“Get out of here, you rat!” Flinching with the pain of the blow I receive, my small paws scatter about and I fling myself across the cement, running for the woods across the road. I don’t look back to see that angry human face of my mother’s owner, I just keep running. I just keep running.
I don’t stop until I’m far, far away from those threatening screams. I know I’ve run deep into the forest, but I don’t really want to think about it, knowing I’ve just fled from my entire family, and I whine nervously, anxiously.
My paws ache. When I look down at them, I see scarlet smeared on the tips of my fair claws. My chest seems to be heaving in and out with heavy breaths, but I can’t really feel it. I’m in so much shock that I simply allow myself to slip onto my side and lay on the dirt, under shadow of the tree canopy, staring out into the depths of low brush encircling me. I feel an ache where Mother’s owner hit me, but I don’t care. My ears ring with the barks of my littermates and mother, and I let my ears droop, falling into a troubled sleep.
Plit, plit, plit. Something wet plops onto my snout. My nose wrinkles and I shake my head, lifting it and pulling it to one side. My gaze falls onto the fur on my back, now rumpled and wet, and a whimper steals my voice. Mother taught me about this. I begin licking. Once I’ve dried my coat, at least… Somewhat, I stretch my paws in front of me and stand up.
I look around again. My paws don’t move, even though I want them to. It’s just that they don’t exactly know what to do. But neither do I. So I just stand there longer, taking in the dewdrops sliding off the leaves above me onto the ground below. I watch them seep into the moist earth, see them disappear from my sight. Kind of how I disappeared from Mother’s sight. This sentence forms in my head before I even realize that it is, and I drop my face, closing my eyes in pity of my foolish choice.
I glance sheepishly around, not even recalling which way I came from. I can’t help but whimper a second time. Where is my home? Where’s my family? My body becomes rigid. How do I get back to them if I don’t know where I came from?
The bushes near me shiver. My ears become erect and my head lifts. Eyes searching, I freeze in my posture, trying to look alert, but see no more movement. When finally I begin to relax and turn away, a faded yellow shape jumps out of the bushes, scrambling onto my unprepared self. I cry out, my thoughts becoming jumbled and completely useless, and my footing slips on the muddy soil. I’m laying on the ground before I know it. But suddenly, the creature leaps off of me and I stand up quickly, scrabbling to my paws in a rush.
I stare at the yellow creature and let my vision clear. Another… Dog? For some reason I’m amazed at this sight; perhaps my mind told me I’d never see another of my own kind again. I don’t know why, but this feels like the day of my life that everything should end. Including me. I shiver.
The dog barks joyfully. She looks young; surely she can’t be much older than me. “Another dog! Finally! I’ve been looking for you!”
My eyes widen. Why was this dog searching for me? Has she talked to my kin? At the thought, my tail begins wagging, but the dog then adds, “Oh, not you, just… A dog. You know, my own kind.” Then she whimpers happily, continuing, “I’m so happy you showed up! I’ve been looking forever.”
I cock my head. I like this welcoming spirit from this stranger, but I hadn’t expected it. “It’s … Nice to meet you.” I’m trying not to feel shy, forcing my tail to wag with pleasure.
Her tail wags. “Nice to meet you too! My name’s Sun, what’s yours?” I glance away. My name always makes me think of Mother, who, of course, gave me the name.
I look back at Sun. She’s wagging her tail expectantly. “Wick.” Saying my own name feels strange on my tongue being that I’ve never had to say it before.
Her eyes brighten. “Ooh, I’ve never heard that one before. I like it. Wick. Wick, Wick, Wick.” She glances away while saying this, then her eyes dart back to me. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m practicing your name; I’ll be saying it a lot from now on. You know?” She pokes my paw with one of her own. I flinch back in surprise and she squeaks with laughter. “Your jumpy today, Wick. Have you eaten yet? Let’s go back to my camp!” She turns around and starts scampering toward the bushes that she came from. From my understanding, she wants me to follow, so I breathe in deeply, trying to stop my heart from pounding, and hurry after her, struggling to keep her in sight through the brush.
I pause with a paw up, mid-stride. Home. If I go with this dog, will I ever find home again?
