The cell was small, but obviously designed for two. The top bunk was too high for Mutt to climb into with cuffs on, so he resigned himself to the bottom. He looked around at his new surroundings, suspecting they would be his for a while: no window, a toilet and sink in the corner with a mirror on the wall above. It seemed surprisingly clean. Mutt had expected to find graffiti on the walls and anything broken that could be. It almost looked like the room had never been used. The patterns worn in the floor told a different story, however. Mutt could see the path to the toilet, to the bed and to the door, well worn from years of use.
There was nothing else in the room, not even a crack for a bug to crawl in, but Mutt looked at everything because he had nothing else to do. The corners of the metal bunks were rounded and they were fastened to the wall. There was enough space to crawl under the bottom bunk, but still be seen from the door. There was not much more headroom on the top bunk than the bottom. Mutt wondered if he would have any company. The light in the ceiling was flat and looked like it had to be changed from above. The mirror was a piece of polished metal set into the wall. The toilet and sink were one piece, all rounded metal with no sharp corners. The walls and ceiling had been coated with a think white paint and the floor was painted a dark green.
The lonely fox was beginning to think about what would happen to him when his nose started to itch. He tried to scratch it, but he could not reach it under the muzzle. He tried scratching through the muzzle, but the tough material made his efforts ineffective. He tried to reach the buckles behind head to remove the muzzle, but it was futile. He had to sit with that burning itch drilling into his nose. The frustrating sensation combined with his seemingly hopeless situation drove him to tears.
As he cried, his face in his paws, the tears flowed down his nose and soothed the itch, but the fox had forgotten about it and was lost in his sorrow. He wept until he could no longer cry, his face and paws soaked in tears. He did not notice the slot opening in the door and a tray sliding through.
"Lunch," the buck barked.
Mutt looked up at the tray in the door. It seemed a small joy in the horror of the day. He stood up and walked over to it. It was not a feast, but it was more than he had been accustomed to eating. He carried the tray carefully back to the bunk and sat down. He placed the tray in his lap and just stared at it until he believed his eyes. Then he began to wonder how he was going to eat it.
The muzzle had holes that would allow him to put it in his mouth, but it did not give him much room to chew it. Mutt carefully fit a chip through the side of the muzzle and into his mouth. He tried to chew it, but it was difficult fighting against the muzzle. After a few chips he gave up and just let them get soggy in his mouth until he could swallow them. The sandwich was going to be more difficult. He took it apart and tore the bread into pieces that he let get soggy in his mouth. The cheese was easy enough to eat, but the meat was a challenge. He tore it into pieces as well, but it was not going to dissolve like the bread.
He did not have to worry about that, though because at that moment the buck returned and demanded the tray. Mutt looked at him through the slot in the door and tried to voice a complaint, but the buck was not willing to try to understand. Mutt reluctantly returned the tray and watched as the buck dumped the meat and a small cookie into the trash. Then the buck turned back around and slid the juice back through the slot.
"Shh, not a word about it," he whispered and quickly shut the slot.
Mutt took the juice and went back to his bunk. He wondered why the buck had given it back. He pealed off the lid and carefully poured the juice through the muzzle. It was delicious, apple juice. He savored the sweetness and let it slide across his tongue. Soon it was gone, but he was still thirsty. He took the empty juice cup and walked over to the sink. There were no knobs for the water, but after a bit of investigating, Mutt found out that a pedal at the floor controlled the water. He filled his cup and poured it into his mouth. The bitter contrast to the juice brought him back to reality. Mutt sighed in resolution as he drank the water and filled another cup. He was very thirsty from running that morning and had not had anything to drink since the night before. He filled his cup and drank until he could drink no more, then lay down on his bunk and closed his eyes. He was not trying to sleep, but it came anyway. His dreams were haunting, filled with images of his mother and Billy.
He was awakened by the buck barking, "Dinner."
Mutt got up, retrieved the tray and returned to his bunk. He started with the pudding and spooned it past the muzzle. Then he soaked pieces of the roll in the gravy and fit them through. By using what he had learned at lunch, he was able to make it to the meat, which he pulled apart with the spoon and chewed as best he could. He poured the milk through the muzzle and finished another divine meal that would probably not have been seen as appetizing by the rest of the town.
The buck returned to take the tray and closed the slot. There was nothing to do with the rest of the day but think about the morning, but Mutt did not want to do that. Sleeping meant dreams and that was just as bad. Instead he tried to think of other things in the world and tried to figure them out. He thought about why trees are green and the sky blue. He thought about why dogs bark and horses neigh. But everything he thought about brought him back to Billy or his mother.
"Lights out," called the panther from the gate and a moment later, they were.
Mutt lay in the darkness, staring at nothing. He could feel the cuffs around his wrists and the muzzle holding his jaw shut. Tears came to his eyes and he whimpered. He began to think about the streets and compare it to here. The food was good and guaranteed. He had had better, but that was rare. The bed was more comfortable than cement, but he could not see the stars. It was safe here, but he could not leave. He decided he might like staying here, if it were not for his bonds.
The fox ran a finger under the muzzle, trying to pull it away from his fur for a moment to relieve the itching, and rubbed his wrists, trying to forget the cuffs. His tears ran down the muzzle and onto the pillow as he wondered what would happen next.
Days passed, much the same as the first. Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided the only diversions from the emptiness and memories. He lost track of how long he had been there and no longer cared. He figured he would never see the stars again and had resigned himself to this small room with his meals brought to him on a tray. Not so bad a life, he thought. Before, he had spent his days trying to find enough for a meal a day and a safe place to sleep for the night. Now, everything was assured, but the price Billy had paid for his comfort was too high and left a bitter taste to it all.
The door creaked open and startled the fox from his restless sleep. It was the first time it had been opened since he arrived. The friendly buck peered in and beckoned him out, "Come on, they want you upstairs."
Mutt crawled out of his bunk and followed the dear to the gate. The gate opened and Mutt saw the cheetah that had brought him here standing on the other side
. . .
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