by Dawn DeBraal
“Who soever believeth in Him shall not perish. But have life everlasting. Amen.” The group of mourners filed around Winnifred C. Cotter’s grave dropping handfuls of dirt on her grave. Chet was the last person in line. For the last several months he had carried his wife’s ashes on their “trip of a lifetime.” They were going to hit every state in the United States, only Winnie ran after their little dog Mr. Squiggles who ran across a four-lane highway. Mr. Squiggles made it, Winnie was hit by a timber truck. It was a lovely ceremony, their daughter Marnie did a wonderful job of making Winnie’s final arrangements.
Marnie and his son Greg picked out a beautiful urn, Winnie would have loved it. Chet was also sad because through the hours of traveling, he talked to Winnie who was on the seat between him and Mr. Squiggles. Chet was determined to at least take her part way on their trip of a lifetime.
After the meal was over, Chet went home to an empty house and a crabby dog. It drove him crazy. He went to the grocery store bright and early the next morning and got some boxes. He packed the things he wanted, and then hired the neighbor boy to help him put some of his furniture in storage. Then he called a realtor.
“Dad! What’s going on?” Marnie came rushing in the front door.
“I’m selling the place. I can’t stand it here. Mr. Squiggles and I are hitting the road again. I am going to die here if I stay put.” Chet could see his daughter start to protest but then give up. She knew he was right.
He gave her the keys to the house. “I am entrusting you to get the best deal you can. I am going to finish my travels.”
“You are right, as always, Dad. I will get you the best deal I can.”
He picked Mr. Squiggles up and put him in the passenger seat. Squiggles growled at him.
“Quiet,” Chet growled back.
“Dad, you’re going now?” Marnie asked. Hitting the road with Mr. Squiggles gave him a sense of wonder, and purpose.
Chet waved as he pulled away from the curb, leaving his old life behind. There were places to see and experiences to be had. He would take this trip with the memory of his wife at his side.
Chet found a place in Minnesota where he camped for a few days. He packed up the campsite heading west. He was going to dump his waste and take off. He pulled into the dumping station lining up his fifth wheel he dropped the hose down the chute and pulled the lever. When he finished cleaning it out, he put the hose back into a storage compartment. Another travel trailer was behind him, so Chet scooted to the truck to get out of their way.
Locked. The damn door on the truck was locked! The motor was running, and Mr. Squiggles was barking and jumping around sounding the stranger danger alarm through the cab.
“Dammit.” Chet searched his pockets. He could see the fob on the dash. Why hadn’t he taken it with him when he left the truck? This wasn’t happening. Mr. Squiggles was locked inside the running truck.
The woman got out from her SUV walking toward them. Chet burned in embarrassment. How could this happen. His other set of keys were in the camper, but the camper key was on the fob sitting on the dash.
“Is there a problem?” Chet put his head against the driver’s door.
“My dog locked me out of the truck, and the other key is locked in the camper.” The woman started to laugh. Chet look down at her. He was holding her up from leaving the campground. He was relieved she was taking is so well.
“He seems to be wary of strangers,” the woman observed.
“Mr. Squiggles hates everyone.” Chet responded. He was thinking which was cheaper to break the window in the camper, or the truck?
“Do you mind if I try?” Chet shrugged his shoulders.
“Can’t hurt.” The woman went back to her car and pulled out a piece of bologna. She came back holding it up to the driver’s side window. Mr. Squiggles went nuts. First barking at her, and then when he heard her call his name he bounced over to the driver’s seat trying to get at the cold cut. His feet moved up and down on the handle and the door unlocked.
“Holy…” Chet grabbed at the door opening it enough to grab Mr. Squiggles. The woman gave him the bologna. “You are a genius!” Chet said relieved. “I won’t be doing that again!” he grabbed his keys pocketing them, he offered his hand.
“Chet Cotter, and I am indebted to you.”
“Madeline Zorn, at your service.” She shook his hand.
“Well, I can’t thank you enough. Safe travels!”
“You too.” As much as he was mad at the dog, Mr. Squiggles did provide comedic relief and company, plus he made a new friend. Madeline Zorn was a smart woman, and he was glad to have met her.
The leaves were almost done turning when he reached South Dakota. Chet thought he should head for winter warmth soon. Another week or two snow would be coming, and he didn’t want to haul this big rig in the snow.
He parked the rig in a touristy campground complete with a store and a pool. At least it wasn’t overly crowded, the kids were back in school. Chet leveled his fifth wheel and set up the camp site. He would be spending two nights here. He pulled out the tourism brochures and placed a few phone calls and found a vacant site, the last one in Arizona. Though Chet did not like to winter in a crowded area, there was nothing he could do about it, he’d run out of time. Once there he could seek out a private campground, but for now he was at the mercy of the last opening.
