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The Eye of the Storm

                                                 Hyaku-Leggers

                                  Balto

                        A wolf-dog and his friends

 

                                               CHAPTER ONE

                                          The Eye of the Storm

 

Nome, a small town in South-Western Alaska

 

A cozy fire had been lit inside the abandoned cargo ship, and a large Russian goose, Boris Goosinoff, was snoring in the corner, unaware of the large polar bear that was hugging him like a teddy and almost squashing him and another one that was snoring just as loud at his feet. These were Muk and Luk, two polar bears who had been raised by Boris, and although Boris seemed constantly annoyed by them, he was truly very fond of these two goofy, happy-go-lucky critters.

But not all were asleep.

A large, furry, fierce looking but gentle mannered canine was sitting down, watching the fire intently and smiling. His name was Balto, and he was a hybrid of husky and wolf parents. Although ashamed of this truth the first years of his life, now it was to him like a privilege. No more was he neither one nor the other, but a little of both.

Suddenly, Baltos pointy ears perked up, listening. Someone was approaching. He heard the snow being moved by paws. But they were small paws, they werefemale paws.

Balto looked up and to his delight, he saw what he wished he would see. It was a very beautiful female husky, brick red and cream in color, and with marvelously brilliant eyes. She was wearing a red bandanna, which somehow combined perfectly with her fur as she stood in the entrance to the ship. Her name was

Jenna!,Balto said happily.

Jenna smiled and walked into the ship and sat down close to the fire.

Sorry Im late, Balto,said Jenna,I had to wait until Rosys father slept, or Id never be able to get out of the house.

Balto was only glad that she had come.

Nothing to worry about, Jenna,said Balto,I could wait a century and I wouldnt mind, just knowing that youd come.

Jennas normally creamy cheeks went a little scarlet. She sat down closer to Balto and stared at the fire.

I think everyones asleep,said Balto, looking over his shoulder at Boris and the bears.

Yeah,said Jenna, marveled at the fact that they could sleep with Luks snores,I guess they all deserve it. After all the things that happened.

She looked up at Balto, who looked back innocently with a big smile on his face.

You know,said Jenna,I reckon youre going to have an easier time now that everyone saw who you really are. I even hope that the humans will start to see you in a different way, although it may be a very gradual change.

Yeah,said Balto,But it doesnt bother me that much. Im fine with what they think about me, good or bad.

Jenna smiled.

Thats the spirit,she said.

Balto was pleased.

Oh, Im sorry to talk about it, but I think you should know,said Jenna,Steeles gone.

What?,Balto said.

He disappeared, last night, during the celebrations,said Jenna,Ive been told that he exiled himself, because he couldnt stand the shame of everyone knowing he was a dirty liar and cheat. Arrogant airhead, thats what he was.

Balto said nothing. Even though he did hate Steele a lot, he didnt speak a word about him. It was better to just forget about it all. Steele was never mentioned again.

So, what are you going to do tomorrow, Balto,said Jenna.

IIm not sure,said Balto,I was thinking about tidying this place up a little, and perhaps going for a walk along the shore.

Sounds fun!,said Jenna excitedly.

Balto smiled, for no one had ever said that what he normally did was considered fun.

Balto stretched his forelegs and yawned.

Well,said Jenna, looking somewhat shy,I guess I should be going now. Ill be seeing you, Balto.

She got up and with one last smile, she walked to the entrance.

Balto felt something strange in his chest, and before he could stop himself, he let out what he felt.

Jenna, uh,Balto stammered.

Jenna looked back, smiling eagerly.

Noforget it,said Balto, looking away,Its okay. You should go back to your folks.

Jenna, to his amazement, giggled and looked at him happily.

Dont be shy, Balto, I know what youre thinking,she said,You want me to stay a little longer?

Well,Balto started, but then he gave up,Y-YesBut theres no need, if youre not feeling like it.

But I am feeling like it, Balto,said Jenna as she sat back again beside him, closer still,I have all the time in the world for you. I honestly thought you were sleepy and thought that I might bother if I stood too long.

Jenna rested her head on Baltos broad shoulder.

I apologize for being such a shy little nit, Balto,said Jenna,IWell, its just that I have so many things I want to share with you, but I dont want to bore you. I sometimes dont know how youre going to react to the things I might say or do.

Balto rubbed her cheek with his own furry one, and felt how her cheeks got warmer by the second.

Jenna, theres no need for you to be shy,said Balto,You know Im here for you. IId never laugh at you or react badly at anything youd say. You can trust me, even though I am a little rough in certain things. At least, I can listen to you.

Jenna lifted her head and closed her eyes as she drew her lips closer to Baltos cheek. But she stopped suddenly.

Uh, Balto,she said shyly,May I kiss you?

Balto went as scarlet as she did, and smiled.

O-Of course, Jenna,said Balto.

She smiled. As soon as she heard his yes, she flicked her tongue out and gave him a long and passionate kiss, slowly along his cheek and his muzzle.

She sat back again, smiling even wider than before.

Thank you, Balto,she said.

Thanks to you too, Jenna,said Balto smiling as widely as her.