“Are you coming?” calls Sun’s high-pitched yap from ahead. I don’t respond for a moment, then, as if I have no control over myself, I start moving again. Following Sun. Why? I honestly don’t know. Well… Where else would I go? I can’t go home, surely; Mr. Man will hurt me. When I come into her sight, Sun starts hurrying through the brambles again, and I try not to think about how I will most definitely regret this later.
Something smacks into my front paw. No, my paw smacks into it. I topple over forward, landing badly, and cry out in pain, though before I know it I’ve heard a, “Did you trip on a stump?” ahead of me and Sun is right beside me, helping me up. I grimace as she pokes at my paw, sending tiny sparks of discomfort up my leg each time her paw touches mine, but soon after Sun murmurs, “It’ll just bruise a bit,” and starts moving again, at a slow pace this time. I sigh in relief at this easier speed and continue following.
“You know,” she calls from up ahead of me, “We should have a sleepover! Just to see what we think of each other, and if we like each other maybe we can do it again!” My ears prick in surprise. She seems like a nice dog… Maybe Sun isn’t so scary after all. This thought in my head, we finish our short journey.
Sun begins bouncing hurriedly when we spot light filtering through the green shrubs, exclaiming, “We’re here! The clearing is right out there!” I force myself to speed up and let my tongue loll to cool myself off. It may be rainy, but running is tiring, especially for young dogs like Sun and myself. I break out of the forest into a small clearing with the wonderful sound of running water flowing someplace nearby to find Sun already laying down on her belly, snuffling through a small pile of something that smells absolutely delicious.
She looks up at me when I stop at her side. “Well, is Miss Wick thinking sparrow or pigeon?”
I simply plop down beside her, murmuring, “Miss Wick is thinking she doesn’t know what those are…” I glance at her, waiting for her response, and am amused to see her astonishment.
“What?” she admonishes in disbelief. She pauses then. “Well, you’re about to find out!” She hooks a small claw into one of the creatures laying in the pile and flings it toward me. I squawk and fall backward onto my side. She barks in delight at my surprise, watching me struggle back to my sitting position at her side, and I just flick an ear in embarrassment.
“Still kind of jumpy, I see.” Then she gets this glimmer of curiosity in her eyes, and she leans toward me slightly, voicing her interest by asking, “Where do you live, Wick?”
My tail flicks in nervousness. This question brings back to mind my foolish flee from home and how because of the decision I made, I can no longer be with my family. Because I don’t know where they are. “I, um… Well… We had this owner, he hurt us, and I got so scared once that I ran… I ran. Away.” My words stumble together. “I ran so far I lost them and I don’t know what to do and-”
Suddenly Sun sets a paw in front of me, a comforting, gentle movement. “Wick, who’s ‘them’?”
I realize now that I didn’t mention that. I breathe in deeply, then slowly let it out. “My family. Mother, my littermates…” My tail shivers a bit as their faces come to mind. I look down in pity, holding myself lower to the ground and closing my eyes slowly. I can feel the bleak expression shrouding my face and let it show.
Opening my eyes slightly, I can see Sun watching me with this calmly impelling gaze. She seems so relaxed, so genuinely interested, as though I am a close friend of hers, and I put my head back up. “I ran away to get myself away from that human. Well, I did… I got away from him. But I lost my family in the process.” My front paw shuffles around in the damp soil underneath me.
“So… You’re not with living with them anymore?”
Swallowing anxiously, I answer, “No. I can’t find home and I can’t return to the bad man anyway. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” I glance away from her; the feeling of having nowhere to belong is overwhelming. I’ve never had to feel this before, but now it’s crashing down on me like a paw onto an ant.
“Don’t feel like it’s your fault you lost your family,” murmurs a sincere Sun. “That human forced you to run away, and who knows? Maybe your family knew that and left him too. Maybe you started something good. You know?” I feel like her gaze is penetrating deep within my mind, catching all my thoughts and turning them into calm, happy thoughts. For some strange reason, Sun gets to me. Her calmness is contagious, perhaps?
I nod slightly, then cock my head at her. “How about you? Where did you come from?” Her appearance visually becomes that of despair, but seemingly when she realizes it, she stiffens herself up, sitting taller and letting her tongue loll out to one side.
