Sci-Fi Fantasy YA Novel, copyright 2020 Zoe Zuniga
The present New York City: Central Park
The audio feed from Paisley Sage: “We are getting ready to hear Steiff Peaceful-Tail read from his memoirs. Steiff is a much-loved Shaman leader from Spirit Wolf Native American Reservation. The place is packed. With his blond to fluffy white fur and his wise eyes and lion’s mane, Steiff is such an unassuming and modest dog. He takes his place on the stage and sits calm and still for a moment before he begins to read from his slate.”
Chapter 38: Steiff Peaceful-Tail: Run Away
I come from the humblest of origins; I was born and raised on a small ranch in Nogales, New Mexico. My human was very unenlightened and used to beat me when he was drunk. So, when I saw a story on TV about the Spirit Dog and Wolf reservation up in Montana, I knew I had to go there. Spirit Wolf is a place where dogs and wolves run free together, hunt together, and live in harmony with nature and are close with a tribe of Native American humans.
I had only a vague idea where Montana was, but I knew it was north, so I just squeezed out by breaking through the screen door when my master was too drunk to hear. I got on the highway early in the morning before my human woke up, and started walking. I decided to run away in late September, which was lucky because as you can see I am a profoundly furry creature and the heat of the summer would have made it hard to travel.
The first day I started on my trip, I met a flock of crows who asked me where I was heading and told me which highway to take to get started. They stayed with me until I got my first ride, telling me all about this famous Isaac Crow who had started this ecovillage and church. When I got a ride, they flew off on their own pilgrimage to the Church of Crow in California.
I got my first ride with a very nice older couple. They took me all the way to Santa Fe and so I got through Albuquerque without any problem. Then a trucker picked me up, and I napped in his bunk until just outside of Taos New Mexico. In Taos, I came upon an old woman walking slowly along the side of the road. From the back, I noticed she had white hair braided in haphazard pigtails, one over each ear.
On top of that, she wore a chewed-up straw hat. She was dressed in a long gown of dark denim with a plaid shirt under it. Her pace was slow but steady and strong. I noticed her worn sneakers. She was definitely a walker.
As I came alongside, I slowed my pace to walk beside her. From the side, she had a hawk nose and looked like one of those dried apple-head dolls or maybe a witch. She smelled ok, like wood smoke and coffee, but I was not sure I should have slowed down. I was about to speed ahead and ignore her when she turned and looked down at me and smiled. Suddenly her wrinkled face was sweet and toothless. “Well hello there, Doggy!” She said in a youthful pleasant voice with a little lisp. “Where are you heading on this lovely day?”
“I am going to Montana to join Spirit Wolf Reservation,” I explained. “They share a piece of land with some Native American humans…”
“Oh yes,” She nodded vigorously. “I’ve heard all about it! It sounds like a wonderful place for a dog to go! Wow, that’s a long way to travel. Where are you coming from?”
“I come from Nogales…”
“Your hitchhiking alone I take it?” she asked, adjusting a worn canvas handbag on her shoulder.
“Well yes, I just had to get out. Things were no good at home.” I told her.
“I understand.” Her worn face turned serious. “Listen, be careful of the anti-freedom gangs. These people are still running rampant in the heartland of this country. They have shotguns and pickup trucks and the whole shebang. They still think it’s 1950.”
I chuckled “True; there are a lot of throwbacks. What about you? What are you doing hitching alone?”
“Oh, Me? Everybody in Taos knows me.” She put a hand to her chest in mock self-importance. “I don’t drive, and they discontinued the senior shuttle service. I go into town once a week to pick up supplies and get more books from the library. She hefted the canvas bag to show how full it was. “Humans are pretty safe around here. As long as you don’t stray out into the wilderness, you won’t get eaten by a mountain lion…” She turned and offered her hand leaning over at the waist, “Joanne Forman: playwright, composer, and local eccentric, at your service.”
I sat down facing her lifting my right paw to her right hand. “I am Steiff, Steiff Peaceful-Tail, simple, outdoorsy guy at your service.” That was the first time I gave myself the last name ‘Peaceful-Tail.’ It sounded vaguely Native American, and I knew I would probably be called politically incorrect for using it, but I liked it. I don’t really know how it came to me, but it just felt right.
“Listen, Steiff Peaceful-Tail, why not come on over to my place for lunch and you can tell me all about Spirit Wolf Reservation.”
I chuckled “Don’t mind if I do.” We heard a car coming from behind us, and we both turned and faced it with big friendly grins on our faces. Joanne stuck her thumb out and made a little hooking motion in the direction we were heading.
“Oh good, I know this guy,” she said. “Bert, he’s right-wing, but if we keep on our best behavior and don’t ruffle his feathers, he’ll drive us all the way to my front door. Just talk about benign stuff like the weather. No politics!”
“Got it!” I said and jumped in the back seat as Joanne opened the passenger door for me.
“Hi, Bert. How are the grandkids?” She said sweetly.
The composer lived in a humble little cottage with no running water. It had a peach tree growing out front and was overgrown with weeds all around. Old car parts peeked through the undergrowth. She had a piano and lots of books. Many wild animals lived around her and they kept her company.
After we had lunch of salad, fruit, and some tofu she had been saving, the old woman played one of her latest compositions for me. It was beautiful and poignant. Her voice was weak and shaky and the piano was old and out of tune, but the beauty of her work still came through. The old woman insisted I stay the night and would not let me hitch alone in the dark. The next morning, we hitchhiked back into town where she bought me a ticket all the way to Butte Montana on the greyhound bus.
“Now listen Steiff, I want you to call me if you run into trouble. I put my number in your bag.” She adjusted the doggy pack on my back, so it was straight. She had packed me a lunch of leftovers and fruit. “There are a lot of crazies out there, so be careful.”
I nodded. “You have been so very kind to me. I’ll be fine. I can’t thank you enough.” I said, wagging my tail in gratitude.
“There’s a sandwich in the pack and something for a hotel if you have trouble once you reach Butte.” She gave me a gentle pat on the head.
I’ll call you as soon as I get there.” I said.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait till after my Choral performance? I could take the bus up there with you. Montana is pretty, and I don’t mind taking the time.”
“No, no, you have done more than enough for me already.” I insisted.
She hugged me, and we twined necks, and then I climbed up onto the Greyhound bus and found my way to a seat.
“Will you make sure he gets enough water and has his lunch?” I heard Joanne whisper to the bus driver. The driver nodded at the little old woman in the shawl and then winked at me in the rearview mirror as he closed the door.