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A moment on the road

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Wolf's always hungry here. He's used to work and walking, yes. The herd always wanders. But he's also used to having food whenever his stomach wants it.

It doesn't do any good to tell this to Jack. He already knows and is probably just as hungry. And doesn't the Good Book of Farming say, "An empty belly makes an empty brain full"? Jack would think of something. Something.

Jack, as Wolf well knows, is very clever. The last mess wasn't Jack's fault at all. It was Wolf's. He never meant to attract any God pounding attention, but somehow he managed to anyway.

And the last time had been bad, really bad. Wolf didn't even know what he'd done wrong. Jack had smelled particularly bad that day, a high reek of nervous sweat as they approached the town.

Everyone they passed looked at them with suspicion and some with fear so strong Wolf could smell it. He didn't understand, even after Jack had explained, using words like "transients" and "bums". He would never hurt anyone. Couldn't they tell by his smell? But he knew better that to question it, or to try to smile at the people who feared him. And Jack's smell grew progressively more distressed with each hostile look.

So he'd edged closer to Jack, hooked a finger through a belt loop and nuzzled the back of his neck, the way his mother did to him when he was frightened pup.

Before they knew it, a crowd of angry men, their sweat sour and smelling of beer, had circled them and forced them to beat a hasty retreat back into the safety of the woods, under the shadows of the leaves.

And so they kept to the trees and Wolf was happier there, even though he was hungrier than he could ever remember. His stomach rumbled and Jack, who'd been walking fast with his head down, stopped and looked at him.

"Sorry," Wolf mumbled and rubbed his stomach, silently telling it to be quiet.

"I'm hungry too," Jack said, his voice low and weary. "If I had anything..." His voice trailed off and he absently searched his pockets, then grinned. Pulled out a flat stick wrapped in paper and tore it in half. Offered the larger piece to Wolf, who took it and smelled it.

Mint and a chemical smell. But mostly mint. His mouth watered.

"Go on," Jack said, busily peeling the paper back. "You chew it. It's gum. Won't fill you up, but better than nothing I guess."

Wolf removed the paper, sniffed it, then licked it before popping the stick in his mouth. It was odd, but the minty taste made his mouth happy and fooled his stomach into being quiet.

"The next town," Jack said, "will be better."