...The Story of the Silver Harness,
also known as: Aurora Borealis,
by Andre DeMerchant

Tookla's magnificent head came up with a start. What was that? Another sound? Ears forward, Tookla's ice blue eyes stared out from the doorway of his plywood doghouse. Getting up slowly, he stretched luxuriously and moved carefully from the warmth of his hay filled house into the bitter chill of his fenced outdoor run. Standing still, Tookla alertly scanned the February afternoon landscape outside his run. Nothing. How many times now had he expectantly searched the surrounding area only to be disappointed? Walking to the end of his run, Tookla sat slowly down and heaved a great sigh. Sparkles of frost chased by shivery wintry blasts twirled through the air and landed on his thick warm coat. Half closing his eyes, Tookla began to think back to the old days, the good days. "It wasn't always like this", he thought to himself. "I used to go with my master and the team always. But no more. Not for a long time. My own son now has my place at the front of the team. Faster than me now. Much faster. Like I was faster than my father, Sabu. But I wasn't always faster than my father. I had to grow, to work so hard! Running back in the team with the others. Not for me. I didn't like that. Only after Sabu and my master taught me the words could I go in front. Then we were so fast! Soon I was even faster than father! Often I was at the front. I remember running through all those pine trees with the others, faster than ever! We flew down the trail."

"When it was over, he was so happy with us. So many people came to see us and pet us and give us treats. Always after that I was at the front. So many times we went out and so many times we ran faster than others. But no more now. My legs are stiff and I can no longer run as far as before. Oh, I have not run for so long! Now my son leads the others. As it was for my father, it is for me also and shall one day be for my son". Opening his eyes, Tookla had another look around the yard. Seeing nothing, he rose slowly to his feet, turned and walked swiftly toward his doghouse. A sudden noise behind Tookla caused him to whirl quickly around. His eyes grew wide with fright as he took an involuntary set backward.

Hal threw the rest of the harnesses into the truck box and locked the lid. Walking slowly around the truck, he checked all the box doors and the sled to make sure everything was ready for the road."Hey, you need a hand over there?" came a voice. "No thanks, Bill, I'm all done. Just doing a final check," replied Hal. Clumping through the snow over to Bill's truck, he stood by the tailgate. "That was a pretty good run", said Bill easily. "Your team is really improving". "It's not so bad, but there are still a few kinks to work out. I'm not sure that Tuk is going to be as consistent in lead as his dad was," mused Hal. "What ever happened to that old dog of yours?" Is he still around?" queried Bill. "Yeah, he still hangs out at our place. You know, I couldn't part with him for anything, even if he is thirteen years old". "Cripes, Hal, I haven't seen him run for years. Well, five years anyway. Why don't you find a nice pet home for him?" "I couldn't do that, Bill. I know he hasn't run for a long time, nor will he ever now, but he and I have been through a lot together and I can't bear to see him go, you know? I don't think he'd like a regular pet home anyway. We bring him in the house quite often, but he doesn't care for it much. Seems to prefer his single outside run near the house." "Geez, he sounds like a funny sort of character, all right," commented Bill. "Most Sibes prefer to hang out together". "Not Tookla. Seems to enjoy the peace and quiet. When I drive up the lane, all the dogs in the other runs go nuts, jumping and hooting. But Tookla just sits with this great air of dignity about him and watches me unload the truck, I guess he figures to save up his energy for our evening walk or something". "If I remember correctly, he never was much for saving himself when he was racing". "Heck no. He could run like the wind itself and still maintain command over the other dogs in the team. I ever tell you about the race at Six Pines ...?" "Whoa, hold it!" said Bill, hands upraised. "I've heard that story at least twenty times. I can probably tell it better'n you now!" "Okay, okay!" laughed Hal. "I get the message!" "Anyway", Bill started, "Carl phoned the other day. Wants to get a few guys together for a run on the logging roads in Fisher Bush. Wanna come?" "Sure, why not?" said Hal. "We could use the practice". "You stopping at the chew and spew on the way home?" asked Bill, opening his truck door. "Naw, not this time. Ellen's in town finishing up a project at work and I promised to have the kennels cleaned and some kind of supper started by the time she gets home. Besides, it'll be dark soon". "Does the Board of Health know that you are cooking again? Why, I remember that time in Michigan ...." "Never mind, wise guy", interrupted Hal. "Anyway, gimme a call Tuesday and we'll set up something for next week". "Hokey, dokey. See ya". Bill's truck started with a snort and he drove slowly away as Hal climbed into the cab of his pickup. In moments, he too was moving down the icy bush road towards the highway.

