Pica and Scruff, two young coyotes, are both born in the heart of a large city. Pica has a loving family and lives on a peaceful golf course. Scruff was orphaned at birth and adopted by a mysterious older coyote named Jagger.
Despite their differences, Pica and Scruff meet and become friends. Their friendship is put to the test, however, when Scruff learns that Pica’s family may have been involved in the death of his own family. The fragile peace is further disrupted when construction begins, demolishing the place where Scruff and Jagger live. And then Scruff discovers that there is a lot he doesn’t know about Jagger, the only parent he’s ever known. Scruff must decide whom to trust in order to survive and find a new place to call home.
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Chapter One – Light
In the beginning, all she knew was warmth and milk. Furry bodies curled around each other, squirming and straining to find the warm, sweet liquid. Everything was dark. A large, rough tongue bathed her, soothing her rising panic at being out in the world on her own. A cocoon of warm dirt protected her.
As time passed, she became more aware of where her body ended and the others began. There were three others there — others like her. When she rolled onto them, they pushed back. They wriggled around, fighting to get closer to their mother, who was not impressed. She growled at them from time to time and nipped them sharply when they bit her by accident or stepped on her tail. After a few moments of this tumbling, they would all collapse from exhaustion and lie together, listening to the sound of their breath and their mother’s heartbeat.
More time passed, and she became aware of other adults besides her mother. A large female would pop her head into the den, woofing softly. Then her mother would leave for a while, and the new female would take her place, licking and soothing the pups just like a mother. She didn’t have milk, but the pups kept looking and getting nipped for their efforts. They smelled a third adult too, a male, but he didn’t enter the den. They could hear his soft paws circling around the entrance, and his gentle woofing greetings.
One day, her eyes opened. She looked around, blinking, seeing only light and shadow. She made out the rough outlines of her siblings, who were all fast asleep next to her mother. She slid her body out gently from underneath the heavy head of her brother and stood up, looking around. In front of her was a beautiful, bright light. Curious, she began to work her way toward it, stepping awkwardly around her siblings, who grunted sleepily as she stepped on them. Reaching the light, she realized that it was a hole leading upward, with intoxicatingly interesting smells on the other side. With determination, she pushed her chubby body upward, making her way up onto a large ledge in front of the light. She pushed her head out, and then, scrabbling with all four paws against the rocky dirt, she catapulted herself out of the hole, turning a few somersaults before coming to rest on her stomach. The light was brighter than ever, and she closed her eyes against the assault. Sounds and smells and sensations hurtled at her from all directions. It was all suddenly too much, and crying out, she tried to find her way back to the darkness. She stood up, blinking, but she couldn’t see anything but the white, piercing light.
Suddenly, she smelled the adult male nearby. She heard a soft woof from above her head, and then she was picked up unceremoniously by the scruff of her neck and dumped back into the darkness. She landed on the dirt, and with a happy yelp, she burrowed her way deep into the pile of soft fur. It felt so safe and warm.
“I found a straggler,” she heard from outside the hole, the male voice echoing around the walls of the den. “Trying to take her first peek out into the world.”
“There is always one who just can’t wait,” her mother answered, tenderly licking the pup’s face. “Well, my little one who wants to take the first peek. We will call you Pica.”
Pica snuggled up deeper into the soft, warm fur. The adventure had exhausted her and she was content to close her eyes and relax into the safety of her mother.
In the beginning, all he knew was warmth and milk. Furry bodies curled around each other, squirming and straining to find the warm, sweet liquid. Everything was dark. A large, rough tongue bathed him, soothing his rising panic at being out in the world on his own. A cocoon of warm dirt protected him.
As time passed, he became more aware of where his body ended and the others began. There were two others there — others like him. When he rolled onto them, they pushed back. They wriggled around, fighting to get closer to their mother, who was not impressed. She growled at them from time to time and nipped them sharply when they bit her or stepped on her tail. After a few moments of this tumbling, they would all collapse from exhaustion and lie together, listening the sound of their breath and their mother’s heartbeat.
More time passed, and he became aware of the smell of a male who was often nearby, woofing gently to his mother. The male would go away for long periods of time, and when he returned he would give a soft bark, his large head blocking the light at the entrance to the den, his smell filtering down. His mother would extricate herself gently, leaving them alone, although he could smell her nearby. In her absence, he snuggled closer to the other two pups. None of them wanted to be on the outside, and they would squirm vigorously, each trying to be in the middle of the other two. After a few moments, they would get tired and begin to mew, calling for their mother to return. And she would, taking her place beside them, curling her body around them all.
