Everything in the room reeked. The wolf cub wished his sense of smell wasn't so acute. The musky air stunk to high heavens. The place was relatively spacious, and every inch of it was foul. It was as if a dumping ground suddenly had all its garbage vanished and the smell had free reign of the space to spread. The view didn’t help either. It looked drab. Even a History textbook could keep his attention longer than any square foot of the grey concrete walls, floor and ceiling. It was so incredibly boring and dull that even a person with colour blindness could see the insipidity radiating visibly off the walls in fumes.
If anything the cub wished the room wasn’t so quiet. The silence did nothing to help with the sensory overload. A ruckus could help take away some of his focus from the unrelenting gloom of the room, but there wasn’t any. There was only a periodic, low huff of pained breaths to distract him from the room’s sorry state.
The huffs came from a lynx kneeling on one end of the room. His arms were tied behind his back, his head hung low, staring at the drab floor. Standing around the lynx was a tiger, a bear and a lizard. Each was occupied with themselves, save for the tiger, whose looming glare stabbed the wildcat from behind as it emanated silent, unkind intentions.
Accompanying the wolf cub on the other end of the room was a tigress cub, barely as tall as his shoulder. Her gaze stayed on the lynx, staring just as sharp as the tiger on the other side, only somewhat muted by the youthful purity carried in her eyes. The rest of her animosity was felt from the cub’s hand as her fingers locked into his, gripping his knuckles tightly. The cub took a subtle glimpse at the tigress. Her pupils glowed a fiery, incensed reddish-brown.
The cub drew his glance back to the lynx. A stifled, phantom prick stung deep in his left thigh as the wild cat came into view.
“What should I do with you?” the tiger growled, his voice deep and rumbling.
The lynx didn’t answer.
“I asked you to scare some money for me,” he said, “How did you fuck it up?”
The lynx didn’t answer.
“How did you manage to screw with both my sister and her boyfriend?”
The lynx didn’t answer.
The tiger dug into one of the pockets of his jean jacket. From within the frays, he pulled out a small metal rod. Half of its length was caked in a dull maroon. The clean end of it was flat and cylindrical while the tainted end resembled a wedge. The whole thing looked like a slotted screwdriver shed of its handle.
“What did you do with this?” the tiger asked.
The lynx didn’t answer.
“What did you do with this?” the tiger asked again.
The lynx didn’t answer.
The tiger leaned in right beside the lynx’s head, holding the metal rod right before his face as he rested his snout beside his drooping ear.
“What the fuck did you do with this?”
“Stabbed them,” the lynx muttered.
The tiger stood back up and slotted the metal rod back into his pocket, “What’s your name?”
The lynx didn’t answer.
“I’ll use that stick on you if you ignore me one more time,” the tiger growled, “What is your name?”
“Vysok,” the lynx said, his face sinking deeper into his shadow.
With one arm, the tiger reached below and clutched his fingers onto Vysok’s face. In one heave he lifted the lynx off from the floor, picking him up by his cheeks alone. The wild cat’s face came under the light, revealing the various bruises sustained across his strained expression. His left eye was bloodshot, pushed against a bulging clot pulsing from aside. Dry blood caked in small flakes across his snout, gathering around his nose and the edge of his jaws. His legs dangled, his toes stretching to touch the ground for support.
“I want you to put your name in your head right now,” the tiger said, pulling Vysok’s face towards his.
Vysok nodded the best he could from within the tiger’s grip.
“Now I want you to repeat after me,” the tiger said, “Brick.”
“Ick,” Vysok wheezed out.
“Good, you can hear well,” he said, “I’m going to say my name now, and I want you to engrave that name into your head. When I put you down, I will say my name again. When you hear me say my name, say yours. Understood?”
“Esh,” Vysok said.
“Tein,” the tiger spoke, “You got that?”
The lynx nudged his head by an inch.
The tiger released his grip and dropped Vysok to the ground on his side. The wild cat coughed out violently as he hit the floor. He slowly rose from his shoulder, moving his tail out from beneath.
Gazing from above, the tiger spoke, “Tein,”
“Vysok,” the lynx answered from below.
The tiger took a step closer, looming over Vysok as he spoke again, “Tein.”
“Vysok,” the lynx answered him once.
The tiger took another step, casting his shadow over Vysok, shrouding the wild cat under his shade completely.
The lynx kept his head low, wrangling his face away from Tein as he shifted from the tiger.
Tein left the lynx to himself, glancing towards the cub and the tigress.
"Where did he stab you two?"
The tigress lifted her free paw for Tein to see. A small scar stretched across the pad of her paw, shallow but fresh and pink. A fleshy ridge grew around the irregular slash, lapping over the mark in thin flaps.
