by Anna Leon
edited by D Hughes
“Shit, shit, shit!” Michael heaved as the bundle tried to wriggle out of his grip. He hid behind a tree and readjusted his grasp before continuing his trek through the forest. He hiked the mess of flannel and fur up until the whimpering was right next to his ear. That sound, mixed with Michael’s own deep breathing, helped drown out the whistling and yelling behind him. Thankfully, the noise distanced as Michael ran through the edge of the woods into the clearing.
It wasn’t until Michael got to Lake Clearwater, and the distant shouting was gone, that he finally slowed down. He almost stopped completely to admire the water and a sliver of the moon, but Michael had heard too many ghost stories about the lake and its waters. Not that he particularly believed them but, at this point, he didn’t know what to believe.
A small whine came from his jacket and Michael looked down to see a black nose poking out of the top of his jacket. Michael gently rubbed the black nose with his knuckle and hushed it quietly.
When the coast seemed clear, Michael stood up and continued his run to the town. He didn’t know how to get into the house without being spotted but decided to figure it out when he got to that point. For now, he just needed to make it to the house safely. The thought of getting caught made him hold the bundle closer to his chest.
A wave of relief flushed through Michael as he saw the lights of the town. His house was on the outskirts of the town and he would reach it in a mere two minutes. As he got closer, the outside light came into clearer view and his parents’ silhouettes became Michael.
Coming up to the gate, Michael slowed his pace and quietly crept up to the house. He looked through the kitchen window and saw his mother cleaning up dinner while his father was sitting at the table, swirling his glass of wine.
Michael wrapped the bundle in his arms even tighter, so he could pretend that it was only his flannel jacket. He slowed his breathing and dabbed the sweat off of his forehead. He straightened his stance and ran through the several possible scenarios in his mind before reaching out to open the door.
“Maybe we should take him to a doctor or a psychologist.” Michael heard his mom say as he touched the doorknob, forcing him to stop and listen through the cracked window.
“No, it’s just being at a new school, new house, new friends. He’ll be fine.” Michael’s father sighed, frustrated.
“Maybe we can get him a pet. A dog or cat?” His mother whispered enthusiastically. “He hasn’t been the same since Keiser died last year.”
“I’d rather not have another animal until we get more comfort—.” Michael’s father stopped and sat quietly, seeming to take the situation into consideration.
“Maybe, you’re right. Maybe we should get Mikey a dog or something.” Michael’s father said abruptly.
“Oh? Well, I’m happy that you’d agree.”
“Well, he’s been sneaking out lately, after we’ve gone to bed and…”
“WHAT?!” Michael’s mother shouted, dropping the sudsy plate back into the water. “Oh crap!” She said grabbing a towel to dry her now-soaked pants.
“Jesus Christ, Merri. You didn’t have the wash the whole kitchen.” Michael’s father said, jokingly. “I don’t think he’s doing anything bad. He’s not that type of kid. But I’m thinking that a pet will keep him more grounded. Give him responsibilities, ya know?”
Michael’s mother had mopped up the water on the floor and patted away the excess water on her clothes before she replied.
“I suppose so…” she whispered.
Michael took that as his cue to open the door.
“Hey, Mikey,” Michael’s father called, turning to face his son. “We were just talking about yo—,” His father trailed off as he eyed the bundle in Michael’s arms. “Whatcha got there, son?”
Michael just froze, not sure how to explain the strange creature in his arms. The animals whimpering gave itself away.
“Is that a dog, Michael?” Michael’s mother asked, coming over to where he son was standing.
“W-well… yeah, I guess so.” Michael murmured, shrinking away from the pairs of eyes boring into him.
His parents looked at each other, inquisitively.
“Well,” his father started, turning his attention back to the bundle. “Let’s see it.”
“Um, well… The thing is…” Michael started, not quite sure how to continue.
“Oh no! Michael, the dog is peeing all over your jacket!” Michael’s mother exasperated.
“What?” Michael looked down and noticed that a small, yellow puddle was forming around his shoes, dripping from under his arms.
“Oh crap!” Michael jumped before bending down and letting the small creature loose.
It wriggled itself out of the jacket and began sniffing the area right around it.
“Ahhh!” Michael’s mother let out a sharp shriek. “What is that!”
“Michael! What the hell did you bring in here?” His father jumped back, his chair knocking over in the process, scaring the small puppy.