You can kiss me too, Balto,said Jenna happily,Anytime you feel like it. Id really love that, to be truthful. And, er

Jenna turned her hear to a side and shifted closer to him, exposing her cheek, clearly meaning what she wanted.

Please?,she asked shyly.

Balto was only too happy to do so. Gently, he gave her a sweet canine kiss, his tongue being at least four times larger than hers, rubbing her entire cheek.

Jenna was so pleased that her cheeks almost matched the rest of her brick-colored fur.

Without shame, she gave Balto a big hug, holding him closely with both of her small forelegs, which didnt go completely around his large body. Balto hugged her too, touching his own forearms since his forelegs went completely around Jennas small body. And there they sat, hugging, close and warm as they always wished they could be. No one to laugh at their love, or emit an undesired opinion. The way is should be.

 

After a while, Balto sat back up, and Jenna did too.

I think you really should be getting back to your house, Jen,said Balto,Ill walk with you there.

Jenna was too spellbound to speak, so she just nodded and got up.

Jenna couldnt believe how lucky she was as she walked snuggly beside Balto along the dark night. She was so happy now that she had finally expressed what she had had bottled up for so long. Balto felt the same way. As they arrived at Jennas house at the edge of town, Jenna turned to Balto and smiled once more.

Thank you for bringing me, Balto,said Jenna.

Heh heh, nothing to it,said Balto.

Jenna still had something to say, though.

Um, Balto, youre going to walk along the shore tomorrow, right,she asked.

Yeah, well, I was thinking of doing that,said Balto.

Could I come along?,asked Jenna,I really want to spend some time with you and talk. If I wont bother.

Balto beamed.

Of course,said Balto,You can come if you like. Ill come and look for you at noon, okay?

Okay! Thanks, Balto,said Jenna.

With that, and without warning, she flicked her tongue out and gave Balto another kiss on his nose. Then she gave him another hug, close and warm.

Good night, Balto,said Jenna,I love you.

Balto could hardly speak, but he managed.

II love you too, Jenna,he said.

And so, Balto watched her as she walked into her house and blew him and kiss before disappearing through the pet door of the house.

Balto headed back through the snowy night, but strangely, he never felt the snow warmer than he did on this particular night.

He arrived at his ship, curled up and slept beside his friends.

                        *          *          *

The next morning, Balto was poked awake by a feathery wing.

Get up now, laddie!,said the rasping voice of Boris funny Russian accent,Its morrrning! Sunshine out in the wild and into the vindows!

Baltos eyes opened slowly and he saw the interior of his home. He thought he ought to straighten it up a little.

Slowly, he got up and stretched yawning, and crackling his stiff joints.

Vell, you sure slept a lot, kiddo,said Boris,How vas your date last night, eh?

Balto was suddenly wide awake.

ItIt wasnt a date, Boris,said Balto,Jenna just came over to see me.

Yah, yah, vell, how did it go?,asked Boris as he walked over to the entrance.

Fine, really,said Balto, remembering all that had happened the night before.

Come over herrre and look at this vunderful sunrrrise,said Boris,I hope ve can catch some brrreakfast beforrre the schools of salmons migrrrate.

That reminds me, where are Muk and Luk,Balto asked as he sat down to watch the sun rise.

Dont know for surrre,said Boris,Probably out playing in the vild.

Their answer came instantly.

Uncle Boris!,called out an unseen someone.

Vell, I guess thats my answer,said Boris, making a face.

Before he knew it, he was under the pressure or two large bear forelegs, in what could have been either a hug or a severe attempt to strangle him.

We brought fish, uncle Boris!,said Muk,We can swim now! Arent you proud of us?

Balto looked at Boris, who sighed.

Yes, yes,said Boris,Proud for you, lads.

Ooh, you hear that, Luk! Hes proud of us! He adores us!,Muk said as he pranced around with glee.

Balto, Boris, Muk and Luk devoured the fish that they had brought. They stopped only when there was nothing but a pile of fish bones stripped completely of flesh.

Vell, that vas good,said Boris.

As Balto took the bones outside and buried them in the snow, he noticed a red flag that had been placed up close to the town. What could that mean? He didnt know.

The rest of the morning, Balto spent his time getting the excess show out of the ship, Boris swept all the filth off the decks of the ship, and Muk and Luk tried to help by accommodating things in different places. It was only when Boris noticed his mirror had been installed on the roof of the sailors cabin and that Baltos water bowl had been fixed on the bow of the ship, that he excused Muk and Luk and told them that they had earned a break. They hurried off into the fields while Boris tried to place the things back in their proper places.

A few minutes before noon, Balto said he would go to the town.

Grreat! You can get me a frrresh brrrroom on yer vay back,said Boris,I bet therrre ought to be vun that the humans dont use anymorrre.

Ill see if I find one,said Balto as he left.

Balto arrived at the town, which looked more empty than usual. It seemed that everyone was inside. Why, he didnt know.

He still had ten minutes before noon, so he thought he might look for a broom before going to Jennas house.

