What is a Dog?
“Looks like it’ll be another rough day out there tomorrow Bub,” Chriton observed as he sipped his coffee.
Black, strong, and cheap as it could be bought. It was probably grown in a trash heap behind some factory in Chicago. If Bub had any opinion on the quality of his master’s drink he kept it to himself. His shaggy white head was pointed at the door of the small mountain cabin in seeming idle interest in the howling of the storm outside. Occasionally his ears twitched at some squawk of the radio that was quietly muttering to itself on one of the rough shelves in the crowded room. The fire in the little potbellied stove crackled and thumped and Chriton, a man who wore the title average with comfortable grace, got up to add another log to it. He had to move around a box filled with blankets and a pile of assorted bottles, nipples, and powdered milk; all stocked in anticipation of the arrival of several hundred new lambs that the mountain was expecting any day now. The fire tended to, Chriton turned his attention to Bub who was whining softly and pawing at the door.
Chriton arched his eyebrows and examined the shaggy white mass curiously. The dog’s head was tilted to the side with curiosity and there was the faintest sign of stress in the movement of the bushy tail and the knitting of the comical brown “eyebrows”. Chriton sighed and looked at the clock ticking away on the wall. Three AM and a snow storm roaring. If Bub needed help there would be no way for Chriton to provide to him it out there.
“But you don’t usually need help do you Bub?” Chriton asked amicably walking over to scratch behind Bub’s perked ears.
Bub waved his tail eagerly and let his tongue loll out of his mouth. Chriton sighed. He had just checked the ewes this evening and none were nearer to lambing than three days; hopefully after the storm passed. If it were a wolf or a bear, or even a coyote, Bub would be snarling murder at the door.
“Well here’s to you just wanting to go sniff an odd fox Bub,” Chriton said as he set his shoulder to the rough hewn plank door.
It took a massive shove from a man who was neither small nor weak to even open the door against the force of the wind but Bub was out into the storm in a leap with nothing but glee in ever fiber of his body. Chriton mused over what forty odd years had taught him about sheep, chance, biology, and the ways of dogs and life and sighed.
“Just in case,” he told the clock as he moved to the piled supplies.
He turned up the radio and let it fill the cabin with the mournful tones of Johnny Cash while he cleaned out the low sided wooden box and layered it with battered but clean wool blankets. He set a pot of water to boil on the stove and lined up three bottles and nipples in the bottle holder that leaned against one wall. If there was a lambing ewe out there Bub would know what to do. If the lambs were strong, hale, and wanted Bub would soothe the ewe and curl close to her side to help keep it warm. If it were weak, sickly, or rejected Bub would bring them to Chriton. Best to be prepared in any case. If a lamb was stillborn, well Bub wouldn’t leave anything to tempt the coyotes into developing a taste for mutton lying around.
The radio fell silent for a moment in the middle of the Fulsome Prison Blues and Chriton glanced up in interest as the emergency alert flared.
*Highway 47 is closed from milepost fifteen to milepost thirty-two through White Pass due to inclement weather. Alternate routes are available along Drift Creek Road and Green Butte Road.* The announcer stated. *Snow chains are now required down to a thousand feet. A convoy carrying various diplomatic officials, comprising of three black Chevy Escorts has fallen out of contact and residents are requested to report any sightings in the closed area.*
The message was repeated a few times and Chriton finished his preparations. He sat back down in his chair as Cash started singing again. As if struck by a sudden thought he got up and pulled his smart phone out of a box on a shelf. He turned on the map function, assured it that it was no matter that there was no signal, and traced his finger along the red stripe of the highway and then the thinner black line of Green Butte Road. There was perhaps ten miles between the nearest point on the road and the hanging valley that sheltered his cabin. Chriton shrugged and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders before turning down the lamp and settling into his chair.
He was woken by the sound of scratching at the door and groaned as he untangled himself from the blanket. If there was no lamb Bub would have barked to be let in; so much for sleep tonight. He wrenched the door open and closed it firmly behind the dog. He followed Bub sleepily to the lamb bed and knelt down, holding out his hands for the wee one. He didn’t even fully open his eyes until Bub gave a low, frustrated growl.
