After spending three years working and travelling across Asia (and rather enjoying writing about it) Richard returned to the UK to complete a master's degree and purse writing full time. From the humble South Wales valleys, Richard has written short stories, articles, screenplays, and is hungry to share his voice with the world.
THE DOGS OF BANGKOK
The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (unlike Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.
In the city, in the great, sprawling landscape of structured chaos, there were those who woke to the prayer songs with every rising sun. To say they woke to it each morning would be inaccurate as they did not live by a time which can be quantified. They did not live by days or months or years. They lived by the boil of daylight and the dangers of the night. They lived by instinct, thirst, violence, honour, and family.
They were the dogs of Bangkok.
Everything they had, every scrap of food and land, they had fought for, and had to fight for still, day after day, on the baking black tarmac of the soi, where every victory was a pyrrhic one.
Many dogs roamed the city, but in the outskirt district of Lak Si, this sunrise signalled great significance for one pack.
A new generation was imminent. Tawan, the sweet-eyed brown bitch, was pregnant. The time to fulfil her pack duty was close. The pack leader, Yai, had been anticipating the birth with feverous determination. Anxious to ensure the safety of those he would father, his plan had been laid out. Each dog in its place.
Yai was not being overprotective. The Den, their verdant oasis, was a coveted home. The trees provided shelter from the sun and was fiercely sought after by the rival packs, who made their homes in the surrounding wastelands.
They would give anything to snatch away Yai’s prized terrain. They wanted more than just the shelter. The Den also provided proximity to a tall creature, a slower, gentler one than the others. Each sunrise, it filled its bucket and gave to Yai and his pack that most precious of all things on the soi: water. The rainy season came and went but the dirty heat, the panting and the dry tongues, they were ever present. The rival packs were reduced to lapping from toxic roadside puddles, until The Den was seized, until the war was over.
Each pack made their own claim to the constant war. The West was led by the three-legged veteran known as Chaisai. His pack were guileful and street-smart, but the crippled weakness of their leader leaked through to his pack. They were no match for Yai, the all black alpha male, and his family.
The East was led by the commanding matriarch, Busaba. Her pack were strong but were blocked by the strip of hard land on which the tall creatures got in their loud boxes and moved at ferocious speeds, making it perilous to cross. The pack had made it across a few times, at nightfall, when the death machines had mostly gone away, but had each time been defeated. If Busaba was to take down Yai and extend her queendom; she would have to learn to be patient.
Then there was the North, who worried Yai the most. Two of his last generation had been butchered by the North. Sud was their leader, named for his strips as well as his predatory instinct. The North had something the others did not; a darkness, a ruthlessness, a savage will. The North were the most desperate and that gave them their biggest power.
The biggest danger to all the packs who fought this ongoing crusade, was not each other. It was the tall creatures.
The tall creatures kicked them, and hit them with those loud moving boxes, snatched them and kept them imprisoned or cut them up and ate them. Another two from Yai’s previous generation were taken by the tall creatures. The family never saw them again. The tall creatures did everything in boxes. They left trails of waste behind them and were capable of both magic and unspeakable cruelty. They were only to be avoided, not understood. The tall creatures were the true rulers, yet the soi dogs fought and killed each other for the bones of what was left.
With enemies all around, sitting on priceless territory, Yai and his pack were in permanent danger. They were vulnerable. They were lowering in numbers and tiring with each defence of their worth. Yai was vividly aware of what the new generation meant. It meant risk. An attack, from one of their adversaries, at a fragile time like this, would be fatal. But it also meant reward. If they were able to survive and see the new generation to adulthood, they would have their strength back. The grim reality, however, was that the chances of this were thin. Of the last generation, only two survived. Jaokhao, the white dwarf, was now second in command. His sister, Sarinee, the brown and white adolescent, was nearing maturity and would soon be asked to fight alongside her family. She knew she would not hesitate when the moment came.
When the time for the birth came, Tawan stayed in the cover of The Den. She was watched by Sarinee, who comforted her through the pains of labour. They were well prepared. Yai, as always, had made sure of that. He guarded them, patrolling the perimeter of The Den, his nose on high alert, always within sight of Tawan, who breathed and whimpered and endured. His commands were clear. Three sharp barks. That was all the warning he needed. If anything made it past the others, they would then have to make it through Yai, a feat which no dog on this soi had yet achieved. Sud came close, once, and he had been waiting for his second chance ever since.
The east entrance was the largest and was guarded by Jaokhao. His short, rabbit-like stature gave invading dogs the impression he was an easy target, something he had proven them wrong on, over and over. He did not have the size and strength possessed by the other dogs on the soi, but he had something they lacked, which was cunning. His ability to learn, and to rationalise, was why he had not just survived so long but had thrived. He could not outmuscle his enemies, but he could outsmart them.
From his vantage point, he watched a lone stray wandering past. Around one eye was a brown patch of fur.
Jaokhao, who unlike other dogs, liked to keep his mouth closed, remained quiet and calm. He watched the wanderer humbly trot past. She gave him a pleading look, to which Jaokhao gave nothing but a cold stare. She turned her head and plodded on.
The north entrance was guarded by Mooping, the white female with the stunted tail. She had mothered Yai’s last generation and knew the severe importance of ushering in the new one. She knew what Tawan was going through. She needed to be there for her. Even if she was getting sick. Yai had noticed her growing frailty but had kept it quiet, for now. He knew her pride would get in the way of any inquisition. For now, she would put her head down and fight for the pack until there was nothing left. That was enough.
Dum, the all black youth, was thrilled at being given the responsibility of guarding the southern entrance, the last entrance not protected by the wall. It was unlike Yai to enlist a juvenile to such an important role, but the war had left him no such luxury as choice. Dum was inexperienced but desperate for a chance to prove himself, to earn the respect of his beloved father and leader. He paced his area, bouncing, hopping on the spot, fraught with excitement, waiting for anything to come by so he could grab it and rip it apart. He almost wished for an intruder to show themselves, some foolish warrior, whose neck he could clamps his jaws around and shred.
He could hear the faint cries of Tawan, as she brought new life into their world.
Then he heard something else. Something which made him stop dead, which made his heart speed up and his eyes dilate.
Three sharp barks. The warning cry from Mooping.
Dum’s senses went into overdrive. Bright silver shot from the tip of his tail to the tips of his ears. But he was tormented; to abandon his post, invite the attackers in, or to run to the aid of his teammate? This was his first test. He was already failing. He was a soldier, he did not want to think, he wanted to see something and kill it. He did not want to make decisions. Although he had seen death before, he was too young to have gotten intimate with it, and he was, above all, frightened.
