Joe and the Junkyard Dog

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If you’ve a mind, stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story about a lonely man and a vicious dog.

It’s the kind of story that fits this high desert community with its eccentric old-timers and desert rats who live on the outskirts of town; only visiting long enough to get supplies before going back to their self-made shacks near the Panamint Mountain Range. Or, in an area known as Wonder Valley.

Unless you’re a Marine (it’s home to the biggest Marine base in the country), you probably haven’t heard of the city of 29 Palms, California. It has a small civilian population consisting of military families. Then there’s the old families with histories going back a hundred years, when relatives moved there after WWI to take advantage of the high desert’s clean dry air to treat their lungs damaged by mustard gas in Europe.

Most of the businesses in town have connections to those old families. The family that owned the county’s only junkyard, the Mercer’s, had one of the oldest active businesses in the city. Family members belonged to organizations like the local Masons, and the Rotary Club. They were considered important members of the tight-knit little community.

Mercer Wrecking sponsored local events like “Pioneer Days,” and rodeos. They were a normal family with one exception. Percy Mercer who ran the business, had a mean son named Zack, who was a troublemaker that liked to bully people, and who taunted the family dog, a German Shepard named Max, mercilessly for years.

By anyone’s book, Zack was an asshole. When the families old dog died and they got a new puppy, Max, Zack went out of his way to make the dog miserable. Max had the run of the junkyard and was considered extra insurance against thieves. But after years of sustained cruelty heaped on him, Max became vicious and no one could approach him.

He was chained up during the day next to a wrecked hulk that was once a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. It was gutted and the rusted frame provided little shade for Max when it was in the 100s – which was often in 29 Palms. With no kind human contact, Max lived to bite someone stupid enough to try jumping the gate at night when he was free to roam the junkyard’s perimeter.

The junkyard was a mile east of downtown 29 Palms. It sat like a blight in the middle of the desert with floodlights at night that attracted insects in massive numbers. Roadrunners ran by the perimeter, often crossing Highway 62 and getting run over by half asleep Marines at night, heading back to the base from a weekend pass. Coyotes avoided the junkyard. They were well aware of Max.

If you were to travel further east of the junkyard, on Highway 62, you’d eventually come upon Wonder Valley, home to hermits and desert rats. There was one small community building that served as an informal post office, firehouse, and meeting place. The residents paid for their crude services by holding constant fundraisers. Bar-b-ques and lots of cold beer held the odd community together.

One of the more eccentric residents was Joe Knudsen, a retired US Navy captain who served in Vietnam’s “Brown Water Forces” on the Mekong for two tours. He was wounded twice on his second tour. The most serious wound was a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead. Somehow he survived delicate brain surgery and was honorably discharged with a 100 per cent disability rating. It was 1975, and he ran away from human contact as soon as he got back to California. A friend told him about the high desert and its sparse population. It served his purpose. He bought a five-acre parcel and built a shack to live in.

The thing about Joe was he had PTSD, and his brain injury slowed down his reflexes and ability to think clearly. Staying focused became increasingly difficult since he sustained his injuries over 50 years ago. Sometime he would become confused and would wander outside his shack, rambling around the creosote bushes and dry rivers on his land. More than one local resident found him dehydrated and hungry in the middle of nowhere, and took him back to his shack. There were a few old veterans that tried to keep an eye on Joe, but he lived more than a mile from his nearest neighbor. It wasn’t easy. He was as lean as a rail and could walk for miles with little effect other than sweating. At 67-years old, Joe was in remarkable physical shape.

No one ever thought of calling the county, or anyone else, to take him away for his own safety. It was against the code of the desert. Live free. Die free. Not in some nursing home where a man couldn’t see the fantastic sunsets and sunrises the open desert offered daily.

Late one afternoon, Joe had a flashback and wandered out into the desert like a man in a trance. In his mind he was on a recon mission looking for a VC encampment. His feet carried him into the night and he walked along under the full moon searching for an invisible enemy.

When he saw four floodlights bathing a fenced perimeter he crouched down and inched forward. He heard a man drunkenly cursing something as he low-crawled on the desert floor, unmindful of the rough underbrush.

“Damn dog! I’m going to kill you!” someone shouted.

Joe stopped crawling for a moment. He was confused. His consciousness was torn between an alternate reality, and reality. To him, the angry shouts were in Vietnamese. He came to the chain link fence and easily scaled it, landing lightly on his feet inside.

Cautiously he trotted over to a row of piled up old heaps to get a better look. He listened closely, and heard the man’s angry voice again.

“Tried to bite me you son of a bitch!” Zack Mercer screamed. Joe saw him stumble between a row of piled up cars across from him. Zack had a gun in his hand, and a bottle of booze in the other. His arm and leg were bleeding. When someone ran out of the office to confront Zack he shot them! It was one of his cousins that was spending the night at his house.

