Tokalu

My mother hated that sound. The sound of the gun. It excited me. My tongue dangled out of my mouth and my ears perked up more than usual. My sister Winona and I would scramble toward it. If it caught our mother, Imala, by surprise, she scattered to the den. When Winona and I were kits, we weren’t allowed to venture into town near the people, their dogs, and the gun to watch the greyhounds race. Our mother didn’t like the idea of us wandering over there — even as young adult foxes. When we were kits, Winona and I would sometimes sneak out when our mother was hunting. But we couldn’t outfox her. She often caught us. She’d lecture us, ramble on about how people are nothing but selfish, inconsiderate, evil-hearted monkeys who believe they rule all land, water, and skies. Our father was shot and killed by a fully-clothed man, who most likely shot him for his fur. He succeeded with the help of his hound dog. Winona and I never met him. We were born shortly after he left this world. When we were older and about ready to be on our own, we did what we wanted. I was often out of the den, journeying somewhere. Mom pretended not to worry when I strayed off and told me she wanted me to go out and do my own thing, but her nervous habits gave her away. When I told her I was leaving the den, she’d pace, her bushy tail would hang stiff. She’d avoid the subject of my father altogether, even though it was the one thing on her mind whenever I or Winona left the den. It was me she worried about the most. Winona never went too far. My mother didn’t want me to be alone. Sometimes she’d ask if I’d met any nice vixens to settle down with. But I doubted any vixen would be interested in the things I liked to do. If they were all like my mother and sister, I thought.

I never wanted to settle down. I wanted my life to be stimulating. Back then, my days were forming into a daily schedule. I’d wake with the sun and wander around. My mother stayed close to home and waited for my return. The thought always ruined whatever adventure I was on. When I got home, my mother, Winona, and I would eat and talk about the dangers in the world — it was always Mom’s topic of choice. To add some flavor, I’d do extra exploring at the farms not far from where I lived. Farm adventures were nothing new. Winona and I enjoyed our farm explorations, but at that time, I started going inside instead of lingering around outside the fence and scattering whenever I heard a sound. Winona always chickened out — she wouldn’t dare enter the farmland. I got that feeling of fun and fear rolled into one, and I loved that. One night I fell asleep on a tractor. I was stuffed, I passed out. Devouring fresh eggs and munching on “garbage” until you’re the size of a pot-bellied pig is indescribable. I also liked chasing the chickens until their feathers flew off. The fat man had his collie and shepherd chase me away during sunrise. I easily outran them. The shepherd got caught beneath the bottom bar of the fence and the fat man and his collie had to dig him out.

Speaking of dogs, my favorite thing to do was watch the greyhound races that happened in town. The people and their greyhounds came to the track every couple of days. I watched from afar, of course. Just being a part of that environment, it was such a rush. I dreamed of racing where others adored me and cheered me on as I zipped passed them. I admired the way the wind blew the dogs’ ears back, the way their tongues flew free, and how each one of them looked so determined to finish first. It was a competition and they had fun with it. But even the excitement of watching the races dwindled after a while.

Winona and I often hung out in an alley near the racetrack, where we could see the whole thing. Mom sort of nailed it in our heads to make sure the people —  especially men — didn’t see us.

Winona and I rarely missed a race, and we became big fans of the greyhound racers. My favorite was Miles. He soaked up the most attention. He was a dog-like form of a lightning bolt and had the most wins. I don’t know how he did it. He was smaller than the others, and I wondered why that was. There were also the sisters: Venice and Florence. Venice could always give Miles a run for his dog treats. She was fast, she was bold, she was fierce. I had a crush on her since I was a kit. I wondered how Mom would react if I brought her to the den. Florence was unpredictable. One race she’d come in the top three, the next race she’d be the tail. I wondered how Mom would react if I brought both of them home to the den.

