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That Winter Feeling · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Belly of the Least
I hate Christmas, I thought, as the bones of the baby deer snap in my jaws.

Once upon a happier time, Christmas was a time of joy for me. I could look forward to seeing the children happy at receiving shiny toys, and a feast where I could eat as much as much meat as I wanted and then some.

Of course, I didn't know what Christmas was back then.

Now I know what Christmas really is: the time when all the men from the village hide away their herds and start hunting and scaring the prey I usually eat.

Now Christmas is being hungry, and cold, without any kind of roof over my head and a fire in my belly instead of in the fireplace.

And after Christmas is over...I can look forward to two more months of misery, and hunger, and cold so cold it makes me lose my mind.

Something that has already happened before.

I'm tired. Taking down the baby deer wasn't hard, but it still required effort, getting out of my cave, and stalking the herd for a good amount of the day.

And now I feel lazy, full (which isn't true: I'm going to be even hungrier tomorrow morning) and sleepy.

I take a look at the dead deer. Picked clean, with the broken bones shining in the sun.

Weird how their white is so different from the white of the snow all around us.

I go back to my cave slowly, taking my time and smelling for anything interesting on the way.

It's weird, being so smarter than I once was.

I remember my Owner, throwing a ball and me running to get it, and then not finding it, and coming back to Owner only to find it still in his hand.

And then him laughing, and me not understanding but being happy he was laughing, and then playing around on the hill near the house.

I understand now that he'd never thrown the ball at all, and I can't help but feel so stupid, even now. I miss being stupid. I miss my collar.

Now I can understand almost everything the humans say, when before I could only understand “No”, “Food” and “Blumen”, my name!

They call me Ersatzwolf now.

Wait, no, maybe that's not true.

Maybe they call Ersatzwolf things that they are afraid of a lot.

But it's more likely that that's just what they're calling me.

I'm bigger now.

Last time I saw Owner, I could have fit his whole head in my mouth.

I'm hungry.

I narrow my eyes at the cavern's exit. It's cold outside, but if I stay here I'll only get hungrier, and I'm already bored, but it's so cold...

No matter. It's like swimming in the river.

I get up, get out of the cave in two jumps and then sink into the snow a bit.

I regret everything and start moving forward.

The air burns my nose, but maybe there are some smells of things to eat around.

Everything is dead in the forest.

The ground is dead, the grass and flowers burnt by the ice and cold.

The trees are dead, their naked branches thrust to the sky in a plea that won't be answered.

Spring is a cruel dream, which life can't imagine ever coming back.

The lakes and rivers are dead too, motionless and mockingly beautiful, like a stillborn puppy.

Missing everything that makes it bring joy.

I remember Owner, throwing baby kittens in the lake because “there are already too many mouths to feed”, the sack they were in slowly sinking.

If I had found a mate, would that have happened to my puppies, too?

I want to not believe it, but it's so cold, and I'm so hungry, and I'm so afraid...

It's getting harder to think. Which is funny, since I wanted to not think, once upon a time.

Believing that if I didn't think, I wouldn't be so big, and hungry, and so hard to feed.

The worst thing is that my body keeps moving, and roaming, and hunting, without letting me rest.

I think I should've died a long time ago, from hunger if nothing else, but my new body won't let me.

Very funny. I'm stronger, healthier, smarter and bigger, everything ever I wanted, but I'm not happy at all.

I know that this must be some human magic, like when they put the meat over the fire and smoke so it can stay good for ages and ages and ages.

I chuff at the snow.


I can understand bits and pieces of it, now.

Like knives. They're not teeth from some giant metal beast, hunted far away.

They're just pieces of metal, rubbed on a rock until they have an edge.

I can make a knife now, if I wanted to.

I wonder what Owner would make of that. Probably scold me, since I already have perfectly good teeth in my mouth.

Maybe everything Magic is, are just things we don't understand.

Like that man, crazy and frothing at the mouth, smelling like another dog.

Biting me because I barked at him, instead of baring his teeth like anyone else would.

Just something I don't understand yet.

I ate humans.

I'm crying, and whining, and covering my muzzle with my paws, and I ate humans.

And horses, and cheese, and the little cookies Owner's daughter would smuggle to me at dinner and which made my tummy ache but were soooo good.

And I'm not hungry anymore.

The cart is draped over me a bit like a blankie, except made of wood, and pointy, and cold.

So not like a blankie at all.

The girl was the sweetest one-shorter and smaller than Owner's daughter, but tender, and delicious, with muscles that melted in my mouth.

The big man, with the whips that went all the way up to the horse's mouth, was stringier, with lines of fat and nerves that made eating him a bit harder, but he was bigger so he made my belly more full.

I'm a BAD dog.

I don't even know if I'm a dog anymore.

One more thing that being smart took away from me, I guess.

I remember the neighbour's dog.

He'd once bit Owner's mate, once upon a time, after Owner's mate had bared her teeth at him one too many times, and petted him when he didn't want to.