The puppy ran behind Michael as he finished soaking the rest of the piss up with his jacket. He, then, left the jacket on the floor and reached back to pick up the puppy. He held the puppy gently in his arms, scratching next to its ears and in between its horns.
“I found it in the forest a week ago. It was chained up to a tree and it looked really skinny. I’ve been giving it food and water since then.” Michael explained.
“But why is it like that? Why’s there horns on it?” Michael’s mother asked, leaning in to get a better look at it. “And what’s wrong with its right horn?”
“I want to know how you got it off the chain, son. It must’ve belonged to someone and you can’t just take it.” Michael’s father said, sternly.
“Mom, I don’t know why it has these little horns, but I do know that the men that had the puppy chained up were looking to kill it. I was going into the forest to check up on it, but I saw two men take it off the chain. They were holding it so tight. It was crying and yelping. I got a little closer and I saw them holding it on the ground and they were starting to saw its horn off.” Michael explained, shuddering at the idea. “I didn’t know what to do! I just grabbed a rock and threw it at one of the guys. It hit him right in the head and he let go of the puppy. It took off and I followed it. I didn’t want those men to get a hold of it again.” Michael’s voice was trembling, but he was speaking so fast, from sheer terror and anxiety.
“I was able to grab the puppy and brought it back here. I didn’t know what else to do!” Michael shrugged, exhausted from reliving the past hour over again in his mind.
Michael’s parents just looked at each other, unable to say anything.
Suddenly, a knock came to the door and the whole room tensed up. Michael looked at his parents with crazed panic. His parents just looked back between each other, Michael, and the puppy.
Another knock rang through the room.
“Take it to your room,” said Michael’s father, walking towards the door.
Michael quickly picked up the piss-soaked jacket and walked briskly to his room as his father opened the door.
When Michael shut the door behind him, he sank to the floor and released the puppy from his arms. The puppy just roamed around, sniffing the air.
“What in the world are you?” Michael asked himself.
The puppy just turned around and tilted its head.
“Guess I should find out what gender you are.” Michael said, picking the puppy up to look at its underbelly.
“A boy… I think I’ll name you Murphy.” The pup sneezed and Michael just grinned.
“I don’t know if I’ll get to keep you, Murphy, but I’m happy that you’re mine for now.” Michael said, rubbing between the pup’s horns.
He began rubbing under its right ear when it felt a sticky substance between his fingers and the fur. He rubbed his fingers together through the fur and found dark, drying blood as he pulled his fingers away. He gasped a bit and felt around to see how much blood was on the puppy. His black, dirty fur had hidden the blood so well Michael hadn’t even noticed the puppy was bleeding in the first place.
It made sense though. What kind of open wound doesn’t bleed? Michael felt stupid for not thinking of it sooner, but he knew that it wouldn’t have helped to keep Murphy within harm’s grasp.
A small knock came to the door and Michael got up to open it. Michael’s mother stood at the doorway with a small smile on her face. She came in and sat on the bed, watching the puppy explore the room.
“The men are gone. We told them that we hadn’t seen or heard anything all night. Now, shall we do with… it?”
Michael could tell that his mother still didn’t know how to feel about the strange creature.
“His name is Murphy.” Michael said.
“Murphy?” His father stepped into the room. “He doesn’t really seem like a Murphy to me.”
“Well, what does he seem like to you?” Michael asked, eyeing his father, who just shrugged.
Silence took over the room as the three watched the puppy sniff through its way through the room.
“I told you there was something weird about this town.” Michael said, breaking the silence.
His parents looked at him, then at each other, then back at Murphy.
Michael ate his dinner while his mom was cleaning up Murphy in the bathroom. Michael’s father sat next to him, reminiscing over the night’s events.
“Why do you think they were sawing its horns off?” Michael’s father asked quietly, lost in thought.
“Maybe they’re special… Magical, maybe…” Michael said abruptly, as if he had been contemplating the same thing. “Whatever, it’s inhumane and we know that.” Michael’s father nodded in agreement.
Michael finished his dinner and cleaned up his plate. He started walking to help his mother in the bathroom when he turned back to his father.
“And his name is Murphy. I know he’s different, but he still deserves to be called by his name.”
