He was hungry.
He'd been hungry for a long time. There was food, rotting, stinking food that sometimes made him vomit, but food nonetheless, in the cans scattered here and there, but he was usually chased away from it by those larger and stronger.
Or if not larger and stronger, then at least with others to help them hunt away strangers and claim the food for themselves.
He didn't have others.
He was alone.
That was worse than being hungry. Being hungry was a constant pain that gnawed at his belly and burned his throat and made him almost too weak to walk, sometimes, but being alone was Wrong.
It wasn't his fault. He'd just been unlucky, or that's what he tried to tell himself when the feeling of Wrong got so bad he couldn't uncurl himself.
He hadn't always been alone. He'd had a pack, too, once. Not a big one, but a good one. He hadn't been hungry, or cold, or chased, then. He'd had a good leader, even if it was a Big, a leader who always made sure there was food, and fresh clean water that hadn't been pissed in, and had kept strangers out of their home. It hadn't been a big home, but it was big enough for their pack, just him and his sister and Packleader.
Packleader hadn't been able to talk properly, of course, being a Big, although it tried sometimes, making noises with its mouth. He'd learned how to understand what it wanted when it made those noises, or some of them, anyway, and that made Packleader happy.
But then one day Packleader had started to smell wrong. It had laid down in its sleeping place and stopped moving. He and his sister had tried to wake Packleader up, had licked all its fur the wrong way round, but Packleader didn't wake up, and after a while Packleader started to be cold and smell even more wrong, and that's when he'd known that Packleader had stopped being there and had turned into food, even though nobody had bitten it on the back of the neck the way you did to turn something into food.
That was the first time he'd known what it was to be hungry.
He'd pulled on the metal thing where Packleader kept the food, even though that was a Badboy, Wrong, thing to do and it made him want to dig a hole and hide, doing it. He and his sister had drunk water from the bowl in the waste place, beside the dirt Packleader always put there for them to use, even though drinking water from that bowl was another Badboy thing.
They'd been thirsty. He didn't think Packleader would have wanted them to be thirsty.
They ate the food from the metal thing until it ran out. Then he'd tried to find more food for them, but their home only opened when Packleader made it and neither he nor his sister had been able to make it work. They'd waited for another Big to come and bring food, but no Big came, and they got hungrier and hungrier. His sister's fur began to fall out, and his mouth hurt and bled all the time. One day his sister wouldn't get up from her sleeping place.
That's when he decided they had to eat Packleader.
It was an awful, Wrong, Badboy thing, but he couldn't think of anything else.
Packleader was enough food for a while longer, but he'd started to worry about what they'd do when it was gone by the time they heard the home opening one day and some more Bigs came.
They didn't bring food, though. And they didn't want to be part of the pack. They put their paws over their noses and made loud noises with their mouths and when they found Packleader those noises got so loud they hurt his ears.
Then one of them rushed at him and his sister and even though he'd never seen a Big in fighting posture he could tell instantly that's what it was. His sister told him to run and got in between him and the Big. The home was still open and he'd run for the outside. Before he got there he looked back to make sure his sister was following him and just as he did the Big lifted one foot and brought it down hard on her. There was a crunching noise.
He'd learned that day you don't need teeth to bite someone on the back of the neck.
He ran, and kept running, until the Big stopped chasing him and longer, until his paws were so sore he couldn't bear to put them on the ground, and then he crawled into the smallest place he could find and curled up and cried, for his sister, who was now food, for Packleader, and for himself, who was Wrong, and Badboy, and alone.
The next morning was the first time he was hunted by another pack.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a pack that would let him be part of them. If he'd been younger, maybe, or older, the Packleaders wouldn't have cared. Or if he'd been stronger and large, he could have fought a Packleader and taken their pack for himself. But he wasn't strong, or large. He was the right size to sit on a Big's legs when they were resting, which had been just the right size for his old Packleader, but was just the wrong size now. And no Bigs wanted to be his Packleader, even when he showed them how he could chase his tail as if it was a scurry-food, and pretend to be surprised when he caught it, which had always made his old Packleader happy.
It didn't make the other Bigs happy. One even kicked him, hard, but he remembered what happened to his sister and when he saw the Big's paw go up he dodged, and the kick only hit his side and leg. It still hurt, even though it didn't turn him into food, and it never stopped hurting, so he couldn't run much anymore.