Chriton forced his eyes open and stared dumbly at Bub’s mouth. “That,” he said softly. “Is no lamb.”
He staggered to his feet and turned the light to full power before returning to where Bub had placed the…something…in the lamb bed.
“Well it’s something all right,” Chriton said as he knelt by Bub, “something that is supposed to be alive.”
Chriton held the lamp over the tangle of drooping mop-like limbs. He hung the lamp on the wall hook set there for that purpose and reached out to gently untangle the creature. Bub whined in concern but didn’t try to interfere. The muscles were stiff but not rigid and terribly cold. A few minutes of sorting out the mass revealed that the creature was longer than it was wide and there were a pair of the limbs that were a bit longer on one end and a bit rougher than all the others as if from hard use. Around one of these there was a bracelet or ring or something that was intricately carved. Chriton eased it off and examined it. Ambassadors and Friends, was etched around the inside. His brow knitted and he glanced sharply at the creature in the lamb bed.
“What the flying scrap did you bring me Bub?” Chriton demanded. “Or who?”
He reached down and dug his fingers down into the mass of appendages until he touched the core they all attached to and frowned. He could feel no warmth.
“Is it alive Bub?” Chriton asked.
Bub chuffed softly and nosed the creature. His tongue licked out and ran over the appendages.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Chriton said.
He took the pot of water and mixed it with some ice cold snow until it was just a little warmer than his hands. He eased the creature into the pot making sure to leave the end with the longer appendages and the jewelry out to breathe.
“I rather hope you breathe.” He commented as he gently massaged the alien. “A diplomatic convoy eh?”
A thought struck him and he glanced up at the clock. It was almost seven.
“How did you run twenty miles in this in two hours?” Chriton demanded of Bub.
Bub waved his tail and slipped under a blanket that hung on the wall and led to the cooler firewood storage. Chriton sighed and continued his ministrations. After an hour the alien began to move weakly. Soon it was fighting to slip fully down into the water. Chriton kept the front end, at least he hoped it was the front end, out of the water until a disgruntled voice demanded.
“Would you please let me hydrate properly Friend Human?”
The voice was odd, hollow in a way and Chriton dropped the alien in shock. It hummed happily and began circling the bottom of the pot in an undulating motion. Chriton watched it circle for a moment and then shrugged and returned to his chair. He was just dozing off when the hollow voice sounded again, stronger this time.
“Pardon my intrusion into your sleep cycle Friend Human. But could I bother you to add more thermal potential to the miniature biome?”
Chriton blinked dumbly at the mass of appendages sticking out of the pot and ran the words over in his head a few times. He grunted and staggered up to add some more hot water from the kettle. The alien wriggled happily and scooted to the side as Chriton poured the hot water in.
“Thank you friend human,” the alien said before submerging again.
“Do I call you Ambassador?” Chriton asked.
The alien paused and poked its head out again. “Oh yes that will do nicely. May I ask you a question?”
“Sure Ambassador,” Chriton agreed.
“How did you rescue me from that terrifying creature?” the Ambassador asked, its voice becoming less hollow and stronger as it warmed up.
“What terrifying creature?” Chriton asked.
“The large, hairy one with all the teeth,” the Ambassador said, waving his appendages in what Chriton guessed was supposed to be an explanatory manner.
“Bub?” Chriton asked.
On hearing his name Bub stuck his head out of the flap and looked expectantly at Chriton.
The ambassador gave a soft squawk and ducked back into the water. “Yes that is the one that I mean.” The ambassador said, the voice sounding out from the pot’s sides.
“I didn’t rescue you from Bub,” Chriton said. “Bub rescued you from the storm and brought you to me for help.”
“I see,” the Ambassador said. “Is he quite safe?”
“For you?” Chriton asked. “Sure, so long as you are my guest he will protect you.”
“I understand,” the Ambassador said. “Then perhaps I should bid you goodnight my host. I must refresh my energy stores. But if you are willing I would like to ask some questions about my rescue tomorrow.”
The ambassador dropped back down into the water and out of sight in the pot. Chriton blinked at him and idly wondered if this would all be a dream by dawn. He shrugged and sat back down in his chair.
“You and me both.” He muttered. “You and me both.”