Canis listened to the sounds out in the room. Curled in his old blanket, he listened as his mother entertained another man. He was drunk and loud. His mother would have red marks on her face again when he left. He could never ask her about them and when he touched them, she merely smiled sadly and held his hand away from them.
His mother had been entertaining men ever since he could remember, and ever since he could remember, Canis had been kept hidden away whenever a man was with her. Sometimes, he was found anyway, either by one of her men or by the house owner, and they would travel for a while before his mother found them a new place, then she would start entertaining again. She didn’t bring a man to their tiny room every night. On those free nights, Canis’s mother would bring out some much-abused paper, and with a coal from the fireplace, they would curl up on the warm hearth and she would help him trace his letters.
Canis had no problem tracing the letters, but when it came to grouping them into words, it was as if he stumbled into a giant dark chasm. His mother was very patient with him but she couldn’t understand how wide and dark that chasm was. It was as if a vast empty hole was inside his head right where writing and speaking was supposed to be. Canis could read though. His mother read to him from their one tattered book over and over again. Canis had the words of the story memorized but his mother didn’t suspect, not even when she caught him reading it; she merely assumed that he was only looking at the pictures. There was no way he could tell her otherwise.
Canis was working on a surprise for her though. Whenever she was away, he struggled to say a single word - Canis - his name. His mother had told him once that it was the name of a star - that it had something to do with his father and his father’s family but he didn’t understand and he couldn’t ask.
The first time he succeeded in uttering the whole word in one halting piece, it felt like a rope had been tossed across that vast emptiness. It was like a single strand of spider’s web strung across a canyon so wide the other side could not be seen. It was so small and fragile compared to the vastness but Canis could feel it and he treasured its hold.
When he finally showed his mother his achievement, she cried. It wasn’t the response he expected but then she hugged him hard and told him how happy she was.
The man his mother was entertaining this time was stomping around, banging on the table and shouting about his plans. Canis could scarcely hear his mother’s quiet voice as she tried to calm him. The man ranted of riding and cutting but Canis didn’t understand it all. He hoped he didn’t cut her hair; he liked her shiny copper braid, it was long and silky. He would stroke it while she read to him. Suddenly the man fell into the closet where Canis hid, breaking the door with his weight. Startled, Canis growl and the man reached for him.
Cornered in the closet, he couldn’t dodge away so he was forced to fight back the only way he could. His sharp teeth left four slices in the man’s wrist but that didn’t save him. The man’s blunt nails scored painful welts across Canis’s chest as he grabbed for him. He cried out when Canis’s teeth drew blood but the pain only seemed to increase his rage. He pulled Canis out into the light and gave him a shake, roaring “changeling” for the wounding. “You hid a beast in your closet, woman, a Changeling, I say; only animals have eyes that glow in the dark. It was an animal that bit me, I say. What is this witchcraft? It’s bad enough that you have hair of the devil’s fire. This spawn with an animal’s teeth is proof of your witchery.” He shoved the woman from his path.
As he headed for the door with a snarling bundle of fury in his meaty hand Stephani wailed her denials. “No, that’s my baby. Look at him. See, he’s just a child. Give me my baby. You can’t take my baby.”
The man wasn’t listening. By the time he reached the common room, Canis was struggling in earnest. Every time he came close to finding more flesh with his teeth, the man would give him another violent shake.