Finally, half a day after Mom picked up the phone to call for help, we were free to resume our trip. Mom's thought bubble quieted as the car-house settled into freeway pace.
Mom's eyes flicked back and forth between the road and the Witch. “We don’t have time to run all the way to the dam and back like I planned, but we can still do a shorter run,” she narrated.
"Let's skip the and back part so we can still see everything," I suggested.
"We've got to get back to the van somehow. If we park halfway then we can still see the second half, where all the good scenery is." She poked at the Witch for confirmation, then she poked more urgently. "But how the hell do we get there?"
"By getting out of the car-house, of course," I said helpfully.
"Yeah, but where? It's a bike trail, so there must be dozens of entrances..."
She must have looked at the Witch for a moment too long, because when she looked up at the road, she sat up straight and yanked on the driving wheel. I bounced between the copilot's seat and driving chair like a pinball.
"...but how do I tell the GPS where to go if I don't know where any of them are?" Mom continued as if nothing had happened.
I shook my rumpled ears back into place. "By asking for directions, of course."
"Yeah, but directions to where? A bike trail is a line, and the GPS can only search for points," she said, like that explained anything.
"The map says the trail is down there." Mom craned her neck at a strange angle to better see what was hidden between the roadside cliff and the distant river. "But how the heck do we get down there?"
The road and river followed the same wavy line about half a mile apart. As if choreographed, the river turned away and the road followed for a few beats, then it was the road's turn to lead the river back in the other direction. They danced to and fro, never getting any closer together.
"You say that the trail is next to the river?" I asked.
"That river down there?" I asked.
"Well the solution to your problem is simple," I coached. "You need to go that way. Look! Here's a place to turn."
The car-house puttered into a dirt car kennel atop a high hill. Mom clicked the leash onto my collar and we dismounted to look over the edge.
"Look! A bike trail," Mom squealed.
"Where?" I searched the ground for a dotted line, a sign about who had to wear a leash, or the rock-paper-scissors triangle of who had right of way, but nothing in that dirt that reminded me of My Trail at home.
"Right there, where the dirt is packed down."
"Oh, I thought someone lost control of their steamroller," I said. "A bike can't ride on that. It would buck its rider faster than you can say yee-haw."
"It's a downhill trail. Downhill racing is suicide on two wheels if you ask me, but luckily we're running." Mom dangled her toes over the edge. "Come on, let's get a move on before it turns to mud. I don't like the look of those clouds."
I followed Mom off the cliff and the world fell back into place as the familiar pah-dump of her gait smoothed out the edginess from being dognapped. We were running again, we were in a beautiful place, and we were together. Everything seemed like it was back to the way it should be.
…then it started to rain.
Neither Mom nor I can abide the rain. It’s messy and cold. It blurs all the good sights and washes away the good smells.
"What was that you were saying about mud?" I asked.
"Stop being such a baby." Mom's growl rumbled through her teeth like a warning to a mailman deciding whether to open the gate or just throw the boxes over the fence. "It's not that steep anymore, and the paved trail is just ahead."
"Yeah, but what about the way back?"
“We will NOT let this ruin our run, Oscar.” She pushed out the NOT in the way that means the run is already ruined. “I tried to get us out before the rain started, but now it’s here. And so are we. And so is the river. And all of these pretty mountains." She sliced her arm at the blur beyond the river. "And you and I are together. And that’s all we need.”
"Oh yeah, I forgot." I shook out my coat and resumed my place at her heels.
The trail turned shiny as a mirror and the river turned to stucco as we ran. I squinted to keep the rain out of my eyes as the world outside my eyelashes got dimmer.
Mom's head bowed like a charging bull and her fists punched the air in time with the heavy puh-frigging-thump of her shoes. I didn't want to go back to work so soon after the trauma of being dognapped, but someone had to do something about Mom's stomping before the whole world shattered.
So I booted up life-coach mode.
"What's wrong? The rain isn't so bad. See? We're not even that soaked. And it's kind of warm out. And there are all those colors that I can't see: the grey river, the grey trees, the dark-grey-and-white mountains..."
