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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Teens
- Theme: Mystery stories
- Subject: Nature & Wildlife
- Published: 01/03/2012
THE SINS OF THE FATHERBorn 1952, F, from Penrose, Colorado, United States
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
THE SINS OF THE FATHER
As dusk descended, the sounds and scents of darkness gently cradled his quiet world. The silver Tundra wolf froze momentarily in this majestic Arctic stillness, lifting his aging muzzle high to catch sudden wind change or unfamiliar nuances that might possibly alert him of impending danger or give reason for caution. For miles across this icy landscape, he had galloped hard and long to shake an uneasiness that had followed him since the beginning of his lone journey three days ago in search of food. It gnawed at him as did his ravenous hunger, a constant twinge of discomfort biting through his steel resolve and knotted gut. His concern now lay in returning swiftly to his den where his mate, a black she-wolf, waited for him, anticipating a litter of cubs. It was a rarity for him ever to return empty-handed from a hunt, but this season had dealt the harshest winter this Government Reserve Wilderness in the remote region of Cumberland Pass, Alaska had ever known since 1905. Even small game prey such as rabbit, weasel and field mice were scarce, much less migrating Moose and Elk dwindling to almost non-existence from a once staple population.
His senses acutely attuned to his raw surroundings, the wolf perceived no immediate threat and turned his attention instead to the frozen lake ahead of him, treacherous in the bitter winter months. He was familiar with this area well, at least within a five-hundred mile radius of its ever changing terrain of wide-spread plains that rolled unexpectedly into steep ravines and craggy mountain ranges. The only alternate route was a threadlike sliver of gorge, which, in warmer weather, he could clear its banks with skilled ease. But due to heavy amounts of snowfall, he did not trust the slippery ground enough to provide the solid launching pad necessary to safely reach the opposite side.
He shook the snow flakes from his thick coat, eyeing the rims of the lake to seek out the narrowest point to minimize his crossing. Pacing up and down, softly whimpering, he contemplated the edge of a thin strip of land that led down to where the blanket of frost began. Cautiously he licked at it with his tongue, testing it also with the controlled tap of his left paw. His distrust and masterful instinct proved worthy, for he watched as his paw submerged beneath the splintering surface into the freezing water below, crushed with barely any pressure at all. He moved further on down the bank to assess the potential of another area that could withstand the weight of all his two-hundred pounds.
In the distance, he heard the howl of another wolf and he stiffened, absorbing every aspect of this sudden vocal intrusion. He listened intently, aroused and drawn to the haunting melody of one of his kind. The intruder’s call continued for a few moments, but was then followed by an eerie silence. He waited, yet it did not cry back. He sat on his haunches and began to emit a short succession of whoops and half-barks at first, intermittent with agitated and questioning whimpers. Slowly the crescendo climaxed to more menacing growls and full-out, skin-piercing bellows. He was actually signaling to the stranger to attest to its whereabouts, status, and the extent of its own marked radius. These responses to gangs outside of the pack are typical predatory protocol, which states, in essence, I’m here, I belong in this area, as wolves will often do (as well as Lions and other big cats), in conjunction with urinating tree-lined borders claiming their territorial range.
Still no answer ensued. The silver wolf finally acknowledged the rendering of his own sad echo, this primeval song that dated back long before the era of homo sapiens; a lament to the world releasing state of hunger, loneliness, bewilderment, fear, joy or prowess. Towards the end, the wolf’s howl had become larger than him, larger than his own life and hardship. It was born from some profound place inside his wild, lupine blood, rising and circling to fall across nameless canyon walls and untraversed forest valleys, puncturing the stillness of the land with its ageless sigh. And so it had been a long and soulful wail, a piercing, mournful sound lost to the ears of modern civilization, a nostalgic utterance as old and deep as time itself.
