Busted Axle Road
Chapter 63

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

A quarter mile from Mark and Jackie's house, Josh and the others could look out in the field to their left, and see four dogs dragging a four-wheel ATV up a path cut through the grass. It was still light enough to see that it was Mike McMahon riding the ATV, and through the open window, they could hear him yell, "Haw, Cumulus, Haw!"

Josh parked the car, and they got out. They could see people sitting around a picnic table in back of the house, so they walked out there, to find Mark and Jackie, along with Kirsten, who had her blouse open to feed Susan. Farther away, Tiffany and Henry were throwing a Frisbee around. "Hi, stranger," Jackie said. "Been wondering when you'd find your way out here again."

"We've been busy," Josh admitted, and went on, "We came out to see if we could get a look through the 14-inch."

"Got to get through with the dogs, first," Mark said. "It's going to take a little while. Mike just got started, and he hasn't had a chance to work with them for a while."

"Yeah," Kirsten said. "Between the sewer thing and little bottomless pit here, we've been keeping him busy."

"So this is Susan, huh?" Amy said. "We've been hearing about her. I missed her the other night." She didn't say so, but she'd been in the back of the room with a very nervous Josh, watching Jenny's show.

The girls made cooing noises and clustered around Kirsten and the baby, while Josh found a seat at the picnic table, and Danny sprawled on the ground.

They watched Mike ride around the field behind the dog team. "They seem to be coming along pretty well," Josh commented.

"I could stand for better," Mark said. "Cumulus makes a pretty good leader, but none of the other dogs work real well in double lead. Red's the best, but he's bigger than Cumulus, and when he makes a wrong move, Cumulus can't overpower him. With four dogs, we have to just about run a double lead, or the team gets unbalanced."

"Goddamn it, Red, I said Gee!" came floating across the field to underscore Mark's comment.

"King seems to be fitting in pretty good, but he's dumber than a post," Mark said. "He's big enough to run wheel, and he seems to be working out pretty well. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt that he's ever going to make a command leader," Mark said.

Jackie looked up from the cooing over Susan. "So much for 'On, King! On, you huskies!'" she smirked.

"What are you going to do with them?" Danny asked. "Race them?"

"Oh, we might try a race, some time, but these aren't speed dogs," Mark replied. "Mostly, just run around in the woods, up and down the trail. Maybe try some winter camping. Somehow, it seems more satisfying than bar hopping with a snow machine."

"Not that you've ever gone bar hopping with a snow machine," Jackie commented.

"I know it doesn't make a lot of sense," Mark said to Jackie, as much as to anybody, "But it's been a lot of fun, so far."

"It does look sort of like fun," Marsha commented. "Of course, it looks like you'd spend a lot of time at looking at the south ends of a bunch of northbound dogs. What's the chances of getting a ride?"

"They're not good enough on the trails to take someone for a ride," Mark told her. "That's why I cut the trails into the field, to give them the idea they're supposed to run along trails. Maybe later, I can run Cumulus in single lead, and I can take you down the runway. Cumulus and Red and Midnight run under pretty good control, now."

"Could I learn how to do that?" Josh asked. "I mean, run a dog team?"

"It's not that hard," Mark told him. "In fact, I'd be happy to have someone else to run the dogs. We need to work them a little every day, and now with Susan here, Mike's not available a lot of the time."

"Watch it, Josh," Jackie warned. "He's trying to hook himself another dog musher to get thrown off the ATV out on the trails."

"That only happened once," Mark protested. "I didn't see that pothole."

Just then, Mike turned the team off the trail and up to the group, shouting, "Whoa, Cumulus! Whoa, Red!" The team came to a stop, not far from the picnic table.

"Hey, that's great," Kirsten said, looking up from Susan. "They're actually stopping when you tell them to stop."

"They're tired enough to listen to commands," Mike said. "That first ten minutes, though..."

"Hey, that's interesting," Amy said. "I thought you used reins to steer the dogs."

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