Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 31 The L.A.S.E.R. Room

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 31 The L.A.S.E.R. Room

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 31 The L.A.S.E.R. Room

“Did you ever find out what in the world Harley’s building over at her Brownstone?” Roper asked Harry.

He was sitting behind his desk flipping through a catalog of fabric swatches the day after the party.

Harry nodded briskly. “Yes, Sir, I did. I went over there the other day as you asked, Sir. She took me into the basement addition she’s putting in to create enough space for her new bionic hippo, Sir. You met him yesterday at the adoption party, remember?”

“Oh yes,” Roper said. “I do remember. Unusual looking fellow, wasn’t he? But I thought she was getting a horse. I distinctly remember her telling me she was adopting a horse.”

“Well, Sir,” Harry began cautiously. “She referred to him as a water horse, but -”

Roper paled and reached convulsively for his ever-present glass of mole waters. “Water horse?” he whispered.

“Now, Sir,” Harry spoke quickly. “Sir, you remember we talked about this? A water horse is just a very snooty way of referring to a hippopotamus. Harley adopted a bionic hippopotamus, Sir. Not a water creature … completely,” Harry murmured the last bit so quietly that Roper couldn’t hear clearly.

“No water?” he asked.

“No, Sir, no water,” Harry answered blandly, not even a little bothered by the lie.

“Oh, well,” Roper said, considerably calmer. “That’s good. You had me scared there for a minute, Harry,” he chuckled. “I wouldn’t have put it past Harley to try and sneak in some sort of swimming hole or some other thing having to do with – well, you know …” he trailed off and took another sip of his drink.

“She thinks I overreact to danger, although I can’t imagine why,” he said confidentially. “I believe strongly, as you know, Harry, in being 110% prepared 110% of the time. And as I’ve said many, many times … danger is dangerous and it lurks in every corner.”

After another healthy sip of his drink, Roper continued, “Harley’s much too careless regarding matters of safety. Don’t you remember when she suggested pulling up the carpet in the streets at last month’s Council meeting? I mean, that would be terrible – cars speeding along over 4 miles per hour, careening around corners, screeching tires! And suppose there was an accident? Suppose you needed to get out of your car suddenly and had to step out on bare cement??” He shuddered dramatically. “Can you imagine anything more dangerous than cold paws on a hard surface, Harry?”

Harry shook his head solemnly. “No, Sir. Certainly not, Sir. Cold, hard surfaces are clearly listed in your Decree of Most Dangerous Things, Sir. I believe they fall in between venomous insects and hot beverages, Sir.”

“Exactly!” Roper cried. “Harley is known to be reckless and unconcerned with not only her own safety, but the safety of everyone else. You just cannot be too careful when it comes to safety. Am I right, Harry?”

“You’re certainly correct, Sir.”

“So. What is she building to “accommodate” her new bionic hippo horse thing?” Roper asked. “Some sort of cage with hay or one of those clear tube thingies people put around the ceiling?”

“You mean a hamster run, Sir?”

“Sure, sure, a hamster run,” Roper replied, absently flipping through fabric swatches again.

“Harry, do you think this color of red velvet would clash with my gleaming butterscotch pelt?” He pointed to a swatch.

“Uh, no Sir, definitely not, Sir. Red is a very good color for you, Sir. Powerful.” Harry glanced at the fabric sample then tried to steer the conversation back on track.

“Well, Sir, with regards to Harley’s addition …” Harry paused, thinking of the right way to word his response. “Well, Sir, it’s really more of a garden-like setting, Sir. No water, of course,” he lied quickly, “but very bright lights – she’s installed Solar Tubes that let sunlight come directly in while keeping air, weather, nature, and the like out, Sir.”

Roper looked up sharply from his swatches. “Bright lights?” he shrieked. “Solar Tubes?” He reached for the glass of mole waters. “What in the world is she thinking? We can’t have sunlight in the Under Dome! It might cause widespread panic and blindness! We could have some sort of skin dissolving epidemic on our paws!”

Harry tried to soothe Roper by saying, “Sir, I’ve been assured by both Harley and her engineers – one of your own Architectural Engineering Vole Squads, Sir – that no sunlight will ever leach out into Greater Under Dome, Sir. It will be completely contained within this …” Harry tried to recall the name Harley had used. “… this ‘Laser Facility’, as Harley calls it, Sir.”

That did not have the effect on Roper Harry had hoped. His eyes bugged out and he began to pant in fear. “Laser Facility???” He began to chant about deep shallow breaths and swoon in his chair.

Harry struggled to think. “Yes, Sir,” he said crisply. “A L.A.S.E.R. Facility – it stands for ‘Long Awaited Spot (for) Everyone (to) Relax’, Sir. It’s an acronym.”

“An acronym?” Roper asked tremulously. “What’s that, Harry? I thought she was getting a hippo!”

Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes and answered patiently, “An acronym is an abbreviation – a word that is formed from the initials or parts of other words. Like T.E.N., Sir. It stands for The Under Dome Emergency Network. Do you understand, Sir?”

“Oh.” Roper visibly relaxed. “I do understand. That was a very gentle and clear explanation, Harry. Thank you. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, Harry, Harley has built some sort of botanical jungle room for her hippo horse and it’s completely water-free?”

“Yes, Sir. You are completely correct, Sir. No water of any sort involved, Sir. Completely safe and waterless, Sir. Just plants and light and a juice bar,” Harry confirmed.

“Ooooh,” Roper clapped his paws together. “She’s added a juice bar? I just love juice! Maybe I should go and visit her – see what this thing is all like?”

“Uh, Sir, have you forgotten about the Solar Tubes, Sir? You wouldn’t want to accidentally get sunlight on your pelt, Sir.”

“Oh,” Roper said, “You’re quite right, Harry. That wouldn’t be good at all. And since sunlight is dangerous, well, you know how I feel about danger, Harry. Perhaps I’ll just send her a nice card and a fruit basket or something.”

“Yes, Sir,” Harry sounded relieved. “I think that would be most wise, Sir.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 30 Welcome Home Mandrake

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 30 Welcome Home Mandrake

After several awkward moments following Harley’s unorthodox speech, the group filed quietly into the Brownstone, where, in their absence, caterers from the Southside Cafe had set out a buffet of food in the dining room. Harley directed everyone to change out of their ‘going somewhere’ clothes and then gather in the dining room.  A Welcome Home Mandrake party was in progress, with guests from all over the Under Dome in attendance.  Everyone was excited to meet Mandrake … and find out what he actually was.

The dining room table was laden with an array of sumptuous foods, and additional tables had been brought in to hold even more. Harley’s instructions to the caterers has been explicit: “If it’s made from cheese, meat, or gravy – I want it.” Consequently an endless supply of rich, cheesy dishes was laid out over one entire table. There were cheese sauced Brussels sprouts and several different versions of macaroni and cheese. A copper fondue pot bubbling with white cheddar surrounded by cubed bread, chopped vegetables and crispy tater tots sat in the center of the table next to a tall cup filled with long wooden stiicks. A second table held platters of deli-style meats, cubes of ham, kabobs of chicken, jerky, and colorfully wrapped meat sticks. Both of these tables were cordoned off with red braid attached to brass poles and marked with signs declaring, “No Buffaloes Admitted.”

Another table boasted a gravy fountain, gravy punch in a decorative bowl, gravy shooters, sparkling gravy, and a gravy keg that was just being tapped.

And yet another, significantly smaller, table was filled with vegetable trays, colorful vegetable and fruit juices in tall glasses with fancy straws, fruit platters, fruit and vegetable kabobs, grilled vegetables and a large beverage dispenser filled with what appeared to be wheat grass juice. Gordy and Prescott moved in that direction and both filled glasses with the thick green liquid, gulping it quickly before swiping hooves across their mouths.

Harley surveyed the room and nodded in satisfaction. “This is great!” she enthused. “Just what I asked for.”

Looking around, she noticed Mandrake and B.H. hovering at the cheese table. Mandrake was pointing at one of the macaroni and cheese casseroles and B.H. seemed to be explaining something to him. Mandrake shyly put a small amount of casserole on a plate. B.H. handed him a fork and the young hippo timidly took a tiny bite. Suddenly, his face split into a wide toothy grin and he began to quickly shovel the remaining macaroni and cheese into his mouth. When he was finished, he helped himself to larger portions of the other varieties of casseroles on the table. After watching his clear enjoyment of the fare for a few minutes, Harley turned her attention to her own growling stomach.

