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In wolf's clothing

(2009-04-14 19:39:35)


They sat on the back porch as morning breathed a frosty zephyr across the weathered planking. The cold air stung the man’s work and time-worn hands, but he didn’t notice. He reached out and placed his hand on his best friend’s shoulder. Danni turned a smiling face to the man.

They shared their breakfast here, watching the stars blink out as the sun spread its amber mantle over the meadows and hills. In the fields, sheep shuffled closer together. When hungry lambs called out to their mothers their breaths puffed out in misty plumes.

Danni had been a gift from Aaron’s son, Frank. She was a beautiful chestnut, white, and smoky-gray coated Australian Shepherd and so smart Aaron felt a great pride for her. He had grown to deeply love his ever-happy companion.

After he brought Danni to the ranch, Frank purchased a handsome male Australian Shepherd and bred him to Danni. She was due to deliver soon.

In the glow of dawn, he saw the wolf, low on the trail, watching them. It was the same every morning. Several lambs had gone missing and Aaron suspected wolves were to blame. Aaron began carrying a rifle whenever he was out with the sheep. He was too old to react fast enough to ward off a wolf attack and Danni was not as quick to move out due to her pregnancy.

Her cumbersome weight notwithstanding, Danni was always eager to make her daily rounds in the fields. She was protective of all in her charge, but with the lambs she was especially vigilant.

After her work was done, Danni would head out to the river on the back end of the property, near the woods. Aaron wondered what she did there. Once, curious to find out, he had followed her. When Danni spotted him she turned around and ran back to the ranch. He found her on the porch smiling. Aaron chuckled, figured he wasn’t meant to know.

Lush grass blanketed the banks under scrub oak, and lichen covered rocks of all sizes peppered the fields around the stream—This was Danni’s place. She would leave in the late afternoon, but not until Aaron gave her permission with a nod. Danni then trotted off with a grin, her body wiggling excitedly as she trotted down the path that took her to the river.

Aaron was out with the flock. The sheep were contentedly grazing and Aaron took a deep breath of the loamy scented air. Sunlight splintered on the horizon as dusk settled into the hills. Over the backs of his sheep Aaron’s gaze searched for Danni. He found her weaving around shrubs and boulders. She neared the crest of a hillock and was soon out of sight. It was then that Aaron noticed movement on the same path. Threading its way more quickly than Danni was able, the wolf followed.

Aaron raised his rifle, set his aim on the gray animal and squeezed the trigger. The wolf cried out in pain and stumbled. Whimpering, the wolf reeled in circles, then fell and did not get up.

That night Aaron was wide awake. He looked down at the end of the bed. Danni’s blanket was empty and cold. She had not returned. Danni had shared his bed every night. Her warm body was comforting and he fell asleep listening to the gentle soughing of her breath. Felt the reassurance of her presence from the weight of her against his ankles and feet.

He stared out into the shadows of his bedroom. Moonlight dropped a sheet of silver on the floor beneath the bedroom window. But Aaron didn’t notice. Tears obscured his vision. Grief and loneliness bruised his spirit.

The next morning he searched the hills for her. He found her body amidst tall grass. He reached out and touched her shoulder. All that had been embodied in the broken body below him—was gone. As he bent down to gather her up, deep furrowed wounds between her belly and flank caught his eye. Claw marks, from a big cat, most likely a cougar.

Strength left him and he collapsed next to his beloved friend. She had been ravaged, her belly torn open. The pups, so close to delivery, were gone. He lifted his hands up, clasped them at the back of his neck, dropped his head and wept.

He carried her home, wrapped her in her blanket from the bed and buried her out past the back porch.

Two months passed. One morning Aaron found a pup on the porch’s weathered planking. The sleepy pup tilted his head and chuffed a welcome. As Aaron bent down to get a better look he heard the rustling of an animal in the nearby brush.

A wolf, and close enough to discern its sex—a female. She rocked back on her hind legs and pivoted to turn. Her right front leg was withered and she held it up as she trotted away. In the gray shadows of dawn he watched as she ribboned her way up the path that crested the hillock. The path that ran to the river. As she passed a rocky ledge, two wolf pups sprang out from their hiding place, fast on their mother’s heels.

The pups looked to be the same age as the pup on his porch. And while they displayed all the physical traits of a wolf, the little one at his feet was pure Australian Shepherd and looked just like his mother, Danni.

He had been wrong about the wolf. She hadn’t studied them from the hill with malice. She had not scanned the ranch to scope out a meal, but to look for her friend. She had been waiting for Danni, to come and play. In the two months following Danni’s death, he had lost 3 adult sheep. But not to the female who had just left him, for she was too crippled now to bring down a full grown sheep.

He turned back to the pup. As the sun spread its shimmering cloak, a golden ray alit in the pup’s blue eyes. He opened his mouth and smiled up at Aaron. Aaron cast one last look in the direction of the hills and whispered, “A sheep...” He turned back to the pup, pulled him up, and finished, “in wolf’s clothing.”

In the not too distant future. When the pup had grown lanky and frolicsome—the wolf would return to the mountainside. She would look to see if a playmate awaited her there, keeping company with the old man.























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