A while later..........
The house felt empty nowadays. No longer was it filled with the sounds of barks, nor did it have the peculiar canine smell. No flashes of ears or the scraping of claws. It felt dead and lonely. Especially to a certain puppy. Though there was a vast absence of a canine presence, a tiny fragment remained.
It was here that a small saluki pup lay within the yard, the female of the two. Sister kept her body low as she stalked the small bird ahead of her. Careful now, eyes on the prize. That was the way to go. There it lay, a perfect catch for the budding huntress. Body poised, nary a movement, teeth prepped, and lunge! The bird immediately flapped upward into the sky as the young pup missed. But that was only one part of her strategy. When all else failed, she had one more ace up her sleeve. Metaphorically speaking of course. Lowering her back and legs, she sprang up into the sky teeth bared and maw open. She snapped as much as she could but sadly she caught nothing, not even a feather. The pup fell to the ground with a soft plop. The only thing her mouth caught was a bunch of grass as she fell down.
Spitting out the green blades, the pup stared up with an irate glare. “Stupid bird!” she barked.
The bird responded with a teasing tweet as it flew away into the sky disappearing from view.
A few grass strands flew into the air as Sister slashed at them with her paw. All at once she felt ashamed but mostly embarrassed. Thank goodness no one saw her. It made her wonder, what had she done wrong? She had seen her mother catch birds before, using the same strategy and skill. But a key difference was age. She was still just a young pup, but.........oh for goodness sakes what was the point? This whole thing was stupid she thought. All for some human who didn't.......
A sudden yelp within the yard turned her attention away from her thoughts. She followed the source before she noticed another splotch of white against the green. That made her stop upon the familiar sight of her younger brother. The pup rubbed his nose with his paws as he let out a pitiful whine.
“What's wrong now?” Sister asked. This wasn't the first time today her brother had whined about something.
Brother nearly jumped at the suddenness of his sister's voice. “Squirrel bit my nose.” he whimpered, a faint trace of a tear approaching.
“Let me take a look at it.” Sister examined as Brother pulled his paws away. “Eh you're fine!”
Soon as his sister pulled away, Brother slapped his paws back on. “But it hurts!”
“Well that's what you get for going after a squirrel. Not sure why you would.” Sister arched her brow with confusion.
Brother rubbed his nose for a bit before he felt comfortable enough to pull it away. “I was just getting some practice in.”
“Practice?” Sister's confusion grew.
“You know? Hunting. Just like Sawada wants.” Brother admitted.
“Sawada!? Why do you have to go and do it for him?” Sister asked.
Now it was Brother's turn to be confused. “But isn't that what you're doing?”
“The bird. I saw it fly off after you jumped.”
A distant tweet made Sister turn away only for a second. “That wasn't for Sawada, I was doing it for myself!” she insisted proudly.
“But Sawada-” Brother began dismayed.
“Oh who cares what Sawada wants! He's a big poop head!” spat Sister.
Brother recoiled at his sister's words. Yes, his sister made it readily apparent she held a distaste for their so called owner. If he could even be called that. Ever since that day Sawada returned alone without his loyal dogs, the siblings began to notice a subtle change within the human. The house itself had changed, not just in lack of presence, but the atmosphere. Back during the good old days, the days when the house was filled with canines, everything felt good. For a lack of a better word it was good. The pups didn't just have their mother for comfort, no something about the rest of the group made it seem like a really large family. Heck they practically were. They remembered one dog who often told them stories of the hunts their mother had gone on. Tales of elusive prey and prime catches. But what got their attention the most were the tales of bears. Such powerful creatures, so amazing that the two young pups could hardly believe such beasts existed. To be honest, they hadn't paid Sawada much mind then. All they really knew was that he owned their mother and was their master by extension. That's how it went.
But then everything changed on that fateful day. It was swift as it was subtle. But to the two little ones, it held a great impact. Extra attention had been placed upon them. Sawada had become more involved in their lives. Yet that wasn't exactly a good thing. Oh yes, to a puppy attention was important, especially when it was lavish and laced with a hint of joy. But he didn't treat them like their were puppies. No sir, just two dogs in need of training. And train them he did. He drilled them, pushed them, sometimes hard. It seemed without his dogs, he was left without any real options save for the two little bundles before him. Admittedly the pair were excited to finally learn the skills that would blossom them into adults. Then once it began, it slowly lost it novelty.
