The dawn broke still and gray. A thick fog had enshrouded the world, the magical mist transforming the landscape. The spruces, the trail, the creek, the fish wheel and all the wilderness vanished. Now merely a cloud, slumbering on the ground. Without the slightest breeze, the air did not stir, and no sound fractured the crystal silence of daybreak. As each dog awoke, they beheld a tiny microcosm floating in smoky space. Each could see only the others in the pack, and the small patch of Earth that held them, seemingly all there was remaining of the universe. After a quiet round of stretches and yawns, and time enough to look about, taking in the curiously vaporous world, Larik was first to speak.
“I’m sorry I got so carried away yesterday.” he addressed the pack in a voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve been thinking about it all night. It was really nice of you guys to come back for me. I know I owe a certain duty to the pack.”
“You owe us nothing…” Stone began.
“Please.” Larik cut him off politely. “Let me finish. I’ve been thinking all night of what to tell you.” He paused, looking to Stone to ensure there was no offense. “Sasha should be able to go see Kotka, and Umka should see Tun. Anchu should be able to don a racing harness again. Really, it’s just selfish of me to pressure you guys into living in the wild wood. I don’t know myself if I can do it, or if that’s even what I really want.” He looked up into the fog where there previously stood trees. He looked beyond them, to the fog hiding the distant mountain tops from view. “One thing I know for certain,” he began again in a serious tone, then cracked a smile, “and that’s that you guys really stink like rotten fish!” He feigned disgust at the smell. “Can we get out of here? Anywhere but here! How could I have lived here for two days?”
Larik’s apologies, followed by humor, broke the mood of sadness and contention that had reigned over the pack. A feeling of bright good cheer and camaraderie again filled their hearts and spirits, as the pack began to trot eastward on the familiar trail obfuscated by fog. The world seemed to have evaporated, and all the cosmos was reduced to this caravan, loping through a ceaseless heavenly veil.
Conversations were simple, clear, honest and open. Feelings were expressed without undue emotional weight, without requirements for solemnity or serious consideration. It was as if the entire group had become a single mind, and these were the thoughts it thought in unbounded contemplation.
“Well, I hope there are no wolves, or wild dogs, anywhere around. We smell like a pack of marching salmon.” said Dak.
“I didn’t notice so much until you pointed it out.” Anchu added with a giggle, sprinting ahead to be upwind of the rest. He nearly vanished into the fog, just a dark Anchu-sized shadowy ghost, nearly indiscernable. Almost more sensed than seen.
“I’m curious to see what home looks like. To see if the band of vagabonds remains encamped.” Stone stated casually, trotting in his usual place, shoulder to shoulder with Dak, at the fore of the pack save for anxious Anchu.
“I wonder if Tun is there. And Rol.” spoke Sasha, in that moment a sense gripping her heart and stomach, as she considered the younger may well have moved on. “Rol.” The name rang from her with no further purpose than to hear it again, to evoke a smile and a slight shake of the head at her recollections.
“I just want to eat something besides fish.” Larik interjected. “Keep your eyes out.”
“Eyes out!” parroted Alexei, then he moved closer to his brother and asked quietly, “For what?”
“For food!” Larik nearly scolded. “Rabbits and weasels. Whatever you see.”
“I can see nothing in this cloud.” Alexei remarked, as he eased away from Larik a bit, maintaining the pack’s pace, then dropping back a little.
“I think we should do both.” Stone raised his voice and turned his head to address the group as they floated along, alone in the world but for the surreal passing ghost tree or ghost rock, half-solid in the translucent air.
“Weasels and rabbits?” Dak threw a crooked, questioning glance at Stone.
“To try living in the wilderness. If the Lodge has become a village without Tun, I’m game to give it a try with Larik.” Most in the group raised eyebrows or looked at one another.
“What do you mean “both”?” Sasha inquired.
“And you should see Kotka, Tun or Rol,” Stone responded, “Anchu can return to the team. Larik can remain in the woods and we can visit, and bring food.”
“That’s not exactly a wild pack, is it?” asked Dak, “How does that equal both?”
“And,” Stone continued, “if the Lodge is a village with no sign of Tun or Rol, we head out on our own.”
Thinking aloud, Larik parroted like Alexei, “On our own.”
“How can we go live wild if I’m with Tun and Alexei is with the team? And what about Kotka?” Umka moved closer to Stone as he spoke.
“And Rol?” Sasha added.
“Suppose none of them are there?” Dak looked to a passing ghost pine as he spoke, almost more to the ether than the pack, “At the Lodge.”
“Like Tunkan.” Larik expressed the remainder of Dak’s thought.
“RABBIT! RABBIT! RABBIT!” Anchu’s barking accompanied the rapid fading away of his ghost backside and tail into the dense fog.
Larik burst into a run up the center of the trail, barking orders.
“You two on the left,” he nodded without slowing, “and you guys on the right.”
He disappeared into the cloud behind Anchu.
Away they all flew, and the Wild Pack was off, on its first hunt together.