In his panic, he let out a pained howl. The call could invite predators, as Yai had warned, but Dum’s head was a whirlwind of electricity and the plan was not making sense to him anymore. His heart was close to bursting. He had to do something. If Mooping was being eaten alive by barbarians, he had to save her. He had to move.
He cannonballed his way towards the sounds of his ally, so frenzied that he did not even see the tall creature heading into his unguarded entrance.
He saw nothing, only a tunnel. He smelled nothing, only blood.
He reached the northern entrance of The Den. There was nothing there. Something was wrong. Dum’s head was a jungle as he tried to figure out his actions, his responsibilities, his loyalties. Before, he wanted blood, he wanted the taste of it on his lolling wet tongue, he wanted the red to smear his incisors and mix with his saliva, but now, he wanted nothing more than to run away. He was, after all, nothing but a puppy.
Without a single sound, Mooping emerged from the bushes, carrying the limp, dead body of a reckless attacker in her jaws. Yai had seen off the threat and disposed of it. He had needed no help. Mooping dropped the lifeless corpse and gave Dum a vitriolic growl. He had deserted his duty. Endangered his whole family. Dum whimpered and let a yellow trickle out onto the ground. Mooping launched herself at him, sharp end first. He yelped and scampered away with an inwardly tucked tail.
Mooping hid the body in the bushes, filled with disappointment at youth’s foolhardiness.
When Dum returned to his own area, he did not find safety. He found a tall creature. He had had near misses with these monsters before. Had heard mythical tales of their cruelty. He froze. The tall creature was looking the other away and had not seen him. It was relaxed, leaking from his body, with a fiery stick in its mouth. Dum kept still, knowing that if he refrained from moving, the tall creature could never notice him. The tall creature threw away his fiery stick and turned around. It spotted Dum, paralyzed. There was a momentary standoff, as Dum prepared to throw himself at the creature and fight until one of them fell. Then the tall creature suddenly lunged at Dum, who let out a puny grunt and jumped back. The tall creature then pulled away and made a strange sound, with its mouth turned upward. Then he walked away. Dum’s respiratory system kickstarted back into life. He was safe. He was alive. He forewent his pack duty, and Mooping knew it. She would surely pass this on to Yai, and he would be reprimanded. But he was alive, and, as the distant, fresh cries of new-borns rang through the air, he knew his little brothers and sisters were too.
The family gathered. They shared a warm moment, circled around their delicate new generation. Their eyes were still closed. Tawan delivered eight pups, and although two did not make it, there was no doubt now that the family were bigger, richer, and, most importantly stronger than before. This was a rare moment for the pack, a moment of joy. For now, they had won. They could rest, though they knew that every victory on the soi shows its cost eventually.
Dum was racked with guilt, and uncharacteristically quiet during the celebration. He waited for punishment from Yai, but it never came. Dum presumed that Mooping had spared him from retribution, but the truth was that Yai was punishing Dum in a far more profound way; he was letting him live with his guilt.
That night they kept a watchful eye over their new generation and slept in shifts. Now the real hard work would begin, but for them it was worth it. They fought for moments like this and for now, they were the kings
They were the dogs of Bangkok.
When the boil hour arrived, most chose to sleep.
During those headache hot afternoons, when the sun reached its zenith in the great sky, the dogs of war took a respite from their battlefield. They closed their eyes. The unspoken ceasefire resumed. The languid flow of life came to a crawl. The great machine of the city cooled its overheated engines, slowed and shut itself down.
Even many of the tall creatures lay down in the heat. The intensity of the boil hour sapped the energy of most, although there was, amongst the many sleeping creatures of the jungle, one beast who was wide awake. Sud.
When others felt the swelter, they sought shelter and rest. When Sud felt it, he saw opportunity. There was no other moment he could safely guarantee that his enemies would be far away in their dreams. No better time for him to get up and get his claws dirty.
He took his perch on a dry mound, in the waste land behind the wall of The Den. Just out of sniffing distance of Yai and his family. Silently, he watched his soldiers claw and hack and tear away at the dirt beneath their burning paws. They were coming. Bit by bit, they were scratching and burrowing their way to Yai, who, even despite his growing paranoia, was oblivious.
Sud was aware of the time it would take to reach The Den from underground. He was prepared to allow his loyal workers to suffer. He hoped they would understand; it was for the greater good. Finally taking back the land that had been snatched away from his ancestors. Sud’s bloodline had been waiting too long for revenge. Now, it was just the other side of the tunnel.
Soon the boil hour would be over. The tall creatures would rise from their slumber too, and life would go on as before. The great machine would churn and splutter its way onward and somehow function despite itself. The loud fast boxes would roar on, on the roads and in the skies, the fumes would pump, the wheels would burn and the feet would stomp, all over the suffocated floor, the filthy, polluted mass organism would rage on, with all those trapped inside it.
And the dogs of war would wake.
The North Pack would cover their hole, cover their tracks, and return to their own territory. Yai would wake and immediately check on the safety of his young ones. He would see them nestled beside their mother. He would be comfortable, unaware that his enemies were coming. Coming for him and his family. Through the dirt, under the wall, and right into his home.
The sizzle of the concrete was always a shock to the paws after the boil hour. Dum was still new to this and flinched as he stepped out of The Den. His sister, Sarinee, walked alongside him. She had been given the chance to prove herself as a senior. Her senses were sharp. Her duties were finding food for the now bigger and hungrier family, as well protecting her brother, out there on the soi, in the wild. He had only been out of The Den once previously, to the end of the lane. That time he had Yai by his side. Now, even with Sarinee beside him, he had never felt more alone.
They left the security of The Den. Dum’s nose took in intoxicating new smells. His head darted in every direction, his instinct chasing his curiosity. Sarinee restrained him and tried to keep him focussed. This was no time for discovery. There were tiny beating hearts counting on them. Sarinee would rather be banished from the pack than return with nothing. Her dominant trait was her pride; she had inherited it from her father.
Jaokhao knew Yai’s pride all too well, the pain in his side through the recent, leaner times. His decisions were indisputable, even when they caused more blood than peace. Contradicting Yai’s word and making him look weak in front of his pack would only bring dark consequences. The white dwarf tried to make what little difference he could. It was he who had championed Sarinee to lead the food expedition. There were mouths to be fed. They needed bodies on the ground. Over time, he reasoned through Yai’s staunch reluctance. Risk was essential. The war was an extraordinary time. To give Sarinee the chance to prove herself as a capable senior was to deepen their strength. Yai held onto his stubborn ways for as long as he could, but the starved cries of his infants told him his right-hand dog was right. His children were hungry, for more than milk. Sarinee would get her chance to feed them.