Balto searched in the trash containers everywhere, but he didnt find any. It wasnt very common to see a broomstick thrown in the garbage now that he thought of it. Humans usually used their old brooms for firewood.

Jenna went outside into her garden and looked through the gap between her fence. She knew it wasnt quite noon yet, but she couldnt stand the tickling in her tummy so she went outside to see if she could spot Balto coming her way.

Jenna spotted Balto walking alone along the town and quickly went to meet him.

Balto!,said Jenna as she approached him,Hi!

Balto turned and saw Jenna walking neared to him. He couldnt explain what he felt, but it sure was comfortable.

Hi Jenna,he said,I was looking for a broom, Boris needs a fresh one. It wasnt noon yet, so I thought maybe I had some time.

Jenna smiled beckoned for him to follow her.

Come and walk with me, Balto,said Jenna smiling and blushing a little,I know where to get a nice broom that humans dont use anymore.

Balto accepted happily.

Jenna and Balto walked along the empty streets, and into an alley. Jenna signaled to a broom that was lying half buried in the snow. She had seen it a few days before and knew that humans didnt use it anymore.

Thank you very much, Jen,said Balto as he picked it up in his teeth,Borisll love this one.

As they walked back out of the alley and towards the edge of town, Dixie and Sylvie, two females, crossed their path.

Hi there, you two,said Dixie the smaller one,Going for a walk?

Yeah,said Jenna smiling.

How are you doing?,Balto asked politely.

Fine, I suppose,said Sylvie, the taller one.

Jenna and Balto walked off, leaving them behind.

Dixie shook her head.

I cant believe she fancies him,said Dixie,I mean, hes a hero and all, but look at his fur. All untidy and gray. No attractive color if you ask me.

I always knew there was something batty about Jenna,said Sylvie,She never did quite fit in with the rest of us. She always had a crush on Balto, and even though she never shouted it out loud, it was more than evident

What was that I heard, Sylvie?,asked a gruff voice behind them.

The Elder appeared out of nowhere. He was a very old and wooly dog, some said he was the first dog to live in this town when the humans formed it during the Gold Rush. No one knew if a dog could live that long, but it could be. Some said he was a hero in one of Jack Londons books, but no one believed those old tales.

I hope you two arent ill wording about our new hero,he said sternly.

Oh, no,said Dixie,Just, er, just commenting.

I know this may be a new twist to you, as it is even for me, but you mustnt make fun of your brothers and sisters,lectured the Elder,After all, he saved our children from a terrible fate.

He turned and left.

Dont let me hear you ill-wording Balto, mind that, girls,said the Elder as he left.

Dixie and Sylvie decided to look for a more private place to gossip.

 

Jenna pranced playfully with Balto as they reached the edge of the city. Baltos eyes suddenly moved to the flag that was standing in the middle of the path.

Jenna, whats that flag for?,Balto asked.

I think the humans believe that theres a storm coming in about two or three days,said Jenna,So they tell each other with that flag. I think they have different colors, according to the strength of the storm.

Wow, humans are kind of smart sometimes,said Balto as he and Jenna left the town.

Yeah, I guess they are,said Jenna giggling.

Boris was glad to see the new broom. He praised it and thanked Jenna for helping out Balto to find one.

I must say, its verrry fine quality, m dear,said Boris,I can tell a good brroom when I see vun, and this herrre brroom is a classic and verrry effective.

Boris went inside and put his new broom on a shelf.

Jenna and Balto walked off at a regular pace to the rocky shore. Jenna had always loved the look of the ocean. What was there far beyond it? She didnt imagine.

As Balto walked with her, he pointed out places where Muk and Luk usually went fishing now that they had learned to swim. Jenna remembered those two bears very well, always playing around. She hadnt seen them today, though.

Where are those two bears anyway, Balto,she asked as they sat down on a barnacle-covered rock.

Well,Balto started to say.

But the answer came instantly.

From the calm waters, Muk and Luk emerged splashing and paddling towards the shore.

Well, I guess that answers my question,said Jenna laughing.

Muk and Luk shook their heavy coats to get the excess water off and headed towards Jenna and Balto.

Ah! Youre Baltos friend!,said Muk, smiling from ear to ear.

They said hello to Jenna and ran off to play in the snow covered fields.

Funny little guys,said Jenna.

Balto smiled.

From the look on Jennas face, Balto could see that she was enjoying herself. She closed here eyes and breathed the clean ocean air deeply and let it go slowly.

What a nice spot,said Jenna,I might ask you to come here more often, of you dont mind.

Not at all,said Balto smiling,Whenever you want, Jenna.

She smiled as she leaned on him and rested her head on his shoulder.

Youre so different from all the other dogs in the town,said Jenna,Dixies vanity gets on my nerves sometimes, and Sylvie cant stop her tongue from wagging about one or the other. I never thought Id actually meet someone I would feel completely happy and free with. I feel like I can do anything and tell you anything, Balto.

He smiled as he rubbed her gently.

You can,he said.

Jenna smiled and nuzzled him with the tip of her nose.