Finally, abruptly, he had stopped, recognizing solitude as real once more. Back to the task at hand, getting home safely to his pack that awaited his return with glee and relief. Once again he was faced with the critical concern of crossing the perilous ice. Without further hesitation, he started the crossing with keen trepidation, readiness of survival skills at his disposal that acted as radar. It’s not like he hadn’t done this before. Yet experience had taught him a healthy respect for unpredictable frozen bodies of water and precipitous embankments.
He quickened each pace as soon as his confidence rose to a level that freed him to do so. It wasn’t long before he reached the opposite side, panting madly even in the sub-zero temperature. He even ran the last couple of yards to instill his charged courage. Once safely on the other side of the bank and closer to his den, he looked back just long enough from where he had come, the imminent danger now behind him. He grinned sheepishly in his wolfish way, as animals will often do when they feel like they’ve overcome incredible odds. He was engulfed with a flood of pride, but it was short-lived. He knew he wasn’t out of the grip of danger just yet. He had perhaps two, three miles to cover before he was totally home free.
The wolf disappeared into a vacuum of foliage and enveloping darkness, a gray shadow hidden under frozen stars. He was a stealth of power and fire, burning poetry of sublime movement, leaving merely his fleeting prints behind in the snow as testament of his having been there at all.
He was excited now. He had found a tree marked with his recent scent and that of his mate’s, and he picked up the rhythm even more, running at full speed, tail wagging like a silly puppy anticipating its master’s loving caress. Often his stride left him airborne as he skipped and hurdled over familiar boulders and crevices alongside the sloping furrows. He was not acting as the vicious, satanic monster his kind was often portrayed as for centuries past, even by today’s modern standards. To have witnessed him now, he may very well have appeared like any ordinary dog home from a long journey away exploring and foraging. Back from war, battle scars and dry, matted blood scattered across his beautiful, silvery hulk. He was now ready to return to the comfort and warmth of his den, his tiny family, to the well-known and loved things of his wolf world.
But suddenly, the sound of loud bangs in the night electrified the air, first with amazement and wonder and then gut-wrenching terror, tearing out any happiness he could possibly feel or had left in his weary body. He transformed into a robotic combat machine except pulsed with invincible blood coursing through his veins, along with a profound will to survive. Though he felt immense fear unlike anything he had ever known, he still braced for where ever consequence would take him, noble or ruthless. He was an astute warrior, conditioned with ingrained arsenal to protect what he believed to be his, or die trying.
No experience from his past could he draw upon to prepare him for this moment now as he stood tense and motionless, breathing shallowly to avoid detection of his arrival, his stoic poise upwind so that his scent would not be carried to even the most discriminate. Quietly, he curled his lips back into his most deadliest of snarls, exposing two rows of shiny, healthy pointed fangs. He listened in the aftermath of those terrible sounds, what were they? All instincts jetted out from every pore and fiber of his being, prompting him to defend to the death everything he had ever known and that loved him back, all that was on the threshold of being forever lost.
Unbeknownst to him, he had heard, for the first time, a hunter’s meaningful gun, a noise he should never have heard. For these parts that he and his mate called home was actually on a 20,000-acre National Wildlife Reserve in the Arctic Tundra of Alaska whose purpose was to ensure that he and others of his kind, along with other hand-picked wildlife, could live out their entire life span (and those of their offspring) in peace and harmony. Supposedly, they were protected by so-called Government dogma and enforceable state legislature and written law. However, Government could not shield him or anything else from the poachers who took law into their own greedy hands and felt justified in keeping the population down and their victims’ stuffed heads gracing living room walls.
What the silver wolf discovered below the ridge where his home, his once-safe den, his haven, lay tucked between two iced-over boulders and a meandering creek, were the fresh slain bodies of his mate, the black she-wolf, three other females that were half-sisters, and two males that were cousins. He immediately associated those riveting and fatal rumbles with the devastation sprawled out before him. Nothing equipped him for this, no pain or agony of defeat; not his worst hunger, his most serious injury, nor the abyss of loneliness, ever surmounted to this magnitude of shock and dread. Nothing had ever wounded him this much. Nothing could he even equate had ever left him with this great gulf, this chasm of intangible, unmitigated despair, from whence there was no turning back.