For all Jaokhao’s intelligence, he failed to see that the was bigger than him. Bigger than all of them. The war would outlive them all, as it had done their ancestors.
Since Yai’s bloodline had seized The Den, in a bloody battle with Sud’s, the war had plodded on.
Yai grew up in the Den, and the fight to protect it. War was his home.
He was born a giant, and while the fighting went on, he waited for his chance to take the throne. They all knew there was no stopping Yai if he wanted the kingdom for himself. He could snap their necks for amusement if he so wished. But when Yai’s father passed, another unquestionable law of the soi came into play; the law of seniority. Yai was not the eldest. His brother JakJak was, and Yai was forced to stand by and watch as he was coronated. The celebration was tense. The family hailed their new king but held something back. Yai could smell it coming from them. Fresh and alluring. It was fear.
When the day broke following the ceremony, JakJak did not rise like his family.
They knew immediately.
The king was dead.
In a world whose very existence orbited around conflict, there was, surprisingly no outrage. The family kept their peace. The Den now belonged to Yai and none of them were foolish enough to challenge him. He could make anyone disappear.
The kingdom of The Den went on, as did the war. The machine kept turning.
By the time the sun was lowering itself, the children had reached the barrier. The death zone in which the tall creatures got in their furious loud boxes and hurtled themselves through space.
Dum kept within a fur’s distance of his sister. She shoved him away but he stuck to her like a parasite. There were terrifying, wonderful new sights and smells all around him. He jumped as he saw some alien creature, something with four legs like himself but smaller, leaner, cockier. Dum had never seen anything like it before but he felt a strong inclination to chase it and murder it. Only his fear held him back.
They knew not to try and cross the zone, as to do so would be to die. They followed a beaten pathway alongside it, until they reached a row of large hard boxes, in which the tall creatures got together and ate. The waste they scattered was a goldmine for the soi dogs.
What the children did not know, as they prowled their way towards the rich source of food, was that they were being followed.
While Dum was too preoccupied with the plethora of immediate dangers around him to detect the hint of a predator lurking some way back, Sarinee was much too fixated on her fear of returning to The Den with nothing to sustain her fragile young brothers and sisters.
Between them, they hadn’t the faintest clue that only a small distance behind them was Chaisai, the cripple, along with two of his soldiers. The enemy pack of the West had silkily skulked their way through the debris, just out of a nose’s distance, wearing wolfish grins.
When the children reached the motherload, their hunters made themselves invisible among the detritus. Chaisai’s soldiers were predictably eager for blood. A rare chance to do profound damage to Yai and his family had fallen into their laps. His children were alone, in the wild, overexposed and under-protected, and the king was nowhere to be seen.
But Chaisai had been on the soi for too long, and had witnessed too many of its brutalities. He lost his leg in a collision with a tall creature and its killing machine. He was left for dead, gasping for air on the roasting roadside, but he rose to his feet, the ones he had left, and he walked onward, wearing his scars as proof of his resilience.
It appeared all too easy. Yai had sent two innocents out into the harsh wilderness; it was almost like he was asking for them to be hunted and killed. Chaisai sniffed the air around him. He wondered if it was a trap, if Yai was waiting for them, unseen amongst the mountains of tall creature waste.
Chaisai licked his lips and restrained his impatient underlings. Now was the time to wait. They watched Dum gnawing away at a bone, gorging himself on as much as he could before he would have to share. They watched Sarinee scrape and gather every morsel she could in her mouth, and implore her brother to stop wasting time and do the same.
They watched everything. And they waited.
When the children had foraged all they could hold, they turned around. Now was the hard part; getting the food home. The wily old cripple waited for the perfect moment, concealed in the rubble. The lost children were almost within reach, and now they had mouths full of food. It was so effortless it was almost cruel. Sadistic.
The children headed in the direction of their instincts. Home. They got so far when Sarinee stopped dead. Her nose twitched. There was something in the air. Her brother stopped too, though he was unaware of what danger had frozen his sister. All he was aware of was that his pulse had tripled, and he yearned for his home.
Chaisai appeared first. Before Sarinee could react, he had snatched the food from her mouth and was hopping away. He may have been old and crippled, but when the smell of meat filled his nose, he could still move.
The first soldier then came at Sarinee from the rear. Far larger than her, he had little struggle in knocking her down and towering over her. His oozy wet drool dropped from his hanging lip.
The sick mouth of the soldier looked ready to strike down, when Dum exploded. With a newfound strength born of fury, he launched himself between the jaws of the enemy and his sister. The violence inside him had been awoken. His inner soldier was blossoming.
Even with all his heart, Dum was much too inexperienced. The second soldier got to him in an instant, locked his jaws around the neck, and tossed him aside.
The huge soldier then opened wide and bit deep into Sarinee’s neck, forcing from within her a scream so harrowing it was heard by the tall creatures in their big hard boxes, and would be heard by Dum in his sleep forever.
While Dum was still dazed, the second soldier took the food from his mouth. Victorious, they both ran to their leader, the crippled old veteran, who had sat back and watched. They congratulated each other, and then ran away. They did not turn to look back to see their victims as they walked away. This was a big moment for Chaisai. Yai could have The Den, they had his honour.
The most unquestionable law of them all on the soi was that for every victory there was a price. As Chaisai and his soldiers strutted home with their tails perked, they were hit by the roaring metal of a beast in feeding mode, the smoky, burning steel of the tall creature and his pet killer. The large soldier was killed instantly. The second was badly injured, its leg broken. Its end would soon come, and it would be welcomed.
Chaisai walked away with all three of his legs remaining. He was hurt but his wounds were minor. The tall creature stepped out of its death machine screamed. Chaisai gathered what he could of the food scattered on the floor, and hobbled back to his home, where the remarkable life of the crippled old veteran would go on.
The sun sank back into the earth, and the children appeared in The Den. There was no need to communicate, it was clear a terrible thing had happened. Mooping ran to the side of Sarinee and licked her wounds. Jaokhao comforted the traumatised Dum. He had lost more than the food today. He had seen the true, ceaselessly black nature of life on the soi. He had lost his innocence.
Mooping darted for the exit. She was going to do what the inexperienced youths couldn’t. She was going to feed the family. She summoned what strength she could, but her insidious illness had made her slower. Yai exerted no effort in halting her before she made it out of The Den. There was no way he would let the family depend on a sick, incapacitated dog. It was reckless. He sent Jaokhao instead, whom he could trust out there on the soi. Jaokhao did not hesitate, for he knew he was, in many ways, responsible for the scars Sarinee now bore.
