Chapter 1 Dingo
The first snow of winter begins to slowly and gently descend during the Alaskan twilight of dusk. This is nothing special to the residents of Nome, or of any other Alaskan town for that matter. Those who live here are very familiar with snow, as it falls almost year-round. They are all aware of how calm the snow can be, as well as how treacherous, how it can kill, and how it can heal.
There is one Alaskan who knows these things especially well, perhaps more than anyone. Day after day he fights the duplicity of his heritage, stuck between the shimmering lights of Nome's many houses against the building snow, and the trees of the wilderness that arbitrarily cast their mysterious labyrinthine shadows against the same form of mass on the ground. He has saved a town of ill-stricken children as well as a downed bush plane pilot and even gotten the girl of his dreams, but he has not been able to prevent his children from growing up.
Not a dog, not a wolf. All he knows is what he's not.
He also doesn't know that there's someone else out there, among the gradually dimming glow of Nome as the night falls, that is about to feel his pain.
- - - - -
"Harold, we've been fighting and fighting to keep him for Kyle, but we just can't anymore! Look at him, he's not even a dog anymore!"
"Katherine, we knew the consequences of taking him in when we got him. Kyle loves that dog, we can't just toss him out on the street."
"What kind of message are we sending to Kyle by letting him befriend a wild animal? That THING needs to get out of here!"
your doggie's got to go now."
"Dingo? But why?"
"We just can't take care of him anymore."
"Come on Dingo, out!"
The front door of an Alaskan home in the center of Nome was then swung open, planting the bright yellow light from inside across the snow-covered ground as well as the buildings on the street side opposite to it. The dark shadow of a woman stood in the doorway, clutching the thick brown leather collar of her boy's dog and tossing the full-grown animal as such out over the few descending wood steps and face-first into the already-deep snow of the street. The dog in question regained his footing, after slipping a bit on the snow that is. He didn't hear the parents' conversation and ultimate decision, and therefore didn't understand why he was being sent on his way. He just sat in the snow, ears drooped and looking up to the shadows inside the home with pleading eyes. Another shadowy figure, this one much smaller and less menacing, came to the doorway and tried to rush outside to his canine companion. Alas the figure was stopped by his mother's arm, and he was stuck there in tears as he looked outside to meet eyes with his friend. Both their eyes were a dark brown.
"Dingo! Don't go!" the child pleaded, reaching out an arm in a fruitless attempt to touch his dear friend again.
"I'm sorry Kyle, but we can't keep your dog anymore! We should have known it was only a matter of time before the WOLF in him began to show. He's gotten too big and he's eating us out of house and home!"
The dog outside was left flinching and wincing at every stressed word from the mother, foolishly comforted with the hopes that the child's words will change her mind.
"Mom, please! Let me keep him!"
"No Kyle! He's gone and that's final, now go back inside! Go!"
The bigger mother shadow ushered her child back inside, then turned back to the dog still staring at her.
"And what are you looking at? You don't live here anymore! Go away, shoo!"
She then finalized his separation from the family by slamming the door and turning off the lights inside, leaving the once humble housedog named Dingo alone in the dark cold snow.
He remained sitting there for a while, not sure what to do. Nearly all his life that was his family, and now he had been disowned. Moments later he began to move his head and look around, watching the lights go out in house after house as the sun was overwhelmed by the darkness of nighttime out in the distance. His gaze gradually lowered down to the wooden pillars that raised some of the houses and buildings somewhat off the ground, his previous residence included, hence the two or three steps to get up to the door. His attention descended further, down to the snow and the thick leather collar lying gently on it. As he was thrown outside it must have come unlatched and separated from his neck, he looked to his now bare neck to be sure. The night sky further darkened his red and tan fur, which was damp with snow in places and a rustled mess where his collar used to be. He returned to the collar, noticing the round silver license attached to it that simply read 'DINGO' in capital letters.