Max sprang from the shadows and went after Zack who fired his remaining bullets at the charging dog! One of the bullets hit Max’s shoulder and he flipped over howling in pain. Zack was walking up to the wounded dog while clumsily trying to reload his revolver. Something took over Joe who found a rusted tie-rod on the ground and picked it up. He  ran up on Zack from behind and swung the rusted piece of metal at his head. There was a sickening thud and Zack sank to the ground…dead.

Joe moved past him and over to the wounded Max, who was panting in pain and laying on his side. He picked the big dog up like a baby, or wounded comrade, and carried him out of the yard and into the rapidly cooling desert towards his home.

Afterwards, no one in Wonder Valley asked Joe about where he got his new dog, a mild-mannered German Shepard he called “Buddy.” To be sure, Joe wasn’t entirely sure how he found Buddy, but it sure was a boost for one lonely old desert rat.

As It Stands, in a world of blacks and whites, there are gray areas we don’t fully understand and are left to marvel at.

DeLaney’s Pet Demon

 

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The Brusters were proud of their baby girl Delaney. She was a beautiful.

Her brilliant blue eyes captivated everyone’s attention, and she had a sweet disposition.

Until she turned five years-old.

That’s when the demon came to her one night and promised to always be her best friend. She was sitting on the edge of her bed and pouting, because she had to go to bed early as punishment for kicking the cat, when a sympathetic voice said, “That wasn’t fair.”

She looked around the room but couldn’t see anyone. “They didn’t have to punish you like that,” the soothing voice asserted.

“I can’t see you. Where are you?” she asked.

“Close you eyes, DeLaney.”

She meekly obeyed. The first thing she saw was a cute little black puppy.

“OOhhhh!…she squealed in delight.

“Keep your eyes closed.”

Eyes closed, she reached out to pet the puppy, but he was just out of her reach. That night she listened to a bedtime story by the invisable puppy.

She couldn’t remember it in the morning but vaguely remembered dreaming about puppies. At breakfast, she asked her mom and dad if she could have one. They were both surprised at her request.

Delaney had never mentioned wanting a pet, even though many of her friends had pets. They both agreed it would be good for her, and took her to the closest animal shelter.

She walked up and down the cages petting the puppies. When she came to the cage where a little black mutt was waiting she stopped and petted the eager pup.

“This one, Mommy and Daddy,” she said, smiling happily.

As soon as they brought the puppy home, she named him “Max.” They became inseparable. When Max started talking when no one else was around, DeLaney wasn’t scared, or surprised.

He told her where he’d be waiting and the minute she saw him at the shelter she knew it was him. Her parents noted that from that day on she quit acting like a spoiled brat. It was a small miracle that made life around the house go much smoother.

Twenty years later, DeLaney and Max moved out and bought a one-bedroom house just outside the city limits. A three-hour drive from her parents house. Close, but not too close.

Thanks to Max’s help, she had a successful start-up business that sold for more money than she ever imagined.

Max always had the answers to anything DeLaney needed to know. The only thing she knew about Max was that he was cast out from living with the other demons, and exiled to her dimension.

DeLaney, never was a social type, and was more than happy to have Max to go on long hikes in the nearby national forest. As the years passed peacefully by, she realized Max wasn’t aging. Again, like everything about Max, it didn’t surprise her.

In fact, the thought comforted her in her old age. She did worry about what Max would do without her, however.

Their favorite walk was on a trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There were places along the way where they could set and stare out at the vast sea, talking about every subject under the sun.

DeLaney was spry enough at 91 years-old to take care of herself. With Max’s help, of course. She never regretted not getting married, or having kids. It just wasn’t her. She was too independent to have a close relationship with anyone but Max…her lifetime confident and best friend.

One day, while indulging in her newest hobby of oil painting outside in the great outdoors, DeLaney dropped her brush, and died from a massive heart attack. Max was there when she went down.

His howls of grief attracted two young hikers who came upon them. The man bent down and took her pulse. He looked at the woman and shook his head sadly. She called 911. When they tried to catch Max he ran away.

The priest blessed the coffin one more time, and the workers lowered it down slowly into the grave. There were no friends or family to mourn her loss. When the priest and workers left, Max came out from behind the bushes that lined the perimeter of the cemetery.

Without hesitation, he laid down on DeLaney’s grave.

Then a miracle happened.

The supreme being who banished Max to be with the demons forgave him for his transgressions and brought him to the Elysian Fields where DeLaney was waiting for him.

As It Stands, this tale (no pun intended) was an exercise in exploring unusual friendships.

The Hippie and the Hell Hound

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Listen up. I’m only going to tell this story once.

I’m a 72 year-old Hippie with pancreatic cancer, and I don’t give a damn if you believe it or not.