The cub simply pointed to his thigh.
"Okay," he said, "Name your punishments. Anything is good, as long as he is alive and keeps his limbs at the end."
In that one moment, Vysok lifted his bruised expression, his gaze meeting the cub. The grim shade in his eyes was that of hopeless frustration. For a split second the dark intents painted in his glare seemed to trump Tein's, only made more intense by the constraints reigning him back from physically manifesting his desires.
The cub stared back into his eyes; the very same ones that drove the screwdriver through his legs the other day jacked and pumped full of euphoria as the head snapped through his muscles in one driving burst. The same eyes that ogled longingly into his teary, contorted expression as he pulled out the metal with much delight, letting the crimson river run thick down his legs. The same eyes that savoured every lingering moment of his nerves screaming in agony from the cold surface of the screwdriver carelessly dragging across his broken flesh.
"Stay away from me," the cub said.
The tiger glanced towards the cub. His face showed no change beyond his usual mien, but he did ask, "That is all?"
The cub nodded.
"Okay," he said, "What about you?"
The tigress took a glance at the lynx, emotions bubbling in her sight as she laid her gaze over the wild cat. The cub felt her fingers twitch in his palm. He held it tight, attempting to soothe her feelings. She looked back at him. The cloud in her eyes dissipated. The cub wasn’t sure what went in her head as she saw Vysok, but whatever it was, she had discarded it. The cub never had the motive, but he was glad for her decision nonetheless.
“Same,” she answered.
“Okay,” Tein answered, glancing back towards Vysok, “He got the message, right?”
The lynx nodded, his gaze still glued onto the cub.
He fished out the metal rod from his pocket and tossed it over Vysok towards the lizard standing on the side of the room. The lizard caught it on his chest.
The tiger asked, “Is the oil done boiling?”
The lizard’s thick, rigid lips split into a grin, revealing his tongue flicking in front of his teeth, his claws fiddling with the metal rod as he answered, “Should be, by now.”
“Okay,” Tein said, “Take him to the back room.”
At first, the lynx was muddled, confused by the conversation that went down moments ago. Then, as the lizard picked him up by the knot tying his arms to his back, he caught onto the general gist and rolled a frenzy off his tongue.
Dangling from the lizard’s grasp he pleaded, “Wait, wait, I’m sorry. It was a rash decision. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was the wolf. The fucking wolf. He was who I wanted business with. I just needed an answer from the girl. It wasn’t anything serious-”
The tiger heeded Vysok no attention, letting the lynx go on as the lizard led him to a door on the corner of the room.
“I’ll do anything. I’ll make it up. I’ll do your job. Bring the money. Anything. What about him? He was also in on it. He pulled your sister in a hold. He grabbed her by the neck. Why is he not-”
The door closed with a low thud. The silence returned to the room, along with the status quo. It was as if the lynx’s presence erased like he was never there before.
The tiger turned to the bear slanted over on the other side of the room. The cub immediately recognized the bear the moment he came into the room with the tigress. Yet, he didn’t feel the same sting from him as he did from the lynx. He held a different atmosphere. If put very bluntly, if the lynx was a chasing shot he needed to avoid, the bear was a stationary wood chipper. Nothing would happen unless you put your hand inside. It was the best comparison the cub’s mind would come up with.
“Hey,” Tein called out to him.
The bear looked up, his black, beady eyes staring blankly towards the tiger.
“Don’t let there be another time like this.”
For a fleeting moment, the cub caught his eyes darting towards his general direction. He wasn’t sure who he was looking at, or that it was all a trick by his eyes. Then he felt the tigress’ fingers shift a bit in his hand. Guesses and theories filled his head, but after a quick decision, he figured he’d leave it at that.
The tigress cleared her throat and asked, “Can we go now?”
The tiger turned to them and threw a wave. With that, the tigress led the cub out of the room.
Then, just as the cub was one step away from relieving himself from the room’s awful stench, the tiger called out, “Wait.”
They stopped and turned.
“Wolf,” he said, “Tell me your name.”
The cub stared at him, swallowed a gulp and said, “Yasnyy.”
“Now say my sister’s name.”
The tigress jumped between the two, “Stop. Yasnyy, you don’t need to.”
“Gloymi,” the cub spoke.
“Keep that name in your head,” Tein said, “If you hurt my sister it will be the last thing you hear.”
Gloymi led the cub out of the room, “Let’s go.”
