Runner's Moon - Cover

Runner's Moon

©1995, ©2007, ©2010 by Wes Boyd

Chapter 7

Unknown to the six sitting around the back table in the Spearfish Lake Cafe, Tiffany was a concerned girl at that moment. Not worried, and not panicked; Tiffany had been through enough hassles with the dogs over the years to know that when things go to hell, panic rarely adds to the solution. Even though the fire was getting closer, she was closer yet to the lake, and she had a plan of action. If it got too close, she'd just drive the dogs into the lake. But it was moving fast through the dry grass, and she figured that she'd better get even closer to the lake while she still could.

Even though she'd known for days that they'd be losing Bullet and a couple of the pups soon, it was still important to keep up the puppy training; they still planned on keeping a couple of Bullet's pups, and Boxcar and Sidetrack needed the training, too. It still wasn't serious training at this point; mostly just fun, but earlier in the week, she'd decided that it was time to introduce the dogs to running in a team. This was the third time she'd harnessed up Crosstie and George in a double lead, mostly because they could be counted on to keep the speed down. Bullet was in wheel, mostly to keep the line tight, and to let the puppies know she was there. The puppies were just on necklines, scampering along, continually getting tangled, but they were starting to get the idea that they were supposed to keep on their own side of the gangline. The whole thing wasn't very fast; with the three adult dogs towing Tiffany on her mountain bike, she still had to stop frequently and untangle puppy lines.

One of the important things was to keep taking the puppies to different places, she knew, and they'd gotten a couple miles from home. Her plan had been to reward the dogs with a swim in the lake, as they'd done the past couple of days, so all she had on was her red and white striped bikini and some running shoes. But, they were farther from home than she'd wanted to get, and the fire was getting closer; engrossed with the puppies, she hadn't noticed it until she was already too far from the state road, the other possible escape.

She turned and looked at the fire again. The flames were huge, and getting closer, coming in at an angle. She figured she'd better get right down to the lake.

The puppies were so slow, and frustrating, though. They smelled the smoke being driven toward them, and that made them even more excited, and caused the lines to tangle more, and Tiffany had to stop every minute or so to untangle another one. Boxcar and Sidetrack were doing a little better than the young pups. She knew that if she really had to, she could take some of the young pups off of the gangline and leave them behind, but that would only be a last resort. Not only did those dogs represent the future, they were her dogs. Well, and Josh's, too, but she was responsible for them. She'd protect them, if she could.

If they'd let her.

She thought about taking a couple of the pups off of their necklines, and hooking them to the bike, but decided in an instant, she'd better not; they could get under the wheels, and it wouldn't make things any better. She could scoop up a couple and carry them in one arm, riding the bike with the other, but then she wouldn't have hands free to straighten out further tangles

Thank God, she had George and Crosstie with her. And Bullet. The three calmest dogs they owned. They kept things moving, and with those two in lead and Bullet in wheel, they wouldn't run away. She hurried the leaders along as fast as she dared, as fast as the pups could keep up, and that helped as much as anything to keep the puppy team in order.

It was an anxious ten minutes before they were down at the lakeshore. There was a line of brush along the lakeshore, and, of course, a couple of pups got tangled going through it and out to the narrow beach, so that slowed her down more. The flames were getting close; they'd been in the rolling smoke for several minutes, but now she could feel the heat, as well. The bike wouldn't float, of course, and she thought about taking it off the gangline there, but decided in an instant to keep it on for a minute; the dogs were getting nervous as the flames grew closer, and the brake held them a little. She could unsnap it out in the lake, before it got over her head; maybe she could find it and fish it out later.

It was at that instant she realized she wasn't alone; a small boy, not much older than Susan, crashed out of the brush behind her, tears rolling down his face, shaking with fear. "Help me," he yelled. Tiffany looked up; the flames were getting close, now.

"Where's your mom?" Tiffany asked.

"I don't know," the boy sobbed. "I lost her."

"Come on," Tiffany said. "We're going to have to go into the water to get away from the fire."

"I'm scared," he sobbed, coming out to the water's edge, but not going in.

Tiffany was in no mood for nonsense, or psychology; she could feel the heat, and so could the dogs. Even George and Crosstie were barely holding themselves. "Come on," she said again, grabbing the boy under his arms, and picked him up. "We don't want to burn up. I'll be with you. We'll be all right." She set him on the crossbar of the bike and yelled, "Crosstie! George! Hike! Gee! Hike!"

The water dropped off rapidly; in only a few yards, the handlebars of the bike were awash, and all the dogs were swimming. "Whoa!" she yelled to the team, and reached ahead as best she could to unsnap the gangline. It was still too close to the fire.

"Ok, we're going to have to swim, now," she told the boy. "Can you swim?"