The routine was interrupted when the male stopped coming. He felt his mother becoming anxious and restless, and she began to leave them for longer and longer periods of time. When she returned, her warm milk was often difficult to get, and she became irritated as they chewed harder and harder on her nipples to try to get the milk to flow.
One day, he smelled a strange new coyote smell, and his mother jumped up, alarmed. She squeezed out of the den, and he could hear her growls mingling with the stranger’s growls. All of the pups were still and frightened. After a while, it got quiet and they couldn’t smell the other coyote anymore. Their mother returned to the den and snuggled around them.
As the days passed, things did not get better. His mother would leave, and it was cold. Even as he curled up next to his siblings, he no longer felt a sense of peace and safety. His stomach hurt from hunger. When his mother returned, exhausted, they would immediately begin to push against each other. What had been playful fighting in the beginning became more serious, as the pups fought desperately for what little milk there was. He found himself hurting his siblings, clawing at their faces, in order to stay close to his mother’s milk source. At first, she nipped them into line, but after a few days, she stopped caring. They all grew weaker.
One day, he became aware that his mother had been gone for a very long time. The pups waited in the dark hole, listening and straining their eyes at the bright light, waiting for the darkness of her shadow to cross it. The light faded slowly and it became night, and then the light was back again. At the end of that first long day, his sister stopped moving. She had always been the smallest and weakest. Her breathing slowed, and she became cold. At the end of the second day, his brother became cold, too. Scruff lay alone in the hole, next to his two siblings, and thought about closing his eyes, too.
Instead, he stood up and started making his way toward the light at the end of the den. He walked unsteadily to the opening and slipped his body through the hole. The light was painfully bright now, and he closed his eyes against the assault. Sounds and smells and sensations hurtled at him from all directions. It was suddenly too much, and crying out, he tried to find his way back to the darkness. He stood up, blinking, but he couldn’t see anything except the white, piercing light.
Moments passed and nothing happened. His breathing slowed and he found that he was able to make out shapes around him. The ground was soft under his paws, and there were large trees that cast a shadow over parts of a small clearing. Hearing a series of loud caws, he looked up to see a few dark shapes silhouetted against the light. Some birds were circling slowly above him. He stared at them, mesmerized by their steady glide. He noticed them drawing closer and closer.
He was suddenly distracted as a smell caught his attention, coming from the other side of the clearing. He began walking toward it. Although he toppled over a few times, feeling very weak, he got back up each time, standing for a few moments on shaky legs before resuming his trek. The birds continued to caw loudly, and when he glanced back up he noticed that many more of them had joined the circles.
He took a few more steps when, out of nowhere, he felt something impact his back and a white-hot shot of pain ripped through his body. He fell over, crying out sharply, and looked behind him. There was nothing. He looked around desperately, and then saw a black object hurtling toward him from the sky. Before he could react, it tore into his side, pain ripping through him again. Yelping with rage, he realized that the birds were attacking him.
His body now felt like it was on fire, and he jumped up with panic, growling and snarling in the direction of the birds. He braced himself, trying to anticipate the next attack. The crows circled patiently, a few feet from his head, waiting for the next opportunity. He shook his head as he began to feel dizzy, looking down for a moment. Then, returning his gaze to the sky, he saw a large shadow dip away from the rest, bombing straight toward him. He jumped desperately to the side, turning his head to snap and growl at it. He felt the wind of the bird’s descent against his fur, but did not feel the impact this time. Looking up, he saw the bird retreating.
“Ya! Take that!” he squeaked.
He was so focused on the birds that he didn’t sense the large, strange coyote standing beside him until he heard a low barking laugh. He spun around to see a tall, lanky coyote with patchy fur. Long, lean muscles stood out under his silvery coat, and his eyes carefully sized up the pup.
“A little fighter. Scrawny, but tough. I like you.”
The pup stared back at him with big eyes, frozen. His back burned, his stomach contracted, and he didn’t know what to do.
“I’ll call you Scruff. You’re a bit ragged, but you might pull through. If you survive, you can stay with me.” With that, he was picked up roughly by the scruff of his neck and carried off into the dark shadows of the forest.
Table of Contents
- 1. Light
- 2. Play
- 3. Standoff
- 4. Threat
- 5. Crossing
- 6. Construction
- 7. Donut
- 8. Attack
- 9. Challenge
- 10. Accepted
- 11. Leap
- 12. Stillness
- 13. School
- 14. City
- 15. Human
- 16. Inside
- 17. Mala
- 18. Lost
- 19. Decision
- 20. Storm
- 21. Home
- 22. Confrontation
- 23. Teamwork
- 24. Truth
- 25. Chance
- 26. A New Light