She moved from table to table, filling her plate, sampling the offerings as she went. The thought crossed her mind that she should be paying more attention to her guests, but that was quickly dismissed upon her discovery of tiny grilled cheese sandwiches. After her initial pass was complete, she took a moment to survey the crowded room.

Roper, Fluffy and the children had arrived at some point. Roper was surreptitiously sipping from a flask he pulled out of his jacket pocket, all the while glancing furtively at Fluffy, as though he was afraid she would notice. Meanwhile, Fluffy herded the children around the various tables, putting food on their plates and continually cautioning them to hold the plates steady. When at last they had all they wanted, she scooted them out the door onto the back patio where the Southside Cafe Catering Company had set up tables and benches. Once she had settled the children, Fluffy returned to the dining room, filled her own plate efficiently and quickly and, with a slightly disgusted look in Roper’s direction, joined the children at their table.

Some of B.H.’s friends and their parents were there, as well. They spent a few minutes making small talk with Harry, then introduced themselves to Mandrake, congratulated B.H. and moved on to partake of the bountiful buffet.

Harley, munching on a cheese covered little cabbage, watched with amusement as Harry tried to talk Roper out of his little flask. Finally, after Roper had snatched it back for the third time and hidden it deep inside the pocket of his dark purple blazer, Harry shook his head and began to fill a plate for himself.

B.H. suddenly appeared at her side, tugging gently at her leg.

“Hello, B.H.,” she said, swallowing the bite in her mouth. “Are you having a good time?”

B.H. nodded vigorously.

“It’s a nice party, isn’t it?” Harley agreed.

B.H. nodded again.

“Is Mandrake enjoying himself?” she asked.

B.H. nodded and looked over at Mandrake, who was still standing beside the cheese table.  He waved, and Mandrake waved back.

Harley followed his gaze. “So, I guess Mandrake likes the macaroni and cheese, then?”

B.H. giggled and pantomimed eating with great gusto.

“Well, that’s fine.” Harley nodded. “That’s just fine. He’s going to fit in great, isn’t he, B.H.?”

B.H. nodded once more and then scampered off to join Mandrake. When he touched Mandrake’s hoof, the hippo glanced down, smiled, and continued to eat happily.

The party began to wind down and guests left a few at a time. It was, after all, a work day in The Under Dome, and many had come only for a few minutes over their lunch break. Most wanted to get a good look at this new Water Horse creature Harley had brought to live among them. And all had enjoyed the free food.

As Fluffy carried, steered, and drug her children towards the door, Roper followed behind looking everywhere but at Fluffy, who was casting pointed and irritated looks at him. Seeing that Fluffy needed assistance, Harley stepped in and picked one of her nephews up and took the hand of a niece. She led them out onto the front porch, chatting with Fluffy.

“He’s not much into paws-on parenting, is he?” she asked her sister-in-law.

Fluffy growled and glared over her shoulder at Roper, who had now stopped in front of the mirror by the door, and was preening.

“I’ll be honest,” Harley confided, helping the children into their car seats, “if it weren’t for those boy-parts he flashes every chance he gets, I’d swear he was a female.”

Harley heard Fluffy’s snort of laughter, then saw her quickly cover her snout with her paw. She tried to level a stern look of reprimand at Harley, but failed completely and let a giggle spill out. Shaking her head, Fluffy continued to buckle the quadruplets into their seats, then turned to make sure the twins were also fastened in safely.

Turning, Fluffy let out a shrill whistle, which made Roper turn abruptly from his primping. Seeing Fluffy standing by the passenger filled Vole-Vo station wagon he rushed down the porch steps and across the lawn.

While Fluffy situated herself into the passenger seat, Roper addressed Harley.

“Thank you for inviting us to your little party, Harley,” he said politely. “Even though I don’t know what a Water Horse is and despite the fact that you didn’t bother to put out any of the foods I like to eat, it was quite festive. I guess. I think twinkle lights, some glittery party hats and maybe some of those fancy paper lanterns would have added some pizazz, though. But, whatever. I think Fluffy had a good time and maybe that will translate into some log time for me later. I’ll have to let you know about that.” He got into the driver’s seat of the car and roared away down the street, narrowly missing the mailbox on the corner.

“Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t let me know about that,” Harley muttered to no one in particular. Then she turned and went back into the house to oversee the clean up. And make sure that no food was thrown away.

She reentered the dining room just in time to hear Gordy and Prescott direct the caterers to load out all the leftover meat and cheese trays and disassemble the gravy fountain.

“What?!” she said, rushing forward. “No! No, no, no, no,” she said, snatching trays from the paws of the vole staff. “These things are to be left here,” she said firmly. “I paid for this food and I don’t want to waste any of it.”

Prescott snuffled loudly.

“I don’t care what you say, you-you-you Buffalo!” she sputtered. “This is my party! Well, mine and Mandrake’s party. And B.H.’s. It’s our party and we’ll keep this food if we want. Which we do!” She moved to stand between the Buffaloes and the tables.

Both Buffaloes snuffled again, louder.

“Huh uh!” Harley growled. “I’d be willing to donate some of the food to one of the homeless vole shelters down town, but I will not recycle a bit of it. Unless by recycle, you mean put it in my snout.”

Gordy shook his shaggy hump. Prescott snuffled again, but softly.

“Fine,” Harley said, then turned to the caterers, who were standing well away from the fracas of the bison/dachshund argument. Stories about their ‘disagreements’ were legendary around town and the voles on staff at the Southside Cafe were well aware of Harley’s feelings towards food.

Harley spoke to the service manager. “I want all the vegetable trays, fruit and vegetable juices and that wheat grass juice loaded into your trucks and taken directly to the Home for Homeless Voles and Moles over on Butterscotch Circle.” She ignored the loud snuffle and huffing from the Buffaloes and continued. “Take all the leftover desserts down to the wiffle ball diamond and let the Brown Dogs little league team sell them as concessions at their game this afternoon.”

She looked smugly at Gordy and Prescott. “All those yummy veggies will provide very nutritious meals for those poor homeless voles and moles. And think of all the money that will be raised for those sweet little kids through selling concessions. Maybe they can even afford to buy wiffle bats for next season so they don’t have to use breadsticks anymore.” Satisfied that her orders would be followed, she left the room, swishing her tail at the Buffaloes on her way out.

She wanted to know if Mandrake and B.H. had had fun at their party, so she began to look for them. They weren’t in the family room, the kitchen, or down in the new water park arena. Walking back upstairs, she heard laughter and what sounded like mooing coming from B.H.’s room.

The door to was slightly ajar. She paused outside, listening for a few minutes before carefully peeking in. She saw B.H. perched on a chair talking animatedly. Shifting slightly she was able to see Mandrake, sitting on the bottom bunk eating something.

She knocked lightly, grabbing B.H.’s attention. “Can I come in?” she asked.

B.H. nodded and leaped up from his seat to rush over and open the door all the way.

“So,” Harley began, looking from B.H. to Mandrake. “Did you have a good time at the party?”

B.H. nodded eagerly and began to chatter excitedly about all the fun he’d had, the food he’d eaten and the people he’d met. Mandrake didn’t look up from his snack, but grunted and snorted occasionally.

Harley tried engaging Mandrake in the conversation again. “So, Mandrake, I see that you liked the food. What was your favorite thing?”

Mandrake glanced up briefly before returning his attention to the container he was dipping food from. He grunted again.

“Oh,” Harley nodded. “The macaroni and cheese. Yes, I thought that was tasty, too. You know, Mandrake, macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite foods as well.”

When Mandrake didn’t respond, only continued to spoon food into his mouth, Harley sighed. Maybe she and Mandrake weren’t going to be as close as she’d hoped.

Her shoulders sagging sadly, she stood up. “Well, I’ll leave you two to your snacks and conversation. Maybe later we could watch a movie together in the family room? Mandrake, have you ever heard of Mary Lou Retton?” she asked as she walked toward the door.

Mandrake’s head snapped up and he grunted loudly.