Then there was Surge. He was all black and had a tough, athletic build. He was your average racer, I’d say. For the most part, he finished in the middle. Blitzen seemed to be Surge’s best buddy. I always saw them drinking and panting together after a race. Blitz was smart for a collar-and-leash dog. He used intelligence while racing. He saved his energy until the end. He’d always be cruising in the back, then he’d charge right passed the others like nobody’s business. He was predictable in an exciting way and had a nice pile of wins too. Now Padova, he was the cousin of Venice and Florence. He was the youngest of the greyhounds and it was obvious. I wanted to give the pup some pointers.

Lastly, there was good old Chase. His name was self explanatory. He was always chasing the rest of the pack. Well, besides for Padova. Chase was the oldest. I heard that when he was younger, he could outrun any canine. I wished I was around to see that. Chase, at the time, was about ready to bury his dreams and retire.

Winona and I would race through the grass every day when we were kits. I’d pretend I was Miles, she’d pretend to be Venice. We’d both be “the crowd.” I find it funny how when we were pretending to be “the crowd,” we’d only root ourselves on. Mom would get nervous when we got too loud and tell us to quiet down and to stop acting like dogs, who are poor beings, according to her, because they give themselves away to humans.

*

Winona’s tail and ears stood erect. She looked tense and excited as she waited for the hounds to bolt by us. Her golden eyes were enlarged. Then, we heard it! The stampede of the town’s greyhounds! Their long legs were like wings. They flew. Miles, Venice, Surge, Florence, Blitzen, Chase, Padova. Each body with dangling pink, huffing and puffing, eyes set on the finish. My sister and I crouched low, gripping the dirt with our claws as we watched the dogs, all bunched together, race toward victory. It was a close one! Then, Miles — to no surprise — pulled it off. Followed by Blitzen, Venice, Surge, Florence, Chase, and Padova.

Winona whirled around to look at me. Her ears perked up and her tail swished behind her.

“That was intense! I thought Blitz had Miles. So close!” She jumped in the air.

I laughed and shook my head. “I knew Miles had the win.”

“I wonder what that dog eats,” said Winona, staring at Miles, as his people and fans danced around him.

Each hound had a circle of two-leggeds around them, but Miles drew the most attention. He was white and brindle, thin but muscular. His skinny tail wiggled back and forth as he licked his man on the face. He barked and twirled, let out an excited whine as a hand offered the champion food. I smirked and began to pace back and forth through the yellow grass in between the two houses that made up the front of the alley. Winona arched a brow and her eyes followed me.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to run in a race.”

“Oh, not this again.”

“I’m serious, Win. The next time the greyhounds race, I’m running with them.”

“Tokalu, stop. You’re smart enough to know that’s beyond dangerous.”

“I’m really going to do it this time. I could totally smoke them, including Miles. You know I can.” I sat down in front of my sister.

“I never said you couldn’t. You might be able to pull it off once, if you dedicated your life to it. Your life might be cut short if you go out there, so use your head. You’re a fox, not a human-operated hound.” Winona stared me directly in the eyes. “You can’t just go out there and race. Who knows what those dogs will do, you don’t know them. Even worse, what the two-leggeds might do.”

I got to my paws. “I understand. But, there’s just something about it. I want to know the feeling. The feeling of being out there, doing something I love. Just, being recognized for it. I don’t want to stand back and watch for the rest of my life.” I swished my tail. “What’s the point if I’m never going to at least try?”

Winona’s eyes moved slowly as she looked down at the dry grass around her black paws, as if she were looking for a response.

Her eyes met mine. “Look, Tok, we’re not kits anymore.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I leaped onto a garbage pail that was tipped over.

“You’re acting like a kit. You’re being naïve.”

“I am not. You said it yourself. I don’t even know those dogs, or the people. I can’t judge them. Just because our father was hunted and killed by a man and his dog doesn’t mean we must assume they’re all going to murder us.”

“Tokalu, stop. You’re being crazy. You are not a greyhound. Only greyhounds can participate in those races.”