“My story is… Different.” Her eyes flow away from me and settle in the distance on some faraway memory. Her tongue goes back into her mouth. “I wasn’t raised by dogs. I was found next to a dumpster somewhere in a box and this one lady took me home. She raised me. Her name was Lexi and she was the greatest Mother I could’ve ever had, but then one day she left the house… And she never came back. She hugged me really tight before she left, and then walked out the door. I haven’t seen her since.” Sun pauses for a moment, then puffs out a breath, shaking her head quickly as if to clear it. “Anyway, I knew I had to leave and I’ve been traveling randomly ever since. Sometimes I wonder if I would’ve stayed just a bit longer…” She trails off, and then stands up hurriedly, stretching her paws out in front of her.
I watch her quick movements, watch her struggle to stop feeling distressed. Do I know what to say? No. I don’t. I can’t help her feel better, just like I can’t make myself feel better. But I can be supportive. Forcing down my shyness, I shift my weight onto my other paw hesitantly and press myself against her, trying hard to be comforting and not having any clue if I’m succeeding. She looks toward me and our eyes meet. A moment of sweet calm passes over us, and we stand for a moment and breathe, feel our heartbeats, feel comforted.
After some long moments pass, I hear Sun’s voice again. “Wick?”
I glance over at her.
“Time to eat, I think.” She whines happily. The moment has passed; Sun is ready to eat, and so is my belly. Shyness wants to take over in my brain being that I’ve never sat and had a meal with any dog other than my family, but I try my best to hide this anxiety.
Suddenly her mood seems to explode and she jumps over to the creature she threw at me earlier and picks it up in her teeth gently, bringing it over to me. Once it’s dropped at my feet, I sit down in front of it. I put my head forward, open my jaws, then pause. Am I supposed to eat the fur too? Or the… It doesn’t really look like fur, but it has to be something along those lines, so I glance at Sun, who has sat beside me, ready to watch my response.
“Do I eat the… Fur?” She barks with laughter.
“Those are feathers, not fur! No, you pull those off, like this.” She leans forward, demonstrating for me by plucking out gray fur - no, feathers - with her front teeth, letting them fall steadily into a messy pile between us. After stripping about half of the animal, she sits back and nods to me. “You try.”
A bit anxiously, I lean down and begin pulling out feathers, first a few at a time, and gradually mouthfuls by the mouthfuls until the animal is completely plucked.
“Alright, take a bite. This is a pigeon, a bird.” She cocks her head at me. “How much of this do you already know? I don’t want to make you feel dumb, you know, if you already know all this.”
I shake my head quickly. “I don’t know any of it. You can say anything and I probably won’t know it.”
Suddenly a mischievous look infuses her expression. “Hmm. Well then maybe-” She gives me a glance filled with forced-back amusement. “Maybe I’ll tell you that this is a mouse.” I just stare at her, shifting my paws and feeling very unintelligent because it’s true, I can’t understand exactly why her amusement is there. Even though she originally called it a… What? A pikon? But now she’s calling it a mouse. So, is it a mouse or a pikon? Or… Pi-jun or something. I can’t be sure what she said now. It’s either a pi-jun or a mouse, or a pikon. I’m not sure.
I think my eyes betray my confusion because she has such a laugh attack that her eyes become watery. Then she exclaims, “I’m kidding! This is a type of bird; it’s called a pigeon.” I giggle and nod slowly, watching her closely to be sure she’s not teasing me again, but she seems completely innocent and honest. After a moment of silence, she nods toward the bird excitedly. “Go ahead! What’re you waiting for?”
A whine of laughter comes out of my jaws and I lean down again, taking a bite. Bursts of flavor explode into my mouth. Wonderful, meaty textures, something that has a similar taste to the food I got back home, except ten times better. I hear a snuff of amusement from Sun, and looking up, I see her eyes sparkling with joy. She gazes for a still moment at me, then begins saying something calmly, contentedly.
“Wick, I know I may have just met you, but I can already tell you’re going to be so much fun.” She pauses a moment, unmoving as if enveloped in her own thoughts, then leans her own head down to take a few bites.
Once the bird has been completely finished, leaving only a few skimpy bones, we both lay back on our sides and rest for awhile. The rain has stopped completely, without even a drizzle, and the sun is starting to peek through the tree canopy above us.
My eyes flicker open. Sun’s face is pressed against my own, her limbs splayed out in a unique form of sleep. I hold back a grunt of amusement, pushing my nose into her ear and letting out a deep sigh. I feel very relaxed, the most I have been since I ran away from home, and I take advantage of it, closing my eyes again.