Everything was cold. Dark. Lonely. Empty. He tried to move, but couldn't. He felt crushed; unable to do anything. Suddenly, he was forcefully yanked into light. For a moment, he just lay there. It was actually quite comforting.
Annoyingly, something damp and large nudged him in the head.
No, he thought, rolling over. Leave me alone.
He opened his eyes slowly, trying to see what it was. Large, green ones looked back at him, lovingly. Long, soft fur covered her entire body like a shaggy blanket. Her coat was black, with small patches of grey. Floppy ears hung from both sides of her head, pricked attentively. A warm aura flooded from her, pulling him closer. He raised his head, glancing around. He was laying on a pile of straw underneath a mature oak tree. Sunlight poured through the branches, casting a soft, orange glow.
Two other puppies looked like the large one, but scruffier. They would roll in the lime-coloured grass, wrestling playfully. The larger one leaped away, peering down her nose at her younger brother. She had a look of superiority on her emotionless face. Whereas, the other one looked mischievously charming. Although, obviously older than the puppy was, the brother had a very young look to him.
"Elijah, Isabelle," she finally said, looking up at the other puppies.
"Come meet your little brother."
The puppies raced over, bounding over each other. The mother turned back to look at him. She seemed exhausted, but her eyes sparkled like emeralds that contrasted against her dark fur.
The puppy lowered his head, looking down at himself. He was very similar to them; apart from scattered patches of silver fur that shone in the late afternoon light.
He got up, padding over to whom he assumed to be his mother. She was lying on her stomach, her tail curled over her legs. His siblings were already settled beside her: his brother resting on his sister (to her disgust).
He walked closer to them, still unsure. His brother gave him a toothy grin, while his sister smiled approvingly. He turned to face his Mother, sitting between her paws. She gave the puppy a wet lick on his head.
"Lucas," Mother chuckled, resting her paw on his.
"I like the sound of that."
Lucas, he thought, lifting his head to nuzzle her nose. That is my name.
He placed his other paw on Mother's larger one.
This is my mother. This is my family.
* * *
Fifteen dog years later...
Lucas sprinted through the open valley, a brown field mouse clamped in his jaws. His paws thumped against the firm soil, bringing up small clouds of dirt. He whipped his head back, glancing behind him at his brother.
"Hey Elijah, I'm going to win," Lucas said, grinning.
"Fat chance!" Elijah laughed, a determined look plastered on his thin face. Elijah pounced onto a flat boulder sticking out of the yellowing grass. His claws gripped around the edge, pulling him lower. Elijah pushed off the rigid surface, leaping into the air.
His mouth was stuffed with mice of all colours; including a couple of white ones.
Lucas knew Mother absolutely adored the white mice they would occasionally find.
"Reminds me of the stars," she had said, while chomping on the small morsels she loved so much.
"And they are the sweetest."
But Lucas knew the real reason she liked them over the others: they reminded her of Father. Isabelle told him about his father when Mother refused.
"Father was an amazing dog," Isabelle had said, fiddling with her claws nervously. He had never seen her so unsure before.
My father must have been incredible, he thought to himself often.
Elijah gave Lucas his signature grin as he landed, continuing to sprint towards home. Lucas grumbled, stretching his legs further to take longer strides.
He had never won in these races home. Elijah was leaner than he was, allowing him to blitz past Lucas every time. He never minded, though. He and his brother were too close to have stupid disagreements like that.
Elijah was bounding up the familiar hill where the Tree stood. Lucas lowered his head and neck so they were in line with his shoulders. He gained a burst of speed as he ran with the wind. Lucas looked up at the Tree, smiling broadly despite the large mouse in teeth.
Elijah suddenly squared his legs, digging his claws into the dirt. He skidded to a halt, dropping everything he held in his mouth.
Surprised, Lucas looked up at his brother. His paw slipped on the ground, tripping him. Lucas collapsed onto his stomach, still sliding on the firm surface. The small rocks grazed his chin as he stopped beside Elijah. His sibling was dumbfounded, mouth wide open.
Lucas lifted himself off the dirt, glancing at the Tree. The oak was wreaked. Large branches lay against it, clearly ripped off. There were great holes hacked into the thick trunk. And on the ground, lying quite innocently, was a weird piece of metal with a hole in it.
What made the scene even worse was the fact that Mother and Isabelle were gone.
A look of sheer terror found its way onto Elijah's face.
"Isabelle!" Elijah howled, his eyes searching desperately for a trace of her.
Lucas slowly paced up the hill, investigating the scene. He kept his head near the ground, his nostrils widening as he took deep sniffs.
Elijah followed, tears welling in his eyes. Lucas advanced on the strange device, studying it closely. It was shiny and cylinder like, with writing of some sort inscribed on the side. Lucas examined it, poking it occasionally with his nose. He turned around to face Elijah, shaking his head.
