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By Chawna Schroeder

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I am Beast. I serve Master.

When he calls, I come. When he commands, I obey. When he rages, I cower at his feet. By his word I live; by his word I die. So I stay to the shadows, sleeping in the pen with Master’s dogs and fighting them for the scraps that fall from
Master’s table. Sometimes I win. Most times I don’t. Then long nights follow. Cold nights, when wind pierces the wood.

Tonight, Master’s dogs curl up together in the corner away from the wind. I try to join them, but the Others growl and snap. I go away to the pen’s far side and wrap my fur around me. It is long, but it only covers my head, and the extra coat Master gave me is full of holes. The Others’ fur covers all of them. This is one reason why I am Beast, not an Other.

Light comes after a long time, but it is cold light, angry light. My insides hurt. I curl into a tighter ball, but the hurt does not go away. Maybe some of Master’s pack will come, and he will call me to do the things only I can do. Then Master will laugh, I will have food, and the hurt will go away for a little while.

The house door opens—it creaks—and Master’s mate calls. “Warrior, Mongrel, Huntress, Arrow.”

The Others immediately rise, yapping and jumping against the pen’s boards.

Mate does not call me, but I uncurl anyway. Pressing my forepaws into the dirt, I swing the rest of me forward, my useless hind leg dragging behind. I am not as quick as the Others, but they have four good legs, and I have only three.

Without looking at me, Master’s mate tosses bones to the Others. Her mouth is thin. I wait by the boards, face to ground. I do not know why I wait. A thin mouth says she is displeased, and my insides always hurt more when Master’s mate is displeased. Day will be cold and long.

“Beast, come.”

I raise my head. She called me?

Her fingers grasp the gate, her mouth thinner. She did call. I bound forward.

Mate opens the gate enough for me and me only, then closes it on my useless leg. I yelp and roll forward. My leg, my leg! I curl into a ball, forepaws to my useless leg, water running down my face.

“Quit your whining.” Mate hits my back with a stick. “Hurry up.”

I slink toward Master’s house, but not fast enough. Mate’s stick finds my back twice more before I reach the flat rock by the door. She raises the stick to strike again. I cower.

The door opens. “Enough, woman!” Master steps between his mate and me. “Get back to your work.”

She scowls but turns away.

Master pats my head. “Don’t worry about her, Beast.” He goes into the house. “Come, girl.”

I swing myself across the stone floor, and Master shuts the door behind me.

The inside is warm and thick with the smell of food, and I would thump a tail if I had one like the Others. My movement must be fast so that no one steps on me, for both strangers and the men of Master’s pack fill the room. But perhaps more people will mean more food.

A stranger-man at the long table snorts and points at me. “What’s that?”

“Beast.” Master pulls out a chair, and it scrapes against the floor.

“But what is it? Human? Animal?”

“Neither. Both. It’s a beast. Watch.” Master breaks a loaf of bread and tosses part to me.

I catch it in my mouth. The bread is dry and hard, but it is food, and I feast.

Master breaks off another chunk. “Beast, catch.” He throws it across the room.

I bound over the uneven floor and leap to catch the bread as it bounces off the wall.

Some of Master’s pack chuckle, and a stranger says, “Impressive.”

I think that means I did well. I chew on my reward.

The men hunch again over the table and stab fingers at something on it. I am forgotten, but I don’t mind. The wind cannot bite here. I curl into a ball in the corner and watch the fire burning low in the hearth.

I think of a place where I am a favorite, where I lie by the fire and bones with meat are set before me every day. Could there be such a place for me? What would I have to do to earn such high favor with Master?

The men at the table become louder and louder. Master’s pack is fighting the strangers. Fists pound. Voices yell. I huddle in my corner. Master is angry. I do not like it when Master is angry.Blood—usually mine—will flow.

One from Master’s pack rises and stomps out the door. Outside. There I can hide until Master’s rage goes away.

I slink toward the door. A stranger tips a chair over and a pot flies over my head, shattering against a wall. I dart behind pans by the hearth. My useless leg bumps a smaller pail. Gray powder spills across the floor.

“Beast!” Master’s footsteps pound. “What are you still doing in here, you stupid animal?”

Whimpering, I flatten myself to the floor. Please, Master. Don’t be angry. Please, Master. I’m sorry.

He grabs my fur and hauls me out from behind the big pots. “Out!” He kicks me outside and slams the door behind me.

Water from above splashes down on my head, and the wind bites hard. But Master’s hand did not find his belt. That is better than I thought possible.

I drag myself off the stone by the door; neither Master nor his mate must find me here. The sky’s water pelts harder as I crawl under some bushes near the edge of the woods. Master will not know I am here. The pack and strangers will leave. His anger will go away. Then I can return.


I sleep, but in my sleep I no longer lie by the fire or eat meat. Master is angry, so angry that he cracks his whip at me because I spilled the water bucket on myself. I am cold and wet, but Master does not see. He wants me to drink all the water I spilled, but the water rises faster than I can drink, and the more I drink, the more I thirst.

The water is to my neck. Master’s whip cracks louder and nearer. I jump with a yelp, and the angry Master of my sleep goes away—I’m back outside under my bush, my whole underside wet from pooling water.


My head jerks to the left. Fire! Not a little one like in the hearth, but a big one that eats the whole house with huge, crackling bites. The night is cold, but not that cold. Why does Master surround his whole house with fire? And Master is not the only one who does this. Many houses of Master’s pack have big fires.

Two shadows sprint around the house. The fire lights the faces—Master’s mate is first, but the second is a stranger. The stranger grabs Mate. She screams. The stranger strikes her and drags her away beyond the fire.

He struck Mate! No one strikes Mate except Master himself.

Now other voices pierce the thickness of night. Loud voices. Scared voices. Strange voices. I cower under my bush. I don’t know what’s going on. The night is angry. The air smells wrong—thick and sharp. The wind blows hard and whips the leaves above my head. Where’s Master? Why isn’t he stomping around, yelling, beating back these strangers? Why is the night red instead of black?

Crack! Master’s housetop drops into the fire.

I whimper and watch, unable to look away from this thing that should not be. Shadows jump against fires, shadows with no form, shadows with loud voices. One black form becomes two,then four, then more and more, until there are so many shadows that they blur back into one. Screams are fewer now, whimpers and yelps more—like the sounds that leave my own mouth. But they are Master’s pack. I am Beast. Why do they act like me?

A whip cracks. A voice yells. The black blur of shadows moves, slinking beyond the red flames. A scream breaks out at the far end and then is suddenly silent. I shudder. I’ve heard that before, when I went hunting with Master. One of the Others caught an animal. It wiggled and screamed. The Other bit down on it. The scream stopped. So did the wiggling. Even when Master took the animal from the Other, it did not move. That night my insides hurt so much I could not eat.

My insides hurt the same way now.

The black blur of shadows disappears, and the crying weakens until only crackling fire is left. Then even that fades until there is only a little red left around the bottom. The sky lightens.

Black spikes stand where Master’s house was. I wait for him to come stomping, yelling, with the belt in his hand.

He does not come.

I crawl out from under my bush, my useless leg dragging through the mud. It is quiet. Too quiet.

I creep to Master’s house. Black and gray-white powder covers everything. The floor. The hearth. A few pots and pans. The black smears onto me as I swing across the floor. Still nothing moves or speaks. And I know.

Master is no more.

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