by Dana Tye Rally, 1990 words
Snookie was pretty much dead to the world. The afternoon the No-Kill shelter creatures rose up to incite revolution, howling their heady refrain far and wide, he’d been sawing logs for close to an hour. Dreaming of a bowl full of cookies. Velvety ear flaps draped over his aural canals like blackout curtains. Didn’t much matter that he was still, technically, a dog, fur primed to twitch at the first sign of trouble. Neither scent nor sound—stinky or loud—could sneak through this pug’s sealed-up, indoor sleeping quarters in Klamath Falls, Oregon, much less puncture his hunger or trumpeted exhales.
In the dream, Snookie was inching closer toward the cluster of cheese cookies while a pesky two-legg kept snatching it back. Could it be Mom? No, Mom would never be so mean. Each time he lunged forward, exhausted, the metal bowl of goodness quaked, drifting a foot or two out of reach. Drool trickled from the dark trough of his mouth.
Then a familiar set of beringed fingers waggled its way into his dream, blocking his view of the cookies. Someone tugged, sharp, on his collar.
“Snookie, my little Snookie-Wookie,” she hummed straight into his ear, pulling the curtain flaps back. “Time for your walk before lunch.”
At the word “lunch,” Snookie’s eyes snapped open, front paws pushing him onto his haunches, blood pulsing toward his stomach. Mom stooped over to snap on his leash and lead him out of her bedroom toward the sliding glass door. Cookies danced before his rheumy eyes as she cracked the door open.
That was when a fall breeze set his jowls aquiver. And on that wind rode a swell of voices meant for him and his ear canals alone.
“Beasts of Washington, Beasts of Oregon . . .” came the cries.
Snookie gave his sleepy head a shake. Beasts of Oregon? he thought. Did I hear that right? Is someone calling for me? Surely he’d heard his mom mention that Oregon was the place where they were staying with her sister right now, the house beside a spindly-treed forest they’d tumbled into after he and Mom sat on the silver bird’s wings all the way from Connecticut.
The other words arrived in bursts, bending and crackling atop a twirling wind. Snookie stopped in his tracks. Mom stumbled behind him. He hovered behind the door sill on three of four legs, right foreleg up like a Pointer’s. Listening. Straining for more.
Never in his nine pug-years had he felt more compelled to hear these voices and their instructions. Not when Mom dangled treats. Not when she added gravy to his dinner. Not even when she got lazy and let him sit on her lap and eat straight from her plate.
“Hearken . . . tidings . . . equitable future time!”
With that, Snookie yanked Mom forward. Galumphing blind toward some mythical destination. He could hear her crossfit trainers squeak in protest, her panting. Still, he ran. Forward, onward, toward the species that spawned him, bulbous midsection swaying, short legs scampering faster than any breeders claimed they could.
“Snookie, whoa, whoa, slow down.” his mom muttered behind him, the strained leash biting into his esophagus, her huffs now heaves. “Where are you going?”
North, he wanted to tell her, but was too busy dragging her forward, craning to hear the voices clutching at his heart, I’m headed North . . . over the Cascades . . . and beyond . . . .
As the two of them trucked up the ridiculously bright sidewalk, Snookie walking his mom, heeding the call of his wild, he got the urge to go back and don his goofy raincoat for the trip he’d been told to take. Clippety-clopping on concrete, his senses remained on high alert. The wind had brought salt, the smell of waves breaking. He wondered, as he trotted along, unable to ignore Mame’s chant even if he wanted to, if signing up for the word “equitable” might signify the last of Mom’s leftovers.
“I’m quite impressed with you, young man” the pretty lawyer told Tim as she leaned over her desk, placing a hand on his shoulder. “A little nervous about your law-breaking driving habits, but impressed nonetheless.”
Tim’s ears burned. He fought a fierce desire to kiss this lawyer—Ida? Irene?—in the freckled hollow between her eye and cheekbone. Instead, he sat up straighter. She was the first person who’d looked him in the eye all week. “Thank you,” he said, chewing his lip in a half-grin. He went back to studying his ragged cuticles.
“Are you saying we might actually have a case here?” Audrey piped up beside him. It was Audrey who’d brought Tim to the lawyer’s office after Camille had retrieved him from the bloody chicken ranch, mouthing the words—he could swear he’d heard them—”Follow me.” Audrey had been busy hounding the lawyer with questions ever since they’d arrived.
“You said that the shelter can press charges for the way those chickens were treated? Some sort of animal rights’ violation, is that correct?”
Inez folded her arms patiently across her chest and smiled at Audrey. “RCW 16.52.205, actually. Animal cruelty in the first degree. Our firm has kept a close watch on Mr. Cluckers for some time regarding his foul poultry practices. A number of former employees complained about the absence of oversight, saying their boss’s overseas trips have created utter mayhem onsite. Drunken brawls. Beheadings. Chickens dangled and defeathered on videotape for the bestiality porn industry. I’m sure we’re just skimming the surface.”
Audrey clucked and shook her head. “Disgusting. We need to do something. This has to stop.”
