Chapter 2: The Challenge
A FEW MONTHS LATER
After the first snow, winter came fast. By December, a nice layer of snow now covered the ground and Kodi and his friends got on thier mail runs again. Nome looked like a picture postcard. Still Balto preferred the warmer summer and he still wore the scarf Jenna gave him. Speaking of Jenna, she had also moved into her new home in the center of town, but she would rather Balto's boat, for more than one reason. Also with winter, the polar bear brothers, Muk and Luk also show up more frequently; much to Boris's dismay and Stella's delight. Balto and Duke even went on a few runs, as it turns out he was quite the natural, even though he was made fun of for wearing his flight goggles by some of the other mushers, Simpson, who was in charge of the mail runs, in particular. Now in January, a freak blizzard dropped a thick layer of snow over the town. They even had to call in the army to clear it with bulldozers. As Balto watched the spectacle from a hill, Kodi came up from behind.
"Pop! Pop, did you hear?"
"Hear what? Why are you so excited? You didn't get into the baker's sugar stores again, did you?"
"Better than sugar. Listen, they moved up the race! The teams are coming!"
"Hmm, it will be good to size up the competition. When are they due?"
"Take a look." Balto turned and saw a team of dogs pulling a sled, above the sled was a British flag flying, soon dozens came out, Sweden, France, and many more. Then five brutes of dogs pulled a sled out of the tree line, on the sled was a mountain of a man, the flag above it was redder than Jenna and on it was a yellow Hammer and Sickle. Balto let out a low whistle
"That must be what Boris meant, goodness."
"Wait there's another; I think the flag is Canada." The team barreled down the road into town.
"Wow look at them go!" Balto was impressed, the team zipped past their hill and Balto saw the lead dog.
"What's wrong" Kodi inquired
"We need find your mother, now!" Kodi wanted to ask why but his father shot him a look that said it could wait.
Jenna was playing with Rosie in the Town Square when the dog teams first showed up.
"Wow." Rosie said in awe.
"That's a good summary." Jenna said to herself. One team as great as the last, then the Russian team, with its massive dogs came next. Then the last, Jenna could not believe her eyes. The lead dog, it can't be. The sled came to a stop. The musher unhooked his dogs. The large lead dog shifted his blue eyes and bore his teeth into a grin.
"Hello, Jenna." it was none other than Steele, the only dog Balto actually hated.
"Steele what are you doing here?" Jenna asked, trying to stifle the anger.
"I'm here to race, and blow all these teams out of the water. After I win how's about you and me catch up? Or are you still running with the howler?"
"Jenna!" Balto yelled as he slid to a stop between them, Kodi falling in behind; protecting this mother.
"Ha, speak of the devil, did anybody ever tell you that you have impeccably good timing?"
"Steele, back off, I thought we told you to never come back." Balto starred Steele down.
"Ya, hit the road, ugly." Kodi growled out.
"Kodi, stay out of this!" Balto didn't like telling him that but now was not the time.
"Well now, what do have here? Don't you tell me he's yours?"
"Can it Steele." Balto stopped him.
"I'll take that as a yes. Hey kid did your daddy ever tell you about his momma? Of course not. He should, it is one heck of a story, nice scarf by the way."
"Beat it!" Balto looked like he was going to explode.
"Temper, temper." Steele chuckled as he turned around, "That is right boys and girls, Steele is back!" swishing his tail back and forth, prancing about.
"Jackass." Balto said as he let out the breath he was holding.
"Dad, what did he mean about your mother?" Balto didn't know what to say, and then he exchanged a glance with Jenna.
"Kodi round up all of your brothers and your sisters and go to my boat." Kodi did as he was told. Balto started down the road, with Jenna by his side.
"Balto, are you sure about this, once the cat is out of the bag then it's out for good."
"I know but, it is time I told them the truth." Balto remembered how well it went the first time. He and Jenna walked back to the boat. Stella was sitting atop the wheelhouse watching Boris fight off Muk and Luk with a mop.
"Hiya guys! Do you ever sell tickets to this show? If you did, you could probably turn this place into a cruise liner."
"Back! Back you big-Balto, what's the long face?" Luk took the opportunity and picked Boris up and gave a big polar bear hug. But seeing it was Luk, it was more like a hug from the abominable snowman.
"We love you Uncle Boris! We really love you Uncle Boris!" Muk chirped.
"I love you too, but stop squeezing me like packed sausage." Luk dropped him, he left a good goose shaped hole in the snow.
"Balto, what is wrong? You look like someone bit your tail." Boris said, popping his head out of the hole.
"I would love it if someone bit my tail. Boris he's back, Steele is back" Boris's beak hit the ground.
"Wa wa wa, what!? Steele, back? No, no, neit. Steele is gone, is joke, yes?" Balto's look said it all."Is not joke, oh boy." he said covering his head with a wing.