It was the Summer of 1967. Folks were calling it the Summer of Love afterwards.

All I know was there were 100,000 hippies, and wannabes, and a lot of crazy shit going down in the Height-Ashbury district.

The drugs flowed and everyone was talking about peace and love. Flower children were tripping on LSD, marijuana, reds, whites, shrooms, cocaine, smack, and opium.

What I’m about to tell you is true, even if you never read about it. There were a lot of deaths, hell I don’t remember the exact amount, that were written off as overdoses during that time. But the authorities knew better.

The victims were torn to shreds by some wild animal and partly eaten. The mayor made sure that fact never got out. Reports were coming in of a large dog that was attacking people.

I never saw the dog, but I know a lot of people who did. What kind of dog would hunt, kill, and eat people you’re probably thinking?

A Hell-Hound.

That’s right. You’ve heard of Werewolves right? Well, there are Hell-Hounds – a cross between a man and a Great Dane. Save your smile. You shouldn’t mock an old man you know.

I was hoping that I could tell you my full story, but I’m starting to think that might not be a good idea. Try to keep an open mind, and I’ll forgive your rudeness. How old did you say you were?

Okay. I got out of the City when that shit kept happening every night. I was truly blown away and never expected to experience something like that again.

Not too long after, I was at the Monterey Pop Festival. Wow. Still blows my mind. Can you imagine seeing Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas & the Papas, the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience?

Jimi set his guitar on fire, broke it on the stage, then threw the neck of his guitar in the crowd. I was standing next to the guy that got it in the face by it!

The first night I was there a cute little Flower Child was murdered, and mutilated. I kept my ear to the ground and listened for the rumors. It only took another 24-hours before there was talk about a big dog attacking people. I wasn’t going to stay there knowing that a Hell-Hound was around.

Now I’m going to reveal my secret…

Wait a minute! That stupid grin again? I can see you aren’t going to be my biographer, the old hippie, and Hell-Hound barked before jumping!

As It Stands, wolves, hounds, why not Honey Badgers from hell too?

Man’s Best Friend Has A Secret…Maybe Two

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A very short story for animal lovers today:

When the front door locked and all the lights were turned off, except for the front window display, Seth, the German Shepard (who had the best view), barked once and said, “All’s clear!”

“Just in time too,” said Penelope the Poodle, “I was ready to tell that human to shut up already!”

“Easy with the tough talk missy,” Perry the Pug warned. “You’re supposed to be a sweet little doggie that someone would want to adopt.”

“Blow it out of your ear you stupid pug!” Penelope huffed.

“Both of you take a chilly bone. We don’t want to hear you two argue again all night,” Bob the Beagle interrupted. “Oh look! Larry got out again…” 

Just then Larry the Labrador Retriever came around the corner. He stopped in the middle of the aisle and greeted them all; “Told you. No stupid human can keep me locked up if I don’t want to be.” 

“Why you calling humans stupid Larry? Bob asked, with his  southern drawl. “They feed us, give us a place to live, play with us and if we’re lucky they love us.” 

“You know what I like about you Bob?” said Larry.

Bob smushed his snout into the cage door bars and asked, “What?”

“Your an optimist. You also come from a championship litter and humans like that. Take mutts. Mutts usually end up in dog pounds and shelters where their options are; get put down for the endless nap; live their entire life in a five-by-five cage; or someone MIGHT adopt them.”

“You can’t compare pedigree breeds with mutts. We’re bred to be superior, while mutts are usually an accident between two breeds,” Penelope proclaimed in her high (and highly irritating) snooty voice.

Well, we must be as stupid as humans if that’s the case,” Chico the Chihuahua chimed in.

“Why’s that?” Perry asked.

“This talk about one type of dog being better than another is racist. Just look at the humans. They’re divided up into groups who barely tolerate one another because they look different or have different beliefs,” Chico explained.

Horace, the Blood Hound puppy, had been listening intently to the conversation. He finally spoke up, “Hey guys! How come we don’t talk with humans?” 

A stunned silence.

“It’s to our advantage.” Seth said. “We always know what’s on their mind because they don’t think we understand them and speak freely in front of us. It’s way better than trying to read expressions.”

Horace seemed happy with the answer, and snuggled up with his two litter mates.

Larry then made his rounds seeing if any dogs needed anything – a midnight snack? No problem. The place was full of treats. Whenever Larry got adopted someday they’d all miss him.

It’s nearly time for the human to show up!” Larry warned as he headed back to his cage.

“At least I won’t have to listen to you talk anymore you ugly pug,” Penelope snidely whispered.

As Jean the shop owner unlocked the front door store she thought – just for a moment – that someone said, “Stick it up your ass bitch!”

As It Stands, when I was young I really believed animals could talk and I just wasn’t lucky enough to catch them conversing. It’s a fantasy I still have.