"Who's there?" challenged Tookla. "It is I. Sabu," came the reply. "Sabu? But ... no! It can't be! You've been gone for so long now. I remember you were very old. Then one day you went away and never came back. How can it be you are here now?" "I have come back to see you, Tookla". "But why?" "To tell you of a place. A wonderful place. The sun shines always. We never want for food or water. And run! Oh, Tookla! We can run forever on grassy fields, through thick woods. Many little animals are there also. We chase them often but never are they caught. It is all for fun. All the others are there also. Your mother, Sheena. Your sister, Koola, who has gone before you. We run together always. It is such a marvelous place!" "No!" growled Tookla, suddenly wary. "It is a trick! You are not Sabu!" "No Tookla. It is not trick. Come, let us butt noses. You will see that I am your father. You will see what I tell you is true". Slowly, gingerly, almost on tiptoe, Tookla moved towards the muzzle poking through the chain link. Sniffing carefully, Tookla stretched his neck until the noses just touched. Quickly he jumped back, eyes wide. "It IS you!", he exclaimed in amazement. "It is as I have said, my son". "But what is that upon your back, Father?" Sabu turned to afford Tookla a better view. "It is my silver harness". "It is beautiful! Oh, that I could wear such a harness! How the light dances upon the silver straps!" "We all have one to wear, Tookla. It is especially for the Run of the Lights". "What is the Run of the Lights, father?" "It is when we all run together, each of us wearing a silver harness. We run when it is dark, faster and faster we go till we take off! We race into the sky, past the stars and the moon itself. The light from the stars shines and twinkles upon our silver harnesses, sending flashes and streams of light all over the sky!" Gazing longingly up at the gathering February twilight, Tookla could only manage, "Oh, that would be so grand!" "Now, Tookla, it is time for me to tell you reason for my visit." "What is it, Father?" "It is your time, Tookla. It is time for you to take your place beside us. I have come to lead you to the wonderful place". "But ..." Tookla stammered, "I'm not ready! I mean, I haven't seen my master come back with the team! I haven't had my walk ...." "Come Tookla. It is time". "But I can't. I can't leave my run. I'm locked in". Backing up a few places, Sabu turned to face Tookla. "Walk towards me, my son", he said softly. Cautiously, Tookla walked forward. When he reached the fence, he stopped and whined. "I can't! I can't get out!" "Come, Tookla", replied the voice with great warmth. "You can do it. Just keep walking". Tookla picked up a front paw and moved it slowly forward. It went through! It went through the fence! Now thoroughly excited, Tookla shut his eyes and walked gingerly ahead. After a few paces, he stopped and, turning around, opened his eyes. "I'm out! I did it!" His eyes danced with joy as he quickly surveyed the yard, now lying deep in early shadows. "Come, Tookla. We must go", reminded Sabu, who without further word, turned and started running towards an open field. Tookla was soon in step beside him as they streaked across the ground. "Now, Tookla!" panted Sabu. "Run! Run as fast as you can!" Ears flat against his head, tail straight out, Tookla put all his heart into his running. Suddenly they took off, rocketing up into the night sky. "Look! Look at me run, Sabu! No longer are my legs stiff! No longer do I grow quickly tired! I'm young again!" shouted Tookla, tongue lolling, eyes shining with excitement. Sabu laughed. "Yes, you are very fast, my son. And you look very good in your silver harness". Glancing back, Tookla exclaimed, "The harness! I too have a silver harness!" And with a heart bursting with happiness, Tookla kept pace beside his father. Starlight glittered and moonlight flashed off the silver webbing and across the darkening sky as the two Sibes soared up towards the wonderful place.

Hal was lost in though as the truck bumped and lurched up the road and into the darkened yard. Shutting off the engine, Hal heaved himself out of the truck then suddenly pulled up short. "It's real quiet around here tonight," he thought to himself as he peered into the gloom of the yard. "Too darn quiet!" Walking swiftly to the kennel building, he flipped on all the lights and started to check all the runs. "What's going on guys?" said Hal as he moved among the pens. A couple of Sibes rose from the floor and waved their tails apologetically. At the other end of the building, one of them whined softly. As if suddenly struck with a thought, Hal pivoted on his heel and banging through the door, sprinted across the yard towards Tookla's single run by the house. "Tookla! Tookla, we're home! Tookla?" Hal spoke loudly as he reached the run door. The familiar form of Hal's old lead dog was not in its usual place at the end of the run. Tendrils of apprehension gripped Hal's heart as his shaking hands fumbled with the lock. "Tookla! Where are you? Tookla, come see me!" Hal said urgently as he swung the gate wide. Dropping to his knees in front of the doghouse, Hal hesitated, dreading what he would find. Reaching inside, Hal buried his hand in the fur of an inert form and gave it a shake. "Tookla. Tookla, it's me!, he said softly. "Oh no. Oh, Tookla! exclaimed Hal as the reality of the situation struck. Pulling Tookla onto his lap, Hal sat down on the cold cement and caressed the lifeless form. "Oh, Tookla. My poor, poor Tookla. Good-bye, old friend", muttered Hal as tears coursed down his cheeks, falling and freezing on the furry figure below.

Feeling suddenly very weary, Hal leaned back against the chain link as a February wind blustered around him. Leaning his head back, Hal turned his red-rimmed eyes toward the night sky and sat for a long time, both enthralled and comforted by the brilliant beauty of the dancing Northern Lights.

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