“Yes, I think she’s pretty amazing, too,” Harley said, feeling better. “Let’s watch her Olympic Gold Medal winning performance on the vault together after supper, okay? I know B.H. likes that video a lot.”

Mandrake grinned suddenly, his mouth full of macaroni. B.H. laughed excitedly and began to chatter to Mandrake about his Mary Lou Retton t-shirt. Harley was smiling, too, as she left the room.

“I need to see if Jose has enough time between now and supper to make a bionic hippo sized Official 1984 Olympics Gymnastics Team Warm Up Suit replica,” she planned out loud. “After all, we can’t have Mandrake feeling left out when the rest of the family suits up for a Retton-Fest.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 29 Adoption Day Part Two

The ride home was a little tense and a lot crowded. Mandrake, the bionic water horse, was uncomfortably wedged into the third row seat of the van. The seatbelt wasn’t quite long enough to latch around his substantial middle, so Harley was laying on her back in the seat next to him, holding the buckle-end of the extended belt as tightly as she could. Her hind feet were braced against the side of the van, her front legs extended over the top of her head as though trying to execute a lateral pull down with the seatbelt. The strain of exertion was beginning to make her cranky.

“Are we about home?” she demanded, sounding slightly out of breath. “I’m not sure how much longer I can hold this belt in place.”

Gordy turned around from his position in the front seat and snuffled loudly.

“Well, that’s good,” Harley panted. “My legs aren’t long enough to have the proper leverage for this kind of activity. Also, I’ve got an itch on my snout but if I let go with one paw the ricochet of this seatbelt might kill someone.”

Mandrake reached over and gently scratched Harley’s snout with his hoof.

Harley started, then realized what he was doing and relaxed slightly. “Why thank you, Mandrake,” she said. “What a thoughtful young hippo you are!”

Mandrake smiled shyly.

B.H. turned around in his car seat to grin at Mandrake. Then he began to chatter away, telling Mandrake about the Brownstone, his room and how much fun they were going to have once they got home.

The van pulled to a stop in front of the Brownstone and Harley let go of the seatbelt. It zinged out of her grasp with lightning speed, arcing wildly toward Mandrake’s head.

“Look out!” Harley shouted, scrambling into a sitting position.

Mandrake turned his head sharply to look at her. As he did, the belt zipped by, narrowly missing his ear. He heard the whine of the fast-retracting belt, felt the wind rush by the side of his head and squeaked in alarm.

Harley leaped into his lap and began patting him on the head, face and shoulders. “It’s okay,” she murmured. “There, there, it’s all okay. You’re safe and loved and there’s no reason for you to become a cutter.”

Mandrake looked at her with big eyes, blinking slowly. He nodded, then awkwardly patted her on the head with his hoof. He snorted softly, indicating that he wanted out of the van.

“Okay, everyone,” Harley demanded loudly, “get out of the way. Traumatized hippo here! Make some room before he starts cutting!” She all but pushed Mandrake from the van.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the Brownstone, Harley observed Mandrake carefully, looking for any signs that he might be feeling emotional distress. Satisfied that he seemed calm and happy, she took his hoof in one of her paws and B.H.’s small paw in the other.

“I feel like we should say a few words since this is such a special occasion,” she said. “Anyone want to, I don’t know … do that?”

Prescott and Gordy both turned away uncomfortably, snuffling and shaking their humps. B.H. whispered something too quietly for Harley to hear then looked intently at his cowboy boots. Mandrake gazed down at her, expectantly.

“Okay, then,” she muttered, “I guess I’ll say something.”

She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, then said dramatically, “Today, we welcome Mandrake into our family. We are a diverse and multi-cultural tribe of indigenous nomads who have come together to create an intricate and aerodynamic nation.” She paused as though collecting her thoughts, not noticing the odd looks she was getting from the group. She continued speaking, warming to her task. “Though we have many differences, we are one in spirit. As my Native American Dachshund ancestors believed, I, too, believe that we are all endowed with the gift of gab, the ability to come together as a family and pursue warm gravy. On this day, we bring Mandrake, a bionic water horse, into our family. Welcome, Mandrake. We are proud and glad to receive you into our clan. May your life with us be fulfilling and abundant and may you not become a cutter. Amen.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 28

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 28

Adoption Day had finally arrived and Harley, Gordy and Prescott were having a difficult time keeping B.H. calm. He had leaped out of bed at 5:20 a.m. and raced into Harley’s room. He’d proceeded to jump on her bed, shaking her out of a sound sleep, which had not pleased Harley in the least. After shooing him back to his own room she’d tried to get a little more sleep, but found it difficult to reclaim the totally relaxed state of rest she’d been experiencing.

When she finally gave up on sleep and trudged slowly into the kitchen for a mug of gravy, she had found Gordy and Prescott, each of them in a similar state of bleary-eyed exhaustion. From their snuffling and hump shaking, she determined that B.H. had visited his overwhelming excitement on them, as well.

Now, after she had finally managed to settle B.H. enough to eat some breakfast and brush his teeth, she was trying to wrangle him into his ‘going somewhere’ clothes so she could comb his hair. “Darn it, B.H.,” she said crossly, “hold still. I can’t tie your shoes if you keep wiggling and jiggling around so much.”

B.H. ceased his fidgeting briefly, but was soon overcome with excitement again and he began to squirm and bounce, chattering about how much fun the new hippo was going to be and how much he was looking forward to having a playmate.

Exasperated, Harley jerked off the still untied sneakers and went to B.H.’s closet. “Here,” she said, turning back to the vole. “Wear your cowboy boots. Then I won’t have to fight with you over tying your shoes anymore.” B.H. happily pulled on the bright blue boots, all the while continuing his happy jabbering.

After several minutes of dodging and ducking, B.H. finally held still just long enough for Harley to swipe a brush over his head. The vole’s fine hair went smooth for a short minute before springing back up in an unruly looking wave over his forehead. “This darned vole-lick of yours won’t lay down, B.H.,” she muttered, trying to smooth it down again with first the brush, then her paw. Finally, she sighed. “I think that’s as good as it’s going to get, B.H.. Maybe you should just wear a hat.” Shaking her head, she took his jacket down from the closet and handed it to him. “Better wear a sweater, B.H., that adoption agency is always really cold.”

At last, the family was loaded into the van. Prescott was driving while Gordy had claimed shotgun. Harley snapped B.H. into his seatbelt and then, adjusting her own, announced, “Alright! Let’s get this bionic waterhorse show on the road!”

Traffic was light and the drive unremarkable as the van wound its way through the carpeted streets of the city. B.H. had suddenly stopped his excited chatter and now sat quietly, looking out the window of the van with big eyes. Harley noticed that both Buffaloes were unusually quiet, as well. She felt her own excitement turn into something more like nervousness as the van turned into the parking lot of the Under Dome Rehoming and Adoption Center for Voles and other People.

Prescott parked and turned off the engine. The group sat in silence for a few moments. Harley looked at B.H., who was quietly working at the buckle of his seatbelt. She watched Prescott adjust his tie in the rearview mirror and saw Gordy pull down the sun visor to check his hump and swipe a hoof over his beard. Harley unlatched her own seatbelt and smoothed her eyebrows with her paw. “Are we all ready?” she asked anxiously.

Each of the others nodded and the group left the van, walking quickly toward the entrance of the building. Prescott held the door open and Harley and B.H. entered the lobby, looking around curiously. Harley spotted the manager coming toward them and bent down to speak to B.H. quietly.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked. B.H. nodded solemnly. “Now, B.H., this is serious – we can’t bring him back once we take him home. So if you’re having second thoughts or want to adopt something else, now’s the time to speak up.” B.H. shook his head and whispered that he was very happy to meet his new hippo. “And you’re sure about the name we picked out?” Harley added. B.H. grinned happily and nodded again. “Okay, then, here we go,” Harley said firmly, straightening up to greet the manager, a slightly overweight but attractive vole.

“Hello there, you must be the Harley Bishop Family,” the manager extended a neatly manicured paw. “I’m Noreen.” Harley shook her paw, as did the others. “I know this is a big day for you, but there are just a few details we have to take care of before you can take the newest member of your family home,” she smiled. “If you’ll just follow me, Harley. The rest of you can wait right over there.” She pointed toward a seating area filled with comfortable furniture, a book shelf and a large television. B.H. scurried over and plopped onto a fluffy chair. He located the remote control and immediately turned on the TV, settling happily into his seat. Prescott and Gordy each patted Harley on the head and went to sit with B.H.

