When the ground under The Mighty Truck started kicking us back, I knew that we were almost home for the night. I only smacked my chin on the driving sill as I fell into the recycle bin a couple of times as I perched high on the copilot’s seat trying to catch a look at where we were staying. I was getting better at this truck driving thing.
“Boy oh boy! I smell something mysterious!” I panted as I ran a lap around The Truck trying to decide what to sniff first.
“Miss… excuse me, miss?” whispered the desert.
“Mom, the desert’s calling. They’re asking for you!” I wagged, catching up to Mom on her side of The Truck.
“I hear a voice, but I don’t see you,” Mom shouted at the sky.
Just then a bush stepped into the road. “Hi! I’m Oscar. Are you a potty bush orerragelp!” The leash cut off my introduction, and I peeked back to see that Mom had stomped on it to keep me from getting too friendly.
“Hi, how are you doing?” Mom said to The Bush in a cheerful voice. Her mouth and voice were smiling, but I could see that her eyes had no cheer as she tried to decide if this was a good bush or a bad bush. I followed her eyes and saw that The Bush was carrying a big gun that I hadn’t noticed before.
“We’re good… But we’re going to be hunting coyotes here around sunset and you might want to move along.”
“Oh… er… Should we leave-leave, or do you think we’ll be safe if we move along the road a little ways?” Mom asked in her best derpy tourist voice. “Like, is coyote hunting a moving thing or a sitting still thing?”
“There are a couple of carcasses here and the coyotes have been at them, so we’ll be staying in this area” The Bush explained.
“What kind of carcasses?” Mom asked, now looking curious for real, and a little bit excited. She peered past The Bush to where The Smell was coming from.
I sniffed closer and made out the scents of hooves and rot. “It smells something like cow, but different…” I said thoughtfully, waving my nostrils in the stink cloud.
“It’s just a couple of donkeys. Who knows what killed ‘em, but there are a lot of bones in the area.”
“Mind if I… Can I be a complete tourist and check them out?” Mom said like she was asking about some exciting gossip.
“Sure, but you should leave your dog in the car…” The Bush said.
“C’mon, bud. Up-up,” Mom said, opening the copilot’s door and tapping the seat.
“Ooh! Are we driving to see the carcasses?” I grinned, but then my face dropped as she slammed the door in front of it.
I poked my nose through the open spot at the top of window while Mom tip-toed into the desert in the direction that The Bush had pointed. I smelled two dead things, one fat and bloated with all four of its paws sticking out straight like a toy donkey knocked on its side. The other one’s two legs smelled more relaxed as it lazed on the desert floor, wondering where its back half had gone. I could smell that it had lost more than just its back half. The coyotes had pulled all the stuffing out of its tummy until all that was left were the bones and skin around where the stuffing had been.
“That sure was revolting,” Mom said to The Bush as she walked back to The Truck. “I don’t know anything about hunting, but I sure hope you guys have fun tonight.”
“Where are you from?” The Bush asked, sniffing clearly that Mom wasn’t from these here parts.
“I’m from California,” she said, like that wasn’t something that could get you shot in these here parts.
“They don’t let you shoot no guns nowhere in California,” The Bush said.
“She doesn’t kill,” I barked through the window. “Except Roy. He was our mouse roommate. But we didn’t eat him or anything. Mom doesn’t eat meat, but I do. Do you guys need help with your hunting and donkey guts?”
“I wouldn’t know, I’m a vegetarian,” Mom said. Then, remembering the gun she added, “But the non-judgmental kind.”
“Well you wander around here enough you’re sure to find some live donkeys. You can’t go a mile without running into a pack of six or more of them…”
Mom climbed back in The Truck and we hadn’t bounced more than half a mile before we stopped at a place where the only dead carcass was the skeleton of a truck whose guts the coyotes had ripped out long ago. When Mom let me out again, I sniffed around for donkey poo or something just as exciting, but all I found were gun guano and old glass droppings. When I closed my nose and sniffed through my ears, I could hear the miserable cry of a devastated beast bellowing at the setting sun.
