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If wishes were fishes

Just one week ago I was a stay-at-home dog, spending his days listening for the mailman and searching the kitchen floor for treasure. Within that week I'd been marooned, dognapped, and lost in the desert. I'd stood at the center of an empty world and outwitted invisible hunters. And the adventure had only just begun.

The car-house slipped out of the hunting grounds and followed the sun into the sky. Each time the ground flattened and the sky took its normal place in the front window, there was always another layer of mountain ahead. By the time Mom's appetite for adventure was rumbling again, most of the trees were gone and blotches of white lurked in the shadows.

Mom scrunched down in the driving chair for a better look at the brick-grey dirt on the copilot's side of the highway. "What say we stop for a bit?"

"What does the Witch say?" I asked.

"You will arrive in two hours and fifty minutes," the Witch warned.

"Don't worry about that." Mom hit the shut up button defiantly. "What's the point of traveling if you don't take time to explore?"

"Yippee! A surprise!" I stood up to give my tail more room to wag and let the slowing car-house suck me into the cockpit.

"I was aiming for something farther along the route," Mom said, "but hiking up here on the roof of the world seems so much more exotic, don't you think?"

"That's what I've been saying this whole time!" I I knocked the Witch's power straw out of its charging slot. "Take that, you dingleberry."

"Do you think there will be sticks?" I wagged. "Oh boy, oh boy! I hope there are sticks."

"Let's find out." Mom opened the door.

A trail-guarding sign with a map on its breastplate stood in some scraggly grass. The grass was too scratchy to roll in and too flimsy to chase.

While Mom examined the ripples on the map, I stood next to her and thoughtfully studied the curling lines in the sign's wooden stalk. It was probably too big to fit in my mouth. Or was it?

When it got boring trying to look thoughtful I asked, "What does it say?"

"It's a map of the whole damned state. What use is that?"

"In case you're lost," I reminded her. "You said you keep getting lost because you know where you're going but but not where you are. Now that we know we're in Utah, we can't get lost."

"A map like this is only useful for birds and astronauts. It doesn't tell me anything about where this trail might go. It could just as well go forever or end at a cell tower behind those rocks." Mom turned her back on adventure and opened the car-house door. "We've made this mistake before. Come on, let's just stick to the plan."

"Like I said, keep driving, you dingbat," the Witch scolded. "You will arrive in three hours."

There were trees the next time the car-house pulled off the highway without the Witch's blessing. I snorted for a hint of what flavor they were, leaving a skid mark across the window.

We halted in front of a gate and the car-house hummed while Mom hmmmed. The suspense was unbearable! When Mom opened the door, I took a flying dismount and landed with a splat.

I was standing ankle-deep in a lake of mud. I pulled out a paw. 'Shtllllp,' said the mud. I shook my paw until globs plunked from my toes.

I looked for somewhere to put my cleanish paw while I shook out the others, but it was no use. I was standing in a bog the size of a parking spot.

"Dammit, Oscar," Mom called from the driving chair. "I only opened the door to see if it was too muddy to turn around."

"Chickening out so soon?" I challenged. I wiped my paw in the mud like a bull inviting the matador to charge. Either she would chase me around that gate into the woods, or she would slip in the bog and we would mud wrestle. It was a win-win.

When Mom still wasn't impressed, I raised my butt in the air and taunted her with my tail. "Betcha can't catch me!"

"I'm not chickening out, it's private property." Mom pointed her eyes at the gate.

"I see." I nodded expertishly. I know all about Private Property signs. They're an invasive species back home in California. A Private Property sign only leads to trouble, so there was no use fighting.

"The Witch is never going to let you live this one down," I said, slopping agreeably back across the bog. "Oh well. I suppose you've learned your lesson. Please move out of the way so we can go."

"Not so fast." Mom held up a stay hand and disappeared into the car-house.

I can usually jump high enough to clear the driving chair with a running start, but I hadn't been invited to up-up. Not knowing where Mom was or what she was doing stung my insides. I circled around the bog a few times, whining and willing Mom to come back.

Finally, Mom reappeared in the doorway with a towel over her hands.