Tim couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d come here half-expecting he’d have to call his mom to come drag him out of jail—wondering if they might throw her in there with him—and now he was being branded a hero of sorts. His sordid chicken caper had swung Audrey and the beautiful Inez around to his way of seeing things.
He placed a hand on Camille’s fluffy head as she stared up, her eyes beseeching him. Audrey had tried to tie her up outside the lawyer’s office, but she’d whimpered and pressed herself alongside him like some pushy member of the poodle press.
Camille’s watery eyes sparked a memory. Tim swiveled toward the women. “What about the fundraiser?”
“The fundraiser?” Audrey blinked. She vaguely recalled a discussion with the shelter board two weeks ago when she and Phil and Lynn were popcorning moneymaking ideas around the table. Inez stood back, her mouth twitching.
“Delia’s Fashion Show and Barkery—the one we’d planned for tomorrow behind Tom’s Tavern,” Tim said. “What if . . . what if . . . we could turn that day into an animal rights’ protest against the Cluckers. Hand out flyers. Create some unrest. Try to shut them down.” Tim remembered the scene out of an old Michael Moore movie. “If we got enough attention, we could ask people to donate to the shelter at the same time.”
“Oh my goodness,” Audrey said, having listened intently to his speech. “I had no idea you were so clever, Tim.” She pulled out a cookie for him from her purse. “Here’s a thought: why don’t we invite that pet photographer Sammie? See if she can draw out her media friends? I’ll ask Delia to help,” she added, frowning. “She’s always going on about her excellent people skills.”
Inez gave a slight nod, though her smile was beatific. “I’ll be in touch about the charges. Just remember, you two—you never got the idea from me!”
On the way back to the shelter—Camille had jolted Tim and Audrey out of their animal rights reverie, a reminder of the long-neglected animals in their care—Audrey wondered where Delia had disappeared to, along with that shady father of hers. She hadn’t heard a peep, and the two of them were scheduled to gladhand at the fashion show tomorrow. Honestly, she thought, the world might be a better place if it left all the animal lovers in charge.
By the time Cherry trucked up the muddy lane toward Animal Farm, Rufi was roaming around looking pleased with himself, his hide streaked with blood and feathers. Cherry had finally freed herself from Bull’s grasp. Cherry had wanted to stay and help, once they’d opened the door to the mess with Delia and the ink-stained woman, the three cats mewling and weaving around their legs. But Mame had called to her bones. She knew the shelter needed her. Turns out Rufi had made short work of the exercise.
Every animal cage yawed open, the farm devoid of barn smells and catcalls, beaks, and fur. Just a single cage door swung up and back in the breeze, creaking and clanging. Cherry was trotting forward to congratulate the big cat when the thick shadow of a two-legg stepped between them. The woman named Lynn stood before her looking weary, a dead snake draped over one hand, a pair of bolt-cutters in the other.
Vanessa Leone had spent her whole life listening to her gut. You could say she and her fur-baby, Snookie, had that one thing in common. But rather than propelling her to shop for snacks, her gut was telling her to head to Washington. The first sign was that cute vegan diner she’d stopped by on her way to shop for tennis skirts yesterday. The second was Delia refusing to answer her texts.
But by far, the third and most obvious sign she couldn’t ignore—the message blinking before her eyes as she marched behind Snookie’s wobbling bottom—was her pug’s mad exodus toward the mountains. She hadn’t planned going all the way up to Bellingham to see Delia. Then Snookie morphed into her otherworldly guide.
“Go North, young woman”—you could still call her dark Sicilian looks youthful—Snookie’s actions seemed to suggest. “Go now! Your daughter needs you!” And why not? she told herself as she tried to steer Snookie off the street and back to her car. Delia had been enjoying her father’s fickle and dubious attentions for far too long. It was time Vanessa stepped in, her friends at the club had all reassured her.
Delia’s last text told her the jig was up. Her father had taken up cycling—on a bicycle, for God’s sake, after she’d spent years trying to get him to join her at the gym—just so he could chase some chicken-killing mobster around town, cavorting with his billions. Then she read the words from Delia: “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve met a tattoo artist and we’re off next week to the Caymans.”
She’d erupted, her two thumbs tapping out turkey scratch in reply. Then her screen went blank for days. Tomaso had always been a controlling influence. But she hadn’t thought he would go this far.
It was when she’d tucked into her delicious faux chicken burger at Freed yesterday that the thought sprang forth: Hadn’t her friends at the club been telling her to invest in the future, in socially sanctioned causes like veganism? She and her savvy daughter needed to think big. Forget restaurants. How about a vegan-themed lifestyle resort? Why not divert half the profits back to freeing the wild meat and supporting the neglected domesticates? Hell, why not save the planet, one nebulous protein burger at a time?
She’d gotten close enough to scoop Snookie into her arms, mid-waddle, and hurry back to the house to pack her things, say goodbye to her sister, and arrange for a flight from Medford to Bellingham. She’d strap Snookie’s carrier into the seat beside her.
Vanessa couldn’t wait to offer her daughter some clean family money. But she and Snookie would need to taxi out from the airport to the address Delia had given her. She wanted a word with her crooked husband first.