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It took me about a month to get settled in with my new People. They bought me a big, comfortable bed and lots of toys, and took me on long walks every day. By then I’d figured out what had almost killed me—chronic kidney failure.
My old People had let a simple kidney infection turn into an incurable disease. My new People couldn’t make my kidneys work again, but they did everything they needed to keep me as healthy as I could be.
The Moon kept telling me stories late at night after my People went to sleep, or sometimes, if she rose early, in the afternoon before they came home from work.
All her stories about brave, adventurous dogs made me want to go on my own adventure. But I was just a puppy, where could I even go?
“Moon?” I asked one fall night. “I want to go on an adventure, but I don’t know where to go.”
The Moon made a sound like she was thinking, but as always her face never changed. I’d gotten used to sometimes not being able to see her when she told me stories, like if clouds covered her up.
“If you were to leave your house to go on an adventure, your People would be very worried about you. And there are many dangers to dogs in the world of man, cars not least among them. Your people walk you every day, is that right?”
I ruffed a yes. Something in her tone made me feel embarrassed for asking the question in the first place.
“The world of man is no place for a lone puppy, dear Ruby. Let me tell you a story, perhaps that will sate your appetite for wandering.”
I looked away from her. Before I had a chance to say anything, she started.
“I can see into the future as well as the past,” she said. “So I will tell you a story from the year 2984. By that year, People will create robots of all sorts, and many of them will be sentient. Dog robots begin as protectors, companions and caretakers for young children, but many are so good at their duties they take on more and more responsibility.
“Their ability to transform into a humanoid shape make them ideally suited for this role.
“One of the protectors, Lexitron, a Corgi-style dog robot, is so good at her job her city makes her their official watchdog. Her superbark can strike fear into the heart of any foe, and her tail whip can knock an opponent twenty feet in the air.”
The Moon’s voice fell. “Corgi robots don’t have to worry about burrs, you know,” she whispered before continuing the story. “So, Lexitron becomes the most famous and well-loved watchdog of all.
“She keeps her city safe from all sorts of evil, including renegade robots, terrorists, would-be murderers and regular thieves. As an added bonus, she easily herds large crowds when they get too unruly at concerts, parades or protests.
“She spends most of her free time gardening, which truth be told, consists mostly of her digging holes in the yard behind her house.”
“Gardening?” I asked.
The Moon laughed. Usually her laughter at my questions seemed good-natured. I expected her to know more than me; she was the Moon after all! Today it sounded brash and superior.
“Gardening is when you plant flowers, vegetables, or other green things,” she said.
“Well I know that. I was born in the country. But why would a dog robot who protects a whole city want to plant green things? It’s not like they taste good.”
The Moon laughed again. “Why does anyone want to do anything? Lexitron enjoys digging holes, and gardening is one of few practical uses for such a task, at least for a city dog.”
I snorted under my breath, hoping the Moon couldn’t hear.
“One day Lexitron hears a loud CRASH,” she continued. “She dashes outside to see what danger has befallen her city. But instead of danger, Lexitron finds a large dog robot that had collided with a nearby building.
“Lexitron instantly recognizes the dog robot as Rubicon, a farm dog robot who regularly escapes from her farm and causes problems. She shakes her head and trudges her short legs over to see if Rubicon—and more importantly everyone around Rubicon—is alright.
“‘Rubicon, what happened?’ Lexitron asks.
“The German Shepherd dog robot puts her ears back. ‘I lost my balance and fell…’ She looks at the ground as she speaks.
“‘Well, obviously,’ Lexitron says. ‘What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay on the farm!’ She pulled herself up to her full six inches of height, but was still a good foot and a half shorter than Rubicon.
“‘Sorry…it was boring there.’ Rubicon looks around her. All the people have cleared the street, and nothing is left but a bit of concrete that fell off the building. ‘No one wanted to play with me.’
“Lexitron rolls her eyes. She knows what she has to do, so she transforms into her humanoid form. Rubicon stands straight up and starts wagging her tail ‘Are we going to play?’
“Even in her humanoid form, Lexitron is barely eye-level with Rubicon. She pulls a metal tug rope from a storage compartment in her hip and waves it in front of the escaped farm dog robot. “Rubicon stretches down on her front paws and then springs up to grab the rope, which Lexitron pulls back before the other dog robot’s teeth can sink into it.
