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Fantasy Friendship

Author’s note: Reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone changed the ecological landscape, according to the park’s website. Everything from the elk, to fauna, to the beavers were affected. That was the basis for this story.



Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived on a farm near the woods and she didn’t wear red capes, although she owned one. Char was twelve years old and preferred blue jeans. She also knew how to use a gun, for sometimes coyotes and wild dogs came to the hen’s coop. Her hair was long and the color of ebony. She didn’t have to go through the woods to visit her grandmother because she lived with the family. But growing up, Char always heard the story of what her very distant cousin did.

And it had to be true since they had the actual cape, or so Grandmother said, pointing to the sewn tears. Char hoped that's what they were. Grandmother said they were far more sinister.

“Wolves aren’t to be trusted,” her grandmother said.

Char didn’t want to upset Grandmother. After all, her white hair and lined face showed her wisdom and strength. But nothing about the story made sense to her. “Seems to me that girl needed her eyes checked,” Char said. “Along with her sanity. No offense to my ancestors, but if you mistake a wolf for your grandmother either she’s extremely ugly or you’re not too bright.”

“That is extremely rude, young lady. After all,” Grandmother glared at Char over her glasses, “not all of us are born with good eyesight. It could’ve been that.”

“I don’t think so. Look, the girl even commented on the eyes and teeth. Anyway,” Char answered, “there aren’t any wolves around here anymore. The hunters got rid of them.”

“A good thing,” Grandmother said. “They eat our chickens and kill goats.”

“Also, no one can talk to animals,” Char said. “At least I can’t. That’s just a myth.”

“It’s not,” Grandmother said. “Our people can if they have faith and the magic is right. It isn’t with all animals, like Dr. Doolittle. It’s usually certain ones and is very rare. But it happens.”

Right.” But one look from Grandmother silenced Char. She simply nodded and let the woman tell her stories. After all, Mother said the woman didn't have much else but memories. So the child agreed partly out of respect. But mostly because it was easier.

One day, Char was coming home from school. As she cut through a forest she heard whining, almost like a dog. The sound was wild, dangerous, but in it was sorrow. Then there came the sound of furious barking. Char crept around the barn and saw a dead wolf. Nearby was his mate. She was gray, her teeth bared at two farm dogs. Her stomach was swollen as if she was pregnant.

Where’s Mr. McKitt? Char thought. Did he shoot the male? The farm’s owner must have, and the mate hadn’t left his side. Maybe she’d hoped he was still alive. Normally Char wouldn’t care. After all, wolves ate little girls and weren’t to be trusted. 

Let the dogs kill her.

 And they would, for they were Rhodesian Ridgebacks, bred to hunt lions. The wolf would be no match for them.

But Char couldn’t take her eyes off her, and the way she stood, hackles raised. As if trying to defend her cubs even if they were yet unborn. Without thinking, Char picked up two large stones from the ground and threw them at the dogs, praying Mr. McKitt wasn’t watching. 

“Get,” Char screamed. “You get now.” Then she turned and faced the wolf. “Run!” she shouted.

The dogs backed off, only for a minute, but it was enough. The wolf fled. Char ran in the other direction. Because the last thing she wanted was anyone to ask why she was throwing rocks at Mr. McKitt’s dogs. Or for it to get back to her grandmother that she had just saved a wolf.

Yeah, thought Char, I’d never hear the end of that one. Wolves were the villains in all the stories. What Grandmother might do if she heard-Char didn’t want to think about that.

That night, the girl went outside to check the hen house and the cow’s barn before going to bed. It was a clear night and the moon was full. A soft whine froze her in place. Turning her head slowly, she saw the wolf just beyond the fence.

“I h-have a gun, and I’m not afraid to use it,” Char said. A complete lie, for the damned rifle was actually in the house. It was like whistling past a graveyard, those words. Just something to say.

“You have nothing to fear from me,” said the wolf.

Both of them stared at each other, stunned. Char was the first to speak. “Wait. You…..can talk?”

What came from the wolf were soft growls. But in them were words. “You… understand me?”

Char pinched herself hard. It hurt, but that didn’t mean much. One can feel pain and nausea while sleeping. She had before. Well, either Grandmother was telling the truth, she was dreaming, or she’d gone mad. The wolf seemed just as confused judging by the way she shook her head. As if trying to clear it. Well, Char thought, might as well see how this plays out. “I guess so but I don’t know how. Can’t say I ever had this happen before.” As she spoke Char realized her own voice had become low and gravelly. Okay. I have to be dreaming.

“It is said some of the two-legs can understand,” said the wolf. “But I thought-”

“Two-legs?”

“Your kind.”

That made sense to Char. She was about to say more but a door slammed. “Char! What are you doing out there?”

Grandmother. “Just checking on-”

“Come inside right now! There might be wild animals out there!”

Char turned back, but the wolf was gone.

***

The next morning, Char tried to talk to the hens. “Thank you for the eggs." Her voice sounded normal.

“Silly girl,” her mother said, who was nearby. “Why are you thanking them?”