He'd lost his temper when he shouldn't have, but I could see where he was coming from. Baring teeth is serious business. On the other paw, humans don't get that, and he should have known that.

They'd killed him before the day had even finished.

Which means that biting a human is a horrible forbidden thing that no dog should do, at all.

But Owner's mate had gotten sick, and sicker, and she'd started smelling really bad after that, and then she died.

So maybe the humans knew more than me, and that was why they killed the neighbour's dog.

Because they knew that Owner's mate was going to die, even before she did.

Which doesn't change the fact that I'm an even worse dog than he was.

It's still cold, and there's still snow, but there haven't been any clouds for a while.

I know this, because I can see every single star in the sky.

I think it's the cold that makes the air so clear.

During summer, in those days of truly horrible heat (and oh, doesn't it feel impossible to think that once upon a time I was too hot?), anyway, during those days of sweltering heat, the dirt road out of the village would sometimes waver and move like water.

But when I went out to figure out what was happening, I'd only find more road.

The smells would linger in the air for longer, and stagnate, staying in the air for days and days!

Now, everything mostly smells of cold.

You wouldn't think that something that isn't a thing would have a smell, but it does. Like the smell of Spring, or of death, cold smells of a thousand tiny impressions, each touching your nose like a snowflake.

Christmas has a very, very different smell, and I miss it.

It smells of hot wax for the candles, and glue, of those small black balls Owner would put in the meat which made me sneeze...and a little bit of cold, too.

I didn't mind, then. I could always go inside my kennel.

I made myself a little kennel of my own, now!

Not really.

I just dragged all the pieces of the cart to my cave, and I keep using it as a blankie.

Dragged the corpses and the other stuff, too. I don't want the villagers to see what I've done, so I tried to clean up as best I could.

Which wasn't actually very good, mind.

And now, instead of using my fake blankie, I decided to get out of my cave for some stupid reason, right when it's coldest and the air bites the most.

To look at the moon.

It makes me happy.

I don't know why. But I look at the moon, so bright and far away, and my belly doesn't feel empty. I feel less tired than before. And the aches and pains I didn't even know I had have gone away.

I can make out things about it that I never saw before (mainly because I didn't go out in the middle of the night to look at the moon like a fool puppy).

Blotches, and pimples, and ridges I'd never seen before.

I hate it.

I'm not stupid anymore. I can feel myself growing a little bigger. My spine curving a bit, my teeth growing more wicked, and a new finger growing on my paws.

The moon is doing this to me.

But I could forgive it for even that; it was the human biting me that started all of this, not the moon.

No, I hate it because it makes me happy.

When I should feel sad and ashamed over what I've done.

I've had time to think it over.

The little girl I ate was just like Owner's daughter. The girl who tasted so good was just like the girl who played with me, and gave me belly rubs, and snuggled with me when there was a thunderstorm and I was scared.

I should feel guilty.

Instead, the moon makes me happy when I don't want to.

I hate the moon.

There was another cart yesterday.

I ate everyone. Again. I ate the horse, I ate the rider, I tried to eat the deer pelts he was carrying.

And then I tried to eat the snow, because I want my belly to stop feeling warm and happy and guilty.

Didn't really work.

I get up.

My muzzle is still bloody and dirty, and my paws are stained in blood.

Owner once gave me a bit of the strange water he drinks but that he doesn't let his daughter drink, the one that burns when it goes down and tastes bad.

I feel like I felt after drinking that water.

I'm a BAD dog.

And I need to die.

I go to the village, following the dirt road I know so well.

It's covered by snow, but that's not a problem.

The people in the village are scared, and they shout, and they shoot arrows at me.

I don't even notice them.

I'm bigger than horses, bigger than cows and bigger than carts.

The arrows are just big splinters.

I finally reach Owner's house.

I lie down, until, a long, long time later, Owner comes out.

I don't want to eat Owner's daughter. I don't want to eat Owner.

Owner gave me food when I was a puppy, he gave me a kennel and fire to get warm when it was Christmas.

I want to go back, to become smaller and play with him again, but that'll never happen.

He's...he's petting me, and scratching me behind the years. He remembers the place I like so much to be scratched. This is the greatest present I could have wanted.

I whine, and cry, and whine some more.

And then I turn belly up, and show him my neck.

He takes out the knife I knew he was wielding when he'd gotten out the door.


I wished he still had some human magic with which to fix everything.

Instead he only has things that now I can understand too.

That's just a piece of metal you rubbed on a rock, Owner. It's not magic.

I just want to be a good dog.
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#1 ·
I kept feeling like this was taking place in a more modern setting than it actually does, but I think this is maybe more my fault than the author's. Still, particular parts (throwing a ball for the dog, sneaking him cookies under the table, owner's wife petting the neighbor's dog) feel a little anachronistic. In this context, unless the owner is rich (and if he's drowning a sack of kittens to not feed them, he's not; also what?? why not just let them run wild and eat the many presumable rats), it doesn't make sense for the dog to not have some functional purpose. A sense of that would be nice. Why not have the dog having helped hunt with his owner before? Or herding sheep (that he now wants to just eat)? All of the actual objects and window-dressing are medieval-ish, but the way the people interact with the dogs feels distinctly modern.