“‘We can only play if you leave the city and promise not to come back,’ Lexitron says.
“Rubicon pauses, and her eyes dart from the rope to Lexitron to the buildings around her. ‘I would rather not play, then,’ she replies. ‘I would rather explore the city.’
“But, Lexitron knows that left to her own devices, Rubicon will only get into trouble, so she does what she has to do and lets out a loud superbark. It echoes around the buildings and through the streets and captivates Rubicon’s attention entirely.
“The Corgi dog robot transforms back into dog form and starts running as fast as she’s able through the city and toward Rubicon’s farm. Rubicon gives chase, and although she can run faster than the shorter dog robot, she doesn’t overtake her.
“They run and run and run until Rubicon suddenly finds herself at the farm doorstep, and her People are there, looking relieved to see her.
“‘Rubicon!’ the woman says, ‘We were so worried about you! Did you get yourself into trouble again?’ She frowns, but it is the kind of frown born more out of anxiety than displeasure.
“Rubicon looks at Lexitron, then back at her Person. ‘Nah, I was just kind of bored so I went to visit Lexitron is all.’
“The People usher Rubicon into the house with admonitions not to leave again and she looks sheepishly back at Lexitron before the door shuts. Lexitron sighs and begins the trek back into the city.”
As the Moon finishes her story an unsettled feeling comes over me. The story did not, as she said it would, satiate my desire for adventure. But I do not tell her this, and instead ruff my thanks.
I sense a smile in her voice when she says “You’re welcome. Sleep tight, little one,” but it’s hard to tell with the Moon.
I curl up by the window and imagine running through the park without a leash, the wind blowing my ears back against my head, until I fall asleep.
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Once I discovered the Moon liked telling stories, I started asking for them, and they became a nightly routine for me.
After saving me from a family that neglected me, my rescuer found me a new family that actually took care of me and gave me lots of pets and love. But the first night I spent with them was scary. I knew they cared about me, but I felt lonely and everything around me was unfamiliar.
“Moon?” I asked after the People fell asleep. She was the only other thing in the world I knew.
“Hello, little Ruby,” she replied.
I could barely see her out the window, but I could see her glow light up the dark outside.
“Would you like to hear another story?”
Somehow her voice floated through the window, even though it was closed and outside smells barely drifted through. I ruffed quietly, glad to have someone, anyone, to talk to.
“Then let me tell you the legend of Corgi-san, the old Japanese dog spirit who was often mistaken for a fox because of her red coat and fox-like markings.”
I sat down by the window, looking out at the moonlight in the People’s yard, even though I couldn’t see the Moon’s face.
“Corgi-san, who loved good food and especially eggs, liked to sneak into a particular inn outside the city of Edo. The inn sat on a main highway, so many travelers stopped in to refresh themselves on their long journeys into the capital.
“For Corgi-san, this meant many new opportunities to steal food each night. On most nights, she waited until the patrons were well and intoxicated, and then she would tip-toe in and use her long tongue to steal fried eggs off the top of all the patrons’ dishes until she’d eaten her fill. Her antics were well known among the inn’s proprietors, but no one had ever been able to catch her.
“One night, a samurai of some skill and renown who lived nearby came to the inn, as he was fond of the egg-topped soba noodles.
“Corgi-san had seen the samurai before and thought it would be a good challenge and good fun to steal food from him. When he’d turned to talk to a particularly pretty waitress, she shot out her long, pink tongue, wrapped it around the samurai’s egg and swallowed it whole.
“She thought she had gotten away with it and was ready to sneak back out, satisfied with the night, but the samurai drew his katana and pointed it right at her corner hiding place.
“‘I see you, Corgi-san, and your thievery is well known in this inn! It’s time you paid for all the eggs you’ve stolen from innocent travelers,’ the samurai declared.
“A wicked grin spread across Corgi-san’s face. Although she was accustomed to an easy life, she was a dog spirit, and rising to a challenge was in her nature.
“‘Only if you can catch me, Samurai-san!’ she barked.”