Yai’s kingdom was as much a blessing as a curse. He was at the top, all lone. Every day was a battle. His enemies lurked around every corner, and even in his domain, there were those he could not trust. Those he felt would betray him. The king could trust only himself.
When he detected the scent of a tall creature approaching The Den, he rose to his feet and growled. The creature slowly emerged from the tall grass, stepping right into The Den. Yai recognised it. It was the slow, kind one who brought them their lifeblood. It had never dared to step so close before. Yai snarled and showed his menacing teeth.
The tall creature remained perfectly still, looking Yai straight in the eye. Yai crouched down and readied himself to strike. The family crowded round Tawan and the pups to protect them. Then it became clear. This time, the slow tall creature had brought no water. It had brought food. Vast amounts of food.
It carried the food in two large sacks, which it dropped on the floor, spilling the contents around their paws. Then it remained perfectly still. Its presence had a calmness to it that told Yai, who was slowly softening his growls, that there was no reason to be afraid. The dogs were too ravenous to wait. They snatched the food from the floor and ate. Yai kept his eye on the creature, before gradually turning his head to the unexpected banquet
The tall creature looked to the pups. Its eyes lit up. Deftly, the creature tiptoed its way over to their nest. Tawan glared at the tall creature. Her instinct told her to attack, but a quietness inside her took over. There was no war with this tall creature. She held her breath and watched as the tall creature crouched down and gently lifted one of the pups into the air. The tall creature’s face transformed into a picture of light and music. It held the pup in the air, making strange noises at it. Tawan remained static, her eyes locked on her infant.
Then, she slowly got up and joined the others in the feast.
The family would live on. As long as they had each other, and The Den, along with all of its hidden gifts. Sarinee’s scars would remind her of her survival. Her brother’s lost innocence would only strengthen him. There would be darker, crueller things waiting for them, but, together, the family would live on.
The blanket of night transformed the soi from bustling jungle, to anonymous playground.
The dense atmosphere dissipated, the concrete arteries of the city unclogged, and the oppressive air cooled. Order took a rest, and mischief came to life.
The white dwarf’s tongue lazily hung as he explored the suburb usually populated by the tall creatures. Now, it was empty. Civilization had tucked itself in and left the landscape for the wild ones to roam. Anything was possible. Jaokhao would take his time before returning to The Den and its relentless pressures. His guilt still lay heavily on his back. He had led Sarinee and Dum to the wolves. They were hurt, because of him. The family was starving, and for Jaokhao and all the dogs of Bangkok; life was family.
He was not the only one looking for scraps. With the tall creatures gone, the lost dogs of the soi emerged from their holes. The exiled and stray. The dogs with no war to fight in, no Den to protect. For now, Jaokhao was one of them. Just another lost dog, prowling the night.
For a moment, he was free, free of Yai, of The Den, of the war. He was nothing, and being nothing meant having nothing, nothing to lose. Life on the soi was far more comfortable with nothing to lose.
A lone wanderer passed him by. He took in her scent. Familiar, though he could not place it. She turned down a blackened pathway. Jaokhao was compelled to follow. There was a discernible weakness in dogs with no pack to stand with. She would put up little fight, and had the manner of a dog who knew the secrets of the soi. If there were scraps of food, she knew where to find them.
He kept a few yards behind, his defences flared. He was suspect of the shadows and their tendency to unveil predators. Then, the lone wanderer stopped. She turned to face Jaokhao, as if she had been aware of his presence all along. Around one eye was a brown patch of fur, and, like her scent, this seemed to trigger some vague memory in Jaokhao, but he was unable to pin it down.
A face off in the darkness. The brown eyed wanderer’s stance was not one of combat. She was shy. Her weakness showed in her eyes. No dog was meant to face the grittiness of the soi alone. Without a family, no dog lasts long. Jaokhao felt an unusual warmth for this lone wanderer and a foolishness in himself.
She meekly bowed her head and inched towards him, when his thoughts returned to the yawning mouths of the pups he was supposed to be scavenging for. This lone wanderer was of no kinship to him. In his overindulgence, he had forgotten his family.
She turned around again, as if to leave, but she did not walk away. She was offering him something. Something which both confused and stimulated him in equal measure. Somewhere in the haze of his primal urges, a switch flicked. The lone wanderer with the brown eye patch was offering herself. He knew what to do without knowing how.
He took one step forward and that was as far as he got. Before he knew it, he was lifted from his feet by some unknown, all-dominant force.
He tried to swing his head around, to meet the eye of his invisible assailant, but he was swiftly thrown into the back of one of the vulgar, spewing machines. And then he knew. The tall creatures. They had got him.
The box was nothing but cold and dark. Jaokhao’s usually sharp senses were fuzzy, he could not make out anything in the opaque sheet of blackness all around him. Then a rumble started beneath his paws. They were moving.
As he tried to regain his balance and composure, he was swayed and knocked over with the momentum of this heartless grumbling machine. None of it made sense, but there was one thing he understood; if he could not figure it out soon, he was going to die.
The foul machine ploughed onwards, spluttering out its volumes of choked ash. The thickness of the gloom began to evaporate. Jaokhao could start to make out vague shapes around him. Disturbing shapes. Levitating shapes. Hanging canvasses, all around him.
The smell came before the sight. The smell of food. He was surrounded by food. The floating entities around him were skinned and strung up dogs. The corpses of the lost strays.
The thunderous box straightened its path. The white dwarf was able to stand. He did not know much time he had but he knew he had to act fast if he wanted to see his family again. He stopped thinking.
There was no place in this cold dark box from his to conceal himself, except one. His size, always his crutch, could now be his saviour. He looked upwards, jammed his claws into the flesh, and scaled the stiff, rotten body of a fallen stray. A few times, the fast box swerved again, as if to taunt Jaokhao, almost sending him clambering back to the floor, but he held on. It was all he knew how to do.
He cut open the corpse and buried his head in the putrid hole. No thoughts. No consciousness. He simply held on. His only remaining drive was his most base, his most immovable. Survival.
The vile machine gradually quietened its hissing and was replaced by horrifying silence. They came to a stop. Wedged in between the vital organs of a cadaver, Jaokhao waited. The tall creature would return, and he would have a tiny moment in which to escape. One mistake would mean The End.
