When the great ball of light comes back in the sky, my friend the dog is stomach to the ground, paws covering his snout. I find him at his usual spot, lying next to the same bags he’d been eating from when I last saw him.
-I told you not to eat that stuff.
-You’re right. No more Chinese. I’ve learned my lesson.
-No you haven’t.
-You’re right, no I haven’t.
-I had a crazy night. I’ve been doing some thinking.
-It’s time for a change. We can’t keep doing this.
-What are you barking about?
-I mean this whole Stray thing isn’t working out for us.
-But we are Strays. Born and raised.
-Haven’t you ever thought there might be something more?
-What do you think you are, a House? Look at you!
-No, like a full stomach and some stability.
-You’re barking crazy, bud.
-How can we just lie here, waiting to die?
-Don’t go mad on me.
-I’m not going mad.
-Hungry makes a dog do funny things. Remember that shaggy gray dog? Remember what happened to him?
-He went mad, and before he did, he was barking just like you are now.
As a Stray, there’s this understanding we have with the Shoes. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. But if you bark at them, they bark back, and if you bite, they bite back. It’s a lesson that every Stray learns early on, and you don’t forget it.
-What happened to the shaggy dog?
-It was a ruff time. There was nothing to eat, no wet to drink. Then one afternoon, he started barking crazy things. Said he was going to find us something good to eat.
-We were down by the hydrant. It was like any other July. We had been lying around and chasing our tails for a few Mondays.
-We were sitting there, and then he got real still, with this faraway look in his eyes. Started barking about food, all kinds of food, food you’ve never even heard of.
-Then these Shoes walked by carrying these bags. That scent trailing behind them…my mouth was drooling, they smelt so good! And just like that, the dog took off after them.
-He caught the Shoes from behind, and tore their bags open. When the food spilled out, he couldn’t control himself, eating even as they came for him. First it was just the Shoes he had stolen from, but then others came out of their houses, kicking and barking and circling him.
-That’s not the worst part. As they kicked and they barked, all the while he just kept eating and eating, until this one Shoe came at him from his blind-side and kicked him so hard he landed in the street. He tried to get up, before you knew it the Tires were all over him. When the first one drove over his back legs, the dog didn’t even yelp, he just foamed at the mouth, and turned around and dragged himself back towards the food.
-And there he was, half of him going forward, half of him stuck to the ground, when the second one came, and it drove over his front half. But again, not a sound. It was like he hadn’t noticed, nothing mattered but the food.
-By then, he was right about at the sidewalk, and he sort of used his mouth to pull himself up, or he tried, but then a third one came and when it swerved to hit him, the last thing I saw was that faraway look in his eye. And then his head spilt all over the ground-
-I’m not going mad, okay? I just had an idea.
-Well, I’ve been thinking, we’ve been hungry because there isn’t any food.
-And why isn’t there any food?
-Because we’re Strays?
-Because all the packs have at it.
-So what we need to do is join a pack.
-You lost me.
-You can’t just go up to a pack and bark: I’m here, let’s hang.
-Well, why not?
-Because it doesn’t work like that.
-You’re just going to go up to a pack and ask to hang?
-That’s right. We are.
-And who, exactly, did you have in mind?
-They found a spot for a new fountain. You said so yourself. They’ll want some new dogs around to mark it.
-But why us?
-Why not us?
-Look at us. Ever see your reflection?
-What’s a reflection?
-I’m not sure. But I know it’s bad.
-Look, bud, you can lie here eating Chinese and getting sick until you can’t eat no more, or you can come with me and live.
-Come on, bud, use your brains.
-I don’t know, it’s a figure of speech.
-Look, are you coming or not?
-Alright, alright, I’m coming, I’m coming.
-There’s a good dog.
With no idea what would happen and nothing to lose, we set out together for where he had last seen The Wolves. We roam through the streets, and I lead the way, even though it’s him that knows where we’re going.
