NDOGS

(endogenous psychotropics)

1

"You know what you are? You're a mutt. You oughtta be gulping crap off the ground and touching your tongue to your nethers." The tall boy folds his arms and leans back. One of his friends snerks, caught in a moment of indecision between a snicker and a smirk. "But we're kind masters. We treat you better than you deserve. So we brought you some human food." Fingers unfold, revealing a small, sage-green berry. It's about the size of a grown man's pupil.

Myrrh looks at it. "Where did you get that?"

"Not tellin'. Not tellin'. Dogs don't gotta know where the food comes from. They just gotta eat it." The tall boy tilts his hand back and forth, sending the berry ambling across his palm. He knows perfectly well what it is, but he isn't afraid of a little skin contact.

"I'm not eating that."

"Oh, you certainly are. The question is when. If you'd like, you can get this out of the way now. There's no one around besides us." This is true. A stiff breeze washes over the branches in the pine grove, causing some of them to spill silky sheets of snow onto the ground. Myrrh chafes at his arms and curses himself for not picking somewhere else to gather wood. "If you refuse to be a good dog, there's no telling where this might end up. In your porridge at breakfast. Down your throat while you sleep. Up your bum while you use the latrine. I can think of more. Tell me and I'll get creative—and then your father will be mad, won't he? These are for grownups. Not bastard curs.

So, which is it going to be?"

2

It's dark and musty in the tent and a young boy is shrieking himself hoarse. The sound slaps against the animal hide walls, growing weaker and weaker until it reaches the hole at the top and exits with the waste-smoke. Someone is chanting a low, hypnotic cadence. It fills the space between screams with a sense of importance. This isn't being done for nothing.

The boy's father stands beside him, pressing a porcupine quill into his bare back. Little beads of blood well up from the punctures, and every so often he sluices a cup of water over his son to wash them away.

Most of the boy is covered with tattoos. Little spirals creep around the edges of his shoulders. Monochrome sunbursts sit on the tips of his fingers. A graceful serpent slides down one forearm while its tail hooks around his neck. Wet crimson glistens on its fangs. There is only a small area left on his lower back of pale, unbroken skin.

It will be filled soon.

Outside, a quiet carpet of November snow is settling on the world, oblivious to the sounds of betrayal.

3

The berry goes down with a gulp, leaving only a scattering of half-crushed seeds and torn pieces of fruit flesh caught between his teeth. They don't so much taste as tingle, vibrating across a spectrum of flavors. First the bittersweet of a wildflower stem. Then the disgusting richness of a mouthful of silt. Then the coppery tang of warm blood. Or is that his own? He can't tell. After that is the saline reek of a boot heel and ash caught on a bit of burned meat and the way thirst feels when you've let it sit in your mouth all day…

They go on forever, so Myrrh just stands there, pupils dilated, watching the procession. The older boys aren't quite sure what to make of this, so they stand there too, stupidly, wearing hyena grins on their faces. One of them asks "do you think he's faking it?"

Hands reach over and unlatch Myrrh's jaws. He doesn't care. They pick around, lifting up the tongue and scraping between the teeth. A fingernail cuts into his cheek. Another one goes most of the way down his throat. Myrrh falls over backwards and retches into the snow, but that dazed expression never leaves his face. The tall boy giggles, stops, remembers his place in society, and quickly changes over to a deeper chortle.

"He's definitely tripping. I wonder what he just saw."

"Probably the hand of god giving him a once over. Look at that. He's drooling."

"Should we leave? What's he gonna be like when he wakes up?"

"Same as ever. Nah. I reckon we should leave him somewhere. Like his daddy's tent. Roll him around in the snow a few times to get all that puke off, then pick him up. I don't think he's going to walk on his own."

Myrrh doesn't care when they lift him off the ground. Nor does he raise a fuss when one of the smaller boys experimentally jams an elbow into his gut. It would be like a mannequin protesting being put on display.

4

Myrrh is sitting in the sweat lodge, soaking his sins out through his skin. The older boys say they'll let him out as soon as he's pure again. As soon as he's clean. As soon as he belongs. It could take a while; he hopes his father will arrive before that and chase them off.

Rubbing a hand down his right bicep, he chases a stream of moisture down to his fingertips and absent mindedly flicks it at the covered coals in the center of the room. The drops hit, make a noise like a startled cat, and sizzle into oblivion. There isn't much else to do for the time being other than swelter and pray.

Through the searing mist, Myrrh looks down at himself. At the weaving patterns that decorate his skin. He could almost swear that they've been changing, late at night when he isn't looking. Did that eagle always use to be on his abdomen? Wasn't it perched on the flat of his stomach no more than two weeks ago? And what's more, weren't its wings supposed to be folded rather than spread in triumphant flight?

It must be the heat playing tricks on his head. How long has he been in here already? Minutes? Hours? He can't really feel the temperature anymore. It isn't like when they swung the door open and shoved him in—that was the horrible, sickening sensation you get when you fall on a body of water from a great height. The environment slapped him across the front and left him numb. At least, it did on the outside. Every breath felt like a draught of boiling oil sliding down his lungs. He tries not breathe much anymore, taking in what he can in the desperate, gape-mouthed drags of a landed fish.

Time passes. The amount doesn't matter, and it's not like he can tell any ways. After it's done, the silence of the sweat lodge breaks with a pounding on the door. Myrrh drags himself to his feet (there's no point in getting up too fast and passing out now,) and limps over. He sucks down a stinging breath, cups his hands to his mouth, and shouts "I'm in here!"