I guess I won't be needing this now
Despite this realization, he clutched the collar in his jaw and got up. At last he began to tread slowly through the street of Nome, passing by one of the last lit houses as the emanating light from the window illuminated Dingo's face to its natural colors. Still clutching the collar if more loosely, he looked up into the window to watch a human mother tuck in her child and kiss him goodnight. Like pouring salt into a wound, or more drastically onto a slug, this sight shot him directly in the heart. He wanted to be embraced by his boy, Kyle. He wanted back the home that he so abruptly lost, but instead he was alone for the first time in his life.
Because of the unfamiliar situation, uncertainty was bound to follow. Dingo wasn't sure where to go. There was of course his mother Jenna, but as he looked off to her home on the edge of town he found their lights already out. His mother was kind, but the other residents of her home likely wouldn't take kindly to his presence so late at night. He now had to think of other options, his gold-based eyes scanning the surroundings again or perhaps still.
It was at that moment that Dingo remembered his father
or, at least, what his mother had told him regarding his other parent. He hasn't even seen his dad since he was adopted, for as you can imagine Kyle's mother did not take too kindly to his appearance. Therefore, it became his mother Jenna's job to keep him reminded, telling him what his father looked like as well as the good deeds he had done. As he looked on, even past Jenna's house and into the wilderness, the fading lights of Nome made clear the visibility of a light off in the distance. Dingo was told that his father lived out there, on a wrecked old ship of all things. With no other conceivable options, he began to tread off again and follow the light.
Dingo passed through and eventually left far behind the outskirts of town, treading the snow of the unclaimed wilderness until eventually the old ship came into view. Having followed the luminous and omnipresent glow, rather the only trace of significant light left that turned out to be a lantern hung on the ship itself, he paused to simply enjoy the visibility. In the light he remembered the vessel. He had seen the old wreck before off in the distance when Kyle and other members of his family walked him, but he never gave the ship on frozen water much thought before now. The winter snow still cold as it was mashed under his paws, he pressed on closer and closer to the vessel. Dingo strafed his head to observe both sides of the ship, but could see no point of entry. It seemed as though he would have to ask. He dropped the collar purposely, looked up to the pointed front of the ship as he was not sure where else to look, and called out words he never thought he would use to actually address the figure they represented.
He paused afterwards. No answer seemingly. He must be on the other side, or at least farther in. He called again, a little louder but still with uncertainty.
The wolf-dog lurched in his sleep, tangled in the thin and flimsy purple sheet that kept him warm on the winter nights. At last what was actually the third call came to his ears, and in response one of his gold-edged hazel eyes opened and looked around. The other soon followed and matched the directional gaze of the other eye, then his head and neck followed their example. A fourth call, being the second one to reach his ears, convinced his legs to lift him up. He slowly and cautiously padded out of the sheltered area of the ship, pressing foot on the snow-covered open remainder and continuing over to the edge of the vessel itself to peer over and forward. The light illuminated some of the ground below but he didn't have the right angle to see who was calling for him. A third call, this time using the words "is anyone there" rather than addressing the ship's one present resident as a father, allowed Balto to more accurately pinpoint the source: directly in front of the boat. Continuing, paw after paw in a cautious rhythm of creaking planks, the wolf-dog crept closer to the front of his home until he placed his front paws gently up and peered over. As his gaze wandered down the snow, he could see the figure of illuminated red fur looking up. The red of the figure stood out like a sore thumb on the white slushy ground, as did his father to a lesser extent against the yellow light and dark blue evening sky.
"Dad?" Dingo asked in response to the figure's presence. "I-
Is that you?"
Balto continued to stare down the figure, not in anger but in curiosity. He remained focused on the red fur. There wasn't a great many dogs in Alaska with red fur, and those he knew that did have it were in fact related to him. He could thank his mate Jenna for such an easy form of identification. Even so, he wasn't sure which of his children was now here before him. It was a dark night, and five of his six pups are at least a close shade of red. Of course, there was a couple that he had not seen in a while as well. Filled with indecision, Balto simply lengthened his pause, darting his eyes around hoping that this visitor would break the silence and share his name.
Dingo did finally consider the fact that they hadn't seen each other in quite a long time, and after withdrawing a bit by looking away in embarrassment to that fact he continued.
