LESS THAN HALF
My first memories of my mother are really quite dim. She was comfort and security and a full belly. Father was safety too, though a little more distant. He was strength, power, speed and protection - everything I wanted to be. I had a brother and a sister too, but I remember even less about them. They were play.
When we were old enough, it was time to take the trails again. It was too easy to over hunt a single area. It was much better to roam wide and travel fast. That is when my life began to fall apart. Only once was I able to hunt with my mother and my siblings - only when the great eye in the night sky saw fit to look directly at me. The rest of the time I was slow on the run and couldn’t make a kill at all. Even the agile rabbit eluded me most of the time while my brother had the opposite luck; not many got away from him. Anything larger than that was quite beyond me.
As my siblings grew, it was possible to cover more distance between sunup and sunset, but I could not keep up. For a time my mother or my sister would come back and find me, but neither of them could help me cover the distance any faster. A day came when they no longer returned. Some days later, I saw my father. He made it very clear I was no longer to follow. I was no longer welcome in the pack. I was different.
I suppose I always knew it on some level, but I never thought I’d be cast out, shouldered away, left behind. What was I supposed to do now? To be lobo was almost assuredly a death sentence and I did not want to die.
With traveling and hunting the only thing I knew to do, I headed away from my father’s territory. What else could I do? I was not welcome nor was I strong enough to contest the issue and win; I was only a half-grown pup.
Mice and the occasional rabbit filled my belly once in a while, so infrequently though that I took to eating long grass and fat leaves and drinking a lot of water just to fill the gap under my heart. By the time the eye in the night sky saw fit to look upon me I was hungry enough to try for a young deer. When I missed I sat, exhausted and hungry, and howled my frustration and grief to the stars. Why would you make me this way? What did I ever do to deserve being less than half - useless.
But that is the law. There was no use wailing over it. If I wanted to live, I would have to figure out a way. I would have to try harder.
A few days later I came across a rank smell. I remembered from months ago, shortly after starting to travel. Father had sneezed his disdain at the long dead, mostly eaten eater of grass, and he had found the track of the hunter that had left it there. Tracks far larger even than mine. Tracks that smelled almost as bad as the carcass he’d been feeding on not a couple days before.
I was very hungry now, but not hungry enough for that. However I needed to be extra alert for the hunter whose tracks were larger than mine.
I found the tracks at nearly the same moment I found the creature that created them. The tracks were in the soft sand along the river, and the creature was out in the water doing something I’d never seen done before.
Stunned into immobility, I had to watch. This hunter was many times larger than my father, but where my father was black, this one was brown. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what it was doing out in the river. It wasn’t trying to wash the smell off; my nose had no trouble telling me that. Suddenly it plunged its face down into the water and came up with a swimmer, which it proceeded to shred and consume before discarding the head and the tail. Then it must have spotted me. It gripped the remains of its meal in its mouth and stood up on its back legs.
He stood like me. Never before had I been much like anything. I came closest to being like my father when under the gaze of the eye in the night sky, but even then there were major differences. I was, even during those times, more like this creature. But it was so big. Maybe if I could learn to catch the swimmers, I would get big too. But my lesson in this new form of hunting was over. The big brown hunter dropped to all fours and was gone.
I waded out to where he had stood. I found a few of his discarded prizes caught among the rocks and hungrily tore the rest of the meat off their bones. For the first time my belly was truly full. But catching one of the live ones wasn’t nearly so easy. Three days I tried before being able to scoop one out of the water and many hours later still before getting one out of the water and being able to keep it long enough to kill it and eat it. My first prize, and all my own, I was such a mighty hunter of swimmers. My father would have scoffed in humiliation, but I slept that night with a full belly and dreamed of growing big.
I continued following the river wherever it led, interspersing my hunting for swimmers by chasing the occasional rabbit or squirrel, more to warm up after being in the cold wet water than to actually catch red meat, though I was taught never to waste a hunt and I relished the meat when I caught it. Swimmers, though slippery, were far more abundant.
One night, always on the lookout for a new family willing to take me in, I was tracking another pack under the eye in the sky. Suddenly, I heard a sharp sound echo through the trees and I heard a yelp of pain. A member of the pack had been hurt, but how? Why? I sprinted ahead to answer those questions.
I came upon another hunter I’d never seen before. It was like the hunter of swimmers, the eater of carrion, only it was even more like me. It was only maybe a little bigger than me. It was not facing me. It was facing across the clearing, and there, just inside the trees was the most beautiful she I had ever seen, more beautiful even than my mother. I was a mighty hunter now. I could take care of a she now, but first I needed to protect her.
Then the sound stunned my ears again and the hunter jerked back. At first, I thought something had hit him, the way he jerked, but when the she yelped, I knew it wasn’t so. I looked in time to see her dart into the protection of the trees, but there was blood on her back.
Furious, I attacked. Mother had taught us to go for the neck but the neck on this creature was small and I missed. I knocked him down though, ensuring that the she would get away. I would be able to find her later. Only the sound split the air again, and later sank into painful blackness.
I opened my eyes to daylight and a warmth I hadn’t felt since being shouldered away from my family. I opened my eyes; it was hard, but they finally came open enough to see the blue sky above. The hunter was there and very close, but I couldn’t seem to dredge up enough alarm to get away. He rested a warm hand on my head and the sounds he made were oddly soothing, and the water he dripped into my mouth was very welcome.
This stretch of time was broken and confusing, and very painful. There was a very loud growling noise and a painful vibration, but the hunter’s hand was on mine. Why did I find that comforting, I don’t know. I was so scared. I hurt so much. And in a way, looking at him was like looking at myself in the calm water - different, and yet so very alike. I had never been so ‘like’ anything, not ever.
Later, there was another screaming sound and more painful movement, less vibration though. And still later the screaming sounds were distant, but the closer sounds were a constant rumble and there was so much white all around. So noisy, these creatures, how could they possibly hunt if they were so noisy? But then it all went black again.
When I was able to open my eyes again, it was quiet. The white was still there, but much of the pain was gone, not that I felt much better. I felt heavy and tired, weak like a newborn pup, though I don’t remember what that felt like. Lifting my hand was a chore, but lifting it brought it into contact with the creature from the clearing. He was still here. He must have protected me and brought me here to take the pain away. He was my protector now. I had a new pack, even if it was a pack of only the two of us. Two hunters were always better than one, and we could always find a she. Maybe his pack was larger than I saw and they just weren’t here, wherever here was.
I gotta love my dreams when they produce ideas like this. What the rest of the story is, I haven't a clue yet. Maybe you have an idea. Please, feel free to offer any suggestions.