This story is by Aliyah Kaitlyn and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A vole scurried beneath the snow. Its distinctive must mingled with my favourite scent, the rich aroma of tree sap. I stalked towards the sound with careful movements of my paws. As the runt of the pack, I had always been small, and keeping quiet came easy.
I may be weak and slow, but my keen sense of smell allowed me to find rodent burrows even with cold enveloping the scents. I pounced. Dirt filled my mouth, then the copper taste of blood danced on my tongue. Triumph warmed my chest. I had it, but the vole was not mine to eat. My prize belonged to another. An outcast.
Pan had been thrown out of the pack when his leg had been mangled in a hunter’s trap. Garth forbade us from talking to him. I didn’t care. I couldn’t even stand proudly when I was with the pack, but bringing food to Pan, keeping him alive, was the one act of rebellion I could do.
I caught Pan’s earthen scent and followed it until I saw his dark grey tail sticking out of a hole in the mound of dirt he called home. I dropped the vole. Its blood stained the surrounding snow pink.
The outcast gazed at me with friendly eyes the colour of tree sap, and he limped towards me, his lame hind leg leaving a furrow in the snow, “Hello again. Why won’t you talk? I don’t bite.” He lowered his tail submissively. I growled and bared my teeth so he wouldn’t be tempted to speak again. I would give food to him, but would never talk. Speaking with an outcast would make me one.
Pan lifted the vole in his jaws and mumbled his thanks. I loped away from him, back to Garth’s pack.
I jumped into a stream edged with tongues of ice to wash my scent clean of Pan’s. If the pack found I consorted with an outcast, I would join him to freeze in winter’s grip.
I followed the scent markers until I entered the clearing where the pack slept. Dugouts pockmarked the circular area, and towering firs and leafless aspens rimmed its edges. I hoped to slink to my den, the smallest dugout, without anyone noticing me. No such luck.
“The runt caught nothing, as usual.” Garth, the alpha, strode towards me. Her scarred snout and bitten off ears attested to many battles. She was old, but her large size and confident manner made her seem young.
I began to growl, but quickly turned it to a meek whine and bared my neck to her in submission. Garth bit my snout, “An omega belongs on the ground.” She pushed her chest out, “Lie down.” I did, hating myself for it.
“You belong there.” She kicked my stomach.
Anger and shame seethed in my heart and made me say, “I am just as good as any of you!” I meant to whisper it, but the words came out as a yell.
“Prove it.” Garth’s derisive gaze showed what she thought of my chances, “Frostfell is tomorrow. Run it with us. Win, and you will be made a beta.” She sauntered away.
Only the strongest ran Frostfell, and a runt like me would never win without a plan. Good thing I had one. Part of the race’s final section went downhill and then across a frozen lake. I slinked off until I found the place, and checked to see if the object I had left there remained. It did. Satisfied, I returned to the clearing and went into my small dugout.
Lamith bounded into my den with a pup’s typical exuberance, and ran into the wall. Flecks of dirt fell from the low ceiling and dusted her moon-white fur with brown specks, “Hello Seri!” She yipped, “Good to see you.”
I stifled a chuckle. She was a runt, like me, and I knew how deep laughter could cut. I smiled. “Good to see you too.”
“Goodnight.” Lamith curled against me, her warmth driving the chill from my body. I allowed her to sleep next to me because no other wolf would. As the omega, my social status could not exactly fall lower. But I would be a beta tomorrow, not an omega. And would a beta tolerate a low-ranking pup’s presence? No.
I nipped at her neck, “Leave.”
Lamith jerked away from me, “Seri?”
“I will be a beta tomorrow.” I growled, “Betas do not sleep next to runts.” I regretted the harsh words the moment I spoke them, but Lamith had ran outside with a whine, and I couldn’t bring myself to follow and apologise. I slept poorly, missing Lamith’s warmth and the comforting sounds of her breathing. I woke feeling like my bones were made of ice.
I stepped out of my den, momentarily startled by the glare of the morning sun, and looked for a low-ranking wolf. I located one by his hesitant movements. I bared my neck to him so he would be more likely to reply, “When does today’s Frostfell start?”
“When the sun is at its peak. If you plan on running it, you’ve clawed prey too large to handle.” His voice was not without sympathy, “A runt like you has no chance of winning.”
“Let me be the judge of that.” I muttered, but only after he had walked off.
I spent the rest of the morning searching for Lamith, to no avail, and paused in my search once when Garth dragged back a skinny caribou with her hunting party. The metallic scent of blood teased my nose and my stomach clenched in hunger, but I would have to wait and be content with scraps. This time, I was left a whole leg. I gnawed on it until my hunger lost its sharpness, then pulled it to my den where Lamith might find it. The cold would hide the smell from other wolves.
Now, the sun was nearly at its highest point, and the snow glimmered like crystal. I went to Frostfell’s starting point, now brimming with ten-or-so wolves. I stayed at the back to avoid their attention until Garth arrived. Only she could start the race.
Garth howled in her deep, resonant way, and all gathered at the start point ran. I was overtaken by most in a few seconds, and a few paused to knock against me or snarl.
I loped upwards, past fallen tree trunks coated with green lichen, and crested a hill. I was last already, but didn’t care. The exhilaration of running, the sheer joy of moving, stole my ability to worry.
I raced through a cave system that swallowed the sun’s light, my claws clicking against the hard ground. The slope leading to the frozen lake neared.
The flat piece of wood remained. Good. I bounded onto it and skidded down the slope so fast I thought my fur might be pulled from my skin. I yipped in fear. The land surrounding me blurred into blotches of white and green. Aside from a few jolts, all went smoothly until the wood beneath me hit something large, possibly a stone, and started to spin.
I dug my claws into the wood, barely managing to retain my hold, and slid onto the frozen lake. I let out a joyous bark. Now, on the flat, there would be no obstacle to bar me from hurtling to victory.
Still spinning, I failed to notice the snowdrift until the wood collided with it and I was thrown into its frigid depths. By the time I recovered my senses and wrestled my way out of the snowdrift, all the other wolves had reached the finish point.
I had failed. I would be omega forever in this pack, and I had lost Lamith’s friendship along with the little social status I had left. I stayed there; sprawled on the ice; until the moon rose and coated the world with a thin film of silver.
In this pack, I would always be omega. In this pack. What if I didn’t have to stay?
Enthusiasm animated my ice-numbed limbs, and I staggered upwards. I could run now; live on my own like Pan. But where would that leave him? Or Lamith? There was only one thing to do now. I trekked back to my former pack’s clearing for the last time.
I found Lamith curled against the earthen wall of my den, gnawing the caribou leg I had left for her even in sleep. I nudged her side to wake her, and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
The leg fell from her jaws, and she gazed at me with a pained expression. Or possibly a tired one
“Let me make up for it. I’m starting a new pack, and I’d like you to come with me.”
She looked away in feigned anger, but her grey eyes brightened.
“You” I said, “Would be beta.”
“I’ll come!” She blurted.
“Good. Follow me. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”