Chet was packed up ready to go. Where was Mr. Squiggles? Chet put his fingers to his mouth and whistled an ear shrilling whistle.
Confound it, where was that dog? He wanted to get as far as he could by nightfall. He had over fourteen hundred miles to cover. Mr. Squiggle’s was thirteen years old. How far could he go? Normally the dog vacillated between sloth like moves to bouncing off the walls. There was no in between. Chet regretted not putting him in the camper when he started picking up. Mr. Squiggles instinctually knew they would be traveling a distance today. Maybe he wanted to stretch his legs before they left?
The little four-wheeler went by, the Park Ranger nodded to Chet, removing the reserve sticker, making his site fair game. Chet had a sinking feeling as he flagged the ranger down.
“Have you seen a little scruffy dog? He just disappeared.”
“You know that the rules state, dogs have to be on a leash in the park.” Chet was in no mood for the speech.
“Yes, the dog is thirteen. He has sloth-like reflexes. My mistake. Is there somewhere I can inquire?
“I suppose you can go to the main office and report him missing. That will result in a fine.”
“I don’t care about a fine. I just want to find my dog.” Chet gave the ranger the stink-eye.
“Well good luck.” The ranger went to the next campsite. Chet looked at his wristwatch. He still had an hour before checkout. Perhaps he could use something to draw the dog in. He hadn’t doused the campfire yet. Chet got out the cast iron frying pan and put some bacon in it and put it over the fire. He might as well eat breakfast while waiting. He made some toast and cracked an egg in the pan.
What if Mr.Squiggles went off to die? He’d heard of that. Old dogs wandering off so that they don’t die by their owners. Chet made himself a bacon and egg sandwich. He pulled out a piece of bacon while he looked around for the dog, resenting him with each passing minute.
If he drove to the main office, would Mr. Squiggles find him? Perhaps he should just pull out on the side of the trail, so when the dog came back, he’d find Chet not far from where he’d left him. Chet cleaned up the site, doused the fire all the while swearing at the little dog who both exasperated him and kept him company.
He opened the truck. There on the seat, slept Mr. Squiggles. He must have jumped in the truck when Chet was hooking up the fifth wheel.
“Mr. Squiggles!” Chet exclaimed. The dog barely looked up at him, stretched and smelled the bacon. His long tail wagged slowly back and forth like a flag of surrender. Chet gave him the leftover piece.
They pulled out of the camp site. Mr. Squiggles still licking on the piece of bacon like it was a prize.
“I almost left you back there.” Mr. Squiggles looked up at Chet and growled. He did not like the attention Chet directed at him.
“Quiet!” Chet barked back. They stopped every three hours for Chet to stretch his legs and Mr. Squiggles to do his job and sniff every stinking blade of grass and mark his territory. How could a little dog have so much piss? Chet marveled. They pulled off into an over night camp sight that was just a field with an electrical outlet. They only charged ten bucks a night. Nothing fancy. Chet was just glad to get off the road and sleep.
He climbed into his bed for the night. Mr. Squiggles jumped in next to him circling until he found the perfect spot in the middle of the bed. The dog was a bed hog. Chet sighed, but he was glad for the company. Soon Mr. Squiggles breathing was deep and even. Chet tried to match the dog’s exhalations, as he put himself to sleep.
Chet reached the halfway point to Tucson and stopped for gas, he looked for another cheap campsite, but didn’t find anything open.
“Looks like we’re staying in a motel tonight.” Mr. Squiggles long tail hit the seat like he understood what Chet was saying. It might be a nice change of pace. When it grew dark Chet found a motel with a large parking lot where he could turn around and face the highway. Tomorrow he could drive straight out of the parking lot. He checked in and came back with Mr. Squiggles walking him in the grassy area.
“You cost me ten dollars you little mut.” Mr. Squiggles barked in response. Chet laughed. The dog had a personality, that’s for sure. When they came through the revolving door in the lobby, the woman behind the counter stepped out.
“What a cute dog.” Mr. Squiggles growled.
“Oh, my.” She stepped behind the safety of the front desk. Chet reprimanded Mr.Squiggles.
“Sorry, he’s crabby like his owner,” Chet joked. The room was a typical motel room, bad art on the walls. Chet took out his microwave dinner and Mr. Squiggles’ dog food. He set up a water dish and they made themselves at home. Chet called his children and they talked for a while. He told his kids he was fine, and they laughed about Mr. Squiggles locking himself in the truck and falling asleep in the truck and the inconvenience he’d put his partner through.