The door creases open and a smirking face looks in. "Good. We just wanted to make sure."

The door shuts again.

It's a long, long time before he's rescued.

5

It takes them a full five minutes to disentangle Myrrh from the briar patch. They curse at each other while they work. It would've been easy enough just to rip the kid out of the thorns, but the tall boy had vetoed that. "It's gonna look really pissing suspicious if he comes back covered in scratches. We take our time."

And so they do. Unpicking barbs from bits of hair and flesh with surgical care. They're surprisingly gentle.

It's not like we hate him, thinks the tall boy, it's just that he refuses to know his place. We treat him nice for what he is.

Myrrh mumbles something under his breath, and everyone starts back in case he's waking up. He isn't. He mumbles it again. The tall boy leans in.

"Why can't I see her?"

6

"It's impossible."

Myrrh looks down at his feet, noticing his hands along the way. They're blank. That's strange for some reason. Blank? What could they possibly be full of? He dismisses the question with a shake of his head. "But why? You aren't telling me."

"That's right," his father says, "I'm not telling you. Your mother isn't an issue that's up for discussion."

"But why?" Am I smaller than I used to be? No. That's not how growing up is supposed to work.

"Also not up for discussion is why it's not up for discussion. I'm never going to tell you. Don't bother."

"Is she dead?"

"I doubt it. She was young."

"Is she impossible to reach? Does she live on the moon?"

"No one can live on the moon. It's flat, like a mirror. She'd fall right through."

I feel like I'm standing on the moon, and the glass is cracking. What is this? Have I been here before? "What if I go looking for her?" Somehow he knows the answer before his father even opens his mouth.

"She would probably kill you."

7

"He has a sweetheart? What? How many legs does she walk on? Does she have a name like righty?" There's a consensus of snorts. The tall boy turns to Myrrh's body. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself? You'd better not be lusting after a pure blooded, genuine woman, 'cause we'd have to take you to task for it if you were. How many times do we have to remind you until you know what you are?"

8

"You're a mutt. You oughtta be gulping crap off the ground and touching your tongue to your nethers." The tall boy folds his arms and leans back. One of his friends snerks, caught in a moment of indecision between a snicker and a smirk. "But we're kind masters. We treat you better than you deserve. So we brought you some human food." Fingers unfold, revealing a small, sage-green berry. It's about the size of a grown man's pupil.

Myrrh looks at it. It strikes him as extremely familiar. I think I know where I am. I think I've been here before. I think I'm stuck. Words rise unbidden to his lips. "Where did you get that?"

"Not tellin'. Not tellin'. Dogs don't gotta know where the food comes from. They just gotta eat it." The tall boy tilts his hand back and forth, sending the berry ambling across his palm. He knows perfectly well what it is, but he isn't afraid of a little skin contact.

"I'm not eating that." That's a lie. When have I ever been able to tell them no? I eat the berry. I know I do. And then…

And then everything breaks up into pieces and flutters away on the wind. Myrrh is suddenly alone on the tundra, standing amidst its scraggly bushes and listening to the howling of the sky. There are no footprints crushing the snow crust behind him, in front of him, or to either side. With nothing but emptiness to wrap around himself, he sits down and shivers.

Where am I?

If the world is listening, it doesn't show any sign that it cares.

Am I still hallucinating? This doesn't feel the same.

A dark speck appears on the horizon. A storm cloud, maybe? As the seconds pass, it gets closer. It's moving much too fast to be weather. A flock of geese, then? Or a-

He blinks and finds a wolf standing in front of him. It cocks its head to the side and leers canine. "You called?"

He stares at it until he realizes that he wasn't the one to ask that question. "You're a wolf."

"Give the boy a biscuit. Or a haunch of elk. Or wherever you people eat. I am a wolf."

"But wolves don't-"

"Might I remind you, before you finish that sentence, that I have a set of excellent teeth at approximately the level of your crotch. That prospect doesn't appeal to me very much either, but I swear if you try to tell me I'm not real I might not be able to help myself."

"Am I dreaming this?"

"You're almost certainly dreaming, but you're not dreaming this. Now, can you tell me why you called me? I could be with my mate right now."

"I don't think I called you."

"Kid, you did. Maybe it was an accident. That happens to the best of us sometimes, and to you people all the time. Take a deep breath. Deal with it. And tell me what you want."

"I…" He thinks it over. Snarling faces, the oppressive heat of the steam lodge, the way pork fat feels when it's smeared across his face, they all surface in his mind. "I want to feel safe. Can you do that?"

"I think we can work something out."

9

"Did you hear that?" The boys stop, settling Myrrh down on the ground. "It sounded like a snarl. What if there's something out here?"

"There is, mouth-breather. It's us." Nonetheless, they all stop and listen for a long moment. In the middle of it, something howls. The tall boy bares his teeth in frustration. "Fine. We leave the mutt. Maybe his own kind will take him back."

The others all consider this. After all, it's one thing to torment the boy. He's their property. That's their right. Getting him killed, though…

Well, actually, it might clean up the community.

In the end, they're willing to give up their possession for a higher cause. They leave.

10

Myrrh lies amidst the snow and needles, shaking as he comes back to reality. His pupils shrink. The rosy patches threatening to envelop his face begin to subside. His breath slows and finally his eyes open.

It takes him a moment to realize that the world hasn't turned yellow in his absence, and that he's staring straight into another pair of eyes. Carrion breath washes hot over his face. Around him, the woods have all gone still.