My breath heaves in my chest when finally I scramble through the entrance to our small camp. The owl is just outside. Sun and King are laying together in the dying sunlight when I look around, lazy tongues panting outside of their mouths. They’ve just been laying here? I shake this thought from my head and watch as Sun jumps up and runs over to me.
“I was wondering where you’d gone! We missed you!” Sun licks my face with joy that honestly I didn’t expect.
“I caught something...”
I pause. “You’ll see.”
A grin appears on my face when she jumps outside camp and sees the owl laying there, dead. “WHAT? How did you catch this?!”
My paws shift with quiet embarrassment. “Well this owl was trying to take a baby bird that fell out of its nest, and I felt the need to try to save it.” Thinking back now, that story does sound pretty dumb. “So I attacked the owl,” I murmur.
Sun stares at me. “Are you alright, Wick?”
Quietly I turn my head away. “I’m fine, Sun.” There’s nothing I can say without hurting her in some way, whether it be by revealing King’s other side or letting something accidentally slip out of my mouth. I force a reassuring nod and try to brighten up my bark. “I’m great, actually!” With this I lick her face happily and hurry back into camp to my new nest. “I’m tired, so see you in the morning!” I can’t take this joy for long, so my escape route has to be sleep.
She stands there as if confused by the way I’m acting. As I walk my sleep-circle, I glance back at Sun. She’s so still, staring into space and seeing things that I could never guess. When I’m about to question her, hesitating to take my spot in my bed of leaves, she finally murmurs, “What’s wrong, Wick? You’re… Not acting like yourself. You’re never this… Usually your mood doesn’t change that quickly.” She gazes softly into my eyes and I look away.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I reply in more of a hush than I’d meant. “I caught an owl, maybe I’m just really surprised or something.”
Sun shakes her head. “That doesn’t even make sense, Wick. If you were really surprised about catching an owl, it wouldn’t be in a bad way. But this is a bad way.” When I look back at her she’s watching me closely, almost as if she’s preparing to stalk something. “What are you thinking? Right now, I mean? Be honest… Please.” Her last word sounds more like a whine than a bark.
I shake my head. There’s nothing to be said. Nothing I want to say. “There’s nothing to be honest about, and that’s because there is nothing.” I gaze quietly at Sun’s worried stare. When she doesn’t say anything, I glance down to the side where the owl lays splayed out on the dirt.
She just keeps staring at me. But suddenly the look shadowing behind her eyes isn’t just worry anymore. It’s fear. “I have this feeling, and I can… See it when you speak… Something, I don’t know what… But something is changing you.” With that, she finally breaks off her gaze and begins pulling the owl into the camp where King is, leaving me standing alone, again, in the clearing. So, finally, I curl into my warm bed, not caring that nobody speaks to me.
I haven’t moved since Sun finished our discussion with that blunt comment and I think I’ve been staring at this one tree in front of me for a few minutes now. Just in these few moments, darkness swallows the sky that was shining through the leaves earlier, and I start feeling a droopiness in my eyelids that fills my mind with hopes of rest. So, after this long, thoughtless period of time, I’m able to force myself into a troubled state of sleep. Heaviness brings my eyes to a close, and pushing out thoughts of isolation, I drift into a dreamless slumber.
Something jabs me hard in the side.
“Get up!” barks a gruff voice, and I open my eyes quickly. King is standing directly over me, blocking the filtering light from me, and my legs push me up about as hurriedly as is possible in my sleepy state.
“Hmm?” I mumble, feeling myself sway slightly to one side with exhaustion, but I stop myself by securing a paw on the ground, digging the claws into the warm earth underneath me. Then, when King barks with annoyance and tramps away, I huff as quietly as I can and walk over to the half-eaten owl carcass to one side of the clearing.
Luckily, nobody else is in the clearing, for now. King just stomped out through the entrance, and Sun is nowhere in sight, so I lay down by the owl with a deeply breathed sigh and begin chomping away at some of the bones that’ve been uncovered. My mind wanders to King’s deeply hurtful behavior, deeply frightening behavior, and I sit for awhile and don’t do anything but swallow a slightly-stale hunk of meat every little while. I mean, I think it’s stale, or maybe it’s simply the dark feelings inside my brain right now causing the meat to taste more dry than it actually is.
What happens when I leave? Where will I go? Won’t I have to be alone for the rest of my life? Obviously King isn’t planning on coming with me, and Sun will have to stay with him, which leaves me by myself. I’m going to end up being one of those lonesome creatures who nobody really has time to spend time with because they’re busy with their own lives. I’ll be forever alone, that is, until I die. A shiver runs down my back.
TIredness still consumes me. It makes each of my movements much more forced than they should be. Can’t I just sleep awhile longer? He didn’t say he needed me for anything. I think I’ll just relax longer. So, putting both paws over my nose, I close my eyes tightly and wish to fall asleep, trying to let myself sink into rhythmic, steady breaths until finally, relaxing each muscle in my body, I fall back into my light sleep.
Waves crash onto the shore, pulling soft, warm sand into the sea. I watch as it recedes, quietly, silently, back into the ocean where it came from. My body is rigid, and a rush of terror sweeps through me - kind of like the folds of saltwater I’m staring at now. A sudden gasp steals my voice. There’s one place far out in the water that I’m staring at, and I don’t know why, but it seems so important. Every moment that I gaze at it, I feel something deep inside me tear, but I can’t seem to remember exactly why. I know that something tragic has just happened, yet my mind can’t recall it.
