Book 4 of the Zak Bates Eco-adventure series
Listen to a sample of Junkyard Dogs
It was close to eleven at night when Chitra Bandara started her long trek home from her office. Most evenings, she would have already been comfortably nuzzled up in her bed by this time, but tonight she had stayed late with a client, then remained at her office for some much-needed catching up on the endless stream of paperwork.
Her rational mind told her it was crazy to be walking home alone. She’d get home quicker taking the subway or even a bus, and certainly much safer, but she wanted to walk…needed to walk to clear her head. Otherwise, she’d be up for hours lying in bed, her mind racing through all the clients whose paperwork she’d just devoted hours to completing. Besides, she enjoyed strolling through Harlem, her home for over twenty years, and she was prepared to deal with any unexpected visitors. She firmly believed in the adage one of her Christian friends once told her — “Trust in God and tie your camel.” Her form of tying her camel was keeping a can of mace in her pocketbook along with a pocket-size security alarm that would deafen anyone who tried to mess with her, as well as alerting her surroundings to the attack.
No, this will be a quiet, uneventful walk through the neighborhood that I serve in my role as a therapist, she thought, and I’ll arise in the morning much more restful for it. That future almost came true, but then she heard a sound that she could not ignore.
As a practicing Buddhist, she believed that all the creatures on earth were precious. In fact, all life was precious. So, the sound that arose as she passed a dark alley caused her to pause, at first merely out of curiosity and then with a need to investigate. But not before she pulled the can of mace and the alarm from her pocketbook and held one in each hand.
The alarm also had a bright flashlight, which she now turned on as she took a few tentative steps towards the sound, then paused to listen. Had it been her imagination playing tricks on her? She cocked her head to one side to hear better, but all her ears picked up was the constant sound of traffic in the distance. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Still nothing. She was about to turn to resume her journey home when she heard it again.
Was it an injured animal? The city was filled with feral dogs and cats, not to mention an assortment of rodents, but no, it didn’t sound quite like that. Another long silence followed with only traffic noise in the background. Chitra looked around. All seemed safe enough, the can of mace warming in her hand. She took a few more steps in the direction of the sound and was again rewarded with another cry. Something was not a happy camper for sure.
She crept cautiously down the alley toward the dark form of a dumpster from which the sound appeared to come. She stood in front of the dumpster and shone the light around its base, but only saw papers and other debris that hadn’t made it into the garbage container. Nothing that would cause such a sound. She was about to turn to leave when she heard it again. It’s coming from inside, she thought. It sounds like a… But no, it couldn’t be. She returned the can of mace to her pocketbook and slowly slid the rusted door open. A wave of foul smells assaulted her nose, and then a much clearer sound that was unmistakable this time. Someone had, somehow, against all sense of humanity and compassion, thrown away a baby.
Chitra peered into the dumpster and shone her light around. There, just a couple of feet from her, lay a newborn infant partially wrapped in a stained, worn blanket. Chitra straightened up long enough to remove her jacket, then reached back into the dumpster and picked up the wiggling form. As she wrapped the coat around the baby, she noticed it was a girl. She held the small form to her chest in an attempt to provide some additional warmth, then looked around once more, confirming that she was indeed all alone.
Now what do I do?, she wondered, although she knew there was only one answer. Take the baby home with her and sort out everything in the morning. “Don’t worry, little thing. You’re in good hands now. Have faith. All will be okay.” As she gazed down into the deep pools of the baby’s eyes, she felt a connection that was unmistakable. In that brief moment in the middle of a dingy alleyway, she’d just fallen in love with this tiny spirit.
By the time they arrived home, Chitra had decided to call the child Faith, at least until someone told her differently. As it turned out, the name stuck, since no one came forth to claim her. So, too, did that bond of unconditional love, as Chitra later adopted her.
As Zak sat down on the park bench to wait for his friends, he glanced at his cellphone.
Urgent! Meet me in the park…RK
Zak had yet to figure out how a cat who didn’t own a phone was able to send him such messages, but then again, she was a magic cat and he’d seen her perform feats much more amazing than a little electronic hocus pocus. He was still contemplating how she might pull off the feat when he saw his best friend, Allie George, approaching.
“Did you receive a message as well?” Zak asked.
Allie held up her phone. “Yep, though for the life of me, I can’t figure out how she does it.”
“Me either,” Zak replied. He slid over to give Allie room to sit down, but they’d hardly gotten comfortable before they heard rustling coming from the bushes behind them. The two of them turned in time to see a giant black Newfoundland dog strolling towards them with a mangy black cat sitting in a strange lotus-like position on his back with its eyes closed.
“It looks like our little magic friend is meditating,” Allie said, and Zak nodded.
“She is,” Sampson replied, a note of dissatisfaction in his voice. “She’s been like this off and on for two days. She opened her eyes this morning just long enough to call this meeting. Then she climbed on my back and went back into the pose.
“Has she ever done this before?” Zak asked.