“Hey Mom, where are you going?” I asked when I finished going potty and turned to find her wandering away into the desert.
“I want to find a cactus that will make a nice silhouette against the sunset with those hot air balloons in the background. Wouldn’t that be cool?”
“Can’t you take pictures of cactopi tomorrow?” I asked. “I’m real tired.”
“Oh come on, there are some right over there!” Mom said, wandering into the bushes and forgetting that bushes carried guns in these here parts.
As we walked through the desert, the ghostly sobbing seemed to be coming from one side, and then the other. Mom found a cactopus that she liked and pulled out The Witch to test angles while I stood by casually watching her six. All of a sudden, I saw the strangest thing come out of the bushes on the other side of the clearing to check me out.
I jumped hard against the leash. “Hey! What the heck are you?! You horse-faced, rabbit-eared cows!”
“Ow! Crap! Oscar! Stop!” Mom said, rubbing her neck and turning around. When she saw what I saw, she froze with her rubbing hand still on the spot where the firebomb had exploded in her neck when I pulled the leash. “Oscar, get behind me,” she said in a careful voice, stepping in front of me.
What my barks had pinned to the spot, and now Mom’s eyes were stuck to, were a trio of creatures that weren’t quite horses, and weren’t quite cows, and weren’t quite bunnies. “What are they?!?!?!” I whined. “And can I please scatter them like bowling pins?”
“What are you?” the creatures asked with their steady eyes. “And would you like us to kick that loud bowling ball behind you until it shuts up?”
Mom didn’t answer me, but pretty soon I realized that I was the only one yelling, so I stood still and waited for something to happen just like everyone else. Mom crept closer to the creatures, and they didn’t move.
“I got this!” I said, coming out from behind Mom to show her how a bowling ball gets things done.
The creatures turned and took a few steps away until Mom gave the leash one sharp yank to tell me to hold still. Then she crept in front of me again. Then she waved The Witch in the creatures’ faces so she wouldn’t forget what they looked like. When she was done, she slowly turning her back on them and walked away, pulling me behind her.
“But what about your cactus picture?” I asked when Mom had stopped creeping and started walking normally again.
“Cacti stand still, but you don’t get to see a pack of wild burros every day…” Mom said.
And it was true, you don’t see a pack of wild burritos every day, you hear them all night. We listened to the lullaby of the sobbing burritos as they paced laps around The Truck until their howls blended into our dreams., By the time the morning came, they were all gone just like Mom said they would be.
“What are we doing today?” I asked, perching on the very edge of the copilot’s seat as we left burrito territory behind us and drove into a city.
“We’re here,” she said.
I looked around. We were in a car kennel surrounded by a gallery of tall garage-y doors under signs decorated with drawings of angry cars.
“Where? Are you going to run laps around the car kennel?”
“No, we’ve got to get something done to the truck, so we’re just going to run from here. But don’t worry, there’s a bike trail just a block away.”
“That sounds nice. What’s it called, Desert View Bike Trail? Or maybe Forest of Cactopi Regional Park?”
“Um, no. It’s called Skunk Creek,” she said. “But given that we’re in Phoenix, I don’t know if there’s actually a creek.”
“Sounds nice!” I said. It was about time that Mom picked a trail that was nice to smell, not just to look at.
We ran down that trail for three miles, and I didn’t smell a single skunk. I didn’t even smell a particularly large rat, although it looked like they must be around somewhere. Now that I thought about it, Mom was acting quite strangely. She had left the nature and dirt car trails behind us to drive into a city, and then to run on a trail that was made of sidewalks.
When we got back to the car gallery, a man showed Mom something under the truck and then gave her her keys.
“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” I said.
“I have a surprise for you. But we can’t pick it up until tomorrow,” she said.
To be continued…