Red and White

Between the snow that had fallen through the day and the snow that fell at dusk, a moist pall covered Nell's world. The snow gathered at the edges of streets where it eventually turned to slush. In less trafficked places, the snow gathered freely, forming itself into mounds and oceans. When Nell walked through it, the snow clung to his fur. It clung to his fur and weighed down on his movements; it clung to the white fur and, in the poor illumination, gave him the appearance of a phantasmagorical bear-like thing. Nell did not aim to scare off anyone but was glad his appearance did so.

Dusk and night competed for the worst times to be alive though that competition was a close one. Night meant less wandering souls, but the souls that wandered the night where the kind that wanted to be feared and, more often than not, managed to do so. They were humans with bodies made of straight lines and sharp angles and twitchy movements. They were dogs with fur bristling and fangs glistening and lips drawn back into snarls. Those that were not hunters thought themselves such and those that did not think themselves hunters were either rotting in their homes or in a ditch. Dusk meant more wandering souls and more competition. But those that wandered dusk seldom thought themselves hunters because they were hunters and had no need for titles. They had honour instead and, most, a nose for fairness. Wandering the day was easiest for all but Nell, whose eyes burned and became blind due to glowing snowfall in the sunlight.

A streetlight flickered on and off. At one point in time it had three colours, but the green and red either faded completely or still patiently waited for the yellow to stop flickering. From atop a dilapidated balcony, two feathery silhouettes watched the scene with such fascination that Nell immediately understood them to be pigeons, because no other creature was stupid enough to be entertained by that. If either flew low enough he would eat. But pigeons, Nell had learned, were stupid in every sense but survival, and he could not help but pity that resistance to death coupled by the lack of reason to understand life. They were the opposite of humans, who seemed to be doing everything in their power to bring about their own extinction while being, supposedly, the most intelligent creatures. Nell had seen the kind of savagery humans were capable of. Even the most cruel, sadistic dog would have crouched and whimpered and tucked his tail between his legs.

That evening's hunt consisted of hunting what nature herself had hunted. Birds and rodents, caught unprepared when the storms began, frozen underneath the snow. The novelty of not needing to stalk and chase had intrigued Nell at first, who found his disproportionately long snout ideal for the task. But either all frozen critters had already been found or what luck he gathered through years of misfortune had run out, because there was nothing to be found. At worst he knew where the human dumpsters were and knew that his size alone could dissuade competitors from digging through them too – but the human food had made him sick before, which compared to some of the stories he had heard was the best possible outcome. Night would arrive and bring with it its wretched night-loving creatures. Nell dug through a final stretch of snow, then decided to follow what remained of the train tracks towards that mess of concrete and wires his fellow dogs had baptised The Deep City.

Deep because it was built in a depression and the streets leading inside were all slopes made slippery by the snow. Nell's claws penetrated the snow and grasped the concrete. Those particular train tracks had never been used in his lifetime and, seeing how much had been stolen, likely would never be used. There were other train tracks in other places and those were in use with roughly two or three trains per day – that was, before the storms started and all trains stopped. Maybe for the best, Nell thought, because he had witnessed many careless dogs' ends on those tracks and one or two humans' too.

The first souls Nell passed by were humans. Scrawny things with blank faces. They looked at Nell and Nell looked at them but neither saw much and neither thought much either. They said something – had they been louder or closer, Nell might have recognised some words. At one point he had known a dozen human words – more than most – but that was before he took to solitude, when he still travelled in packs with other dogs, some of whom used to live with humans and learned some of their words. Nell had learned from them but forgot everything over time. Everything but one word, dog, which from his understanding was what humans called those like him, dogs. Nell had no interest in humans. He did not fear them as some other creatures did (and with good reason) because all the aggression he had seen from humans was directed either at other humans or animals smaller than himself. A human with nothing but hands was unlikely to harm him.

Dogs too were unlikely to harm him. Nell dug into the snow with a single paw to reveal the meat underneath. Not a bird and too big to be a rat, it did not smell like a small dog, possibly a cat but ultimately unlikely, Nell had no idea what it was, but it did not smell poisonous. The smell attracted visitors. Two dogs stood in the distance and against the light, so Nell could not know whether they were dogs of flesh and blood or just silhouettes. One gave a warning bark to which Nell did not reply. They came closer. Nell stared them down. One came close enough for Nell to see the scars on his body and he knew scars were the mark of warriors or idiots and both were to be avoided. The second dog, more delicate than the first, made up for his lack of scars by drawing his lips as back as possible. They were both fools, because instead of separating and attacking from different angles they stood together.

The closer they came the more aware they became of Nell's size. The largest of the two was less than half as tall as Nell; the smaller, perhaps a bit brighter than the other, seemingly realised their disadvantage and hesitated briefly. Nell snarled softly as a warning to back off because he was too tired for anything louder. Thankfully his fur was thick enough to hide the weariness of the muscles underneath. The scarred creature gave a second, curter bark; his companion's fur stood up straight.

It was over as soon as it had begun.

Nell never went for the neck because he did not hunt dogs. The first dog attempted an attack but Nell was faster and bigger and wiser and a single slash of his teeth was all it took for the idiotic soul to tuck tail between legs and whimper away. Despite all his posing the other dog cursed at Nell before scurrying away without a single bite. Only when the smell of fresh blood had dissipated did Nell begin eating.

The track back to the city's outskirts was as lonely as the rest of Nell's existence. The humans he had passed before did not glance in his direction again. He wanted to make it back to his den before dawn could arrive alongside that cursed, cursed sunlight that made his eyes teary and painful. Buildings in the city's outskirts were more spaced out, with wider streets inadequate for un ambush. Nell lied down in the usual place: beneath an external staircase boxed in by two walls on either side and a chain-link fence on the third. Before the sunrise, Nell had fallen asleep. In his dreams he saw himself a pigeon watching a flickering yellow light from a dilapidated balcony.