I cant believe Im actually doing what I wished I could do for a long time,said Jenna,I think I didnt tell you this, butYou were always more than what everyone said you were for me. I think I understand what I felt now. I always felt something towards you, Balto, but I was too shy and unsure of myself to tell you. I didnt know how youd react.

Balto thought about it.

I felt the same, Jenna,said Balto,But I thought it was impossible. A nice, well kept female would never be interested in areject.

Jenna giggled.

Aww, you had that concept of yourself too, Balto,said Jenna,I always felt that I didnt fit in just right with the other females. There was always something I didnt agree on with them. I was really a moving mass of complexes. Before you came into my life, Balto.

Jenna paused and pressed herself a little more against him.

Its all so curious,said Jenna,How things twist and become totally different than what they seemed like at first.

Balto agreed fully with her. It had never occurred to her that the same feeling he had being living on for so long had also been living in Jennas heart. And now at last both of them could express their feeling without any doubts.

Jenna suddenly got up and gave Balto a kiss on his cheek, running off along the shore.

Catch me if you can, sweetheart!,she called.

Balto grinned and took off after her.

Jenna was small and light, so she could run like a reindeer across the rocky shore, but Balto was faster. He caught up with her so many times that she constantly had to change direction to confuse him.

She giggled as he came close, then she changed direction and watched as he skidded to a halt and raced behind her once more.

You cant catch me, big guy,said Jenna as she narrowly dodged,Im too quick.

Oh yeah? Watch me,said Balto as he changed direction himself and ran behind her.

After a lot of running, Balto managed to pounce on Jenna and stop her running. But Jenna just kissed Balto suddenly and wiggled herself free, taking off again.

After a long while, both Jenna and Balto grew exhausted from all their playing. They waddled over beneath a tree and lied down together to take a break.

Whew. You sure are quick, Jenna,said Balto.

Same to you,said Jenna,Although I always knew that, ever since the dog races.

Hehehe, do you remember that?,he asked chuckling.

You bet. I think it was just me and Boris who were supporting you, and you outran those idiots without any effort,said Jenna,Man, you were quick in your paws.

Jenna rolled over on the snow and lied down on her back, looking at the clouds.

Balto, look,said Jenna.

Balto imitated her and rolled over on his back to have a better view of the sky.

Clouds, lots of them, were dispersed all over the sky, it seemed like someone who had a vague idea what a cotton field must have looked like had made a collage and glued them there.

Look at that one, Jen,said Balto,It looks like a house.

Yeah, and if you look upside down it looks like a ship,said Jenna.

Yeah,said Balto.

Funny, huh?,said Jenna,Upside down its like a ship, up straight it looks like a house, and its still the same could, both shaped form one, like you and me Balto. Different, but we are like one at heart.

Balto found this very poetic. He smiled.

Jenna moved closed to him, wiggling in the snow, until their warm bodies touched.

And look at that one over there, Balto,said Jenna,It looks like a teepee.

Yeah, like the ones the American Indians were said to live in,said Balto,And if you look at it backwards, itlookslike aa

A heart?,Jenna said.

Balto went scarlet.

Yeah,he said,A heart.

Jenna felt him go warm all over, which made her go warm all over too.

I think the snow might melt under us, Balto,said Jenna,and well find the grass that was buried by it in autumn. Dont you think?

Heh heh, youre so lyrical, Jenna,said Balto.

I have someone to be inspired by,said Jenna, looking at him and pressing herself closer to him.

The clouds were now uninteresting to Jenna, so much that she failed to notice how they got denser by the second.

Jenna was completely absorbed by the presence of Balto, and this was just the way she loved to be with him best, without anyone to talk badly about neither of them.

Balto,said Jenna,Doesnt this feel like a dream?

If it is, I dont want to wake up, ever,said Balto as he closed his eyes and savored the warmth of Jenna beside him.

Same here,said Jenna,But its true. Its true because if this were a dream, I wouldnt be able to do this.

Jenna caught Baltos ear in her jaws and nibbled on it gently. She rubbed the tip of his ear with her tongue, and Balto giggled.

Hehehe, that tickles,Balto laughed. He enjoyed the feeling of Jennas little teeth nibbling and tugging his ear playfully.

Jenna got up and nuzzled Baltos nose with the tip of her own. She stopped after a while, but kept her nose on his. Balto understood.

Jennas nose tilted a little as she tilted her head and placed her lips on Baltos nose. Her lips slid along his nose, getting closer to his own lips. Baltos eyes closed again. Jennas did as well. It was going to happen, their firstwarmestkiss.

Jenna and Balto took their time, savoring the prelude to this marvelous kiss. Then they could no longer stand the suspense. It was there, almost

Suddenly, when their lips were at a mere millimeter from each other, there came a booming sound.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!!!!

Balto was the first to react. He straightened up, alarmed. Jenna did too, a little annoyed because their warmest moment had been abruptly interrupted.

Balto suddenly ran out from under the tree and stopped a short distance from it.

In the distance he could see an immense could of dust, rushing this way.

Jenna!,he called,We have to seek shelter. The humans were wrong. The storms going to strike today!

