The rains poured down as the little kit jumped from puddle to puddle. He rolled in the mud and jumped through the leaves reveling in the excitement of the rains. It had been raining for 4 days, flooding many creeks and streams in the forest. The little kit didn't care about the destructive water; he was trying to catch every raindrop before it fell.
A slender vixen came to the doorway of their house dug into the hill drying her delicate paws and looking concerned. She smiled as the sight of her young pup comforted her. "Come on in, dear. We need to dry you off before you get sick." The kit whined playfully, but smiled and headed towards the house.
At that moment there was a loud crunching noise as the interior of the house collapsed. The mother turned to see a wall of mud pushing towards her. She screamed and tried to run, but there was no time as the soggy hill rolled over her.
"Mom!" the kit screamed as he watched the mud engulf the fragile vixen. His little heart was beating frantically. He ran, panicked, to where the house once stood and began to dig. His tiny paws flung the mud as fast as he could move them, yet he only succeeded in burying his own feet. His tears falling as fast as the rain around him, the panicked pup collapsed, weeping for his mother. He cried out for her, feebly hoping she would come running from somewhere to comfort him, but his voice faded and the rain continued to fall.
* * *
Mutt awoke with a start, his heart beating rapidly. He looked around, slowly remembering where he was. His head began to hurt and he forced himself to breathe slowly. As his eyes adjusted quickly to the dark, he spied Billy not too far away, yet not too close, either. The fox sighed, realizing he was safe. He sat for a moment, remembering that terrible day, then got up and walked to the window to stare out as the sun hinted at its coming arrival.
Billy stirred and blinked at the fox. "You okay?"
Mutt pulled himself back to reality. "Uh, yeah. Of course."
"Sure you are," the porcupine quipped, rising and stumbling over to the window. "Dreams again?"
The fox nodded, watching the sun blanket the hills with the day's first light. The morning dew sparkled like a bed of diamonds, but only reminded Mutt of the rain. He pondered the contrast of the current reality and the past that haunted his dreams. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Billy answered, "We should go soon."
Mutt nodded in agreement. "Before someone finds us."
They gathered up their meager belongings and headed for the door. Billy peeked out of the barn then signaled all clear so they crept through the door and ran across the field. They didn't get far before they heard shouting. They kept running and soon heard shots. As they reached the fence, Billy fell. Mutt hurriedly helped him up and over the fence, following after. They fled from the farm as fast as they could move, never looking back. As they scrambled through the trees beyond the farm, the porcupine collapsed into the soft leaves.
Mutt turned to see his friend lying on the ground and ran back to pull him up. "Come on, Billy!"
Billy winced. "I can't go any more. My back hurts."
Mutt looked at the porcupine's back to see blood dripping down his spines.
"Billy, you're hurt! What happened?!" Mutt tried to push aside the stiff hairs to see the wound, but pricked himself a couple times before he found it. "That guy shot you!"
Billy groaned and quivered, trying to hold back his tears and his fears.
Mutt tried to think, but his mind was flooded with emotions. He didn't want to leave his friend alone and vulnerable, but he needed to go get help. The thought of losing his only friend drilling through his mind only made it harder to think clearly, but he had to pull himself together. Mutt pulled Billy into some undergrowth and tried to make him comfortable in his hiding place.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. You need a doctor."
"No, Mutt. They'll find me," Billy pleaded franticly.
"If I don't get you help, they will find you dead."
Mutt jumped up and raced off, fighting the urge to stay with his friend. He pushed his legs as fast as they would go, driving harder than his heart could beat. His mind was focused solely on saving Billy.
Billy laid his head down in resolution. He did not expect Mutt to make it back in time. The farmer would be there any second to finish what he started and Mutt would come back to a waiting bullet. He now wished he had told his friend not to come back, but he knew Mutt would never abandon him. He thought back through all the time they had spent together and back to when they first met and smiled at how much happier his life had been with the fox. He thought about how they had stuck together and been there for each other. His eyes opened in resolve as his mind settled on one thought: 'We have always been together and he has never let me down; the least I can do for him now is to be here when he gets back.' Billy held firm to his resolve and fought to stay awake though his back was burning in pain.