I’d forgotten all about my new People and strange surroundings. The Moon’s even voice calmed me the same way a Person could by gently petting my back. If I hadn’t been so interested in the story, I might have felt sleepy.
“With that,” the Moon continued, “Corgi-san leapt from the corner, farther than anyone would have guessed possible with her short legs. The samurai gave chase, and the inn’s patrons cheered him on. He deftly untied his horse outside the inn and hurried after the quickly retreating dog spirit.
“The samurai’s horse was strong and quick, and he caught up to the little dog spirit without problem. Looking back, she saw the samurai, now on her heels, draw his bow. She yelped and redoubled her efforts, feeling like she was in real trouble this time, but her best was not good enough.”
My legs twitched as the Moon told her story, I felt like I needed to run from the samurai too.
“The samurai aimed his shot and let his arrow fly. It hit Corgi-san’s back right leg, and she rolled off the road and into the brush. For a few moments, the samurai lost sight of her.
“When she emerged from the brush, she moved even faster than before. The samurai was surprised to see her carrying the arrow in her mouth; she seemed completely unharmed. He urged his horse on, and soon realized the dog spirit was headed straight for his house!
“As she approached the house, the samurai was even more surprised to see the arrow’s feathers burst into flames. He realized what the corgi was doing, but he couldn’t get his horse to run fast enough to catch up with her; she must have been moving with the aid of some magic.
“Corgi-san reached the house a good while before the samurai. She ran around it in a circle, letting the flaming arrow touch the wood, setting it ablaze. The samurai reached the house and stopped, his mouth agape.
“Once the dog spirit had done a full circle around the house, she disappeared back into the brush. As she disappeared, the samurai heard her say, ‘Your punishment didn’t match my crime. I only wanted something good to eat! Maybe you’ll think twice the next time you decide to exact your own judgment.
“Luckily for the samurai, his family was in the capital, because his house burned to ash. From that day on, he did think before he decided to pass judgment, and often erred on the side of mercy. Whenever he passed a shrine to the local gods, he always left a delicious treat in honor of Corgi-san.”
I laughed at the story and Corgi-san’s revenge. I realized how tense I’d been waiting for the end of the story, and that made me laugh even more. Suddenly, I became sleepy, and to this day I’m not sure if it was because of some Moon magic or if it was only because I used up all my energy listening to the story.
After I thanked the Moon, I curled up on the floor next to my sleeping People. Right before I fell asleep, I thought I heard the Moon say, “Goodnight, Ruby.”
When you howl at the moon, the moon howls back.
I learned this after I first became sick and my People refused to give me medical care. There were rumors among my kind that the Moon kept our stories, that she listened when we called, and that she answered, but I’d never thought to test them.
My body burned with sickness and without the right medicine I grew sicker and sicker. I didn’t understand how sick I was, and I hid it because those two little ones needed someone to protect them, and I loved them. I thought that if I ignored the fire it would go away.
After a few moons, a Person came to take me away. Leaving my family hurt, and although my rescuer gave me a comfortable place to sleep and the care I needed, I was feeling sorry for myself.
The sickness should have killed me. But, the Moon told me a story the night my rescuer took me away from my old family, the night I let loose my first howl. That story, along with a new family who adopted me soon after, kept me going, kept me as healthy as I could be with my disease, now a permanent, slow-burning fire inside of me.
When my rescuer took me to her house, she took me out into her yard after the sun had long set. It was summer—June, I think—and the warm air smelled like rabbits and flowers. I wandered away from the Person, and when I crested a hill I noticed for the first time in my young life how big and round the Moon was.
The howl started in my toes as an urge to dig them into the soft dirt and feel it squish between my pads. It rose through my body and when it reached my stomach it became guttural, instinctual, a need. From there it moved into my lungs and grew into something with a mind of its own and tore through my throat and out my lips where it rose to meet the Moon in all her shining glory.
It felt wonderful, like that howl had been growing in me my whole life, like it had been holding me back, like letting to go had cured me. But I knew that it hadn’t.
Then, the Moon spoke to me.
“Little Ruby, since you have told me your story, I will tell you a new one.”
