Wally the Whale
Stanley Ramos had felt, after turning sixty, that sixty wasn’t old. And he was right. It wasn’t. By no means did the man have a foot in the grave. But every year after it had taken a little more effort in the convincing.
So, after turning sixty-five, he bought himself a new backhoe, with a nice wide scoop to make up for how slow he’d gotten. A new dog, to keep the grounds and him safe at night. And had taken to doing his digging in the middle of the day. A shameful practice, his father had said, but Stanley couldn’t stay awake past midnight anymore.
If you had to do all of the things that needed doing, you needed to do them however you could manage doing them.
And that went for everything.
The Tillamook County Animal Shelter had never had an abundance of puppies. Mostly they had vacation runaways, decrepit mutts, and three-legged pitbulls. So, uninterested in taking home a jaded beast, and only wanting to raise a pup himself, but being in his pocket a little bit after buying a brand-new backhoe, he left his name at the front desk and waited. When the shelter finally called, Stan was eager. A litter had recently become available.
It took him no time at all to pick the largest and most confident puppy. Of the four Husky type dogs—the lady called them—one outweighed his three brothers by twice as much. He sat unbothered behind the stainless steel cage doors. The other three puppies played and nipped and wrestled at the back of the kennel, while the large one sat alone, and looked out into the hall.
Stan stood in front of the kennel and whistled to get the puppies’ attention.
He waited to make sure they all saw him and acclimated to his presence.
Then he lurched.
Not at them, of course. But he did come off the ground a little bit, and very quickly so, settling in an athletic position with his arms ready in front of him.
Three of the four dogs flinched, and two of those yelped.
The puppy in the front didn’t move a muscle. He might even have narrowed his eyes at the old man.
“I’ll take the big one,” he’d said.
“Are you sure?” the young lady in stained jeans and a blue T-shirt with the shelter logo on the breast asked.
“It’s probably a mix, but Huskies have so much energy. Even if you take him to the beach every single day, you’ll never be able to run it out of him. He’ll never be tired. You’ll be up all night with him, every night, for the rest of your life.”
“That’s exactly what I need.”
“I have the perfect place for him.”
“Then I’ll start the paperwork,” she’d said. “What do you want to name him?”
“He looks like a Wally to me.”
After that, he built a chain-link kennel around the backdoor of his apartment, behind the Vida Seca Chapel, and began buying enough dog food to feed a sled team.
It soon became clear, when the puppy grew to Stan’s waist, that it was no kind of Siberian Husky. And, at a year, when he weighed more than Stan did, that he was not all Malamute either.
When he took Wally in to get his last vaccinations, the vet told Stan he was a Wolamute, an Alaskan Malamute and Timber Wolf hybrid, and asked him never to bring him back. Though Wally was well enough behaved when Stan asked him to be, he scared every other animal in the clinic so badly there was fear of injury due to panic.
It was that kind of panic that Stan was begging the Lord to avoid now. There were a dozen emergency vehicles down the bluff, and he was sure that’s where Wally had gone. Just to investigate. He was a very curious dog, afraid of nothing, and a chaser of everything. Perfect traits for a cemetery guard dog.
Not so great now.
Stan had just finished digging a new grave and had walked up to check on Wally. He knew the strange sounds coming from down the bluff were driving him crazy. But Wally was gone before he got there.
He wasn’t a digger. Or a climbing escape artist like some smaller dogs. He just forced his way through things.
Looking at how the galvanized self-latch had given and spun away from the post, Stan could imagine how hard Wally had pushed. He would have stuffed his nose through first and then growled and slammed until his head was clear. By that time the latch would have been turned sideways enough for the door to just swing open.
A nice thick chain wrapped around the gate frame was probably long overdue.
“WALLY!” Stan screamed as he ran toward the fire trucks.
There was no sign of him on the street. And no one appeared to be alarmed in the distance. Certainly no one seemed to be worried about a giant roaming wolf-dog.
Stan set his tongue behind his teeth and whistled as loud as he could.
He stopped running and looked all around him, halfway between Vida Seca Cemetery and The Channel Inn.
He whistled again.
There was a howl.
Stan pushed through the huge pampas grass hedge and walked out onto the bluff.
Then he saw them.