Friday, February 26, 2010
Here is a story I wrote about a Tasmanian tiger or thylacine. I am interested in this species, and I would write more on this if I had time. I don't right now, but I just wanted to post this story:
Kate Millan relaxed in her seat on the airplane. Her husband occupied the seat next to her. He was reading the latest issue of the Smithsonian.
It had been several hard months working at the office. Kate felt she was long overdue for a vacation. She absently gazed of the window. Fleecy, vaporous clouds were visible far below, and through this haze vast blue of Pacific.
Kate’s husband was a junior professor at the local university back in Illinois. He worked in the zoology department, and had an enthusiasm for rare animal species that Kate herself didn’t really share. In fact, Jeff’s constant obsessive interest in rare species bored Kate and had gotten her nerves back when they were in the early stages of their marriage. Before they both agreed on this vacation, they had both made a pact that he could do all the animal research he wanted but that they wouldn’t discuss anything of his interests at all during the trip.
And that might prove difficult, Kate had reasoned. She rather suspected—no she was certain—that her husband had suggested this particular locale for their vacation could not have been a coincidence. Of all the places on earth Kate would have chosen, Tasmania would have been possibly the last. But Jeff had done his level best to convince her:
“It’s a beautiful island—not some exotic place where hairy men and savage beasts live. Look at these brochures! It’s pretty much like Hawaii.”
“Then why don’t we go there? Hawaii, I mean.”
“Honey, that’s where we went last time.”
“I’d so like to go there again.”
“But you’ll like Tasmania. It’s got a rich history. Great historical sights. And there’s great scenery. Just take a look.”
Kate looked the brochures, over, and she had to admit, some of it interested her. So at last they agreed. They had booked on Quantas airlines at O’Hare airport, and had flown to Melbourne, then from Melbourne they were now on their way to their destination. Kate was now looking over her Gardening magazines. Jeff was still engrossed in the Smithsonian, as he had been most of time they had been airborne. Kate often wondered about Jeff. He was quiet man, who spent most of the time in thought anyway. Most of their marriage, in fact.
She sighed. At least it gave her time to do her own reading.
They arrived on the island within two days of leaving the mainland. Customs checked them. Kate noticed that most other passengers had to be native Australians, form their accents. They were being checked too. Though they were technically in the same country, apparently travelers from the mainland were treated exactly as though they were crossing international borders.
They stopped and had lunch at a small cafe, and then browed a nearby tourist gift shop. They picked up a tourist guide and more brochures. They then make reservations at a local hotel, and rented a car. During the drive to hotel, Kate got her first real look at the land of Tasmania. It was a quite a bit different then she suspected. It was a very beautiful island. As beautiful as Hawaii? Kate wasn’t sure she could make a good comparison. It was different, that’s for sure. Beautiful jade-green mountains rose above a land heavily-forested land. The road they took wound through deep ravines and snaked out along a rugged coastline in places. The intense, turquoise blue of the Southern ocean contrasted with the rich emeralds and jades of the land. Great escarpments rose above them. There were a great number of exotic plants. Kate noticed tower tree-ferns that looked like something straight out of the dinosaur era. There other huge plants which resembled nothing so much as gigantic pillow-beds. Jeff explained to her that these were called cushion plants. Plant life—this was making Kate’s vacation interesting already. It was also a thrill to see kangaroo-crossing signs with frequency. This trip was turning out to be amazing. She kept expected one of the animals to hop across the road in front. She’d make sure to tell Jeff to put on the breaks fast, if one did, but it never happened.
It turned out that the hotel they had booked was located far from the coast. Kate had expected one of the high-rise places on the coast. But the road took them inland past, forested mountains, and rolling plains covered with rich vineyards. The hotel itself turned out to be a rather low-class, three story affair. Jeff explained that he’d rented it because of its proximity to the local wildlife reserve, where he obviously intended to spend a good proportion of their vacation. It was a white building with peeling paint, but it did have the classic stucco architecture, common to the larger colonial mansions on the island.
They spent the first week visiting local tourist sites. They went to local wineries, several colonial homes, and the old building that had once housed prisoners from England. It turned out that Tasmania had a rich history that Kate had only begun to realize. Then Jeff took her to a wildlife park that featured the island’s icon, the Tasmanian devil. Kate knew next to nothing about them except for the famous Warner Brothers cartoon character. The devils in the park weren’t wild—they were kept in a large enclosure. There were in fact over a dozen of the black-furred beasts. The rangers fed them chunks of wallaby meat, while the devils emitted horrendous howls that had to be the weirdest thing Kate had ever heard.
