A Lost Pearl

Winded, Pearl padded back to the two-tiered fountain in the center of the park. Her muscles burned while cool, clean water filled her mouth.

“Look at that,” a familiar but muffled voice said behind her. A ball dropped on the grass and rolled against her paws. “There’s a rare Blue Pearl in the fountain.”

“Herk!” She said, bouncing on her paws. “I didn’t think I’d see you today, I was looking for you while I ran. I’ve already run three laps, got to a full sprint on the last one.” Her tail swayed back and forth. “The human-male said I had to leave so I took off like I was back in a race, I got to a full sprint too.”

A slight growl rumbled in Herk’s chest. “I don’t like that human-male you come here with. He stands there, never lets you get any run time, then makes you leave too soon. Don’t you have a Person?”

Her head cocked to the side. “A person?”

“You know, a non-canine pack member?” He glanced over his muscled shoulder at a human-female reading a book. “One that makes your heart feel like it’s going to burst with joy when they come home. One that throws a ball for you and takes you on car rides just so you can feel the wind rushing up your nose? One you’d do anything for? You don’t have that?”

A person sounded wonderful.

“No. My human-male gives us food, trains us to run faster, and…” Her eyes dropped to her paws. It was too embarrassing. She couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“What?” A growl rose in Herk’s throat, his body tensing. “He better not whip you Pearl, I’ll rip his throat out right here if he does.”

“Easy beast.” Her tail wagged. “It’s nothing like that. In fact, he calls my four sisters and me his crown jewels since we’re named after gemstones. But we can’t ONLY be racers. We have to be breeding racers.” Her tail and her ears dropped.

Such a barbaric rule, as if a Greyhound could ever race while caring for pups.

“Oh, I see,” he said, his ears drooping. “I guess it’s for the best, the world always needs more of your kind. But hey maybe the pups will have your gorgeous blue coat.”

“It’s degrading.” She paced back and forth. “When it’s our season the human-male takes us to a freezing room, then brings in a pompous hound that’s won all sorts of races. I’m pretty sure the human-male watches through the window, but I’m always too embarrassed to even look. Then here’s this hound with all his arrogant swagger that isn’t even nice to me and he expects me to… you know…”

Herk smiled with his whole muzzle all the way up to his eyes. “It’s cute how you can’t even say the word mate.”

How did he do that? She couldn’t smile like that. None of her sisters could, nor could the other canines at the park.

He nudged his big shoulder into hers. “But isn’t that the way you rich canines do things?”

Her eyes dropped to her paws. “Just because that’s the racer way, doesn’t mean it’s right. We should be able to… let things happen naturally. Not because we must continue our champion bloodline but you know because we love each other.” She touched the ball he dropped earlier, rolling it.

“You’re a champion greyhound, huh?” He puffed his chest and strutted around her. “I could take you any day.”

She growled and bared her teeth. Panic sped up her heart and tensed her muscles, ready to launch.

“Yep… I could make it to that line of trees before you could even lift a paw. I’ll be nothing but a blur.”

Oh, he was teasing. Her body relaxed.

“All right, house-pet. I’ll even give you a head start.”

He kissed her nose and darted off towards the trees.

A strange warmth spread through her. Canines didn’t kiss each other, did they? She would have to ask him later.

Her ears flattened. She sprung from the fountain, passing him in a second, and made it to the tree without even losing a breath. Racing him was like racing a boulder, but it was still fun. Fun was still a new concept. Racing on the track was what she lived for, what she was born for, but racing Herk was lighter. There wasn’t any pressure to be the best.

Finally, he made it over, trotting the last part of the dash.

“What took you so long, Muscles?”

“Warming up,” he panted, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. “That was practice.” He lifted a paw. “One sec, we’ll go again. Gotta cramp.”

She batted his head. “You need lots of practice.”

He growled a puppy’s growl and lunged under her chest, toppling her to the ground. She leaped out of the way before his jaws clamped on her neck, but his teeth gently caught her leg.

“Ha! Now you can’t run. You’re mine forever!”

She wriggled out of his grasp, lopping off. “Only if you can catch me!”

“See,” he said, running up beside her. “I’m as fast as a Greyhound.”

“Of course you are.”

The summer sun warmed her skin, and the smell of juicy grass filled her nose while they ran another half-lap. She was starting to pant when they made their way to an excellent, shady spot.

“No more biscuits for Herk.” He burped then flopped down on his side on the grass, panting like there wasn’t enough air in the whole park.

