Food was a bit harder to find at our new home, and the menu was different, but we didn't mind. The scenery was spectacular enough to make up for the inconvenience of not being able to roll out of bed and grab a snack. The grassy strip between the beach and the cliff had a few scattered pistachio bushes, like the one I took my naps under. The bushes produced a small number of greenish nuts. Some of those buggers were hard to open, and Wimsie and I left those for the humans to deal with. They had tools that could bash anything open. There were also a few fig trees around. But most of the edibles grew near the river, where the fresh water was, and since we had to go over there for water to drink, it was no big deal. We found several new kinds of fruit trees near the river: bananas, apricots, star fruit, and oranges. In one place there was a big, gnarled clump of grape-vines, all twining around each other and loaded with bunches of grapes. And there were several large oak trees that dropped a steady supply of acorns. We were in no danger of going hungry.
It didn't take us long to settle into our new place, and just a few days after we had arrived, it felt as if we had always been there. It was time to go exploring. The nearest island was just a short, pleasant swim away, so Wimsie and I waded into the water and dog-paddled out to it. That island, a small one, had nothing on it but grass. We lounged in the sun for a bit, and then we picked another island to swim to. The next one had some edibles growing on it, mainly pistachios. Wimsie snouted out some small, purple tubers, the name of which eluded me. They were good, though.
The next island had several kinds of fruit trees that were familiar to us, and it also had something new: a small tree, of a type that we had never seen before. The tree had fuzzy leaves that were dark green on top and yellow underneath. The trunk and branches were so gnarled that they almost looked like grape-vines, and the lower branches hung close to the ground. At the end of each twig was a small, dark brown fruit. Or maybe a nut. They looked sort of like nuts. Anyway, the skin of each fruit-nut was textured like the outside of an orange. They smelled like the cocoa beans that Zan had found along the river, but much sweeter. I bit into one; it had a soft, thin shell, with a creamy filling, and hidden in the filling was a tiny seed, about the size of a sunflower seed. I couldn't think of the name of the strange little tree, so I invented one: I called it a Truffle Tree. I licked my chops and had another truffle. So did Wimsie. We couldn't stop eating the damn things. When the lowest-hanging truffles were gone, we stood on our hind legs to reach some of the higher ones. And when those were gone, we started jumping up to reach even higher ones. We kept going until the only truffles that remained on the tree were the ones hanging out of range of our jumping, and that wasn't very many. It was a small tree, more of a bush than a tree, really. Wimsie and I looked at each other, and then I looked at the tree. "Maybe I could climb it," I said, inspecting the trunk and branches with a critical eye.
Wimsie did me one better. "I could stand on your back and try to jump from there. I think I could reach that one." She pointed her snout at a truffle that had defied all of her efforts to eat it.
That's when I realized that we had a problem. Those truffles were powerful things. They made us want to eat them. They made us act crazy. And they were delicious, better than anything that I had ever tasted. I had eaten so many that I was half-sick. "Wimsie, we need to keep the humans away from these," I said. "They can reach the ones that we can't. We might even have to dig the damn tree up."
"No!" Wimsie protested. "It's cute. And what if it's the only one?"
By itself, "cute" probably wouldn't have worked. Not this time. But she did have a point. I looked around, but I didn't see any more Truffle Trees. "Okay," I said gruffly, "but make sure the humans don't find this thing."
We didn't make it home that night. Those truffles gave us such a burst of energy that we swam to several more islands. There was plenty of food on them, and pools and puddles of fresh water to drink from, but no more truffles. Just as the sun was setting, we made it to an island that had a dense stand of sassafras trees on it, and all of a sudden, that wonderful truffle-induced energy was gone. We collapsed in the middle of the sassafras and went to sleep.
That night, for the first time ever, I didn't have The Dream. I had a different dream, a very strange one. In the middle of the dream, I heard yipping, and I woke with a start. The yips were coming from Wimsie. She was still deep in her own dream, legs twitching and tail thumping the ground. She finally woke herself up with her own yelps, and when she looked at me, she had a frown on her elegant little face.
"I had a weird dream," she said, cocking her head at me.
"So did I," I said. "What was yours?"
Her eyes glazed over as she tried to remember. "I saw dogs. Lots of different kinds of dogs, playing with things I've never seen before. Red things, and blue things, and yellow things. The dogs were all in a big field, playing with humans." She paused, trying to remember more. "There was a black and white dog with funny ears, and a man was throwing a flat green thing through the air, and the dog was catching it. And sometimes the dog would miss it, and the green thing would roll on its edge, and the dog would chase it. It looked like fun. But we don't have those flat green things."
"There must be one around somewhere," I said. "So what did the other dogs look like?"
She gave me a doggie grin. "Some of them were silly. There was a long one with little short legs. And a tiny one with huge eyes, and it wouldn't shut up. It barked the whole time. And some of them were colored like cows, black and white, and brown and white. Like that." She was silent for a moment. "There were pairs of dogs and humans walking around the edge of the field, attached to each other with pieces of vine. I don't know what the vines were for."
"Anything else?" I said.
"Well . . . " She shook her head and tried to think. "Oh! Before that dream, there was another one! A cave, like ours but a lot bigger. The floor was shiny and flat. And the cave had lights shining down from the ceiling like big crystals, and it was all lit up. And I was walking around in the cave. There were rows and rows of things, like food, and toys, all in one place! A lot of the things had pictures of dogs on them. And there were other things that I didn't recognize." She looked at me expectantly. "What did you dream about?"