 “Grandmother says it’s a nice thing to do,” Char said, wishing she’d remained silent. “Even if they’re-”

“You’re letting her fill your head with too many stories,” Mother said and muttered something about insane mothers-in-law.

Char just shrugged. But then on her way back from school she asked Mr. McKitt’s dogs why they tried to attack the she-wolf.

“I’m sorry I threw rocks at you,” Char said. “But anyone could see she was pregnant. You must’ve smelled it. And now, she’s alone. Her mate is dead.”

The dogs, like the hens did, just stared at her. So Char decided the whole thing was some sort of weird fantasy. Surely, Mother was right. Char was listening too much to her grandmother. But Char wanted to hear more about animals, so she asked Grandmother for a story. Pleased, Grandmother told how the beaver got his tail.

 According to her, Beaver loved to brag about how beautiful it was, which annoyed all the other animals. Then one day, a tree he cut nearly fell on him. Beaver got out of the way, but his tail was flattened. Fearing the other animals wouldn’t like him, Beaver cried. Then the Creator told him the new tail was better for swimming, and that wisdom was more important than looks. Beaver never complained again.

“I wish there were more beavers around,” Grandmother said. “They are wise and kind animals. Hardworking and cooperative too. Ever since they’ve been gone, the rivers flood. It’s not good magic when the beavers are gone.”

“And willows,” Char said, for they were her favorite tree. “The elk keep eating them, I think.”

“Times change,” Grandmother said. “We have to adapt.”

That night after everyone was asleep, Char slipped out of the house, for she hoped to see the wolf again. She walked to the edge of the forest and sat, leaning against a tree. The moon was full, and the night air was stiflingly warm. Char had mosquito repellent but it wasn’t doing much good. She was just wondering if the cape might’ve helped when a shadow fell across her legs. “Greetings, Wolf,” she said.

“Two-legs,” said Wolf. “Tell me something. Why did you save me?”

Talk about ungrateful. But Char had been asking herself that also. “I don’t know. Shouldn’t I have?”

“Anyone else would’ve let those dogs kill us. Just like the thunder stick killed my mate."

She means the gun. “You’re not exactly trustworthy. For example, don’t your kind eat us?”

Wolf circled Char, who wrapped her arms around her legs and prayed. Then she gave a soft growl, a wolf’s laugh. “Why would I do that? You’re thin, stringy, and smell bad. I can barely stand to be near you.”

Char sighed, remembering the mosquito repellent. At least she hoped that was the problem. She held up the can. “Sorry. I don’t like the stuff either but I don’t want the mosquitoes to drain me of blood.”

“They’ll eat you sooner than I will. Why do you even think such things?”

Char told Wolf the story of her old cousin with the red riding hood. As she did, Wolf sat near her, making sure to be upwind. At last, she said, “I heard that story differently.”

“Yeah?”

“My ancestor was starving.”

Char was so surprised she only caught the first two words. “Your ancestor?”

Wolf looked up at the moon, then at Char. “There were many of the two-legged ones, and very few elk or deer. So, my ancestors hunted whatever they could. Your kind doesn’t appreciate it when we take a chicken either.”

“Can you blame us? I mean now we can go to the store. But back then-” Char stopped, for Wolf had narrowed her eyes. It gave her a cold, wild, stare. “Sorry.”

“He was also old, sick, and couldn’t hunt anymore. My ancestor needed something easy and weaker than he was. So,” Wolf stood up, “if he picks something that stupid, well, so be it. After all,” Wolf gave that growl-laugh again. “Who mistakes a wolf for a two-legged one?”

“Exactly what I said,” Char said, laughing as well. But then from far away, there came a long howl, like a ghost crying in the night. When Char turned her head, Wolf was gone.

***


"You never said why you saved me," Wolf said the next night.

"You'll have cubs," Char answered. "Alone. I guess..." she shrugged. “Your mate. I'm sorry, Wolf."

"Even if we were trying to kill chickens?"

"They weren't mine and...I don't know. Those chickens are...Mr. McKitt's got to eat too. But I still wish it didn't happen."

"It's not easy to hunt alone," Wolf said. "The ravens tell me a pack has finally come close. First time since I was a pup. I hope they will take me in. If not, all I have to do is hold on until mine is old enough to help me." She was silent then. "Bigger game will be easier then."

"Yeah. Look," Char said. "Just don't go near the farms, okay? I'd like to see you...get to that pack."

Wolf simply inclined her head. And came close enough so that Char could touch her thick heavy fur, and smell her scent. It was like dog, but so unlike it too. It was the smell of fresh air, the moon, and wild things. Then she was gone.

***

"Where are you going at night?” Grandmother asked Char one evening before bed.

Damn it, Char thought. She thought she had been careful. She’d made sure everyone was in bed and snoring before she left the house. But her grandmother was worse than a bloodhound for sniffing things out. “Nowhere. Sometimes I can’t sleep, and I like to walk.”