We turned our heads at the same time when we heard an unfamiliar sound we both knew. Winona looked at me, then back in the direction of the sound. We both sniffed the air in front of us. A sniffing nose neared the alley we were in.

“It’s a dog,” whispered Winona.

“I know,” I whispered back. I gently pounced off the garbage pail.

As the sniffing got louder, my sister and I slowly backed up. Both wanting to run, but at the same time, both wanting to see the dog. We’ve never seen a dog up close. Then, we saw her. She was a medium-sized hound; she looked young. Human ownership dangled beneath her chin. We foxes could not move a muscle as the dog stood across from us, looking from me to Winona. Then, she did it. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and howled. Winona and I leaped and ran, probably faster than any of the greyhounds could ever move. The hound’s howl turned into a pathetic squeak. After that, honestly, I was no longer afraid. I stopped, turned around, and looked at her. She was standing in the same spot. Winona was still running. This dog was no bigger than I was. Her tongue wiggled out, she backed up, and let out a lame bark. I opened my mouth to comment when I heard my sister shout my name. I could see her figure in the distance, in front of the setting sun.

“Tok! Tok, come on! What are you doing?” Then she leaped, ran, stopped, and turned back. “Tok, watch out!”

I gasped and turned around. The hound’s nose was at my paws, her ears swept the ground. I raised the paw that her wet nose was hovering over. She looked up at me, I looked down at her.

She barked in my face. I jumped back. I wasn’t expecting that. I looked over at Winona, who was looking ready to dart.

“What kind of dog are you?” asked the hound.

I turned to her. She wasn’t hunting us. “I’m not a dog.”

“You smell like one.”

“You’re not much of a hunting dog, are you?”

“Me? No. I don’t need to hunt. The food comes to me.” She swatted the tags hanging from her collar. Then she tilted her head to the side. “So, what are you then?”

“I’m a fox.” I watched as her nose inhaled my scent.

“Oh. I’ve-”, she studied me. “Heard about foxes.” Her voice got lower when she said that.

I looked at Winona in the distance. “Hey, look, I gotta get out of here,” I told the hound.

“Alright. It was nice meeting you, fox.” She looked down at her skinny white paws and mumbled, “I don’t understand…”

My tail swayed from side to side. “Don’t understand what?”

The hound looked at the ground, then directly into my eyes. “Why we hunt you.”

I swallowed and I felt my heart racing. I stepped back. “I thought you said-”

“Not me. But, but my mother and her man go hunting.”

A chill rushed through my body. “You don’t hunt though.”

“No, not me and my people. Not my brother, not my father. My father and mother live together, but it’s just my mom he takes on hunts.” She sat down and continued. “My brother and father race together. Did you catch the show?” She barked her squeaky bark, leaped to her paws, and turned toward the racetrack.

I’ve never seen a hound like her before. I was a bit confused as to who and what she was referring to.

“You mean the race that just ended?”

She walked closer to me. I held my breath and stood my ground. She smiled with her eyes shut and nodded her head. Her tags jingled and her ears bounced.

“Your brother and father were in it?”

“Always are.”

I looked over at the greyhounds and the people in the distance.

The hound laughed. “I know, I know. We look nothing alike, smell nothing alike. Everyone says that.” She proudly raised her head. Her ears flopped and her tail was held high. “I’m part beagle, part greyhound. My mother is a beagle, my father, Chase, is a greyhound. My brother is Miles. Do you know of them?”

I couldn’t raise my jaw for anything. I was amazed. “Uh huh,” I nodded my head.

She laughed and playfully barked.

I leaped up and down like an ecstatic rabbit.

“Win! Winona! Win! Win-noo-noo!” I laughed and jumped up and down as I looked at my frozen sister in the distance.

The hound’s eyes bounced with me.

Winona was hesitant.

“Win! Get over here!” I laughed.

Winona glared at us and checked her surroundings before she walked over, head ducked, body close to the ground. The fur on the back of her neck was frizzy and her ears were pressed against her head. She looked at me and the hound. We seemed like best friends, jumping up and down together.

