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White Dirt



"Where to?" I asked as the car-house blew the heat out of my luscious black fur.


"We've got two days left," Mom counted. "We could go back into Nevada tomorrow or keep heading back toward home."


"I've seen Nevada," I said. "What's on the way home?"


"The Sierra Nevada," she said, like that explained anything.


"No, California," I corrected her.


"The Sierra Nevada is in California," Mom lied like a rug. "Nevada just means snowy in Spanish."


"It means what?"


"Snowy."


"What?"


"Snow is what happens when it rains in a cold climate," Mom said, like that explained anything. "You've seen snow on the ground before. It's the white stuff on top of mountains."


"You mean clouds? How can a cloud fall on the ground?"


"Snow, like I said. You saw snow up close on top of that mountain in Utah, remember? When we went to that frozen lake."


"That time that you were too scared to get out of the car-house and high-tailed it to the desert as fast as you could? Snow thank you." I took a moment to think about Mom's puzzle. "If nevada means covered in snow, what does california mean?"


"It means hot like an oven," Mom translated.


It was a tough choice. I don't like the oven-baked feeling of heat, but Mom turned into a whiny baby in the cold. If nevada meant "cold" but Nevada was hot, and california meant "hot" but wasn't as hot as Nevada, then what in the world was Sarah Nevada like? There was a baked Alaska joke in there somewhere, but my mind was too tied in knots find it. "What do you think we should do?" I asked finally.


"Let's go to the Sierras," Mom said. "Hopefully there isn't much snow."


"Good plan," I agreed. "But be careful. This snow nonsense sounds like nasty stuff."



We continued driving out of Death Valley through a desert so deserted that the most interesting thing to look at were the shadows of the clouds on the ground. 'Clouds, leaving skidmarks on mountains?' I scoffed as the hum of the car-house made my eyelids heavy. 'I wasn't born yesterday. Obviously clouds make it darker when they fall to earth." Lulled into a sense of safety, I stretched out in the sunspot on the bed and was asleep in no time.


The next thing I knew, the swaying of the car-house pulled me out of my dreams. I opened my eyes to find nothing but sky outside the window. I had to lift my head and sit up to see the land so far below that it looked like a drawing, as if a Witch's mapp fell to earth. The car-house swooped around a bend and rock filled the same window with sky on the other side.


I sloshed back and forth in bed as the car-house twisted its way up the curly road. The spinning made my tummy woozy, as if I were falling rather than being sucked into the sky. This must be what it feels like when the scene twists and melts into a dream sequence.


Either the mountain was very tall or we were flying very slowly, because I had plenty of time to look around and wonder what was going to happen next. I tried to look up and make out where we were going, but the car-house roof blocked my view.


'Well!' I thought, 'After such a flight as this, I shall think nothing of jumping onto a trifling boulder when Mom wants to take my picture. How brave they'll all think me around the dog park. Why, I wouldn't think to brag about it even if I flew on top of a house.'


Up, up, up. Would our flight never end? "I wonder how many miles we've flown by now," I said aloud. "I must be getting somewhere near the clouds by now. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles up, I think—" (for, you see, I had learned several things of this sort from Mom, and though she probably wouldn't be impressed by showing off my knowledge, I still thought it was good practice to say it over.) "Yes. That's about the right distance, but then I wonder what attitude or longitude I've got to?" (I had no idea what longitude was, but thought they were nice words to say.)


Mom tried to look at me in the mirror but the road held her eyes fast. "Why are you talking like that?"


"That's what Alice did when she fell down the rabbit hole," I said. "This is all rather curious, you know. And I'm getting curiouser and curiouser."



The car-house finally stopped twirling and came to rest in a car kennel surrounded by sky. Only the crowns of a few pointy mountains dared reach high enough to join us in the roof of the world. Their points were still dripping with the white smears of all clouds that they'd cut down that winter.


Mom squished down in the driving chair for a better view of the remaining mountain surrounding the car kennel. "Oh dog doo. There's still a lot of snow up here."


"Are you sure we should be here?" I asked as she reached for the door.


"It says it's dog friendly," Mom said, missing my point. "Come on, I hope the trail is clear."


"Clear about what?"


"I just mean that I hope it's not covered in snow."


"What happens when you step on a cloud?" I asked nervously.


"You can't step on a cloud." Mom gave me a weird look. "Clouds may look like solid things, but they're nothing but wet air. You'd fall right through." She picked up the leash and dragged me toward the trail.


We hadn't climbed far when the trail split in two. One direction led toward a peak that was black with rock and bright with sun. The other trail led to the shadowy brightness of a peak covered in the white guts of countless clouds.


"See? I knew it would work out," Mom said with a lift of her chin. "We'll just hike on the sunny side of the peak and it'll be fine. Nature always provides."



Only a few steps down the safe trail, the gnarled fingers of the brush began reaching out to pet me. They patted me in quick swipes at first, then scratched my sides in long strokes that went on for several steps. The trail got narrower and fainter until the bushes on each side joined hands.


"It sure is overgrown," Mom grunted. She took a step that was more like a belly flop into a bush.


"Are you sure that's a trail?" I asked.


"No, I guess not." The bush spit Mom out and she reached down to wipe the ooze of blood from a scrape on her ankle. "But doesn't it seem like there should be a better viewing spot for that waterfall up there?"


I followed where her eyes were pointing. Water gushed clumsily out of a dent in the highest part of the mountain. Yesterday's waterfall looked like a dripping faucet compared to this downpour, which spit an entire monsoon into the sky. This must be the water that came from inside all those clouds that the mountain sliced open. It dawned on me that I was watching a rainstorm in the making.