The day following, they went to the local national park and wildlife refuge, where they went “bushwacking.” At least that’s what Jeff called it. It was really just a guided tour by one of the rangers along a well-worn trail. True bushwacking, as the Aussies called it, would likely involve hacking through the wilderness with machetes. Still, it seemed they were venturing into a vast wilderness, far from civilization. Huge eucalyptus trees rose all about them, so huge and massive in girth that they reminded Kate of giant redwoods. The park ranger warned them not to step off the path, mostly for the presence of highly poisonous snakes, the deadly tiger snake and the taipan. Kate hated snakes, and wished she hadn’t been told that, even though at the same time she was. Fortunately, the glimpsed no serpents, but several exotic birds caught her eye, and she sought to capture them on her digital camera. Too bad they too distant to show it well on the recording. Things rustled in the underbrush. The ranger informed them that animals that were common were the possums and predatory tiger quolls. The devil was common as well, but, the according to the ranger they usually ventured out of their burrows at night.
“One problem we have,” the ranger said,” is that this land is wanted by the Tasmanian logging company.”
“All of it?” Kate asked him.
“As much as they can get. They have plenty of land of their own over there.” He indicated the direction. “They’re supposed to plant new trees for the ones they’ve cut. The problem is, animals eat the little saplings, so then loggers have taken to poisoning them to ensure the new growth.”
“That’s horrible.” Kate said.
“Maybe. But logging is a big industry. It generates tons of profit, so there’s not much can be done.”
‘Even for the poor little animals?”
The next day they returned to the park. This time, they visited a spectacular waterfall. Then they went kayaking on the rapids, and visited a secret grotto inhabited by the famous Tasmanian giant crayfish that were considered a delicacy.
That weekend, they spent their time visiting the local shops. They went to a famous winery/restaurant, had some of that famous crayfish for themselves. Jeff bought three vine bottles of Tasmanian vintage. Kate anticipated what the neighbors back home would think when she showed them the rare Tasmanian wines, brewed only on the island. With still two weeks of vacation left, Jeff announced he was going back to the park to look for wildlife.
“You don’t have to come, if you don’t want to.” he told her.
“But what am I supposed to do here at the hotel?”
“I’ll let you have the car. I’ll take the bus to the park. It’s better that way.”
“You’re going out there to look for animals, aren’t you?”
“Maybe. Call it scientific research.”
“Okay. I can go to the shops, I guess.”
“That’s the idea. You’ll have fun.”
“Yes.” Kate said. “I suppose I will.”
Kate realized there were in fact plenty of other shops they hadn’t visited, and decided that this was a perfect opportunity to shop on her own. So let Jeff have his own fun, and she would have hers.
So the next day Kate amused herself in Jeff’s absence by browsing the stores in the nearby shopping area. She didn’t buy much, enjoyed browsing the most, and found a few cool items to bring back with her.
It was on her way back to the hotel that it happened.
Kate was driving the rented car through a strip of road with thick forest on either side, when something caught her eye in the rearview mirror. It was very quick, so quick, in fact, that she barely discerned it. A small animal racing across the road and vanishing in the tall weeds on the other side. She was only able to catch a glimpse of it before it vanished from view. But she had a good enough look in that brief instant to tell it was a dog of some kind. Or maybe a fox, as it was very small; the park ranger had told them there were a number of foxes in Tasmania, which had been introduced in the relatively recent past. If it were indeed, a fox, then it could fend for itself; if it were a small dog, however, Kate decided she simply could not abandon it. She was far from anyone’s home, after all. The poor thing might well be lost, and there was no way she could not try to save it—especially with those nasty devils prowling around.
Kate began backing up to the spot where she’d glimpsed the animal, knowing it was foolish, but watching all the time for cars. There were none.
When she reached the spot she’d seen it, Kate got out, and crossed the road. The weeds here grew tall and thick, as she pushed her way through them. The eucalypt forest on the other side looked deep and dark. Perhaps the animal had fled into the depths. Kate was just about to return to her car, when a small, cute face poked up through the grass over a fallen branch. Kate started. The animal’s face regarded her plaintively. And she knew it once what it was.
A puppy. A little lost puppy out here in exotic Tasmania.
Kate’s heart immediately went out to it. She thought of the numerous dogs she’d known growing up. Of course, there were dog owners down here too, and even strays. Her problem was: Jeff. Ever since her marriage to him, she had been prohibited from owning a dog. Despite his interest in zoology, Jeff was anything but a pet person. Especially when it came to dogs. They barked and made bad smells and were a financial strain and a general nuisance. Jeff had never bonded with an animal in all his boyhood. He would not tolerate an animal in their home, ruining their carpets or their furniture. He might be a strong champion for animal rights, and a professor in the zoology department, dogs were a definite no-no in his married life.
Which had been a very hard trade off for Kate. If she hadn’t loved Jeff so much....
But here was this lost or abandoned puppy, out here in the wild. There was no way she could leave it here, Jeff or no Jeff.
The little puppy continued to gaze at her. Kate could tell when an animal was silently pleading for help. She cautiously approached the puppy. It did not flee.
“Little fellow.” She told it. “”Who do you belong to?”
The puppy whined at her. Kate reached down, and seized the puppy by the scruff of its little neck and lifted it up. She blinked.