Jenna ran up beside him and they raced along the path they had come through, which was easy to navigate because of the deep tracks left in the snow.

Thunder boomed over them, and the dust was on their tails. It was coming fast.

We have to get you to the town, Jenna,said Balto,Your folks could be worried.

But it was too late. As Jenna and Balto arrived at the ship, the huge storm was no more than fifty feet away. Jenna automatically shook her head.

We have to get inside, Balto,said Jenna,Its too late.

Jenna and Balto raced into the ship, where Boris, Muk and Luk were all huddled together, awaiting the storm. Balto came in behind Jenna and closed the entrance of the ship with a heavy iron door that had been fixed into the hinges some time ago.

Brace yourselves,said Balto.

 

And then, it came.

WHACK!

It was like a tidal wave had struck them. But the ship, sturdy as it was, held together. The wind sounded like some sort of sonic boom, it came so loud and fast that Muk and Luk both grabbed Boris at the same time, so that Boriss legs were in Luks paws and his head was in Muks paws, and to heck with his breath. Boris was more worried about being torn apart by his nephews than being swept by the storm. To him, it was more dangerous in here than it was out there.

Ack! Fools! Let your uncle go, or youll have to glue me together beforrre daybrrreak!,he managed to wheeze.

Jenna dropped to the floor, grabbing on to Baltos foreleg with all her might. Balto hugged her tightly and kept his top half over her, like some kind of canine shield, as if trying to prevent her from being blown away.

The winds ceased after about five minutes. They became milder. And then it came.

Through the glass of the porthole, the dense snow could be seen, falling in sheets.

Balto got up and loosened his grip. Jenna straightened up too and looked around to see if everyone was fine.

The only one that was a bit ruffled was Boris, whose feathers stuck out in curious angles. He was placing them properly and eyeing Muk and Luk reproachfully, even though they didnt notice this because they were too busy counting the snowflakes that fell on the deck of the ship.

Vell, at least ve can light a firrre,said Boris as he opened a drawer in which he kept some matches,Lets make things a bit brrrighter in herrre.

He placed some dry wood in a heap, and lit a cozy fire under the metal fireplace, where the smoke went up and into the windy storm through a metal pipe that served as a chimney.

Come on, you two,said Boris, meaning Jenna and Balto,Youll frrreeze your tails off you dont warrrm up a bit.

Balto smiled. Jenna slowly approached the fire and sat down close to it. Balto followed her and sat down too beside Boris. The fire gave them a nice warm feeling once more. There was something about fires that make people feel warm, and not just the warmth of the fire itself, mind.

Boris brought a pile of fish that Muk and Luk had caught and placed it on a rack near the fire to dry. That way, it could last longer.

Help yourrrselves to the fishies, younglings,said Boris,Theyll be nice and varm ven theyre done.

Thank you very much,said Jenna.

Thanks, Boris,said Balto.

Oooh! Uncle Boris! Come look at the snowflakes,Muk called jumping up and down in front of the porthole.

Boris reluctantly walked over to where his bear nephews were.

Jenna looked at Balto and edged closer. Balto felt her fur brush against him and smiled.

I guess were trapped, but were safe, eh?,Jenna said.

Yeah,said Balto,We might as well settle down and wait for the storm to subside.

All afternoon, Balto, Boris, Jenna and the bears found things to do while the storm raged outside. Muk and Luk, who had been playing all morning, were very tired by the end of the day and curled up in their usual spot near the corner to sleep. Boris was teaching Jenna how to play GO, an oriental board game that was originated in China and that he was very fond of. Balto warmed himself by the fire and talked a lot to Jenna. They had a nice, cozy time inside the warm and sturdy ship, and the storm outside roared with its drones at top speed.

When they were all sleepy, Boris said goodnight and went over to sleep beside his nephews. Balto went over to the sailors closet and pulled out a warm blanket that he usually used to sleep. He placed it on the floor beside the fire.

There you go, Jenna,said Balto.

What about you, Balto?,Jenna asked.

Oh, its okay,said Balto,The fires nice and warm.

Jenna looked at him with a look that he didnt understand.

I hope it keeps you warm,said Balto.

Jenna smiled.

It will, and itll keep you warm as well,said Jenna.

Balto looked at her a little uncertain.

Come on, Balto,said Jenna pleasantly as she lied down under the blanket,Theres plenty of room for both of us.

Balto couldnt refuse. He slowly crawled under the blanket and stuck his head out beside Jennas. She moved closer to him and accommodated herself snuggly beside him.

Even if I had ten blankets as warm as this one, I doubt Id be as warm as I am beside you, sweetheart,Jenna said.

Balto didnt know what to say. Instead, he just rubbed her with his chin.

Jenna, if you need anything at all, just wake me up, okay?,said Balto.

I dont think I could even need anything more than this,said Jenna happily,But okay, I will.

Balto smiled. He inclined his head and gave her a kiss on her muzzle.

Good night, Jenna,said Balto.

Good night, Balto,said Jenna as she kissed him too.