The two made their way into a corridor outside, the cub struggling to keep up. The air opened from a foul smell to a desolate whiff. The distant clangs and bashes could be heard from the industrial area a dozen blocks away. The tigress held onto the cub as they dashed across the old workers’ dormitory. They reached a tall staircase. The railings had been rusted to oblivion long ago. Some of the steps have crumbled away by now, leaving the inner skeletal rods exposed into the cold, dusty air. They slowed their pace as they stepped down, one after another.
As they went down the cub asked, “Does it still hurt?”
Gloymi looked back, “Hm?”
The cub pointed towards the tigress’ open hand.
Then the tigress stopped, prompting a surprised halt from the cub.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
The cub was slightly confused, “Why?”
“My brother’s friend, the bear, told me it’s better if I told Vysok where you are,” she confessed, “I wanted to hold back, but then that cat used the screwdriver and-”
The cub asked, “Is it still painful?”
Gloymi stopped her words. The cub approached her and grabbed her other arm. He examined it for a moment.
“It’s fine,” he said, “Just wait a week. It will be better-”
“Why didn’t you ask for punishment?”
The cub didn’t answer that.
“He hurt you bad. Worse than me.”
The cub was about to voice out a retort when Gloymi jammed a finger on his snout.
“You were walking with your toes on your left leg,” she said, “Where did he hurt you?”
The cub thought of more to say, but as he saw the look in Gloymi’s eyes, he relented, pointing towards a spot in his thigh. The tigress ran her hand gently on the spot. She felt an indent from his jeans. She pushed her hands deeper, and let out a sharp gasp.
She looked back up to the cub, new emotions coming in her gaze.
The cub didn’t answer.
“Tell me,” she demanded, “Why?”
The cub opened his mouth.
“He was angry. At me.”
“What did you do to him?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
The cub stared into Gloymi's eyes. The brownish-red was starting to swirl, like stirring a drop of paint in clear water. It was mixed with things he didn't understand. Or rather, things he should've understood. He could name these things, but he wouldn't know what he was saying.
If the cub were, to put it bluntly, it'll be like the time he read the packaging of some women's hygiene product in the store. He could read the things on the box, but its uses would be completely beyond him.
All he could do was run with it the best he could.
"There's something inside me," he said.
The tigress listened.
"Don't know what it is. It's making bad things happen."
The tigress kept listening.
"People can see it. My pa. Vysok. Everyone else.
"Made my pa scary. Made Vysok angry.
"I'm staying away from them. They'll stop seeing me. They'll stop seeing it. Punishment makes things worse. Makes them remember more. I want them to forget me.
"Then bad things won't happen anymore."
Gloymi held the cub's hand.
"You know why I like you?"
The cub's expression didn't show, but his ears perked up even more than before, along with his already curly tail, which was wagging like there’s no tomorrow.
"You're like the sky. You're open. You're honest. You don't lie about what you know. But you're too open. Other people see things in you. You're too honest about being scared.
"If you know what people are seeing in you, then you can take it out of yourself. No more hiding. No one will come for you again."
The cub looked to his feet. His fur had caught onto some dust in his way to and from the room. His claws were already starting to grow back after being recently cut.
They gleaned back with a muted shine.
"I can't do that."
"Scared of what? That thing inside you?"
"Something bad will happen. Worse than now."
"Who told you that? What's gonna happen if you find out what's inside?"
The cub kept his silence for a moment. He stared back into Gloymi's eyes. The swirl had subsided, and now all he could see was his gaze in hers. Within her pupils, his own feline eyes seemed darkened.
They seemed like stones affixed into his socket; like a pair of gems plugging the holes on his face, keeping something from falling out. What that thing is, he doesn't know.
But he could see it.
Embedded deeply in his stare, brushing against the back of his eyeballs, was the thing. It wasn't in any hurry to leave the socket, nor was it settling inside of him. It was just simply there, taking its time, lying in wait for something to happen.
"I can feel it."
Shiro didn't know what to do. It was the weekends and it turns out students were allowed to leave the Academy. As long as they follow strict protocols and abide by given rules, they were allowed to go anywhere. They were driven out by limos. How the cars managed to leave the island was beyond Shiro. Maybe they drove into a boat or a plane. That was the extent of Shiro's guess.
Also, as he'd just known, students can, at any time, take extended leaves without permission. They could even miss out the whole semester if they so wish, so long as they return for tests, since the Academy only cared for results, none for attendance.
In fact, Romps told Shiro that there was actually a fourth roommate in 1450. He was already enrolled before the sheepdog himself. He told him the roommate was a hyena, and that he only came back for the finals at every end of the semester. He was so absent that Romps never really felt him be part of the dorm; only a guest that stays around for a few weeks every semester. When asked, he couldn't even remember his name, nor did Vox.