A series of chocolate-brown stripes ran down the pup’s lower back to the base of its short, stiff tail.
Never in her life had Kate ever heard of breed of dog that possessed stripes. Perhaps it was some sort of Australian breed? A kangaroo hound perhaps? Kate had heard of kangaroo hounds, but had never seen one.
But a lost puppy was a lost puppy.
Kate scooped up the little puppy and cradled it in her arms. The puppy was very docile and let itself be cuddled. She carried it back to her car, and placed it on the passenger seat. She got a blanked out of the back seat and placed the puppy on it. She shut the car door and headed for the hotel. What could she do now? Jeff would just have to share his apartment until she could find a home for the little guy.
When Kate got back to the apartment, she bundled the puppy into the blanket, and carried into the apartment. She laid it down on the sofa, then held it up. She found it was definitely a little guy. Kate wondered absently what she would call him, so long as he stayed with her.
The puppy nuzzled her cheek fondly. Then he licked her twice with his small soft tongue. It was surely wonderful how animals always expressed instant gratitude beyond that of humans. Kate gazed fondly at the little puppy’s quizzical face.
“Tigger.” She told him. “Tigger, that’s your name. It really suits you.” That was the perfect name for a cute, striped little puppy. Kate loved the cartoon character of the same name, who was Winnie-the Pooh’s buddy. She remembered one special line from the movie “Winnie-the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” which she’d loved as a child: “The most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one!”
“That’s you, Tigger. I’ll bet you’re the only one, too. I’ll bet you’re the only striped puppy in the world.”
Tigger licked her face again.
Already, she was falling in love with the little guy.
She lay Tigger down on the blanket again. Tigger looked at her and whined. Then he curled up into a striped ball, his tail over his muzzle.
The poor little fellow must have been through a lot, whoever had abandoned him.
She decided poor little Tigger deserved a good long sleep, whatever he’d been through. Meanwhile, she’d needed to go somewhere to find him some baby milk and puppy food. What would Jeff say? Well, she didn’t car, for the moment. She’d deal with that little problem when she came to it. For now, Tigger was her responsibility.
She took the car to a small grocery down the street from the hotel. She got a bottle, someone formula baby milk, and some puppy chow, and returned as fast as she could.
When she entered the apartment, Tigger looked up at her from the couch. It was as though he sensed she’d brought something good for him. Kate went into the small kitchen and prepared the milk. She heard a whine and looked down. There was Tigger, sitting with his little striped rump on the kitchen floor, gazing up at her plaintively. She gathered him up into her arms and fed the him the milk. Tigger took to it gratefully. Kate wondered how long he had gone without it; he was still a very small puppy, and it was unlikely he’d been weaned.
Kate set Tigger on the floor, and poured him a paper bowl of puppy chow. Tigger ambled for the food on shakey legs, and sniffed at it.
“Go on, Tigger.” Kate encouraged him. “You’re a growing dog. You need to eat.”
Tigger continued to sniff at it suspiciously. Then, as though finding the food unfamiliar, sampled a small portion of it. Then he ate chewed and swallowed a bit more, then a bit more. Finally demonstrating real appetite, he polished off all of it. He then gazed up at Kate as though expecting more.
“Not now, Tigger. You’ve had enough.” She gathered the puppy into her arms again, and carried him into what passed for the living room. She turned on the TV, and sat down on the couch, Tigger cuddled on her lap. It turned out that Tigger seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching the screen with her, though she had no idea what went on in a puppy’s head.
Kate was very glad she had rescued Tigger. There was no telling what could have happened to the poor little guy out there. She had seen two wombats and a wallaby as roadkill, and she shuddered to think.
Kate knew by now that there was no way she could tell her husband. She was totally in love with little Tigger. There was no way Jeff would let her keep him. There was also no way she would give him up. But what could she do? Jeff was do home any minute. She had to hide him from Jeff. Inwardly she knew that this was foolish, that she could not possibly keep Tigger a secret for long. Jeff was sure to make her give him up. And she couldn’t, just couldn’t....
There was the sound of the bus on the street outside.
Quickly, Kate gathered up Tigger. The little guy remained complacent as she bundled him up and headed straight for the closet. She placed Tigger in it. “I’m sorry, sweetheart” she told the little guy. “But You’ll have to stay in here for a while. My husband won’t like it you’re here.” Tigger whined at her.
She heard Jeff knock at the door. Kate gave Tigger a scratch behind his small ears, then closed the door, and went to let Jeff in.
It turned out Jeff seemed rather nonplussed that evening. He had gone on another expedition into the park, with a different ranger this time, he said. He had even stored some pictures in his digital camera. He showed them to Kate. Some were of the exotic birds. Jeff called one of the birds a curowong and another species of cockatoo.
But it seemed Jeff was disappointed about something.
They watched TV together that evening. When they retired for bed, Kate grew worried about Tigger. She couldn’t just leave him in the closet all night. There was an extra bedroom, probably for couples who had children (Jeff had not wanted any), and Kate supposed she would have to put Tigger in there.
