Chapter 4 - The Hollow of Hollows
When he reached his den he knew something was wrong. It was heavy with quietness.
He moved closer. He sniffed the air. It was wrong. The chicken dropped to the dirt.
He could not smell his mate and cubs. That was wrong. He had left them there; his mate closing her eyes to hunger, the cubs sleeping.
He moved slowly into the den.
It was empty.
They were gone.
The place where his cubs slept held the scent of dog. It lay thick upon their leaf bed. He remembered the words of the pigeons. All of you.
He padded outside in the hope that he might find their scent. Follow it. Save them. But the fox scent was weak and with every paw fall that took him away from his den the scent faded until there was only the dog’s scent. Huge paw prints marred the snow and led away into the stoneforest. He followed them. He ran hoping to find fox prints but instead he found mancarrier tracks and soon they were obscured by a grey mess of slushed snow. They were gone.
He padded back to his den. It had never seemed so hollow. So dark. So cold.
He collapsed in the place where they slept. He could see their eyes. Their soft fur. Their tiny paws. Their tails. He could see his mate’s eyes. They were sad when he last saw them, not how they should have been. Her words echoed in his mind. His promise stabbed at him.
He could not make himself rise and so he stayed there. He could have stayed there forever and let all of life pass him by.
It was impossible. They were alive. They had to be. They were here, he told himself, I sired them. He closed his eyes but he did not sleep. The world woke. The world rested. When he finally rose, he knew it truly. The scent of dog was a smell of death. They were gone.
He was hungry so he padded outside to find the firechanged chicken but it too was gone.
The sky was white and the grass crisp with ice. The snow was hard and compacted. The huge paw prints were gone. A new drift of snow was beginning to fall. The world went on. This day seemed much the same as any other day but that was a lie. He had no tail and he was alone.