The doors opened. Twilight poured through. Jaokhao held his breath inside the rotting slab of meat, the same matter, the same life as him. The presence of the tall creature filtered through to his hiding place in the body of the dead. He held on.
The tall creature sniffed and scratched its head. Jaokhao listened to the rise and fall of its breathing. His own lungs were full of the stench of rigor mortis. He couldn’t hold on much longer. If he was to see The Den again, he was to take the leap back into the world of the living.
In one rapid movement, the white dwarf flung himself from within the hide, and was out the door before the tall creature could blink. He landed on his feet and darted away, blindly, breathlessly. He ran towards the light. The cool glow of the street. It was all he could make out in the blur.
The tall creature screamed and ran for its other pet killer, its handheld assassin. It fired off some deafening roars. But the white dwarf was too small, too agile. This was his night. He had come face to face with the tall creature, the death merchant, had wriggled in and out of its clutch, had outthought the great thinker, and lived.
He reached the street, from where he could still hear the cries and bangs of the defeated butcher. He did not look back. He was far away from home. But he was safe now. He could rely on his internal compass and his rock hard will. He was going to make it home. He was going to feed his family. It may take all night, but Jaokhao was going home.
The dawn was just crackling through the layer of urban smog as the slow kind tall creature brought the usual bucket of water to The Den. The family were asleep, resting and well fed. Just as the tall creature put down the water and turned back home, Jaokhao returned. Exhausted and emaciated but proud, he stumbled his way into The Den, where he fell to the floor. The others rushed around him. They had begun to fear they may never see him again.
Of the family members, only one appeared unmoved by Jaokhao’s frightening tale of abduction and hanging corpses. His leader. It was a terrible thing for Yai, to be burdened with such fear and mistrust of his own right-hand dog. Now, he needed the cool, measured presence of Jaokhao more than ever. Mooping was coughing blood, struggling to stand. She could not carry her weight, in the family, in the war, rendering her just another mouth to be fed, as helpless as the puppies. He listened to Jaokhao’s story with his head bowed, knowing all too well that soon he would have to make a decision. An ugly one.
When Jaokhao finished his story, he helped himself to the heap of food brought by their kind friend. His mission to find food had been a waste, and had nearly killed him, but he was too tired to feel a grudge. After scoffing down as much as he could, he curled up in the grass, and slept.
The morning passed by, no different than any other. What the pack did not know, was that they had an audience. To Jaokhao’s return, to their habits, to everything.
The lone wanderer with the brown eye patch lay beneath the belly of a tall creature’s machine. Stationed outside The Den, empty and silent. Her comfortable vantage point had offered her a plain view of everything; even the slow tall creature and his morning ritual of giving The Den their drops to drink. From her spot in the shade she had learned something new. A weakness in the great kingdom. It had a dependency, one which was slow, weak, could easily be taken down. It lived only a few feet away, where it spent most of its time sleeping on one of those string nests they made between trees. The wanderer had seen everything.
The boil hour approached. Life retreated. When it was clear, the wanderer slid from under the sleeping machine. She had accomplished what she had been sent here to do. It was time for her to go home, for she was no wanderer at all. Her home, on the other side of the barrier, was waiting for her. Her family and their black and white queen. Busaba.
She reached the barrier. The death zone. She was lucky. The loud boxes were static. Gridlocked. They made primal, aggressive noises at each other. It was safe to cross the infamously treacherous territory with ease. Something made her feel as if her and her pack’s fortune was changing. Soon the war could be theirs.
The vacant wastelands on the east side of the district still bore vestiges of the tall creature’s abandoned structures. A land forgotten. Busaba and her soldiers delighted in the return of their brown eyed spy. There was no time wasted before sharing the news. Yai’s flaw had been found. The Garden of Eden was about to go through a drought. It was simple. Take down the frail old tall creature, and inevitably, The Den would soon fall.
The boil hour passed. Yai and his family rose, Mooping stayed on the ground. It was almost time. She tried to stand but shook and crumbled. There was not much left for her to give. It was almost time.
Jaokhao pleaded with Yai. Mooping was one of their own. It was their duty, as members of this great pack, to protect her. To be sent out onto the soi alone was a death sentence for any dog, no matter how strong or sick. This was family. What was all the fighting for, if they were to toss their brethren aside when they became inconvenient?
The leader saw it another way. They could either watch Mooping die in front of them or leave her to do it in peace. Death was coming for her. They could not stop it. Acceptance was the first step. Jaokhao was pained, disillusioned. He wondered if his leader would so coldly dispose of him if his worth devalued. But the white dwarf had learned something, in the belly of the dead. There was always a way. No matter what walls were closing, there was always a way.
It came to him just as Yai was tired of listening. His narrow vision only saw one solution, to take Mooping to the street where she could close her eyes forever, on her own terms. But Jaokhao had an idea. Their kind old friend. The slow tall creature, the one who fed and cared for them. They could trust it, and its species’ unique ability to make miracles. The tall creatures could fix Mooping. She had a chance. It may be hopeful, but it was a chance.
Yai was silent, intrinsically doubtful. The tall creatures were their enemies, and the last time he had given in to Jaokhao’s rationale, his children had almost been killed.
But he had already said it. She was dead either way. In The Den, on the street, or in the hands of the tall creatures. If she had a chance, it was all they could do as her family to let her take it.
The sun finished another circle. Once more, the noise of the jungle faded, the animals went back to their hiding places.
The anonymous playground came back to life. And this night carried a true, living sense of menace. Led by the brown eyed spy, the East pack were coming.
Back in quiet of The Den, Yai was displeased to see Jaokhao leaving, again, and at this pivotal moment, with no explanation. The great leader was rapidly losing faith in his brother. His constant questioning. His private agendas. But there was important work to be done. Jaokhao suspected he had been watched and played, for some time. That brown eye patch. He could not get out of his head. It had led him to the butcher. He felt sure it was no coincidence.
The white dwarf returned to the freedom of the night. He had missed it. His fractious relationship with Yai was on his mind, like always, but for now it would have to wait. He knew what he was looking for. The brown eyed stranger was nowhere to be seen, but he had expected as much. There was another prey waiting for him. He saw it before long. That white box. The one he had been imprisoned in. Trundling along, harbouring its massacred.
If the brown eyed stranger had taught him anything, it was that on the soi, knowledge was power. He locked his senses onto his target, the butcher and his machine. He kept a safe distance away, stuck to the shadows. The white dwarf followed his kidnapper, out of the suburbs, all the way to its home. The journey seemed longer before, when he was on the verge of becoming a slab of meat. Out of sight, he watched the butcher exit its machine and enter its home. He held his breath. Knowledge was power, and he had just armed himself with a secret weapon. He knew the route to the butcher’s den. The upper hand had changed.
