A dancing wolf skips along the grassy fields, singing and howling her morning chants. She relishes the tickle of fern upon her unkempt fur. Perched atop a hill, she scans the horizon surrounding her. Her rumbling belly focuses her loose gaze. For her, the chase of prey is a form of play. The flicker of a distant blade of grass gives her pause.
She prowls down quickly, neither seen nor heard. Her hunger becomes the engine, her nose the guide. She flattens her body and hunkers down, waiting for the right moment to pounce. Her eager legs expose a subtle dance of anticipation.
Before she can make her move, the rabbit is gone. Too late, too far. Did she blow her cover? She briefly questions her predatory prowess, before noticing the intruder.
She carefully climbs to higher ground to get a better look. Her eyes widen as she sees beholds its beauty in the clear. She’s never seen anything like it. Its body’s shape is similar to hers, but it’s clearly cut from a different cloth. The peeking rays of sunlight and gentle gusts of wind play its luscious mane like a harp.
She stares transfixed; bewildered and utterly mesmerized by the mysterious creature before her. How is the creature so pristine, so manicured? Has it never chased in the forest, splashed in a puddle, or jumped in the mud? What a strange life it must lead.
But its aura starts to fade once she watches it move. Hesitant, awkward and unsure — this is an animal that is clearly out of place. More importantly, she concludes, it is no threat.
She beckons to the creature, “Hey! I was chasing that rabbit. Why did you let it go? It was plump enough to feed us both, and then some.”
“Let it go? Why on Earth would I want to catch such a thing, let alone eat it? What an abhorrent thought. I have much higher standards for my meals. I eat only the best quality food fit for a dog, hand-selected by my humans.”
“A dog? And here I was thinking you might be a fellow wolf…”
The dog frowns in disgust. “I am nothing like you. I am a great dog with noble heritage. We dogs have evolved beyond the savage ways of our wolf ancestors.”
“Oh.” The wolf feels a tinge of a confusing, unfamiliar pain — shame. She never considered her kind to be less than, but now finds herself cornered into a defense. “What’s wrong with being a wolf?” Her belly rumbles in the silence that follows, echoing louder than her words ever could.
“If you like living on scraps like a savage, it’s a fine life indeed.”
Her instincts beckon her to pounce. This dog is asking to be taught a lesson. She decides to save her energy, as she hadn’t had a meal in days. She feels frustrated and confused just looking at him. How can a creature that can’t hunt look so healthy? Maybe he’s telling the truth about the humans. Perhaps it is the dog who can teach her a lesson.
“How do you convince the humans to feed you?”
“You really are clueless, aren’t you? One does not convince a human. We dogs must display our prowess, our skill, our discipline. It is an art form, really.”
“…And then the humans feed you?”
“Yes, yes. Look, I don’t have time for any more chit-chat with common animals. I’ve got to get back to my mansion!”
“Wait! How can I learn those tricks? Could… could you teach me?”
“Oh, please! It’ll be such fun. You can do one of your dances, and I’ll follow along. As a pair, we’ll be unstoppable! And then I can finally have some of that food you speak of.”
“Not a chance. From the looks of you, you’re a lost cause. I couldn’t teach you if I wanted to.”
The wolf pauses, almost ready to give up hope. “Well, if you won’t teach me, perhaps you know of another who would?”
The dog stands silent with impatience, before relenting. “If you insist on wasting your time, there is a farm. The Big Farm, they call it. That’s where we all learned our tricks. There might be someone there that would take pity on you.”
“Big Farm? Oh, how exciting! I can’t wait to see it. Would you show me how to get there?” The wolf hesitated for a moment, unsure if she was pushing too far. She went on anyway, “After all, I’d be eating a rabbit right now if you hadn’t scared it off…”
“If you think I’m going to help you out of guilt, you’re sorely mistaken. How you savages find your food is your problem, not mine.”
The wolf’s shoulders drop. She’s out of ideas. Just as she turns to be on her way, the dog speaks up. “There is one thing you can do for me. I can’t seem to find my way back to the road. It would be an… honorable thing… for a common animal such as yourself to guide a noble back to the road. I’d be willing to allow you to accompany me back. We dogs are kind creatures, after all.”
The wolf is torn. Her instincts tell her not to trust this dog, but her eyes only see his beauty, his grace, his class. She figures her instincts must be misleading her — a symptom of her wild upbringing. To her, this beautiful creature holds the key not just to food, but to a better way of life.