I stopped, tongue dangling out. The hound did the same. I looked over at Winona, so did she. Her ears swung when she turned her head.

“This dog, this dog right here, right here, is the daughter of Chase and the sister of Miles!”

Winona looked over my face, then set her eyes on the hound. After a few seconds, she looked at me. “She’s not a greyhound.”

“I’m half greyhound, half beagle!” the hound said excitedly.

“Oh.” Winona didn’t seem as excited as I was.

“I never knew Chase was Miles’s father! Did you? I never knew! Who knew?” I yelped.

“I knew,” said the hound.

Winona shrugged. “You learn something new every day.” She came closer to me. “You should have learned to stay away from dogs too many days ago,” she said through her teeth.

I ignored taking what she said into mind. “Miles is not one hundred percent greyhound! So, it’s not all greyhounds that are racing. I don’t see the harm in me running a race.”

Winona’s head lashed around. “You don’t see the harm in it?” she snapped.

The innocent hound looked uncomfortable. She sat down and looked at us as if she were waiting for one of us to shout mean words at her.

I looked at her and smiled. She wagged her tail and spoke up. “I don’t see how you’d be able to enter a race. Our people keep track of everything and-”

“Can’t I just jump in there and run?”

The hound closed one eye and thought.

“You don’t know what it would mean to me to race against them! Against Miles!”

“It’s not up to me or the dogs to decide that,” the hound said. “A fox in one of the greyhound races?”

“Does not sound like a grand idea,” finished Winona.

“Is it my fault I’m a fox?”

“Oh, so you’re saying you want to be a dog?” asked my sister.

“No. I just want to run a race. That’s all I want to do. I mean, does it really matter?”

“I don’t know how well that will go over with the people. People are picky. Things always have to be their way.” The hound grumbled, “Believe me.”

“Tok, just let it go. Coming out here in the first place is risky enough.” Winona turned back to the direction of our den.

“Hey, look. She’s…she is…” I glanced at the dog. “Sorry. What’s your name?”

The hound’s tail went in a circle. “My name’s Cleopatra.”

“Well, Cleopatra here is a good dog, and I bet the others aren’t bad, and maybe she can help me. I’m so close.”

Winona’s face softened. “I’m not having a good feeling about this, Tok.”

“Of course you aren’t. This is new to you. And you take after Mom, anyway.”

Winona scrunched up her face.

I turned back to Cleopatra.

“I’m Tokalu. Please excuse my frightened sister, Winona.”

Winona rolled her eyes. Cleopatra gave her a concerned look.

“Sorry for the rudeness. But, maybe you have an idea of where I’m coming from. A fox in dog territory; hound dog territory.”

“It’s alright. The greyhounds don’t hunt. Neither do I.”

All of our ears perked up when we heard the human voices getting closer. “Cleo! Cleo!”

Winona’s instincts lead her behind a garbage pail. I followed, but stood beside it, watching Cleopatra.

“I gotta go. It was good to meet you foxes.”

“It was nice meeting you, too,” I told her.

She ran off, ears bouncing and tail wagging in a circle. I could tell when she and her humans were reunited. Their voices got high pitched and I heard that squeaky bark of hers.

Winona swished her tail in my face. When I saw her face, it did not look so pleasant.

“Are you out of your mind?” Her golden eyes were enlarged and her ears were pressed back against her orange head.

“Yes, and proud of it.”

“This is going too far.”

“Whoever said that going too far was a bad thing?”

Winona grunted. “You’re going to give Mom a panic attack.”

“Hey. She’s the one who wants us to get out there and do our own thing. This is definitely going to be my own thing.”

“I admire your thoughts of independence — really — but come on, Tok. You’re going to just jump in the next race? That dog never said it was alright. This is crazy!” She sat. “But if you want to be smart about it, wouldn’t you at least want to know the dogs know you’re going to be racing with them so they don’t get surprised and territorial and rip your head off?”