"What's a Steele?" Stella asked.
"Balto, Kodi is here with the others." Jenna yelled from the bow of the boat
"I'll be right there." He ran over to the bow, jumped down and addressed his kids.
"Boys and girls, your mother and I have been keeping a secret from you." He heaved a sigh." It is, that while your mother who is a purebred husky, my mother was a white wolf" a few of his children had a gasp, others took it better. Kodi and Yukon looked like they finally realized something, Nunavut looked faint, and Dingo and Saba just had a look of disbelief.
"That actually makes sense, I always felt different around the others on the team." Kodi finally said.
"Papa," Saba spoke next, "Is that why Aleu left?"
"Partly, yes, except she actually joined a wolf clan, my mother's clan as a matter of fact."
"Why didn't you tell us about this before?" Dingo asked. This is not the kind of secret you keep, especially not from family.
"We did it to protect you, most of the people, and even a good portion of the dogs here; have a very negative outlook on wolves. I lived in fear and harassment most of my young life." Dingo's face drooped to shame.
"What was she like dad? Your mom?" Yukon asked.
"She was pure white, even more than the snow you stand on, but she also had a soothing voice." Balto continued. "When Aleu left it was because unlike you all, she looked even more like a wolf than me. In my search for her we ended up with a wolf clan, the leader of this clan, Nava, told me everything about her, my mother, my father, and me. I was the runt of my litter, believe it or not, we where as happy as can be. But one night a rouge wolf named Nagu' gathered some of his followers and killed my brothers and sisters. My father arrived just in time to save me, but was injured in our escape. He and my mother ran for their lives." Balto's voice cracked a little." They became trapped in a canyon, my father bought her time to get away." his voice cracked again and he had a tear roll down his cheek." He fought Nagu' hard but could not win. She hid me here and led Nagu' away," now Balto was telling his story barely stifling sobbing, Jenna was reduced, and even Yukon his most stoic pup could not keep from letting loose tears. "She sacrificed herself to stop him, as he was ready to finish her Nava found them and banished Nagu' but could not save her." He could not talk anymore and could barely stand, openly sobbing; Jenna came to him and propped him up. "Thanks Jenna."
"I can fill in the rest," Boris began, prying a weeping Stella off his shoulder and wiping away a tear of his own with a feather "What you said puts most of the puzzle together, around the time this happened I was flying back to Russia and voice called out to me and told me to look after you. I imagine that was your mother. She was a, um, talking cloud. Trust me I thought I was crazy, and after bringing up a dog I think I am, however I came here anyway. For the record I'm glad I did"
"Thanks Boris, if not for you, I wouldn't be here right now. Wait a second; I remember you said my mother came up with my name?"
"Well, uh, let's focus on big parts of the story."
"Thanks dad, for being up front" Kodi broke in."If anything I feel stronger for it."
"Yes, but remember, not everyone will treat you the same, I was not well liked for it."
"Well I like it," Jenna chipped in, Balto smiled in response. He noticed something changed in her.
"Balto, can I talk to you?" Jenna asked
"Sure, what about?" Jenna motioned him into the wheelhouse, then looked him strait in the eye
"I want you to race Steele and feed him his tail."
"Really? I thought you where against it, aren't you worried for me?"
"I am, but I can't stand watching that, that glory hound win."
"Then we're gonna need a team."
"I know where to find the best." Kodi said from behind them.
Kodi took Balto to the Boiler Room, which becomes the hotspot for local dogs in winter, some of the foreign dogs too. They walked past two of the Russian dogs, one turned and greeted them.
"Da, you are Balto, the famous Americanski dog that saved this place, eh? Well good work on that. I'm Coronel, and this is Ivan, my brother, we are Peter Pentrofski's prized dogs." Ivan who was stuffing his face with a 'liberated' sausage sat next to his brother, he finished his treat and gave an approving nod.
"He is um, dog of few words." Coronel commented.
"I see, well, good luck." Balto and Kodi walking and came across a British dog, who turned around and greeted them.
"Hello chaps, you can call me Bear, I'm the lead dog for the UK team."
"Bear? How you get that name?" Kodi asked.
"Well, my master back in Britain also has a pet black bear, when I was a puppy I sometimes scared him off, apparently the name stuck."
"Really, that's interesting." Balto said, impressed with the story. "I'd like to stay, but I have to see some friends."
"By all means." said Bear returning to his original conversation. Balto and Kodi worked their way through all of the dogs and made it to their friend's corner. Dusty, Kirby and Ralph, Kodi's mail team and the team that beat the bush plane. Each dog complementing the other's strengths and assisting with thier weaknesses. After going over it the plan they did not need much convincing.
"Sure I can't wait, but we need to practice, we only have a week or so. These guys have been training for thier whole lives." said Dusty
"So? We race the clock every day going back and forth with the mail, and don't forget we outran a plane, a plane! Come on, if we can do that then we can do anything." Kodi reinforced.
