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Originally, I’d planned on writing just a description of a doghouse to give the impression on what one was like inside The Wilds Duology. Aaaaand then I wrote a story. So for F in my A-Z Challenge, I give you Fight for Dominance, a short story walkthrough of a doghouse, written in second person, something I rarely ever do. This is a teaser for my upcoming novel, Haunt of the Wilds (gay romance/adventure fantasy) on pre-order now for only .99c.

FIGHT FOR DOMINANCE

You can probably hear the raucous laughter streets away, the noise drifting through the dark city as if beckoning you onward. You might notice a young houndmaster or two running with their packs nearby, pups jostling one another in their excitement. They come out of the shadows and disappear as quickly, paying no mind to anything or anyone else. They aren’t silent either, their passage documented with shouts and barks and boots scuffing against hard ground.

As you approach the doghouse, you hear an occasional howl of triumph. People spill from the entrance, bleeding, yet happy, as they head next door to the doctor who has taken up shop because location, location, location. You wait for the houndmasters to step away, listening to their byplay of the fight, one of them so animated despite the bite mark on his arm that he waves his hands through the air to mimic the takedown.

The door to the doghouse has been cut in two and if you’re not careful, a dog will come bounding out from the bottom half and likely bowl you over. He might gnaw upon your clothes if you don’t immediately roll out of the way because he’ll be high on the fight. You’ve been warned.

Head inside where oil lamps are strung up. So many of them to your immediate right that the flickering lights reflect off the yellow sands spilling from underneath the low wooden partitions. That is where the crowd has gathered, where the noise is loudest. Dogs sit perched upon the wall or stand pressed between houndmaster legs. The huge round supports holding up the doghouse are interspaced around the sands, blocking your vantage of the room as a whole.

As you dodge out of the way of the entrance, you watch as a woman crashes against one of those supports, her head snapping and her body twisting. You cringe inwardly, thinking she must be hurt, but she shakes her head like a dog and bares her teeth in a growl before launching herself back at her opponent.

The crowd roars with her, urging her on. The growling, snarling fight gains in volume so you edge between two houndmasters and peek a look. Two dogs have engaged the other houndmaster, one pressing all its weight upon his knee, the other latched onto his elbow, pulling him backward. They roll beyond your vision and you have to slide down to peer through another small gape in the crowd. Your sight is marred by cheering, boisterous houndmasters, but you manage to witness the finish. Female houndmaster upon the other, holding him to the sands.

The crowd cheers, money changes hands and the dogs howl so loudly you’re tempted to cover your ears. But beside you, one huge golden-brown dog lifts his head and gives you an intelligent stare, almost as if he knows you don’t belong.

You quickly back away, but pause when a shout from up above catches your attention. You look up to see even more houndmasters and their packs have gathered to watch the fights from above. One of them, an attractive young man with an unruly crop of dark hair, yells a challenge to another already on the sands. A chant goes up, the shouting nothing but a pounding beat vibrating your heart.

Then the houndmaster stands upon the ledge, his face open in his eagerness, his grin so contagious you find yourself smiling with him. He scans the sands, his gaze skipping over those gathered until it lands on you for just a moment. Then he lets out a shout that is half-growl and leaps into the sands below, out of your line of sight.

You leave the edge of the sands then, noting not everyone is intrigued by the dogfighting. Some older houndmasters are gathered at tables toward the back, a strategic game played with fake canines spread out in front of a few of them. Their dogs amble around, biting at the youngsters barely out of puphood who sprint past.

And speaking of pups, in the sudden quiet while everyone listens for the referee to start the two new opponents, you hear a distant high-pitched yipping. You turn from the tables and weave your way through the crowd and the huge supports. As you approach an open door, the descending steps visible, you hear the fight begin behind you, a deafening roar echoing through the doghouse. You pay the sands no heed and continue through the basement door and down the steps, noting the scores in the wood and the smell of wet dog. The squeaky yips of pups ring in your ears as you turn, blocking out much of the deeper shouting from up above.

There you stop and smile. Below you, in a sand pit filled with chewed toys and old bones, play pups of all sizes. They tumble and nip at one another, spraying sand upon the huge dogs lounging by the opening. One of the pups has taken it upon herself to whine piteously and bite at the closest adult. She jumps upon the large dog’s back demandingly. The huge creature merely snorts, grips the little pup by the neck and tosses her back with her fellows to play.