She spoke so fast, I had to laugh. “I’m not scared.” I began to walk. I kicked a stick on the ground with one of my front paws. “You’re right. I should have told her to tell Miles or Chase about me.” I stopped and turned back toward the alley.

Winona leaped over me and landed in front of me. “Tokalu!”

We argued the whole way home.

*

I could see Mom standing outside the den waiting for us. Her posture eased when she saw her two offspring plowing their way through the wild grass. Like any good mother, she sensed there was a disagreement. We were quiet when we accompanied her. Winona curled up beside Mom, who sat in the grass, and glared up at me, who stood across from them.

Mom knew there was something I wanted to tell her, and Winona knew I was going to tell her. Hence the death glare. She wasn’t big on me telling Mom about how I was considering racing with the hounds.

“We met a dog today,” I began.

Mom got to her paws and looked alert. Her face was close to mine.

“One of the dogs at the track?” she asked, turning toward Winona.

Winona got up. “A sibling of one of the racers.”

Mom looked worried. “There’s a problem. What is going on?”

Winona’s eyes burnt into mine. I looked into my mother’s.

“Mom, you’re not going to like this, I know it, Win knows it. She doesn’t agree with me. I understand why, and I understand why you won’t either. I’m just going to say it. I’m planning to run a race with the greyhounds.”

The silence seemed longer than it actually was.

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard come out of your mouth, Tokalu!” my mother said. “Racing with those low-lived beasts? Those dogs mean people. People and dogs together are very dangerous! How could you forget about what happened to your father like that?” I knew that one was coming.

“Mom! I know what happened to my father. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to me, or you, or Win! The dog I met today was nothing like the way you described the dog who tracked down my father. You cannot judge members of the same species because of one situation that was unfortunate for you.”

“Just going in there and racing with them like you belong there? My son is not going to be a part of human entertainment! I’ll tell you right now, none of them are going to accept you and you will be in danger.”

I sighed. “This is what I want to do, Mom. I want to have fun.”

Her eyes narrowed; anger.

“You want to stoop down to the level of a dog? Tokalu, what has happened to you?”

“The dog I met is not a bad being, not at all. Have you ever met a dog, Mom?”

We exchanged unsatisfied looks.

“And I am not going to stoop down to a lower level by doing what I dream of. This does not mean I am going to give myself to a human for their entertainment. This is for me. I want this. I want to race.” My voice became calmer as I continued. “You know how much I have always loved running around, how much I love to compete. I just want to try.”

“Tokalu. It is obvious that you are too naïve to know of the absolute and complete danger you are thinking of positioning yourself in.”

“I am aware of the dangers that are possible. That doesn’t mean dangerous things are going to happen. I don’t live thinking like that, Mom. The way you do.”

My mother shook her head back and forth.

“It’s also about time I be on my own. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“It’s a built in feeling to care about you,” she said.

That statement eased me up. “Mom, look, my decision isn’t the smartest, I know that. But I need to find out on my own. I want to live and learn. I want adventure.”

“I’m not going to allow you to learn something on your own when I very well know the outcome will definitely be bad.”

I sighed and gazed into the distance. I knew Mom was telling me this for my own good.

“I need time to myself. I’m gonna take a walk.”

Winona and Mom looked at each other, then back at me.

“You’ll be back tonight, right?” asked Winona.

“I’m not sure.”

“Yes or no,” demanded Mom.

“I’m a fox, Mom. If I feel like coming back, I will. If not, I won’t. You’ll know.”

That night I wandered to the train tracks. I walked upon them until they reached the bridge above the slow-moving river. I sat with my tail curled around my body and looked into the reflection of the sky. The moon was glowing. I gazed up at it in thought. There’s something about the crickets’ lullabies on warm nights with whispering breezes that I find peaceful. Sometimes you just need to get away from your everyday scenery.

