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Sissy fuss

"In 500 feet, you will arrive at your destination," the Witch announced.

I could barely hear her over the trucks growling toward us on the other side of the road. A nonstop parade of them had been chugging out of the canyon like ants ever since the freeway. Each one groaned under at least one backpack overflowing with boulders.

"Where are they all going?" I asked.

"There must be a quarry." Mom shrugged un-curiously. "Construction, maybe?"

"So that's how the pyramids were built!" I looked in wonder at the procession of rocks and the dusty desert they'd come from. "All this time I thought it was aliens."

"I'm pretty sure they're not for a pyramid, but there aren't enough countertops in the world..." Mom made a face like not knowing an answer upset her stomach. "It's like they're moving a whole mountain."

"I don't think rocks should go on vacation," I decided.

The road ended in a lasso that swung the car-house around almost a full rotation before flinging us into an empty car kennel. The car-house steered into a parking spot decorated with its own picnic table and its very own boulder.

We dismounted and Mom led me back into the center of the lasso, where a figure squatted expectantly. It had a backpack full of envelopes on one side, and a hungry half-open beak on the other. Mom pulled an envelope out of the slot .

Suddenly, a truck charged into the lasso, filling the whole world around us. "ROAR!" it growled.

Mom froze with an envelope in one hand and my leash in the other as it circled. I tucked my ears back to show I wasn't a threat.

The monster halted and let out a screech like a carrion bird. Then it backed up for a closer look.

"ROAR" the truck said again, setting its headlights on the car-house and licking its chops.

"Don't! We'll pay the toll! I promise!" I groveled. "Mom, quick! Do what it asks!"

The truck huffed an indignant puff of air and took a menacing step into the car kennel. Mom came back to life and stuffed the envelope into the hydrant's mouth.

The truck halted, pivoted, and wound its way back into the circle, nearly catching its tail before it veered off and chugged back toward the freeway. When the coast was clear, Mom hustled me back into the car kennel just in time to escape the next truck rolling onto the scene.

"That was a close one," I said. "Do you think they'll be satisfied with just one envelope?"

"Those trucks don't care about us," Mom said.

"That's such a girl thing to say. Just because girls don't care about trucks doesn't mean that trucks don't care about you."

"They must be facing the wrong direction when they come out of wherever they pick up those rocks. They're just coming down here for the traffic circle because they're too bulky to turn around the regular way."

"You mean they're driving all the way down here just to drive back up the hill? What's the fun in that?"

Mom watched the next truck whine and grumble ponderously through the turn like a fat man trying to learn a complicated dance move."Ever heard of Sisyphus?"

"No, you're a sissy-fuss."

Mom had no answer for my devastating comeback so she changed the subject. "What do you always tell me when the litter, crowds, and traffic lights get to me? All you have to do to find the beauty is look up. Things always look nicer in the long view than the street view, right?"

My advice is always good, even when Mom's the one giving it. So I looked up.

For the first time, I noticed that there was a whole desert that the trucks hadn't carried away yet. Beyond the road, the ground rumpled like a cat hiding under a blanket. None of the lumps were big enough to call "hills" or give you a sense of accomplishment at the top. Behind them, boxy mountains bulged unclimbably out of the ground in a skyline almost as charming as the office parks along the freeway outside of town.

"Aren't you supposed to go somewhere when you hike?" I asked.

"Sometimes. Other times it's about doing something when there's nothing you can do about what's really bothering you." Mom's eyes paced bumps on the far side of the road, searching for a lifeline. "Oh look! That looks like a trail."

Mom led me to a line in the dust. I braced against the leash to hold Mom fast while I checked her work.

"It doesn't smell like a trail. It smells like rubber and gas stations." I lifted my nose to confirm the obvious with my eyes. "And it doesn't look like a trail. It's too small. It'll run right between your legs and disappear when you're not paying attention."

"Sure it's a trail! Look. You can see it goes all the way out there." Mom raised her arm toward a snarl of curly cues in the not-so-distant sand.

"If it's a trail, how come all the paw prints are tire prints?"

"Don't worry about that." Mom flapped her hand like she was waving away a fart and followed the tire prints, dragging me behind her.

I followed, but kept pressure on the leash to make her think. "What if you get lost? I don't think that following tire tracks..."

"How are we going to get lost?" Mom waved her arm at the blockish landscape, yanking the leash as she did. "There are no trees to block the view, no boulders to hide behind, and hardly any bushes to muffle the sound of trucks."

She had a point. It would be pretty hard to get lost in this sandbox. Even for a blockhead like Mom. I was just about to point out that Mom never went anywhere without deciding how the journey would end first, when a strange sound interrupted the thought.

"Brrrrrrrrrrt-brrrrrrt-brrrt-brrrrrrrrrrrt," said the nearest lump.

I looked to Mom for a hint of what it meant, but Mom wasn't looking up at the lump, she was looking down at the ground. She tilted her head in confusion. "The weird thing about these treads is that they don't look like mountain bike tires."