Murphy’s first night in the house was unexpected, to say the least. At about two in the morning, a shrill set of howling startled Michael from his deep sleep. He jumped out of bed and started looking for the puppy. There, a shadow of a pair of fluffy ears and some small points, was perched Murphy on the window, looking out at the moon. Michael bent down behind the pup and followed his gaze up to the waning crescent in the sky. Then, he slowly reached up and scratched the pup in between his ear and horn. Murphy jumped, let out a small yelp, and looked at Michael timidly. Michael slid back against his bed frame. He felt bad for scaring his furry friend so giving the pup a gentle, sleepy smile, Michael cooed the puppy into his lap. The pup, a little wary at first, decided to lay his head on Michael’s crossed legs. Michael stroked the top of the puppy’s head with his knuckles for a few minute as he drifted back to sleep.
A few hours later, Michael was woken back up by Murphy’s soft whimpers and weak grunts. He sat up and stretched his arms and legs, sore from sleeping against the hard bed frame. He looked down at the black ball of fur in front of him, illuminated by the slim moonlight, and gazed over his body. Even through the thick, black fur, Murphy’s ribs were apparent. Michael wondered how long the puppy was on the chains with those men and why they wanted his horns. He wondered where Murphy’s own family was and if he even had one. But Michael mostly wondered what Murphy was. A little wolf pup with the horns of a baby goat. The idea was something out of a grade schoolers notebook, but here it was, having nightmares on Michael’s lap. Michael couldn’t help but feel guilty for keeping the pup here when his family might be looking for him. But with those men out there, killing needlessly, Michael knew he couldn’t allow Murphy to be let loose to that.
The next day, Michael and Murphy awoke to a light knock on the door and Michael’s mom coming in with a plate full of eggs and bacon for Michael and a bowl of leftover corned beef for Murphy. Michael’s intuition had been right, the pup was so hungry, it nearly choked scarfing down the food. Michael took the bowl away before Murphy could get sick from eating too fast. Michael sat next to the pup and fed him a little at a time. Murphy was impatient, but he had fun biting at Michael’s fingers when he was fed. After the pup had been fed his breakfast, Michael chowed down his own and got up to take a shower. Murphy followed Michael up to the bathroom when the door was shut in his nose. The puppy whined and howled from outside the door, not wanting to be so far away from Michael. Michael’s mom heard Murphy and called to him until he gave up on Michael and followed her voice to the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Michael was undressed to find his arms, stomach, and the bottom half of his legs completely covered in mud and blood. He also found a cut on his left calf that he hadn’t even realized he’d acquired. It was a rather long gash at that, about the same length as his pointer finger. While the water rinsed off all of the filth, Michael ran through the previous night in his head, trying to recollect when he might have been cut.
But a knock on the door rang him from his thoughts.
“I’m almost done,” Michael yelled as he rinsed off the soap from his body.
He’d dried off and slipped into some clean clothes then scurried into the kitchen to find the room in complete disarray.
“What happened?” Michael asked his mom, who had a rambunctious Murphy wrapped in her apron with her arms around the top.
“Murphy wanted some more breakfast, I suppose. Course he doesn’t know how to just beg like other dogs. Must’ve thought he needed to get the food for himself.” Michael’s mother smiled, trying to hide her annoyance.
“That’s what wolves do, Meredith.” Michael’s father came into the kitchen, yawning sleepily.
“Wolves?” Michael’s mother gasped, letting the pup roll from her apron onto the kitchen rug.
“What? You didn’t hear him howling last night?” Michael’s father asked as he picked up the paper. “Well, I guess you can sleep through anything. I swear, I could even hear some returning howls in the distance as well.”
“I didn’t hear any more howls coming from the forest. I was trying to calm Murphy down after he started howling and he fell back to sleep pretty quickly.” Michael said, pulling Murphy into his a lap with a tight hold as to keep him from jumping back onto the table.
“Yeah, but you probably fell back asleep too.” Michael’s father added.
Michael just shrugged, then looked at the clock.
“Crap, I’m gonna be late for school!” Michael said, tossing Murphy onto the floor and running to his room to grab his backpack. He kissed his mother’s cheek then the top of Murphy’s head before racing out the door.
The day seemed to drone on. Michael was worried about Murphy and how his mother was dealing with taking care of him. When the final bell rang, Michael raced out of the school and to the town’s library. He was looking for a book on forest creatures or types of wolves. He came across a book called “European Medieval Bestiary. He flipped through it and decided that this might be the best chance of finding out what Murphy was. Michael checked it out and shoved it in his backpack before running home.