Balto closed his eyes and went to sleep. Jenna laid awake for a few minute more, thinking about all the things she had lived today. She was still a little bothered by the storm, but she thought that it was also nice to spend time with Balto in the place where he lived. She had never been to his ship before, and she felt very cozy here. She could feel Baltos scent everywhere, and it seemed to her that she was somehow surrounded by his presence, that he was with her and all around her at the same time. Jenna loved that feeling of security and coziness.]

Jenna gave Balto one last kiss along his muzzle and settled herself down to sleep.

                                   *                      *                      *

Over the next two days, Jenna had a lot of fun with Balto, Boris and the bears. There were many interesting and fun things to do inside. Boris dried fish was delicious, and they sometimes sang merry songs to make the storms outside jollier. Jenna sang along with them and discovered how lovely her own voice was, something that Balto had told her and was true. But the most important thing for her was that she got to know more about Baltos life at home, and being with him anywhere was wonderful for her.

Balto was so sweet. His family was Boris, Muk and Luk, and now Jenna told herself that shed be part of his family too. It was nice to live with them.

Jennas nights with them were even merrier. They would gather around the fire and Boris would tell the stories about his old country, and his funny Russian accent was delightfully appropriate for storytelling. He told them about the storm that had swept him off course once and how he managed to find his flock once more with his instincts. Muk and Luk enjoyed themselves more than anyone, living the most intense moments as if they were there.

Jenna wished the storm would continue for a long time, because she enjoyed herself so much in this cozy ship-home that they all shared now. Balto had showed her all the parts of the ship. The family room was where they slept and lit the fire, and there was a captains quarters, the crews mess hall where Boris kept all his salted fish jerky, and there was a very nice room where Balto kept all his treasures. There were some toys, some pretty stones that he had found, some rare seashells, and strangely enough, a small empty box that looked like a snuffbox or a rings case. Balto only showed Jenna what was in this box, he said that it had been his greatest treasure for a long time. Jenna was surprised to see that it was not empty after all, that in the bottom it had a single brick-red strand of fur.

It got caught in between my fur on the day I was watching the races,said Balto,I kept it ever sinceas a treasure.

Jenna went scarlet. She had never heard something so sweet. She gave Balto a very warm hug and kissed his cheek happily.

Well, now you have all of me, Balto, not just a strand of fur,said Jenna.

Balto hugged her back.

Youre the most valuable treasure in the world, Jenna,said Balto.

Jenna loved to share the warm blanket with Balto at night. She felt warmer than she had ever felt before when she snuggled close to him. She sure loved it here, she loved it very much.

 

As the third day arrived, the storm subsided and stopped completely, leaving mountains of snow on the deck of the ship. But inside, all was merry and warm.

I think the storrrm finally blew itself out,said Boris.

Yeah,said Jenna.

Oh, boy! Can we go outside and play, uncle Boris?,asked the bears.

Not yet, laddies,said Boris,Therrre might still be some vind. Youd best wait.

Balto offered to take Jenna to her house.

Your folks must be worried about you, Jen,said Balto.

Yeah,said Jenna,I think Id better leave.

She really didnt want to leave, for she enjoyed it here and she wanted to be with Balto. But the truth was that her folks could have been worried about her for all this time.

Jenna waved goodbye as she and Balto walked off towards the town.

Now come back soon, Balto mboy,said Boris,I have a bad feeling about this.

Jenna tried to stay cheerful as Balto walked with her to her house. She truly didnt want to leave him. Balto noticed that no humans were on the streets, and this gave him a odd feeling.

Jenna arrived at her house invited Balto to come into the yard. He followed her passing under the gap in her fence, and Jenna scratched the door.

Instantly, it opened, and Rosy showed her worry-stricken face. She was overjoyed to see Jenna safe and sound with Balto.
I should have known youd take care of her, Balto,she said happily as she hugged Jenna,You took care of her all this time, and I was worried about her being safe. Thank you, Balto.

She let go of Jenna and walked over to him, and gave him a hug too. Balto smiled, pleased that he had done something good for Jenna and for the others too.

Balto knew that he had to leave, so he walked slowly towards the gap. Jenna ran towards him.

Balto, wait,she said.

Balto looked at her. Jenna smiled happily.

Thank you, Balto,said Jenna, and she gave him a warm, wet kiss on his cheek.

Balto smiled.

Youre welcome, Jenna,he said.

Balto really had to leave now. Jenna asked him to come over whenever he wanted, and he said that he would.

But as he was just about to crawl under the gap, a wind came

A wind that got stronger by second.

Oh no!,said Balto,It was the eye of the storm!

The storm was arising again, and in the opposite direction to the one it had came from first. Balto had to hurry.

Suddenly, he felt small teeth tug his shoulder. It was Jenna. She was tugging him back into the yard.

Balto!,she cried,Dont! Come inside or youll be swept away!

Jenna tugged him, and he followed her into the house where Rosy was behind the door, ready to close it as soon as they were safely inside.

Bang!

The door slammed shut. Rosy locked it and chained it so it wouldnt fling open with the wind.

Balto was standing in the front hall of Jennas house. He had never dreamed of how her house might look like from the inside. Jenna gave a sigh of relief.