“Only once or twice since I’ve known her. She was into yoga for a few years as well, but she said it became too hard on her joints.” Sampson paused for a moment and looked around to be sure they were alone. “But whenever she’s done this before, it meant that there was some major disturbance in the psychic energy field.”
“Disturbance?” Zak asked, not liking the sound of that.
“Yes, something big has either come to her attention or is about to,” Sampson replied, and as if on cue, Ra-Kit opened her eyes and looked around as though awakening from a nap.
“Sampson is correct,” Ra-Kit said, then paused a moment to clean her whiskers before continuing. “I sense an important mission coming our way — deep trouble that needs correcting. We must make plans.”
“Great! I was hoping something would happen. I know it’s only been a couple of weeks since school let out, but I’m already getting bored.”
“Really? Not me. I like it nice and quiet,” Allie said. “Besides, Mom has me working almost full time so she can give her technicians some vacation time.”
“That’s okay,” Ra-Kit replied. “You may be more valuable to us here anyway, especially if you are needed by your mom.”
Zak remembered that Ra-Kit had great respect for Dr. George, in part because of how much she helped other animals as a small animal vet, but particularly because she’d treated Ra-Kit herself so well, even though Dr. George thought she’d just been a stray cat.
“I was hoping we would have time for a short training mission, but it doesn’t look like traveling to Sri Lanka will be possible.”
“Sri Lanka?” Allie asked, as she glanced over to Zak. “We studied a bit about it in school last semester.”
“Yes,” Zak agreed. “Isn’t that the large island off the coast of India?”
“That’s right,” Ra-Kit said. “It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people. Maybe we’ll go another time.”
“What did you want me to learn there that I can’t learn here?” Zak asked, though he really liked the idea of traveling to such an exotic place.
“Well, besides being a pristine, mostly unspoiled, part of the world, many of the people there are devout Buddhists.”
“That’s right,” Allie agreed. “I seem to remember that over two-thirds of the population practice Theravada Buddhism and that one of the chief tenets is a respect for life in all its forms.”
“Correct. That’s why Buddhism prohibits the eating of any and all meat,” Ra-Kit continued. “It violates the First Moral Precept.”
“Really?” Zak replied, remembering the two slices of bacon he’d enjoyed that morning.
“All life is sacred,” Ra-Kit repeated. “But this is not about one set of practices or religions over another. Just imagine if all humans could embrace that one principle. We’d be living in a completely different world.”
“Boy, that’s for sure,” Allie agreed. “My mom and I have slowly been reducing the amount of meat we eat, though it’s not easy. Everywhere we go, we’re tempted by the delicious sights and smells.”
“But many animals in nature eat other animals,” Zak countered. “Where’s the respect for life when a lion runs down a gazelle or zebra?”
“Well, that is part of the circle of life. I know it may appear paradoxical, but the design of nature is that there be hunters and the hunted, but somewhere along the line, human beings forgot that they are also a part of nature.” Ra-Kit paused a moment and cocked her head to one side, closing her eyes as she did so. She sat like that for several seconds before opening her eyes again. “Sorry, but I just received word from Kavka. He wants to meet with us. But first, he needs to get permission from the rest of the Council.”
“Who’s Kavka?” Zak asked.
“He’s now the leader of the Domestics Clan. He took over when Oink stepped down. He’s a Caucasian Mountain Dog,” Sampson replied, with a note of pride in his voice.
“Is he coming here?” Allie asked, and Ra-Kit nodded.
“This sounds serious,” Zak added.
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Ra-Kit said. “We don’t have time to travel to Sri Lanka, even by warping, but we can do the next best thing.”
“What’s that?” Zak asked, feeling suddenly uncomfortable, but not knowing why.
“You and I will travel there in our minds.”
“Really? Is that safe? I mean, why don’t we wait until we can go there in person?” Zak felt himself starting to perspire. He loved Ra-Kit and had a great deal of respect for her, but he’d also seen some of her magic go more than a little wonky at times.
“Not to worry,” Ra-Kit said, as she reached into her secret pouch and pulled out the small sachet of catnip. “I’ll just take a sniff or two of this and we’ll be on our way.” She turned to Sampson. “If Kavka is unable to reach me, he knows to contact you. We shouldn’t be too long.”
“Ready, my boy?” Ra-Kit said, as she strolled over to Zak, but before he could answer, she continued. “Lie down over here where we won’t be disturbed.”
Zak glanced over to Sampson and Allie, but when it was clear neither of his friends was coming to his rescue, he reluctantly nodded and did as Ra-Kit instructed. As soon as he’d lain down, he felt Ra-Kit climb on his chest where she resumed the lotus position.
“Now, just shut your eyes and listen to my voice. Before you know it, we’ll be in the beautiful land of Sri Lanka.”
Zak took one final glance over to Allie, who smiled back at him reassuringly, then he closed his eyes and tried to relax. A moment later, he heard and felt the low rumble of Ra-Kit purring. Several seconds passed and Zak found himself actually drifting off. This isn’t so bad after all, he thought as he fell asleep.