"We have to find them!" Elijah yelped, edging closer to Lucas.
"What if we are captured too?" Lucas asked, worriedly.
"Lucas we can't leave them!"
Lucas paused, listening intently. Was that them?
"We have to go now!"
"No. I won't let them get you!" Lucas snapped back, stepping further away.
"You always want to stay on the safe side! This is our family that we're talking about. We have to-"
An agonising howl erupted from Lucas' throat. Crimson liquid stained his leg as he dropped to the ground. He gritted his teeth, shaking his head wildy. His left leg lay awkwardly on the grass, an open wound wrapped around the side. His chest rose and fell with every painful breath.
"Lucas!" Elijah cried, running over to his brother. Small clouds of smoke poured out of the shiny contraption.
His leg twitched violently as Lucas lay on his side, whimpering softly.
Elijah raced to grab long strands of straw that lay at the base of the oak. He returned, cautiously eyeing the blood. Elijah carefully wrapped the straw around his brother's leg. Lucas screamed in pain as he tried to claw at his injury.
Elijah gripped the spare length of the plant in his jaws, tearing it away.
Lucas calmed down, his eyelids drooping.
"Lucas, I need you to stay awake, ok?" Elijah asked kindly, laying beside his brother. Lucas kept his eyes open, wincing at the pain.
"It'll be alright. I promise," Elijah said, nuzzling Lucas' nose.
"We'll find Mother and Isabelle together."
With incredible comic timing, a black dog stepped out onto the open valley. She warily looked around, as if wondering if anyone was there. Her movements were slow and cautious, allowing Lucas to see her before she pounced over to the hill. She had a slight limp, suggesting that she had been hurt and was trying to hide it.
"Isabelle?" Elijah asked, looking up at her. He smiled as if he would never smile again, and ran over to her.
"You big doofus," Isabelle laughed, running to her brother. Elijah leaped on top of Isabelle, tackling her to the ground. They grappled for a little, before resting under the sunset. Elijah gave her a big lick on the side of her head. She wiped her face, getting up. Her smile faded as quickly as it had come.
"What happened to Lucas?"
"Long story," Elijah replied, rolling onto his stomach.
"But before I tell you, where is Mother?"
* * *
"What?!" Lucas cried, snapping the stick he had been chewing nervously.
"Yeah, I regret not stepping in to help Mother," Isabelle said, looking at her paws.
"Why would humans come out here!"
"I don't know, but they were at the Tree while you guys were gone."
"Do you know where they went?" Elijah asked, glancing quickly at Lucas' leg before returning his gaze to Isabelle.
"They couldn't have gone far. I'm assuming the city."
"Then we'll go there," Lucas said suddenly, wincing as he got up.
"Lucas, you don't understand. Mother is dead!"
He flinched, looking back at her.
"No she's not." Lucas stated with a calm certainty.
"Yes she is! I saw them take her. She'll be dead in a day."
"Don't talk rubbish about my mother!" he yelled, clenching his jaw to hold back a snarl.
"She is not dead and I will prove it!"
He instantly regretted yelling at his sister as he lowered his head.
"It's ok, Lucas," Elijah said warmly, pacing the Tree.
"You're right. We should find her."
"But your leg-" Isabelle started, staring at the bloodstained material tied around his wound.
"Will be fine," Lucas finished, clutching the larger half of his stick in his mouth. He placed it on the ground, looking back at his siblings.
"If you won't come with me, I'll go alone."
"No!" Elijah and Isabelle yelled simultaneously, jumping up to stand in front of him.
"Ok then, lets go."
His siblings nodded at him, a determined look on both of their faces.
"We'll find Mother."
Actually, she didn't know the words to describe it. She still felt these feelings, though. She seemed to understand everything. She was alone. Just her. And her thoughts.
It was quiet. But she liked it that way. It was peaceful. The serenity wrapped around her comfortably like a warm blanket.
"My lady, she is ready."
Everything was suddenly moving. She blinked, opening her tired eyes. A pair of old hands wearing thin, white gloves gripped around her side. A wrinkly face looked back at her, his crystal blue eyes glistening despite the dim lighting. Circular spectacles rested on his hooked nose, making his eyes appear to be larger than they really were. He wore a navy blue tailcoat, a bow tie tightly fastened to his collar.
Behind him sat a regal looking woman, wearing a beautiful peach gown, draped with threaded silk. Her blonde hair was pulled into a tight bun with small, silver adornments planted firmly on her head.
She smiled, resting her gaze on the small creature held in the man's arms.
"Welcome to your new home, darling," the woman said, trying to contain her happiness in an orderly fashion. She got off her seat, walking slowly to the man, not taking her eyes off the tiny animal.