On the way home, though, Michael saw someone coming out of the hardware store on the other side of the road. It was one of the guys who was trying to kill Murphy the night before. Before the guy could see him, Michael through on his hood and went down a nearby alley. Doing that made Michael take longer to get home but when he saw the house in view, he was finally able to relax a bit more.
He stepped into the kitchen to be greeted by his mother making dinner and Murphy waiting excitedly by her feet, ready for scraps.
“How was school, honey?” Michael’s mother asked.
“Fine, how was Murphy today?”
“As long as I kept giving him snacks, he was happy.” His mother chuckled, looking down at the hungry pup. “I wrapped his horn to keep it from getting infected. It’s still a bit tender so I wanted him to be more comfortable.”
“That’s fine, mom. I got a book from the library on the way home. I’m hoping to find out what exactly Murphy is.”
Michael pulled out the book from his backpack and started flipping through the pages. There were different pictures with animals, but it was one picture in particular that caught his attention. It was a picture of a large wolf-like dog with long horns, like those of an antelope. He looked back from the fierce creature to the soft, fluffy pup pawing his mother’s leg for scraps and wondered if that truly was another of Murphy’s kind. He looked at the name and whispered.
“The Calopus is most commonly known to have the body of an average-sized wolf, the horns of a goat, and the face of a cat. They are historically known to have orange fur.” Michael cocked his eye and glanced down at Murphy playing with one of Michael’s socks on the floor. “Well those aren’t exactly true, now are they?”
“It doesn’t say anything about packs or any kind of grouping. Both wolves and goats are pack animals but who knows about Calo— Calopuses? Calopi? How would you even say the plural of that? Anyways, I wouldn’t think your parents had just abandoned you… That is, if they could help it.” Murphy was now fighting with the sock on his muzzle. Thank goodness it was a clean sock or Murphy might have been in more trouble than he already had been in.
Michael went to sleep that night with the Calopus and Murphy’s family on his mind. He dreamt of Murphy’s family being at the hands of those brutish men, horns being tossed into bags while the bodies were disregarded. Michael woke in a cold sweat to Murphy’s incessant howling and barking. Michael climbed out of his bed, blanket in tow, and sat on the floor next to Murphy for the second night in a row. Murphy turned to Michael and crawled in his lap. He kept barking, but the warmth of Michael and his blanket had calmed the pup down.
Michael started drifting back to sleep when he heard howling again. But this time, it wasn’t from Murphy. It was from outside. It was a distant call but not too distant. Murphy had perked up and started howling once again, in recognition to the voice outside.
Michael jumped up, threw on his coat and boots, and called Murphy to follow him outside. It took a few times of Michael whistling for the pup to realize that Michael was trying to lead him outside.
Michael’s parents were still awake and talking in the kitchen when Michael ran out the door, Murphy right on his heels. His parents just looked at each other and followed him outside, only to see their son facing a large pack of horned wolves stalking towards the house. Michael’s mother started to scream when Michael turned and hissed through his teeth to keep her quiet.
When the wolves were only a few meters from the house, Murphy yelped in excitement and ran to his family. A few of the wolves gathered around to examine the pup and sniff him. Murphy didn’t seem fazed by their concerns, he was just happy that they were there with him. Michael was also pleased to see that his family was indeed alive, and all their horns were intact, except for one of the older wolves who was missing a horn of his own. When the pack noticed the bandage on Murphy’s horn, they all turned their attention back to Michael and his family.
Growling, the males of the group started stalking towards the house once again. Michael looked to Murphy for help, but the pup carried on in his blissful state. When the leader was only a leap away from Michael, the crowd was suddenly blinded by headlights and startled by the sound of a shotgun. Every creature ran for cover, the pack hid in the grass and behind the house while Michael and his family ran inside. Michael’s father looked out the window to see who was shooting at them while Michael and his mother looked out the crack of the door to see if anything was injured. Suddenly, the men from the night before had come into Michael’s view. He became angry, but he was also very scared. Both men were carrying guns and smug looks on their faces.
“We’ll have to thank you, boy. Bringing all of these beautiful and expensive treasures to one place for us. That’s rather considerate of him.” Michael growled under his breath and looked around the men to see if he could see any of the pack nearby. None were in sight, but he could hear a familiar whimper. He wasn’t sure where Murphy was, but he knew that he was probably the only chance the pup had for staying alive.
Michael looked at his parents and signaled that he was going to go outside. The terrified look on their faces told Michael that it was a terrible idea but what other chance did Murphy have. Michael stood up and reached for the door, but Michael’s father grabbed for it first, walking briskly out the door.