"Alright, so what is the coarse like?" Dusty asked
"I caught a look at the map, "Ralph chimed in "It's from here to Barrow-
"Barrow?" Dusty asked.
"Northernmost town in Alaska." Balto answered. "Don't interrupt."
"Right," Ralph continued. "Then we go through a lot of nasty terrain in the Canadian Northern Territory up north from there and across the sea, and then it's on to the pole."
"Easier said than done." Kirby said. "I can't wait."
"Dusty is right we need practice." Balto added. "The five of us will meet at the new logging camp tomorrow in the morning. Kirby, make sure Simpson is there, we need a musher."
"Consider him there."
"Once we commit to this there will be no turning back, so are you ready?" everyone stood resolute.
Simpson was good for a human, and one of the best mushers in Alaska, the five got hooked into thier harnesses and bolted off on thier run, from the logging camp to the Square and back. Duke sat on the side with a stopwatch. After the first run he looked impressed, and with each subsequent run, seconds shaved off. Day after day, the team did the run and perfected it. Until the day before the race, just as the team made it back to the camp for their last run of the day; a freak storm came out of nowhere
"Hey flyboy! Get on; we gotta get the heck out of here!" Simpson shouted
"No need to tell me twice!"Duke darted out of the camp narrowly dodging flying tree branches
He hopped in the sled's cargo space and hung on for dear life.
"Go! Go!" Balto commanded over the gathering blizzard. The team took off and rocketed down the road. A tree fell down in front of them, the dogs and sled zipped under and Simpson ducked underneath, all that was in their way now was the large, sharp curve next to the sawmill, then it was a straight shot to town.
"Steady! Steady!" Balto yelled as they went around the curve, Kirby lost his footing and then Ralph next to him, they rolled over and caused the sled to jackknife around, Simpson was flung off, and flew into a tree, jostling a raven out of its roost, and likly jostling his ribs in the process. He finally landed on a snow covered rock.
"Holy crap!" Duke yelled in disbelief, Balto hit the brakes and the sled came to a stop. Duke jumped out and ran to Simpson, who was not moving, but the gentle rise and fall of his chest told Duke that he was still alive.
"Simpson, you there, anyone home?"
"Uh, I think I broke a few ribs, and my leg, I can't move it."
"It's alright buddy, your gonna be fine." Duke picked him up and carried him back to the sled, thankfully Kirby and Ralph where back on their feet. Duke put Simpson in the sled, trying to keep any unnecessary pain on his friend. But with injuries that severe, pain is assured.
"Hold on." Duke stepped on and the team took off. They almost beat their record getting back to town. The team stopped outside the hospital, Duke grabbed Simpson and carried him in, then came back to let the five go. They all ran to the boiler room and got warm.
"What happened back there, we must have done that turn a hundred times." Dusty inquired.
"It was my fault," Kirby admitted, "I didn't compensate for Dukes added weight at that speed and lost my footing."
"It doesn't matter whose fault it is," Balto said solemnly, "What does matter is that Simpson's in the hospital and will never make it to the race"
"Balto's right, what will we do now?" Ralph asked.
"I don't know I'll think a something" Balto said putting his head down. Jenna ran inside franticly and looked over Kodi and Balto.
"Thank goodness, my boys are ok. I saw Duke carrying Simpson into the hospital. Balto, what happened out there?"
"We lost our footing on a turn, it won't happen again."
"Ok, ok," Jenna let out the breath she had been holding. "Are you still sure about this, going out there?"
"Alright, I still think you are off your hinges, but I think you can handle it. I just have a feeling, with Steele out there."
"Steele won't do anything, not with me around."
"I trust you; I just want you to be careful."
I know; Kodi and I will be fine."
"Promise me you two will be careful out there."
"I promise." Balto said, looking her in the eye.
"Me too." Kodi added.
"Come on I'll take you home." they left the boiler room and ran to Jenna's home. Balto gave her a nuzzle as she ran in. Balto turned around to head to his boat and to Duke.
"See you on the starting line!" Jenna called from her window.
"See you!" Balto shouted back. Balto ran all the way home and scratched the wooden door. Duke opened it and let Balto inside.
"Cold out there isn't it boy?" Balto ran to the potbelly stove in the corner and shook off the snow on his back and tail. After warming up he joined Duke on the couch and looked at him.
"What are we gonna do? Simpson is in the hospital with a half a dozen broken bones." Duke lamented, "And we can't get any other musher insane enough to do this."
Just then Balto had an epiphany. He leapt of the couch, sprinting the length of the boat until he got to the rear hold. Duke ran after him and flipped the light switch to find Balto sitting on his sled with a grin on his face, wagging his tail back and forth.
"You want me to race?"