The Weather Jinx (Mom) marveled at the mighty source of her hapless superpower for a long moment before turning around. "Okay, fine," she she sighed. "I guess we should go the other way."


We arrived back at the fork just in time to see two men walk by with the strangest packs I'd ever seen. Instead of wadded-up sleeping bags or dangling water bottles, these packpacks had planks lashed across them like bones on a jolly roger. The planks were almost as long as the hikers were tall and stuck out over their heads, curling at the end like horns.


"Uh oh, that's not good," Mom said.


"What sort of monstrous beasts were those?" I asked, trying to sound cool despite the bubble of nervousness in my throat.


"They were skiers," Mom said. "You only find skiers where there's a lot of snow."


Ulp.


We followed the horned beasts up the trail toward the glowing white gloom. At first the white stuff stayed back, lurking menacingly in the shady patches under trees. I caught a smell of freezer burn and wet dirt as I crept by.


Just as I was getting used to the feeling of being watched, one of the white patches reached aggressively across the trail. It was still scarred with the bootprint of some poor hiker who tried to fight it. I wondered what became of him as Mom led me over the clawmarks of dribbling water it left on the rock.


Our victory didn't last long. A few steps up the trail, a lump of white almost as tall as Mom leaked out of a grove of trees and oozed across the trail, swallowing the world in a crusty black-and-white static of dirt, whiteness, and pine needles.


I hung back behind Mom so it would eat her first.


She studied the blob for a moment before taking a step. Right away, her foot disappeared into a boot-shaped hole.


"Be careful!" I barked.


"Don't worry. It still seems pretty sturdy." She kicked the white glob a few times with the leg that remained to see if it would wake up. Sparkling flecks flew from the wound, yet the blob just lay there. Mom positioned her toe in the dent she'd made and took a step up.


Nothing happened.


"See?" she said over her shoulder as the first leg reappeared from the whiteness to take another step onto the top of the lump. "It's like walking on regulAAARRRGHHH!"


To my horror, Mom's entire leg disappeared into the cloudy nothingness. It was happening! She was falling through the cloud like a raindrop. I didn't have time to think. I'd need to act quickly if I wanted to save Mom from falling into the sky.


I ran to catch her without a plan for what I'd do next.



By the time I reached Mom, she'd already stopped falling. She sat on the white blob and pulled her leg back to safety.


"Hey, how did you..." I started to ask, until I noticed my own legs standing on top of the white puff. It wasn't like a cloud at all. It held me up like regular dirt, except colder and sparklier.


I lifted up a paw and found a paw-shaped dent in its surface. I sniffed at my palm. It smelled like glitter and freezers. I licked it. It was delicious. I rolled onto my back and ground it into my fur, just to feel it from another angle. When I stood up, there was a perfect Oscarprint.


"Why didn't you tell me dirt could be like this?!" I asked, admiring the fan-shaped tail feathers my wagging tail left on my snow angel. "Have you ever seen anything so wonderful in your entire life?!"


"I have, actually," Mom said, doing her best Squidward impression. "I grew up with snow…"


I shook from head to tail in disbelief. "And you left?! What’s the matter with you?"


"It’s different when you're late for work and it’s sitting on your car and blocking your driveway.”


"You had it at your house?" I blurted. "I would never come in from the potty again!"




Mom stood up, leaving nothing but a clumsy buttprint and a deep rabbit-hole-shaped legprint for the white dirt to remember her by. Her eyes climbed the rest of the slope, which was white all the way to the sky. She sighed. "It's not getting any better, is it?"


"Nope," I agreed. "It doesn't get any better than this."


"We'll be fighting rotten snow with every step."


"What are you calling rotten?" I challenged.


"Okay, let's go back." Mom turned back toward the regular, dark, boring dirt.


"Wait, what? Where are you going?" I lay in sphinx position atop the white dirt so I could touch as much of it as possible while I watched Mom slump away. "There's more white dirt the other way!" I barked after her.


Eventually I figured out that she wasn't coming back. I climbed down from the glittering white dirt to the dull regular dirt and followed her back down the trail, taking a detour into every shady spot where the white dirt remained until there were none left to leave my mark on.


When the trail gave way to the car kennel, I stayed on the dirt and watched Mom walk across the pavement. When she opened the car-house door and no one jumped inside, she looked around, confused. When she saw me, she smiled like you do at a silly child. "Come on. Up-up." She tapped the driving chair.


"I don't wanna. I wanna stay here in heaven forever."


"I know just the thing," Mom said. She opened the car-house's butt door where the fridge was and pulled out a cheese stick. "Mmmmm... I can't wait to eat all these cheese sticks all by myself."


"What do you know about eating cheese?" I asked, taking a step onto the pavement. "You won't be able to figure it out on your own. You'll need someone to demomstrate."


"I bet everyone will be jealous," she said out loud to herself. "I should probably eat it in the van where I have privacy." She walked back to the bedroom door, rustling the package the whole way. "If only I could remember how to open it."


"I'll show you!" I said, taking a flying leap into the car-house. I pushed my snoot as close to her hands as I could get it and the bag burst open, as if by magic.


"Good boy," she said, peeling open a fresh stick and breaking off a piece for me. While I was chewing, she jumped up as quick as a jackrabbit and slammed the door in my face. It was all a trap!


Mom fed me the rest of the cheese stick as she gave instructions to the Witch. Then the car-house rolled out of the car kennel and spun down the twisty road, out of the mystical place where land became sky and back to earth for the last day of our adventure.

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