From my work in progress, Gone to the Dogs
Jax jogged restlessly through the pines, cedars, and naked oaks of the “tame woods”. It was technically on the human side of their territory. Some human, many years ago, had paved a trail through and culled diseased wood, even planted woodland flowers and erected a few bronze and stone statues. But then they let it grow wild again, save for occasionally mowing the grass in the play ground area or clearing storm debris from the trail.
The asphalt had aged badly, tree roots giving it ridges and peaks and distance markings fading into faint white spots here and there.
There were no laws banning natives from public human areas. There couldn’t be, it was part of the treaty. That hadn’t stopped them from seeking many ways around the treaty over the years. But this park had always been public property. So the wolves patrolled, because humans couldn’t be trusted to protect the borders.
To be honest, they couldn’t be trusted to do much. Even this new one, the one many were starting to call Alex’s pet human. She couldn’t be bothered to act in a way he understood.
His stomach itched where his stitches had been, though they’d come out a while ago. It was thinking about her that did it. Her hands had been inside him. She’d touched him in ways even his kin never would. He didn’t like it, but he wasn’t sure he could complain. He didn’t even remember it, just knew what he’d been told after. But that knowledge made him uncomfortable, itchy under the skin.
There were plenty of other wolves with different views on humans. Outright hunting them for food or sport was banned, but there were other kinds of hunting. Some young males made a game of bedding them. It appeared to be easy, and the males enjoyed the attention of a warm female body or two. Where the wolf females could be demanding and picky, human females threw themselves at anything exotic that gave them a smoldering look, or bought them something pretty.
Jax never had any interest in such games. Humans were a thing best categorized with items like swamps, hurricanes, and crocodiles. Whatever good they had was out balanced by their irritation factor. They were better off as far away from him, his life, as he could keep them. Far enough to pretend they didn’t exist most of the time.
Now he felt intimately linked to one. Heather, his twin, felt it too, but she seemed more curious than repulsed. It would be easier if he could adopt her path. Or her, his. He felt…infected.
Still, when Curtis, one of Elliot’s litter mates, had sneered, made a crude comment and joked about “forgetting” to include the human woman in the manor’s security plan, there’d been a fight. The kind of fight where he still tasted Curtis’ blood in his mouth. Curtis backed down, but grudgingly. It also sat wrong with Jax.
They didn’t choose who was pack and who wasn’t, who lived at the manor, and who didn’t. They were just charged with protecting it. All of it, not just some of it. The elders had even approved of the human woman’s position. He didn’t like her, but neither could he say she deserved to have backs turned on her when it came to her safety. She’d done nothing to deserve that either.
But it made the taste of blood no less bitter in his mouth. His sister called him troubled. Afflicted was more like it, but what with he couldn’t determine. So he put all that uncertainty to good use and patrolled.
Only part of the border between human land and native was guarded by a wall. Well, a wall humans would recognize. Here it was a six foot chain link fence, decorated with warning signs. In other places it was woods too thick to cut through, or cliffs too steep to climb to trap you until area patrols conveniently wandered upon you.
Part of him missed the wilder places, where he didn’t smell the chemical tang of human. There were places that were greener, waters that were bluer in the world. Places with hundreds of thousands of miles of space to run. Where you could wander for years and still not see all the Mother had created.
Yet here he was.
There were reasons he stayed here. He liked running with four strong legs beneath him. He liked working with his hands too, and in this community something always needed to be built, repaired, or expanded. There was also the community itself. It was…more civilized. No, that wasn’t the right word. It was very wrong. It was a different kind of civilized.
In the north west, where he came from, the clans had no shared spaces. They would never think to call another species’ community. Friend, that happened. Lover, also occasionally. The clans didn’t hesitate to come together for safety or trading. But to call someone from another clan brother, like Alex did with Dane and Cerulean? That never happened.
Jax shook out and let his fur settle back into place. The way the clans interacted here confused him sometimes. Throwing a human into the mix was just asking for trouble.
His face crinkled in a wolf-grimace. A tree had fallen on the fence here. One half of the forked branch had been impaled on the post. The other had pulled down the fence. And a long time ago, too, judging by the number of vines, brown and dried, twisting through the chain link.
This section of the fence bordered about a mile of wolf pack maintained woods before it let out at the pack homes. It wasn’t exactly close to the majority of the pack’s homes. But there wasn’t enough between it and the wolves for Jax’s comfort.
He sniffed over the area. Most of the scents were stale. A beer can, a soda bottle, half-decayed plastic wrap. A ground hog had been by. Someone had nailed short, weathered boards along the trunk of a nearby tree.
Jax widened his circle. The acrid scent of piss hit his nose. His lip pulled back automatically. It was part sneer, part instinctual reflex to taste the scent. Human, male, he decided. He sneezed to clear his nose. Then he looked around.
This wasn’t just some hiker relieving himself. He was half a mile from a trail on the human side of the fence. The space between here and there was thickets, young trees, and deer paths. A forester might explore, or a hunter. But not a casual passerby.
The way the scent arched too, Jax looked up. Someone had sat in the tree, probably using the boards to climb and had relieved himself while still in the limbs.
This time when his lip curled it was from disgust. The fence would have to be repaired. And soon. Someone could easily watch them from here.
The boom took him by surprise. Jax launched himself forward automatically, but when he landed his right fore leg screamed in protest and gave out. He rolled in the dirt, trying to shake off the confusion. The brush rattled. Moments later two noisy, would-be hunters thundered through the woods toward him.
“I know I hit something,” the first said.
“Yeah, probably someone’s dog,” the second voice chided.
They pushed through and caught sight of him at the same time. Jax’s hackles rose, a snarl rolling from his throat. Blood dripped from the wound in his shoulder, wetting the leg he tried to hide weakness in.
“Oh, fuck, you shot a wolf.”
Jax puffed himself up more but refrained from taking a step toward them, their scents already spiked with fear.
Chase, bite, tear, his wolf side snarled. Make them hurt like you hurt. But his man side was aware of the guns they held, and the danger of chasing humans into human lands where more humans and more guns were sure to be.
His front leg hurt enough to be useless, so the obvious choice was to shift up and use his rear legs. One of the humans screamed, only to cut himself off when Jax took to two legs.
“Oh shit, oh shit, you shot one of them!”
The men turned and ran, one throwing his long gun at Jax before he spun. The weapon skidded across the leaves. Jax jumped away automatically, though the urge to chase spiked when they ran. The scent of their fear was a heady thing, appealing in his current state.
Instead he turned away, to help fight the need to chase. He felt the grind of his shoulder and snarled again. When he was younger, twelve or so, another boy had attacked him with a crappy blade that snapped off inside his skin. Now he recognized the feeling of metal in a wound.
That meant a trip to Jai instead of even a tiny chase. Cursing, and still covered in fur, Jax snatched up the abandoned gun and began his trudge back to the compound.
That fence was definitely getting fixed, and immediately.