Harley followed Noreen into a small but neat office and sat where Noreen indicated she should.

“There are just a few papers that we need to review and sign and then you’ll be all set to go home,” Noreen explained, shuffling through a stack of files on her desk. “I understand that you’ve been told about your hippopotamus’s special needs?” She slipped on a pair of reading glasses and looked up at Harley.

“Well, yes, if you’re talking about his bionics and such,” Harley said. “Although I’m not entirely sure why it’s such a big deal.”

Noreen looked at her a moment before dropping her gaze to the now open file in front of her. “Well,” she began, “aside from the obvious issues presented with a bionically enhanced being – super strength and speed, enhanced motor function, increased appetite, and the like – there may be some emotional issues that arise. It’s very difficult for non-bionic people to understand the strain of maintaining the control necessary for a bionic – in this case a bionic hippo – to exist in a normal world. Chairs may not be designed to hold his heavier frame, for example. And a broken chair could lead to him feeling insecure about his size. We wouldn’t want him to begin to exhibit any self-harming habits such as eating disorders or cutting, for instance, as a way of expressing emotional distress. It’s very important that you recognize any signs of depression or trauma, therefore, and be prepared to deal with anything that arises.” She gazed at Harley expectantly.

“So you’re saying I need to watch him and make sure he’s happy?” Harley said.

“Exactly,” Noreen confirmed. “We do offer a series of counseling sessions for all our new adoption families, at a significant discount, of course. You’re more than welcome to sign up for them before you leave today, in fact. Most of our families have found the classes to be invaluable while integrating their adopted children – or whatever – into their households.”

“I think I’ll pass,” Harley replied. “We’re pretty laid-back at home and we’ve been doing a lot of research into what will make him feel comfortable. I think we’ll do okay on our own.”

Noreen pursed her lips in disapproval, but only said, “Well, fine, then. Sign here and you can meet your hippo.”

Harley scrawled her signature at the bottom of the page.

“By the way,” Noreen examined the paper, then looked at Harley, “have you picked out a name?”

“Yes,” Harley said, rising from her chair. “We’ve decided to name him Mandrake.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 27

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 27

Harley led Harry through the Brownstone and down a set of newly constructed stairs. She looked over her shoulder and said, “Now, you’re sure I don’t need to be concerned that you’re going to run tattling to Roper with what you’re about to see, aren’t you, Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “As I said earlier, Harley, I would never bother Sir with any details that would have an adverse effect on his mental state.”

“Okay, then.” Harley continued down the winding steps which finally opened into a large, cavern-like room. Direct sunlight beamed into the space from what looked like an enormous skylight carved into the ceiling. Harry could see B.H. scampering around the construction equipment and workers, a tiny orange hard hat perched on his little head.

Harry looked around in wonder. “What is all this?” he asked in awe.

Harley grinned widely and handed him a hard hat from the nearby work table. “You gotta put this on, ‘cause we’re in a construction zone and you can’t take it off until we go back upstairs, okay?”

Harry put on the hat. “I’m ready.”

“As you know, we’re adopting a water horse,” she explained.

Harry nodded. “Also known as a hippopotamus, right?”

“Yes, that is the common name,” Harley said in a superior tone. Harry rolled his eyes behind her back.

“Since we will be bringing a water horse into our home,” she continued, “we had to make certain adjustments to our living space in order to satisfy the adoption agency’s requirements. Namely, we had to have some water.”

“Of course, of course,” Harry agreed.

“Because of the unnecessarily strict building codes Roper implemented, I couldn’t very well apply for a permit to build a swimming pool. But,” she pointed a paw at Harry, “I could get a permit for a basement addition in The Under Dome Deeper facility. So here’s what we’re doing …” she began walking around the room, gesturing and talking. Harry followed her around, listening intently as she explained the project in detail.

“Here,” she said, pointing up at the source of sunlight, “is our sun tube. It’s designed to let in natural light from Above Ground through very deep layers of earth. Roper will never know it’s here and even if he does find out about this whole water park, I’ll just tell him it’s a laser room and he’ll never come near it – even to shut it down.” Harry started at her use of the term ‘water park’ but since she was already resuming the tour, he quickly followed.

“This will be the pool itself,” she pointed to a giant hole in the floor, currently bustling with activity as dozens of voles in hard hats laid colorful tile across the surface. “I had the tile specially designed to show a jungle theme so the water horse would feel right at home.”

Harry snorted, “Would you please quit calling it a water horse? It’s a hippo and you know it. In fact, you probably would have been able to sneak the whole project by Roper if you had called it that in the first place. You knew using the word ‘water’ would immediately put him on high alert.” Harry sounded slightly winded – he rarely had so much to say in one pass.

Harley blinked. “Ooookaaayy,” she said slowly, unsure now of Harry’s position on the whole situation.

“I’m just saying that continuing to call the hippo a water horse only makes you sound pretentious,” Harry added quietly, looking at her steadily. “I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.”

Harley pursed her snout and refused to meet his gaze. “It might have been my intention,” she conceded. “But if it bothers you, fine … we’ll call it a hippo. But he’s not just an ordinary hippo, you know,” she said forcefully. “He’s a special needs hippo. He’s got bionics. And they can’t be cured. So there.” She pointed her paw accusingly at Harry.

“I’m not sure you’re understanding what bionics are, Harley,” Harry said cautiously. “It’s not a disease.”

“Of course it is!” she said indignantly. “The adoption agency said he was a special water horse who had been ‘augmented for enhanced bionic performance’.” She used her paws to make air quotes around the term. “I know what that means – he’s sick and his bionics need to be treated with medication!”

Harry couldn’t prevent the chuckle that slipped out. Ignoring Harley’s glare, he tried to explain. “Bionics is not an illness,” he began. “Bionics is the incorporation of cybernetic systems into living organisms.”

“Like the Borg?” Harley asked in a panicked voice.

“Well, sort of,” Harry said. “Think ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, instead.”

Harley was quiet for a few minutes, clearly thinking about this new information. Suddenly, her expression brightened considerably. “You mean I’m getting a robot hippopotamus?!”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed. “A bionic hippo.”

“A ‘bionic hippo’,” Harley breathed reverently. “A bionic hippo! Wow! Hey – did you hear that, B.H.?” she shouted. “We’re getting ourselves a bionic hippo!”

Across the room, B.H. stopped and looked at her, a confused expression on his face. After a moment, he shrugged and laughed out loud, clapping his paws together excitedly.

“He really has no idea what that means,” Harley said to Harry confidentially. “But he’s got such enthusiasm. It’s really adorable, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm, yes. Adorable,” Harry agreed. “Now that we’ve cleared that up,” he said, “why don’t you show me the rest of your project plans?”

“Oh, sure,” Harley responded. “This way.” She trotted off happily with Harry trailing behind her.

“Over here,” she pointed, “is going to be the snack bar. And we’re having lots of tropical plants put in – really elaborate landscaping. Some of it, I’ll be handling myself of course, because you know how much I enjoy gardening.” She chattered on, listing features and details of what she started calling ‘The Laser Room’.

Harry pictured the completed space – lush green plants and colorful flowers surrounding the huge, beautifully tiled swimming pool. Harley explained there would be a water slide at one end of the pool and a diving board at the other. The deck area was to be surfaced with stamped concrete so as not to be too slick and dangerous when wet. Over in the corner, a small sitting area with comfortable and waterproof furniture would surround a fire pit so the family could roast marshmallows or slabs of cheese over an open flame. In the opposite corner, a grassy fenced-in lawn in case anyone needed to take care of any ‘private business’ would ensure the total comfort of everyone.

Harry pointed to a small partially-constructed building off to one side of the pool deck. “What’s that?” he asked. “A changing room?”

“Nope,” Harley smiled mischievously. “It’s a special space just for Roper Lee.”

Harry looked at her sharply. “I thought he was never going to set foot in this space?”

“He won’t … knowingly,” she giggled. “You know how every time we want to have some kind of family outing and Roper always complains that he’s too scared or too sensitive or whatever to come along? And then Fluffy gets all mad at him for not spending enough time with his family and she gets a little mean? And how Roper starts drinking too much mole waters and eventually sneaks off to his office or his closet to drink and listen to Little Texas?”

