June 19, 2018 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

The Youghiogheny River Lake Forest is a vast thing, and one that Chase hopes he never has to venture into again. He runs beside his pack, because that is what he’s meant to do, and because, no matter how afraid he is, that is what he will always do.

But the fear doesn’t vanish. In fact, as they chase after the smell, that fear gets worse. It builds up in the back of his chest like a pit that can’t be filled in. It’s gaping, yawning, a sensation that is both tight and empty all at once.

Chase demands, “what are we even trying to find?”

“Rabbit,” says Jag.

At the same time, Princess says, “deer.”

A beat later, Zarro offers up, “owl?”

“Owl?” Jag snorts. “It was on the ground. It was obviously a rabbit!”

“That wasn’t a rabbit,” counters Princess. “It was too big to be a rabbit. It was obviously a deer.”

“Deer don’t have ears like that,” snaps Zarro. “They don’t smell like that, either. And, fine, maybe it wasn’t an owl, but it wasn’t a deer or a rabbit either! Those guesses are just as stupid!”

It doesn’t matter who’s correct, by the end of it all. They come upon the shape again as they branch back onto the hard beaten path, nearly at the Tub Run. Chase can smell the water again, the faint scent of people who haven’t been around for several days.

Over that, though, is the soured scent of the creature. It lingers at the crest of the path, dappled with shadows and silver night-light. WooFDriver calls them to a halt, grabbing for the camera strapped to his waist. The shutter clicks on and off several times, flash turned off, and then, with the last picture, the flash turns on.

It illuminates the creature, just for a split second. The form is lit up enough for Chase to make out ragged, tawny fur, a split ear, and frantic brown eyes.

“It’s scared,” says Chase, sinking backwards.

“It’s a dog,” says Zarro, voice just as soft.

WooFDriver must come to the same conclusion. “Easy, boy.” He pulls his flashlight out, turning on the light. A beam of clarity crashes over the creature which, yes, is in fact a sort of dog.

The poor thing is long legged and skinny, with big ears and a narrow face. The creature’s brown eyes are blown so wide with fear, they are almost completely black. It’s tail is tucked down, the long fur hanging off the under side obviously matted and snarled up with briars and thorns.

“That’s not what I was expecting,” says WooFDriver, putting voice to exactly what the WooFPAK had been thinking.

Softly, Chase says, “hey. Hey, buddy. Are you okay?”

The dog whines and takes a step backwards. It glances about, clearly debating on taking off again.

“We have food,” says Chase, before he can think the words through.

Princess scolds, “Chase! You can’t tell him that! We can’t make WooFDriver give him food!”

The dog hesitates. He takes a small, half step towards the group. “Food?”

“Food,” repeats Chase, eagerly. “Lots of it! We have jerky and bacon snacks and really yummy dinners! It’s always cold and fresh and meaty!”

The dog licks his lips. “Meaty?”

“Meaty! And crunchy and soft and just really delicious! It’s always great. I bet if you came over here, WooFDriver would give you some food!” Chase wags his tail, trying to show how much he really believes this. After all, WooFDriver would never hurt a dog!

But the dog doesn’t look like he believes that. He looks from the WooFPAK to WooFDriver and back again, before hunkering down and giving a low, thready whine. “I don’t know. I don’t – people aren’t good. People are really bad. That person is big, too, he’s big. I don’t smell food, either, I don’t smell anything but him and you and other people.”

“It’s okay,” promises Chase. “I know he’s big, but he’s really gentle too! I’ve never met a human nicer than WooFDriver! I mean, just look at us! We’re happy, right? We wouldn’t be happy here if he wasn’t a good human!”

“I don’t know,” says the dog, still hunkered down. “I don’t know. People aren’t good. They’re bad. They’re mean.”

“He’s nice,” insists Chase. “Please, just give him a chance.”

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author