House Dogs, Yard Dogs and Wolves (flash fiction)

It was a large house with many rooms, big enough for us to run and play. The carpets were thick, the water was pure, and the air smelled clean except for the comforting odor of cooking steak and an occasional wisp of wood smoke. Logs burned in several fireplaces, and in front of them were soft mats for sleeping and staring contentedly into the flames.

Our fur was thick and glossy, our bodies moved quick and sure, and we knew nothing of pain or death or fear. We were never lonely, for we had each other, and our master came to pet and feed us each day. His hands would run through our fur, caress our heads and rub our chests, showing us his love, and making sure our bodies were strong and healthy. We adored him and would gaze at him with steady brown eyes whenever he was near, and as he moved from place to place in the house, caring for us. His face was kind, and his hands were gentle and warm.

Each day he would leave us, and go out the front door—a door he never shut. He would turn and say, “Stay,” and then move out of our sight until the next day when he would come to care for us and love us again. We didn’t pay much attention to that word: “Stay.” We didn’t want to leave, and so the word did not hold our attention.

We lived in the house for a very long time and were happy. Then, one of us noticed musky smells on the breeze that sometimes puffed into the door. Some of us started sitting near the door, watching the clouds and the trees move in the wind. The air smelled interesting near the door. Shadows moved through the trees, and we wanted to see them, to smell them, but the word, “Stay,” held us. That word started to irritate us, but we’d forget that, and the smells and the flicking shadows, whenever our master was near. When he was near, stroking our backs, our love for him still consumed us.

We wondered why he left us. Where did he go? We watched by the door but never did see him after his back rounded the curve towards the barn. Sometimes, while we watched and sniffed the breeze, the shadows would come out of the woods, and we’d see creatures we’d never seen before. Some of them smelling of raw meat, the meat before our master cooked it for us. They’d show themselves for only a moment, and then flit or run or slither away. They didn’t have to “Stay.”

One day three large creatures burst out of the woods and ran right towards the door. Their meaty smell shot desire through our bones. They snorted when they saw us and turned and ran away, leaving the scent of fear on the air behind them. One of us howled and took off, and all of us followed. Our legs were long and fast, our hearts and lungs strong, and we ran and ran with the wind in our fur and the sight of thrashing legs ever in front. We leaped fallen trees and streams and ran through shadows and sunlight, and grass and trees. Then one of us caught a piece of a fleeing animal, and we all bit into it, tearing and ripping it until it stopped moving. Blood filled our mouths and joy filled our hearts.

We ate and tussled in the sunlight and the breeze, and the smaller dogs got less to eat, but we all had enough. It was good out here. The meat we caught ourselves was warm, juicy and indescribably sweet. The intoxicating smell of blood was all over us and in the dirt where we rolled, covering our fur in a mantle of victory.

Then we heard him, walking through the woods calling our names. We ran away and hid, and didn’t go to him. Eventually, he left. A few of us followed, whining, wanting both freedom and his love. They told us he shut the gate to the yard and the door to the house. He told them he’d let them in the yard from time to time, but most of us didn’t care. We had animals to run down and eat, streams and ponds for water, and we liked it outside. No one told us to “Stay.” We became wolves, strong and free.

But those dogs that sometimes went in the yard tried to tell us what to do. They told us to live near the yard, to do this and to do that. Some of us did, but most of the time most of us ignored them. We didn’t like those dogs that lived near the yard. They weren’t wolves, free and strong, and they weren’t house dogs, healthy and clean. Many of them were pathetic weaklings, whining by the gate one moment, running with the wolves the next.

Then one day a yard dog came through the woods telling us the gate was open. He didn’t want to run with us. Sometimes he would follow, but only to woo some of us away. He weakened our pack. We killed him, but others came crying out, “The gate is open. The master will care for you in the yard.” We killed most of them, too, but they kept coming. The weaker wolves followed them back to the yard. Even though they never saw the master, except in their dreams, they begged us to join them in the yard. They told us life after death would be glorious for yard dogs, but they still whimpered with fear when death was close, so we don’t believe them.

A few of the wolves that entered that gate are different. They howl to us but never leave the yard. They just stay, looking happy and contented, like so many idiots. They don’t even have the sense to fear death or grieve for the dead. Their howls travel like a siren call on the wind, quiet but always there, unceasing. At night, when there are is no blood or struggle to distract us, some of us have to cover our heads with paws to block the sound and control our foolish yearning.

From time to time, we smell cooked meat and wood smoke in the woods and know it is the master, luring us. We ignore him; he’s still trying to tell us what to do. We see no reason to listen to him. He could care for us in the woods, but he won’t. Sometimes we’re diseased, and sometimes we starve. We die cold, alone and in pain. If he really loved us, he wouldn’t let us know fear and pain, he wouldn’t let us die, he wouldn’t make us ache for the touch of his hand.