"She is perfect, Alfred. Just like I imagined her. A beautiful kitten like herself shall live a life of luxury. We will have a thrilling life together!"
Alfred nodded solemnly, turning himself and the kitten around to face a steel bench top. A stunning snow coloured cat was lying on the bench, her blue eyes opened lazily. Her head shot up as she took one look at her kitten.
"Arielle," said the woman, sternness hinted slightly in her voice.
In one graceful movement, Arielle sat up to face her daughter, her tail wavering.
Put me down, the kitten pawed at Alfred's fingers, whining loudly.
I want to be with my mother!
Alfred rested her on the cool surface, stepping back. He pushed the bridge of the specticles up his crooked nose with the tip of his finger, looking back at the woman.
The kitten rolled onto her stomach, glancing up at Arielle.
Her mother smiled, padding over to her daughter noiselessly. Arielle lowered her head, levelling her eyes with the kitten's. She nuzzled the kitten's nose, purring softly.
"Hello, my darling," Arielle whispered, pulling her head back to look at the kitten.
The dim delivery room was silent. A small lightbulb flickered. The faint smell of chemicals made its way to the kitten's nostrils.
Arielle went back to her original spot, laying down. She rested her elegant head on her paws, gazing at her daughter. The kitten grinned, walking over to her mother, a spring in her step. She leaned against Arielle's stomach, wriggling closer to the warmth.
"Alfred," said the woman.
"Make an order for extra food, a bed, a new litter, and-"
The kitten stopped listening as she fell into a deep sleep. The woman left the room, Alfred trailing close behind her.
"Don't worry, darling. Nothing will ever hurt you. I will make sure of it," Arielle whispered, gently licking her daughter on the head.
A tiny, sky blue collar rested on the bench, studded with pale diamonds. A name tag hung from the band, the silver shining. Aria was inscribed neatly on the tag.
My name, Aria thought, reaching for the collar. She pulled it closer, wriggling her small head into the hole. Automatically, the band fastened around her neck.
"Miss Olivia always picks the best names, dear," said Arielle, pacing over to Aria.
"She will take good care of you, Aria."
"Remember one thing, Aria: Stay safe. Stay hidden. Never let your guard down."
"What do you-" Aria said, the smile wiped from her face.
But before she could finish, Arielle was gone.
* * *
A police siren wailed loudly in the distance. A shady figure stood in an alleyway, a cigarette gripped between his fingers. He held a phone in his other hand, muttering quietly.
“Yeah I got it. But it’s gonna cost you big money. You can’t find it anywhere else.”
Aria sighed, flicking her tail irritably.
She padded along the pavement, cautiously eying the area. The streets were filthy. And dangerous. Well, according to Miss Olivia, at least. Aria wouldn’t know for sure, unless she was actually there.
She looked thoughtfully at a large dumpster. It was on its side, the contents pouring out of it. Aria stopped, wrinkling her nose. An odd looking creature pounced out of the rubbish, an apple core wedged between its fangs. It hissed, whipping its thick, striped tail threateningly. Aria flinched, squaring her shoulders. She lowered her head, widening her eyes into a hard stare. Aria bared her teeth menacingly, advancing on the animal. It ducked away towards the bin, grabbing as much trash as it could hold. It gave her one last frightened look, scurrying back into the shadows.
I guess it does pay to admire Miss Olivia’s expression of disgust.
A dog howled.
Aria curled her claws, a scared expression crossed her face.
It yelped in pain. Then the voice spoke quietly.
Aria strained her ears, trying to hear what was said.
She started in the direction of the voices.
Wait a minute. Am I seriously worried about a dog? she thought, coming to a stop.
Three large mutts sprinted down the street. The first one ran ahead, constantly looking back, as if to see the others were there. The second one ran on the road, smiling goofily. The third trailed slightly behind, hopping occasionally.
“Elijah, get off the road,” the first ordered, extending her stride.
“It’s much faster this way,” Elijah moaned, leaping onto the pavement.
“Izzy, you really need to live a little.”
“Don’t call me that!” she snapped back, slowing.
“My name is Isabelle. Not Izzy! We can live a little when Mo-“
Isabelle slowly turned her head to face the white cat that stood alone on the concrete.
The two dogs skidded to a halt, stopping side by side.
“W-what are you guys doing here,” Aria stuttered, slowly moving back.
“What are you doing here, cat. A little far away from your mansion, isn’t it?” Isabelle snarled, baring her pearl-white teeth.
“Actually, I live in a penthouse.”
“I don’t care where you live, you snob!”
“Y-you probably would care if you actually lived somewhere.”
Isabelle opened her mouth, but closed it again, looking sideways.
“Hey guys, why did we stop?”
A dog that was smaller than the others padded towards them, panting as he slowed.
