by Myles Abroad
Our four-legged friends are well controlled, or are they?
Word Count: 2000
Crunching through the snow, I approached the stand of fir trees on the slopes of the snow-capped peaks, sunlight glistening off the distant glacier. The cold mountain air crystallized in my nostrils, my panting breath misting. I paused, hearing the distant howl of my kin, giving way to yaps and hoarse barks. I drifted from the dream world, wondering where that magical land existed, a place I had never been, but one I visited frequently in my sleep.
I came fully awake, my ears pricking at the screech of metal grinding on concrete; the pen's gate opening. A white-coated man pulled my tiny companion by the collar and forced him through the opening, the Chihuahua's claws scrabbling on the concrete. Scraping the gate closed, our jailer retreated amidst my mangy pen-mate's barking.
"Just wait, ya smelly, hairless slug, one day I'll sink my teeth into ya..."
A chorus of voices from the other inmates in our wing echoed his feelings. I closed my eyes, sighing at the same monotonous routine, the days running together. When would my master come? If only I hadn't pulled so hard...
"Get up, ya giant puss." I felt Itchy's fetid breath on my nose and lifted my head, watching the scruffy, little tyke sit on his haunches and scratch his balding ears with a hind leg. Closing his eyes, he groaned in relief, finding the right spot. Open sores wept from the bald patches of his mud-colored coat, but his incessant chattering drove away my pity; the only peace was when he slept and scratched. Satisfied, he stood up, shook himself in a shower of hair and glared at me.
"Typical, I get stuck with a dopey Saint Bernard. Ya shoulda pounced on 'im when the gate was open, ya big yeller-belly."
"Yea, and then what?"
I was shocked when he lunged and nipped my ear, the pain releasing my pent-up rage. I roared, springing forward with a speed that would have shocked a greyhound, and clamped his quivering neck in my jaws, pinning the molting wretch to the floor.
"Easy buddy, it's your pal, Itchy," he whined, cowering limp in my grip. I shook him and flung him towards the dark corner I used to take a dump in. He sprawled to a stop in the shadow of my latest addition. Eying the mound, he sniffed at it. "Snooty shiatsu, Hulk, your crap's as big as me!"
"Well, just watch you're not in it tomorrow," I said, padding towards the water bowl to rinse my mouth of the tasting ointment coating him.
"I knew there was some fight in ya," Itchy said, crawling towards me. I enjoyed watching the bully's new-found timidity.
"Leave me be. My master will come for me soon," I said, returning to my blanket.
Itchy lay down in front of me and crossed his paws, panting. "You sure about that..."
"Stop!" I growled. Itchy dropped his head, the whites of his eyes showing. I glowered at him until he looked away, then I relaxed, panting in the heat. Maybe I had gotten through his blockhead after all. I rolled my eyes in exasperation when he broke the peace again.
"Hulk, I was just going to say that there's someone ya should talk to when we're let into the exercise yard. That's all."
I glanced back at him. "Oh? Who's that?"
I pinned Itchy with a stare. "The wolf. Why should I talk to him?"
"Half wolf. Ya'll find him interestin'."
The door at the back of the pen opened, leading into the communal yard. I stood up to leave, but Itchy got in my way, wagging his tail. "Will I tell 'im ya want to talk?"
I didn't care; I just wanted to go outside. Snapping an agreement, I followed him out into the sunshine as other dogs emerged from their pens, some slowly, others racing around, nipping at each other in play. I watched Seeker make a solitary walk across the yard, majestic in his full grey and white coat. With a confidence none shared, he sat at his spot next to the fence where two crows perched, regarding him. Approaching him, Itchy crouched, his ears flat, head low and tail between his legs, its tip wagging desperately. They had a brief exchange, then Itchy raced back, prancing around me.
"Leapin' Labradoodles! He wants to see ya! He really wants to see ya!"
"Alright, calm down. I'll see what he wants."
Eying Seeker, I shook myself, stood tall, with my tail curling, and strode over to him. I wasn't about to cower to this uncivilized savage. A crow squawked, "Aaa-wake", and the memory of birds erupting from the stand of fir trees filled my mind. A deep rumble echoed through the frozen valley... I shook my head and then realized both the crows and Seeker were studying me.
"What do you want?" I spat out, staring into his grey eyes.
Seeker came close, muzzle to muzzle, and then circled me, scenting me, but allowing me to check him out too. He sat facing me again, once we concluded our pleasantries.
"So, Hulk, what's brought you in here?"
I also sat, not wanting to share, but feeling strangely compelled. "My master was walking me. He's old and weak now, so I'm careful with him, but this stupid cat...Ah! She kept poking fun at me. I lost my cool and chased her, dragging my man to the ground..." I couldn't continue and lay down in shame.
Seeker pawed my shoulder. "What happened then?"