He was such a refreshing change from the stoic canines she knew. She stretched her long arms and legs as far as they could reach next to him, the grass cool and soft against her belly. This was paradise. It was even better than the clunk of the starting gate bursting open to launch her down the track.

“I wish the human-male matched me with someone like you. The girls wouldn’t make fun of me and I wouldn’t have to retire.”

“Wait, you’re telling me humans are kicking you out of racing just because you don’t want to mate in a vet’s office?!”

“Why do you think I’m allowed to come here? It’s part of my retirement training so I can socialize with regular canines.” She stretched closer to him. “You know, I thought retirement was going to be terrible. But coming here and meeting you has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me—”

A high-pitched whistle interrupted. “Pearl… come!

Herk’s amber eyes flicked to the human-male at the gate, his body tense and ready. “We could have a life of our own. We’d have to rely on ourselves, but we could be free.”

“I don’t know, I don’t—”

“Choose Pearl. Freedom or breeding racer. NOW!”

His tone seized her brain. She had to make a decision whether she wanted to or not.

“You,” she said. “Freedom.”

Herk launched at the human the second the latch lifted. He growled, yelling the most savage threats. His shoulders drawn taught, his ears laid back, and a mouthful of white teeth snapped at the human-male.

The human-male backed away, mumbling soothing phrases.

Pearl’s heart raced, her eyes darting between human and canine. Now what was she supposed to do?

“Pearl… Run!”

Herk’s command lit up her brain, erasing everything else.

She bolted past him, her muscles stretching and pulling harder than ever before.

Run.

Fatigue in her lungs begged her to stop. But Herk’s command held onto her brain, propelling her forward.

Run.

Run.

Until the smell of humans—lots of humans—replaced his voice.

What a strange sensation, having her mind taken over by a single word. The human-male’s voice never did, and none of her sisters had either. None of the males she had been paired with had ever come close either.

Her eyes darted around. Where was she? Buildings reached the sun. Hot pavement singed the pads of her feet. Cars honked. Humans’ tension twisted her stomach into knots. And the smells. The layers and layers of scents; humans, diesel, garbage, food.

Where was Herk? He had to be here somewhere.

Her snout lifted in the air, trying to find his scent. Smoky meat and more garbage filled her nose instead. Her stomach growled, her mouth watered. When was the last time she had eaten? She tried to ignore it; she had to find Herk. But her nose betrayed her, directing her to a pack of humans taking food from a window.

She reached up, her teeth inches away from a plate of real meat—

A rolled newspaper smacked her on her nose. Stars exploded before her eyes. She yelped and collided with more humans.

Hey, get outta here dog. Go home.” They kicked and shoved her, forcing her into more legs.

She growled at the human-male.

Dog?? How dare they use that vile word. Only pact-less street canines called themselves that. There were so many humans. How did they live without any room to even walk? How were they supposed to run?

She kept close to buildings trying to find her way back to the park. But with a sea of human legs and countless smells, the hope of finding anything familiar soon faded.

Instinct kicked in; food must be found.

Each time she followed her nose to another food window, she received the same treatment. She received a smacked snout, yelled at, and kicked in the hindquarters.

What were canines supposed to eat? Herk would know if he were here.

She continued wandering through the streets, fear, and anxiety making her pant as hard as Herk. The sun disappeared behind the buildings; cars still honked, and the cool air made her shiver. More smells, more humans, more tension.

Why did she follow his order? He never could’ve kept up with her at full speed. Now lost in this intense place, she had no hope of ever finding him. Why couldn’t she have done her duty and accepted her fate as a breeding racer in the first place? Then neither of them would be in this mess.

Out of nowhere, a lead slipped around her neck. Her eyes went wide, her heart raced in her chest. She tried to run, but the leash cinched tight, cutting into her neck.

Easy girl, don’t pull. I got you.” The smell of bleach and urine radiated off the human-male’s clothes as he hoisted her into a kennel.

Sheer panic clutched her heart. She had heard of cars like this and the place it took lost canines, a place worse than death… Prison.

Now Herk was lost to her forever.

***

The days blurred together. The smell in the air shifted from warm and musty to cool and less musty.

Stale, tasteless kibble, enough yard time to relieve herself but not enough space for sprinting. Countless hours of canines’ shouts, threats, and pleas for release. Memories of Herk, the gripping ache in her heart that accompanied them. The scorching stench of bleach in her nose. More yard time and another bowl of stale, tasteless kibble. Day after endless day, always the same. No track, no sprinting, no sisters… no Herk. All because she was too embarrassed to mate in a vet’s office.

