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.”