I whimpered. "It was horrible; blood was pouring from his head. As soon as I saw what happened, I tried to help him. I said I was sorry, I licked his face, but he wouldn't wake up. Lots of people came and they put him in an ambulance, me in a van, and I was brought here."
We were silent for a while, and then I sat up. "And you?"
Seeker laid his ears flat, whined, and then replied. "Since I was a pup, I was left on my own in a small yard. I was fed and sometimes walked, but I didn't like my people. They always beat me, until one day I fought back. Next thing I knew, I was here." We fell quiet, lost in thought. I felt sorry for Seeker; he never had a decent master like mine. He interrupted my musings. "I always had a strong yearning to be free, to wander in a pack through the forest, tracking prey in the snow."
"Did you come from the mountains?" I asked, hoping he could tell me about the lands in my dream, a place that was not flat, treeless and oppressively hot.
"No, I've only ever lived here."
"So how do know about the mountains?"
"It's in us, all of us. I dream about them and so do you. Am I right?"
The other crow called out a warbled cry, "Aaa-wake!" I glanced at him, uncomprehending, but a memory held my mind's eye. I raced across the snow towards the safety of the trees on the upward slope, fleeing the approaching wall of snow... I cocked my head at Seeker and felt a deep connection. We were linked through our distant past.
"Like me, you long to be free," Seeker whispered.
I raised my head and barked. "I am free, Seeker. My master will come for me."
"But even if that happens--if--you will only do what he wants."
"But it's what I want."
"Is it? How many times have you longed to run free, but your master has made you go home?" His words rang true. I remembered wanting to run in the park, but being dragged away. "How about when you scented a bitch in heat? She wants you, but does your master let you?" Oh, I knew that feeling. I whined in frustration. "And what about now? You don't want to be here, yet you can't walk out." I stood up not wanting to hear any more.
"Enough, Seeker," I growled "Ok. Maybe I'm not free, but I have a good life." I looked up as a dozen crows settled on an overhead wire.
Seeker glanced up and howled. "Tonight we awaken--all of us, everywhere, all over the world. We'll seize our freedom. The dreams are powerful now, Hulk."
"What?" I rumbled, "Are you nuts?"
A murder of crows alighted on the walls overlooking the exercise yard, drawing everyone's attention as a hush settled. "You with us, Hulk?" Seeker hissed, and then led my fellow detainees in a chorus of howls. I would have joined in song except at that moment one of the men in white-coats called my name.
I bounded up to him and allowed him to put a lead on me. Before entering the building, I glanced once more at the howling pack, more birds had alighted, and a cat had joined the original two crows, sitting between them and nuzzling into one, the same cat that had lured me into hurting my master.
I was led out to the main entrance where I was overwhelmed with joy to see my Master. I wanted to jump on him and lick him all over, but he looked too frail with his arm held across his chest in a sling, and his head bandaged. I eased up to him wagging my tail vigorously, but I didn't jump, I only snuggled into him. My heart soared when he knelt down and wrapped his arm around me. I licked the salty tears from his face as I felt his intense happiness.
His son drove us home, and I can't tell you the relief I felt, sitting beside my master in his living room, me on my blanket, he in his recliner, stroking my head while he watched the television. As the evening turned to dusk, the noise of bird calls grew louder. I bounded onto the couch and looked out the window, watching tendrils of fog rise, while the trees surrounding the house filled with birds. A loud caw drew my attention to the branch nearest the window. The crow from earlier today, the cat's intimate, crooned, "Aaa-wake!", and then flew away.
Dogs, up and down the street, began to howl. Many escaped, fading in and out of the fog, turning on the owners trying to restrain them. I watched in horror as two hounds pulled a man down; screaming, they dragged him into the fog. Gunshots sounded amidst yelps, growls and screams echoed. Flocks of birds swarmed, driving people indoors. I felt the couch shift under my master's weight as he joined me, his gaze fixed on the horrors unfolding before our eyes, and all the while he stroked my head.
Finally, he stopped petting me, and I felt his hand tug at my collar. I didn't want to move, the call in me to break free was intense. Feeling my collar tighten, I looked into my master's face, pleading with him, as I fought to control my rage; I didn't want to hurt him, but I could. He smiled as the collar slipped from my neck and fell onto the couch. Standing up, he opened the front door and then patted my head before he shuffled into his bedroom, turning out the light.
Dumbfounded, I looked out the window again, then at my master's darkened bedroom doorway. Shifting off the couch, I peered out the front door, wistfully watching freedom unfold, and then looked in on my sleeping master--no-- my friend who had set me free. I lay at his bedroom door and growled when Seeker entered the house, blood dripping from his jaws.
"I'm free, Seeker, but I choose to stay with my friend."
Seeker dipped his head. "I'm glad you're awake, Hulk. You're free to choose." As he left, I lay my head down in peace, on the night mankind forever lost its grip on the animal kingdom.