The world, Red concluded, could chiefly be described as wet and fresh. There was an overabundance of smells, of course, and many many sounds and textures, but wet and fresh seemed to dominate. It was a little odd, after spending his entire life in snug, warm darkness, to emerge and discover that the world was, in fact, wet and bright, but Red wasnít protesting. He was a mellow soul.
The world was very large, with moving air and shifting shadows. His siblings, Dark, Smallest and First, were all fascinated by this moving air, skittering around Motherís legs and sticking their little noses out one at a time to test it. Red lingered a little behind them, looking up. He didnít see a roof, which was a little bit distressing. The open air smelled of dampness, of plants, scents that only came drifting in back at home and tantalized the nostrils now turning into full gusts that tickled the back of Redís throat. Mother wagged her tail in encouragement and stepped forward, giving Red a clear view. He didnít mean to skulk back a little, finding the soft comfort of homeís trodden earth, but his legs did it anyway.
Sniffing about, First sneezed, lost her balance and rolled forward, past the others.
Smallest gave a yelp of alarm, and the truth was that Red swallowed one of his own. With a shake of the head, First squinted, taking a moment Ė First was always a bit slow Ė to realize that she was past Motherís legs. She padded about in confusion. Red looked anxiously to Mother, but she didnít seem to mind.
Sniffing with every step, Dark began to creep forward, out of Motherís shelter. Red and Smallest stared after him. Though Dark wasnít first-born, he was brave and liked to tumble, and he was never more than a step behind First in claiming a tit. Red licked his lips nervously. Dark tumbled a little forward, stopped when his paws sank into the green wet thing that covered the ground, then launched himself at First and sent them both rolling.
With two of them out from under her, Mother sighed happily and nudged Smallest, who was still under her front legs. As Red watched, fascinated, Smallest glanced back at him for help; he scampered sideways, hoping Smallest wasnít expecting anything of him. The world was large! There were odd sounds everywhere. In the trees, things were making high-pitched noises and something brown and sleek skidded into view across Darkís and Firstís path. Red wasnít going out there just like that.
Dismally, Smallest padded forward, protesting a little in his soft voice. He put his nose to the ground and was immediately greeted by a beetle, which climbed on him as if it had been doing such things all its life. Smallest seemed encouraged, he knew beetles. Home had beetles in it. He raised a paw and swatted at it. Mother lolled her tongue and settled down, head on her paws.
First and Dark had all but forgotten that they were in a whole new world and were rolling in the same ball they always rolled in back home. Smallest had stumbled over his own paws and was now snuffling in the path of the unconcerned beetle. Mother looked satisfied with it all. Redís hackles were raised and his long ears twitched.
Something was watching him, he realized, something with eyes. That was the strangest thing about the world. If Smallest was watching a beetle and Dark and First were playing and Mother was watching Dark and First then who was watching him?
Red padded in place, unhappy. The world really was terribly big. He saw them now Ė eyes, a pair of eyes that most certainly did not belong to his littermates or mother, because they were green, and they were watching him. He whined a little, and they blinked. The thick green-smelling wall up ahead parted and let something out, something much bigger than him or even Dark and First.
It had no fur except on its head, over the great green eyes, and the fur it had was red too. Its skin was an odd mash of colors, pale in places, brown in others. It walked on two legs. It smelled of wetness and sweetness and dry leaves and mud and it didnít walk quietly at all. Mother scrambled up with a whuff of alarm, then relaxed and even wagged her tail a little. Dark and First didnít even stop tumbling, and Smallest raised his head, then lowered it again.
Red held his breath.
The mysterious creature came forward, ignoring Redís littermate. Red had never hunted, but he knew that in a hunt the hunter always targeted the weakest prey. His ears twitched violently. The thing came closer until it was very near Mother, who raised her snout to it as if she didnít care. The thing put a hand on Motherís snout and made a bubbly-happy sound, a little like the high-pitched noises of the things on the trees.
Red was starting to think he should never have come out into the great big world. He should have stayed at home where it was dark and safe and there were no things reaching towards him, sticking out a long furless forepaw Ė
Terrified, Red backed away a little just as the thingís eyes turned back towards him.
They were very deep and large. Red stared. The thingís scarce fur was very red indeed. The tip of its forepaw was dark brown, just like Redís paws. It smelled of mud, which Red liked, and under that another smell, a deeper smell, an animal smell. In this strange big world, it smelled...
Red licked the thingís paw, tasting mud and a cub-smell-taste that was a lot like nibbling into Smallestís fur.
She smelled funny, but not sick or hungry or angry. She looked very odd for a wolf, but she definitely smelled right.
Red chanced a look across Motherís body. Smallest, Dark and First were still playing, oblivious to the great things happening just behind them. The she-cub wasnít paying any attention to them, either. She was all his, quietly staring into his eyes.
**Very-very-very new** Red thought.
**Wonderful** the she-cub suggested instead.
She smelled like dry leaves and mud and hidden places and strange green things and she was putting her fingers in the fur behind his ears and it felt nice. She was curious and determined and clever and she had red fur, and she held out her arms to him. She was Crackle and his and he was Ė
**Muddypaws,** his-Crackle thought happily.
Taking a little jump, Muddypaws settled into her arms and into his new name. His-Crackle swung him up and hugged him close and carried him with her, away from the den and his littermates and out into the world. He looked down as she carried him past Mother, who seemed satisfied with her cub's lot, past Smallest and Dark and First, and noted to himself in satisfaction that he didnít get even the tip of his tail wet.