbit to move closer to the artificial edifice. Already it had noted the comings and goings of a long bodied, floppy eared creature that apparently lived within the abode of the intelligent species, and was subservient to it. It also noticed that the creature apparently wasn't very intelligent. It spent most of its time outdoors at activities which seemed to have no meaning at all, and paid no attention whatsoever to the local fauna that inhabited the area and frequently came right up to the edges of the area where the intelligent beings lived.
            If the Testers could duplicate the smaller creature that was allowed inside, then access to the larger, intelligent ones would probably be assured in that guise, and they would be one step closer on the route back to their home. The Testers had also deduced that the reddish brown animal had definite limits to its territory unless it was in the presence of the large upright sapient species. It was also hoping to catch the animal asleep, or at least holding still for a few moments so it could be duplicated, but this didn't appear to be the Testers' day.


            “I’ve never heard him bark like that,” Damon exclaimed.
            “Oh no! I bet it’s a snake!” Beth said, horrified at the thought, remembering how often Biscuit had been bitten for intruding into a copperhead snake’s territory. And Tonto had already been bitten twice himself before he got the idea that copperhead snakes were bad business and best left alone. She hurried around the end of their little pickup truck, fully expecting to see Tonto engaged with a serpent even though he had never barked at one before -- or much of anything for that matter. She cleared the truck and stopped abruptly, almost causing her to be run down by the others.
            “What’s he doing?” Damon asked, edging around his wife and trying to get a better look. He knew their dog had been barking in the area where the electrical fence they had put in to keep him from straying was laid out.
            Beth turned her head toward him. “He’s barking at a rabbit!” She laughed, relieved that their pet was in no danger. “See? It's just beyond where the electric wire's buried.” Tonto would not cross the barrier for fear of getting a shock from his collar that was attuned to the electrical wire but he continued barking furiously at the little rodent, hovering just out of reach.
            “What the hell is a rabbit doing out in broad daylight?” Gordo asked. He tilted the can of Coors he had brought along to his mouth. “Have you seen them before?”
            “Oh, sure. They hang around the garden and come out in the yard in the mornings and evenings, but I've never seen Tonto bark at them before, or seen one just standing out in the open like this. He's just not interested like most dogs would be, but then he's a strange dog,” Damon said. “There’s not much telling what he’ll do. But this is funny. He usually ignores rabbits, and most other animals for that matter. He does like to eat lizards, though.”
            Gordo frowned. Damon could almost see his brain cells dancing behind his forehead. Anything out of the ordinary always intrigued him, and a dog barking at a rabbit which was out in broad daylight and which apparently knew that Tonto couldn't cross the pet fence certainly wasn’t normal. “Let’s go see.”
            They walked toward Tonto, who was still yelping frantically and dancing around in front of the rabbit at the edge of the driveway. It looked like a perfectly ordinary small rabbit, just like any other they could see around the place most mornings or evenings with no trouble at all. They hadn't tried to eliminate them because they were cute, and in any event, Velcro the cat kept them pretty much under control when the larger predators were lax in their duties.
            As the humans approached, the barking became even more passionate. Tonto began interspersing his barks with snarls and growls as if the rabbit was a mortal enemy and he was desperately hoping it would cross the barrier so he could get at it.
            Damon got close enough so that he could lean forward to examine the rabbit closer. When he did so, Tonto turned and barked at him, obviously trying to warn him away. Damon straightened up and edged closer.
Tonto was having none of it. He knew that the human he owned was in dire danger and he had to protect him. He gave Damon a warning bark, trying to tell him to stay clear, then he attacked, accepting the punishment of the electrical shock he knew he would get. He yelped in agony as he passed the wire, then he was clear.
            There was a blur of Tonto in motion amidst flying pine straw and then he had the rabbit in his mouth in a death grip. He shook it violently, trying to break its neck, then flipped it into the air. When it landed, it tried feebly to run, but Tonto dove at it again, this time catching it by the neck instead of the middle. There was an audible crunching noise. The rabbit twisted and vibrated while Tonto held on. He shook it again, vigorously, then its motion died. Tonto dropped it onto the tarmac and began circling it, making sure it was dead. Finally he touched it with his nose, gave it a few shoves, then cocked his head as if listening to a death rattle audible only to himself. Satisfied, he left it lying and started to come over to Damon. He stopped as he remembered the shock he would get if he crossed that invisible barrier.
            Damon carried an activation switch for the pet fence on his key chain. He quickly switched the electricity off then said, “Off, Tonto,” the signal which the little dachshund had learned meant the electrical barrier was stilled for a moment. He ran to his people once he heard the magic words. “On, Tonto,” Damon told him as he thumbed the switch again, letting him know the electricity was once again active.
While Damon and Beth were petting Tonto and soothing his ruffled fur and telling him what a good doggie he was for protecting them, Gordo ignored the dog and picked up the rabbit. It looked more or less like any other he had ever seen, and just like the ones he had kept as a pet and played with as a kid. He started to throw it away, then reconsidered. He took his reading glasses which dangled from a chain around his neck so he could keep up with them when he was drinking, which was almost always, and put them on. He scrutinized the animal closely, squinting his eyes as he peered at it.
            “Hey, troops, have a look.”
            The others gathered around Gordo. He showed them what he had discovered. “Something doesn’t compute here. This ain’t no regular rabbit; the goddamned thing is growing jewels on its belly. We’d never have noticed except your dog took care of it. He obviously sensed an intruder on company territory, and since you don’t employ security guards, he took care of the problem himself.”
            “Don’t be silly, Gordo,” Beth said. “Jewels on a rabbit? You’ve had too much beer.”
            “I haven’t even had a half a case today yet, not to mention that it’s impossible to have too much. Too little maybe, but not too much. And this little fucker does have jewels, I shit you not. See?” He pointed to the upended rabbit cupped in his hand. Three tiny glittering, faceted jewels arranged in a triangular pattern adorned the dead animal's belly, large enough to be clearly seen in the fur. “What I want to know is why the little bastard thought it had to disguise itself as a regular rabbit when it’s obviously something different. It’s like it was a spy or an alien in enemy territory or … alien? Be goddamned. I bet…”
            Damon watched fondly as his friend’s mind went into its super-genius mode. Gordo’s brain cells didn’t follow a linear path; their wiring was as twisted as a willow sapling after a tornado. He jumped to conclusions before most people even knew there was a problem. “Gordo, if you think something’s awry, bring that thing with you and let’s go inside and get some new canned attitude. We need to cogitate about this.” Despite thinking the jewels on the rabbit’s belly were probably a strange fungus or a wound where leaking serum had crystallized, he had a vague notion of impending disaster. Gordo was seldom wrong when he jumped to conclusions, bypassing the chains of logic normal people had to contend with.
            “Goddamned right. Canned attitude it is, with maybe a little Jack Daniels or Jamesons for flavoring.”
            As they left, Tonto went back to work, satisfied that all was well again within his domain. Except for the damned water hose. The humans had moved it out of place again while he was protecting them from the intruder and it was no longer arranged properly. He spent half an hour dragging and tugging until it was in the positional pattern that his odd little doggie mind had decided was its proper place in the great scheme of things, then returned to shoveling straw. It had been windy the previous day; there was lots of work to do.