Both left early this morning; Shiro took the liberty of unintentionally waking them up before their alarms with the sound of his dishwashing. They went away to meet their parents; Romps' lived somewhere around the Northern region while Vox's stayed in the Middle East. Wherever those places could be, Shiro had no idea. All he could do was wish them a good trip and a safe return.
He figured he could do the same with his mother next weekend.
As of now, with every chore he could think of already done, he laid in his bed on his back, letting his time pass as he wondered for things to do. He thought of studying, which was a decent idea until he flipped open his notebook and found more traces of dried saliva than actual words. He thought of reorganizing the storeroom again, but he felt content with the current arrangement. He got up, checked, confirmed that he was content, went back to bed, and repeated the cycle twice until he realized he was simply wasting both energy and time.
Wasting time, he thought.
He genuinely considered that as a legitimate option. Back in his old home; on the infrequent occasions where all his chores were done; if there was nothing good on TV, he’d simply lay on the sofa and leave the static on until it’s time to prepare dinner. He figured he could do the same without the white noise. He could lay there until lunch, or maybe skip that entirely and leave everything for dinner.
Right as the notion of meals came into his head, he felt a light sensation on his stomach. A small rumble, toying with the fur on his belly. He figured breakfast wasn’t enough, which was odd, since he'd eaten the same amount he always took. He heeded it no attention, though, and chalked it up as the many wonders of a canine body as he went on with his stagnancy in bed.
Then the sensation travelled up to his chest, and alarms promptly rang in Shiro’s head.
Worrisome, he yanked open the collars of his tracksuit and peered inside.
From within, a surprise popped out; one with eight hairy appendages and six eyes.
“What are you doing,” Shiro asked.
Lucille gave nothing but a slight hiss and a tap with her hind legs.
“You do this to everyone?”
The wolf spider hid her face behind her front legs, letting out a soft purr as she waved her other legs towards Shiro.
He laid back down, his head sinking back into his dented pillow.
“Just don’t make trouble.”
The spider hissed again and dug back into Shiro’s clothes.
“Wait,” Shiro frantically shoved his fingers into his tracksuit, pulling out Lucille by her legs. The spider threw a low-pitched hiss as she dangled from his fingers.
“Not in there,” the wolf said as he tossed the spider to the coffee table, “Somewhere else.”
The spider tumbled across the wooden surface, landing amongst Vox’s new pile of reference sheets and textbooks. Lucille gave a damning hiss towards Shiro as she flailed her limbs in a frenzy. She eventually settled down, latching all 3 pairs of eyes on the wolf as she sat silently.
For a moment, this became the status quo, with a wolf planting his gaze on the underside of his top bunk while the spider watched. Time seemed to have paused at the moment as the two sunk into a quiet trance, keeping to themselves. It was like a still scene of two creatures letting whatever may be to be. There wasn’t any form of contemplation or introspection coming from either one of them; they let time pass while simply being.
That is until Lucille’s nature and comparably shorter lifespan got the better of herself and sprung towards Shiro’s side. She made two quick leaps towards the wolf, landing right on the tip of his nose, snapping him out of his stupor.
The spider tilted her head to the side, tapping the bridge of his snout with her legs.
“I’m okay,” he said, “Don’t need anything.”
The spider gave a sharp hiss and jabbed him on the nose in quick successions.
“You tell me.”
The spider took a big leap off his nose and onto the other side of the room. Shiro got up to see what kind of shenanigans Lucille was up to, only to see her scuttling under Romps’ bed.
“Hey,” he called out, “Get out of there.”
Lucille was already gone before Shiro could finish. The wolf rushed over to Romps’ bunk and reached under the bunk, grabbing onto fistfuls of empty air as he struggled to feel something aside from the cold floor.
By the time Lucille slipped out, Shiro’s arm had already looked like a feather duster.
Approaching the spider from the side, Shiro slowly spoke, “Give that back.”
However, instead of taking off like a miniature hairy missile, Lucille leapt onto the table and left the magazine flat on its back. That didn’t stop Shiro from pouncing to the side and hitting his jaw on the floor. Teary-eyed, he saw Lucille brandishing her small fangs, opening up a tiny space between the pages with it and snuggling into it headfirst, prompting Shiro’s confusion. Before he could say anything Lucille burst out of the magazine like a trapdoor, leaving pages after pages of salacious materials fluttering in the air and closing upon itself.
She made a low purr towards the wolf, jabbing her legs onto one particular page.
Contrary to his expectation, Lucille was trying to show him something.