First he licked at his mate’s still body, nudging her, whining, willing her to rise. He circled back and forth, nosing her mouth, hoping in some small way to arouse her to move; maybe she was just too injured and frightened to get up. But she lay quiet, unmoving, a black and broken lifeless form surrounded by her own pool of crimson blood streaming out across new flakes of ghostly white snow. Her amber eyes were still open, wide and liquid wild, filled with a terror she couldn’t understand. She now stared forward into another world that was kinder, hopefully, than this one. Perhaps a realm where God would be there to greet her (He who loves wolves).
Her sightless eyes told the story, revealing the horror she must have experienced as shots rang out of nowhere; how she must have felt her last few seconds of agonizing breath as she gathered her little family to shelter, but alas, too late, not quick enough from the flying shrapnel aimed at their futile scramble to save themselves. Perhaps she even fleetingly thought of him, knowing he was on his way back to her, perhaps with food for them all; the sadness that must have befallen once she realized she’d never see her mate again.
Her blood was still warm to his tongue; she was swollen with unborn cubs still in her belly who now would never be born, the cubs he would never know. He found similar fate with the rest of his family as he made his rounds to each individual one, prodded them all with the same yearning that they would respond. None of them awoke to his gentle urgings. He returned to the side of his dead mate and laid down beside her body and told the world what had happened in his lonesome cry, a cracked, broken effort that traveled across the crippled, alpine remains. It spoke of indefinable pain and anger; it registered into existence all these things that couldn’t be salvaged, all the things he tried but couldn’t fix nor ever take back.
But even that message was cut short. A bullet had been saved for him as well, fully aware of his anticipated return to the den site. The silver male wolf had no idea what hit him. It entered the cavity of his chest like fire bolt, a massive steel explosion that choked his howl in half, mid-air. There was a split second, and only that much, to spin his head around and finally face his adversaries, see them for what they were and take in the stench of their pungent foreignness. To finally process it all in one last bloody gulp of strangled air, the hunters off to the side watching him with seething pleasure as he writhed in shock and unfathomable pain. That was his first and last introduction to Mankind, and, ironically, his solemn, bewildered farewell to the one human that killed him unnecessarily, along with everything he ever loved. His body dropped alongside the black she-wolf, their blood mingling together to signify that even in death, wolves mate for life. They were a grand mated pair, had swelled the tides, the ebb and flows, of many brutal winters, of indelible hardships together. They had spawned multiple litters over the vast, bitter, harsh years, sacrificing so that all their cubs got the best start in life that they could possibly give them to ensure that minuscule chance at survival. And to that end, all had grown to become successful, strong and beautiful wolves of their own. But for all of them, Man was the one indomitable crusade they could not out-maneuver, never win. The two lay side by side, much as they had done in life, content as always in each other’s company, now for an eternity where nothing could come to harm them ever again. One wondered if there was anything left to pick up the pieces, carry on such a proud heritage; anything, anyone, left to grieve . . .
The one hunter walked over to where the silver male lay. He shined his flashlight up and down the body, and slightly kicked it with his steel-toed boot. He wanted to make sure, after all, that it was dead and would not follow him for revenge or something of that nature. Snorting, satisfied that neither he nor any of the other wolves would ever get up again, he walked snidely away back to his companions as they laughed around a flask of Brandy to warm them up and help celebrate the slaughter.
“Well, that was easy enough,” he burped into ice crystals forming around his moustache, punching the guy standing the closest to him in the shoulder. “The bastard’s downfall was returning to the ladies.” He took another lengthy swallow to warm his frigid bones.
“Isn’t that the downfall of us all,” chuckled the friends all in sadistic unison, and with that, they left the scene of a bloody battleground, not taking any trophies. The hunters, the only ones with a weapon of choice against the unsuspecting wolves, finally retreated back to camp, as covert as they had come, the silent killers that they were.