I cocked my head sideways and looked up at her. “Moon?” I asked. Her smooth voice surprised me. I knew I’d heard her speak, but the words floated by me like a breeze. Once they passed, they were gone, and nothing moved in to fill the space they’d left, because they hadn’t left any. It was as if they’d never been there.
I stared up at her, but the glowing orb in the sky didn’t change, and she still looked impossibly far away. I gave another short howl and then the midsummer wind plucked her words from the sky and carried them to me.
“Once, there was a Welsh Corgi dog who had no tail. She never had one, and did not know the difference until a child exclaimed, ‘He doesn’t have a tail yet!’ Aside from the indignity of being addressed as a boy, she was not sure what the child meant. Was she supposed to have a tail? She was still young herself, but she’d gotten along without a tail for this long.
“From then on she noticed that all the dogs she passed did have tails, even the new-born puppies. She felt self-conscious about her lack of tail now, and hoped the other dogs wouldn’t notice. But they did notice, perhaps because she made such an effort to hide it. A large bulldog asked her what happened to her tail, but rather than respond she hung her head and walked away.
“The Corgi grew shy and reserved, and kept to herself. She tried all she could think of to make her tail grow. She pulled on the spot where her tail should have been to see if it was stuck inside, but all she did was pull her hair out and give the other dogs cause to laugh at her bald spots. Then she tried attaching some bushy reeds to act as a surrogate tail, but that made the other dogs laugh even more.”
I stood rapt, looking up at the Moon as her sweet voice blew by my ears. Her words came at an even pace, but I knew that the story so far had taken less than a minute to tell. And all the while she told me the story, her visage didn’t change. I could see her face, but I wasn’t looking at anything more than a glowing white ball. But her words continued.
“A few weeks went by without the Corgi leaving her yard, and she grew more and more miserable. Now, if you have never met a Corgi, they are not the kind of dog to sit around and mope, and she finally couldn’t take her self-pity anymore. So one day, she sought out an old, wise sheepdog at the dog park.
“‘Sir?’ she asked. ‘Do you happen to know why I don’t have a tail?’ She looked away from him while she spoke.
“‘You don’t need a tail,’ the sheepdog said.
“‘But all the other dogs have tails. Is there someway I can get one?’ If dogs could blush, the little Corgi’s face would have been bright red.
“The sheepdog laughed. ‘No. You don’t need a silly tail. They get all tangled and give children something to pull on. Your ancestors herded cattle. The People removed your tails so that the cattle wouldn’t step on them and so you wouldn’t get burs caught in them. I don’t know if you’ve ever lain on a bur, but it hurts like a—well, it hurts.’
“His eyes sparkled with mischief, but the Corgi knew he told her the truth. Even so, she had it in her mind that she wanted a tail.
“‘That’s still not fair,’ she said. ‘All the other dogs make fun of me. And I do not herd cows. Or anything else.
“‘Fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same,’ the sheepdog responded. ‘It means everyone gets what she needs.
“The Corgi wasn’t happy, but the sheepdog’s tone implied that he would not be coaxed into saying anything else on the matter. She thanked him and went back to her People. On their way home, she lost herself so thoroughly thinking about the sheepdog’s advice she didn’t notice another dog walking toward her until she bumped into him.
“‘Hey, shrimp, watch where you’re going!’ he said. His People pulled him back, but he continued looking down at the Corgi with disdain. ‘What happened to your tail?’ he snickered.
“The Corgi’s first reaction was to look away from the dog in shame, but she recalled the sheepdog’s words about her ancestors. ‘I don’t need a tail,’ she scoffed. ‘It would only get in my way.’
“She walked away from the bully with her nose in the air. If she would have looked back, she would have seen shock on his face. Once she was sure she was out of sight and sound, she let a wild grin spread across her muzzle.
“After that, she took pride in not having a tail and in the history of her ancestors. Her attitude surprised the other dogs, and they never bothered her about her tail again.”
The Moon looked the same, of course, but I thought she must be smiling.
“Did you like my story, Ruby?” she asked in her wind-voice.
I howled my thanks, and this time I was sure I heard her laugh.
Before either of us could say anything else, my rescuer ushered me inside for bed. It wasn’t fair that I’d gotten sick, but I certainly had everything I needed right here. I barked once more to let the Moon know I understood before my rescuer closed the door behind me.