Chapter 10:

Charlotte

The Stray Princess


Xena leaves the campsite and walks again towards the waterfall, there is nothing else to come back for, she still has hope to find the man again but deep inside feels that it’s useless.Bookmark here

When arriving at the cascade she takes a look down the cliff, the bottom is really far away. She takes the path to the left and goes in the direction were the houses are, it takes her around 30 minutes to reach the highway and when she does, there are various people moving away from a truck that in capital letters says “CHANNEL 5 NEWS”.Bookmark here

“That’s a wrap, let’s leave” Says a man with a hat that is carrying a camera.Bookmark here

“Still, don’t you think it’s weird?” The woman in front of him asks, she is holding a microphone “An unidentified man found death at the end of the waterfall, with clothes from a women only brand, and with no ID or any belongings… gives me the creeps”Bookmark here

“Rookie, this kind of stuff happens on a daily basis and this place was a well known suicide spot many years ago. Just leave it that way, he could be just a homeless man for all what we know”Bookmark here

“...Yeah, you’re right. I must toughen up, let’s go back” She gets on the vehicle after him and they leave the place.Bookmark here

Xena goes after the group of people moving in the other direction, there are two girls talking.Bookmark here

“So let’s tune in at 7pm, I can’t believe we’ll be on TV… like super stars”Bookmark here

“Only for some seconds and on the news though”Bookmark here

“How mean, just let me live my dream”Bookmark here

In that same crowd there is a boy carrying a sack of potatoes over his shoulder, he has black short hair and uses jeans with a red T-shirt, for a moment as Xena sees him from behind he looks really similar to the man so she starts walking behind him. The only difference is that the boy looks younger, in fact he is around 22 years old but looks like just 17.Bookmark here

He doesn’t notice that is being followed and continues walking. He passes the houses alongside the highway and arrives to a market, one huge place with many entrances where people enter and leave continuously. This is one of the biggest markets in the country, here farmers and other people come to sell their products, it’s well known for the fruits and vegetables area but it also has a butchery area, a clothing area, a stationery area, a technology area and so much more. Many people from nearby cities and towns come to this market to stock their stores and sell the merchandise they buy here for three times the price.Bookmark here

The boy enters the market, there are people everywhere walking, talking, yelling, making a lot of noise. Xena perceives the aroma of so many kinds of fruits. The boy arrives to a store where an old man is sitting on a rocking chair, the place has a wooden floor and the shelving is from the same material composed by many boxes one over another with a distance of at least 30 centimeters, each one of these boxes is filled with different kinds of tubers but the biggest spot is for the many varieties of potatoes.Bookmark here

“Grandpa! I’m here!” The boy says as he enters the store “This is the last one”Bookmark here

“Thank you sonny, I’ll take it from here. You can rest now” The old man says as he gets up “Oh? Looks like we have a visitor”Bookmark here

“Ah?” The boy turns around and sees Xena “Hello doggy, are you lost?”Bookmark here

She wags her tail slowly but stops when confirming that the boy is not the person she was looking for. He puts his hand in front of her, she just smells it, and then he proceeds to pet her. It feels nice, a little rough but not bad.Bookmark here

“I think he was following you” Says the old man.Bookmark here

“You think? Oh look, he has no collar”Bookmark here

“hhmph, so another stray, I see, hope he finds where to stay. The market was a popular place for stray dogs back in the day, there are lots of leftovers everyday but they became a population problem so now there are regulations” The old man gets closer and looks at the dog “Oh? It has sad eyes”Bookmark here

“What?” Says the boy looking closer at the dog’s eyes, the eyebrows are a little elevated but now in a way that someone could say that it’s sad just by looking at it.Bookmark here

“Yeah, with your grandma we used to have so many dogs but they don’t live as much as humans so it’s hard to always say goodbye and then was the that time the poodle got lost… err… what was her name? Alice? Anna?”Bookmark here

“Anastasia” Says the boy “Yeah I remember her, we used to play a lot. I was like, what? 13 years old at the time and she was just like two years old”Bookmark here

“Getting lost at the market must have been very scary for the poor thing. Imagine to be searching for someone and nobody understands you… no matter how much we searched, she never appeared. I always wondered what happened to her, it scares me to think that she fell from the cliff”Bookmark here

“Grandpa! don’t be that way”Bookmark here

“Sorry haha, don’t tell grandma. Maybe little Anna got picked by a good family that brushes her fur every day… I regret so much not leaving a contact number on the plaque, I still remember how much your grandma cried”Bookmark here

“Yeah, she loved her so much”Bookmark here

“Oh, by the way. Please go and remind her that we leave early today, so better get ready”Bookmark here

“Right, see you in a while” The boy stops petting Xena and leaves the store.Bookmark here

“And please help me moving this dog, I don’t want him near my tubers”Bookmark here

“Okay!” The boy turns back and starts calling the dog making sounds with the tongue and moving his hands.Bookmark here

Xena starts following him. He moves around many hallways trying to lose her track on purpose but she always finds him. Even when they moved through the butchery area, she didn’t get distracted by the smell of meat. Well, she did get distracted but not more than five times, there were pieces of meat on the floor in front of some stores so she just quickly picked them up with her muzzle and swallowed them before continuing after the boy. At first he was just trying to leave her behind but got really surprised of her coming back so at the end he was just walking side by side with her.Bookmark here