As the sun lit the horizon, I stretched and yawned and emerged from the inside of a wooden barrel that was in the damp dirt near the flowing river. I got a good sleep there, but was on my way to human territory. It wasn’t long before I leaped between the two wooden bars running along the fence and onto the dirt track. There were no humans or dogs in sight. The only thing I heard were the humans’ machines humming and honking in the distance. I sniffed the air and looked around. I knew Winona wasn’t far behind me, hiding in the scenery.

The next couple of suns and moons I stayed alone on a small land that I claimed as mine.  It wasn’t far from Mom’s, and it was closer to town. Winona dropped by the night before the next greyhound race. She told me she and Mom were worried about me, and I reassured her that I was fine on my own, and that everything I do is going to turn out alright. Somehow, the argument shifted to a completely different topic. Winona and I spoke about our younger days. Winona told me that she was having some trouble accepting the changes taking place. Me moved out, Mom and I in disagreement. It affected my sister, and I felt bad. But life keeps moving.

The greyhound races always took place in the middle of the day. I lurked around in the background before the dogs arrived, with my favorite feeling throbbing through my body — a blend of excitement and curiosity. I knew Winona was tucked away in the alley where we usually watched the races from. I chose not to linger around there; I didn’t need her holding me back. I stayed hidden, across from the alley, on the other side of the track, in the bushes. I was on the lookout for Cleopatra. Miles and his people hadn’t arrived yet. She’d be with them. I was hoping I could grab her attention and she could let the others know about me and not to get all riled up. Even if I couldn’t get a hold of her, I still planned on showing myself.

It wasn’t long before I located her squeak-bark. I was so excited, I almost threw myself out of the bushes. My tail began to sway and my tongue peeked out. Cleopatra was bouncing around like an overly happy pup at the paws of her human family. Her brother Miles walked calmly beside her, his head held high. He owned the place. I stretched my snout out and took a sniff at him. I was about to stick my head out of the bushes and get a better look after they passed me by, but I pushed myself back further when the tall legs of greyhound walked by. Through the spaces between the branches, my eyes followed the make of his body, up to his perky ears. It was Chase, walking proudly with his people and another dog, who I took as his mate. She looked similar to Cleopatra. I decided to stay back. Who knew what would happen if I took them all for surprise then. Right as I told myself to stay put, Cleopatra stopped in her tracks, sniffed the air, and her nose pointed up in my direction. She stood there with her nose raised high then tilted her head to the side, wondering why my scent was familiar. She grunted and dodged over to the bushes, nose first. As she rummaged through the branches, I got smacked in the face with little twigs.

“Hey! Cleopatra!” I said in a high whisper.

She paused.

“It’s me, Tokalu. The fox. Remember?”

“Oh yeah!” she yelped, excitedly. “You’re not going to run the race, are you?”

“That was the plan.”

I heard a bark from behind Cleopatra.

“Hey, you better get out of here. You can’t race. Not today. My mother’s here. She’ll go crazy!”

“Cleo, what are you doing?” asked an unknown voice. Cleopatra took herself from the bushes. Random pieces of green were speckled on her snout.

“Just followin’ my nose. It’s nothin’,” she barked.

The other dog sniffed. “Wait,” she said.

I held my breath.

“What is it, Mom?”

Cleopatra’s mother sniffed the bushes. Then got a little closer. Cleopatra leaped in front of her. Her mother looked suspicious. “Cleo, what is going on?”

“Hey, we don’t want to miss the race. We better go catch up!”

“Who’s hiding in there? It’s as if I smell a-” Her nose double checked. “A fox.”

“What is it, girls?” asked a man, coming over to the hounds. I don’t think my heart had ever beat as fast as it did then.

The dogs looked up at the man. Cleopatra’s mother’s tail squirmed and she howled. The man squatted down next to her and threw his arm around his companion.

“What?” he said. “What, what?” he repeated.

Cleopatra’s mother barked, then whined and licked her man’s hand. Then she pummeled into the bushes. I knew when she knew for sure that I was there, because her bark turned vicious. I tore out. The chase was on.

