"Hey, girl," I called softly. I shined the light into Snow's stall. All llamas, and especially grouchy pregnant llamas, dislike a surprise. "Hey." Usually she swung her face over the gate to greet me with a whiffle--a puff of air--and take an alfalfa biscuit from my hand. When she didn't come to the stall door, I peered over the wall.
She lay on her side, panting. I unlatched the door and stepped in. "Snow?" Her brown eyes rolled toward me. Llamas tuck their legs under them when they sleep; they don't lie flat unless they're sick or hurt.
Or having trouble birthing a cria.
I checked under her tail. There was one tiny black hoof.
I ran out of the barn, across the yard, and up the steps, bursting through the mudroom and into the kitchen. "Dad!"
Dad and Grandad looked up from the table.
"Snow's down! And her cria's coming!"
Dad got up, hurrying past me to the mudroom. Grandad followed, putting his cap on and shoving his feet into his boots. "Where's Greg?"
"Changing the starter on the crummy," I said. Our old pickup truck always needed work.
"Then we'll need your help, JT. Wash your hands and get the medicine bag," Grandad said.
I scrubbed my hands, ran to the shop, grabbed the bag, and sprinted through the night air back to Snow's stall.
Dad and Grandad knelt next to her, their backs hunched at the same angle, wearing matching blue Kinnaman Ranch caps. Dad put gloves on and said, "Squirt iodine on my hands, Joey." I dug the bottle out of the bag and squirted the brown liquid on his gloves. Grandad laid tools on a blanket--a scalpel, cutters, a clamp, and twine. "JT, you be ready to hand these to your dad when he needs them."
My heart was pounding so hard, I could feel it through my shirt. I said the names of the tools over and over to myself. Grandad gently lay across Snow's neck to hold her down, then said, "Ready."
Snow grunted and Dad pulled. "Rope, Joe."
I fumbled for the twine and handed it to him. Dad tied it around the cria's ankles, then sat back on his heels and waited. Snow thrashed around, then grunted, and Dad reached in and pulled. "Come on, little llama," he coaxed. He grimaced, his forehead turning red. Grandad stroked Snow's white cheek and her neck, telling her it would be all right.
Dad stopped pulling and rubbed his arm over his face. "Must be big. Who's the sire?"
"Tumtum," Grandad said.
Dad whistled. He rested one hand on Snow's leg. "Hang in there, girl," he said. Tumtum was Greg's llama, and the largest llama on Kinnaman Ranch, probably in all of Alaska--more than four hundred pounds.
Grandad petted Snow and told her it would be over soon. The warm cozy barn was starting to feel hot and sticky. Bits of hay stuck to the sweat on my forehead.
Snow's eyes rolled and she grunted again. Dad braced himself and pulled. The head came out, and then a slimy gray cria slid onto the straw. I turned away.
Grandad sat on his heels and Snow's ears swiveled toward the cria. She wanted to sniff the baby, but she was too tired. She laid her head down. Grandad said, "JT, take a look at that."
I looked back at the tiny wet llama. It was amazing and gross at the same time. "Wow." Then I looked at Snow, stretched out flat like roadkill. "Is she okay?"
"She'll be all right," Grandad said, rubbing the cria with a towel. "But he's kind of small. Doesn't look like much for all this trouble. Maybe twelve pounds. Come on, baby, breathe."
Dad was feeling around Snow's belly. He held his palm against her side. "Well, I'll be," he said.
"We've got another heartbeat. Snow here is having twins."
"Twins!" I said. Llamas hardly ever have twins.
"No time to lose. Her contractions will start up again soon. Is he breathing?"
Grandad cut the cord with the scalpel, then suctioned the cria's nose. "Not yet. But there's still hope." He rubbed the cria's chest, pushing on his ribs.
I bent over the little face. He was gray like morning fog. The cria's eyes were closed. I wiped his leathery nostrils and little lips. "Breathe, little guy."
Grandad hung the cria upside down to get fluid out of his airway. Nothing. He worked on it awhile longer, then set the body down and sighed. "That's a shame," he said.
I stood staring at it. It looked so perfect, a perfect little llama. "What's the matter?"
"We might never know. We lost that one." Grandad put his arm around me.
That was supposed to be my llama.
"Rope," Dad said, startling me.
I gave him the rope and he tied it around another little black hoof. Suddenly Snow stood. Her belly contracted and another cria slid out headfirst, landing on the straw with a thump.
This cria was black as night, with a tiny white star between his ears. "He's not breathing either," Dad said.
Grandad knelt over the body, sucking mucus out of its nostrils with a nasal syringe. "Come on," he whispered.
Dad thumped it on the chest a couple of times, then stood and hung it upside down. "It's tiny."
"We're not losing them both." Grandad leaned over and blew a short puff in the cria's face.
Suddenly the cria sneezed and started breathing. "That's better," Grandad said. "JT, wipe out his nose and mouth so he can breathe easier, then dry him off."
I knelt down and took a look at the newest Kinnaman llama. I dried his mouth and nose and rubbed him with the towel.
Following Grandad's instructions, I cut the umbilical cord, untied the rope, and stretched each leg out to check for broken bones. I looked in his ears. Last, I checked to be sure the cord had quit bleeding. It was wrinkled like a deflated balloon. The cria's black eyes were clear and bright--like they were made of oil. He blinked at me.
"Three minutes," Grandad warned. "I'll get rid of this carcass before she smells it and gets upset." He picked up the gray cria and stepped out of the stall.
"Three minutes until what?" I asked.
"You can't handle a newborn cria longer than three minutes, or else he'll think he's your baby and not Snow's. Then he'll starve," Dad said. He gave Snow a shot and rubbed her hip muscle where it went in. "Now come on. We've got to get out of here."
Snow stepped gingerly to the water bucket for a long drink. Then she stood over the black cria, telling me with her big brown eyes to go away.
Dad stepped outside the stall and looked back.
"We'll see how he does," Dad said. "He sure is a little guy, isn't he?"
"I'll say," said Grandad. He tipped back his cap and scratched at his bald spot. "See that star, JT?" He pointed at the white spot on the cria's head. "That means he'll bring good luck to his owner."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Come, Llamas by Jennifer Morris. Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Morris. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.