"N-n-n-n-o-o-o-o." he sobbed again. "I'm afraid."

"Well, hang on to me," she said. "You'll be OK." She hoped she was right. She was a northern girl; although she could dogpaddle a little, she wasn't much of a swimmer; the lakes were almost always too cold. Maybe they wouldn't have to go so far that they wouldn't have to go over her head, and, with the boy riding on her hip, that might be enough.

She didn't bother to order the leaders ahead; they were already slowly swimming out into the lake, out of nervousness. In a few yards, though, Tiffany could see that it wasn't going to work. The water was up over her chest, the boy was mostly floating, and it was getting deeper quickly. And, it was still too close to the fire. Actually, if they didn't have the dogs with them, it would have been good enough, she thought; they could have ducked down in the water, splashed water on them, and probably would be all right. The row of brush they'd crashed through was catching fire, now, and it was clearly going to get worse.

She didn't want to let the dogs go. Crosstie and George may have been the best leaders she and Josh had, but they were clearly nervous about the flames, too; it'd be best to get them farther away.

"All right," she told the sobbing boy. "We're really going to have to swim now, but it'll be all right. I'll be right with you." He was frantic, trying to climb up on top of her, pushing her under. This was not going to work. Standing on her tiptoes, she hauled on the gangline for all she was worth, bringing Bullet a little closer. With a couple of dogpaddle strokes as best she could, Bullet was alongside. "Whoa!" she yelled to the team. "OK, this is Bullet," she told the boy. "She's a good dog, and she's going to have to help be your life preserver. Grab ahold of her harness. Can you do that?"

The boy was too frantic to listen, so she took one hand, and put it on Bullet's harness. "She'll keep you up," she told the boy. "Just don't try to climb up on top of her, and we'll be all right. Hang onto me with your other hand."

It looked like it would work. "OK, Hike," she called to the lead dogs.

It went pretty well for a few minutes. The puppies, of course, weren't providing much to their progress, but the lead dogs and Bullet pulled them slowly out into the lake, away from the flames. By now, the smoke was rolling out over the water, and the puppies were getting frantic; it was hard to breathe, so there was no point in stopping soon. But, it was a long, slow struggle, and trying to keep the boy from being so frantic was the toughest part of it.

Well, she could talk to him, try to keep his attention. Maybe if she could keep his mind off of his fears a little, things might go smoother. "Just hang on and let Bullet pull you along," she said in a reassuring voice. "She's a good dog, she'll take care of you. We're going to be all right. Just hang on, stay calm..."

A hundred yards out it was better. They could breathe now, and they were far enough away from the flames that the heat couldn't be felt. But to turn back and look at the flames shooting up along the shoreline was still scary. "We're going to be all right, here," she told the boy. "All we have to do is just stay here for a while, and we'll be fine."

She talked to the dogs, too, the adult dogs and the puppies, trying to keep them calm. Bullet was the calmest of all, but then, she was right next to them, and Crosstie and George were doing all right. But by now, the puppies were still pretty excited, and their lines were starting to tangle as they jilled around. The polypropolene gangline was floating, and that helped a little, but as the little dogs got their necklines tangled, it wasn't helping. In only a few minutes, she could see that she was going to have to straighten things out, or she was going to have some drowned dogs.

She tried to get close, while still hanging onto the boy and Bullet, but it was cumbersome, and she could hardly make any progress in straightening things out., but when she let go of the boy for only an instant, he tried to climb up on Bullet, pushing her under. She got him loose, and back under control, talking at him all the while. She had to keep his attention somehow.

Then Skosh swam up. Somehow, he'd managed to keep from getting tangled, and unaware of the problems with his littermates, he wanted to play. Grasping at straws, she grabbed the puppy, and pulled him up to them. "This is Skosh," she told the boy. "He's a good little puppy, but he needs you to tell him that things are going to be all right." She shoved the little dog in his face; he was playful enough, maybe he could divert the boy for a second.

In a few seconds, it seemed to be working. The boy let go of her with his free hand, and tried to keep Skosh from licking his face. "Just tell him that things are going to be all right," Tiffany urged. "He's scared, too. But he's a dog, and we're people, and people are smarter than dogs, aren't they?"

"Be all right, Skosh," the boy whimpered.

"I've got to go talk to the other puppies for a minute," Tiffany said. "They're scared, too. Just tell Skosh that everything's going to be fine. I'll be right here." She swam away to the nearest knot of dogs, which fortunately, was the one in worst shape. Talking to the boy all the while, and hoping to soothe the dogs, too, she untangled the lines.

She glanced back at the boy and Skosh. It was working! The boy still had a death grip on Bullet's harness, but Skosh was keeping him occupied! "You're a good little dog, Skosh," she said from a few feet away.

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