I regretted ever trying to race with the dogs. I just wanted to be back in the den with Winona and Mom. I ran as fast as I could. I didn’t care where I was going, I just wanted to keep ahead of the mongrel. I ran around many legs of people, who were all shouting. It felt like I choked on my heart when I heard a gunshot. It’s hard to say I was relieved in a situation like the one I was in, but I was pleased when I realized it was only the gunshot that meant the greyhound race had started. I could hear Cleopatra’s bark from somewhere behind me. I heard her tell her mother to stop. That didn’t do anything. I was now running along the fence around the dog track. Up ahead of me I could see the pack of greyhounds. I looked behind me. The hound dog wasn’t going to catch me. I was never going to get the chance to race with the greyhounds, unless I took my chance then. I grinned, focused on the fence in front of me, and leaped through the space between the two wooden bars. I turned around to check out the dog. She slowed down at the fence, then came to a stop when her man shouted at her in the distance. My eyes targeted the greyhounds ahead of me. I felt powerful. I was determined to pass them all and finish first. Many of the humans hung over the fence, shouting and yelling. Some of them had their mouths open and their fingers pointed. They seemed happy! This was different for them. I ran as fast as my paws could carry me. My tongue hung out and my ears blew with the breeze. I was closing in on Padova. I seemed to distract him as I ran next to him. He barked at me and asked who I was. Then I passed Chase, Florence, and Blitz. They were all confused, barking at me. I saw Surge ahead of me. I flew by him, and he stopped in his tracks. Blitz banged into him, and Florence crashed into Blitz. The crowd of people roared. I could see Venice in front of me, and she was looking fine. I’ve never seen her up close before. But still, I wasn’t going to let her beat me in a race. I darted around her as well. She totally cursed me out in dog language. Before I knew it, I was cruising alongside the champ; Miles.

“Fox, what are ya doing?” he barked.

“Hey Miles!”

“I don’t think you belong here!”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I used all of my might to jolt in front of him. I looked back at him. “I belong here!”

“Oh, it’s on!” the champion barked, wishing to reclaim his number one spot.

“Bring it, dog!”

He tried. The most he could do was get beside me. It was tough, but I kept my pace, and kept myself in front of him for the finish. The crowd went wild.

I somehow felt completely comfortable stopping after I finished. I was exhausted, to say the least. My tongue was dangling out of my dry mouth and I was panting with energy. The dogs seemed alright with me. They all surrounded me, speaking at the same time. I heard questions like, “Where did you come from?”, “Who are you?”, and a “That was insane. Is this possible?” I heard Surge say he’d trip me next time, and make me fall flat on my face. The people seemed cautious. Just as I was settling down a bit, getting ready to talk with the dogs I’ve wanted to meet all my life, I heard something terrifying. It was a yelp. Not just any yelp — it was my mother. I rushed out of the pack of dogs and under the bars on the fence. The dogs seemed confused and began barking as their snouts went into the air. I saw my mother in the grass, and Cleopatra’s mongrel of a mother in front of her. I heard Cleopatra’s squeaky bark, and she jumped to her paws and followed me to the scene. Cleopatra’s mother stood in front of my mother, baring her fangs and growling at her. Her muscular shoulder blades were visible under her fur. My mother held her ground and hissed back at the hound with her back arched. The fur on her neck stood up. I jumped back in shock when I saw the reason why my mother was facing her fear and standing up to a dog. My sister. Winona lay still, on the ground, beneath my mother. Coldness filled my body.

“Oh no,” I whispered. I was filled with rage. “No!” I yelled. I had more power than I ever felt in my life. I flew through the grass and threw myself on the hound. She rolled over onto her back. We wrestled. I was on top of her, snarling and growling like a wicked beast, biting her paws that swatted at me. Then she pushed up on my chest, tossed me on my back, pinned me to the ground, and scratched up my arms that I threw at her as she barked in my face. She snarled and went to bite my neck but I clawed her across the cheek and nipped at her. She jumped back. I got to my paws and we stood across from one another, growling. I stood in front of my family. Cleopatra made her way over.

