March 6, 2017 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

Going for a run is just a small respite for Zarro. Where it would usually clear his mind of all worries, it only makes him regret the idea of going back to camp that much more. It’s enough to make him stumble twice while they’re out on the run, for his mind is on other things.

Zarro just doesn’t want to go and listen to that train all night. He doesn’t want to sleep so close to something made by humans, not again.

The rest of his pack don’t seem to share his reservations. Chase throws his head up and howls; Princess calls out, “I smell a bird!”

It’s the start of a game, one that Chase and Jag are quick to join in on. The dogs take turns trying to find the scent of an animal on the trail. The more specific they can be with the creature, the higher score they get for that find.

Usually, it’s a pretty fun thing. Especially places like this, where the scenery is nice, but it’s also nothing fancy, nothing to waste their time admiring. When they’ve been out for nearly ten minutes, Chase finally asks, “Zarro, aren’t you playing?”

“No,” answers Zarro, feeling dour and uninterested in the game.

Chase asks, “how come? You aren’t coming down sick, are you? I hate that. I hate when I come down sick and my nose gets all stuffy, and then I can’t smell anything.”

“I’m not sick,” answers Zarro.

Princess says, “if you’re getting a cold, you should try letting WooFDriver know. Maybe sneeze on him a few times?”

“I’m not sick,” repeats Zarro.

Jag adds, “or you could dump your dinner a few times tonight. Just keep spilling it and eventually he’ll realize you aren’t feeling good.”

“I’m feeling fine,” snaps Zarro. A growl chases after his words. His temper is shot, his patience fading fast. “I keep saying that! I don’t feel bad. I’m not sick! I just don’t want to play today.”

Jag and Princess trade uneasy looks, but Chase has always had a harder time reading situations. More than that, he considers the bond that he has with Zarro to be a special thing, one that can’t easily be breached, one that most other animals might not understand. They’re best friends, even.

Chase asks, “What’s wrong, then? You usually love to play this with us! You’re not the best at it. That would be me! But, I mean, that’s fine. You’ve never been the best at it and it doesn’t usually bother you.”

“It’s still not bothering me,” growls Zarro. When they make the next turn around the trees, his back paws skid out from under him. He has to scramble to get back up and keep up with the other harnessed dogs. “And you aren’t that good! You don’t win any more often than the rest of us!”

Zarro regrets the words as soon as he says them. Everyone knows that, of the WooFPAK, Chase is the best tracker. And they know, too, that Chase takes a lot of pride in his ability to track, locate, and identify various smells. In fact, it’s one of the only thing that Chase genuinely considers a skill of his.

Hurt flashes through blue eyes. Chase opens his mouth, twice, but it appears as if the words have been stolen from him. In the end, he just ducks his head down and continues running without saying anything.

After that, no one else plays the game.

By the time they get back to the camp, it’s night time. Guilt gnaws at Zarro’s heart. He’s not hungry, but he eats his dinner anyway. He loves the way that the chunks of frozen meat shatter beneath the strength of his back molars.

The other dogs don’t talk to him. No one understands the sudden shift in mood. But, when the train goes past just after Zarro has settled down for the night, he knows that it’s not going to be improving anytime soon.

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author