I Am Leader
A short story from author Wendy Scott.
Back in July, I published a post reviewing Traveling Light, the novel by Andrea Thalasinos. At the end of that post, I made the following offer.
Now here’s an offer.
Wiley has offered a free copy of Andrea’s book as a ‘give-away’ from Learning from Dogs. Here’s the plan.
Would you like to write a story about any aspect of the relationship that dogs can have with humans?
Any length, truth or fiction; it doesn’t matter. Email your story to me to be received by the end of Wednesday, 31st July 2013, Pacific Daylight Time …… [and] I will publish every one received.
Just one story was received, from Wendy, and the promised free copy of Andrea’s book has been mailed to her.
So here is that short story.
I Am Leader
The water was angry today. I watched as it tore the tall trees from their roots, thundering, roaring, snapping them, toppling them.
I watched as the angry water shredded the shore. I watched as its fury snatched my pup, my baby, sweeping her away like a dying twig torn from the mother tree.
I am hunter. I am leader.
But now I am nothing.
I ran after my pup, tried to grab her by the nape, take her back. But I failed. I saw her paddle in the froth, scramble atop a long gnarled broken bole that was once a tree. My pup shook, her ears flattened, her tail tucked. She cried. I watched the cold, angry froth take her.
My mind sang with the cry of my little grey pup that I could not save, the little one who would never learn about the hunter, the leader.
I picked my way, shivering, along a path — it used to be our way to good hunting, to the forest edge where the deer grazed as near as yesterday. Now…
My left shoulder ached where the water nearly took me, hurled a branch at me in frustration. I fell and dragged myself away from the collapsing shore, to higher ground. The rain poured and sleeted to drench the shambles left by water that continued to roar and foam. Mud slid through my feet, gusts took my breath.
It was very cold. My ears twitched, hearing nothing beyond the roar of the fury. Water is very noisy when it is angry. The others, my sisters, my mate, I could not scent them, hear them, see them.
The day retreated. I blinked to see better, my eyes wide, but they saw nothing that I could recognise. My nose and ears twitched and twisted — nothing. I could hear my little grey one, my pup; she shivered and cried in my mind, but my eyes and ears, my nose … she was gone.
I stumbled over broken branches, a drowned fox, mice flushed from their holes, a broken-necked bird, bushes overturned and torn apart, walls of fallen trees. Daylight was lost in a twilight.
Now, I scented a 2-legged. I stilled. Crackling. Smoke, deep and hard to breath. Rabbit, burnt. These were the smells I knew of the 2-leggeds. One was near.
I crouched and crept. Yellow-orange light bounced and throbbed through the jumble of once-forest. I remained low, but now I could hear. The 2-legged rustled. It was noisy and careless while its fire snapped. And the rabbit smell was very faint, distorted.
I could see it now, this 2-legged, seated in that foolish way 2-leggeds have, crossing one foot over the other. It rustled again and held a big stick over its fire — the stick jabbed through the rabbit. The rabbit’s fur was gone from its blackened body, abandoned near the 2-legged’s thigh.
My stomach twitched. My mouth filled with hunger. I took another step.
The 2-legged looked up and over. He saw me, then quickly looked away.
I am hunter, I am leader — you do not meet my gaze unless you want to be punished.
I crouched, readied myself to spring.
The 2-legged stood. I eased back. My back paws met the tangled once-forest left of the water’s anger and stopped me. I tensed.
But the 2-legged lifted the big stick with its rabbit, tore a haunch with its hand. It looked directly at me again — no, I am hunter, I am leader — and threw the haunch at me. The burnt meat landed close to my feet.
The 2-legged looked away and returned to its foolish, awkward sitting. It tore ragged bites from the burnt rabbit, holding the big stick between the paws of its upper limbs.
My stomach demanded food. I scented the burnt rabbit, the smell of blood faint and smoky. I did not hunt the rabbit, I am not like the vultures and scavengers … but I was hungry. I nosed it, picked it up and turned away from the 2-legged. The flesh was warm. It sated. I licked my paws, swiped my whiskers and jowls to groom.