“Mom!” she shouted, alarmed. Her mother’s vicious face softened when she saw her daughter. Cleopatra looked at me, then at Winona, then up at my mother, who stared her down with her bloodshot eyes. I looked back at my mother.

“She’s alright, Mom,” I whispered. My mother didn’t move.

Cleopatra slowly walked up to us. She sniffed Winona, who lay still on the ground. Cleopatra whined and rubbed her nose across Winona’s cheek. She turned to her mother with anger in her eyes.

“Why, Mom? Why did you do this?”

“They’re foxes, Cleo. They’re on our turf. You know we don’t like foxes.”

Cleopatra looked disgusted. “Have you ever met a fox, Mom?”

Her mother stared into her daughter’s eyes. “You’d never make a good hunting dog.”

“Hey! Brit! Cleo! Get away from there!” shouted their woman human. Cleopatra’s mother turned away, looked back at us once more, then ran off to her people.

There was silence. My mother stood above Winona, protectively. She bent her head down and sniffed her head, then licked her bloody ear.

“Win,” I whispered, and nudged her head with my nose. Her head flopped back into the grass when I let go. I whined.

Cleopatra bent down to sniff Winona. The tags on her collar jingled. My mother looked down at Cleopatra, as she lay down beside my sister.

“You’re nothing like your mother,” said my mother.

Cleopatra looked up at my mother and got to her paws. “I don’t want to be like my mother.”

The reflection of the setting sun glistened in my mother’s wet eyes. “She took away my mate.” She closed her eyes and hung her head. “And now my daughter.”

My eyes widened. A dark feeling took over my body. I looked across the field of grass at Cleopatra’s mother. I squinted my eyes at her and began to walk in her direction.

“Tokalu!”

I turned my head to look back at my mother.

“No. Now’s not the time.” My mother sighed. “I’ve had enough.” She rubbed the side of her face across my sister’s head. She looked up at me. “We need to get away from here. You’re not stepping down to her level. You’re no mongrel.”

I glared, disgusted at Cleopatra’s mother and growled. I really had to push myself to turn around and listen to my mother.

Cleopatra’s people called for her.

She licked my sister’s face and pushed her with her head. Thank goodness, Winona’s eyes opened. My eyes watered. “Winona!”

My mother was crying. “Oh, Winona,” she whimpered.

Winona’s eyes were glassy.

She lifted the front part of her body, almost fell, but Cleopatra dove underneath her and she fell onto Cleopatra’s shoulders. My mother went around back and grabbed Winona’s tail. She and Cleopatra got Winona on her paws. I stared out into the distance, at Cleopatra’s mother as she jumped at her man’s knees. He squatted down and placed his large hand on her head. I thought, how can someone be so affectionate to one being and so cruel to another? Just because that is what she was taught? Because she is different from us? There is no good reason.

Cleopatra sniffed over Winona. “She’ll be okay,” she told us. She licked Winona’s cheek as her humans shouted for her once again. “You’ll be okay,” she whispered to Winona, who looked up at her with cloudy eyes. Cleopatra looked at me and my mother.

“I’m sorry.”

My mother stood in front of Cleopatra. “It’s not your fault.”

Cleopatra’s humans shouted her name again. She turned toward them, but before she ran off, she looked back at us.

“Good bye, Cleopatra,” I said.

“Good bye.”

Cleopatra raced off to Miles and her humans. I turned to my family. Winona stood weakly on her paws, tail in the grass. Her ears drooped to the sides of her head. I nuzzled my cheek up against hers as my mother circled her, examining her wounds. My mother looked at Winona’s scratched up face and whined, then licked her nose. Together, we set off through the grass toward our den. Me, my mother, and my sister in between us.

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