The Shoes are busy at this time of day, and we slip between their legs as we head along. Sometimes one of them tries to kick me- STUPID DOG!- but I’m fast and I don’t mind. It isn’t until the end of the block where we’re supposed to turn that I realize my friend the dog isn’t here. The Shoes push and shove, trying to get ahead, and I keep getting in everyone’s way. But then- a nose, those floppy ears, and finally a head- my friend the dog appears, slowly.
-Woof! Lost you for a minute.
-You feeling alright there, bud?
-Yeah, just a little off. The Chinese, I think.
-When you’re ready, let’s keep moving.
-I’m ready. No, now I’m ready.
The next few blocks pass quickly and eventually we get to the part of the city where the Shoes are going to put the fountain in the ground. None of them are here, but you can tell from the stuff lying around: blocks, machines, weird pieces of metal. Some even look like they might be fun to play with, but it’s never a good idea to chew metal. Mostly, though, you can tell because there’s this giant hole.
It’s a lot of fun, digging holes. You can put all sorts of things inside, and nobody else can find them. Only you gotta remember where you dug the holes, and that can be tough. But it’s hard to dig holes in the city, because the Shoes like to take away all the green and put this hard stuff everywhere. I’m not sure why they do this, because it isn’t so nice to walk on, and it certainly isn’t good for digging. The Shoes have these machines that are real good at digging, though, and they can do it just about anywhere. That’s how you know they’re going to make a fountain: first, the machines come with their big diggy claws, then they make a nice hole, and then they fill it with that hard stuff and then wet comes out.
So we come across this square, with all the dirt and everything scooped up and this giant hole in the ground. And the hole is even bigger because they’ve piled all the dirt up right around the outside. But inside, it isn’t empty. Inside, there’s a pack of dogs, lying around and looking Hungry. We see them before they see us, and this isn’t good. Dogs don’t like to be snuck up on, you see, because it scares them. Dogs aren’t good at making friends when they’re scared.
-We should do something to let them know we’re here, so we don’t startle them.
-That’s a good idea. What should we do?
-Maybe we could go back over there, and like, bark a little, so they hear us coming.
-I’ll follow you.
We turn around, but before I can take a step back towards the street, these three, big, nasty-looking dogs are behind us. The Hungry must be starting to get to us. We didn’t even hear them coming. They bark first.
-So you thought you could sneak up on us.
-Well, no, just the opposite-
-What the RUFF do you think you’re doing here?
-Well, you see-
-You know whose turf you’re sniffing?
-So what are you doing here?
-Well, you see, we just wanted to see if we could hang with you guys.
-You want to HANG with us??
-HA!! Alpha’s gonna to get a kick out of this! Move, you’re coming with us.
-Where are we going?
-To see Alpha. Move.
The three Wolves lead us towards the center of the square. I try to catch my friend’s eye, but he’s looking ahead, paws trembling with each step. The hole becomes rockier as we go deeper. I consider that this might be worse than walking on the hard stuff.
As we approach, they begin to notice us. The Wolves stop what they’re doing and fix their eyes on the two Strays being swallowed into their circle. It is silent. I notice that I’m trembling, too.
As we get deeper into the hole, I see there is another smaller circle. The Wolves are tighter here, surrounding two dogs in their middle. They haven’t noticed us yet. The three who lead us look at each other, then one turns to bark:
-Stay here. If you move, we eat you.
Something is happening. The Wolves are all making their way to the smaller circle, growling as they walk past us. When our three go forwards, I nudge my friend and beckon him on. He shakes his head, eyes wide with fear, but before I can argue, there is loud barking from the circle and then square is filled with silence.
Of the two dogs in the center of the circle, one is huge above the other. He stands proud and strong, as healthy as any House I’ve ever seen. His smooth coat is so black that if the great ball of light in the sky wasn’t shining in his eyes, you might not even notice them there. This must be Alpha.