“Just a minute, Honey.” She told Jeff as she finished putting on her gown. She slipped out into the living room and opened the closet. She got down on her knees. To her relief, Tigger was still there, curled up and regarding her sleepily. He seemed fine. He was so amiable and complacent for a dog. She gathered him up, said some placating words to him, and carried him swiftly to the back room. She set little Tigger comfortably on the bed, scratched him behind the ears. Then she returned to the other bedroom and Jeff.
It was sometime much later, after they had made love and fallen fast asleep, that Kate felt the covers dragged off her. She was awake in an instance, blinking at the darkness of the room. Beside her, she heard Jeff snore. She felt the covers dragged further, herd them fall to the floor.
Instantly, she rememberd. That day. Tigger.
Kate nearly panicked. But she managed to keep her cool. Something had just pulled off the sheets, and she knew instantly who. Jeff, mercifully, had refused to wake.
As gingerly as she could, Kate swung her feet out of bed and stood up. The room was clothed in nearly pitch blackness. She looked at the floor but could see nothing. Then she heard the very faint, soft sound of the Tigger’s unsteady footfalls, heard him chew on the sheet. She crouched down. “Tigger?”
She heard a plaintive whine.
“Tigger!” Kate whispered harshly. “Come here! Now!”
Tigger did not come.
“Tigger!” she whispered again.
She heard the puppy pad away on his shaky legs.
And Jeff begin to stir himself awake.
Kate rose to her feet as Jeff sat up, started to get out of bed.
‘Uh...Kate?” he answered sleepily.
“Are you getting up?”
“Of course I’m getting up. I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” He told her. “isn’t that alright?”
“Well, yes. Of course. But...”
“Is something wrong?”
“Well, no, but....wait, I’ve got to check the bathroom before you use it! Just a minute!”
Kate made her way around the bed, looking at the floor. Where was Tigger? Was he under the bed? Or—
She gasped as she rounded the bed and saw the striped puppy almost at her husband’s feet. He was doubtless curious about this new human, and looked like he was about to innocently sniff Jeff’s foot. She was that close to losing him.
“You’re acting funny, Kate.”
“Go on, Jeff! Go to the bathroom! Now!”
“Huh? But you just said—“
“Okay already!” Jeff got up and headed for the bathroom. As soon as her husband had left the room, she scooped up Tigger and hurried out with him. She carried him back to the other bedroom and set him on the bed. She kissed the puppy on the head then left him there, making sure this time the door was tightly shut. She returned to the bedroom and lay down. Jeff returned a few seconds later. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” he asked.
“Oh, yes.” Said Kate. “I think was just having a nightmare and..it seemed like I was still dreaming. Sorry.”
“Just making sure.” Jeff said. He settled into the bed and was asleep in no time.
Kate breathed a silent prayer of relief.
In the days that followed, Jeff continued to take the bus to the park, always in the false assumption that his wife was occupying herself with shopping in his absence. But shopping no longer interested her in the least. There was a brand new presence in her life, and his name was Tigger. Half of her time was concerned with caring for the little fellow; the other half the most difficult, was keeping him secret from Jeff. This was no small task, and all the time when Jeff was in the apartment, the fear of losing her newfound companion was at the fore of her mind.
Meanwhile, Jeff spent more and more time at the park every day. Kate wondered what exactly he was doing out there. Was he just going on nature hikes and observing Tasmanian wildlife? She figured he must be doing some sort of wildlife research, but since they made a pact not do discuss his interest in wildlife, they never did. Which was just fine with Kate; she hardly had time to think about it, as her thoughts were all taken up with Tigger. The little puppy was more active now, and, though Kate wasn’t quite sure, he might even have grown some since she found him. His legs were less wobbly now, and he had taken to exploring the small apartment. Kate late him go everywhere he wanted, so long as Jeff wasn’t around. She set him on a sheet of newspaper to toilet train him. She kept on feeding him the milk formula, realizing it must be what was improving his strength. The only problem came when Jeff returned to the hotel. She had to keep Tigger shut in the extra bedroom during this time, and she was deadly afraid that he would start scratching at the door, and that Jeff would hear.
One evening though, Jeff surprised her by announcing he was to return to the park, where he would remain the entire night. This actually relieved her greatly; she and Tigger would have the apartment to themselves for the entire night. The next morning Jeff returned to the hotel disgruntled. This time he had red spots all over him; he explained that the sores had been caused by land-leeches. The bteis n covered his arms and neck.
"oh, you poor baby." she told him.'I'll have to take care of those."
"Don't worry about it honey, I'm fine."
"Those sure don't look fine. I'll get something for those."
Kate spent nearly an hour putting antiseptic on Jeff's leetch bites, while he sat on the bed wincing at the pain.
