Runt

Runt by Marion Dane Bauer Read Free Book Online

Book: Runt by Marion Dane Bauer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Marion Dane Bauer
now. Can you see?"
    Helper approached, too, but he also stopped some distance away, sniffing the air with clear distaste.
    The elation that had carried Runt home began to trickle away.
    Others in the pack moved toward him, but none came close. Only King remained where he was, standing over something Runt couldn't see.
    "They helped me," Runt repeated, more quietly.
    Without another word, his mother turned away. The pups who had approached him and the two yearlings did, too. They all followed Silver.
    "I met Dog," Runt called after them. "Has anybody else here ever met a dog? Her name was—"
    "Hush!"
    Runt looked up to see Bider standing over him.
    "Hush," the white wolf said again, as
though the first command hadn't been enough. "No one here appreciates your adventure. They're too busy worrying about Thinker."
    "Thinker?" And suddenly Runt remembered. The humans had helped him, but Thinker had been hit, too. In all his strange and bewildering adventure, he had forgotten about his brother.
    Runt approached the group slowly. They were, indeed, gathered around Thinker. Not only did he have quills in his muzzle and the side of his face as Runt had once had, but one long quill had pierced an eye. Thinker whimpered softly. Something about the pup's low whimper was more pitiful even than his screams had been the day before.
    Runt leaned over his brother. "Come with me," he whispered. "I know where you can get help."
    Thinker opened his good eye, but then let it flicker closed again.
    "Thinker!" Runt leaned closer. "You've got—
    King stepped up. "Where do you want to take my son?" he demanded to know.
    Runt glanced up at his father, then quickly lowered his gaze. Now was his chance to tell King everything, all he had learned about humans.
    "You've been with
them
again," Hunter interrupted before Runt could gather his thoughts. "You positively stink of
them!
"
    "Yes," Runt admitted, "but—"
    And before he could explain, before he could tell them that it was humans who had removed his quills, the circle of his family closed around his brother again, shutting him out.
    "He was with
them!
" one pup murmured to another. "He was with the humans!" And they all shuddered.
    Runt stood for a moment, motionless, frozen. Then he turned and plodded away.
    He found Raven by the lake getting a drink of water. "Is it such a terrible thing," he asked the glossy bird, "to be helped by humans?"
    Raven, the usually talkative Raven, only spread his wings and flew away.
    Runt plunged into the water. He knew washing would do little to remove the stench
he had carried back with him. He must stink of Dog, too. But at least bathing was something to do.
    He almost wished Raven had scolded him in his usual bossy way. Or even his father. Anything would be better than this silence, the silence of his family gathered around his wounded brother.
    "I should have stayed," he said, mostly to himself. "I should have stayed with Dog and with
them.
"
    Though when he thought of the chain that held Goldie prisoner, he couldn't help but shudder, just as the others had when they realized where he had been.

12
    Thinker died slowly. Each day his whimpers grew more faint. Each day the pack grew more silent.
    Bider went off by himself and came home with a fat beaver, but Thinker could not eat. He couldn't even rouse himself to go down to the lake for water.
    "My son," King said, again and again. "My son. My son." But Thinker no longer responded to the sound of his father's voice.
    Runt heard, though. The words went through him like another quill. When had he last heard King speak to him in such a way?
    When Thinker finally took his last breath, when his chest rose and fell once, twice, three times, and then no more, the entire family gathered for a long, mournful howl.
    Only Runt remained silent, though no
one seemed to notice. These days no one noticed much of anything about him except that he had been touched—contaminated—by humans.
    His mother held

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