Monday, July 2, 2012

Like a Stone

     There is here a little that bears saying of Red.  A short tale, one of a Wolf, and, like a Wolf, it would rather remain hidden than walk in your view.
     This is the vague remembrance of one manged, flea-bitten Red, who was neither truly mangy nor ignorant enough not to rid himself of the Fleas in the mud of the Creek bank.  It is true that he had no Pack, that he had been exiled as barely more than a pup, and that he walked the path between the dead and the living every day of his existence, unsteadily, leaning to one side or the other from one moment to the next with little certainty.  Were he a weaker specimen, he would have found comfort in the permanent shutting of the eyes that follows long periods of loneliness.
     But that is not Red.
     Had he been allowed to remain with the Pack, he would never have been the Leader, not even one of the number who might challenge for such from time to time; however, it is easy to say that had he stayed, he would never have been Red.   That would have been the greater shame.
     Because he was Red, who was never the Leader, who was never a competitor; who woke before every dawn to climb the path up the Great Hill to stand before the East and wait for the thing which he did not understand and which he, had he spoken or thought of things like words, might have consider his friend
     In his vigil, he found it never failed him, even through the thickest of cloud and the wettest of rains.  For this, Red would have been grateful, had he understood gratitude.
     This Wolf, then taking his leave of the ceremony, would walk down to the Creek to drink.  Most days he was alone in this, but on occasion he met one of the brave Cats that bristled and growled.  Other days he found the black Bear who did little more than snort, drink, and move on.
     The water of the creek was the hue of the bank, and, in his rolling’s and scratching’s to rid himself of the Fleas which the Deer supplied amply, he took on the same color as the bank and the creek, an uneven tint that was neither truly orange nor decidedly brown.  The water tasted as it always did, and he lapped as he had for many days, pleased at the taste of the mud and the bank and the freedom from itching that it altogether meant to him.
     Red’s Pack had not forgotten him.   No, this was a blessing not bestowed on poor Red, who was often chased for sport through the thickest of green briars and dew berries, teeth at his heels and his breath hot and quick. 
     Once, and only once, because Red never allowed it to happen again, they had cornered him as they would a Deer, flanking and circling him with his back against moss and vine covered limestone, finally for the challenge which he had never requested. 
     It was then that the Leader took a large chunk of Red’s left ear, a triangle of space where for a time the blood ran thickly.
     Red was never bested, though he was often beaten, and that is why Red was Red and the Pack was the Pack and they hated him all the more for it.  His was an order of Death, but Red had long since ignored any demand other than the glow at dawn that called him each day to his visage. 
     In the brightest mornings, the light glared through the gap in Red’s ear, and though he did not know it, it often framed a beam of brightness that shone down the path that lead up the Great Hill where he walked to watch the thing that called and that he never failed to answer.
     It came one day that Red found himself too tired to leave the Creek bank.  His legs had begun to move to their own accord.  It was easier to lie in the cool mud than to stand and look for food.
     One of the Cats came, raising the black hairs of its back and churning its throat to his ears.  He looked at it as if it were the first he had ever seen.  In a way, it was, and as he lay on his belly in the mud, he watched it drink verily; its eyes never leaving his, not once.  It walked away backwards and Red saw how yellow its eyes were and wondered what his own were like.  He looked into the creek, but saw only the darker muddy shadow of his muzzle and his ears, the light shining through the gap in his left, wavering in the moving water.
     He stayed there that night, growing cold as the night did.  He watched a mother Deer with two fauns drink timidly in the dusk, the wind hiding him as well as the stink from the mud that covered his hide.  The mother turned her head in every direction as the fauns drank noisily with long, pink tongues.  Red found himself beset by something other than hunger, but Red had no words and so there was nothing to call this thing that came and went with the passing of the white tails into the brush.
      It was almost time.  Red fought to his feet, and turned toward the Great Hill, each step more unsteady than the last.  He often lost his balance.  He pushed his body up by his muzzle and his haunches till his legs pumped again.  He could hear the calling.  He had no choice.
     Towards the top of the Hill, he felt surer of his strength, taking his steps quicker as he felt the end of the path approaching.  He sat as straight as his body would let him, tail up and ears forward.  He shivered but he was not cold.  He no longer felt anything.
     As the light lifted from the East, Red felt it warm his body.  He felt the growing light fill him, from his muzzle to his tail.  He felt it in the fur between his toes and across his breast that shook with each breath until it stopped, finally, with the thing full and bright in the East.
     Red had a thought in those final moments: he had no name for it, but knew it would be pleased with him for coming this last time above all others, and that, if nothing else, he had done this one act well, against the Pack, the Cats, and the Bears and the Fleas.  He had not failed his only friend to his last.

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