Herk said those exact words once. The ache in her heart gripped harder. She tucked herself tighter on the pillow, her sobs shaking her whole body.

Her gate opened. She didn’t care. The human-female rubbed her ears. She didn’t care. A lead slipped around her neck, the human-female urged her up. She didn’t care.

Come on Pearl, you’re coming with me. Your asshole breeder may think you’re worthless and be fine with letting you waste away in here but I’m not.

Her joints screamed at her. She would give anything to sprint, to stretch out the knots, feel fresh air sailing up her nose.

The leash tugged. “No, this way, sweet girl.

She sighed. This way meant a bath and those terrible orange crushers pinching off her toenails. The human-male at home may have forced her to mate, but at least he never tortured her with those things.

It’s all right, come on. I got a surprise for you.” The human-female led Pearl past the humans guarding the front door… and into a car!

Her tail whipped against the window; she danced and twirled in the seat. Without thought, she kissed the human-female’s cheek. “You’re going to let me run!”

Ow!” The human-female flinched, rubbed her ear then gently patted Pearl’s neck. “All right, all right sheesh, you can stick your head out. Just don’t bark in my ear again, please.

The window slid down and fresh, clean air rushed in!

She stuck her whole head out. Cold wind stung her eyes, the smell of dead leaves and impending snow rushed up her nose. The human-male would’ve never allowed this.

This must have been what Herk meant when he said a car ride to feel the rushing air. He would be adorable with his ears flapping… She pushed that thought away. This moment was too perfect to be stained with grief.

She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this alive, even after the car stopped.

Let’s go in the backyard before we get you something tasty to eat.” The human-female led her around the house and through a gate.

Grass! Beautiful, sweet-smelling grass welcomed her. And fluttery, crunchy leaves—everywhere.

She shot off toward the fence, rounded a corner, dashed back at the human-female. And shot off again. If she angled herself at the corners, she could almost get to a full sprint. Her body felt lighter than air. She rolled and twisted in the grass then dashed through piles of crispy leaves. She ran until the cold burned her lungs and numbed her toes.

How could she ever repay the human-female?

Come on Pearl. House! Dinnertime.

That order tugged at the edges of her brain, almost like Herk’s that day at the park.

She raced up the steps, her tail whipping her human-female’s leg. Now she understood what Herk meant by having a person.

The smell of juicy meat swarmed her nose, and made her stomach gorwl. She gobbled and swallowed the gravy covered kibble, practically breathing it in. Each bite even better than the last.

Her human-female laughed, taking the bowl. “Let’s meet your housemate first, then you can have more later. I don’t want you to get sick.

Delicious food, a person of her own, a yard with grass, plus another canine to talk to? Life couldn’t get any better.

Until it did.

The moment her paws touched the soft carpet, a familiar scent rushed around her nose. His scent. Her heart raced in her chest as her eyes landed on the tan and white canine trapped in the wire kennel.

“Herk!” She lunged at him, her whole body filling with joy. “My Hercules!”

“Pearl!”

“I thought I’d never see you again.” Her long snout squeezed between the kennel wires, kissing as much of his face as she could reach. “I missed you so much, I’m sorry I left you that day.”

“My beautiful Pearl, I can’t believe you’re here.” He clawed at the kennel latch. “Person! Unlock this! Let me out. Come on Person, get me outta here right now!”

Pearl’s stomach twisted in a knot. The sounds of all those canines yelling and banging on their doors came rushing back. Her ears flattened against her head. “Herk, stop it! Please. You sound like all those canines locked—”

Herk. Enough!” Person commanded.

Both Pearl and Herk instantly sat back on their haunches, their eyes fixed on Person.

Pearl couldn’t move if she wanted to. The command seized her brain more forcefully than Herk’s command to run. She didn’t dare make a sound.

“What’s wrong? What’d I do?” His big amber eyes flicked between Person and Pearl.

The human-female smoothed her hand along Pearl’s head and down the side of her neck. Somehow the gentle touch eased the command to the edges of her brain, allowing her body to move again. She leaned against the human-female’s legs while she petted Pearl’s neck. What an odd sensation, nothing like that had ever happened to her before.

Be nice Herk, she’s been through a lot today.