The page Lucille was referring to was a two-page spread of a very shapely antelope lying across a bench in what seems to be a park with her limbs unfolded, giving sight to many hidden corners of her body. Her athletic figure under her orange fur radiated from her back as it gradually bleached itself into the dull white that is her underfur. She was dressed in a sporting attire consisting of a tight pair of sports bra and leggings that hugged her body a tad tighter than what Shiro assumed most women would prefer.
Shiro took one stern gaze at Lucille and said, “No.”
Lucille gave the wolf another slanted look before coming to the realization and throwing a hiss. She quickly burrowed her fangs onto the page and flipped it with a push of her hind legs.
This time the antelope was posing under a fountain and is severely drenched from top to bottom. Her sports bra was now partially undone, giving way for her admittedly bountiful cleavage to take centre stage of the page. Her leggings were completely gone now, with no panty lines to suggest a replacement to take the place of its absence. In addition to that, the antelope didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact her legs were spread wide open; further insinuated by the inviting expression imprinted across her face.
Gulping, he turned to Lucille again, this time giving a deeper and sterner, “No.”
The spider gave a loud hiss again, and jumped onto the page itself, furiously stabbing onto one particular area on the magazine.
Shiro drew a closer look, both voluntarily and out of Lucille’s demand. The spider was stabbing at the antelope’s legs. More specifically, the antelope’s two-toed feet.
Shiro had heard of acquired tastes before. He’d seen magazine covers in the convenience stores near his old home. At the peak of his curiosity, Shiro had witnessed entire columns or even issues entirely dedicated to one flavour. He could testify for the existence of such fancies and their culture among the select few willing to be open to their desires.
It wasn’t his lane, but it did get Shiro second-guessing himself for a moment. That was only for a split-second, though, as he quickly turned to Lucille and prepared to let out an even deeper and much sterner rebuttal when he noticed something.
He couldn’t tell whether it was a fashion statement or cater to a minority with an unconventional palate. Upon closer inspection, Shiro spotted a pair of jogging sneakers tied around the antelope’s ankles, with both shoes dangling off one foot in a butterfly knot. The longer he stared at the shoes the more his confusion began to pile up. It wasn’t long before his bewilderment began overshadowing his already barely suppressed hankering.
Then it all clicked.
Oh, he thought.
“S-Sure,” he said, “Good idea.”
Lucille hissed at him, throwing her arms up in frustration as she shook her head.
As it turned out, time hadn’t passed much, with the sun still yawning its way above the horizon, signifying a long day ahead of Shiro. Yet, it wasn’t a restless, arduous day for him; rather, one rife with many possibilities. As per Lucille’s suggestion, he went ahead with her idea.
Romps was right, Shiro thought, It’s a big park.
The wolf took up the sheepdog’s advice, changed into a fresh pair of tracksuit and went to explore the park behind the dorm. He took it slow at first, taking a walking pace down one of the many paths. It was when Lucille, who decided to tag along under Shiro's collar, made a sharp shrill from beneath and kept screaming until he caved in and broke into a brisk jog.
Shiro found the park to be adequately sized yet at the same time, absolutely expansive and infinite. The fields of grass and paved gravel breathed a sense of calming intimacy within its tiny landscape. The roads were well-maintained and easy to Shiro’s feet; the grass so evenly trimmed that it seemed like a soft mattress to lie across, with the soft, light blue blanketing the sky, radiating a soothing warmth as it carried a scent of eternal spring. Trees grew sporadically across the grounds, standing tall with its top held high as the leaves flourished among the reaching branches, casting soft shades to the bushes and hedges sprouting across the side of the pathway. Dried leaves crunched under his toes as it sent spiking satisfaction tingling down his inner childhood’s spine with every step he took.
Yet, as deep as he ventured, Shiro never felt to be lost within the expanse. Though the landscape looked familiar with every turn, there were just enough minor changes in them to freshen up each scenery. It felt like a serene, endless walk down a seemingly limitless trail heading towards a promised, unseen nirvana hanging over the hazy horizon hiding behind the greenery. It felt like an exaggerating lapse of his five senses; an almost therapeutic experience he can’t describe without sounding like a religious preacher.
If there was anyone at the moment who could share the sentiment, it was Lucille, who was letting out soft purrs as she peeped out from Shiro’s collar, letting the wind brush against the hairs on her fangs.
There may have been a passerby or two as Shiro journeyed through the park. If there were, he never would've noticed anyway. He was too busy enjoying the momentary bliss of a mind free of burden and external luggage. Every step he took felt light and carefree. For a moment Shiro thought for certain he was given the freedom to roam anywhere he could plant his feet on and at that very second, he thought there wasn't anywhere else he'd rather be than the park.