Sawada's demeanor didn't make it any better. As said before, he pushed them, sometimes hard. Heck, it was mostly hard. They weren't sure if all training was like this, but something about it was cold. Cold and numb. Nowadays, the man was always in a terrible mood.
Those were some of the words said to them, followed by a kick or a swift slap against their bottoms. Brother got the full brunt of it. He wasn't really built for this sort of thing being the smallest and timid of the litter. Whereas Sister was just a full on rebel. Many a night she had spent outside as punishment while brother marinated with loneliness inside. When he wasn't training them, he spent most of his time on the couch drinking out of a bottle. A lot of bottles to be exact. The house reeked of the strange liquid he indulged himself in. And all they knew was that whenever Sawada drank it, he became even more irritable than before. Sometimes it was unbearable for the two youngsters, but they didn't know what else there was. He was their owner and they had to obey. Least, that's what Brother believed.
“It's really lonely here now.” Brother commented.
Sister glanced about the yard noting the absence of canines. The adults he certainly did miss, his mother friends, his mother herself. But there were two others that he longed for.
“How do you think they are?” Brother asked. “They” of course referring to their brothers.
“I dunno, probably with their new owners.” Sister answered almost stating the obvious.
Indeed, their brothers had been sold. Funny considering Sawada was short several hunting dogs. But who could understand humans. Frankly Brother would have preferred if they all learned as a family, and despite not playing with them as much as his sister, he still missed their presence. Although she hid it well, Sister missed them as well. Both of them were taking by the same human. Apparently he had been familiar with Sawada, or so they assumed. Though they recall a lot of arguing when the deal was being made.
I swear you're getting a good deal! Sawada had pleaded. And the buyer believed him.
“Well I wish they were still here.” Brother lamented.
“They're lucky.” Sister scoffed. “They don't have to stay here.”
“What's wrong with here?” Brother asked.
Brother recoiled as Sister stared at him. “Are you serious?” She asked.
“Well......” Brother began to trail off as he spoke. The trail ended as his sister leaned in close, totally ignoring the concept of personal space.
“You can't seriously think this place is great?!” Brother's lack of response told her what she needed to know. “Oh come on! Sawada's a total poop head!”
“Sister!” alarm breached Brother's voice. “You shouldn't say things like that!”
The female pup raised her nose why. “Why not? We both know it's true.”
“But Sawada's our owner. He give's us a home, he feeds us,”
“Barely!” Sister interrupted. “That stuff he gives us tastes yucky!”
“Well it's not so bad.” said Brother in defense. Sure it wasn't the best but it certainly wasn't yucky. Least as far as he was concerned......kind of.
“He hasn't even named us!” Sister added.
That was true. For whatever reason he held, Sawada didn't find the need to name them. Just simply called them “dogs” or “mutts”. Kind of funny considering they had no idea what breed their father was. Made sense considering they had never met the male.
“Would you just stop defending him! Honestly!” Sister interrupted, rather rudely at that.
A moment of silence passed between the two pups. It was as if something cut the air between and shrouded them in a veil. Brother kept his mouth shut seeing as Sister wouldn't keep her trap shut. Sometimes she just had a big mouth at times. Always opening it up and expressing her opinion. To anyone else, it would just come out as yips and barks. This wasn't the first time she had complaints. Oh no, she complained even during their training. All the while Sawada would discipline her, sometimes harshly. Brother on the other paw did what he was told. Albeit that was not without errors. Admittedly he wasn't the best student, or maybe he just had a poor teacher? Whichever the case, he just wasn't making the cut it seemed.
“You know we don't have to stay here.”
That sentence grabbed Brother's attention fast.
“What?” he asked.
Sister looked to him, “You heard me. We can just leave this place.” her words etched with determination.
“What?!” Brother was aghast. “B-B-But where would we go?!”
Sister shrugged. “I dunno, but anywhere is better than here.”
“Sister you're not talking right. We don't have to leave, we have a home.” Brother protested. The answer he got to that was that was another scoff. Frantically he searched beside him for an answer, any rebuttal that would deter his sister's decision. “What about Mom?” the question sliced through to his sister. Upon uttering it, he immediately noticed her stance had changed. “What if she comes back and we're not here?”
Another moment of silence, a few seconds in came through. Barging its way in before the two puppies. Sister gripped her paws against the ground, claws digging into the grass and dirt. “You know Mom's dead right? She's not coming back.” her words were low and without emotion. She just stated it as if it were nothing.