The fox flew across the fields faster than his legs had ever moved before. His eyes were set on the town beyond them. Nothing would stop him from his desperate quest and nothing would slow him down. When he reached the town, he darted through the houses and buildings, searching intently for a sign. His heart leapt as he saw the marked door and burst through it.
The startled rabbits scrambled to the far wall and stared at the panting fox.
The long eared doctor spoke up, "What do you want?"
Mutt gasped for air and forced himself to speak, "I need a doctor; my friend has been shot."
The young physician calmed his wife and reached for his bag.
"Hurry!" Mutt shouted as he snatched the bag and shoved the slow rabbit out the door.
The frightened wife stared out the open door as her husband scampered down the street with a frenzied fox at his heels.
Mutt herded the rabbit across the fields, but slowed as he reached the corner of the fence. He could see a uniformed cheetah standing where he and Billy had crossed into the trees. The doctor looked back and stopped.
"Come on, I need my bag if I am going to help your friend."
Determinedly, Mutt shook off his fear and continued on.
The officer turned as he noticed them and ushered the doctor into the trees. Mutt followed quietly, hoping there would not be too many questions.
The doctor saw Billy and dropped down beside him, brushing aside the uniformed wolf leaning over him who looked up and saw Mutt.
"What are you doing here?"
A small, dirty badger holding a shotgun leaned around a tree to get a look. "That's the other one!" he pointed.
Mutt stood motionless as the wolf walked over to him.
"Why did you come back?"
"He's my friend."
"Where are your other friends?"
"What other friends?"
"Don't play dumb with me. You and your gang have been terrorizing the east side of town for months."
"It's just me and Billy and we just got here."
"Sure, and my feathers are molting," the wolf sneered and the cheetah chuckled.
The wolf continued his interrogation, "So, is Billy the name of your leader?"
Mutt pointed, "That's Billy."
"So this is the leader. Good shot Mr. Barnes."
The badger spread a malicious grin across his face. "Is there a reward?"
The wolf kneeled down in front of Billy. "Where is the rest of your gang?"
Mutt stepped forward in protest, but the cheetah grabbed him. "We're not a gang!"
"Shut him up!" the wolf snapped and the cheetah clamped Mutt's muzzle shut.
Billy spoke up, wincing in pain, "Stop it . We're not a gang. We just walked in from Harstelin last night. . We have no place to go. We didn't hurt anybody. Don't "
The doctor hushed him. "Calm down. You're just making things worse." He looked up at the officer and spoke softly. "There's not much I can do. I'm surprised the shot didn't split his spine. There're pieces all around it. He will most likely be paralyzed, if he even survives all the blood he's lost."
The officer nodded in thought. "Okay doc. Do you think he is telling the truth since he is dying?"
"I see no reason not to believe them. This is the other side of town and if they had been around, they would definitely know not to spend any time on Mr. Barnes' land."
The wolf nodded, "Do what you can." and rose. He waved aside the cheetah and stared at Mutt. "What are you doing here?"
Mutt blinked in surprise at the sudden change. "We're just passin' through until we find someplace we can stay. Is Billy going to be okay?"
"No, and you are in a lot of trouble yourself."
Mutt stared at Billy in shock before pushing past the officer and dropping to Billy's side. . He looked pleadingly up at the doctor. "You have to help him."
"There's nothing I can really do for him. Its hard enough working around his spines, but this injury is serious. If we try to move him, it could kill him, but if we don't he will probably die anyway."
Billy grabbed Mutt's paw and spoke up, "Its too late, I know I won't make it. This isn't how I wanted to die, but I don't have much choice in it. Don't give up on yourself because I'm gone. Keep going."
"You're not gonna die. You can't. We're not done yet."
"You can do it."
"Not alone. I need your help."
"You will find help or it will find you. Remember when we first met? Neither of us was looking for a friend, but just when we needed help, it found us," Billy strained against the blinding pain. He said no more; he simply smiled at his friend and stopped breathing.
Mutt sat motionless, staring at his lifelong friend. He could not believe he was really gone.
"Is he dead, yet?" Mr. Barnes asked.
The doctor looked up and replied, "Quite dead."
Mutt screamed, "No!"
"Good. Now, let's take care of the other one, so you can get off my property and I can get back to my life" the badger quipped.
"If you will come with us into town, we can file the paperwork to charge him," stated the wolf.
This took the fox by surprise.