As the wolf went further, the path opened up to a larger road as the current lane intersected with another trail came bending from the far side. Shiro could almost smell the already soothing air clearing up into an even wider space. It was a cerebral assault with liberty, like an inmate who'd stepped out of his cell that just realized the door heading out of the prison was wide open.
Shiro felt his lungs expand infinitely as he stepped into the open road, feeling the gravel beneath his feet taking him to another plane of emotional reality.
Then everything crashed in his mind as the subconscious dam holding his realization of reality blew itself apart in a spectacular breakdown.
As it turned out, there was another student in Rormund whom Shiro shared the same idea on spending their weekend morning.
Holding in a gasp from his throat, Shiro scrambled to compose himself and his knees from falling out of shock as Dove came sprinting by from the other road in a jacket and sweatpants.
The Doberman did seem to share the same reaction as the mixed wolf to their meeting, though the visible response he gave was more of a mild surprise to a mere coincidence than a mentally fatal knee-jerk reaction. Shiro couldn't have known since Dove wasn't an emotionally expressive person, but the wolf was too busy keeping him from tripping over his toes to discern the subtleties of the Doberman's facial contortion.
A deafening silence manifested between the two as they met. Out of his own volition, Shiro’s legs locked to match Dove’s pace as his mind scurried to calculate his next move. Unknown to himself, as his head cranked itself to solve the current dilemma before him, his body subconsciously caught up with the subject to not lose focus on the matter.
By the time Shiro realized what he needed was distance, his solid presence was already ingrained onto the Doberman. The common societal expectations from the meeting of two acquaintances have been set in stone and motion, regardless of how reluctantly one-sided the association may be for one member.
Making a beeline to the opposite way was one option, though there was no way of knowing what Dove’s response may be. He wasn't a social oddity, but from Shiro's experiences with the Doberman, he knew better than to expect common courtesy and practices from him.
Dove then proceeded to break that wall down too, as he let out a stern and clear, "Good morning."
Shiro was stunned, like a deer caught in the headlights. His body was still keeping in pace with Dove, but it was clear that his head was lagging with reality. He was stuck in a physical trance, his legs running on its own will as his eyes shot wide open from the Doberman's sudden greeting.
It wasn't until a few seconds later when Shiro's mind finally caught up with his feet. He snapped, his foot making a step too wide before stumbling off for a second. He quickly recomposed himself, shaking his head as he spoke.
Shiro's anxiety didn't subside. Now he's wondering why Dove was acting so friendly with him now. It wasn't that he preferred a different treatment, but it was very odd of the Doberman and frankly speaking, somewhat discomforting. Like finding a healthy tree in the desert, or milk left in the open air overnight that hasn't gone sour. It also wasn't helping that Dove had his eyes deadset on the wolf with much interest burning from his brown-coloured eyes.
Shiro decided, or rather, forced himself to ignore it and tried to carry the status quo.
"G-good weather," he proclaimed.
"Yes," the Doberman answered.
And that was the end of it. Lucille seemed to have read the situation too, for she crawled away under Shiro’s collar and hid there for the better part of the jog. The atmosphere was a dizzying mix of tension and vacancy. He felt like an animal chained to an invisible shackle, or a victim of a magician’s spell, unable to break free of an illusion that he was trapped in an imperceptible cage.
They carried on down the merry lane, with Shiro attempting to enjoy the ambience of the park as he desperately willed himself to forget Dove’s presence beside him. He figured he could outlast Dove’s jog and make a break for it as soon as he stopped. He could act like he was so engrossed in his run that he couldn’t notice the Doberman’s dwindling speed. Maybe he could flip the script and act tired and slow down, claiming that he’ll ‘catch up later’ but never do so.
Then another idea came to his head.
What if he could maintain the current status quo? Confront the Doberman head-on and put an end to it all through a civilized manner - with speech and promises. He could talk their problems out and sort their differences. Shiro wouldn’t hesitate one bit to put everything behind him if it meant eventual peace for days to come. There was also the possibility that the Doberman may go behind his promise, but the upside was so enticing that there isn’t anything to lose. It couldn’t get any worse but it could get better. So why not?
Holding that notion in his head, Shiro kept to his pace, making every possible script in his head to any response Dove might give. He imagined every feasible scenario in his head, even going as far as to envision a friendly hug between two men at the end. He was way in over his head, but it was also a plausible outcome. Shiro got excited over the possibilities so much that his anxiety was completely blanketed. As opposed to a few seconds ago, Shiro was actually looking forward to the eventual Talk at the end of their jog.
Now all he needed was the execution - a good excuse to stop for a nice chat.
It came sooner than expected.