A houndmaster appears from the hall beyond the tiny sands and looks up at you questioningly, suspicion in his eyes. One of his dogs pad to the bottom of the steps and growl up at you threateningly. The others lift themselves up from where they’d been watching the pups play. You put your hands up and shake your head, then return upstairs before the pack can chase you away from where you don’t belong.

At the top, you pause and scour the floor, but none of the houndmasters give you a second look. None of the dogs so much as sniff your way. If the families of the pups were here, they certainly trusted the pack in charge of the basement to watch over their young.

You wander around the sands, dodging out of the way when one opponent staggers off the sands, a dog dragging him to the ground. The crowd parts for the houndmaster and laughs at his struggle. Some scream at him to give up, but he refuses, fighting until the other houndmaster grips his neck and presses him to the floor. You notice the winner is the houndmaster who had first issued the challenge, though now his shirt hangs torn and blood drips down his breastbone.

He howls triumphantly and lifts a fist into the air before being bombarded by what you can only assume are his own dogs, celebrating their victory.

You leave them there to have a drink at the bar in an attempt to find familiarity. As you settle you notice the murals done along the back wall. Depictions of packs taking down huge beasts. A giant wurm in one. A drake in the next, its wings shredded by dog teeth. At the very end of the murals the owners have hung beautiful braids of dog fur weighted down with puppy teeth. They shiver whenever the bartender strode past.

Along the back wall, underneath the murals, sit rows of alcohol. You scan the first row, the only row you can read. Runner’s Heart and Dog Breath glint maroon in the oil lamps. Bitch’s Heat glows golden and Puphood shines dark, almost black. You pick the first. It tastes smooth, almost fruity, but with a kick that pounds your heart. As if you’d just finished a sprint.

A man leans next to you as you replace the mug. That same houndmaster who has just come off the sands, his shirt now gone and the blood partially cleaned. He issues a challenge, his eyes wide and his breath coming harsh as if he thinks he needs to take on everyone in the doghouse.

You swallow, then explain you don’t have a pack. Instead of kicking you out, as you feared, the houndmaster’s expression turns sad, as if empathizing with your loneliness. Then he introduces himself and drags you upstairs, laughing at your weak protests. You clutch your drink like a lifeline as he tugs you through the low couches filled with houndmasters and dogs.

Then he finds a open space along the railing and squeezes you both within it, your bodies pressed close as you look down at the sands below. Scents of alcohol and sweat and excitement hit you hard and you find yourself grinning back at the houndmaster, the Runner’s Heart you sip warming your limbs.

He shouts over the crowd, pointing out people and dogs and giving a running commentary on the fight below. His face is overly expressive as he speaks, contorting in an empathetic grimace when two dogs collide, brightening with anticipation when it looks as if a takedown is imminent. You can’t help but cheer along with him despite having little idea of what’s being said.

Behind you, a hound leaps upon the wide railing and nudges your arm with her head. The houndmaster you’re with reaches over and scrubs her neck with a rough hand, praising her, congratulating her on their recent win. He then confides she had been the one to drag the other man to the sands, that she deserves her accolades for the night. She seems to enjoy the attention.

Below you, the fight surges, the crowd turning crazy when the underdog gets his second wind and starts to turn the tide.

You barely hear the swell of noise because the houndmaster beside you grabs your hand and presses it against his dog, dragging your attention to him and him alone. His palm is sweaty and hot. Grains of sand cling to the hair on his wrist and forearm. Blood speckles his knuckles. The fur under your hand is soft and the dog beneath growls lightly, as if demanding you rub her.

You comply, mimicking the houndmaster’s earlier rough treatment. The dog settles against the railing in a contented slouch, blinking leisurely. The houndmaster releases you, but only to grab you once more, this time a fierce grip with his fingers digging into your triceps.

You gasp, but not from pain. Then you stand firm, a woman cheering at your back, a dog lazing at your front, while the houndmaster at your side leans in and drags his teeth lightly across your jaw. He ends at your mouth, biting seductively at your lip, a crazy light in his eyes reflecting a question you desperately want to answer.

It is then you realize his earlier challenge hadn’t been about the sands at all.

Haunt of The Wilds eBook Cover

Haunt of the Wilds
The Wilds Duology: Book I
Coming December 3rd
On Preorder Now for .99c

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