She noticed that he was acting more and more frustrated everyday; she got the idea he was looking for something out there, and not finding it. He talked to her less than usual, but he did share the results of his camera with her. He’d stayed out all night with a blind, watching the wildlife, it turned out. It had been long and generally uneventful, but e was able to capture several wild kangaroos on film during the course of the night, along with three brush-tailed possums and once a wombat ambled in front of his camera. It was the first genuine wild wombat they’d seen, save for roadkill. Kate would have thought Jeff would be more than pleased, but he seemed despondent.
“Did you see any devils?” she asked him, as they sat on couch watching the film.
“Actually, no.” Jeff told. “It’s a shame, I was hoping to see one in the wild. But I did hear them though. Believe me, they’re out there. I would have thought one would approach the camera. Maybe if I stay out another night.”
“Oh, no.” said Kate “I don’t want you to do that.” Part of her did like the idea of another night with Tigger safe, but she also was getting worried about Jeff spending so much time out there in the bush.
“I’ll go farther out, up in the hills.”
“No Jeff. You’ve already spent too much time out there. Surely you’ve done enough by now.”
“I guess you’re right.” Jeff sighed.
“You’re tired.” Kate told him. “Just go to bed. We’ll be leaving soon anyway.”
It was true. Kate was surprised she hadn’t considered it before now: in just three more days they would return to the states. What could she possibly do with Tigger? She thought she’d know what to do when the time came, but the truth was, she had no idea.
The next day, after Jeff had returned once again to the park, Kate sat alone on the couch, Tigger snuggled safe in her arms, and considered what her options were.
There was not a chance, she knew, that she could leave Tigger behind. She was entirely and totally in love with him. But there was no way Jeff would let her keep him, let alone let her take him back with her. That meant the only option, the only one at all, was to take Tigger back in secret. To smuggle him out of the country!
It seemed impossible, and it had to be illegal. Could she even do it? She wasn’t at all sure, but she had to try. Her heart simply left her no other option. Even if she were accomplish it though, she knew realistically that she couldn’t live in the same house with Jeff and keep Tigger a secret from him forever. Sooner or later, (perhaps most likely on the return trip, much as she dreaded that possibility), Jeff would discover that she’d been keeping a dog under his nose. He’d likely be furious with her for it, even more so if he found she’d actually broken the law to do it, and Tigger would lose his home and her. That would be more than she could bear.
Even though, she had to keep Tigger. As for what she would do once they were back home, she’d just have to worry about it then. Fortunately, Tigger in an odd manner for a dog; he was very quiet. He never barked, except for once he’d made a low, coughing sound, and emitted the occasional whine. He was remarkably quiet for a canine. He let her hold him, and that manner, seemed more like a cat than a dog. That meant there was a chance she might be able to do it.
The day before they left, she went out and bought a small pet-carrier designed for a cat or small dog. Kate selected one that looked rather like a more innocent type of carrying case. She was fairly confident that Jeff would not notice what it was among her other luggage.
Finally the day arrived to return home. Jeff was more despondent than ever after spending all those hours in the bush. Kate asked him what exactly it was he thought he was looking for. But Jeff replied that she just wouldn’t be interested.
Tigger was shut in the extra bedroom at this time. Kate went into the room and set the carrying case on the bed where Tigger was already curled complacently. The litte dog looked up at her.
“It’s okay, Tigger.” She told him. “I’m taking you back home with me. I know you don’t understand, but I have to put you in here. It won’t be for long, I promise.”
Tigger lay there, and whined up at her.
“It’s okay, little guy.” Kate said. “Just trust me.”
She lifted Tigger off the blanket he was laying on and used the blanket to make a soft nest for him in the carrier. Then she gave Tigger an affectionate scratch and lifted him inside. She nestled him in the blanket carefully, then fastened the door.
“Kate, are you ready yet?” Jeff called.
“Almost!” she called. She took the carrier off the bed and set with her other luggage in the main room. Jeff was lugging his own suitcase out the door.
Jeff loaded his luggage into the trunk of their rented car, but Kate insisted on having hers in the back seat. They checked out, and drove to the airport. Jeff had brightened a bit and asked Kate some questions about her trip, and if she enjoyed all the she shopping he thought she’d been doing while he was away. She gave him short answers, her mind being constantly on Tigger, who was tiding in obtrusively in the back seat. Again she feared he would begin scratching, and alert Jeff to his presence. But it didn’t happen. The puppy was quiet as always. Was he alright? Kate sincerely hoped so. The real nightmare, she realized, lay ahead of her.
They reached the airport. Before boarding the plane, the customs officers checked them again. Here was the moment Kate had been dreading most. They scanned both of their suitcases, the small case that held Tigger. Kate nearly jumped out of her skin when one of the men asked her abruptly, “Do you have a pet ma’am?”
“Oh?” she said.
“That case. I thought you might have a pet.”
“Oh, no. That’s just for my personal things.”