"You can shoot him right here, for all I care. It would be one less vagrant sucking the life out of this world," Mr. Barnes spat. "He deserves it, too, for messing with my horses."
"Your horses?" Mutt spoke up then turned to the officer, "His horses look like they haven't been cared for in weeks. Their oats are soggy, their stalls are filthy and their fur looks terrible. They're probably better off just from the company."
"And how would you know about horses?" Mr. Barnes snapped back. "My stable boy walked out last month and I can't be expected to get out there myself."
"Hold on now," the wolf intervened. "I can't just let you two fight it out right here in front of me. If you would like to press charges, Mr. Barnes, you can come down to the station house with us and fill out the paperwork."
"Take him away. The chief will take care of it for me."
Mutt was flabbergasted, "What kind of town is this? He kills my friend and admits to it and I get in trouble?"
The wolf interrupted Mr. Barnes, "You were trespassing. He has a right to defend himself."
"He shot him in the back. We were leaving, not attacking him. You'd have to be crazy to think that some one could shoot someone in the back while they were attacking them."
"Be quiet; save it for the chief."
"This is insane."
"What?" Mutt objected.
The cheetah pulled a muzzle from his belt and approached the fox. Mutt put up little fight and was soon muzzled and cuffed.
"We will send someone back to get the body," the wolf said over his shoulder as they led Mutt towards the road.
"You better. I don't want this corpse rotting in my woods," Mr. Barnes chided.
The doctor gathered his things and followed after them. Not a word was said and Mutt did not even try. The rabbit left them when they passed his office on Cole St. and the officers continued on without a word.
When they arrived at the police station, the squirrel behind the desk gave them a surprised look. "Muzzles this early in the morning?"
"Anytime, Mitch, anytime," the wolf retorted as he took the slip Mitch handed him and continued on his way back to the chief's office with the fox and cheetah in tow then knocked on the door.
"Enter," boomed the voice from inside.
The wolf opened the door and let the cheetah lead the prisoner in.
"What's this?" snapped the turtle behind the desk.
"He was out on Barnes' farm. Mr. Barnes shot his partner and wants this one charged," the cat reported.
"Is the other one still alive?"
"Where is Mr. Barnes?"
The wolf stepped up, "He told us you would take care of the paperwork for him."
"Damn that old boar!" The turtle pounded on the desk. "When is he going to figure out that I can't keep cleaning up his messes? One of these days he is going to end up with someone's foot so far past his tail he'll have claws marks on his chin." The chief sighed, "Why is he muzzled?"
"Because he's loud and may bite."
Mutt squeaked an objection, but was ignored.
"Alright, take him down and leave him bound, at least until I get the report," the chief acquiesced.
"And Goldsmith," the turtle continued.
The cheetah looked back at the chief.
"I want a full report, no shortcuts."
The wolf directed them out and closed the door behind them. "Take him downstairs and show this number to whoever is at the gate."
Goldsmith took the slip of paper.
"And don't lose it or he'll be lost."
"Don't say that to me. It only makes you stand out as a rookie. Now, get moving, brat." The wolf turned and headed for the workroom.
"I can see where this is headed," Goldsmith mumbled as he led Mutt down the stairs. "You're going to disappear and I am going to take the fall for it, all to save Mr. Barnes' lousy hide. I joined the arm help fight against this kind of thing and now its exactly what is going to kill my future."
"Oh, a feisty one, eh?" the panther at the gate chortled.
"Not really," the cheetah responded as he handed over the slip of paper.
The panther filled out his paperwork and called a buck over, "Would you be a dear and escort this gentleman to his room?"
"Oh, you're a barrel of laughs," the buck scowled.
The panther laughed raucously at his own joke.
The buck led Mutt down the hall of cells to one near the end and opened the door. "Get in there and don't make any fuss."
Mutt complied and sat down on the hard bunk.
"I'll be back with your mat," the buck said as he closed the door.
Mutt sat in the utter darkness, trying to figure out what had just happened. It was quiet, save for the echoes of footsteps. He could hear his own heart beating, each beat shouting out that Billy was dead. He could feel tears in his eyes, but they would not fall.
The door opened and the buck threw in a mat and thin sheet. Just before the door closed again, the buck stopped and noticed the darckness. "Sorry." he said and turned on the light as he shut the door again.
|Waiting . . .||DuGaul|