She has always avoided going anywhere near the roads, owing to the scary metal machines that haunted them. But now she has a mission, a purpose, a reason to risk it all. “Follow me!” bellowed the wolf, filled with a cocktail of excitement, fear, and curiosity.
The wolf darts through the forest with effortless grace. She sails over the slippery mud and hops through the thorny traps of weed. In the game of chase, she trusts her senses fully. As reliably as the sun rises, she finds her way.
Meanwhile, the dog follows along, flailing and floundering in her wake. Every step makes him uncomfortable. Eventually, with his mane flattened, his coat soggy, and his temper flared, he sees the road in the distance. For a moment, he feels admiration for the wolf’s abilities, but dismisses the thought with a thorough shaking of his fur. With the familiar texture of gravel beneath his feet, the dog’s orderly stature returns. He lifts his nose high and trots forward, a proud noble once again.
“Lucky for you, the farm is on the way to my mansion. I’ll allow you to follow behind me until we reach the farm, but no further.” The dog worries that the stench of the wolf will stay on his fur. He looks forward to a long bath at the hands of his master.
The wolf follows with some distance behind. She watches him closely, noticing every detail of his march — the way his paws lift high with each step, the way his head remains remarkably still, the way he moves so confidently even though his eyes seemed closed to the world.
Step by step, the wolf begins to mimic him. She hopes that by the time they reach the farm, she’ll have the hang of it. At least, enough to prove she’s worthy of being taught. She realizes just how important it is to her to be accepted into the Big Farm. For a moment, she questions this powerful new desire and the speed with which it overtook her. But the rumble of her belly reminds her of the rewards that lay ahead.
When they reach the farm, the dog offers a reluctant nod pointing towards it, before snapping his snout and marching onward.
She stands alone on foreign footing, driven toward the mystery of the lands before her. Sneaking her way past the fences, she heads to what appears to be a gathering of sorts. Her natural stealth ensures no one sees her, even as she prowls in plain sight. She scans the field, confused by what she sees.
The field is full of dogs, each with remarkably unique features. From the fur on their backs to the fluff on their faces, every dog looks like a different animal. She watches them in rapt attention. They all sit in a circle, focused on the same thing — a big dog — which she presumes is their leader. She takes a step forward to get a closer look, when her footing gives way on a loose stick.
All eyes are on her now. She starts to panic, but knows that this may be her only chance to prove herself. She defies her instincts to run and freezes into a statue, mirroring the dogs as best she can.
The lead dog approaches her, turning his head sideways as he looks her up and down. In his long tenure at the farm, he’s seen countless dogs of more breeds than he can recall, but he’s sure he’s never seen one like her before. He steps closer toward her, holding her gaze. She grits her teeth, ready to face her fate.
“Are you lost? This is no place for outside animals.”
“Oh, no, well… I came here to learn your tricks. The golden dog led me here.”
“…He has a big snout?”
“Oh… Him.” The leader seems to know who the wolf is describing, but his eyes betray annoyance rather than fondness. “Why do you wish to learn our tricks?”
The wolf had prepared for this question, but in the stress of the moment her thoughts become fuzzy. Her adrenaline lights her response on fire. “I’m hungry! Do you have any idea how hard it is to hunt these days? The pickings are slim. Day after day, week after week, it’s an endless struggle. Meanwhile, that golden dog tells me he gets fed generously by humans, just for performing tricks! If there’s an easier way to live, I’d like to try it. If he can do it, why can’t I?” She catches her breath, shocked by the ferocity of her words.
The leader holds a grim face for a long moment. “There is nothing easy about our life. Yes, we are fed, but we pay a heavy price for it.”
The wolf waits for him to elaborate, and is left waiting. His expression shifts quickly from caution to action. “I’ll take you in. We could use a dog like you. There’s a competition coming up, and I need someone with your skills.”
She resists the urge to show her excitement. “Thank you. I’m eager to learn.” She hesitated for a moment, before adding, “By the way, I’m not a dog, I’m—“
“You’re a dog now.”
Her training begins at once. She follows him to another fenced area nearby, filled with strangely shaped metal rods sprouting from the ground. Her task, she’s told, is to navigate her way through the obstacles. Upon hearing this, her shoulders relax. “All I have to do is walk? How simple!”
“Simple, but not easy.”