That was close, Balto,said Jenna,A little more and youd be blown away by the storm.

Balto sat down and looked around him. The house was very tidy and warm. Rosy beckoned them to follow her.

Rosys parents were in the family room, talking. Rosy came into the room beaming.

Mommy, daddy,said Rosy,Jennas okay!

What?,he mother said.

Shes okay,said Rosy smiling,Jenna. Come here, girl.

Jenna walked over to them and stepped beside Rosy. Both of her parents were surprised to see Jenna. They had thought that she had been taken away by the winds.

And guess who took care of her while we were here worrying,Rosy spoke up again.

Balto shyly stepped out of the shadows and stood timidly close to Rosy.

At first the parents were a little alarmed, but then Rosy calmed them down and told them that it was Balto.

Balto?,they said,Buthow did he?

Hes no ordinary dog, remember?,said Rosy,Remember all the things he did only a few days ago?

They were very pleased indeed. Rosy led them into the kitchen.

Jenna tugged Balto and showed him around her own house.

I know its not as cozy as your own, but it is quite comfortable,said Jenna.

Are you kidding? Its lovely, Jenna,said Balto,I never thought I would actually see what it looked like inside your house.

Jenna smiled.

Thank you for pulling me back out there, Jenna,said Balto,I would have been a goner if it wasnt for you.

Aw, shucks,said Jenna blushing,I couldnt let you risk yourself in that horrible wind, Balto. And you took me into your home too when I was in need.

Jenna rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

It was so nice to spend all those three days with you, Balto,said Jenna,I had a lot of fun with you.

Balto smiled and rubbed her cheek with his.

I did too,said Balto.

And now youre going to spend a nice time with me in my humble little home,said Jenna,This is so perfect, Balto.

Balto grinned. It was indeed very funny. Balto took her into his home when the storm was blowing and now she would happily do the same for him. What a twist, Balto thought.

Rosy placed two bowls of jerky on the floor in front of them.

Eat up,she said,You must be hungry.

Balto had never tasted anything similar. He has always thought that the butchers unused bits of meat that he usually found in the garbage in the back alley were the best kind of meat there was besides Boris fish jerky, but this was so tasty.

I love it, Jenna,said Balto when they were finished.

Really?,she said,Thats so great. I loved Boris fish jerky as much as you love this one.

After their meal, Jenna took Balto to the family room and they sat in front of the fire.

Jenna looked at him happily. Balto looked back. He was a bit timid because he was in the same room with humans that only days ago wouldnt doubt to kick snow or throw rocks at him and that now considered him a hero. He thought it was best to just keep his distance. Balto didnt trust adult humans very much.

This fireplace was always my favorite spot during the cold nights,said Jenna,I remember when I was a little puppy I used to lie down here and Rosy would play with me.

Jenna let out a sigh and grinned.

And now the warm feeling of sitting here seems to intensify,said Jenna,Because now you are here with me.

Balto looked into the flames.

Its been so long since I can remember,he said,I have never thought Id ever make any canine friends in my life. Always the same. Rejected by canines and humans alike, because I was different.

Balto smiled.

But thats all over now,said Balto happily,Im glad to say.

Jenna edged closer to him.

Its great when something goes right, eh?,said Jenna,I remember my feeling when you and Boris and the bears were attacked by that horrible bear and I managed to get him away from you for a few seconds so you could run.

Hehe, you remember that too, eh?,said Balto,That was sure a desperate moment.

Yeah,said Jenna chuckling,It seems so funny now that its all over. But back then, it was dead serious.

They were both happy to remember this anecdote. Jenna was especially fond of remembering the voyage she had made following Baltos scent and his marks me made in the trees. He was so smart. Only he would have thought of something so bright and at the same time logical to do. Calm thinker, even in the most desperate moments.

The storm went on and on, all night.

Jenna suddenly got up and went over to the window. Balto followed her and she showed him what she was looking at. The wind was so intense that the trees were bending and almost touching the snow in the woods.

It would be terrible to be out there in this weather, eh?,said Jenna.

Yeah,said Balto,Especially out in the wild.

Watching the wind for a long time was entertaining, and after a while, they started to feel very sleepy.

Balto and Jenna returned to their spot in front of the fireplace fell asleep by the fire. Rosys father was listening to what the radio had to say about the storm. It said that the storm was traveling south over the sea and that it would subside by tomorrow morning in Alaska and pass over to the Pacific islands.

It was a terrible storm indeed, but it had also brought good fortune to Jenna and Balto, since they got to spend more time together than they imagined. As they slept, the storm was crawling away, fading and becoming weaker. But in their hearts, their love was growing and becoming stronger, solid, and unbreakable.

With the peace of the night, they slept cozily together beside the fireplace in that lovely little house.

                                   *                      *                      *

The next morning, the storm subsided and the only things that could be seen were little hills of snow, covering the streets, perfect for sliding down with sleds. Jenna ran around playfully with Balto in the back yard, while Rosy got her coat on.

Its been so lovely to stay here, Jenna,said Balto as they sat down on a little mound of snow.

