Belt’s triangle-shaped left ear twitched.
The rusty dashboard radio spit out the announcer’s voice: “Since the sun nears the last third of its life, it looks hotter, burns hotter, makes Earth hellishly-hotter.”
Belt panted profusely because it was hot out. His triangle-shaped right ear twitched, then the left and right ears swung back in unison and pinned themselves against his head. New things, new things, I don’t like new things. The dashboard of the sidecart was unfamiliar. He wanted to pee on it. He couldn’t; he was strapped in. He turned his head and looked out of the window-shield of the open-top sidecart at Buckle, his beloved. Oh, beautiful! He watched as her human was strapping her into the driving-school space-flight simulator, a sidecart from an old motorcycle. He loved how she wagged! Buckle was excited. Good girl, Belt thought.
Belt’s tail didn’t wag.
He wished he could jump out of his sidecart and sit next to Buckle, nibble her leg, smell her butt, lick her paw. But his human told him to STAY. And Belt wanted to be GOOD DOG because human was GOOD HUMAN.
The radio announcer continued: “…fear of extinction from ecological collapse. Pending doom unites tribes of the northeast. The current test of dog driving school is happening in the wide-open Central Park in our glorious former city. Sidecarts have been created out of salvaged parts from junkyards across the eastern territory of the former United States. The tribes, working united, attached the sidecarts (37, the project leader said) in a design model that is new; sidecarts mimic the shuttles that the dogs will be driving in space. The sidecarts are attached to metal cross beams, and those beams were connected to hitches, and those hitches were pulled by salvaged automobiles. The humans will get in there to command their dogs at their sides. Late model Ferarris next to Honda Elements. Chevys next to Fords. Peugeots next to Mini Coopers. But the only dog breed left on the northeast coast are German Shepherds—and they are smart dogs. If the four-legged creatures learn how to operate the controls of the side-cart converted shuttles, humans have a chance at surviving long journeys across space… [pause, then a stop].” A deep sigh came out of the speakers. “Folks, if you’re out there listening,” said the announcer, “this is Radio New York signing off. Look, I hope we live. That we all live. But what are we doing? There are rockets strapped to the sidecarts. Why? Simulations? C’mon, folks. The post-Apocalypse era is about to witness the largest space-flight driving-school lesson. Is this it? Have we finally lost our minds? Folks, we’re hoping dogs can drive us?! We’re messing with rockets just to test things out? Look, folks, I know this was all last minute, and really, who knows how much more time we have till the Sun blows, but come on’ folks.” Another pause. “Dogs, if you’re listening—good luck. Maybe space has floating milk bones or some kinda treat for ya!” A short crackle. The radio went dead.
TREAT! He heard the magic word. Belt looked at his shaved leg with fresh paint. He heard the voicefrom the dashboard say TREAT! but then the voice stopped. He waited. He watched his human walk away. He looked at his beloved Buckle. She turned her head to him and wagged her tail. Belt blushed by smiling, then turning his head away from her. He looked over the other side of the sidecart, where there was nothing.
Belt was in car 37; his was the last sidecart on the row of sidecarts. Belt loved the smell of pee, and it smelled really strong like pee in the area since it had gotten hotter. He dreamed about taking Buckle on a walk through an alleyway. Maybe they would be lucky and find real food garbage–
A sound came out of the dashboard. A different voice. Belt’s ears stood up; his head cocked. “Dogs!” said a crackly voice from the dashboard. “Let’s get ready! Welcome to your first driving test! Wait for your human to press the START button in your cart!”
Belt paused. This isn’t my human‘s voice. He looked at Buckle, who was looking at the dashboard in her cart. He watched as she lifted her right paw and put it on the START button. Belt lifted his right paw toward a button on the dash. He looked at the bottom part of his leg that was shaved. He looked at marks his human made (“Just temporary, old fella. A temporary tattoo on your leg so people know what to call you. Belt. Says there your name! You’re gonna be remembered old buddy! Good dogs are gonna save us afterall!”). Belt wondered if the markings said “Good dog!” and then he heard “Good dogs!” out of the dashboard. Belt tapped a button with his paw. A treat dispensed out of a small hole.
Belt was a GOOD DOG! He gobbled up the dry bean-fish cake, then he looked at Buckle, who was lapping at hers.
I am a GOOD DOG, Belt thought excitedly. TREATS! More treats! He started to press more buttons, but no more treats came out.
Belt didn’t understand. He wanted more TREATS. Treats were good!
Suddenly, a thunderous sound clapped the ground: the engines of the trucks that were going to pull the hitch of cars started.
Belt didn’t like the sound–he wanted to jump out the sidecart. He looked at Buckle. She looked at him, but she still wagged her tail. Buckle always liked CAR RIDES more than Belt. He pawed at the buttons on the dash again. More treats!
Belt started to panic. Car ride BAD, no BUCKLE bad. He pawed even faster at the dash. He heard a POP!
Belt’s sidecart careened forward, broke off, propelled up and away into flight. Another crack sounded, and dried fish-bean cakes started to fall out of the radio. Good dog! Belt thought as he licked at all the treats that were suddenly on the floor of his sidecart. He wiggled free from his belt. His tail freed, started wagging, thumping at the buttons on the dash. Wait till I tell Buckle! Belt thought as he lapped up the treats.
The accelerator engaged.
Belt continued to eat as he settled into orbit around Earth. When he looked up, and out, and saw that his everything around him changed, he chewed the mouthful treats slowly, and wondered where Buckle was. Am I GOOD DOG?