Right away, Brother got to his feet. A tiny gasp escaped him and his body began to shake. “That's not true.” he whimpered.
“Oh yeah?” Sister began to walk towards her sibling. “Well where is she? Why hasn't she come back yet?”
The questions were hot and heavy in their deliverance. But they were deep and stinging all the same. Brother sniffled, his throat gasped for air, and then he bolted towards the house. A trail of tears followed behind him.
Sister watched her brother flee, and though he was ahead, she could already make out his sobs. Typical, she thought. If their mother were here, this would be the time Brother would go to her to complain, which in turn would lead to Sister getting scolded. But mother wasn't here. Yet, that didn't make everything automatically better.
Evening had spread over the house just as quickly as daylight had passed. Brother had cried himself out, to no one in particular that is. He had himself a good cry, right before Sawada told him to shut up. And shut up he did. Instead he sulked in a corner back facing out and body facing in. Next he slumped himself down and closed his eyes, and the next thing he knew he was asleep.
His dreams were peaceful.
They were pleasant.
They were of his mother.
“Hey get your butt up!”
There she was, staring down at him, loving grin and all. And then that image vanished in an instant as something hard jarred him awake. Brother fluttered his eyes swiftly, vision blurred and unfocused. The wall slowly came into view, darkened by the lack of light but close all the same. Something was breathing on him from behind. That something caused Brother to turn around. And there he came face to face with a fresh coat of white and stringy fur.
“Sister?!” he spoke out in alarm.
“Shhhh!!!!” Sister vocalized harshly. “You want to wake him up?” Sister kept her voice low as she said that.
Brother wisely kept himself quiet. It wouldn't do well to wake up Sawada, especially at this hour. Then again, how late was it?
“Good you're awake.” said Sister.
A yawn from Brother cut off what Sister was about to say. “Sis, what are you doing up? What's going on?” Brother sleepily asked.
Sister resisted the urge to yawn herself. “What's going on is I'm out of here.” she stated suddenly.
“Wha?” Brother fought against another yawn but it managed to poke through in bits.
“You deaf? I'm leaving.”
Right away, Brother jolted awake, casting away the shroud of sleepiness that had swaddled against him. “L-L-Leaving!” he barked, and then shut his mouth when he noticed that his voice had raised. “But w-
“Do you even have to ask?” Sister interrupted. The female turned around, stealing a glance from behind. When the coast looked clear, she continued. “Look I'm not staying here with that poop head and that's that!”
Poop head or not, this was still a home, but Brother's fears were not focused upon abandoning their human. “Were you going to leave without me?” his question followed with a whimper and a beckoning within his wide eyes.
“What?! Of course I wouldn't leave you!” Sister spoke aghast. “Don't be stupid!” a groan from the back quieted her down, but her point had been made. “Look I won't force you, but tell me, would Mom want us to stay someplace we aren't happy?”
That indeed was a good question, but Brother had an answer. “But, I'm not unhappy.”
“Really?” Sister said with disbelief. “Tell me, when's the last time Sawada played with us?”
“Well.....” Brother began to think, “I don't.....know.”
“Never!” Sister presented her own answer. “Okay, when's the last time he praised us?”
“When has he ever been nice to us? Treated us like we actually mattered?”
Just as before during the day, a brief moment of silence followed. Sister breathed in a few short breaths as her miniature outburst had gotten the attention of her sibling. Brother's body no longer looked tense as he simply relented in his stance and even his movements. He casually turned away from his elder sibling and then looked to the side.
“Do we really have to leave tonight?” Brother asked. “Shouldn't we wait until it's morning or something? Brother suggested.
“No! We gotta leave tonight. Otherwise Poop Head will see us.”
Escaping under cover of darkness did sound beneficial, if one put some thought into it. But there was still the risks. Especially for two small puppies who had yet to find their place in the world.
“Yeah but........okay sure Sis whatever you say.” Brother finally relented.
And so it was done, and with that, the pair snuck out the doggy door. Amidst the dark night, a duo of white thin shapes slid out and moved far away from the house they had once called their home.
“Sister? Where are we going?” asked Brother.
Sister kept a good pace ahead, “Dunno, someplace better than here.”
