In the night, we wake to find another of our kind, dead.
Gamma was at the ravine, chasing after a cattle herd, when Death-Wind blew a hole in him. He could not move, he could not breathe. Nobody to the rescue.
It’s called a gun, Alpha says. That’s why we should never hunt alone. We’re invincible as a pack.
Death-Wind has a nicer ring, says Gamma. And there’s no surviving it, pack or not. Alpha shushes him. You’re dead now and the dead can’t talk, not even in this game. Time for the living to decide who among us is the human who killed you.
None of us has ever seen a human. All we know is this birth den, our brothers and sisters, and Mother, who’s sleeping on the cold stone floor. All we know of the Big World comes from her. But she’s too tired tonight to tell her stories, so Alpha has proposed we play “Humans.” Father is still out hunting.
Alpha asks Beta who she thinks the traitor is and she looks around the circle and stops at me. Delta, she says. Delta has that rotten placenta smell.
I’m no traitor, I say. You’re jealous because tonight I got first suckle. Maybe you’re the runt after all. Maybe you’re human.
Okay, girls, we’ll put this to a vote, Alpha says.
There are three votes for me and three against. Good Little Theta breaks the tie and saves me. So we devour Beta. She stamps her paws and sidles away with Mother.
Day has broken on the tundra, Alpha says. Time to sleep again. He asks us to close our eyes. Then I hear him say, Human, please wake up. Please point to your next victim. Are you sure? Thank you, Human. Everyone, you may open your eyes.
I’m sorry, Alpha says to me. Delta, you’ve been killed.
Good riddance, I whisper.
Beloved sister, as your spirit soars to the Night Sky, do you care to share some details of your death?
Not really, I say.
Gamma chimes in before he’s stopped, says, I know how she died.
Shut up, Alpha says. The dead can’t talk.
How did I die, I ask and Gamma answers, Thunder-Roller.
There’s a whimper in the den.
It’s called a train, Alpha says.
Whatever it’s called, Gamma says, it’s fast and has the legs of a centipede. But the legs are round and sharp. While crossing its path, Delta didn’t see it coming and got run over. She exploded. Guts flew everywhere. Her head rolled off and vultures pecked at her eyes. Her fur remained on the ground.
It’s the story of Grandmother, who went past the boundary, hunting for elks.
I don’t like this game, Little Theta says. She wants to quit. Alpha hits her on the head. I smell a fresh bruise.
I step out of the circle. I’m hungry again although we just fed. A spider spins a web between two rocks near our entrance. I destroy the web to see what the spider will do.
Epsilon is next to be suspected. Eta says Epsilon’s always asked Mother about humans. They take a vote and kill Epsilon.
Bad news, Alpha says. There’s a human still in our midst. Day breaks again on the tundra. Everyone except the dead goes back to sleep. When Alpha asks the human to wake, I see Little Theta opening her eyes.
Please point to your next victim, Alpha says. Little Theta sticks out her paw in Eta’s direction. Are you sure? Alpha asks, shaking his head. Little Theta retracts her paw and points at Zeta. I see, Alpha says, nodding. Thank you, Human.
Mother yawns and opens her eyes. She’s being selfish about her milk lately, preparing us for solid food. She scratches at her neck, trying to loosen the black collar.
She was once caught in a trap that sliced off part of her foreleg. She thought she was going to die. But someone saved her, wrapped her leg and fed her until she healed. The human gave her the collar and set her free. There are good and bad humans, Mother said. But it’s impossible to know which one you’ll get.
I’m sorry, Zeta, Alpha says. The human just killed you.
Father’s back, Father’s back, Little Theta says, jumping around. We smell his faint musk, like mildew after rain.
Wait, let’s finish the game, Alpha says.
But Little Theta’s already left the den.
Don’t go too far, Mother shouts.
The spider is weaving a new web when I smell something else, something I’ve never smelled before. I hear a whimper and I’m out before Mother can say no.
I freeze in my tracks when I see it: tall as a spring aspen, it stands effortlessly on its hind legs. A patch of its furless skin is broken, oozing blood. It smells of fear. And anger. It holds a black stick pointed at my little sister. The black stick we call Death-Wind.
Quiet, I want to tell her. Don’t move.
The bright eyes of my siblings watch from the den, and the bigger, darker eyes of Mother, pleading.
I feel cold, wondering if it’s the same story Mother once told us, about the first wolf who decided to submit, becoming a dog, a human child herself. Or perhaps it was that other story, about the human who first came from the sea and hunted us down along with the bison.
Humans are not our friends, Father told us, the morning he came home with Grandmother’s fur still on his nose. His heart was broken, but he said that we shouldn’t seek revenge. One day, so says our Legend, when Night breaks on the tundra, they too shall all pass.
Little Theta finally stops whimpering and rolls on her back, showing her belly. The human hesitates then lowers the black stick. Slowly, as it bends and picks her up, carrying her to its face, their eyes meet in the moonlight, blue on blue.
Nathan Go was born and raised in southern Philippines. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Zell Writers’ Program, he was also a 2012 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. In 2017-18, he was the David TK Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia. He is at work on his first novel and short story collection. and currently lives in Davao City.