When life was fully submerged under the blanket of night, the barrier was safe to cross. Busaba, the black and white queen, guided her warriors across. Her plan had worked. Her brown eyed spy had given her exactly what she needed. Things were changing. The war could be theirs, theirs to mark down in history and regale however they please. The East pack crossed the barrier and made their way through the hushed streets.
Jaokhao returned from his hunt to a surprise. His master had had a change of heart.
Mooping was showing signs of fight. There was, somewhere inside her decaying body, some will left to live. This was family. This was war. This was sticking together, through anything. Yai had seen his compassionless ways for what they were. He would wish for his family to protect him if ever fell sick or injured. The white dwarf and his master reached an agreement. At daybreak, when the tall creature showed with the water, they would take Mooping to it. Mooping would fight on. The Den would see glory again. Yai and Jaokhao were glad to finally see eye to eye. They needed each other. And Mooping needed them.
The slow tall creature slept. Warm drool dangled from its lip. It was peaceful, far away in the world of slumber, empty glass bottles littered around it. The black and white queen was close. She and her furtive warriors tiptoed their way past The Den. This was a soundless arrival, unlike their previous assaults which had been unsubtle and fierce. Things were changing.
Yai was too preoccupied with his domestic troubles, and with the idea of a threat, to notice the real and living danger sneaking past his home in the middle of the night. The East pack made it past The Den and were closing in. Mooping was holding on.
Snap. The slow tall creature woke just in time to see that brown eye patch, inches away, attached to a wide-open mouth showing teeth and tongue and spit. Snap. Before its eyes were even fully open, it was surrounded by carnivores. It almost let out a scream, but it was too stunned to make a sound. A hive of pain engulfed it. Ripped from its nest, from its dreams, dragged to the floor and mauled. It cowered into a ball. The East pack showed no mercy. They landed their blows, engraved their marks, planted their scars. The black and white queen stepped back and took her leisure. She kept one eye behind her, in case the muffled cries of her victim alerted Yai. The Den was silent.
When she was satisfied with the suffering, Busaba called for its end. Her warriors left the tall creature to bleed out and rot on its own doorstep. Together they flocked, and took a relaxed stroll past The Den. They were mocking Yai. The trees and bushes which sheltered this Garden of Eden, from the sun, also sheltered it from the plain-to-see hazards right in front. The East pack sauntered past with their heads cocked and howled all the way home.
On the other side of those trees and bushes, Mooping held on for the morning. She could see the end of the tunnel. It was right in front of her. So warm and welcoming. Resist it. Not much longer now. Almost there. Yai was close. He always would be. He wouldn’t let go. Just a little longer. So close. Sunrise would bring miracles. Yai had promised her. She wasn’t going to let him down. Not yet.
Daybreak. The watering hole was dry. The family waited. They waited for their kind old friend. Dum was the only who was still clinging onto the pitiful hope that Mooping could be brought back to the life. If anyone could do it, it was their kind old friend. But the seniors knew it was over. Mooping had closed her eyes. She had not even made it to sunrise. Yai was at least spared the pain of making his decision. At least they would no longer have to watch her suffer. Now, Mooping could rest. Her war was over.
The Garden of Eden had lost its water supply. The tall creature had given, and the tall creature had taken away. Had shown its kindness and its negligence. Become just another faceless enemy, and they had enough of those. Yai’s paradise was lost, and soon he would have tougher decisions to make. The thirst had begun.
Bones. They had reached bones. Deep underground, beneath the screeches of living things, the nose of a North pack soldier touched the surface of a skull. A perfect round shape, two eye holes in the front, a mouth full of teeth. Unmistakable.
The soldier was a new recruit, one of the strays Sud had rounded up for the oncoming slaughter. His vision was almost a finished piece. He had lost some soldiers through the excavation. This was unavoidable. The squadron was prepared for collateral damage. They were well versed in their leader’s rhetoric. It was easy for him to replenish the numbers, and then some. The statistics were of no consequence, and they were close. They could see light at the end of the tunnel. This was no metaphor.
The rookie soldier sniffed the skull, unsure of it. Impatient growls from behind him urged him onwards. The rookie took a breath, then shoved it aside and put his head down, his paws to work. The rest followed. In their masses. Sud was at the back. He would be the last to reveal himself to Yai. The striped beast had been patient. He was close to building his legacy.
Dim cracks of sun were filtering through from above the rookie’s head. He was ordered to cease the dig and stand still. Word was to be passed onto Sud. The kinetic operation would commence on his decision. The end was in sight. Paradise was nearly theirs.
A sandpaper dry tongue in a glistening stream signalled that for now, the thirst was over. The seniors drank first, then the infants. The fresh running water surged through their veins.
The Garden of Eden had lost its water supply; the drought had created a migration, a long, treacherous one.
The seniors carried the pups in their mouths as they crossed through busy streets, through dusty stretches of land.
Jaokhao hoped now the water was gone, The Den would lose its value. The war objective had been neutralised. The killing could come to an end. It was taking its toll. The king was cracking. His right-hand dog had seen it in his eyes, when he suggested an alternative, closer water source. In the North. Yai was so locked up in his head he was convinced it was a trap. It was clear to Yai that his best friend would inevitably betray him. It was a comfort to finally hear it.
Not wanting to be invited his own assassination, Yai rejected the idea on the spot. A cold, despondent Jaokhao walked away. He saw something in his leader he had never seen before.
Yai was frightened.
The family took a big, long drink. Dum and Sarinee splashed around in the cool, vital water. The pups, who were now almost able to walk, lapped up the fresh running stream, bathed and basked in it, while their sweet-eyed mother watched them. They would see another sunrise, but back here they would come, again, and again, until their great leader found a way to make it rain. Trust in the king was deep and immovable, from most. Yai would not let his family go thirsty for long. He would find a way.
Dum still believed their kind old friend would come back, and it would bring Mooping too. But this was what the tall creatures did. They killed and ate and used up and burnt through everything, never looking back at their trails of waste. But now, as he played with his sister in the cleansing water, he had forgotten all that. The hard times were over for now. Even with Mooping gone, they could make it through the drought if the family stuck together.
Yai watched over his family, with one eye held on the crafty, white dwarf. Yai could never tell where his mind was. He could not trust his best friend anymore. There was a place inside him in which he knew there was only one way for this to end. Jaokhao would be silenced. Yai had killed family members before. But this one would hurt the most.