"I'm just so frustrated. I haven't really had a day off for over 2 years." Pah-thump. "I had to quit my job to even get a chance to visit the wilderness." Pah-THWOMP! "But now, instead of a boss it's the stupid rental van that won't let me escape." Pah-dump. "It's just like when we were home: There is always some reason why I can't relax, or why I can't do the things I planned for us to do." Pah-slump. "It's just one damned thing after another. I spend so much time taking care of things that are breaking down that I have to rush through the good parts." Pah-sigh. "I'm having a hard time keeping a positive attitude."
"But isn't it enough that we're together?"
"But don't we deserve more than just being together?" She lifted her fists to shake them at the sky. The sky dropped a raindrop in her eye and she pointed her grimace back at the ground. "Is it too much to ask to be together someplace other than a parking lot on the automile in some rotten meth city?"
I didn't understand what that meant, so I just followed and listened. Ahead, the trail disappeared into a tunnel. The tunnel was all open maws and blackness with only the tiniest star in the center to show that it ended. I pulled a hint of backward pressure on the leash, hoping it wasn't too subtle for Mom to notice.
"No sniffing!" Mom yanked on the leash without turning around and carried on with her story. "Why does everyone else get days off, and rental vans that actually work.." Her voice hollowed out as we entered the tunnel. "Why don't I get to say no?"
"Why don't I get to say no?" the tunnel asked.
I put a little more backward pressure on the leash. "How about we practice right now and say no to this tunnel?"
"Just a little longer. We're almost to six miles, then we can turn back."
"Turn back, turn back, turn back," mocked the tunnel.
I followed her until darkness swallowed everything and the pah-grump sound of Mom's footsteps filled the air around me. Just as I started to see shadows again, a screech split the darkness and Mom stopped short.
"That's six miles. Abouuuuuuuuut-face!" Mom's shin bumped my flank in the dark, and then the leash pulled me back into the abyss.
With no bumps on the ground to look out for and rain splattering our eyeballs if we looked up, Mom and I ran the five miles back to the dirt trail as if on a dreadmill. On the muddy slope, I had to stop every four paces to give Mom time to re-do a step that slipped out from under her. By the time we reached the car-house again, both Mom and I were soaked, and our paws and bellies were caked with mud.
Mom unclicked the leash and I ran to the dry slice of ground next to the car-house. "Let's get outta here!"
"All in good time," Mom said in a voice borrowed it from a movie. She held up a finger. "First, a picnic."
It was the first time Mom had ever suggested a snack I wasn't interested in. "Now?"
"Sure. Why not? There's a roof over that picnic table."
"But there's no roof over the kitchen," I pointed out.
"It'll be fiiiiiiiine," Mom growled. "You're supposed to eat outside when you're camping."
She tied my leash to the leg of the picnic table and set about clattering pans and swearing. A car stopped in the kennel and its man gave Mom a funny look as he walked to the butt of his own car. He pulled out a rain coat, put it on, and gave Mom the same strange look as he walked back to the driving chair. Mom bared her teeth at him and went back to poking the soup pot.
When lunch was over, we climbed back in the car-house and let it carry us away from lowlands where a traveler can see the future by simply looking out the front window. The trees closed in, then the ground beside the highway rose into walls, trapping us in the here and now. Mom was so enchanted by the mountains and forests that she didn't even seem to care that the Witch wasn't speaking to us. She simply let the car-house drift deeper and deeper into the wilder-ness trusting that it would all work out in the end.
"Hasn't it been a dog-hour yet?" I reminded her. "I needa go potty."
Mom snapped out of her trance and looked around. She searched the roadside forest and when she found what she was looking for she pulled the click-click lever to warn the car-house that we'd be stopping soon. A moment later, the car-house stopped in front of a gate wearing a sign like a badge.
"What does it say?" I asked.
"It might say CLOSED." Mom checked over her shoulder to see if any editors were watching. "I can't quite read it, can you?"
"Silly Mom. Dogs can't read. If they meant the place to be closed, though, I'm sure they would have printed it more clearly than that."
"And how's a driver supposed to see the sign anyway with this big van in the way?" Mom added.
I followed her around the gate and we put the mystery behind us.
The end... until next week.