His route to the ocean decided upon, Huleekalabulee bid Myron and Zazu adieu, made the next right onto a two-lane road sans sidewalks, and trotted north along a slender footpath adjacent to the road.
“I love this place,” said Huleekalabulee, smiling at puffy white clouds in the cerulean sky. “All this open space and trees and fields and orchards and hills and dales. Who wouldn’t want to live around here?”
Having said this, he came to a winding drive leading to a big red farmhouse, and halfway up that drive sat a big old hound, a chocolate brown ridgeback, gazing intently at Huleekalabulee.
“Hello,” said Huleekalabulee, stopping at the mouth of the drive. “Are you by chance Rex, friend of Myron?”
“Who wants to know?” asked the old hound, his voice deep and rumbly.
“I’m Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee. “I’m a one-year-old searching for a person to call my own. Just had a long chat with Myron about the good long way to the beach. He said he got his info from you. If you’re Rex.”
“I am Rex,” said the old hound, standing up and walking stiffly down the winding drive until he was a few feet away from Huleekalabulee. “Kind of late in the cuteness game to be looking for a person, aren’t you?”
“Maybe so,” said Huleekalabulee, nodding. “But I remain optimistic. Seems to be my nature.”
“You abandoned?” asked Rex, squinting at Huleekalabulee. “Happens to lots of one-year-olds. Once the cute puppy phase passes and poop fatigue sets in… the shelters are full of youngsters. Most humans, if you’ll pardon my French, are fickle as merde.”
“Even so, I’ve got to try,” said Huleekalabulee, bravely. “It was very nice meeting you, Rex. Myron spoke highly of you. I’d love to keep chatting, but I want to get to the park before dark and find a place to spend the night.”
“Good plan,” said Rex, sitting down to give his right ear a good scratching. “Only there’s a problem.”
“What’s the problem?” asked Huleekalabulee, innocently.
“Between here and the park,” said Rex, ceasing his scratching, “live two vicious farm dogs who would surely do you harm, and if you somehow manage to get by those two, there’s a crazy human who raises goats and therefore shoots unfamiliar dogs. With a gun. Kills them. Dead. Kapish?”
“So what do you recommend?” asked Huleekalabulee, shivering at the thought of vicious dogs and death. “Myron said this was the safer way to get to the ocean?”
“Well it is,” said Rex, now scratching his left ear.
“Therefore?” said Huleekalabulee, waiting expectantly.
“I’ll come with you,” said Rex, nodding to affirm this. “You seem like an affable mutt and you’re a fine conversationalist and I haven’t been to the park since spring. Be nice to see the leaves changing. Hold on a sec while I get my kit.”
“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee, greatly relieved. “This is very kind of you, Rex.”
“My motives are not entirely altruistic,” said Rex, trotting up the winding drive to the farmhouse. “I’ll explain later. For now, I suggest you hide in the bushes until I return. Humans around here are wary of dogs they haven’t seen before and are quick to call Animal Control.”
So Huleekalabulee stepped behind a bush, and luckily so, because while he waited for Rex, three pickup trucks went by, each with a large dog riding shotgun and looking for trouble, or so Huleekalabulee surmised.
“Here I am,” said Rex, outfitted with well-worn saddlebags. “We’ll go via the creek bed and stay out of sight of the road until Drago’s Farm. Creek’s but a trickle this time of year.”
“Sure is beautiful around here,” said Huleekalabulee, trotting along behind Rex and noting the old dog’s stiffness had disappeared. “Do you think your person might possibly want another dog in the family?”
“Sorry,” said Rex, glancing back at Huleekalabulee. “I’ll be Louise’s last dog. She tells me so evenings of late when the peach brandy loosens her tongue and she pokes at the fire with her long stick. ‘I’m old, Rex,’ she says with a plaintive sigh. ‘If I’m still alive when you’re gone, I’ll sell the place and move into my daughter’s guest house and have a cat or two.’”
“How old are you?” asked Huleekalabulee. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I don’t mind,” said Rex, stopping to sniff the news at a local pissing spot. “I’m soon to be twelve. Hey get a load of this.”
Huleekalabulee sniffed where Rex was sniffing.
“Good grief,” said Huleekalabulee, alarmed by the pungent scent. “Who the heck is that?”
“That’s puma piss,” said Rex, wrinkling his nose. “Ever seen a puma?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” said Huleekalabulee, his hackles on the rise. “What’s a puma?”
“Mountain lion,” said Rex, looking for other signs of the mighty feline. “Giant cat. Bigger than moi. Fought one once when I was five. He killed three of Louise’s chickens, then he killed my good friend Cecil, a Boston Terrier poodle, and then before he ran away, he gave me a gash on my snout the scar from which still aches on cold nights.”
“Yikes,” said Huleekalabulee, glancing around nervously. “I thought this was the safer way to the beach.”
“It is,” said Rex, chuckling. “Don’t worry. Pumas only attack little dogs. The one who recently pissed here is, I believe, a female, and she won’t mess with two big hounds like us. Trust me. I know my pumas.”
A mile further along, Rex explained, “Soon we’ll come to where the creek bed is blocked by a wall of stone atop which runs the road. The drain pipe running through that wall is too small in circumference to accommodate hounds of our height and girth, so we must ascend to Drago’s Farm and traipse along the road for a hundred yards until we are able to descend once more into this commodious creek bed.”
“Is Drago’s Farm where the vicious farm dogs dwell?” asked Huleekalabulee, trying not to panic.
“Indeed,” said Rex, winking at Huleekalabulee. “But they know me and I’ve brought along a treat for them. Fear not. As long as you’re with me, they will not hurt you. But do refrain from making eye contact with them, for they are both easily incited to riot, if you know what I mean.”
“I can contribute turkey jerky to the bribe,” said Huleekalabulee, eager to help.
“We will sup on your turkey jerky tonight,” said Rex, bouncing his eyebrows. “But for these blokes… raw bloody steak.”
And sure enough, upon climbing out of the creek bed and resuming the footpath adjacent to the road, Rex and Huleekalabulee arrive at a gravel driveway guarded by two very large dogs, one a German Shepherd, the other a tawny English Mastiff.
The big dogs come charging down the driveway, murder in their eyes, but when they recognize Rex and see he’s chummy with Huleekalabulee, they slow to a walk, hackles bristling.
“Well if it isn’t old Rex,” said the mastiff, his upper lip curling to reveal fang. “Haven’t seen you in ages. Thought you might have croaked.”
“Hello Drago. Hey Killer,” said Rex, avoiding eye contact with either of them. “I’m still going strong. You’re both looking well.”
“We’re peachy,” growled Killer, the German Shepherd. “Who’s the punk?”
“This is Huleekalabulee,” said Rex, gazing at Huleekalabulee. “For all I know he could be my great grandson, but whoever his progenitors he’s my pal and we’re going to the park. Brought you a couple steaks in thanks for letting us pass unscathed.”
“Hulee what?” said Killer, scrunching up his cheeks.
“Kalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee, looking skyward to avoid eye contact with the dangerous dogs.
“What kind of name is that? Navajo?” said Drago, the mastiff. “Hopi?”
“Maybe,” said Huleekalabulee. “My mother is a Golden Retriever, my father a big brown mutt.”
“Fascinating,” said Killer, studying Huleekalabulee. “You look kind of Italian to me.”
“I was gonna say French,” said Drago, smiling hopefully at Rex. “But whatever his origins, steak sounds divine.”