The white dwarf had daydream plans of his own. He was sick of the war. The Den was more trouble to protect than its worth. He missed the freedom, the chill, the strangeness of the night. To be a lone wolf, fending for and counting only on himself, was the life Jaokhao had tasted, and now yearned for.
The boil hour was close. Yai gathered his family. Important to conserve their energy. Reserves were needed for the gruelling times ahead. The seniors lifted the pups with their mouths. The family made the voyage home. The thirst would come again. All they could do was put one paw in front of the other and hold on. Yai would save them soon.
The hush of the boil hour brought chaos to its knees.
Thick clouds hung, yet no rain fell. They slept fast, nestled together under the biggest tree, the pups squashed in between the gaps.
At first the rumble was faint, like heavy machinery in the distance. Then it was something immediate, something earthly, visceral, threatening. The ground was moving. Jaokhao was the first to wake. Through bleary eyes, he looked around, and neither saw nor smelled any trace of a predator. The picture was calm. But through the tips of his paws, a sensation. Then the quake More bad things were going to happen.
Then the quiet explosion.
Swarms of beasts shot from the ground, one after another, like a volcanic eruption. Yai awoke with a mighty roar. The earth had caved and exposed an army. The family were dazed and hopelessly outnumbered. The pups wailed, yet they had no cognition of the Armageddon that had arrived.
Then Yai saw the stripes. His body went cold. Sud had found him. He had holed himself up in his castle and his enemies had got to him through the very earth itself. Their eyes locked. Everything stopped moving, for the briefest second. And then the killing started.
Dum made a run for it. He did not get far. He was dragged back by a gang of soldiers and
that was when this war they all lived in ceased to be a war, and became a slaughter. They tossed Dum around like a lifeless rag before breaking his neck. Jaokhao rushed to the aid of his brother but did not even get close. He was shoved aside by a bulldozing bulldog heading straight for the pups. His head collided with a tree. His vision closed in and darkened. He drifted away.
Tawan threw herself over the pups to protect them but had no chance against the charging brute. Sweet-eyed mother was done for. This was not a battle. This was sport. The strangled cry she let out just before her lights switched off alerted Yai. His head shot just in time to see his beloved’s head touch the ground. He tried to wrestle free of the savages all around him, but there were too many of them. Sud was behind them, waiting, saving himself. When the great black beast was tired, Sud would finish him off. History would be corrected.
Yai heard the cries of his cowering children. A monster inside him stirred. He tapped into a deeper, meaner well of strength. He pounced on one soldier’s neck and snapped another’s with his teeth. He headbutted a third out of the way and made a dash for his children. Charging his way through the battle scene, he felt something snapping at his ankles. Then his whole mass toppled, and hit the floor. The king was down. Sud mounted his prey. Looked into the eyes of his enemy, then opened wide. Yai closed his eyes. His time had come. He waited for the searing pain of a canine but it never came. He opened his eyes and saw not his nemesis, but his daughter, the graceful lady, Sarinee. Then she was gone again. Sud dragged her from the picture by the neck. His glazed red eyes shone as he clamped down, hard, and twisted the point. Sarinee tried to scream but couldn’t. Her body went limp. The striped beast released her, and she fell to the floor like a stuffed doll.
Yai could not find the imploding rage inside anymore. He felt in his soul the fold and collapse of a great structure. He was tired. He was hurt. He was afraid.
Sud pounced. He was so close to his dream, much too close to let it slip away now. He was going to see it home. His entourage formed around him. Yai was hounded, encircled, in a coliseum of murder. All his family were dead, and he was next.
The Garden of Eden was burning.
The savages pinned Yai to the floor, while their leader licked his lips. The crucifixion would not be quick. Sud would take his time in exacting his bloodline’s revenge. The act would be a ceremony, a symbolic killing, to mark the end of an era. The king would be executed on his own throne, and a new dawn would rise.
Then the white dwarf came to.
He lifted his head, which still throbbed, and saw the scene of a massacre. His was family was gone, and Yai was about to join them. He heard the sneers and growls of the savages. Heard the stifled moans of his leader. Slowly, he got up. One way, he saw death. The other way, he saw the exit, clear and open. Freedom was staring him in the face.
Then his eyes met with his leader’s. Cowered on the floor, held down. This was finally it. The moment Yai had waited for. Jaokhao saw the defeat in his master’s eyes. He turned his head away. Yai was right all along. His brother would betray him. Jaokhao turned to the exit. There was nothing left for him to save. It was over. He stumbled out of The Den, and that was it. No way back for him now. He’d sold himself to the night. Deserted his home and took to that most dreaded and magical of places; the lone wilderness of the soi.
Yai was finished. His bear strength was tapped. Sud stood over his prey, panting and drooling. He had his dream. The dogs of war sang.
Yai closed his eyes, and Sarinee rose. She saw the horrific spectacle. The North had taken everything, except her soul. She howled a long, vengeful note. The executioners stopped and turned to look. Sarinee howled again, then turned and scrambled her way out of The Den. In the split-second Sud was distracted, Yai found one final spring of strength left inside. His kingdom was in ruins, but his life was not over yet. He wrenched himself from the prison of dogs and made for the exit. Sud roared in agony and ordered his soldiers to give chase. With his last ounce of will, Yai steamrolled his way towards escape, shoving the savages aside. He had given his life to The Den, but it was finally over. His nightmares had shown themselves to him. The revolution had come. The North had taken back their land. The Garden of Eden was in the right place again. The Garden of Eden had its rightful citizens back.
They found her on the side of the road. They were informed of an emergency case in Lak Si. They got in their machine and went searching. Then they found her. She was waiting for The End. It was close enough. She’d been viciously beaten and was badly dehydrated. If she wasn’t so weak, she may have fought them off. She was tough to have survived this long.
They picked her up and put her in the back of the machine, and drove her to their centre. They gave her stitches, medicine, food and water. They put her in a cage and mostly left her alone, but occasionally, one of them got in with her, stayed a safe distance away, and just sat there, passive and quiet. Over time she got better. Her wounds healed. She grew to feel comfortable around them and even to feel joy upon seeing them and the food they brought. She stayed there for a long time, before someone else came along, and took her to a new place. They gave her a bowl and a bed and a new name, a new life. The graceful lady was a survivor. She lived a long, peaceful life.
Sud’s masterpiece had been robbed of its final stroke. His failure to finish off his enemy would eat away at him. If only he were not so boastful and theatrical, if only he had snatched at his chance when he had it within his reach. He could not rest until Yai was found, captured and brought to him dead or nearly dead.
