Chapter 12 - A Dream in the Hollow of Memories.
They moved on together over hills and into dense woodland. West. Always west.
“I’m hungry,” said the young dog, not for the first time.
Notail sniffed the air. There was the faint scent of rabbit. He yawned. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to sleep and sleep and not wake. But his stomach growled at him and the young dog’s stomach answered with its own growl.
“Stay close to me,” said Notail. “Do not make any sound. Can you do that?”
The young dog nodded.
It was nothing like the stoneforest in the woodland. Everywhere there was the scent of animals. Notail could smell mouse and squirrel and rabbit and deer and bird. A world crowded with true scents, not cluttered with man scents.
When they found the rabbits, the young dog’s tail wagged.
“Remember, be quiet,” said Notail.
This hunting was different too. In the stoneforest the world was not so silent. Here in the woodland there was only silence. The rabbits were silent. The wind was silent. The young dog was silent. Notail was silent. They crouched low behind a fallen tree and waited. The rabbits were pushing their heads into the snow and feeding on the crisp grass beneath. One or two seemed to be sleeping. There were some young rabbits but they were far across the clearing. No, it would be the old rabbit nearest to them that he would hunt.
He waited for the old rabbit to turn away. To think about resting. To think he was full of grass and happy and safe. And then Notail sprang at him. The other rabbits scattered but Notail was on the old rabbit before it had any chance of escape. The old rabbit cried out but Notail silenced him with one swift neck bite.
They shared the rabbit.
“It tastes better than manfood,” said the young dog.
It was tough meat. Old meat. But at least it was meat.
“Look,” said the young dog and Notail looked across the clearing. A few of the rabbits were watching.
“I feel bad,” said the young dog.
Notail tore off one of the old rabbit’s legs.
“Do not ever feel guilty,” Notail said. “The day you start feeling guilty will be the day you end. You have to eat, all animals must eat. This is how it is.”
That will do as a lesson for now, thought Notail, he will learn more and quickly.
When night fell they found a hollow in an old oak and rested inside it together, their backs touching.
As Notail drifted off to sleep he heard the young dog shuffling restlessly.
“Fox,” said the young dog.
“My name is Notail not fox,” said Notail.
“That’s what I was thinking about,” said the young dog. “I mean, I was thinking about my name. I was wondering what name I might have but I don’t know any names. Not really.”
Notail opened one eye. Even within the lightless oak he could make out how thin the
young dog was. He was so thin his bones pushed at his fur.
“You should be called Bone,” said Notail and he closed his eyes.
“I like that,” said the young dog. “I’d like to be called Bone. Will you call me Bone?”
“Yes,” said Notail. “Now go to sleep, Bone.”
There was silence for a while and then he heard the restless shuffling again.
“Fox,” said the young dog. “I mean, Notail.”
Notail sighed again.
“What is it now?” he asked.
“I was wondering about something else. I was wondering what happened to your tail?” Bone asked.
Notail smiled to himself.
“I traded it for a shank of firechanged pig,” Notail told him.
He heard Bone gasp.
As they lay there he could hear the young dog muttering Bone over and over to himself. It was a good name, it suited the young dog.
Sleep came. Notail let it wash over him.
He dreamed of his mate and cubs. He dreamed of the wildflowers and the lake. Of the day he first saw her. She too had no name.
“I’ve never needed one,” she told him.
“Every fox needs a name,” Notail told her.
She looked to the wildflowers. A butterfly danced in the air above the flowers. Bees sucked on nectar. Ducks chattered upon the lake. A white petal from amongst the wildflowers was caught by a breeze. It was lifted into the air for a brief moment before falling in front of them to settle near their paws.
She looked to the flowers.
“I like Wildflower,” she said.
He liked it too. It suited her. She was wild.
“Wildflower,” he said, the name soft on his tongue. He nuzzled her.
His dream shifted. He dreamed of the day his cubs were born and their first night. He did not sleep for the whole of that first night. His mate named them and as she and the cubs slept Notail kept saying those new names over and over to himself.
He saw his mate.
“Wildflower,” he said and she smiled.
“If you find the Pale Fox,” she said, nuzzling him. “I might be there too.”
“You are gone,” he said.
She nuzzled him again.
“I know,” she said.
The dream shifted again. He did not want it too. He wanted to stay in that moment forever, to stay trapped in his dream, to sleep on and on. But the dream betrayed him. He dreamed of a shadow. It came into their den. He heard his cubs cry out for him. He called his mate’s name but the word was full of sadness now. Not soft. Not beautiful. Just ended. Something held him back, dug its paw into his back and pushed him down to stop him from going to them.
“Let go of me,” he cried out but he could not break free.
When he woke the young dog was growling at the night. Outside the hollow of the oak there was something moving through the trees.