“Oh.” He scanned it again, seemingly unconcerned. No metal was detected, and the men turned nonchalantly to the next couple. When they met the receptionist in charge of the luggage, Kate took her aside.
“Ma ‘am,” she said “Could you help me?”
“What?” asked the receptionist, a pretty young blonde .
“Could you....make sure my case is placed in a safe spot.”
“Well, sure. Why?”
“Well....” Kate decided to tell the partial truth to her. “I have a small dog, who gets chills easily.”
“Oh!” she said. “You didn’t tell me you had a pet. Don’t worry. I’ll put him in the kennel. He’ll be fine.”
The receptionist had snatched Tigger away from her and was carrying off him and her suitcase.
Kate was dreadfully afraid Jeff had heard.
“Kate?” her husband asked.
“What were you talking to her about?”
“I just wanted her to make sure my stuff was okay.”
“Why would you need to do that?”
“I just did.” She said helplessly.
“I thought I heard her say you had a pet.”
“She misunderstood me.”
“Oh. You should have told her we don’t have any pets. You don’t want her to put that case of yours in the kennel. That would be unsanitary.”
“Well, it’s too late now. I’m not going to worry about it.”
They were now boarding the plane with the other passengers, and Jeff said nothing more about it. In fact he said very little to her during the return trip. Doubtless his thoughts were on whatever it was he was looking for and didn’t find out there in the bush. Some kind of rare animal, maybe. Kate could well read her husband’s thoughts. But during the entire trip home, Kate could think of hardly anything else but Tigger, much as she tried to concentrate on other things. It would be a long flight for the little guy.
They flew once again to Sydney, and from thence back across the Pacific to Chicago, Illinois.
When Kate picked up her luggage, she heard nothing inside, and this worried her. She felt like holding up the carrier and looking inside, but she daren’t. Jeff was right there. Before she put the case in their car, though, she felt Tigger’s small body stir, and she was relieved.
She said little to Jeff on the drive from the airport to their home. Jeff noticed and asked her, and she replied that she was merely glad to be back home at last.
“You seemed worried back on the plane.”
“Oh. I was just tired at last.”
The familiar sights and sounds of the Chicago suburbs were all around them now. Never before was she so glad to experience the sound of the conjested Illinois traffic.
They arrived at their house. Kate hurriedly picked up her luggage. Once they were inside, Kate headed for their room and locked the door. Jeff had set his own luggage on the floor in the living room, and was now phoning the neighbors.
Kate set Tigger’s case on their bed. She then opened the door and peered inside.
She heard him whine. The puppy’s little face peered over the fold of blanket and looked her.
Kate grinned hugely. She reached and drew Tigger out. She held him up in front of her.
“Oh, Tigger are you alright, baby? I sorry I had to put you through this.”
Tigger, however, seemed perfectly fine. The little puppy licked her face with utmost affection.
“Tigger, oh, Tigger..”
She cuddled the little puppy in her arms, and rocked him gently. Tigger was such a brave, wonderful dog! He had made all the way from Tasmania to Illinois, and he didn’t seem in the least traumatized by the experience.
She had done it! She’d really done it. No wait, they had done it. Half the credit had to go to her canine companion. If he hadn’t been so quiet during the return trip, she’d already have had to give him up. Most dogs would have barked and announced themselves. Not her Tigger! Oh, he had to be the bravest, most wonderful dog in the world.
But for now, she had to find a new place to put him.
Jeff knocked on the bedroom door. “Kate?”
“It’s okay, Jeff.” She said.
“Are you coming out?”
“Pretty soon, Jeff.”
She knew then things were hardly over for herself and for Tigger. She had to hide him again. No matter, there were plenty of places in their house she could put the complacent little fellow. But what then? She couldn’t keep him a secret for long. And what about when Tigger started to grow? Well, she would solve those problems as they came. Right now she cradled the puppy in her arms for half an hour. Then she carried I him into the guest room and shut the door.
The next day, after Jeff had returned to work, she let Tigger out of the guest room and allowed him to explore the entire house. He showed a good degree of curiousity, even climbing and scratching on some of the furniture. And even chewing on some of it, a habit Kate realized she would have to break him of. That was exactly didn’t want animals sharing their home.
The days progressed. Kate grew ever more attached to little Tigger. She just couldn’t get enough of him. She allowed him the run of the house when she or Jeff was at work, only keeping him locked in the basement or the guest room when Jeff was around. She spent hours playing with him, often tug-of-war with a piece of yarn. And also much time watching TV with Tigger lying on her lap. She continued to buy puppy chow for him in secret, though he seemed to be outgrowing the milk. She also had him sample new sorts of food. Tigger seemed to prefer most kinds of meat. But she was able to coax him into eating some lettuce and other vegatables. Then she fed him have a Hershey bar. After that, Tigger seemed to take a strong liking for chocolate, and she make sure to pick up some chocolate bars form the grocery whenever she went. She just had to make certain Jeff didn’t suspect who they were for.
Then something happened.