My dream had left me with a strange feeling, as if I had been trying to snatch a treat from a wolverine's den without getting my ass shredded. It was hard to describe. "The first thing I saw was a cave, with a big open space in the middle of it. It was lit up by crystals, like yours was. There were pairs of dogs and humans, with vines between them, like you saw. Each pair walked around in a circle, and then they went over to the middle of the space, where a man looked at the teeth and ears of the dog and felt its legs and body. He didn't look at the teeth and ears of the human that was with the dog. Maybe he just wasn't interested in the other humans. And then the pair ran around the space, while the other dogs and humans watched. At the end of the dream, the human in the middle picked one pair and gave them a shiny thing, and the humans clapped and cheered. I have no idea what all that was for, but everyone seemed happy."
"What else?" Wimsie asked, eager to hear more.
"There were big shiny things, the size of a buffalo, and they came in all different colors. They weren't alive, they were sort of . . . " I tried to find the words. "They were hollow inside, like a cave, but they were able to move. They rolled along the ground on round, black things. There were huge, flat, open places, like fields with no grass, where the caves were all lined up in rows. I saw dogs and humans getting into the caves, and coming out of them. Each cave had transparent sections, so that whoever was inside could see out. The caves traveled long distances on wide, flat, hard paths, and they were able to move really fast, faster than we can run, and the dogs and humans just sat and relaxed while the caves took them wherever they wanted to go."
"It sounds like fun!" Wimsie said, her eyes shining.
"The dogs were having lots of fun," I said. "The transparent sections of the cave could slide down, and some of the dogs had their heads hanging out, watching the scenery go past. It looked like a great way to take a trip."
My stomach growled, and I suddenly realized that I was hungry. We didn't feel much like moving, but we had to. There was nothing to eat on the island except sassafras berries, which were way out of our reach. The sassafras trees were goofy-looking things. Their trunks bent in odd ways, and their branches grew in strange directions, and their leaves came in three different shapes. They also tended to fall down before they got very big. It was almost as if they couldn't quite figure out how to be trees -- if a plant had any capacity for calculation at all, which I doubted -- and they were just making stuff up as they went along. I arrived at the conclusion that they were the Wimsies of the tree world, and then I got on with my day.
The first thing we had to do was decide which way to go. We could go back the way we had come, following the trail of snacks that we knew were there, or we could forge ahead to the islands that we hadn't explored yet. On the one paw, there was a very good chance that there were edibles on a few of those unknown islands. On the other paw, if we spent too much time island-hopping, the humans might come looking for us and find the Truffle Tree. Well, we couldn't let that happen, so we made our way back to the shore of the lake, snacking as we went.
As we stood on the beach, shaking the salty water out of our fur, we heard Nar call out, "The dogs are back!" Zan came down from the cave, carrying a bowl in each hand. One bowl had fresh water in it, and the other was heaped with snacks. I felt guilty, I really did. Wimsie and I had dragged ourselves home after carousing out on the islands, and here was Zan with our bowls. What a darling. But I was still going to keep the truffles a secret, because I didn't think the humans would be able to handle their effects.
"And where were you two?" Zan asked as she put the bowls down in front of us. By way of an answer, I wagged my tail and took a big drink of water.
"They swam out to the islands," Nar said. "I saw them coming back. I wonder what's out there?"
Zan shaded her eyes and stared out at the islands. "Let me know when you get back. I'm not swimming all that way."
Nar laughed. "Neither am I. I was just wondering."
Well, that was a relief. The humans didn't seem to be interested in the islands at all, so it looked as if the Truffle Tree would remain a secret between me and Wimsie. I had been counting on the fact that humans weren't very good swimmers -- they could manage to stay on top of the water, but that was about it. So the tree would be safe after all.
When our bowls were empty, Zan picked up the water bowl, which was smoother inside, and wandered down to the beach with it. Weary from two days of swimming, I stretched out on the warm sand for a snooze. Wimsie followed Zan to see what she was going to do with the bowl. My laziness kept me from moving, but my curiosity kept me awake, and I watched as Zan bent down and plucked something out of the sand. I couldn't tell what it was. She held the item up, examined it briefly, and put it in the bowl. Wimsie peered into the bowl, and then she ran around, pawing at the sand, until she found one of the things that Zan was collecting. She trotted back to Zan and dropped it into the bowl. Zan laughed and scratched Wimsie's ears. What the hell are they doing? I thought as I watched them fill the bowl.
Zan finally returned, holding the bowl in front of her in both hands as if it was heavy. Nar was sitting on the grass, trying to get some pistachios open, and she put the bowl down on the ground so he could see what was in it. The solution to the mystery had finally presented itself. I sat up to take a look, and I saw that the bowl was full of rocks.
"How many rocks do you need?" Nar said, a bit exasperated.
"But these are pretty," Zan protested. She took a rock out of the bowl and held it up so he could get a good look at it. The smooth, pink stone had been polished by the waves, and it sparkled in the sunshine.
Nar shook his head. "They're not going anywhere. You can see them on the beach any time you want."
It was plain that Nar had a very poor grasp of feminine psychology. I'd had plenty of practice with Wimsie, and I wanted to tell him, Don't argue, you dipshit, just nod and smile and go back to cracking your nuts. But he was going to have to learn the hard way.
Zan didn't back down. "But they're prettier when they're all together and not scattered all over the beach. Aren't they?"
Nar tried to think of a sensible reply, but there wasn't one. He shrugged and said, "Okay," and then he went back to cracking his nuts. I was proud of him.
Zan picked up her bowl of rocks and marched off to the cave, with Wimsie, her faithful little helper, pacing along right beside her. I wondered how many rocks were already up there, and then I figured that it wasn't my problem. After all, it could have been worse -- what if Zan had started collecting crabs instead of rocks? At least rocks didn't pinch your nose, and they stayed where you put them. I decided to be like a rock. I stayed where I had put me. Determined to have a nap, I dropped my head to my paws and dozed off.
To be continued...