“Which is what happened to-”

“Grandmother, relax. I’m not talking to wolves in the forest or nothing.” Which was somewhat true. Wolf didn’t always come to the meeting place. She hadn’t last night, anyway. The night before had been a different matter. They had talked a little more about the story. Wolf, unlike Char’s story, maintained the hunter had been killed and rightfully so. Because to kill a sick, elderly wolf was a terrible crime. Char was doing her best to see it from Wolf’s point of view. But she couldn’t tell Grandmother. She’d never understand.

The woman stared at her, while Char tried her best to meet those black eyes. She hoped Grandmother didn’t notice she was sweating. Or maybe she would blame it on the heat.

“You have the gift,” Grandmother said at last. “Don’t be too-”

“For what?”

“Speaking to animals.”

“Well tell that to Mr. Lee’s goose. Every time I go by that damned thing attacks-”

“Watch your mouth, young lady. And I told you, it doesn’t work on every animal.”

***

When two weeks had passed with no sign of Wolf, Char began to get worried.

Maybe she did join that pack after all.

But Char was still worried. After two more days, she decided to go look for her. She told her mother she was going to her friend’s house. She knew Mom would be pleased she was actually hanging out with people instead of reading books. Char took a compass, for it’s easy to get lost in the woods, and a hunting knife. She took a water bottle instead of the bug spray. And so she set off into the woods.

Char hoped to find animal tracks. But the ground was too hard and rocky for that. Eventually, she did find what looked like dog prints. Having no better idea, Char followed them. Soon, she came to a run-down old shack that seemed to be standing only out of sheer stubbornness. The walls slanted as if caught in a perpetual wind. The door was open and inside was darkness. Char took her flashlight and peered inside. In the faint light, she could just make out a gray figure, lying on its side. Soft mewing sounds came from within. Char might have gone inside when a voice called “I knew it!”

Char turned to see her grandmother, standing there, holding her chest as if the walk had exhausted her. Standing next to her was Mr. McKitt. “What’s inside there?” he asked, his voice cold and angry.

Wonderful. Char, you idiot. “Nothing, except some broken-down shack,” she said. “Nearly got my foot caught. I wouldn’t-”

“Uh-huh,” Mr. McKitt said. “So you wouldn’t know anything about scaring off a wolf, would you?”

“No,” Char said. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“I shot the mate,” he said. “Your grandmother thinks you know where the female is. She says you have the gift."

"What are you-"

"I found wolf's hair on your jacket," Grandmother said. "So don't lie to us."

Fantastic, Char thought. “My friend George just got a Husky. I swear that’s all it is.”

“Char,” Grandmother said, “if the wolf is in there, you need to tell us. They can’t be trusted.”

Inside, soft mewing, a pup’s whine. They might hear it. So Char did the only thing she could. “Oh for the love of God, Grandmother! It was one wolf!”

“How dare you-"

“No, you listen!” All the while, Char was thinking. The shack was full of holes. Maybe Mom and pups could hide. “It was one wolf. Doesn’t mean all of them are bad, Grandmother. Maybe it was even starving. No, it shouldn’t have done it. But it’s just a story anyhow. And they’ve a right to be here as much as we do.”

“And kill our chickens?” Mr. McKitt asked.

“No. But if there’s no elk-”

“Plenty of them now.”

“Yes!” Char said. “So why would wolves want us? Or our hens? They’ve got other game! And she was pregnant.” Char regretted those words the minute she said them. She went on. “Has she been back around your farm?”

“No,” the man admitted.

“Then let her be. And if she does kill her livestock then hold me responsible.”

"Oh I will-"

“This is foolishness,” Grandmother said and pushed past Char. She snatched her flashlight as she went and looked around. “Nothing here.”

“Told you,” Char said. “Now, Grandmother, please come out of there. It’s not safe.”

As she left, Char thought she heard a soft growl borne on the wind. "Thank you," it seemed to say. But she saw nothing.

***

"I still don't like it," Grandmother said later. "You're dishonoring your ancestors."

"I didn't do anything," Char said. "Besides that wasn't the wolf that ate her. Then I would be dishonoring her. I saved an innocent animal."

"So you say. And what's going to come of that? You know," Grandmother said, "The smallest thing can change the land's magic. When it's bad, don't say I didn't warn you."

***

The little girl fingered the cape. "And what did happen?"

"I think Wolf found a hole under the floor. I went back, but I didn't see her again. Sometimes, I'd hear her though. Howling, calling the others. Then I knew she'd found her pack. Or started one."

"And what happened to the land?"

Char took the cape. "Well, they say the wolves are why the willows came back. Because they hunted the elk that ate them. And then came the beavers, who need those trees to survive. And now there are plenty for the fishermen. The beaver dams certainly help reduce flooding."

"So the wolves are a good thing? But the farmers say they still kill livestock."

"They might, although so do coyotes. Still, they were here first, and have a lot of wisdom. We should learn to live with all animals."

The girl nodded. Char put the cape around her daughter. "The point is, to forgive. And you never know what the smallest act of kindness can do."





















April 30, 2022 03:48

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