“Dad, just think of how lonely you would be if he weren’t with you.” Marnie laughed. Chet talked to his grandkids and bid everyone good night.
The light went off, as did the television. Mr. Squiggles jumped on the bed circled around until he found the exact center of the bed and lay down. Chet rolled his eyes in the dark. At least the dog knew what he wanted.
He sat up straight in bed. A fight! Where was he? A woman screaming. Chet went to the door trying to see out the peep hole. The man was pushing a woman around in the hall. Chet dialed 9 1 1.
“I’m at the Wayfarer a man is accosting a woman in the hall,” he hung up and pulled the door open leaving the chain in place.
“I’ve called the cops, you’d better scram.” The guy looked up. He ran to the door and punched it. Mr. Squiggles growled squeezing through the small opening and ran after the bad man who took off down the hall.
Chet opened the door, “Are you alright?”
“Yes, thank you for getting involved,” she pushed her hair out of her eyes. She wasn’t much older than his daughter.
“I have to get my dog.” Chet trotted to the lobby. Mr. Squiggles had run through the circular door and out into the parking lot. He was chasing the man. Chet called Mr. Squiggles just as the police showed up. They drew their guns.
“I have to get my dog!” Chet shouted. The officer put the man in handcuffs. Mr. Squiggles was still biting the cuff of his pantleg.
“That’s one heck of a dog.” The cop laughed. Mr. Squiggles did not want to stand down. Chet scooped him up and carried him back into the lobby.
“I’m sorry sir, your dog must be on leash in the public areas.”
“Seriously? This dog just saved a woman’s life. She was being attacked in your hotel, and he chased the man off. The police are hauling him away right now.”
“Oh, I am so sorry. Is the woman alright?” The desk clerk asked.
“You’ll have to ask her that.” Chet stomped down the hall. But he was proud of Mr. Squiggles, he was an amazing little dog. He was small but he had the heart of a lion.
Chet put Mr. Squiggles on a leash and walked him through the lobby. He was ready to check out of the motel.
“There he is!” The woman from last night pointed Chet out. Chet was confused, was she accusing him of accosting her?
“Sir, what’s the dog’s name, Miss Gina LaFlot claims you and this dog saved her life last night.” He pushed the microphone in Chet’s face.
“Gina LaFlot, the Gina LaFlot?” She was a daytime television star who happened to stop at the same motel he had when a man attacked her.
“Yes sir, the Gina LaFlot. Mr. Squiggles barked. Chet picked him up. “What’s the dog’s name?”
“Mr. Squiggles.” the reporter laughed.
“There you have it, Gina LaFlot was rescued last night by a little dog named Mr. Squiggles.” He held the microphone up to Mr. Squiggles who bared his teeth. Chet asked the man to take the microphone away. He told the reporter he called the police and opened the door to tell the man to stop and his dog ran through the chain opening and chased the perpetrator into the parking lot where he was caught by the police. “Now if you will let me go, I am checking out and leaving.” Chet tossed his key card on the front desk.
“Goodbye Mr. Squiggles,” the clerk called after them. This made Chet laugh.
“I would like to thank you for getting involved, Mr. Chet.” Chet told the daytime star that that was quite alright, all in a days work. He was glad they could help her.
Chet finished walking Mr. Squiggles and they turned out onto the highway.
“Well, Mr. Squiggles, I got to hand it to you. It’s another adventure you got me into.” Chet went to scratch his head. The dog growled. Chet rolled his eyes.
They made it to the Tucson campground the next day. Everyone knew who Chet and Mr. Squiggles were. They were experiencing their fifteen minutes of fame. As he signed in, he watched the reporter try to interview Mr. Squiggles and that was pretty funny.
Chet put the camper into the parking spot. It was a nice spot for being the last one available. Out of the way. Most people wanted to be near the clubhouse and the action. Not him. He opened the door, and Mr. Squiggles took off.
“Dammit.” He cursed the dog trying to catch up with him. He went to the neighbor’s site.
Mr. Squiggles was sitting next to the woman who had a hotdog in her hand.
“Madeline Zorn?” he said incredulously.
“Chet, and Mr. Squiggles.” She laughed. “I have some famous neighbors for the winter. How exciting!” she smiled at Chet. He grinned like a fool. Yes, this was going to be an interesting winter.
About the author
Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rescue dogs and a stray cat. She has discovered the love of telling a good story. Her works have been published in several online magazines and anthologies. She loves writing short stories, poems, and songs.