For a moment, my mind tricked me. I heard my pup. I scented my mate, my others, we were sated, we curled together, our warm bodies close, to sleep through the long cold night.
I opened my eyes. I was alone.
Except the 2-legged. Its odour was unmistakable, deer hide, rabbit, something sweetly sour I thought must be its own scent, not the ones borrowed by the other animals it ate or draped over its body.
I studied the 2-legged. It had curled on its side. The fire beside it throbbed yellow and orange, throwing strange shadows where they should not be. When I looked away, my sight was poor. I would not look directly at the fire again.
All was silent, save the angry water behind us. We lived. Nothing else lived. The water took everything.
I dreamed of my mate, his powerful howls alerting our cousins of our hunt; the deer was warm, its blood and flesh giving us another day of life. The deer was old and slow, an easy hunt. Its time had come; we knew that, understood it, this deer and our pack.
I dreamed of my sisters, nipping at my pup, teasing her to chase them in mock hunts. I dreamed of my brothers, circling and securing our family. My pack. My life.
The day hung low and grey. Overnight, the angry water had become a sussurrating hiss behind us.
With its strange flat feet and its big stick, the 2-legged was tossing dirt and wet leaves over the ash where the fire and the rabbit had been. The old fire flared briefly. A cool damp gust caught some of the sparks and swept them high. A bird swooped near to see, then lost interest, flapped its wings to gain height.
The smell in the air was smoke and faint rabbit scent. It was upturned earth and rot and rain.
The 2-legged’s odour wore the smoke and long-dead deer.
The 2-legged came close. It looked at me — no — I am hunter, I am leader, you do not meet my gaze. But it was stupid and foolish, this 2-legged, like a pup that had not yet learned. It neared me. I growled, prepared to attack.
Surely it could see my flattened ears, my lowered shoulders?
No, it was stupid. It walked passed me.
I watched. The 2-legged paused and turned. It swung one of its upper limbs down low, then away, a sweeping motion. Strange language. It did not lower its ears, or roll on its belly. It made noises with its mouth. The noises were terrible, low, rumbling, but they were not threatening. I watched.
It made the motion again, then turned and walked on.
I sat on my haunches.
I am leader, I am hunter. But this 2-legged did not understand. It had not learned from its pack.
We two were the only ones I scented. We were alone. The angry water had taken the others.
The 2-legged stopped, made the strange sweeping motion and noises again. I took a step in its direction.
I am hunter. I am leader.
My pup cries in my mind. My mate howls. My sisters tease, my brothers scout. But around me is silence, the scents dirty and empty, the forest destroyed, the deer gone. We two are alone.
The 2-legged’s head bobs up and down. I take another step.
We walk on, stepping carefully over the tangled mess that was once our home, our feet slipping in mud, scratched in dying brambles, struggling in the unfamiliar path before us. 2-legged uses the big stick as if it were a third leg.
It is learning. I am patient.
I am hunter. I am leader.
Don’t know about you but I found that story by Wendy more than compelling. Found it hauntingly beautiful. A ancient account of the first meeting between man and wolf.
Therefore, can’t close without again reproducing this short extract and images of the grey wolf posted on the 20th May Musings on love.
While we were looking at the animals, along the pathway came a couple of the volunteer staff walking a Grey Wolf (Canis Lupus).
I was utterly captivated by this beautiful animal. Her story was that she was born in captivity and owned by an individual who soon decided he didn’t want her! Not long thereafter Tundra, as she became named, was brought to the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Washington and thence to Wildlife Images when she was just 8 weeks old.
Tundra turned to look at me. I stood perfectly still and quiet. Tundra seemed to want to come closer. As one would with a strange dog, I got down on my knees and turned my eyes away from Tundra’s. I sensed she was coming towards me so quickly held up my camera and took the picture below.
I kept my gaze averted as I felt the warm breath of this magnificent animal inches from my face. Then the magic of love across the species! Tundra licked my face! The tears came to my eyes and were licked away. I stroked her and became lost in thought.
Was this an echo of how thousands and thousands of years ago, a wolf and an early man came together out of trust and love and started the journey of the longest animal-human relationship, by far?