Something behind me makes a sound, and my ears prick up, twisting back toward the noise. Turning to look around, I can’t help but whimper. What I’m seeing, surely it’s not real. No, it can’t be. There, standing in front of me, is my Mother. My… Mother. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen her for so long, but strangely, so strangely, she looks… Unfamiliar.
“M-mother?” The sound of my voice sounds pitiful even to myself.
She gazes back at me. “Hello, my sweet daughter.” Her voice. Her voice. My ears haven’t been able to hear that voice in such a long time. I need to get closer to her, lick her face, assure myself that she’s really here, but something makes me hold back.
Her fur is long and creamy streaks pull through her tan coat of fur. Her ears are held in a pricked-up position, as her ears stand erect all the time. But… That’s not right. Her ears fall against her head, they fall against the sides of her face, they don’t stand tall like this.
Confused, I look into her eyes. Just a moment ago, I could’ve sworn they were a shining shade of blue, bright with joy at the prospect of seeing me, but they don’t seem to be her eyes anymore. Before I know it, her eyes have turned into a flashing sheen of gold and the cream streaks in her fur grow, filling out her coat with white fur.
When I see the black speckles now covering her back, and the way her body is no longer small, but burly and large, I know this isn’t Mother anymore. This isn’t Mother at all; this is King. Anger shrouds his heavy glare, and I back away frightfully, trying not to turn and flee altogether because I know I won’t be fast enough.
I see the signs of an oncoming leap. Tensing muscles, lowering tail, flattening ears… Before I have time to do more than cry out in fear, though, he careens toward me, paws splayed out and ready to catch something. Someone, I should say. I can feel the pain of his claws, and my eyes fly open.
King is directly in front of my face. The horror of the dream sends me sprawling back in fear, scrambling to get away from that horrible face that stole my Mother from me. At first I can’t tell what’s a dream and what’s not, and it takes me awhile to realize that he actually had a set of his claws digging into my fur, probably harshly trying to wake me from my slumber, until I jerked backward and he pulled back in surprise. I bet he didn’t expect me to react with that much fright.
When finally I can stand up and shake myself, working to rid my mind of the final cobwebs of that dream, King looks me up and down. “What was that for?” For just a moment, his confusion blocks out any signs of anger or irritation, but I know those emotions will return to his gaze shortly.
My breath comes out in a loud huff. “Sorry, bad dream.”
“King!” A bark from the side of the clearing tells me Sun has just come in. I turn to look at her, and she stops quietly in front of me. Her gaze holds something inside of it that I’ve never seen before. “Why didn’t you come?” She murmurs huskily.
I stare at her. “Come? Come where?”
King steps forward, his gaze accusatory. “Don’t act like you don’t know. I told you.” I continue staring, wordless. What are they talking about? A loud - obnoxious, in my mind - sigh comes from King. “Sun wanted you to go find her, because she had something very, very important happening, and you never came!” He bares his teeth in a firm growl, stepping dangerously close to me. He turns his angry gaze to Sun. “She just went right back to sleep after I told her to get up. If you can’t bring yourself to care about others, Wick, fine, be selfish if you want!” His gaze hardens. “But leave.”
“King!” Sun jumps forward in surprise. “That wasn’t the plan!”
The plan? My tail lowers until it’s between my legs. I begin shivering, and not because I’m cold. “You had a plan?”
My best friend’s eyes dart away for a moment. “No, well… No, that’s not what I meant. We talked about it-”
“Why would you talk about it with him? Why not talk to me?” I can’t help but feel betrayed, whether or not I knew her loyalties were changing. If I was still her best friend, she never would’ve talked to him, she would have come straight to me. I know that very well.
She cocks her head. “Well he said he told you, and when you didn’t come-”
Suddenly my fur spikes up. I’ve never felt so angry before in my entire life. “What he said, what he said, stop believing him all the time and listen to me!” Sun grows silent. King growls, louder this time than the last. I glare at him. “He hates me! Don’t you see that? He hates me so much he wants me to leave so he can have you all to himself!” Turning on King, my tail lashes and I know I’ve gone too far. But to get this in Sun’s brain, I have to go too far. There’s no way not to. “Why do you hate me? I just want you to stop! You never told me that she wanted me! Never!”
Sun is silent for a short time, then turns quietly to King. “Is that true, King?” Disappointment begins to cloud her gaze, and I can’t help but feel some relief.
“No!” King’s bark surprises me. He turns to me, sad, almost as if I’m the one in the wrong. “Nobody has to fight, Wick. Nobody has to get mad. This is just a misunderstanding.” My jaw drops, and I stare at him, unbelieving of what he’s saying right now. But my energy has run out. I can’t fight anymore. I don’t want to. I won’t. I know that I’m better than that and if I can’t win, I’m still not the one in the wrong.
It’s as if Sun doesn’t know who to believe. She looks back and forth between us like there are some kind of options. In her mind, there are options. I just don’t understand how she can be so blind. The fact that she can’t see King’s lies, it means only bad things. It has to mean that she doesn’t trust me like she used to, or something like that, because by the looks of it, she sure is struggling to decide who she thinks is telling the truth, and frankly, it looks as if she’s leaning toward King. Unless that’s just me thinking she will. I can’t know for sure.
Then Sun speaks. “You know… I don’t know who to believe, honestly. I get that whoever is telling the truth must be very hurt by that, but if I choose wrong, the innocent one of you will be given consequences you don’t deserve, and I don’t want that.” She pauses, sighs deeply, and turns to me. “Come with me, and I’ll show you what I wanted you for.”
I can only gaze at her for a moment, awed by Sun’s mastery of getting out of fights, and I follow, unable to find words to say. Maybe that’s for the best.
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