"What's that?" I asked, backing out of the bog. "What are you hiding under the towel?"

"You can't get in the van with those muddy paws," Mom threatened, dropping her own back paw into the mud and flapping the towel like a cape. "C'mere. Dammit, Oscar, where are you going? C'mere."

Mom chased me to the solid ground by the gate. This game wasn't turning out to be as fun as I hoped.

"No! No, stop! Don't touch my paws!" I moaned, yanking my wrist from her grip.

"You should have thought of that before you jumped in the mud puddle," Mom scolded. "Hold still."

I thought of cheese sticks and snuggles and waited for it to be over. When it was, Mom threw the towel over her shoulder and slipped one arm under my belly while the other curled around my butt.

"Nuh uh!" I broke free of her arms and backed away. "You may take my paws, but you will never lift me off this ground!"

"Quit being such a baby. How else are you going to get in the van without getting muddy?"

I raised my nose defiantly in the air and thought heavy thoughts. "I will not yield! I will stand firm against..."

Djoop! Mom's arms slipped back under me like a forklift and before I knew it I was hovering toward the car.

"Stop! Stop! Unhand me, you monster!" I wriggled.

"Give it a rest," Mom grunted. She plopped me on the driving chair, then used her butt to push me further into the car-house. She kicked her heels into the car-house's flanks in a giddyup sort of way and a turd of mud plopped from her shoe.

"You're not very good at this," I humphed as the car-house galloped back onto the highway. "Look at the sun. It's already lunch time, but if we stop for a picnic then we'll be later for dinner."

"I saw a sign for a recreational area. It was a good guess. Give me a break."

"There's no time for breaks anymore! You've ruined everything. Let's just find somewhere cool and stay there forever, okay?"

"Fine. I'll stick to the plan. Promise," Mom promised.

But then, when we were so high in the sky that the ground was stained white with clouds, Mom saw another sign.

"Ah-hah! A state park!" Mom declared, like she was Colombo and I'd fallen right into her trap. "They must have hiking trails in a state park. Let's go."

I followed her eyes toward a road surrounded by blankness. It disappeared over a hump, and there was no sign of it in the white hills beyond. "But what about the plan?" I asked. "You promised!"

But it was too late. The car-house was already clicking its obedience to Mom's orders.

"Make a U-turn," the Witch ordered.

Mom ignored her.

"Turn around," the Witch pleaded. "Here! You can turn around here. Or here. Or here."

"Oh shut up." Mom bopped the screen a few times and the Witch, too, surrendered to her will.

"In nine miles, you will arrive at your destination," the Witch said meekly.

We continued into the billowing whiteness.

"You have arrived," the Witch announced.

The car-house stopped in one of those car-kennels where cars turned into fishing boats.

Mom looked through all the windows, then she looked through them all again in reverse order. "Arrived where?"

A lake as cloudy as an old dog's eye lay in the middle of a blankness so pure that there wasn't so much as a pawprint.

"This must be what a state park looks like," I said helpfully. "It's probably another one of those places where the earth disappears. Utah does that, you know."

Mom scowled the way she does when she's wrong and wants to blame everyone who was right for it. "What's the point of a park that's only for fishing?"

"Fish need parks too," I reminded her. "Didn't you see the sign back there that fish must be on leash? Shame we don't have any fishes in our expedition."

"Gosh darn it," Mom said, mispronouncing all the words so it sounded more like clod slamming, brother mucking, son of a fish. "Now half the day is gone."

"That's what happens when you throw out your plan for a get-fun-quick scheme," I said, shaking my tail. "You can't just expect the best things in life to find you. You need to plan for them. Otherwise, you wind up surrounded by things you can't have trying to hike in a park for fish."

"That's what adventure is like, Oscar. This is just the part that usually gets edited out."

Well I'm a dog of many words, so now you know that real-life adventure gets stuck between your toes and stains the inside of the car-house, no matter how perfect it looks on Instagram.

Mom looked at the fish trail like a puzzle. I quietly waited for the obvious to dawn on her.

Finally, she saw the error of her ways and let them go with a sigh. “Okay. No more stops. Pinky swear.”

But dogs don’t have pinkies.

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