The land took on a somber hue, reeling from the recent travesty. In a nearby underbrush, a white Ferret squealed in chaotic motion, summoning its own family to burrow further down below the earth for cover. A White-Tailed Hawk above, circling the carnage, cawed its final discontent and flew to the safety of moonlit skies. The blank canvas of snow was possibly unfolding other such tragedies, but here and now, the wind moaned, promising a night of deeper drifts and plummeting temperatures. Only God in his own majestic splendor could detect the slightest infraction of movement. Yet, at that precise moment, a new life was opening up to this winter wonderland, at a fragile time when twilight hangs in the foggy balance; when passivity surrenders to unbridled curiosity. He was the soul survivor of a massacre in which he himself only narrowly escaped.
A wolf cub protruded a portion of his silver head from the den opening, spellbound by the rush of scents infiltrating his nostrils all at once. This intoxicated his senses with all the rudiments of astonishment and skepticism that would befall a child of any specie. He had to find out for himself just what all this meant.
Icicles formed around his whiskers and meticulously he licked the falling ice, finding only that it didn’t mitigate that gnaw of hunger biting through his growling belly. He had been born before his siblings by several weeks and his mother, the black she-wolf, had kept him well hidden deep inside the den’s interior. He had only the morning before opened his eyes for the first time. Now, he had awoken from sleep by loud bangs, frantic whimpers and other incomprehensible noises.
Instinctively, he lifted a numb muzzle upwards and attempted a howl-like wail. It was subtle at first, a test of his virgin vocal cords. But then it became more of an appeal for his mother and the warming, nutritious milk from her teat. His own voice made him feel empowered and he intensified his summon. He began to feel uneasy. He wanted his mother and couldn’t understand why she didn’t come to his rescue. He sat there and continued to call her until the urge overwhelmed his fear and he stepped outside the opening. Once outside, he seemed to blend naturally with his surroundings, having inherited his father’s whitish, silvery fur. But his eyes were exceptional: the one blue eye of his father; the other amber-colored like his mother.
He took a few more shy steps, boosted by his sudden confidence. At first, because this was all new to him, he began walking aimlessly. He was far to the right of the den and therefore luckily did not stumble across his dead parents nor the rest of his family. He smelled the blood but did not associate that with anything he had ever smelled before in his infant life. His steps became more determined the more distance he made between himself and the safety of the den, which is all he had ever known till now. He was suddenly filled with a surge of independence. He began to trot, then run, in the heavy bleakness, snow cresting around his fearless frolic.
The baby cub had no idea what he was running from, or towards. All he knew now, because there was nothing there to teach him differently, the world was an unexplored playground waiting for him to unearth, to re-bury, to discover, expose and be exposed to. He did wonder where his mother was, why she wasn’t out there to meet him, re-direct him, offer her body to nourish and sustain him. He remembered also how at times, his father or one of the Aunts or Uncles that watched over him would often lick him from sleep to play, be groomed, or be taught some invaluable lesson.
But now a strange world lay outstretched before him, vast, dangerously baffling yet exciting all the same. It was yet to be conquered by his nose, his paws, his keen eyesight, his unraveling instincts, his inherited wild spirit. Perhaps, too, mother was out there waiting for him. Just a few more brave steps.
So, willingly, he entered a world that had he known what lay in store, he may have run back to the confines of the den, unsure to take on such a feat as yet. He couldn’t know that his life, from here on after, would be governed by laws that promised to protect him the same way they protected his parents, to a degree. But those laws failed miserably. He would start off loving everything, because you can’t take away what has yet to be stolen. He crept without fear into what he perceived as friendly, welcoming, cold and colorless infinity, blindly trusting everything in his path. He went in search of his mother, his father, having both their characteristics: strength, courage, innate skills that would later come to serve him well.
What he didn’t possess, as yet, was the knowledge of Man.
What he didn’t have was the benefactor of that knowledge, the sins of the father some would say, the reward he would reap later on in his young years, tumbling in its terrible wake. The one emotion that might one day save him from the same fate as his parents:
© Susan Joyner-Stumpf