I hold the leash lightly, just to be sure she doesn’t get distracted and thrown from the treadmill. I press a few buttons as she prances happily in anticipation. “OK, Hazel … I’m going to put it on 8. A fast trot … maybe three miles.” Hazel the Weimaraner paces her steps to the treadmill until it reaches full speed and then she settles into her run. I have my iPad with me, and I settle on the floor beside the treadmill to read an article in The Atlantic about bog people.
Jack the badly behaved terrier appears at my side, and I rumple his fur. “I forgot to lock you up while Hazel runs. Be good.” He sits quietly and stares into the flashing movement of Hazel’s hind legs, seemingly mesmerized. Hazel looks at him nervously, and I say again, “Be good, Jack.”
He ignores me, caught up in his own imaginings.
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, STARING INTO THE CHAOS OF THE RAMPAGING GAZELLES, FOCUSING HIS ATTENTION, SELECTING HIS TARGET, SINGLING OUT A TASTY-MORSEL GAZELLE FOR TAKE-DOWN.”
Hazel complains, “Mom, Jack is staring at me funny.”
Without looking up from my reading, I reach to roll Jack onto his back and break the spell of his enchantment. “I’ve tried to teach you how to do the treadmill, but it never works. Leave Hazel alone.”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA BEING MAULED BY A WATER BUFFALO AS HIS PREY MAKES ITS ESCAPE. SUBMISSIVE POSTURE IS THE ONLY WAY TO SURVIVE … SUBMIT AND COWER SO THAT HE MAY LIVE TO HUNT AGAIN, ALTHOUGH … IF THERE COMES A MOMENT IN WHICH DOMINANCE MIGHT CARRY THE DAY …”
Hazel tosses her head anxiously. “Mom, he’s going to bite you.”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, PINNED HELPLESSLY TO THE GROUND BY A CATERWAULING WATER BUFFALO. A SLIGHT MISCALCULATION ON THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA’S PART … EXTREME SUBMISSION IS REQUIRED. HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, LICKING THE WATER BUFFALO’S NASTY HOOF IN SUBMISSION, PRAYING THERE ARE NO PAPARAZZI TO CAPTURE THIS MOMENT OF HUMILIATION.”
I smack him on the butt. “Seriously, Jack … be good.”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, STARING INTO THE CHAOS OF THE RAMPAGING GAZELLES, SELECTING HIS TARGET. HE CROUCHES, POISED FOR ATTACK, KNOWING HE’LL HAVE TO TIME HIS STRIKE PERFECTLY TO AVOID BEING TRAMPLED UNDERFOOT.”
“AMIDST THE FUROR AND NOISE AND PANDEMONIUM, THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA’S LASER FOCUS SETTLES ON A PARTICULAR GAZELLE, A PARTICULAR LEG, A PARTICULAR TENDON. HE WATCHES AS THE MUSCLES FLEX, REVELING IN THE TAUTNESS OF THE ACHILLES TENDON. THE PERFECT BITE AT THE PERFECT POINT OF VULNERABILITY, AND HE WILL TAKE THIS GAZELLE DOWN LIKE A MEATLOAF.”
“Mom, Jack is pretending I’m a meatloaf.”
I grab him and shove him into my lap. “For god’s sake, Jack … stop threatening her.”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA BEING TIGER-MAULED. SO FOCUSED WAS HIS ATTENTION HE FAILED TO SPOT THE ARRIVAL OF A COMPETITOR, AND NOW HE MUST PAY THE POTENTIALLY FATAL PRICE FOR HIS INATTENTION.”
“Stop struggling. Just sit in my lap and be a normal dog for a few minutes. Is that so hard?”
“WITH A FEW MOVES HE LEARNED IN JUDO CLASS, THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA BREAKS FREE OF THE TIGER’S MAULING AND RACES TO POSITION HIMSELF ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE STAMPEDING GAZELLES, BEYOND THE REACH OF THE LAZY TIGER’S SLASHY CLAWS.”
“Fine. Sit over there. Be good.” I glare at him, because he’s now positioned himself in such a way that, unless I release Hazel’s leash or turn off the treadmill, I can’t reach him.
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, MAKING A FEW PRACTICE BITES IN THE AIR AROUND THE TENDON HE PLANS TO RIP RIGHT OUT OF THIS GAZELLE’S LEG. THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA’S EYES GLOW AND HIS PULSE QUICKENS AT THE THOUGHT OF THE IMMINENT CARNAGE.”