"Umm, y-you are Balto aren't you? I-
Balto's eyes widened with great haste and he returned his gaze to the red dog with his own likeness. The name, at least, rang a bell of recollection for the wolf-dog. He would never forget the names of his children. Of course, the name still caught him by surprise as this was one of the children he had not seen in years. It wasn't his fault; he tried to.
"D-Dingo? Well uh
what are you doing here? I thought your owner was very particular about-?"
"Seeing you? Well, don't worry about that anymore
can I come up?"
"Oh, sure. I'll lower the plank."
Dingo watched his father disappear behind the boat again, followed with the sounds of shuffling paws and the creaking then scratching of planks. Soon a long slender strip of wood slid down from the side of the ship, the end opposite the boat slamming against the ground to make a slope leading upward to the deck.
"Come on up." The wolf-dog's scratchy voice proclaimed from the center of the ship, even echoing slightly in the darkness.
Dingo accepted the invitation and, head lowered slightly, padded forward towards the plank. On a moment's notice, he decided to hide the collar in a patch of snow wedged under the ship. It would easily give away what the problem was. As he continued and eventually set foot onto the cold wood it wobbled a bit from years of use as well as misuse, but it held his weight as he moved cautiously towards the halfway point, somewhere in-between the safe slushy ground and the worn wood deck that his father called home. The wood continued to shake with every lifted step, but it still supported him and therefore gave him the confidence to continue, finally topping the ramp's elevation and setting his first paw on the residence. Looking down as he set the three remaining paws on the cold wood, then back to the unstable ramp he just came from, he didn't notice his father seated in front of him waiting patiently.
"I know it's not very sturdy," he said, startling Dingo into looking forward to him, "but it works well enough."
Dingo paused, not knowing what to say in the midst of what really should be a heartwarming reunion. He looked down and to his right, both in shame and embarrassment while almost purposely keeping it right outside the light of the lantern and preferably in the darkness. Balto took the hint, stood up and continued the conversation, the two of them surprisingly keen at picking up on each other's emotions and signs.
"Now, what happened? How is it that you're suddenly allowed here? Your owners would never let me see you, in part because I was a-."
"A wolf?" Dingo replied, turning his direction and face back up to Balto, showing his father the wolf-like features of his own as the propped up lamp brought them to light.
Balto stared at his son for a moment, this being the first time they've seen each other's faces in years. He took particular notice to the features that he was likely responsible for: the dark brown bushy eyebrows and eyes of the same color, filled in with the very same gold shade as his own. The brown-tipped ears that Jenna's red fur, even if darkened on their son, could not completely dominate. Even the build was his own: thin and scrawny, like no Siberian husky he had ever seen. As for the facial markings, they're anyone's guess.
Balto then, almost instinctively, realized the problem. He stepped in closer, his relaxed demeanor now transitioning into one of great concern.
they didn't throw you out did they?"
Dingo could not bear the expression from his father and, looking back in the same corner as before, brought his face out of the light.
"Yeah, the mom did. She said I got too big and
and looked too much like a wild animal apparently. Guess she thought I'd scare the kid or something."
"Well I guess I'm to blame for that," Balto replied, looking off into the same corner of his own shame, "I'm the 'wild animal' part of things
I'm sure your mother told you that
Balto regained his composure and returned his gaze to the red offspring before him.
what else has she told you
Dingo looked down to his front paws, lifting one to study the shape of the pads underneath before moving on to study those of his father with a gaze. This gesture brought Balto to study his own paws, knowing full well the wolf already in them. He then noticed his son moving again, and he looked up so that their eyes could meet again. Dingo actually had a little smile on his face, looking almost unnatural after all the displeased expressions and absent glances.
she said I remind her of you."
This brought a little grin to Balto's face as well, also bringing him to give his son another visual once-over.
"Well I can see where she's coming from. Well come on then; I'm guessing you wanted to stay here tonight?"
right. I didn't want to bother with Mom's place; she's not the only one living there and I didn't want to wake everyone up."
"I see, so you came to bother me instead?" Balto replied in a teasing manner, already turning around to lead Dingo to the sheltered section of the deck but keeping eye contact to make sure he was following. Dingo was, so he continued.