After what seemed to be a good five to ten minutes of brisk jogging, the two came to a roundabout with a grandiose fountain sitting in the middle, depicting the marble sculpted bust of the Academy’s founder - Sir glaring into the distance as clear water spilt from around the plinth holding him upright. With great serendipity, Dove decided to make a stop there, loosening his shoulders beneath his jacket as he spun his ankles around. Shiro joined him alongside, pretending to catch his breath.
Shiro didn’t want to jump the gun too soon and gave a moment for a quick breather before executing his plan.
Then, out of the blue, Dove pointed towards a vending machine sitting on the side of the roundabout, asking the wolf, “Want anything to drink?”
Caught off guard, Shiro’s tongue stumbled, “W-wh-uh, y-yeah.”
As Dove walked towards the vending machine, Shiro called out to the Doberman, “W-wait. I don’t have money-”
“It’s all free.”
“You want coffee?”
Dove nodded and went to the machine. After two quick metallic thumps, the Doberman came back holding two identical cans. He handed one to Shiro. As he reached for the can he couldn't help but peek at Dove's finger, crooked slightly within his grip.
“T-thanks,” he said as he grabbed onto it, peeling his eyes away from Dove's hand.
Now do it, the wolf thought to himself.
Yet, no words came out.
Shiro forced it out of his mouth, but it just wouldn't come. He wrecked his head, wondering just what was wrong with him. The moment was ripe and so near, yet so far. It wasn't the case of nervousness but rather, something else.
It wasn’t until the crucial moment when he realized how absurd his plan seemed. As Dove slowly drank from his can, Shiro felt something ticking down from within; an anxious ball of saliva rolling down his throat. The sensation was as if a trap had materialized in his throat and brought to his awareness just when it was too late to stop anything. In one steep drop, the wolf came to an awakening and down came his hopes and expectations.
Who was he kidding?
This was the guy who threw him a punch in a crowded cafeteria.
With one crank, Shiro pulled the ring, tore open the lid and downed half of the can in one go. The watery bitterness stung from his tongue to the back of his throat, washing everything down his body. He felt the coffee crash into his stomach and immediately rise back to his chest at a nauseatingly high rate. He held onto his mouth, letting the liquid slowly flow back into his body, taking everything else it brought with it.
“What’s that about?” the wolf asked.
Dove turned to him.
“At the cafeteria,” he said.
The Doberman was quiet. He sipped some more from his can and left it on the side of the fountain.
“You’ve ever seen a wall before?”
Shiro glanced to the side, his interest piqued.
“Ever wanted to see the other side?”
The Doberman reared his sight towards the wolf.
“You understand what I’m saying?”
"You've ever been in a prison?"
Shiro felt a chill flicking up his spine, playing with the columns like a phantom xylophone. It was a feeling that should be strange to a boy his age but yet, it felt dastardly familiar. Almost nostalgic in an albeit twisted manner.
"You've ever seen the guys in the cells? Ever wondered what they did to get there?"
"No," Shiro answered again.
Dove leaned in towards the wolf by an inch.
Shiro felt the liquid bubbling up his chest again.
Dove didn't bother to pry any further. He sat back to his side of the fountain and continued.
"You're like them in some way."
Shiro didn't answer. His finger stayed firmly wrapped on his coffee, his claws meeting each end from around the can. He kept his sight forward, his eyes gazing into the distance.
Dove continued, "It's weird to say it but imagine a prison. It's not big. I don't think it can even be called a prison. It's just one building and one cell only, holding something in it. I never saw the cell. I don't know what's in it. But I know it's there. And I want to see what's in it."
Shiro kept his silence and listened.
Dove went on, "I always knew there was a cell somewhere in the world. I felt it ever since I was little. Nobody understood what I meant. But I still knew it was there. There wasn’t anything else like that feeling. It was like a hunt. Like finding something that always fitted me, or the only thing ever suited for me. Nothing else ever felt right to me except for that prison. That cell.
“That thing inside it.”
Shiro didn’t like where this was going.
“I didn’t know how to find the cell or where to start. So I gambled. I did things that felt right to me. I spent all the money and used my instincts. It could all be a waste. I couldn’t have known. I kept doing what I did, training myself to be prepared and ready whenever I had the chance to find that prison.
“Then I found you.”
Shiro tensed his arms, turning his palms into fists. The can cracked slightly under his fingers.
“There’s nothing else in the world for me. I hate it. I hate seeing past the surface values. I hate seeing the merits of everything. It’s all a mask of fake and cheap fun to hide the actual worth. It feels like putting your whole life into a fraud. Everything feels like a sham.
“Everything but that prison.
“It was the only thing that felt real in my life.”
The Doberman turned to meet the wolf.
“You’ve ever broken your body for something like that?”
Shiro suddenly chimed in, “Want know something?"