            Gordo set the ersatz rabbit down on a napkin on the coffee table in the den. Beth brought them each a cold beer, then busied herself with making frozen pina coladas from a bottle of Bacardi rum.
            “Damn, wish I had a good microscope here so I could look at this critter’s innards and those little jewels in more detail,” Gordo said. He leaned forward from the couch where they were sitting and nudged it with his forefinger. “Guess it’s dead now, or maybe playing possum.”
            “I doubt it could slip that over on Tonto. He may not have but two brain cells, but he knows when something’s dead all right. I think.”
            Gordo chugged down half his beer. “Tell me more about your dog. Tonto, you said? What does he do other than chase rabbits?” Gordo’s brain was still buzzing. He loved puzzles.
            “There’s not much to tell, Gordo, but he doesn’t chase rabbits or any other animal and never has until today. About all he does is work with sticks and straw. And water hoses now, since he took on that part time job.” Damon picked up the dead rabbit and examined it in a cursory manner, trying to figure out why whatever kind of animal it was made Tonto think it was so dangerous. As he turned it around in his hand, the overhead lights caused parts of its belly to glitter. The three tiny jewel-like spots winked at him, like a tiny three-bulb signal light. “Hey, Gordo. Take a look.” He pointed to the sparkling dots, each a deep blue-red color.

Darrell Bain
Shepherd, Texas
December 2010




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