There was something else missing from The Den. The water. Whatever secret trick Yai had to make it appear, he had taken with him. There was no other way. The new king assembled a company and sent them on a search and secure mission. Cover every inch of ground. The whole district. Three of the family had escaped. One of them was a dwarf, one of them a badly injured female. Sud was not as concerned with these two. If they were found and killed on the way, that would be a bonus. There was one primary target. Sud was used to waiting. He could wait a little longer to have Yai’s head, resting at his feet when he curled up in his new kingdom.
The soi was a harsh place to be for a fallen warlord. Everywhere he looked, Yai saw strangers and enemies. He was all alone. His open wounds still stung. The heat echoed off the land and created ripples in the air, intensifying the sickly sewage stink of the tall creatures and their toxic expulsions.
Yai stumbled onward, panting heavily under his mangled black coat. A whizzing torpedo shot by and nearly took off his head. He jumped to the roadside and was kicked away by some leathery-skinned troll. He scuttled away again with a yelp. A king without his kingdom was no longer a king but a peasant. Without The Den, he had nothing. He had neither eaten nor drunk in too long.
Jaokhao. Sarinee. They had made it out of The Den. They had to be alive. He would find them, or he would die first.
The company returned from the hunt. The soldiers bowed their heads. They had sniffed every square inch. Not one trace of any of them. They had to be dead, rounded up and hauled to the mass graves. The Den was theirs now. The great tunnel project was a success. The grand vision had been realized. The humbled Yai was of no threat now. Time to relax and enjoy the start of a long, prosperous reign.
Sud dismissed their sycophantic sentiments. This was not about safety. This was about honour. This was about perfection. The search would continue indefinitely, until one of his fools brought him his trophy.
The sound of the bowl hitting the floor woke him each sunrise. It was always followed by the sound of another bowl. And both sounds were always hushed, as if made in secret.
He heard the signal and was up and on his feet in seconds. He poked his head out from the bush. He saw the kind stranger and his offering. One bowl of water, another of food. He hopped out. His tail involuntarily wagged as the kind stranger patted him on the head. He ate and he drank.
The white dwarf had found a place to hole up and wait it out. Squeezed inside a bush, tucked away in the corner of a garden, behind one of the tall creature’s dens. He thought no one would find him here, until one of them did. One less threatening than the others. An infant. A small creature. It kept Jaokhao’s presence a secret from its family, as it knew they would expel him. The first time it brought food for Jaokhao, he kept at a safe distance, and growled until it moved away. Over time, he grew to feel no threat in its company at all.
The freedom of the night would soon be his, but there was one thing he had left to do. The white dwarf was not finished yet.
From atop his throne, Sud entertained the beginnings of new dreams. The North pack were no longer just that. Their territory had expanded. His army, ruthless unlike any seen before, could conquer even more. They had taken back The Den and made it look like child’s play. The other packs would be light work in comparison. If he chose, on a whim, he could have the whole district. His very own empire.
As night fell, the company returned from another search. Still nothing. Enough time had passed, they assured. The soi would eat them alive if it hadn’t already.
And then the long silhouette of a figure appeared in The Den. The soldiers leapt to attention and gathered around their leader.
The sinister shadow proved to belong to a dwarf. The escapee runt. He had returned to the scene of his family’s massacre. His legs did not shake and his gaze did not budge. He was composed as he locked eyes with Sud, the great dictator who had toppled his whole world. He kept them there and waited for silence.
The soldiers frothed at the mouth, waiting for the green light to smother and kill this puny invader. Sud held still. This white dwarf, so boldly strolling into the kingdom, aroused his curiosity if nothing else. He was of no threat, unless his family were hiding in the darkness. On his order, a group of soldiers investigated the surrounding area and came up with nothing. The dwarf was here, of his own will, alone. He must be sick of living. Sud ordered his soldiers to ease. They would hear the dwarf out.
Jaokhao’s proposition was brief. He could give Sud the one thing he wanted most. He could take him to Yai. All he asked for in return was freedom. Freedom from the war. Total amnesty. Yai was no leader to him anymore. He had banished one disease-stricken family member and plotted to kill another. He was a scoundrel and a coward. All Jaokhao wanted was freedom, the freedom of the soi at night.
Sud had his obvious doubts but could not shake the fantasy from his head. To finally have Yai, served up to him. His obsession, finally satisfied. It could be a trap but it could be the missing piece. He did not want to appear rash in front of his pack, so held silent while he contemplated. Jaokhao took the quiet to mean rejection, so turned and walked away. Sud saw his dream slipping away forever, his last chance to have his trophy. He halted the dwarf. It was done. They had a deal. The king’s head in exchange for freedom. The plan would be executed immediately.
Sud brought his finest soldiers along with him for the journey, leaving the others to protect the kingdom. Jaokhao led the way through the dusty trails of the district. On the way he explained that the fallen king was now a disgrace. A simple house dog, who had been taken in and numbed into a slobbering, docile oaf. He would put up little fight. Sud delighted in the news and ordered the group to pick up the pace. He was edging towards his dream.
They crossed through the district, to the rural area at the outer edges. Sud grew ever impatient. Jaokhao reassured him they were close.
Then Sud saw it. The den Yai had concealed himself, like a war criminal escaping reparation. The striped beast drooled. The tall creatures could not protect him anymore. His moment of judgement had arrived.
And then Jaokhao was gone. As they reached the entrance, he spun and twisted and scampered away. With the agility and grace of a dance, he dashed away into the darkness. Sud let out a guttural, vengeful howl. His own decadence had got him.
A light appeared. The whole pack turned their heads. They could not make out anything at first, but then a shape appeared. The shape of a tall creature, and its handheld assassin. In their frenzied attempt to escape, the pack created a mass brawl, smashing into and knocking over each other.
The butcher was quick and efficient. There was little struggle. The North Pack was wiped out in a flash. At sunrise, the butcher would dump them into its machine along with the other slabs of meat.
The white dwarf listened out for the bangs as he scurried through the dark. Though only faint, to him they made the sound of music. The souls of the family could rest now.
The frail old tall creature ached as it carried its usual bucket of water. It set the bucket down, and winced. It was not yet fully healed but had missed its routine of filling the bucket and setting it down. It did not know how long it had left, but it knew it would bring its bucket of water to its friends until they day it no longer could.
It turned back to its home. It would not know that it was leaving water for no one, as The Den was empty. Jaokhao had chosen the freedom of the night over the eternal war.
Paradise was more trouble to protect than its worth.