“Go on.” Harry wasn’t sure where this was going, but he was certainly intrigued.

“Well,” Harley said. “That,” she pointed at the structure, “is going to be his spot. All we have to do is get him to Butterscotch – which, is, let’s face it, not that hard. Then while he’s out, we get a Vole Squad to transport him to that little building and put him inside. I’m going to have it tricked out with a big screen TV where he can watch videos of himself or Little Texas and there will be a mole waters dispenser so he can drink as much as he wants. I’ll get some really soft furniture and he can spend the day with the family, without actually being with the family. He’ll never know he is anywhere near water! When it’s time to leave, we’ll just broadcast an armadillo documentary over the TV and he’ll Butterscotch again. We have the Vole Squad take him home or wherever and – POOF – everyone’s one big happy family.”

Harry stared at her for a long time. Finally, he said, “That, is, quite frankly, one of the most under-handed, sneaky, devious plans I’ve ever heard. It’s … brilliant. Well done, Harley.”

Harley smiled smugly. “I know. I know.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 26

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 26

“What in the world is a ‘water horse’?!” Roper ranted. “And why does Harley need a building permit to add that much space to her Brownstone? It’s like she’s building a whole additional structure! And why is she even considering bringing something that clearly requires water – I mean it’s right there in the name, for Pete’s sake! – into the Under Dome? She knows darn good and well there’s a city ordinance that prohibits water being inside or anywhere near the city limits! She’s always been inconsiderate of others, but this really takes the rice casserole – I can’t let her just ignore policy this way. It’ll set a bad precedent, Harry. If the public finds out Harley has brought a water horse into town, it’s just a short way to a watertrough. Pretty soon, we’ll have voles wanting to add water features and water fountains to their yards. And before you know it, the whole Under Dome and all its Territories are completely underwater and we’ve all got webbed toes!” He glared at Harry and punctuated his words by flapping his paws in a swimming motion.

“Right, Sir,” Harry agreed, “webbed toes, Sir. A real threat, Sir.”

“But what can we do to stop her?” Roper whined. “I tried to deny her permit and she threatened to sue the City.”

“On what grounds, Sir?”

“On the grounds that she said I had no legal cause to deny her permit and if I tried to do it again she’d put an armadillo in my office.”

“I see, Sir. Have you considered finding out exactly what a water horse is, Sir?”

“Well, of course I have,” Roper huffed indignantly. “I tried to Voogle it but the security features I had the Vole Technical Squad install on my computer made it butterscotch as soon as I typed the word ‘water’. I tried going to the Library but Fluffy had the Vole-vo that day and I didn’t feel like driving the Tram all the way across town. Plus, you know the Library makes me uncomfortable. All those books – it’s just a paper cut waiting to happen.” He shuddered. “I tried calling Harley and asking her, but she said she was much too busy with her construction project to talk and she hung up on me. I thought I might be able to lure her to a meeting at the Southside Cafe so I could talk to her in person but then Fluffy said I go with her to take the twins to the bus station and see them off to New Vole City. And she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m just at a loss, Harry.” He hopped down from his chair and walked to the mini fridge where he extracted a bottle of mole waters.

“Well, Sir, if you’d like, Sir, I could go over there and see what’s going on, Sir,” Harry offered.

“Yes, Harry, that would be wonderful. I know you’d never allow Harley to bring water into the Under Dome and put all our lives at risk.” Roper sipped from his bottle then smacked his lip. “I don’t know where you found the imported mole waters, Harry, but this is so much more,refreshing than the domestic stuff I’ve been drinking. Let’s make it the official mole waters of the Under Dome,” he said.

“And all its territories, Sir?” Harry asked.

“Absolutely,” Roper nodded. “And all its territories. Now why don’t you head on over to Harley’s and find out what she’s doing over there, then report back to me in the morning? I’ve got to get home and console poor Fluffy who must be missing the twins horribly. I bet she’s just laying around the house eating Grub Butter Cups and crying. She’s probably been working all day to prepare all my favorite foods in an attempt to make herself feel better.” He shook his head in sympathy.

“What about the quadruplets, Sir?” Harry reminded him.

“Oh, they practically take care of themselves,” Roper replied breezily. “I’m sure Fluffy just puts them out in the yard and lets them play all day … no trouble at all.”

“Right, Sir,” Harry said skeptically. “I’m sure, Sir.” Shaking his head, he left the room to run his errand.


The sound of the doorbell irritated Harley. She didn’t have time for visitors and as she hurried toward the front door, she went over her rehearsed statement to get rid of whomever it was. Opening the door, she began, “I’m sorry, no time to chat. I’m on a very tight deadline and you’ll have to make an appointment …” she broke off upon seeing Harry on the front porch. “Oh, Harry, it’s you. Hello. Let me guess – Roper sent you here to find out what I’m doing?” Harry nodded. Stepping back she allowed him entry. “Well, follow me,” she said, already moving back toward the source of loud construction sounds.

Harry took notice of her dust covered fur, the hard had perched on her head and the clipboard she held in one paw. “I’m technically here in an official capacity,” he said to her back. When she nodded, acknowledging that she could hear him, he continued. “Though I must admit to being rather curious as to your plans. I want you to know that I will not take any information back to Roper that might jeopardize his emotional or physical well-being.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” Harley snorted. “Because what I’m about to show you would most definitely put him into a butterscotch of epic proportions!”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 25

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 25

Early Tuesday morning, Harley and B.H. were settled into their favorite booth at the Southside Cafe. Harley bit into a gravy-filled donut and smacked her lips in appreciation. “You really can’t beat a nice, healthy breakfast to get your energy up in the morning, B.H.,” she told him. B.H. nodded and eagerly tucked into his own breakfast – a stack of bacon cheese pancakes and gravy.

“I know things have been pretty chaotic around here lately,” Harley addressed the top of B.H.’s head as he bent over his pancakes. “I wanted to talk to you about, you know, things,” she added. “Like, are you feeling comfortable in your room? Do you like living with the Buffaloes and me? Things like that.”

B.H. looked up, mouth full and nodded happily.

“Okay,” Harley continued. “Well, that’s great, B.H., because we really love having you in our family.” She drank from her mug of gravy and belched loudly. B.H. giggled, drank from his own, much smaller mug, belched and giggled again.

Harley chuckled and patted him on the head. “Anyway, I know you were pretty scared back at Thanksgiving with that whole ‘Isis’ thing. And the parade last week was certainly more excitement than I bargained for,” she shook her head in disgust. “So, are you scared or worried or anything?”

B.H. shook his own head and kept eating.

“Oh, well, that’s good,” Harley signaled the waiter to bring another plate of donuts. “I want you to feel, you know, comfortable and everything. I don’t want you to think you’re in any danger or whatever. I mean, Roper’s kind of ridiculous and obviously Cookie – I mean, ‘Isis’ – is crazy, but that’s just sort of the way things are here. It’s perfectly safe – I’d never let anything happen to you.” She was watching B.H. earnestly, hoping to convey the care and concern she had for him without expressing any actual emotion – which made her very twitchy.

B.H. continued to chew his pancakes and looked at her, wide-eyed.

She drank more gravy and shoved another donut into her snout. Swallowing, she looked seriously at B.H. “B.H.,” she began gently. “I was thinking that you might be a bit lonely. You haven’t really made any friends since you came to live with us, and even though I’m very exciting and dynamic, the Buffaloes are pretty boring. I mean, Gordy likes to play board games and Prescott has that super cool button collection, but, well, I thought you might like to spend time with someone different once in a while. Someone you have more in common with.”

B.H. looked thoughtful. Then, he nodded his head excitedly before returning to his breakfast.

“Okay,” Harley declared. “Well, then it’s settled. I think we should get you involved in some clubs or maybe a sports team. Maybe you could enroll in a class or two at the University? Would you be interested in joining Vole Scouts?”

Harley and B.H. discussed a variety of social opportunities over the rest of their meal. Afterward, Harley paid the check while B.H. used the little vole’s room.

On their walk back to the Brownstone, Harley listened as B.H. chattered happily about the many exciting activities that had been proposed.

“You know what, B.H.?” Harley asked suddenly. “I think we should consider adoption.”