Hazel breaks her rhythm to kick her back feet wildly into the air. “Mom, he’s snapping at me!”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, LUNGING FOR THE KILL!”
Hazel kicks her back feet high and away, and Jack ends up throwing himself onto the treadmill, which hurtles him backward and onto the floor, where he lands in a dazed heap.
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, HAVING MADE A SERIOUS ERROR IN JUDGMENT, NOW TRAMPLED BENEATH THE HOOVES OF THE UNCARING GAZELLES. WITH A FEW MOVES HE LEARNED IN NINJA SEMINAR THAT ONE TIME, THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA ROLLS THIS WAY AND THEN THAT, TIMING HIS TUMBLES TO EVADE THE SHARPEST OF THE HOOVES AS THE SOUND OF SOON-TO-BE-MEATLOAF LAUGHTER FILLS THE STAMPEDE-DUSTY AIR.”
“Mom, did you see that? That was the funniest thing EVER!” Hazel almost falls off the treadmill herself, craning her neck to look behind her at Jack’s small crumpled embarrassment. “Did you see?”
“I saw,” I assure Hazel. I turn to Jack. “I guess you’ve learned your lesson. Serves you right.”
But Jack hasn’t learned his lesson at all. In rapid succession, he throws himself with vicious impotence at Hazel’s legs four more times, and each time, the fast-moving treadmill carries him away and flings him to the floor. Hazel’s eyes roll whitely as he lines himself up for another attack. “Mom, he’s insane. Seriously, Mom … insane.”
“HERE’S THE EXHAUSTED BUT STILL WILDLY NOTORIOUS HYENA, MUSTERING HIS WILES AND STRENGTH AND CUNNING FOR ONE … LAST … OW OW OW OW OW OW OW … DAMN IT, HOW DOES THE GAZELLE KEEP TRAMPLING HIM? HERE’S THE FANTABULOUSLY CARNIVOROUS WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA, THROWING HIMSELF INTO THE FRAY ONCE AGAIN, SNAPPING DESPERATELY FOR A TENDON ANY TENDON WILL DO … OW OW OW OW OW … WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? HOW IS THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA BEING BESTED BY A GAZELLE?”
Jack lies panting on the floor where the treadmill has deposited him as Hazel finishes running her three miles and steps lightly from the treadmill. She pushes her nose into his stomach. “You want to play?”
Jack stares at her, his words spoken between gasps, incredulous. “Seriously? You’re not even breathing hard.”
I unsnap the leash from Hazel’s collar and attach it to Jack’s collar instead. “How about you try the treadmill again, Jack? Maybe the 17th time is the charm.”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA TETHERED BY NATIVES AND MADE TO ENDURE THE DEMONIC ROLLING SNAKE-SKIN OF TERROR!”
I press a few buttons. “It’s set to the slowest speed possible. All you have to do is walk. I’ll hold the leash to keep you from falling off. Just walk.”
Jack doesn’t walk. Instead, he collapses onto his side and allows himself to be dragged against the treadmill, his legs stiff and unmoving, his eyes rolling wildly.
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA TIED TO THE BACK BUMPER OF THE SAFARI-WOMAN’S JEEP. TIED TO THE BUMPER AND DRAGGED ALONG THE ROAD UNTIL HE IS DEAD FOR HER AMUSEMENT. THE LAST THING THE WORLD-FAMOUS HYENA WILL HEAR IS THE RUMBLE OF THE TRUCK AND THE SHRILL SATANIC LAUGHTER OF A DEMON-MINION GAZELLE. TELL MY MOTHER I WAS A GOOD BOY ‘TIL THE LAST!”
Hazel giggles hysterically and stands on her hind legs to paw at the treadmill controls. “Make it go faster!”
I bend to unhook the leash from Jack’s collar, and he is slowly rolled off the end of the treadmill and tumbled to the floor. He lies there for a moment, and then he bounces to standing. He runs off and away, and Hazel chases after him, asking, “You want to play, Jack?”
“HERE’S THE WORLD-FAMOUS SECRET AGENT, WHO JUST REMEMBERED HE SAW THE PANTRY DOOR LEFT OPEN, OFF TO SCAVENGE FOR CEREAL BARS AND SUPER-SPY MICROFILM!”
“Be good, Jack!” I call after him.