All the Dogs are Dancing
J.M. Goguen © 2018
All Rights Reserved
East Coast of Maine, Summer, twenty years after the Darkness
Crickets chirped in the background of the campfire’s light. The aroma of hot, dry grass, charred fish, and wild dill filled the air. Five boys ranging in ages from four to eight sat huddled together, watching intently as scarred fingers expertly checked the skewered fish. It was a simple lesson; an easy cooking strategy when out in the wild. Eating raw fish could result in sickness, or worse, death. Teaching the boys early on how to cook would save them trouble later should they get separated or wander off.
It was one of the first things Fern taught me, and he was teaching the boys of the pack. Without burning his fingers, Fern squeezed the sides of the fish, and the boys shifted, glancing at each other. They were hungry, their stomachs grumbling loud enough that even I could hear them from my spot several feet away, but Fern needed them to focus before they ate, as sleep would come too easily with a full belly, and they needed to learn the dangers in the world.
“Do you know who the Deadwalkers are?” Fern’s voice rumbled up from deep in his chest. With his scarred face, straggly white hair, opalescent yellow eyes, and broken-fanged grin, Fern looked frightening, at least to the young pups. They just hadn’t seen him fight yet.
“They aren’t real,” Riley said. His gaze was fixed on the fish, and without looking, he shoved another boy who had crept closer to the fire away. Riley was a young pup, new to our pack this summer, and the first time away from his mother too.
A smile spread across Fern’s face, the sight of his fangs causing the boys to inch away. “Oh, but they are. You see, they live in the old cities, in buildings taller than the water tower in the Old Town, and they devour everything in their path…”
“Mom always told me they weren’t real,” Aaron whispered to me.
Aaron and I were several feet away from the boys to the side of the campfire. Close enough to see clearly, but far enough that the boys ignored us. We weren’t as nearly as interesting as Fern or the food, but we were to set an example to the boys on how to behave. At least, that’s what Fern had told me when I made the fire while Aaron cleared the area for us to sit.
I glanced at Aaron. He was curled in on himself, his knees drawn close to his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. His black hair was peppered with white streaks as the result of a sickness he’d had before he turned Wolf. “Mom told me they were stories to scare the new pups, to keep them from wandering off at night,” he murmured.
“You didn’t wander.” My fishing net was on my lap. I was trying to fix the large hole a lobster had made that morning with some cord I’d found in one of the nearby huts. It seemed like something was always breaking and needing repairing. Thankfully the moon was almost full, and the additional light helped me to see what I was doing.
“Burner, you always wandered,” Aaron said, and for the first time in two months since his mother passed, he chuckled. “Fern always had to go hunt you down, and then Den Mother would be pissed off at him for losing you.”
I tried not to smile because it was true. I’d wander off to the Old Town and when Fern would catch up to me, we would walk around the buildings and houses. He would tell me stories from his childhood, about the old world.
I always thought it sounded like a horrible, boring, dead world.
“Fern told me once that most of his scars came from Den Mother,” I joked. I twisted the cord and net together with practiced ease, tying them in a knot.
Aaron laughed, really laughed, the sound carrying into the sky and echoing amongst the silent trees. I was glad to see a part of my friend was still alive inside. It made me smile too.
“Do you two think Deadwalkers are a joke?” Fern demanded.
The young pups were watching us, their trance on the fish, and Fern, broken.
Aaron and I shared a look.
“No, Alpha, they are as real as you and me,” I said. There was no laughter in my voice. No humor, just the firm, unquestioning tone Fern expected me to have when we spoke of pack matters.
Satisfied, Fern nodded. He picked up one of the skewers, examining the fish closely. The pups returned their attention to Fern, or rather, how he was testing the fish. He started speaking again, and Aaron waited a few moments before he leaned closer to me, his breath tickling my ear. “Do you think they are real?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one, not even in the Old Town.” I ducked my head, pretending to pick at the net.
Aaron stared at the fire, falling into silence. I peeked sideways at him when he suddenly sniffed, hot tears spilling down his cheeks. “I miss Mom,” he choked and buried his face in his crossed arms.
I looked hopelessly at Fern. When he saw Aaron, he motioned for us to go. Net in hand, I stood up and squeezed Aaron’s shoulder.
“C’mon, I’ll walk you home,” I soothed.
“I don’t want to go home.” Aaron stood. His right hand was cupping his eyes, his lips downturned.
Wordlessly, I let go of his shoulder and took him by the hand. Together, we left the campfire and slipped into the dark of the night.
Her previous work has appeared in Micro Madness and Emerge 16, and she does manuscript consultations. She lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada. In her free time, she plays video games, takes too many photos of her cats, and watches the local wildlife.