B.H. looked up at her questioningly.

“Well,” she explained, “we adopted you and that’s working out great.” B.H. grinned. “So I think we should adopt again. Maybe not another vole, though. I mean, voles are good and all, but we should diversify. Bring someone from another culture into our home,” she reasoned.

B.H. nodded.

“We’ll visit an agency after we talk to Gordy and Prescott,” she said. “Now, let’s go home and look at The Under Dome University course catalog. Maybe we can find a film class to enroll you in!”

B.H. giggled and turned in a circle as they continued to walk.


After supper that night, Harley and B.H. sat with the Buffaloes in the family room and discussed their ideas for adoption. Harley also took the opportunity to tell them that she had enrolled B.H. in a class at the University. Upon further questioning, she informed them that he had been particularly interested in “Circus Stunts,” a semester long course that would prepare him for life under the Big Top. Gordy also thought the class sounded like fun and announced he was going down to the college and enroll himself. B.H. responded with much clapping and enthusiastic jumping up and down.

The next morning, Harley and B.H. went to the Under Dome Rehoming and Adoption Center for Voles and other People. Harley explained that she was interested in the adoption of what the Center called a “Non Traditional” placement. Which was a snooty way of saying ‘someone who wasn’t a vole’, in Harley’s opinion. They looked at well over a dozen portfolios and finally narrowed the field to three potentials.

With the portfolios spread over a conference table in front of them, Harley and B.H. discussed each one carefully. Harley was prepared to defer to B.H. in the final decision, but wanted to make sure he understood the permanence of the adoption.

“Now, B.H.,” she said firmly. “I want to make sure you understand that which ever portfolio you choose is fine with me. But it’s not like when we go to the shoe store. You can’t pick out a pair of shoes and then take the shoes back in this case. Because we’re not really talking about shoes. We’re talking about people. And people aren’t shoes. I mean, you’re going to pick one and we’re going to take him or her home and you’re going to have be satisfied with that. We’re not going to bring them back and tell the adoption people that the shoes didn’t fit, or they weren’t the right color or they didn’t go as well with that pair of yoga pants as we thought they would. And we’re not going to be able to put them in a closet and leave them there until we have our spring yard sale, then sell them for fifty cents to the vole down the street who likes sparkly flip flops. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

B.H. shrugged and shook his head.

“Let me see if I can explain it this way, B.H.,” Harley tried again. “When we go to the shoe store and I buy you a pair of shoes, it’s because you like the shoes and I want to make you happy so I get you the shoes you want. But then, when we get home with the new shoes, sometimes you decide youdon’t like the shoes after all and so I take you back to the shoe store and we return the shoes for a different pair or sometimes I just get my money back because you can’t find a pair of shoes you really like. When that happens, we just go home without any shoes at all and then you don’t have any shoes. Do you understand, now?”

B.H. looked at her for a moment, then he untied his shoes, took them off and put them on the table in front of her.

Harley rolled her eyes. “No, B.H., I don’t want your shoes,” she said, handing them back to him. “I’m saying this is not like shopping for shoes.”

The vole shrugged again and began putting his shoes back on. He muttered something quietly.

Harley sighed. “What I’m trying to tell you, B.H., is that once you make a decision about who we’re going to adopt, you can’t change your mind. It’s forever. Like when we adopted you. We can’t send them back. So I want you to be very, very sure. Okay?”

Nodding in understanding, B.H. finished tying his shoes and then pointed to the portfolio lying open in front of him. He tapped it with his paw and smiled.

Harley looked over the information carefully. “Are you sure, B.H.?” she asked. “This is going to be a big responsibility, you know. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

Grinning happily, B.H. nodded emphatically and tapped the portfolio again.

“Okay, B.H., let’s go let them know we’ve made our choice. We’re getting a water horse!”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 23

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 23

Harley settled more comfortably into the fluffy cushions of the sofa. Beside her, B.H. snuggled under his soft blanket. Gordy and Prescott bustled in to the room with bowls of fragrantly steaming popcorn and, placing the bowls on the square table in the center of the seating area, took their own seats in large faux-leather wing chairs. Harley pressed some buttons on the remote control and the large, flat-screen television flared to life.

“I love movie night,” Harley declared as she popped several kernels of popcorn into her snout. “I’m really glad we recorded the Mary Lou Retton gymnastics special so we could watch it together, as a family.” She crunched noisily and Prescott slanted a narrow gaze at her.

The whole family was wearing Mary Lou Retton themed apparel. Gordy and Prescott each wore an exact replica of the 1984 Olympic women’s gymnastics team track suit/cover up, in a much enlarged size. B.H. still wore his oversized MLR t-shirt, but had added a tiny trucker hat with the slogan “Are U Retton It?” across the front. Harley had many articles of Retton-inspired clothing to choose from but for tonight’s viewing she had chosen a leotard in the same style and pattern as Miss Retton had worn during her historic and gold medal winning performance. As a Mary Lou Retton purist, she was loathe to make any changes to the outfit. But for practicality and comfort’s sake, she had given in and added a snap-closure at the crotch and a small hole for her tail to poke through.

Harley fidgeted with the leg holes of the leotard. “I want to look authentic,” she complained to B.H., “but I’m telling you – this thing is constantly wanting to crawl up my butt. I wonder if Mary Lou used some kind of glue or tape to keep her leotard from giving her a wedgie?”

B.H. shrugged before scrambling to the popcorn bowl and digging out a few of the buttery puffs. He had just settled back into the nest he’d made in the blanket when Harley pointed the remote at the TV.

“Here we go!” she shouted excitedly. And everyone’s attention focused on the screen.

About forty minutes into the program, the images of Mary Lou Retton and gymnastics routines abruptly disappeared and the screen projected a picture of Roper Lee’s face. His large snout seemed to poke itself into the room. The image smiled toothily.

“Is this on?” the giant snout asked. “I mean, can they see me?” The face turned to look at something off screen. “Well, I know it’s going to be live … Oh – you mean it’s live now? So they can see and hear me? Okay. Good. Let’s get started.”

Harley bolted up from her relaxed position. “What the heck?” she cried. “Where is this coming from?? Where’s Mary Lou??” She frantically pushed buttons on the clicker but every channel showed the same thing.

“Citizens of the Under Dome,” Roper began. “And all its territories. Tonight I am coming to you live from an undisclosed location with a very special announcement.”

Prescott snuffled loudly.

“I know!” Harley yelled. “I’m trying to get the show back. How’s he even doing this?” she snarled. “That gymnastics program was on my DVR – he can’t interrupt a show I’m playing back!” She continued to click and point without success.

“I’m sure many of you may be wondering how I’m able to broadcast this live over any pre-recorded programming or dvd’s you may be watching,” he said conversationally.

Harley wanted to throw something at the television.

“Well,” Roper said eagerly, “I don’t really know all the technical mumbo gumbo. But I can tell you that’s it’s a pretty exciting new invention that my – I mean, our – top notch Under Dome scientists have come up with. And,” he paused to sip from a glass that appeared in his paws from off camera, “it means that I will be able to interrupt your television viewing with my important announcements any time I want! Hee hee! Isn’t that neat?” he tittered.

Prescott and Gordy snuffled. Harley growled. B.H. shook his small fist angrily at the screen.

As if sensing their hostility through the TV, Roper’s expression changed and he looked scared. “So. Anyway,” he sipped his drink again and glanced off screen. “Um, I guess you’re all probably really wondering what the announcement is, right?” he said awkwardly. “Sooo, I should probably tell you,” he looked off screen again, then back to the viewing audience. He was beginning to look panicked.

“He’s really going to get it!” Harley fumed. “First he schedules a stupid parade at the same time our program is supposed to be on. Then he causes a riot in the streets and makes us miss our supper reservation at the Southside Cafe. Then he interrupts our replay of the program he made us miss in the first place. And now he can’t even remember why he interrupted!” She threw her paws in the air in exasperation. “I’m going to kill him!”

She flopped back in her seat and then tugged at the leg of her leotard. “And now my stupid leotard is trying to floss my butt!” she ranted. “This is all Roper’s fault.”

B.H. patted her paw with his smaller one and offered her a piece of popcorn he had just found in the folds of his blanket.

“Thanks, B.H.,” she muttered, cramming the corn into her snout.