The two puppies had walked a great distance from Sawada's house. Deep into the forest that surrounded their home. They had followed the gravel path that led from the driveway, and deep into the forest itself. The path ended shortly thereafter, and from that point, they ventured into the green. Where was their destination? Only Sister knew. And what did she know? That was still up in the air.
“You don't know where we're going do you?” Brother began to whimper.
“Of course I do!” Sister retorted.
It was pitch black within the forest, not a single ray of light shone down upon them. Nevertheless, their white fur stood out amongst the shadowy blackness. They were like two little torches. Lost little torches. Yes, it was becoming painfully clear to them.
“We're lost.” Brother more so.
The male skid to a halt, bottom pressed against the ground, and chest heaving. A whimper escaped his throat, spreading up from his chest.
“Don't start crying now.” Sister warned turning herself around.
Tiny droplets began to form around Brother's eyes. His breathing began to turn into hiccups, first one, then two, and then.
“I said stop it!”
And then the sobs ended, right when the flash of light happened. The sound rumbled above, deep and reverberating all around them. It was sound the pups had heard before, but not often enough during their short youth. Something wet slid down brothers face. It sunk down into his mouth, but as he tasted it, he found it wasn't salty. The same thing happened to Sister's face, and to her surprise she found not a trace of salt within.
They knew it could only be one thing.
With another crack of thunder, down came the rainfall.
“Sister it's raining!”
And it continued to fall harder with every second. Sister shook herself but she quickly found it useless. “Come on!” Sister ordered and the pair quickened their pace.
“Where are we going?” Brother asked.
“Shelter stupid.” Sister barked with a yip of annoyance.
Brother recoiled but continued to move. He could tell his sister was irritated. Partially because of the rain, but also because it was dawning upon the pair that her plan to leave under cover of dark did not go as well as she had planned. The pair kept their eyes peeled for anything, anywhere that could serve as shelter. So far nothing but bushes and trees, which were now being drenched with rain. The same applied to them. Even with their fur they could feel the chilly dampness.
“There!” Sister exclaimed pointing straight ahead.
Though everything was dark, there lay another darkness cut into the earth, and extending upward from the ground. It was a cave.
“Sister.....I don't know” Brother started.
“Don't whine! It's perfect!” Sister's words were absolute. And that was that.
A small whine escaped Brother but he quickly quieted down. It was better than nothing, and they did need shelter. The two scurried inside and quickly they felt a sudden change in their environment. It was still cold, but the incessant pattering of rain no longer peppered them. It was better, but only by a margin. They were still cold.
Brother and Sister shook themselves free of water. Two problems solved at least. The air blew inside swirling around the two as they attempted to gather themselves. Brother began to shiver, but it wasn't just from the cold. This was a new place, a frightening place, and the latter feature stood out the most to them.
“I don't like this place Sister.” Brother complained letting out a low whimper.
“At least we're out of the rain.” Sister reasoned.
There was that. Brother had to at least be thankful that one good fortune had befallen them since they set out. Now was the time to rest, and that's what both youngsters did.
“Hey Brother?” Sister called.
“Hmm?” Brother responded.
“Remember those birds that Mom brought back?”
“Yeah, what were they called? Partriches?”
“No, I think they were called partridges.”
Brother licked his nose. “How come you brought that up?” he asked.
Sister scratched herself. “Dunno, just felt like saying it.”
In the most unlikely of moments, sometimes the strangest of subjects sprang up. This time it was memories of the past. Their mother was the best when it came to catching birds. And it seemed as if it would be passed down from mother to daughter. There was a reason Brother had stuck to trying to catch smaller mammals. Birds were more of his sister's budding forte. Yet she hadn't quite reached their mother's level. Yet, she still tried, and that's what counted.
“Just go to sleep.” Sister instructed, and then she closed her eyes.
Brother did the same, resting down his body before he settled down into a hopefully peaceful sleep.
Both children snapped awake as something echoed up to them. It crept along their backs and bored right into their brains.
“What was that?” Brother asked.
Sister looked around, before settling upon what was behind them. Nothing but a blanket of darkness lay before the two, a darkness that they hadn't fully noticed at first. So lost and carefree upon finding what they perceived as shelter. Perhaps they had perceived too soon? Another feeling at swelled up inside them. A feeling that all pups shared: curiosity.
Sister was the first to delve into that feeling.
“What are you doing Sister?” Brother rose upon his feet.
“What's that noise?” she asked instead of answering.