She was home on a Friday afternoon fixing something in the kitchen. Tigger was sitting on the floor. She suddenly heard Tigger gave out a very un-canine sounding hiss. Kate glanced sharply down at the little dog.
Tigger was still engaged in the hissing. It was a low harsh sound like a diminishing steam-kettle. His mouth was gaping wide. For a second, Kate was astonished. With his mouth open, Tigger didn’t look very much like a dog. In fact, the motuh was open to much wider angle, she decided than a dog should have been able. And in that brief instance, his dogness seemed to vanish. Tigger closed his mouth and looked up at her.
Kate got to wondering. Even when his mouth was closed there was something distinctly un-doglike about Tigger. There always had been, she realized. Could it be, perhaps, that Tigger was really not a dog at all? The thought was almost frightening. It shocked Kate a bit. She noticed that Tigger’s eyes were too slanted, a bit more feline than canine even. His ears were a bit too rounded at the tips. And his tail—whoever heard of a dog whose tail never wagged? How strangely stiff it was. It seemed Tigger was not even capable of wagging his tail, despite his friendly nature.
She found herself thinking suddenly of a popular piece of urban folklore—the one commonly known as “The Mexican Pet.” Kate remembered hearing herself as a teen, and believing at the time that it was real. The story was always basically the same, whoever told it. Someone, usually a woman, went on vacation to Mexico. There, she rescued what she thought was a small dog. Then she returned home with her new pet, only to discover to her horror that the “dog” some sort of Mexican rodent. Well, that was just plain ridiculous. No way Tigger could be a rat; he had the perfectly normal canine teeth. What was he, then? Since he came form Australia, could it be that he was the Australian equivalent of the fabled rat from beyond the border? What lived in Australia? Was he some sort of possum, maybe? Kate realized then what Tigger had reminded her of for the brief time he had opened his jaws—an opossum. That hiss, too, it seemed more like what a possum might make. Kate began taking this seriously; she thought of the native Tasmanian animals she’s seen on Visitor’s billboard at the parks she had Jeff and seen. There was the famous devil, and brown white-spotted critter called a tiger quoll, and a few smaller rat-sized beasts. None of these resembled Tigger. Plus, all of those predators were small in their adult size. And Tigger was a very young whatever-he-was. From the size he was now,, Kate estimated that he would probably grow to the size of a collie or maybe a German Shephard. No, Tigger was a dog. There was simply nothing else in the world that he could possibly be. That left it open, of course, as to just what kind of dog he was.
Kate went to Jeff’s home office and did an Internet search on breeds of dog. She enjoyed reading about each of the dogs that caught her attention. But there was none that resembled her new companion. She did another search on Australian dog breeds, but this, too, yielded nothing.
At last, she gave up her search, and was contented to just assume Tigger was a very special, one of the kind dog—which, so far as she could tell, he was. She returned to the living room and turned on the television. She picked Tigger up and sat down. As usual, the amiable little fellow curled up in her lap and watched the screen right along with her. Kate looked down at him.
“Oh, Tigger,” she said to him. “You really are unique in all the world.”
The next evening, Kate had given Tigger the usual run of the house, when she received an unexpected call from the cleaners. They told her that Jeff’s suit and pants were ready to pick up. Jeff not being due home for another couple of hours, Kate hurried out.
It was about ten minutes after she left that Jeff arrived home early with three fellow zoology professors. His last class had unexpectedly been cancelled. This would be a perfect time some relaxation with some friends who shared his passion wildlife.
The men were soon seated around in the living room. Tigger was in the kitchen at the moment and feeling very hungry. He’d heard the men enter the house, and remained where he was afraid to venture out where they were. His friend Kate had left him for the time, and though he knew another human shared Kate’s home, he was never given contact with him. Why was that? Tigger didn’t know. The humans he’d met yesterday were also his friends. One had even picked him up like Kate did. Still, he didn’t trust these new ones—not yet.
The first things the animal who now knew himself as Tigger remembered were his mother’s milk, and being carried snug and secure in the flap of skin close to his mother’s warm belly. His world had shattered when a tremendous crash had come out of nowhere, causing white light to explode in his little skull. When he woke, Tigger had struggled out of his mother’s pouch. He had sniffed his mother and tried to wake her. He knew not why she did not move or breath. But he heard the screams and howls of the black beasts he knew would eat him. He cried plaintively for his mother to wake. When she didn’t, he staggered off dazedly on his wobbly legs into the forest. He’d found a hollow log and hid there, while sounds of crunching bone and tearing flesh filled the night. The next morning his mother was gone—gone completely. The black beasts had even consumed her bones. He staggered off in a daze once more—he didn’t know what else to do.
