The alley looked safe enough. Barks couldn’t smell Ruff, the leader of the local pack. He wasn’t a member and it didn’t seem as though he would be a member any time soon. He’d tried to be submissive, but that had only gotten him beaten badly. His fore paw still hurt and it had been many darks since that encounter. Why had Master left him? What had he done wrong?
Tail between his legs, he skulked toward the places where humans put their unwanted food. Imagine having so much food you could toss it. His stomach growled and he jumped up on a mound of trash and then began rummaging for his dinner.
“Hey! Get out of there!” A human with a sweeper lunged at him. With a yelp Barks leaped to the ground and fled for his life. “Damned dogs.”
Barks crouched by the trash can by the road. He shivered in the cold. Humans weren’t the nice benefactors his puppy-self had believed. Master had left him. The rest didn’t seem to like him. He’d tried to get a new home with a human. He’d barked warnings at them when danger lurked, but they didn’t seem to care. No one wanted him. It was so cold and he was still hungry.
There was food in the trash can. He could smell it. He stood on his hind legs trying to reach the top of the can.
“Get away from there!” Another human lunged at him. “What are we paying animal control for?” Barks narrowly avoided the bucket of water the human threw at him. That had been completely unnecessary. He fled down the sidewalk.
“Hey, Mutt!” The gravelly voice was not welcome. Barks couldn’t catch a break. He’d almost run into Ruff and his pack. They stood in his path. Two circled around behind him. Ruff glared at Barks.
“Thought I told you to get off my turf.” Barks hunched down submissively.
“I’m sorry, Ruff.” He said. “I just wanted a bit of food and then I was going to leave.”
“You don’t get food from us.” Ruff growled. “I’ll let you go for now, but if I see you here again, I’ll kill you.” He would too. Barks had no doubts about that. He tucked his tail between his legs and ran for his life, again.
He ran into the park and hid in some bushes. Humans wouldn’t see him, but the pack would. He would rest until he could breathe again and then he’d move further from the pack’s turf and hope he’d find a pack that would take him in.
He shivered again. It was so cold. The air thickened and soon white flakes drifted down. He needed to find someplace to sleep that was warm. He crept from beneath the sheltering bushes and realized the white flakes were building up on the ground. They were also falling faster. Even the humans in their moving boxes were leaving the area.
“I told you to leave!” Ruff’s voice behind him had Barks running again. He raced into the street, uncaring if a car was coming. He didn’t stop until he reached another alley. This one didn’t have food in it. He huddled in misery beside a large metal box and strained his ears to hear any sounds of pursuit.
The white flakes swirled around him. It was so cold. Barks backed behind the trash box. He was almost certain he would be safe enough here for now. He curled up with his nose between his paws. The white stuff was not only cold, it was wet as well. The hollowness in his belly was only intensified by the cold. He couldn’t keep a whimper from escaping him. Somewhere, there had to be a place for him. All he had to do was find it.
Sleep eluded him. He wasn’t comfortable. A larger box stopped at the end of the alley. Barks warily backed again the box. He’d seen that box before. A human with a rope lived in it. He took dogs off the street. Barks didn’t know what happened to those unfortunate enough to be caught, but he was sure it wasn’t a good fate.
If he tried, he might be able to get under the box. While he was thin, he wasn’t thin enough. The human walked down the alley, a pole with a rope loop in his hand.
“Here, doggy, doggy,” the human called in the kind of voice that sent dogs running away. “Come on, doggy. I got a nice place for you.” He kept coming. He was too close.
Barks exploded out the back of the alley and raced away to the street at the other end of the alley. The human shouted and gave chase. Barks wove between the other humans on the sidewalk. Their shouts added to the sounds of pursuit.
Barks fled into another alley only to realize he’d made an error. This alley was closed at the opposite end. Panicked, Barks darted between trash cans and tried to make himself as small as he could. He willed himself not to whimper. His breathing slowed when he didn’t hear any more sounds of pursuit. He closed his eyes and finally slept, too exhausted to do anything else.
The white flakes had stopped falling when Barks opened his eyes. Aside from the light over the trash cans was the only light. Barks looked around nervously. What had woken him? He was suddenly uneasy and couldn’t say why. He couldn’t hear any sounds at all. The wind had stilled. The traffic on the street was gone. Perhaps all the humans had gone to their dens. Where the hunter of dogs had gone, he didn’t know. Had he dreamed it?
“There you are, Barks.” He didn’t know the voice and looked around startled. The human stood looking at him with a smile on his face. Barks had almost missed it behind the white fur on the human’s face. He wore black leg covers and jacket. If Barks squinted, he could see the wide black belt. The shiny part of the black belt was square. He wore black foot coverings as well. The jacket was trimmed in white fur. He didn’t look dangerous, but Master had seemed to like Barks and then left him. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Why?” Barks backed away from the man. “Who are you?”
“It’s Christmas, Barks.” He reached out and Barks backed up again only to slide forward into the human’s outstretched hands. “I have a gift for you.”
“Who are you?” Barks asked again. “How do you understand me?”
“I speak all languages.” The human’s smile was kind. Could Barks trust him? “My name is Santa Claus. Let’s get you cleaned up. I have a very special gift for you. It’s something you’ve been wanting.” Suddenly Barks was clean and dry. Santa carried him to a large black sleigh and set him in it.
“I don’t understand.” Barks made the confession nervously.
“You want a home.” Santa told him. “I know a couple of young children who want a dog. Their home is your gift, and you are their gift. It’s simple. And that was how a clean, warm and dry Barks found himself in a comfortable bed beneath a tree that wasn’t a tree with a large bow around his neck and silver shiny round thing with something written on it. Santa told him that the disk, which was the shiny thing, had his name on it. Santa left and, just as the sun was peeking in the windows, a little human male and a little female ran into the room, shrieking. They wrapped their arms around him, and he knew he was home.