A man decided to spend a day and a night in the woods. He took his dog with him.
The dog was not a hunting dog, but he knew enough to be quiet while his master hunted.
The man shot two rabbits. He skinned, gutted, cooked, and ate them, and he gave the scraps to the dog.
When night came, they nestled close to each other and lay by the fire that the man had built.
Something howled in the distance, deep in the forest. The dog stood up and barked.
“Shh!” said the man. He grabbed the dog by the scruff of the neck and brought him to heel. “Quiet!”
“What are they?” said the dog.
“Your forebears,” said the man. “The wolves.”
“WOLVES?” said the dog. “What are WOLVES?”
“Shh!” said the man. He hit the dog on the snout. The dog cowed and stuck his tail between his legs.
The howling stopped, and there was quiet once more.
After a time, the man said, “Wolves live in the forest. They’re like you…but wild. They run in packs, eating only what they kill themselves.”
“They have to kill?” said the dog. “They have no master to feed them?”
“No, they got masters. But their masters only tell ‘em when it’s time to kill. When it comes to the actual killin’, they all do it.”
“Does their masters walk on two legs, as you do?” asked the dog.
“No,” said the man. “Wolves are…they’re their own masters. Mastered by each other. There’s a papa wolf and a momma wolf, and all the wolves that they give birth to have to do what they say. Sometimes, a wolf will leave his pack. Find a mate, start a new pack.”
The dog mused over this. Then he said, “I think I’d like to be in a wolf pack.”
“You?” said the man. “They’d take one look at you and rip you from nose to anus. You don’t know how to live in the wild. You don’t know how to hunt. And you don’t know how packs work.”
“I could learn,” said the dog. “I already learned how to fetch and speak and sit-up and heel-“
“It’s not the same,” said the man. “It ain’t something you can be taught. It’s like…you gotta have instinct, and…I mean, you got instinct, but you ain’t got the right kind. You’d be dead before the day was over.”
“Can we visit them?” said the dog. “I’d like to see them.”
“We ain’t visitin’ no goddamn wolf pack. The fact you even asked me that…shit! Just go to sleep, alright? I’m tired.”
The dog nodded and licked the man’s face.
When the man finally drifted off to sleep, the howls started again. The dog rose to his feet, but he was a smart dog. He did not bark.
Instead, he padded off silently into the forest.
As the dog left the light of the campfire, the night closed in around him. His eyes adjusted, and his nose worked feverishly, tasting the aromas of the wild. The soft, moist earth. The sweet pine. The sharp dung.
He followed the howling for an hour. He could not stop himself. Each time they howled, a steady whine grew in the back of his throat. It grew and grew.
The next thing he knew, he was surrounded. For the wolves had picked up his scent the moment he’d left the safety of the fire, and they’d been tracking him. All their subsequent howling had been a lure, designed to draw him out. The speed of their ambush was uncanny, like a ghost that appears at your side when you look in the mirror. They were large. Gray. Silent. And those eyes. Yellow eyes.
One of them growled.
The dog stayed his panic and mustered his courage. “Brothers,” he said, “I have come to join you.”
The wolves looked at each other for a moment, then back at him. They were still silent.
The dog continued. “I rely on my master to give me my daily meat. I am bound to him. But if I were like one of you, you who hunt and kill your own meat, I would be as free as you are. Tell me, what must I do to join your pack and share in your freedom?”
The wolves were still silent, but they turned their gaze to the largest of their number – a shaggy giant with a missing eye.
After what looked like a moment of consideration, the giant opened his mouth and from his throat came a high-pitched, whining, barking noise.
He was laughing.
The other wolves joined in the laughter. The dog, not knowing any better, joined in as well.
Now the giant wolf wasn’t laughing anymore. He snarled at the dog. The laughter of the remaining wolves fell away. The dog’s courage vanished like smoke.
“Leave,” said the giant wolf. “We run with our own kind.”
“I am one of your kind!” said the dog. “My ancestors-“
The giant wolf rushed at him. The dog fell back, whining. The wolf stopped about a foot from the dog, bearing his teeth, waiting.
The dog could only stare back at the wolf with panicked eyes.
Something stirred in the back of the dog’s mind, nudging at his shoulder. At his haunches. At his mouth. He did not know what this sensation was; he’d never felt it before.
It felt dangerous.
The giant wolf lunged forward, biting into the dog’s left shoulder. The dog cried out in pain.
“Leave!” said the wolf.
But the dog would not leave. Something kept him there; the same sensation that was working its way through his body. Was it fear? Yes. Yes, it was fear, but something else too. Some active agent within his fear, working to transform it into something horrible – something more terrifying than anything he had ever known.
The dog was losing control of himself. A voice in his mind told him if he did not remember who he was, he was going to die right there-
The giant wolf slammed into the dog, jarring him out of his head and knocking him to the ground. The wolf was on top of him now, its mouth on his throat, its teeth pressing against his jugular.
The dog lay still. The sensation that had been moving through him was gone. He waited for the fatal bite that would empty his blood onto the forest floor.
The bite never came. The wolf just held him there.
Another wolf approached him, this one slightly smaller than the one on top of him.
“You are not one of us, dog,” said this new wolf. “Your ancestors may have been, long ago, but they forsook our woods and our ways when they chose to run with the Two-Legs. We were not sad to see them go, for if they had been allowed to breed among us, they would have eventually corrupted our kind with their traitor’s blood.”
She drew closer, bearing her teeth in his face. He could smell blood and raw flesh on her breath.
“You cannot run with us. You reek of the Two-Legs,” she said. “They have made you theirs. Go back to where you belong, and do not show your face here again, or your corpse will bear the scent of our marking and your heart will burn in our bellies.”
The giant wolf released him. The dog jumped to his feet. He stared at them a moment. They stared back.
For what seemed like eternity, no one moved. No one spoke. No one growled or snarled or barked or howled or did anything. There was just silence. And waiting.
The dog felt that terrible sensation rise again. Why did it seem so familiar?
His master’s face came to mind.
The master had no pack. He’d left the one he had been born into. He had no one but the dog. That was why the man had taken the dog from his mother and taught him so many things, like how to fetch and speak and shit outside and shake hands and roll over. The man taught the dog these things so that the dog could be the man’s friend.
That was what the dog was. The man’s friend.
The dog turned around and left. He did not look back.
Dawn arrived, and the man was kicking dirt over his fire when the dog walked up to him, tail between his legs.
“Where have you been?” said the man.
“I went to go see the wolves,” said the dog.
“Did they hurt you?”
“A little,” said the dog, showing his master the teeth marks around his neck and shoulders.
The man picked up a nearby stick and beat the dog with it. Then they left the forest and returned to the man’s cabin. The man gave the dog his dinner. The dog ate, and the man left the cabin to go see a woman he knew.
The dog finished his food, and walked over to the wolf-skin rug that lay in front of the fireplace. He curled up on the rug and let out a sigh. He was grateful for the warmth and the food and the softness of the wolf-skin rug and his master.
He was glad to be a dog.
If he had stayed awake a moment longer, he might have heard the howling. But he was asleep, and the howls were faint. The wolves were very far away. Still, they howled, and there was great sadness in the forest.