She soon realizes what he meant. It takes all her willpower to jam herself into the ill-fitting suit of a dog’s march. With gritted teeth she cages her own body to be flashy, stiff, and predictable instead of fluid, sleek and invisible. Every movement feels excruciatingly unnatural.
From the placement of her footprints to the expressions on her face, every inch of her is scrutinized by the leader. For the slightest imperfection, she is reprimanded and commanded to start over. Again, and again, and again.
She begins to lose patience. “I’m walking through them, aren’t I? Why does the angle of my eyebrow matter?”
“It must be perfect. It must be exactly as they say. You do not want to upset the humans.” His eyes betrayed an ominous look of a weary veteran, determined to avoid repeating the past. “Trust me.”
She doesn’t ask again. Step by step, she learns to fall in line.
“Good! I’m impressed.”
She smiles to herself, proud of how far she’s come. She daydreams about all the rewards waiting for her when she makes her mark on the competition. All the food she could want, and no more sleepless nights haunted by hunger.
She’s ready to do the dance. Little does she know that she’ll never get the chance.
Her ears perk up, sensing danger nearby. “They’re coming!”
She looks to the leader, who shows no sign of alarm. She admires his calmness until she realizes it is actually his ignorance.
They wasted no time. Before she can say a word, the coyotes have already surrounded the neighboring sheep. One of them is well into their dinner, another is ready for dessert. “Coyotes! We must move fast, or your friends are doomed.”
She looks with stunned confusion upon the leader and his pack. They’re frozen in place, stiff as statues. “What are you waiting for?!”
None of them move. “We’re not trained for this…”
With each passing second, her anger grows. If this is what it means to be a dog, then she wants no part of it.
She breaks the shackles of stillness and charges towards the intruders. The coyotes hold a brave face — they stand as a pack against her solitary resistance. But when they look into her eyes, they see she is no dog. She flanks them, surprises them, confuses them. The dance of a wolf strikes terror into their hearts, quickening their pulse and provoking their retreat.
With the threat at bay, she returns to the leader. The embarrassment of his inaction weighs him down like the heaviest of crowns. He cannot meet her eyes.
The wolf’s eyes flare with disappointment and disgust. “I was wrong to come here. There is no honor in your ways. I have nothing to learn from you.”
The leader has no words to counter. When she turns to leave, he does nothing to stop her. As she reaches the gate, she looks back to see his face drooping down, his eyes fixated on the ground.
She begins the slow trek back to the lands she came from, a lone wolf once again.
Further down the path, her ears perk up in alert. Again? She wonders if the coyotes’ luck could fail them twice in a single day. A closer listen reveals that it is not a pack, but a single creature. Someone is following her.
She disappears before her pursuer can take another next step. Her body blends into the background, and she watches in wait. The creature’s outline clarifies. Him? What’s he doing here?
The leader enters as only a dog can, pronounced and panting. Helplessly, he looks for her in every direction. In that moment, with her anger cooled, she looks at him with pity. “Wait! Please!” he shouts, facing no direction in particular.
After letting him suffer in silence for a little longer, she reveals herself. “What do you want?”
Still struggling to catch his breath, he contains a gasp from the shock of her sudden appearance. “I want to come with you.”
His response catches her off guard, leaving her speechless for a long moment. “Why?”
“Well… You were right. You have nothing to learn from me. But I want to learn from you.”
Wolf and the Mastiff, Old Book Illustrations
She waits for him elaborate. For once, he does.
“Will you teach me your ways?”
Her anger briefly returns, and she almost sends him away. But the walk had given her time to contemplate the loneliness that lay ahead of her, and appreciate the companionship she had left behind. She decides that the company of a dog is better than none at all. If nothing else, she figures, he’ll be easy to train.
Late one morning, the dog wakes with a start. Even after so many days living in the forest, he still misses his old bed in the farm. When he looks around, he notices the wolf is gone.
He ventures out to their usual hunting grounds and finds her hunched down, ready to pounce. He crawls over to meet her and squints at the horizon, trying to see what she sees. “Where is it?”
She stays silent, pointing with her eyes. The rabbit, having heard the dog, sees them and scurries off.
He sighs, heavy with disappointment. “Maybe I just don’t have it in me…”
“You do. It is in your nature.”
“But I’m not a wolf, I’m—“
“You’re a wolf now.”
Her words come with a fierce stare and playful smile. She skips ahead, dancing around the tall blades of grass, signaling him to follow. An invisible pack begins their hunt.