Laika

A patchwork of ice upon the ground,

Laika’s paws step, crunching down.

She scurries through the darkened streets,

To find a little scrap to eat.

Suddenly, without a warning,

The men are on her; Laika’s cornered.

“There, there, girl, it’ll be all right.”

They loop a collar and pull it tight.

She’s dragged into a waiting car,

Held firmly by a man with scars.

Scars upon his hands and face,

From chasing dogs without Laika’s grace.

“Why, she’s the sweetest one we’ve found.”

His hands relax, she makes a sound.

Less a whimper and more a sigh,

Hoping comfort could be nearby.

The car weaves through the crowded streets,

Until at last, the trip completes.

The door is open, down Laika bounds,

Nails making happy clicking sounds.

Scars leads her quickly through a door,

“You won’t be hungry anymore.

All you need, you’ll find it here.

Only comfort, do not fear.”

Laika can’t understand his words;

Soothing murmurs all she heard.

He leads her past a row of cages,

Each dog enduring different phases.

Until, at last, they reach the end;

She stops and gazes at her friend.

“Mishka, don’t look at me that way.

If it were up to me, you all could stay.”

Scars lifts Laika tenderly,

Holds her for a moment or three,

Then places her in the pillowed cage.

“Tomorrow begins training phase.”

He closes the little metal door,

Pets Laika through the bars once more.

He pushes some bread into her bowl.

“This will hold you until school.”

Scars walks away, turns off the lights,

Locks the lab up for the night.

Laika eats her piece of bread,

Wags her tail, lays down her head.

She has no idea what lay in store,

But she’s not hungry anymore.

She’s warm in bed, not cold and frightened,

No rain, or snow, or flashing lightning.

With a belly full and free of fear,

Laika’s head is calm and clear.

She sniffs the air, lets out a sigh, and stretches;

As if about to fly.

In the days that follow, they begin to train,

And Laika learns that with love comes pain.

An hour spinning in the machine,

Leaves Laika puking, sickly green.

But here comes Scars to clean her up,

“You know that you’re my favorite pup.

You did so well and stayed so brave,

You’ve made me proudest of all we’ve saved.”

Now as the training’s conclusion nears,

The class is focused all on fear.

How tightly can a dog be confined,

Before it begins to lose its mind?

How much heat can a dog endure,

Before it cannot anymore?

Late one day, by Laika’s cage, Scars appears;

She is afraid.

“Mishka, it’s me, feel no fear.

Only one who loves you here.

You have so little time to live,

And I have only this to give.”

He lifts her from her cage,

And holds her close, “Don’t be afraid.

We’re going to have a little fun,

Playing with my little ones.

I’ve told them all they need to know,

Of how much love you should be shown.”

As Scars takes Laika to his car,

she turns her head and sees the stars.

They shine down brightly through the gloam,

As if to beckon Laika home.

Her greatest trip is yet to come,

but for Laika, this is the important one.

A joyful night without fear or pain;

She’d never feel that way again.

The car pulls up outside a home,

And three small girls come out alone.

“Girls, look what Papa has brought you here!

These are my children, Mishka dear.”

Scars puts little Laika down,

the girls come gently all around.

They hold her close and soothe her fear

With whispered secrets in her ear.

After a rigorous training day,

Our Laika does her best to play.

Chasing the girls as night comes down,

While making joyful puppy sounds.

And when all the girls grow tired,

they lay all jumbled by the fire.

Laika’s first night in a home.

Laika’s first night not alone.

When morning light fills up the room,

Scars wakes Laika, “Let’s go soon.

Say goodbye to your new friends.

Maybe someday you’ll meet again.”

Laika licks the girls goodbye,

They hold her close and begin to cry.

“Daddy, can’t she stay here if you ask?”

“No, she has another task.”

Now Laika’s day of joy is done,

Back in the lab, work has begun.

They toil and prep all through the night,

For next morning’s monumental flight.

They build a capsule all around her,

They shave her fur where sensors bound her.

And before Laika is sealed inside,

Scars kisses her head and begins to cry.

“I wish our story didn’t end here,

I’ll always love you, Mishka dear.”

The rest of Laika’s time is pain,

Fear, and loneliness again.

She cowers between narrow walls,

As the earth beneath her shakes and falls.

As time goes on, heat increases,

Air is thin, breathing ceases.

Laika’s sight begins to fade,

And none too soon, her pain allays.

“Mishka, open up your eyes, we’re here for you.”

And Laika sighs.

She knew that Scars would come for her,

That he and his girls would comfort her.

Laika stands and stretches and yawns,

And finds herself on that lovely lawn,

Where she had run and chased her girls;

Her favorite place in this dreary world.

“Come get us, Mishka!” the girls all cry;

Laika barks her joyous reply.

She chases the girls until they tire,

And once again, sleep by the fire.

And as she sleeps, our Laika dreams,

Of heat and pain and cramped machines.

She whimpers until at last, the end,

Thinking of her dearest friend.

Who, far below Laika’s demise,

Is standing, staring at the sky,

Thinking of his little friend,

And hoping for a peaceful end.

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