The inside of my eyelids glow orange, pulling me out of a vague dream. I crack my eyes open to see a beam of sunlight streaming in through the gap in the boarded window. I turn my head away from the beam, blinking to adjust my vision. My pack is still asleep, curled up underneath their faded and ripped blankets.
I stand up with a big yawn, stretching the stiffness out of my legs. My master hasn’t noticed my movement, so I walk up the blanket to his head poking out. A small breeze from behind catches my attention, but looking back, I realize it’s my tail. His head pulls back as I lick his face, and he mumbles something I don’t understand. Finally his eyes open and my tail wags even harder. Why doesn’t he know it’s time to get up?
With a struggle he sits up, and begins talking to the other pack members. I hear my name, but I don’t know any other words he uses. “Blah, blah, Poppy, blah, blah, blah,” he says, as the others groan and stir.
There’s eight of us in the pack. Over the years I’ve picked up on their names. There’s Julia, Sean, Nathan, Stephanie, Michael, Jasmine, me, and of course, Ryan, my master. Ryan’s taught me some other words, like sit, down, no, and stay, along with clicks, whistles, and hand gestures that tell me what to do. Ryan always says “bad girl” angrily, which is the most awful thing in the world. Ryan always says “good girl” happily, and no other phrase makes me feel so wonderful.
I quietly sit by my bowls to remind Ryan of food. He grabs the bag of my food, the little brown nibs rattling as they hit my bowl. Ryan says something as I eagerly crunch the food, wolfing down the entire bowl in no time. The rest of my pack are taking a lot longer to eat their food and get ready for the day. At first I wait patiently, but soon I whine by the door, occasionally scratching it or pawing Ryan.
My pack puts on extra layers of fabric and those weird rubber things on their feet--that I’m not allowed to chew on--so I know it’s almost time to go. I eagerly make circles around them, tapping my paws and spinning randomly. They strap on their long sticks that make loud bangs across their backs, unbolt the door, and step out into the fresh morning air.
Squeezing between their legs, I’m the first one out the door, letting my ears stream behind me in the cool wind. I find a patch of fresh, green grass to relieve myself before running back to my pack, just to make sure they’re still coming. Like usual, we split up, though I’ve never understood why. I go with my master and Jasmine, Michael goes with Stephanie, and Nathan, Sean, and Julia go together.
It’s a beautiful morning for a forest walk. Suddenly, my ears perk up as they catch a scuttling noise. I whip my head around to see a squirrel climbing up a tree. Yeah, you better run, I think. After a while of walking through the woods, we reach a large clearing where the ground is striped with yellow and white, and lots of buildings stand next to each other. There used to be a lot of people here, but I don’t know where they’ve gone.
Ryan spots the deer first. He clicks with his tongue twice, and obediently I freeze. My ears lay flat against my head, the muscles in my legs tensing, ready to spring. But the deer is too far away. Ryan clicks once and motions me to move forward as he and Jasmine crouch in the shadow of a building. Lowering myself closer to the ground, my senses sharpen as I stealthily walk towards it. The deer is eating grass, unaware of the danger that is using all the objects around to hide from view. Before it can run away, I leap out and dig my claws into the deer’s middle and neck. Within a short moment it’s dead, and I proudly drag my prize towards Ryan. I sit down next to the corpse, wagging, panting, and looking up at my master for approval.
He smiles and reaches down to give me scratches. “Good girl,” he says, my heart swelling with happiness to hear those words. “Blah, blah, good girl, blah,” he continues. With a grunt, he grabs the deer and swings it over his shoulder to carry it back home.
We barely reach the entrance to the forest before I stop dead in my tracks and give a warning bark. It’s faint, but I hear a gurgling sound I know well. Ryan puts down the deer as he and Jasmine get their loud sticks ready. The gurgling comes closer as the breeze carries the scent of meat to my nose. I poise, ready to strike, even though it’s just to show Ryan where the sound is coming from. Finally, it comes out from behind a building. I don’t really know what they’re called. They seem like my pack, but at the same time, they don’t. They walk much more slowly and clumsily, gurgling and growling instead of talking. They smell different, too, like meat from a fresh kill. I do know they want to hurt my pack, and I won’t let that happen.
Jasmine holds up her loud stick, and I brace myself for the noise. Bang. The sound echoes off the buildings and throughout the forest, sending birds flying through the air in panic. Instantly, the person-like thing falls to the ground. Then I understand why they use their loud sticks sparingly.
The sound of gurgling comes from all directions, some distant, some closer to my pack. Ryan and Jasmine don’t seem to hear, however. I bark and bark at them and back at the buildings, trying to make them understand. Ryan still looks confused, but trusts my judgement. He quickly hauls the deer’s body over his shoulder again and Jasmine leads us through the woods, this time running.
I take the back to make sure no one is lost. I stop for a moment to look back, seeing tons of the people-like things pouring out of buildings, but I no longer worry. I don’t hear or smell any nearby, and any member of my pack can get away just by walking.
After a while, we slow to a walk, Ryan clearly exhausted from carrying his burden. We reach our home, but the other pack members aren’t back yet. Outside, Jasmine makes a stack of wood and scrapes something together. Ryan grabs a sharp, pointy thing and begins skinning the deer. I sit close by, patiently waiting for him to throw me scraps. I hear popping from the wood, and see that fire is now engulfing the wood.
Nathan, Julia, and Sean greet me as they walk into the house, carrying bundles filled with mysterious objects. Michael and Stephanie don’t return until the deer is being held over the flames, the sweet smell of meat watering my mouth. We all eat our fill, and I lay down next to my master to get a quick post-meal nap. My pack softly talks to each other, some of them wandering off into the house or around it.
I lift up my head to the sound of a wolf howling in the distance. I raise my nose to the sky, about to howl an answer, but Ryan’s hand clamps around my snout. His grip doesn’t hurt, but is firm enough for me to understand. “No,” he whispers. I sigh, grumpily putting my head back down. That doesn’t last long, as my tail quickly thumps on the ground when I hear Ryan talking to me.