“What exactly are you planning on doing with these creatures?” Michael’s father asked the men, trying to hide the fear in his voice.
“Well, dehorn them of course.” One of the men said, rather confidently. “Calopus horns can go for nearly ten thousand pounds each. And there’s a huge market for them, you know, with them being nearly extinct and all.”
“I’m sure the cause for the endangerment has something to do with the horn business, am I right?”
“Hey, man. You win some, you lose some.” The men grinned, a crazy glint shining in their eyes.
While Michael’s father was distracting the men, Michael crawled on the ground, out the door, trying to find Murphy. He finally saw him hiding behind the house within the fence. He crawled over and scooped Murphy up, deserving a small yelp. Michael shushed him and looked around for the rest of Murphy’s pack. He could hear the men getting impatient with his dad as they were starting to roam around the tall grass once again.
Suddenly Michael saw one of the females cowering on the outer side of the fence. That was, at least, Michael’s guess because it had a smaller body and skinnier, shorter horns. It was probably Murphy’s mother. Michael wanted nothing more than to hand Murphy over to her, but he knew how much danger the pup would be in if the men got him before he could get away. Michael thought over every possibility in his head and finally settled on the one idea that would give Murphy and his family any kind of chance.
Michael’s father was outside the fence now, trying every means to distract the men when Michael ran past them towards the forest, a black bundle in his arms. Some of the older Calopus males were chasing him down and the men were now caught onto the action.
“Michael! NO!” Michael’s mother screamed from the doorway.
The pack became hidden within the grass of the field that separated Michael’s house from the dense forest. Michael moved above the stalks and the men knew that the wild animals would be right on him, trying to get their pup back. They raised their guns and shot at the grass. They shot randomly, blindly. Only a glare of the headlights and the sliver of moon to light their targets. Michael’s father grabbed one of the guns, fighting to stop the shooting.
“You’re going to hit my son!” Michael’s father grunted. But the man didn’t seem to pay attention to him, strongly intent on shooting one of the hidden creatures.
The men wrestled over the gun when a shriek overcame the whole scene. Michael’s father’s heart stopped and his mother’s shattered. Silence had restored the area. Before Michael’s father could even move a muscle, the men were running towards the sound, hoping to get the pup at the very least.
They ran up to Michael, who was grasping his left leg, blood running down his calf, into the cut he’d received only the night before. the men turned their attention to the bundle that lay next to him. They greedily grabbed it and picked it up, only for it to unfold in their hands, revealing Michael’s torn up jacket. They cursed. The Calopus herd was probably gone now and they had just been bested by child.
Michael could only manage a small smile through his pain.
“Don’t fuck with wolves. ’Specially horned ones.”
With that, the males of the Calopus pack jumped on the men, biting at them and tearing at their limbs. Michael dragged himself far enough away from the action that his parents could get to him. They found him in the tall grass, taking him in their arms.
“Ya’ damn idiot! Don’t you ever do something that stupid again.” Michael’s mother cried.
The pack didn’t get very far with the men before the police came.
Michael’s father didn’t know how to explain the night’s events to them, so he settled on them being wolf poachers and their son had saved one of the pups from being shot.
The men were mangled but able to walk and try and testify against Michael and his family, but they say anything to the account of shooting a kid in the leg. The men were arrested, and Michael was set to be picked up by an ambulance.
Michael waited outside while his parents grabbed his things. The pain in his leg was dulling into a heavy ache, but Michael’s heart was aching a bit as well. The last two days with Murphy had left such a large impression on Michael that he didn’t want to lose that bond.
He looked out into the tall grass and saw Murphy and two callous pack members stalk up to the gate. Murphy ran to his friend and jumped onto his lap, licking his face. The smaller of the two adults, probably Murphy’s mother, whined and barked at Michael, as if she was worried about his leg, but thankful for saving her pup. The bigger of the adults, the leader and most likely Murphy’s father howled loudly, followed by a choir of echoing howls throughout the field.
Their thanks were one that Michael hadn’t expected, but he was expecting to never see them again. He looked down at Murphy, heavy-hearted. Murphy gave him one last lick on the cheek and Michael hugged the pup before setting him gently on the ground.
“Be careful out there, Murphy.”
The puppy let out his own high-pitched howl and just like that, every trace of the pack was gone.
Author Anna Leon can be found on twitter: @roo_the_fox