The strangest creature I'd ever seen popped out of the lump's tip like an ingrown hair from a zit when Mom squeezes it. The beast stood still for a moment, growling cautiously as the dust settled.

"We come in peace," I barked.

Its bobble head tilted curiously, catching the sun and shooting it like a laser beam into my eyes.

I sat to show I meant it no harm.

"Brrrrt-brrrrrt mrrreeEEEEEEeer!" It let out a cat's battlecry and charged toward us.

When we were half an instant from becoming pancakes, The Power Ranger of Doom dropped a leg and spun around it in an un-truck-like pirouette. With its tailpipe in our face, it let out a loud fart and brrrrrted back into the desert, leaving Mom and me in a cloud of dust.

"I figured out where the tire tracks are coming from," I said.

"Let's go down to that wash instead," Mom said. "I doubt there will be any dirt bikes down there."

I shook my head so hard that the shaking spread all the way to my tail, surrounding me in a protective cloud of dust. "No! I don't wanna wash!"

"Oh hush. A wash is just a dry river. Stop being so dramatic."

The wash was filled with the kind of sights you can press your nose right up to. Sand clumped, flaked and dried in ways I'd never smelled before, and the walls crowded in so close that they looked different from one step to the next. Mom let herself off leash and I ran ahead to explore. 

The farther I went, the heavier the sun felt on my back. Its heat made it difficult to run... and then to walk. I found a rock sheltering a small slice of heaven from the sky and crawled into the shade. Mom was still stumbling over wobbly rocks far behind me, so I flopped down in the dust and tried to puff off the heat.

Wobble, scritch, plunk, ACK!

As her steps got wilder, Mom's progress got even slower. My tongue drooped closer to the ground with every second I waited. What was taking her so long?

When Mom caught up, I was already a gonner. "That's it! I can't go any farther!" I panted.

"Here, you want some water?" She poured a bottle into a bowl and put it below my lolling tongue.

"Okay, I'll try," I gasped. "For you." I slorped down the water, splashing half of it into the dust where the ground drank more thirstily than I did.

"Alright, alright. We'll go back." Mom turned away to let me expire in peace. I lay my head in the dust and waited for the end. When Mom had faded to just a speck in the blinding light, I heard her faint voice again. "Are you coming?"

"Fine," I groaned, raising myself from my deathbed with a mighty sigh. "Love will give me strength."

"You're so dramatic. It's only like 70 degrees out here."

"IS THAT A ROADRUNNER?" I whooped. For a moment, the thrill of the chase made me forget that I was dying.

But alas, it was only a mirage. I found another patch of shade and sagged again, hoping that Mom would catch up in time to say goodbye. I closed my eyes and let the darkness wash over me.

"Toughen up." I opened my eyes to find Mom standing over me with arms crossed. "We only went like a mile," she said. "I think you can make it."

"Alas... The desert got the better of me," I croaked. "Please tell my fans I love them and start a foundation in my honor that donates bacon to dogs with a pork deficiency."

"Suit yourself." Mom turned away without even waiting to hear the rest of my dying wishes.

"No, no. You go on without me!" I gasped. "Save yourself."

"Okay, well I guess I'll have to eat all those cheese sticks in the fridge all by myself," Mom said, already moving on.

I raised myself from the dead yet again and crawled after her. "You can't go on without me! Not without a mourning period."

"Dear me. How will I ever survive?" she said, delivering the line all wrong. She didn't even turn around to gaze into my eyes or shake her fists at the sky as she said it.

I followed Mom back toward the sound of the trucks. Sometimes I forgot that I was dying when something interesting caught my attention, but I made sure to let my tongue loll really low for dramatic effect whenever Mom looked back.

When we reached the car-house, I flopped in the shade, panting in relief. Mom served me a bowl of water and sat at the picnic table to watch the trucks while I drank.

"I hope you learned your lesson," I said when the bowl was dry. "I almost caught on fire. And for what?"

"Sysiphus cheated death too, you know," Mom said, shifting into her Obnoxious Philosopher voice.

"No you're a—"

But Mom droned over me, refusing to let intelligent debate distract from her boring lecture. "...We keep walking into the desert just to walk back out again. We spend all day searching for a place to sleep, just to wake up start all over again."

"It's as useless as those trucks moving rocks back and forth across the desert," I agreed, glad that she was coming around. "You almost sacrificed my life for nothing. NOTH-THING!" I moved my head into petting distance for when the regret hit her.

"Yeah, but they must be working toward something. Even if it's not obvious yet. It takes a lot of trips to move enough rocks to change the world."

"And we're changing the world by marching into the desert?" I asked.

"Maybe not the whole world, but I'm starting to chill out. For a while there, that seemed even more impossible than moving a mountain."

"There's a shortcut for that, you know," I coached. "We could go inside the car-house and turn on the air conditioner instead."

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