Its been lovely to have you here, Balto,said Jenna,And even thought it was just one night, Im never going to forget how lovely it was.

As Rosy went outside to join them, Balto walked out of the yard with Jenna. They were now on the snow-covered street, with Rosy close behind them.

I think Id better be getting home, Jen,said Balto,My folks are probably worried.

Balto and Jenna and Rosy walked to the outskirts of the town and walked a short distance over to the abandoned ship that was Baltos humble home.

As soon as he was in sight, Boris came charging with flying-feet across the snow and with his wings wide open. Muk and Luk followed.

Balto, you foolish little boy!,yelled Boris,You almost made this old gooses feathers fall off vith vorries!

Jenna smiled as  she saw the warm scene, involving a lot of hugging and jumping around by part of Muk and Luk, who were sure that Balto would come back in one piece. He wasBalto, after all.

Rosy was giggling as Muk and Luk pranced around her playfully. They were like two big teddy bears. Jenna smiled and got closer to Balto and Boris.

Balto, you have a wonderful family,said Jenna.

I know, they truly are wonderful,said Balto,And you do too, Jenna.

Of course I do, if youre part of it,said Jenna.

Balto looked at her.

Balto, were all a big family,said Jenna, getting as close as she could,And well always live together in harmony, and never again will any of us be rejected.

Balto smiled. Boris looked at the two, and grinned mischievously.

Vell, lets just hope this family doesnt suddenly decide to get any bigger, if you know vhat I mean, you two,he said grinning.

Boris!,Balto said, going scarlet.

He turned to Jenna and saw that she had also gone very scarlet on the cheeks.

And so, the storm was gone and happiness and cheer returned to the town of Nome, surrounded by the frosts of the northern ices.

                                               *                      *                      *

It was nighttime as Jenna and Balto walked up to the tallest hill outside the town. They stopped at the very top and looked down at the town below them. Only a few days ago, this town was heavy with epidemic and despair, but now it was happy and cheerful, awaiting the coldest but happiest time of the year.

Jenna sat down close to Balto. He looked very pleased to see what he was seeing. The whole town had its lights on, and there was definitely an air of happiness surrounding it.

Its lovely, isnt it, Jenna?,Balto said,The town.

Yes. It looks so pretty from here,said Jenna,Like a little toy village.

Jenna and Balto spotted her house, the old barn in which the dogs gathered, and many other points. And at the far endbeyond the town, a little light coming from the porthole of the ship.

Theres a light on at home,said Balto,Boris must have lighted a fire.

Jenna nodded. Then something came to her.

Balto,she said,There is always a lightthat is lit, where someone is waiting for you. Someone who knows youll comeand awaits your arrival with great expectance.

Balto looked at her and smiled.

Those are beautiful words, Jenna,said Balto.

Jenna sat in front of him, face to face, and suddenly took his paw with hers and pulled it towards her chest. She placed Baltos paw on her heart, and looked at him sweetly in the eyes.

Do you feel that, Balto?,she whispered.

Yes,Balto said as he nodded.

Thats where you love will always be,said Jenna,And the light of your love will always keep it going. And it will be there, always, whenever youre in need.

Balto couldnt find words to answer to these lovely words. He felt a lump in his throat, and his heart seemed to be on fire. He could only stare into Jennas amber eyes and feel her heart, so close to him, as would always be.

Jenna edged as close as she could and hugged him tightly with both paws.

Balto hugged her too, unable to talk of the happiness that invaded his whole body.

Balto, I think we have something unfinished,said Jenna, and she lifted her head and rubbed his nose with the tip of her own.

Balto felt her nose run to the side as she inclined her head, and felt her lips sliding along his nose, getting closer to his own. He hugged her tightly as she pressed herself against his chest, feeling her warm fur against his heart, and feeling her heart beat in unison with his.

And I want to finish it now, Balto,Jenna whispered.

Balto managed to speak softly.

II do too, Jenna,he said.

Jennas heart gave a skip as she felt Baltos lips meet gently with hers, she closed her as he did and gave to him with this kiss all her affection, all her life, all her lovein one passionate, sweet, unforgettable kiss.

Balto was no longer a mystery to her. He was a wonderful, caring and loving canine that she could love without limits and confide in, as he could in her.

Far beyond the world around them, Jenna drifted with Balto to a new world, in which their love was the whole world itself for them, and so it would beforever.

After a while, Balto sat back again. Jenna did as well. They were both too overwhelmed with happiness to speak. But after a while, they both regained their tongues, and what came out of their throats sounded in unison and with all the feeling of their hearts.

I love you,they said both together, saying each others names and looking straight into each others eyes.

The sound of this phrase said simultaneously caught their funny bones, and the laughed and laughed as they sat there in the snow, enjoying each others company.

After a few minutes, it started to get colder.

II think, wed better get home,said Balto,Its getting cold.

Jenna nodded.

And so they walked back home, snuggled cozily as they walked and dreaming of the future that lied before them like an unwritten book, waiting for the blank pages to be filled with wonderful memories and moments of happiness,  cheerand love.

 

                                                           THE END