Roper could be seen and heard from the television just then, clearing his throat loudly. They turned their attention back to the screen just in time to see a stack of disembodied note cards floating at the side of Roper’s head. He caught sight of them through the corner of his eye and was visibly startled. He swatted at the cards briefly before another voice could be heard from somewhere off camera. “Take the cards, Sir.”

“Oh, well, yes, of course,” Roper stammered, trying to recover his composure. He snatched the cards and glanced down at them.

“As I was saying,” he said. “I have a very special announcement to make.” He shuffled the cards nervously. “As many of you know, there was a bit more excitement than usual at this afternoon’s parade.” He glanced down at his notes, then off camera, then back to the camera. “I am referring, of course, to the Beaver Military Escort that we were fortunate enough …” he trailed off and look around, confused, as a loud “No, Sir!” could be heard in the background.

“I don’t mean the Beaver Military Escort?” he asked, puzzled. “But it says right here, “Beaver Military Escort – see?” He turned from the camera completely and appeared to be showing the note cards to an unseen someone. “Of course I can read your handwriting – it says very clearly Beaver Military … well what is it, then? Oh, Maternity – so it’s a Beaver Maternity Escort? No? It’s a what? Oh. Okay.”

He turned back to the camera. “I am referring, of course, to the blessed maternity event that we were fortunate to witness this afternoon in my Very Important Roper and Harry Box.” He glanced off screen and winked.

“I am very proud and excited to announce that my darling Fluffy, my Treasure Pup, my one and only log – I mean love – has given me four more children today. They’re pretty gross looking – I mean they’re all hairless and squirmy … just really unattractive, generally …” He made an expression of disgust and shivered. “But she tells me they’re mine and so I guess they are. There are two girls and two boys,” he leaned forward and whispered, “although I don’t see how you can tell the difference. I mean, they don’t have big boys like me and they all look exactly the same, which is icky.” He straightened up and continued in his normal tone. “We have decided to name them as follows …”

He looked around and saw the pair of reading glasses waving off to his right. Taking them and slipping them onto his snout, he looked down at the note card in his paws. “We have named them Prince of the Realm BoJack Blackburn; Princess of the Realm Rio Carolina; Prince of the Realm Niles Alistaire; and Princess of the Realm Winn Dixie.” He looked up and blinked. Then he spoke to someone off camera. “Really? That’s what we named them? Those are horrible names. I mean, where’s the flair? Where’s the flash? This is what happens when I let Fluffy pick the names. Remember when she wanted to name the twins Donny and Marie? And I said those were too plain and she hit me with a newspaper? But in the end, I got to name them and I think ‘Griff Alouicious Fauntleroy Lee’ and ‘Taffy Gleaming Star Lee’ are much more impressive sounding than ‘Donny’ and ‘Marie’. What? Oh, right.” He turned back to the camera. “So. There you have it. I have four more kids and Fluffy says we can’t sell them. Have a nice evening.”

And with that, Roper was gone and the screen changed to the Great Seal of the Under Dome and All Its Territories.

“That was weird,” was all Harley said as she pointed the remote at the TV and turned the Mary Lou Retton program back on. “Now let’s watch something really important.”

Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 22

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 22

“This is stupid!” Harley snarled as she stood on the sidewalk in downtown Under Dome with B.H. and Harry. “I can’t believe Roper’s having a parade at the same time the Vole Sports Network is airing the Mary Lou Retton gymnastics special! I mean, I’m recording it to watch later, but it won’t be the same as seeing it live,” she groused.

B.H. nodded his head in agreement. The tiny t-shirt he wore sported a photo of Mary Lou Retton at the moment of her 1984 Olympic triumph, arms up, a victorious smile on her face as she received thunderous ovation after she stuck a perfect dismount from the vault. Even though Harley had ordered the XXX Super Small size from Volezon.com, B.H. swam in the shirt. The sleeves were rolled up so many times the resulting cuffs were puffy and kept the little vole from being able to put his arms against his sides. On a normal sized form, the image of Mary Lou Retton would have appeared as a small picture in the middle of the shirt front. On B.H., she appeared to be about the same size as he. With her upraised arms it looked like his head was floating on her outstretched fingers like some sort of bizarre trophy raised high in victory.

“I just don’t know why he keeps truckin’ those Beaver Tested Vole Squads around town,” she continued her tirade. “Everyone knows they’re there – it’s not like those bright yellow and green uniforms are hard to spot. And, really, what kind of message does it send about Under Dome Security when you see them marching behind the Buffaloes, looking like little fluorescent droppings skittering along the streets?!”

Harry cleared his throat. “They’re Beaver Trained, Harley – not tested,” he reminded her gently. “And Roper has been working very hard to keep the Under Dome and it’s territories safe for everyone. I really think you should be more supportive of his efforts,” he finished. He cast a pointed look in her direction.

“Fine. But it’s not like he’s supportive of the things that are important to me,” she replied ungraciously.

Harry shook his small head disapprovingly, but thought better of mentioning all the technology and other resources that Roper had (albeit unbeknownst to him most of the time) made available to Harley for her various hobbies and entertainment pursuits.

About that time, a soft trumpeting sound announced that the parade was about to begin. Voles lining both sides of the main thoroughfare began to stir excitedly, clapping their paws and cheering. A few even whistled shrilly.

Harley started to roll her eyes but caught sight of B.H. whose eyes glowed with excitement. His tiny paws were clapping together with such enthusiasm that Harley feared he might injure himself. She chortled as she watched him put two claws in his mouth and try to whistle. He ended up spluttering wetly, vole spit dribbling down his front. Still, he looked totally thrilled. Harley sighed and, shaking her head ruefully, prepared to watch the parade without comment. For B.H.

The crowd spotted the shaggy Buffaloes first and began to chant loudly. Shouts of, “Gordy!” “Prescott!” “Noble Bison!” “Sentry of the American Frontier!” could be heard as the two great beasts made their way in stately fashion down the street.

Harley couldn’t contain her laughter when she saw that each Buffalo was sporting a uniformed beaver on his hump. The beavers were dressed in military-style uniforms of olive green and brown. One wore a pair of highly polished brown boots over a pair of tan jodhpurs. His jacket was covered with ribbons and shiny medals and the epaulette on each shoulder boasted six small gold stars. His hat was reminiscent of a captain’s hat, except that rather than the traditional navy/white color combination, it was olive green and brown. The bill was embroidered in golden thread with what appeared to be mirror images of a beaver tail instead of the nautical version’s golden leaves.

The second beaver was similarly dressed. He had, however, only four stars on his shoulders and instead of jodhpurs, he was wearing tan trousers with an olive green stripe down the outside of each leg. He wore polished brown shoes, not boots.

Both beavers stood at attention, ramrod straight and unwavering. Or at least as unwavering as one could expect while riding down the street on the hump of a buffalo.

Harley laughed louder as the beaver commandos saluted the Very Important Roper Box as they passed by. Roper had built the structure so that he could watch any parade in which he wasn’t marching, in safety, above the crowds of street level. Now, Roper, Fluffy and the twins observed the spectacle from the plush accommodations. Roper offered a gentle wave in response to the beavers’ salute, flagging his paw back and forth like a beauty pageant contestant. Harley snorted.

Harry looked at her sharply. “You need to be more respectful, Harley,” he chided. “Those are very important Beavers – a six star and a four star general in the United Beaver Battle-ready Army. They were in charge of training our new Under Dome security personnel. It’s a real honor to have them in our parade. Brigadier General Huston is a combat veteran – he fought in the great Armadillo Invasion of 2006. And General Potts survived being a POW in a New Money prison camp. He was captured after his log jammed in enemy territory. They’re both real heroes,” he said reverently.

Harley looked at Harry to be sure he was serious. Clearly, he was in awe of the military beavers. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m not really up on Beaver history, I guess.”

She could tell by the looks on their faces that the Buffaloes were not enjoying themselves. She’d heard them mention countless times how embarrassing it was to be in these silly parades of Roper’s. Of course, she said to herself, I don’t see them turning Roper down. She understood that both Buffaloes (Prescott especially) secretly liked the attention they got from the crowds, even if they did feel momentary discomfort during the event itself.

Harley, B.H. and Harry continued to watch the parade as it wound its way down the street. Harley grudgingly admitted that the new security team uniforms were a vast improvement over the neon colors, although she maintained that making them march directly behind the Buffaloes was still a bad idea.