They arrived to the clothing area and entered a store that had a similar decoration in wood like the one from the old man, but the shelving was filled with yarn and clothes made from it. In a rocking chair an old lady sits while knitting a purple scarf.Bookmark here

“Grandma! Grandpa asked me to remind you that you are going to my parents’ house today, so better get ready” Says the boy entering the store.Bookmark here

“My boy, thanks for the reminder” The old lady stops knitting and looks at her grandson “What took you so long?”Bookmark here

“Sorry Grandma, there was this news crew at the entrance talking about the guy that was found at the waterfall so I got distracted”Bookmark here

“Oh” She makes a disgust expression and moves her hands “That poor soul” Then she notices the dog behind the boy “And who is that?”Bookmark here

“Ah” The boy moves and points the dog “He has been following me for a while”Bookmark here

“She”Bookmark here

“Ah? What?” He moves around and crouches looking at the dog “What? How did you...”Bookmark here

“Experience, boy” The old lady smiles “Come here darling, let me take a look at you” she moves her hands.Bookmark here

Xena enters the place and sniffs the old lady’s hands. Then she pats her on the head for a while and takes a look to her brown eyes.Bookmark here

“hhmm, she has sad eyes” The old lady says “The poor thing”Bookmark here

The boy makes a confused expression wondering how both of his grandparents just said the same things.Bookmark here

“Okay! Are we ready?” The old man arrives to the store “Why is this still open?”Bookmark here

“S-sorry grandpa. I just told grandma… I got distracted playing with the dog”Bookmark here

“What? When I told you to help me moving the dog I didn’t mean to bring it here” The old man points to Xena “You know what? No problem, just move to the entrance and I’ll meet you there, I’ll be closing this place… and don’t take that dog with you. Am I being clear?”Bookmark here

“Yes grandpa, let’s go grandma” the boy extends his hand to his grandma.Bookmark here

The old lady moves slowly and gets out of the store, then she turns around facing her husband “It is still early, stop being so cranky or you will get old an a young age”Bookmark here

The old man chuckles “Yeah you are right, I’m only 82”Bookmark here

They leave the store after closing it, Xena tries to go after them but the old man intercepts and tries to scare her.Bookmark here

“Shoo Shoo” He says while moving the arms “Begone!”Bookmark here

She feels disturbed with the man’s movements so decides to leave while doing a confused expression. Deciding to walk around the market, she moves around many hallways and is totally amazed for the new things that she’s able to see and smell. Bookmark here

In the greengrocer area, many store owners gave her pieces of fruit that they were eating or about to throw away in the trash, she happily ate them and kept moving. In the butchery area she got a couple of meat pieces, but the store owners in this area weren’t so willing to share as in the previous ones. In the technology area she didn’t get any food but instead a lot of head pats, many of the other areas were similar in that aspect to this last one, Xena had a lot of fun for a couple of hours.

The lights inside the market started to vanish, and with that people left and the place was closed. She searches were to stay and founds a place that could have a store inside but it’s totally empty, this is her bed for tonight.Bookmark here

The following days passed at great speed, hunting for food was easy by just going back at the areas were she received previously and also she found a new one, the restaurants area. When wolves first approached humans, was in order to receive food and this is where dogs’ evolution began. Domestication made possible not only the creation of the dog breeds we have today but also created new muscles for interesting purposes. Wolves that didn’t evolve lack some fibers around their eyes that are responsible for raising the eyebrows, when this action is done, an expression appears in the dog’s face, one that can be perceived as similar to one the human race already has and can be described as “sad”. The imitation or reproduction of this “sad” expression naturally triggers a response in a human being when seeing it, not all the humans have the same reaction but statistically speaking it could trigger a sense of protecting, one of pity, one of nurturing or many more, this technique has been called “Puppy Eyes”.Bookmark here

When Xena first found the restaurant area she got really happy, it was not so different from the city when she walked around alone, she just had to get close to a table in which people were eating, look at them with the puppy eyes that evolution gave her, stay still sitting on the floor and there would be a high chance to get a little snack. Repeating this same process many times she gets more than a full meal and luckily there are always people in the restaurants area. She discovers that she is not the only stray dog that have found this paradise, there are at least five other stray dogs in the market but she has a tactical advantage, size, not all big dogs know how to attack or defend themselves but ever since the day that one of the other strays fought with her for a piece of meat on the ground from the butchery area and her bite made her foe run away, she learned how powerful she could be. Soon the market became her territory, her favorite areas were the ones with food but right after those ones it was the clothing area, here all the pats she received were firm but gentle. But the best patting in the whole market came from only one person, the old lady on the clothing area that knits all day, so Xena comes to that store at least three times a day.Bookmark here

“Oh you’re early today” Says the old lady when the dog enters the store like if she had lived her whole life there “How are you doing girl?”Bookmark here

She starts patting Xena whose reaction is to close her eyes. The old lady gets up from her rocking chair to get something pink from the shelving.Bookmark here

“This week the dog pound will come to take away all unidentified dogs around the market” The old lady crouches and ties a bandana collar she made with yarn around Xena’s neck “There, I can’t let them take my number one client”Bookmark here

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She hasn’t felt the sensation of a collar in quite some time but its not something she dislikes or loves, her new collar with the color of a flamingo and the shape of a triangle over her chest has embroidered nine black letters at one side that read “Charlotte”.Bookmark here

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