But you have a nice story arc that establishes information, builds upon it, and successfully pays off at the end. The central conceit is rather clever, too, once that's made clear. (Though the section discussing the 'Ersatzwolf' nameis maybe sliiightly too subtle - I didn't get the point until a reread) I think it would only take a marginal amount of rewording to improve this significantly, preventing me or readers like me from getting pulled out of the flow.
#2 ·
I hate Christmas, I thought, as the bones of the baby deer snap in my jaws.

This is your monthly reminder, dear fellow Writeoffians, to triple-check the stuffing out of your opening lines. Shifting tenses in your first sentence is not good. And first impressions are so, so important to how your readers approach your story.

I might be an outlier because I'm a former copy editor, but I think I'm still a useful illustration of that. If my first impression of a story is a textual error or a narrative stumble, I snap almost instinctively into "work mode", a quiet dread settling into my bones as my inner editor brandishes his red pen. If I've started tearing your story apart before the end of the first paragraph, I'm not gonna get engaged and I'm not gonna enjoy my reading. If I'm not enjoying my reading, your story drifts down my slate.

The first scene was a little weird because some of the things we're being told — being happy at children receiving gifts — seem like they're in direct conflict with the other things — a monster living in a cave and hunting … um … things out in the wilderness, I guess? (If the men have herds, why are they out hunting in the winter? That's the point of herds, to replace hunting, especially in the lean times.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way; that sort of tension can generate interest. But because I'm already off-balance by the opening, and I'm trying to puzzle out what you're doing with this crazy fantasy setting in which sentient carnivorous cave-dragons live symbiotically alongside humanity, that uncertainty is just another push while I'm already staggering in search of a foundation.

… Oh. Second scene: and the narrator is a former pet, presumably a dog uplifted in intelligence (and size) by some mad science or strange magic. That works in hindsight. Still grumpy about the opening though.

Like that man, crazy and frothing at the mouth, smelling like another dog.

Biting me because I barked at him, instead of baring his teeth like anyone else would.

… uh … what happened here? Did the narrator-dog get bitten by a rabid human? Is this suddenly a zombie apocalypse?

Anyway, the story fortunately settles down as it goes. I was able to sink into it a little more. Though as a style note, I do have to say that the paragraphs here feel way too short on average. A single sentence being given a paragraph of its own puts a lot of emphasis on it. When almost every sentence is its own paragraph, everything feels emphasized. It's sort of the structural equivalent of trying to read through a story that's all in bold text.

The scene starting "It's still cold, and there's still snow…" seems a little bit gratuitous in hammering on the prompt. On one hand, subtlety in a Writeoff is dangerous, and making darn skippy sure that you're focusing on winter can feel like playing it safe. On the other, half of your story so far (and the entire first scene) has been about the narrator dealing with winter; going into internal monologue about it just feels like overkill.

And now, instead of using my fake blankie, I decided to get out of my cave for some stupid reason, right when it's coldest and the air bites the most.

To look at the moon.

… Oh, right. This is a *werewolf* story. :facehoof:

The ending feels a little odd too (Owner comes out and pets him for a while, and then takes out a knife when this literally house-sized dog already looks like an arrow pincushion? And where are the archers throughout this? Did the narrator eat them?), but I think I can see what this is aiming for. Unfortunately, it feels a little off-kilter throughout; I went for more of a livereading-style reaction so that you could see the snags I was hitting, in hopes that helps with editing. With a smoother opening and some polish on plot and exposition pacing, I think this would read very differently in a second draft. I don't think it would take much work to get there, either.

Tier: Almost There
#3 · 1
I think I like this story more for what it's trying to do than what it actually accomplishes. I like the idea of a werewolf that's slowly gaining more sentience of its human side and reflecting on how it's life was changed because of the event. The scenes where it feels bad for eating so many people were especially effective, and I liked how the sentences are fragmented, like it's a beast that's slowly gaining sentience and trying to piece together its sins. Again, a good idea and well-executed in places.

The problem is that the story doesn't entirely seem consistent. I thought for a while that the character was a dog that simply escaped and was living in the woods; however, it reveals that it's actually a werewolf...that was bit by a human, not another werewolf. It's rather confusing on the whole, and kind of distracts from the overall feeling of the piece. I also thought the sentence fragmentation, while effective in some parts, was irritating in others. The ending in particular irked me; if the dog's supposedly growing more intelligent, wouldn't the thoughts be more strung together? There needs to be development in the style as the story goes on, not keeping it stagnant throughout the entire piece.

An interesting idea, but a flawed execution.
#4 · 1
Wow. This is dark and ambitious as hell. Maybe a bit maudlin, but I love it.

10/10, please turn the characters into ponies so I can fave it on FimFiction.

EDIT: only semi-serious. Artistic integrity trumps half-baked ramblings.
#5 · 1
Aww, this should have made it to finals. I top-slated it.