Opposite him, is another dog. He comes up to Alpha’s neck, even with his head held high, and his tail hangs like wet laundry. His feet are planted to the ground, but I can smell what all the other dogs smell: fear. When he barks, his bark is small and weak.
-You broke the rules.
-I don’t want any trouble.
-You hear that, buds? He doesn’t want any trouble.
The Wolves howl with laughter. I don’t understand why this is funny.
-We have a problem here. And that means we need to fix it. Do you know why?
The other dog drops his head and paws at the ground, silent.
-Because if we don’t fix it, we don’t have order. And if we don’t have order, we don’t have The Wolves. Is that what you want?
The other dog tries to speak, but his bark is lost under the barking of The Wolves.
-We’ve got a problem.
-I didn’t know-
-I peed there first.
-I said I’m sorry, okay?
-You hear that, buds? He says he’s sorry.
-You think you can just go around peeing wherever you want, don’t you?
-I didn’t know-
-Use your nose. I was there first. That means something. Right, buds?
The Wolves howl in agreement.
-That’s right. You peed there after I did, so you must think you own the spot.
-You must think you’re better than me.
-Do you think you’re better than me?
-No, of course-
-Then you’re telling me, in front of all these friends of mine, that I’m wrong?
The other dog pauses, looking around the circle for help.
-So which one is it?
None is offered.
-If you think you’re better than me, then we need to fix that.
The Wolves howl in agreement.
-Alpha, I’m sorry, I don’t want any trouble-
-It’s too late for that. Buds?
The Wolves make the circle smaller.
-You know the rules.
I look over at my friend. He is planted in the same spot, eyes fixed on the two dogs.
The other dog is still. Alpha comes forward, closing the distance between them.
-I said, BITE ME!
Alpha is a hair’s length away. The other dog could bite off his nose if he wanted to, but he doesn’t move.
-And you call yourself one of The Wolves.
Alpha sinks his teeth into neck. With a panicked yelp, the other dog backs away, and tries to shake Alpha off. As he flings his neck from side to side, whimpering, The Wolves howl in amusement. When the jaws release, the other dog turns to run away. But The Wolves are quick, and the circle closes tight. Everywhere he darts, it seems they’ve trapped him.
He turns back to Alpha, while his throat bleeds into the hole they fight in. The Wolves bark and bark. He’s got nowhere to go but forward. Alpha waits for the blow he knows is coming. Then the other dog raises his paw to strike.
Alpha doesn’t even flinch as the claws tear across his face. He just stands there, head held high, as a white-toothed smile crawls up his face. Before the other dog knows what’s happened, Alpha’s mouth is around his back leg. For an instant, they both freeze, their eyes looking into the other.
And then there is a CRUNCH as Alpha bites through the leg, the dog’s whelps silent under the roar of The Wolves.
The other dog thrashes around and around, but it’s no use. The blood fills the hole as Alpha grinds through the bone. His teeth work quickly. Soon the three-legged dog falls to his side, and Alpha stands above him with the bloody trophy in his mouth. After a moment, he drops it to bark:
-There. We’ve had our fun. Now, my friends, it’s time you had yours.
The circle opens and newly-crippled dog tries to flee from the center. The Wolves are laughing as he limps past them. When he tries to stumble up the sides of the hole, it’s pathetic and sad. The circle reforms around the limping, living body before it becomes quiet and then they collapse upon him.
The fury of mouths rages for its share of flesh as they bleed with mad laughter. Bite by bite, they eat him whole. Above all the noise, the whelps of the three-legged dog become the cries of the two-legged dog, then the shrieks of the one-legged dog, and finally the silent roar of the useless, bloody stumps.
As I watch them tear the dog from his bones, I think: soon we will be one of them. I look at my friend. He still hasn’t moved.
The Wolves close upon their black leader, howling praise. He was a regular dog before he got his name. Now they call him Alpha. The howling dies down as he barks:
-Hey buds, do you smell that?
He sniffs the air, and then looks directly at us.