A group of vole children passed by, dressed in colorful leotards, doing a gymnastics and dance routine to the delight of the crowd. They were followed by a troupe of jugglers who tossed sponges into the air and caught them with a flourish. The onlookers ooh-ed and aah-d. A small band of mustached guitar players had just passed in front of the Very Important Roper Box when a loud shriek pierced the air.

The crowd fell silent and everyone looked around trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. Another loud, ear-splitting squeal sounded, followed by a crash. Parade goers gasped as the Very Important Roper Box began to shift and sway.

“Look out!” Harley shouted. “Roper’s Box is going to fall!” She turned to Harry, “Take B.H. and get him to safety.” Harry nodded, took a frightened B.H. by the paw and led him away from the restless mob.

Harley began to make her way toward Roper’s viewing box. I’m no hero, she thought. But I might be able to keep Roper from having a complete meltdown if that thing crashes.

Voles and moles began to scramble away from the shuddering structure. Suddenly, Roper himself appeared, clutching the edge of the box.

“Help! Help!” he screamed. “Something is wrong with Fluffy! I need an ambulance, a medic, a log!” He looked deranged. His ears were askew. The small boutonniere he had donned for the parade was hanging upside down by the stem. His electric blue caftan was wet and wrinkled, giving him a disheveled appearance.

A Medical Vole Squad rushed up the rickety stairs into the Box. They reappeared moments later bearing Fluffy on a litter. They whisked her into a waiting ambulance and raced away, sirens blaring softly. Roper stumbled down the stairs, weaving like a drunk. He looked around like a wild dog, his crazy eyes finally settling on Harley.

Behind him, a vole Harley assumed was the twin’s new nanny led Griff and Taffy down the steps and bustled them away from the parade scene. Not before she cast a dirty look in Roper’s direction, however.

“What the heck is going on, Roper?” Harley demanded, grabbing him by the arm and giving him a quick shake.

Roper stared at her without blinking for several moments before another shake finally spurred him into the moment. “Where’s Fluffy?” he asked in a trembling voice. “Where did they take my Treasure Pup?” He sniffled noisily.

“I think they took her to the hospital,” Harley replied. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Roper whispered miserably. “I was watching the tumblers and thinking how scary they were. I don’t think we’ll have gymnastics in parades anymore – it was terrifying,” he began to ramble.

Harley shook him again. “Focus, Roper,” she snapped.

“Oh, well,” he glanced over her shoulder. “I remember thinking maybe I should grow a mustache like those musicians and then Fluffy started panting. I asked her if she was hot and I tried to find someone to get her a cold drink. She just gave me one of her looks – you know, like when I give her a new log for her birthday – and she kept panting and groaning. I got scared and looked around for Harry. I forgot he said he was watching the parade with you today so I was looking for him but he wasn’t in the Very Important Roper Box. Maybe if I’d called it the Very Important Roper and Slightly Less Important Harry Box he would have been here,” Roper began to sob quietly. Snot streamed from his nose.

Harley grabbed a napkin from the street, obviously left by someone in the crowd and handed it to Roper. He mopped at his wet eyes and nose then continued.

“I decided that I should probably get someone to help me with Fluffy. She wasn’t being very nice to me at that point. She said I was a scourge that needed to be eradicated or something and I thought she should have someone else taking care of her because I didn’t know what was wrong or what to do and I couldn’t find Harry …” he trailed off into more sobs.

Harley rolled her eyes, then took a deep breath. “Roper,” she said with exaggerated patience. “What. Happened?”

Roper blew his nose loudly. “I turned to send the nanny to find Harry because Harry always knows what to do and I think I bumped something in the Box. It started to shake and then Fluffy kicked me in the haunch and screamed. It was a horrible scream. It scared me so much that then I screamed. The she just started kicking me and pummeling me with her paws and yelling at me to get an ambulance.” He dabbed his moist eyes again. “It was horrible!”

Harley nodded. She realized what was going on and decided to take pity on Roper. He really was a complete mess.

“Roper,” she said as gently as she could manage. “Did Fluffy seem to be in a lot of pain?”

Roper nodded vigorously. “She sure seemed like it and I know she was causing me a lot of agony!” he said indignantly.

“Roper,” Harley announced. “I think Fluffy is having her babies.”

“Babies?” Roper seemed confused. “Fluffy is having babies? Oh, that’s right,” he said, suddenly understanding. “Fluffy is having babies.”

His expression brightened. “I’m going to call Jose and get started on a wardrobe for the babies!” he declared. “Rhinestones and ribbon and satin – the babies will look fantastic!”


Dachshund Chronicles:  Chapter 21

Dachshund Chronicles: Chapter 21

The days following what was being referred to (at least by Harley) as “The Thanksgiving Dinner That the Damned Poodle Ruined,” were frantically busy. Roper implemented a full security overhaul, with the specific purpose of “Isis proofing” the entire Kingdom. He had, unbeknownst to Harry, begun the process several weeks earlier when he first began to notice Cookie’s odd behavior.

Now, several weeks later, Roper and Harry were still overseeing the last few details of the new system. Most of the Security Vole Squads had been sent to an advanced training camp at the Beaver Village on the outer edge of The Under Dome. There, they had been instructed by members of the Beaver Special Forces Unit in paw to paw combat and the ancient and revered art of Tooth Kwan Do. Roper had insisted that the Beavers fulfill their contract and assist in matters of Under Dome defense, which was part of their Settlement Agreement.

The new ‘Beaver Trained’ Vole Squads patrolled the streets day and night in newly designed uniforms of Day-Glo green and yellow. Roper thought they looked capable and majestic in their tall boots and berets. He had taken to having them march directly behind the Buffaloes in the weekly parades – a lineup that Harley had declared looked ridiculous.

“You put those little tiny voles behind the great big Buffaloes, Roper?” she had barked. “It looks like Gordy and Prescott are leaving waves of neon buffalo doody in their wake!”

While Roper protested that the BTS (Beaver Trained Security) Vole Squads were a force to be reckoned with and that their stately presence instilled a sense of confidence and protection in the citizens; he was secretly concerned that Harley might have a small point. It was this concern that had him working late on a Wednesday evening, redesigning the uniforms with his trusted stylist Jose.

“I really thought that cats couldn’t see green or yellow because their eyes are the same color,” Roper remarked, idly flipping through the color swatches Jose had left on the table where he worked. “I figured it would be smart to dress the BTS Vole Squads in sort of ‘cat camouflage’ to keep them safe from Isis, or whatever she calls herself this week.”

He ear-marked a few color choices and handed the swatch book to Jose. “So you’re telling me that cats can see every color, regardless of what color their eyes are?”

Jose nodded absently.

“Hm. Interesting,” Roper muttered. “Maybe we should put them in some sort of night camo,” he suggested. “Silver sparkly fabric for the jackets and navy blue spandex for the pants, maybe? Or champagne-colored jumpsuits with fancy rhinestone-covered fringe on the shoulders?” He bounced a little in his chair and poked Jose with one dainty paw. “What do you think?”

Jose looked at him steadily and blinked.

“You’re right,” Roper nodded. “The rhinestones are a tad too much and jumpsuits take too much time to undo when you have to go to the bathroom. We should definitely stick with the pants and jackets.”

Jose nodded once and turned back to his sketch pad. A few moments later, he held the finished drawing up for Roper’s approval.

Roper took in the completed ensemble. The jacket was a shimmery silver fabric that would drape flatteringly over the voles’ rather chunky mid-section. The pants were a deep midnight blue shade and appeared to made of some sort of soft, brushed material with a slight nap. The legs were tucked neatly into tall, shiny black boots. The boots themselves were embroidered down one side – in glittering colored thread a ferocious-looking vole battled what appeared to be some sort of bird.

“Is that a hawk?” Roper asked incredulously.

Jose nodded in the affirmative.

“Well done, Jose. Well done. It’s perfect.” Roper clapped his paws together in delight. “Make up a sample and we’ll have Harry try it on before we start producing enough for all the BTS Vole Squads.”

He danced around the room for a few minutes in celebration before flopping into a chair. “This is going to look amazing,” he tittered. “I can’t wait for next week’s parade!”