After than he stayed away from all the Bigs.
So he was hungry, all the time. And hunted. And alone, which was worst of all.
Right now, though, he could smell food.
He crept out of the hole where he'd been hiding from the other packs and tried to work out where the smell was coming from. His nose told him it was somewhere in the Bigs that hurried by, near the big fast metal things, and he wanted to cry. He couldn't go out there, among all of them, with their kicking paws and loud noises, especially not near the big fast metal things. He'd seen others get too close to those things and suddenly become flat and food.
He was so hungry, though.
And what if they did kick him? What if he did turn into food? He was alone, and Badboy, and Wrong.
He crept out, just a little way, to see and smell better, belly low to the ground. None of the Bigs paid any attention. The food smell moved away and he followed it, carefully, as fast as he could. He couldn't walk very fast, since the Big had kicked him, and the smell got further away, and he wanted to cry again, but then it got much closer really quickly and he realized that the Big carrying the food had stopped.
He looked at it. It wasn't a very big Big, the same size as his old Packleader, and it was with another little Big who was part of its pack. They made noises with their mouths at each other while he watched them. The smallest Big smelled sad, but the Packleader smelled like it was in fighting posture, even though its paws were on the ground.
He couldn't see any food, but it was there all right. Sometimes Bigs carried food in the outside-fur they had to make up for not having much proper fur. He guessed this one was doing that.
He really, really, didn't want to be kicked again.
He really, really wanted something to eat.
He crept forward, watching the Big's paws, and nosed it the way he used to nose his old Packleader to tell it he wanted food.
The Big looked at him. It didn't kick him.
It didn't give him any food, either.
He nosed it again, and even though Bigs couldn't talk, he tried explaining to it that he was very hungry, and Goodboy, and could he please have some food?
Both Bigs looked at him and made more noises with their mouths, not loud noises, though, and their paws stayed on the ground. While they were looking at him he showed them how he could chase his tail and pretend to catch it, except his side and his leg hurt too much and he fell over on his rump. It was horribly humiliating, but he got up and tried again. He even pretended he'd meant to fall over, and did it again on purpose, even though it really hurt.
The Bigs made more noises. They didn't kick him.
They didn't give him any food, either.
He started to cry. He couldn't help it. He put his nose against the Big who was the Packleader and tried not to make any noises with his crying.
The Packleader Big put its paw inside its outside-fur and then it was holding food. It gave the food to the other Big and the other Big got down close to him on the ground and held it out in a paw.
It was real food, fresh, food that tasted of food. He tried to eat it politely, but he was too hungry. When he was finished he headbutted the Big's hand the way he'd used to with his old Packleader, to show he was grateful. The Big smelled sad again, when he did that, but it rubbed his head with its paw and gave him more food, and made noises to the Packleader.
The Packleader made noises back.
The Packleader didn't smell sad. It didn't smell happy, either.
It didn't smell angry, though. Just ... a little bit like it was thinking about whether to dig a hole and hide, or get in fighting posture and bite someone on the back of the neck.
Not him, though, he didn't think.
He nosed it again.
This time the Packleader got down close to him and made more food appear in its paw. He took it and ate it the very politest way he knew how. This was a good pack, he could tell, even if the smaller Big was sad. There wasn't any kicking. The noises they made to each other weren't loud.
And they had a lot of food.
The little Big did something to its outside-fur, and took it apart. The Packleader took the piece, and tied it to his neck. It held on to the other end.
It held on to the other end.
He stopped being alone, and Wrong. He had a pack.
He butted his Packleader's paw with his head and waited for it to tell him what to do.
Then something terrible happened.
One of the fast metal things came very very close and stopped and his pack went right up next to it.
He tried to tell them how dangerous it was, but they were Bigs, and he couldn't make them understand. The little Big climbed inside it, and then his Packleader did, and they ignored him, even when he danced the Danger Dance right there next to the metal thing.
His Packleader pulled the thing tied around his neck and made noises at him.
He wanted to run, more than anything. The metal things were dangerous and Wrong and even being this close to one made him want to dig a hole and hide.
But his pack was inside it. He couldn't run away and leave them in danger.
He had to at least try to protect them.
His Packleader pulled the thing around his neck again.
He closed his eyes and jumped.