His dark fur glistened, silver patches glistening. His expression was calm, and relaxed. His face gentle, despite the anger in the others. His deep eyes were a brilliant emerald, unlike most dogs who had plain brown ones. She looked intently into them, sensing anxieties hidden deeply. She was quite a bit shorter than him, her head barely reached his shoulder. One of his back legs was bound tightly in bandages, crimson blood staining the material.
He gave a warm smile, and to her surprise, Aria’s heart skipped a beat.
“I’m Lucas,” he said, stepping closer to her.
“And the hostile ones are Elijah and Isabelle.”
“We are not hostile!” Elijah and Isabelle yelled at the same time.
“I’m Aria,” she mumbled, wrapping her tail around her leg nervously.
Lucas’ face twisted into a grin.
"Could... could we be friends? It'd be handy to know someone lives in the city,” he suggested, looking down at the pavement.
“It’ll be fun.”
“What?!” Elijah yelped, as if someone had shot him.
“Never!” Isabelle hissed.
“They're very supportive, aren't they?” Lucas chuckled, glancing back at Aria.
“I-I have to go. I’m sorry. I can meet you at the bridge tomorrow?” Aria said, sprinting away, not waiting for a response.
“Ok, we'll be there!” Lucas called, looking slightly worried.
"You sound very needy, brother," Elijah laughed, nudging his brother's shoulder with his own.
"Shut up!" Lucas yelled, shoving Elijah.
The dogs faded into the distance as Aria ran further.
Why did I do that? He’ll hate me forever, if I even see him again.
Aria turned into another street, narrowly dodging a lamppost.
An ambulance wailed, speeding past her.
Weird, she thought, scaring away a pigeon as she ran.
Two huge fire trucks drove up the road, men in yellow outfits clutching onto the side.
There’s a fire nearby, I think.
Aria slowed down, padding beside a large hedge. A plume of smoke hung eerily in the air, above a tall, burning building.
The windows in the building were smashed, shards of glass scattered on the road. The silver penthouse at the top was fully engulfed by the merciless flames. A crowd of spectators formed at the bottom, gasping as great chunks of the building fell. Aria grimaced as a young looking woman was loaded into the ambulance.
“My cat!” she cried, weakly pushing at the firm arms of the paramedics.
“Aria is still in there! She is all I have left. You must get her!”
“Ma’am, please calm down,” a hard faced man lifted the bed into the back of the vehicle.
“My darling is in there!”
Aria froze. Is that... No, it can't be my penthouse on fire... It can't be Miss Olivia.
If I hadn’t left, I would be-
A burly fireman grabbed Aria around the side, lifting her off the pavement. She wriggled, trying to break free of his firm grip, but to no avail. He walked towards the paramedic, nodding his head towards Olivia.
The soot on his gloves stained Aria’s white fur. She raised her head, facing Miss Olivia. She had large, blistering burns on her arms and legs. Her pale skin was darkened with ash. Medics raced around, wrapping and anointing the injuries. The man rested Aria on Olivia’s lap. The woman embraced her in a tight hug, sobbing loudly.
“My darling is back! My beautiful kitten!”
Aria curled into a small doughnut on her lap, purring soundly. She was where she was meant to be. But some part of her mind returned her thought back to Lucas.
She sighed, covering her head with her paws.
Not now. I’ll have time to think about him later.
Her stomach twisted itself into a loose knot that tightened with every stray thought about the dog she couldn’t stop thinking about. Sensing something was wrong, Olivia stroked her back softly, the fingers cool against her fur.
The medics climbed into the ambulance, slamming the door behind them.
The air was cold, an aroma of thick chemicals and cleaning products circulated the small room.
Before Aria could do anything, Miss Olivia sneezed. And again. And again.
“Blasted cat,” a paramedic mumbled, lifting Aria away from Olivia.
Another put a weird cup thingy to the woman’s mouth. Olivia's eyes rolled into the back of her head, before she dropped into a deep, forced sleep.
Aria hissed, snapping at the thick fingers that held her in place. The ambulance shuddered to a stop, the back door swung open. The man threw her out, insincerely.
Aria landed on her side, grazing her chest on the cement. Blood dripped heavily from her front, oozing down her stomach. She whimpered, curling herself into a ball. The wind whipped her wound painfully.
Aria cried, letting out all the pain she kept inside. Tears splattered onto the pavement, each one its own ocean of sorrow.
Aria soon fell asleep soundly, letting the world push the tragic puzzle pieces of her life together. Her house: gone. Her mistress: gone. Her perfect life: nearly gone. She felt empty again. She understood everything. Her first time out, she realised the world is a cruel, dangerous place. No one can be trusted. Your closest friends turn into your enemies. Nothing is what you thought it was. And everything can change with the slightest mistake.
She wanted someone she can trust. She wanted someone to stay by her side forever. She wanted someone to love her; someone to care for her.
Someone like… him.