“That prison," Shiro said.
Dove kept his beady eyes on him.
"There’s nothing in there.”
In a split second, Dove threw a fierce twist with his back and lobbed a fist towards Shiro from his far side. In that instant, Shiro cranked his shoulders and flung his hand high along with the can in his hand. It was like the sonic boom trailing a pair of whips smacking against one another. The impact broke into shockwaves through both of their bones, sending deep vibrations racing across their bodies, rattling every joint and rousing every square inch of their fur to a carpet of spikes. The air around them seemed to be lost in that one short moment. Its place was taken by a minute ball of vacuum holding nothing but concentrated pressure boiling within the space.
The two were momentarily blinded, each rendered senseless with desires of polar opposites. There was no telling how they would’ve come through if crackles hadn’t snapped through the boiling vacuum in the middle. Torn and misshapen between their hands was the coffee can, now physically stuck between Dove’s knuckles and Shiro’s palm. A muddy brown rained down from the can, with thick droplets of red accompanying the descent as the liquid tainted the clear, colourless flow of the fountain beneath their arms to a misty cloud, spreading wide and thin across the surface.
Dove slowly drew his fist away, dragging his knuckles across the can that had since then been reduced to an unrecognisable, deformed scrap of aluminium. Visible dents were carved into the can; miniature curves and valleys shaped before the Doberman's fist. The can was broken through, with most of its body stuck into Shiro's hand, stabbing through his fur and flesh.
Dove's gaze switched from a solid glare to a rolling, bronze storm. All his feelings; anger, irritation, rage; all swirled in his eyes like discoloured wine, spinning around the vortex of his pupils as it drained into a darkness within. That same darkness stared at Shiro, with a latent contempt reaching out from the abyss in his eyes.
Shiro kept his sight on his hand. He didn't flinch, nor did he show any strain. He raised his hand to his eye level, letting the coffee and blood drip higher from his hand. The flow had started to subside, leaking less and growing shallow.
Then he formed a fist of his own.
Dove watched as Shiro curled his fingers into his palm. The can went with it, crimping its body as the wolf bent his fist. Even as his fist had been made, Shiro applied force as if his hand was still wide open. Dove's boiling glare has been distracted to one of curiosity and befuddlement. As every second passed, just as Shiro's fist couldn't be more solid, he contorted his flesh deeper, pulling every excess meat and skin into his hold. His knuckles started to form, his skin stretched thin across his hand, his bones beginning to show through its wrappings. His fist looked as if it was mere moments away from exploding, his muscles turning inside out, blood jetting out from every angle out of pure pressure.
But that never happened. His fist grew denser and stronger with every second. The meat of his palms boiled with tension, his fingers reaching grotesque levels of abnormality. His skin became a thick, leather balloon; the pale pink of his bare skin poking out from under his fur, growing more and more visible.
Then it snapped.
Not Shiro's fist, but the can.
It came in a gradual sequence. It started with a faint, sharp click before more followed, slowly but growing more frequent every time it sounded off. It was like a stutter of an engine, breaking off from within the can in hollow rings.
Eventually, the can broke off. It swung off in an axis from the side of Shiro's fist, hanging off one of the many twisted shards sticking out of his palm before one last push from the wolf, sending it dropping into the fountain in a soft plop. A watery maroon came after the can, flowing out from the same palm it left, painting it in a light coat of red, dousing the water beneath it darker than before.
Dove spoke nothing as it all happened. He stayed silent as he watched it all with his eyes.
The wolf released his fist, freeing his palm from the horrid form it took shape, letting his flesh breathe away from the pressure. He turned his wounds to face him and dug into them with his other hand, pulling out the aluminium pieces embedded into the side of his palm. It was a relatively easy task as the wounds had opened up under the strain from his fist. The twisted shards stood out like an odd flower within a bouquet of red.
"Go find that prison yourself," the wolf said, collecting the crimson-stained aluminium shards in his palm as he dug them out with his claws.
As he picked out the last piece, he drew his gaze towards the Doberman. The ruby red in his eyes was rock solid. There wasn't a glint of emotion showing from his stare; at least none to be discerned. It was like a gem shaved to a smooth sphere and shoved into his eye socket. The only hint of life to be seen in his eyes were his deadened pupils, shifting ever so slightly in its place, like sentient, forlorn orbs restrained by phantom stilts holding them down.
"But leave me out of it."
The wolf gripped onto the bloody shards in his hands and shoved it into his pocket. He picked up the blasted, broken can from the fountain with his bad hand and stood up. He walked away from the Doberman, the blood seeping from his grasp on the can, dripping as it left a trail of splattering red as he went.