"Well, I should tell you that I'm usually not alone here either. But you caught me on a good night; the other 'tenants' are out at the moment. Don't worry though; you'll get to know them in time."
to meet them?"
"I don't see why not. They're a great source of entertainment out here."
Dingo imitated his father's smile as they finished their tread into the shelter portion of the deck and reclusion from the lantern's glow. Balto lowered himself to tunnel right into his trusty blanket, turning back around with it over him to lie down and watch his son take a seat opposite him.
we're sleeping in here?"
Balto looked up to him, displeased as if his shelter had been insulted.
"S-sorry, it's just
Dingo's gaze slid away to his right and out one of the cabin's windows. The little shack atop the vessel where the steering wheel was meant to be placed offered a slight protection from the cold air of winter, but the cold also got to the old wood beneath their paws. Dingo began to shiver slightly, having been accustomed to staying inside on these cold nights. There were previously just more important things on his mind than considering the cold, his red and tan fur protecting him only for so long. His father's form, however, was very used to this weather. He brought himself back up and put his blanket onto Dingo, easing his son's shivering a bit as he was relaxed enough to lie down.
"You need it more than I do."
Balto then returned to his spot and soon regained his position on the ground as well, sighing in relaxation. His gray-brown eyelids began to grow heavy again, closing and diminishing the hallway light of his gold-rimmed eyes until Dingo's shivering came back to his attention. His eyes reopened, the parent swinging open the bedroom door to let the light in again. It sounded now as if there were whimpers in-between and superseding the shivering; he looked to his son to see the paws placed strategically to cover his eyes. The visible features of his pup's face were tensed and near tears; the abandonment finally got to him.
I don't understand!" Dingo shouted amidst the tears. "I-
I didn't do anything wrong! Why did they have to
Balto knew this feeling all too well, not from being abandoned by a family himself but more-so from not having one at all. He had found an ever greater similarity between him and his son, even greater than what he found with his other pups. He disengaged his glance from Dingo, eyes darting back and forth in thought. When he found himself ready to act he inched closer to Dingo and removed the pup's paws with his own to see the dark brown eyes beading back into his. The eyes focused on Balto's, the tears and cries completely silent as he spoke.
"Come on Dingo, don't go blaming yourself. It's not your fault. It's theirs. Things change, it's inevitable. And they weren't ready for that. There's nothing you could have done to stop it, but they could have prepared themselves for you. They didn't, so they're not the right family for you anyway."
Dingo remained silent for a moment, taken aback by his father's words. He regained his shy personality and looked away shortly, then back again.
"Trust me Dingo, I know how you're feeling. I know what it's like to be
abandoned. But just know that you've had it, and still have it, better than I ever did. I'm here for you, and your mother's in town for you too."
"I also want you to know that, no matter what happens, you always have a place here. You can always come here and be safe, alright?"
t-thank you. But uh
what am I going to do now? I-
I want a home, an owner, a place. I've got to fit in somewhere."
"I want you to be happy, Dingo. I want all my pups to have what you want. I'll help you find a place in Nome, but don't stress out about that now alright? We've got the opportunity to spend time together after so long; do
do you really want to give that up so soon?"
you're right Dad."
"Alright then. Just relax and spend some time with me, see if you like it out here before you go looking for another family."
I'll do that."
They both regained a smile and Balto gave his son a confident nod in conclusion before returning to his side of the shelter. Dingo settled back down and into the blanket, his adjacent father lying back down and settling without the protection. Before lowering his head, however, Balto just kept a smile as he looked to his son.
"It's good to have you back son."
Dingo blushed a bit, which was blending into his red fur until it escalated into a pinkish color, and then smiled rather innocently before responding.
"Thanks. It's uh
good to be back."
Balto's smile retained its shape as his head was lowered and caught by the cold wood, his eyelids then growing heavy once more and soon hiding his eyes completely. Dingo remained awake for a few more moments, his head resting on the deck while his eyes still darted and scanned the shelter. As he investigated every segment of the wood construction, every potential splinter and split, he found they were starting to look and feel more like home.
BALTO ~ 4 ~