by Chawna Schroeder
Published by Gilead Publishing
I am Beast. I serve the master.
For as long as Beast can remember, she has lived among her master’s dogs. With them she sleeps. With them she eats. With them she fights and struggles to survive. But through hunger and cold she dreams of one day becoming her master’s favorite, earning bones with meat and a place beside the fire.
When her pack scatters after a surprise raid, Beast must defend herself against slavers hunting down the loners.
They are so strong, and she is only a beast . . . or is she?
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 covers only 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 the 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.
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 let! 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 chuck. “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 small 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.
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Chawna Schroeder loves stretching both the imagination and faith through her novels. Living in Minnesota, she dreams of far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, and princes in disguise. When she isn’t committing her dreams to paper, you can find her studying the biblical languages, working with fiber, or teaching about the importance of discernment.