“I will, promise.” He smiled at the human-female with his whole muzzle again, his ears relaxed and his tail wiggled his whole body.

Okay, Imma let you out but NO teeth.” The human-female’s tone softened, and her body relaxed. “Remember you’re Hercules not Hulk.” 

Pearl’s head cocked to the side. How could a grown canine make himself look and sound like an innocent pup. And what in the world was a Hulk? This was the strangest interaction she had ever witnessed.

The moment the human-female’s hand touched the lock, Herk flung the gate open and kissed Pearl’s face. He sniffed her ears and nuzzled his blocky head against her shoulder, almost knocking her over. “You’re here! In my home! I can’t believe it!”

“I missed you so much,” she said, leaning into his touch. His strength and puppy energy erased the fear and anxiety consuming her. She batted his head and playfully tugged on his ears.

Aww I knew you guys would be besties.” The human-female crouched down so she was eye level with them, tussled both of their ears, made strange human noises that sent warmth and joy coursing through Pearl, squished Herk’s snout between her hands, gently grabbed at Pearl’s toes, made more gooey human noises, patted Herk’s shoulders hard enough to thunk, and finally planted a kiss on top of Pearl’s head with a noisy smack. “Welcome home Pearl. Imma go make us some dinner.”

Home. This was incredible! The best day of Pearl’s life. So this is what it meant to have a Person.

Herk kissed Person’s hand.

Was Pearl supposed to do that too? It didn’t look like a required gesture. Person left before she could worry about it further. Maybe next time.

“I’m so excited Herk,” she said, panting and her tail swinging back and forth without her permission. “I can’t believe I get to stay here with you and Person. If I stayed one more day in Prison I was going—”

“Prison?!” He said. His tail instantly drooped and his unique canine smile faded. “They sent a beautiful, champion racer to Prison? I didn’t think humans would be that cruel to your kind.”

Pearl paced the soft floor, describing her journey since his command launched her out of the park.

“I never meant for that to happen. I wanted you to be able to run as much as you wanted and not be forced to mate.” Herk’s head hung low. “It never occurred to me they’d lock up a racer.”

“Well, they did. But it doesn’t matter anymore.” She curled up on the pillow and whimpered. “I couldn’t be your mate now even if I wanted to. First humans took my track and then… they… they sterilized me Herk like I was nothing more than a dog.”

She turned away, tucking herself into a corner. She couldn’t bear to look at him. There was no way a strong, brave, kind canine like him could love her now.

“Don’t cry.” He rested his head on hers. “We can be damaged canines together. Plus, we have Person, she’s the best human I know.”

How could he feel damaged? He had a person, a home, a place to run.

“It’s ironic,” he continued. “We came from opposite worlds, ended up in the same place and the same human-female gave us a home.”

“What do you mean?”

“She saved me from being executed in that place when I was barely older than a pup.” He kissed Pearl’s nose. “But not before… humans sterilized me too, they do it to all canines that end up in Prison.”

“Executed?!” She sat back on her haunches. “Why would they want to execute you? You’re the sweetest, most kind-hearted canine I’ve ever met. Plus you can do that puppy smile thing.”

“Because I’m a pit bull. Most humans are afraid of my kind, they think we’re monsters so they bark and throw things and beat us. And most canines think we just wanna fight so the scared ones stay away and talk noise. But the ones that think they’re tough attack first ’cause they gotta prove something.” The tip of his tails tapped against the floor as he scooted closer. “That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you. You never treated me like I was a monster.”

Her heart ached for him. He had survived so much cruelty. But yet somehow still could love life. She nuzzled his cheek.

“You must think the worst of me,” she said. “I felt sorry for myself because I thought being a breeding racer was degrading. It never occurred to me how hard some canines have it.” Her eyes snapped to him, her heart soaring. “Wait! You were already sterilized when we met. That means all talks of a life together had nothing to do with my bloodline or…” Her ears twitched, she still couldn’t bring herself to say that word. “Or future pups.” 

“Yep.” His tail thumped against the floor. “All I cared about was that a beautiful, graceful canine treated a mutt like me like any other canine. It was cute how polite but awkward you were to everyone at the park. I just knew we had to be friends.”

She kissed his nose, his cheeks and nuzzled his ear. “I love you Hercules, I will never leave you again.”

“Jokes on that old human-male you had, one of his crown jewels is lost forever ‘cause I’m never letting my Blue Pearl go.”

One thought on “A Lost Pearl”

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