He hid himself away in the dark when the black beasts were prowling about. They had eaten his mother and Tigger knew they would eat him as well if they found him. In the daylight, he staggered about, blinking, crying from his mother to come and save him, even though his mother was no more. He was much weakened and dizzy from lack of milk, and suffering fainting spells, by the time he came back to the strip of stone, where he had last seen his mother, even though she no longer moved or breathed then. But he feared the stone place, for it had somehow taken his mother from him. But maybe she was alive somewhere on the other side of the stone strip. A great shining thing, roaring strangely had come tearing along the stone strip. The sound it made gave him terror, for he’d heard that same sound before his world had shattered.
But once the huge thing had passed, Tigger burst out across the stone plunging for the weed on the other side. Maybe on the other side his mother was still alive somewhere. All had been wonderful before his mother had carried him across. Yes, maybe that was it.
And something had happened. The great shining thing had come back. Tigger was too confused to run. That was when Kate had found him. That’s when Kate had become his new mother. That was when life once again became good like before, only different. Kate had saved him. Kate fed him, cared for him. Tigger loved Kate. Kate, he knew, would never let the black furred beasts eat him. Kate had given him his name. Tigger liked his name because Kate had given it him. Tigger worshiped Kate, because Kate could do anything.
But Kate wasn’t here now. And Tigger was very hungry. He was especially hungry for that wonderful stuff Kate called “chocolate” or “hershees.” He wanted some of it right now.
Did the other humans have any for him? Tigger didn’t know. But he was going to find out.
On uncertain legs, he began ambling in the direction of the human voices.
“I’m surprised at you, Jeff,” one of Jeff’s friends was saying. “I didn’t really think that would go back into the bush and actually look for them.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to find any.” Jeff said.
“Of course you didn’t find any. Because there aren’t any. The last reliable sighting of one was probably 1982.”
“There’s been plenty of sightings then.”
“I said reliable sightings. There’s plenty of sightings of Elvis, too.”
“They’ve even seen them on the mainland.”
“That’s my point. There haven’t been any of them on the mainland for 3,000 years.”
Jeff was becoming slightly irritated. “You’ve seen those two films? The creatures on those sure look like one to me!”
Tigger had ambled his way from the kitchen and was now sitting in complacent fashion on his little striped rump a few feet from the men. He was gazing up at the one human whose face was turned toward him. Maybe he would recognize what he wanted.
“Kate enjoyed the trip,” Jeff was saying. “She was at the local tourist traps, mostly. I think she got more out of it than I did. I wonder though, if I’d spent years in Tasmania, or maybe if I’d gone even further into the bush, where none of the rangers had been, then maybe-“
“Maybe you’d get even more wombats on film. In fact, I’m really sure you would. I bet you’d see tons of wombats!”
There was laughter around the circle, a harsh noise to Tigger’s ears.
The human facing Tigger had noticed him. Tigger saw the man glance down at him with a smile, then look away. Then look back, still with a smile, but now with a puzzled look in his eye. Tigger could not read these expressions, but he saw the man blink at him several times rapidly. The man gave a short laugh. “Jeff?” the man asked, not taking his gaze off Tigger and starting to bend forward in his direction.”Jeff?”
“You know,” Jeff was saying to another friend of his, “I had the strangest feeling the whole time. Like I could sense their presence. I felt like they had to be out there—somewhere. It was though there really was one of them right under my nose the whole time—“
His voice trailed off to nothing. The other three men were looking toward a corner of the living room. The man to whom he’d been speaking had risen from his chair and was now staring intently at some spot on the floor beyond and behind where Jeff was seated. The man closest to the spot was leaning over in his chair, and gaping silently.
Jeff felt a chill invade the room and settle over him. He rose slowly form his chair and turned around to see what it was that had suddenly caught his friends’ attention.
Kate had just picked up Jeff’s suit and pants at the cleaners when her cell phone rang. It was a friend of hers. “Hi Kate. I just wanted you to know you’re husband’s in the hospital.”
“Jeff? What’s happened!”
“I’m not sure yet. But something happened at your house.”
“You mean Jeff’s home?”
“Well, yeah. He must have got off early. Anyway, he passed out in state of shock. They told me his hair has turned white.”
“That’s not all. It seems there’s some kind of mob at your house. They’re all professors from your husband’s department—“
Kate shut off the cell phone and stormed out to her car. She didn’t even need to guess the source of this problem: Tigger. How foolish she’d been to leave him alone, even to go to the cleaners. She hadn’t counted on the unexpected, in this case, Jeff’s return. She hadn’t guessed that the discovery of her secret would have turned his hair white, but she’d heard once that there are always new things to learn about one’s spouse.
Kate started her engine and headed for the hospital. A relief flooded through her. Her secret, long overdue, was finally out. She knew now that she could take it from here. The incident had made her decision for him. If Jeff’s hair had really turned white, well, it was just too bad. She wasn’t going to live by her husband’s rules anymore.
Kate felt giddy and lighthearted as drove toward the hospital, ready at last to explain everything to Jeff about Tigger. Having a dog in his life was just something he was going to have to live with.
Kangaroos and an (extinct) Tasmanian emu flee from two hunting thylacines in this 19th century illustration