The noise came again, sinking into a groan. Sister crept further into the cave, back low, shoulders arched, and nose ahead.
“Come back here!” Brother pleaded. Though it fell on deaf ears.
Sister continued towards the darkness, her curiosity outweighing her fear. Not to say she didn't have fear, but Sister was hardly the one to give into it. That's something else that separated her from her sibling. And so she continued forward.
It sounded like a deep yawn. In fact they could feel it was something like that. It was one of those sensations you could just feel. How did Sister know? She felt a yawn coming on.
Sister leaned in closer and closer, her white body sinking deeper until only her little tail remained. Brother watched all the while, with horrified fascination. His little heart beat faster and his breaths grew low and short. Perhaps it was nothing? Just a figment of their imagination. If so, they must have pretty deep imaginations..........
“RUN!” Sister's voice cut through the darkness as Brother saw her running towards him with great speed. As much as her little body could muster.
“Sister what's.......” And that's when Brother saw it. A huge brown bulk worked its way through the cave and coming at them fast. It was a creature neither had seen before. It ran on four legs, had a short muzzle and four powerful legs, each with what appeared to be claws at the end.
Brother hung his mouth open as the thing came towards them. It let out a bellowing roar, an angry roar that sent chills down his spine. Cliche as it sounded, that's how it was. Brother found his feet frozen while Sister not so much.
“Come on let's go!” Sister urged, nudging her sibling's body It did no good for Brother still remained locked in place. Sister let out a whine of frustration as she was running out of ideas on what to do with her scared witless brother. “Move!” Sister opened her jaws and clamped down hard upon Brother's tail. The pup yelped and that sure enough got him moving. The two bolted out as fast as they could, but the thing, the no, it had to be. They had heard stories tales from their mother's friends. This creature had to be one thing: a bear.
And the bear was angry. The monster was furious, and ready to pounce and feed on sweet succulent puppy meat. Those thoughts were prominent within Brother's mind. Sister just thought about getting the heck out of here. Outside, the rain still fell, and the ground beneath it began to grow muddy and slippery. Emphasis on the slippery part. Brother could attest to that. His four feet began to falter as the mud began to disrupt it. Sure enough, he felt flat upon his face.
“Brother!” Sister called as she noticed her brother's face plant.
Brother shook himself free, the rain pounding against his body and its sound against his eardrums. He shook himself as he rose, and that's when he heard the roar. It bellowed deep upon his body, a blast of hot air hitting him. In that a moment, a lot of factors came into play. So many events that could have gone differently, but it played out one way. Sister watched it all with wide eyes. She watched as her brother got up. She watched as he turned around. And she watched as he screamed. Oh how loud he screamed. It was swift, just one swipe of the claw, along with a splash of red. For Brother, it was an agonizing hell, for at that moment, his vision became split. One half was in full color, normal as can be, while the other half, the left side, all he could see was red. His little body flipped in the air before landing right on his stomach.
“BROTHER!!!!” Sister screamed. She pumped her tiny body towards her sibling, nudging him as she got near. “Brother! Brother! Get up! Come on!” she urged.
“I know but we gotta move!”
The bear roared again and that got the two moving as fast as they could. Despite the pain Brother felt, he pushed on and Sister ran by his side. The roars faded into nothing the farther away they got. They weren't even sure if the bear was still chasing them. Probably just wanted to drive them off. Well if that was the case, it worked.
“I think we lost it.” said Sister.
A soft whine came beside her. “Sister......I can't see.”
And that's when she turned to her brother, and then she gasped. Brother's left eye was completely clawed shut. Three claw marks lay, reddened from the blood which seeped down into tearful flow. Natural tears flowed out of the functioning eye.
“Oh Brother....I-I.........I'm sor-”
“I wish Mom was here.” Brother blurted, right before he broke into a sob.
Sister could only watch. She watched and felt that with all certainty, that this was her fault. She made them leave, she prodded Brother along. It made her think: What would their mother think? What would she do for that matter? Sister didn't know, but she knew what she would do.
“Don't worry, I won't leave you.” Sister placed a paw upon Brother's shoulder. “You hear me? I won't leave you. We're in this together okay? So don't cry.”
Brother continued, his sobs becoming more fervent.
“Stop.......crying.........It's going to be okay.”
That was the first lie Sister told her brother. She didn't know if it was going to be okay. No one did.