White Wolf

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
It all started with a man in a blizzard...

Submitted: July 05, 2013

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Submitted: July 05, 2013

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White Wolf

 

Gray clouds cover the sky, sagging like fat, faded drops of quicksilver frozen mid-drip. The snow falls, and the frigid wind whips it into a driving force coming down hard enough to sting the skin on contact. The evergreens are gray shadows, their branches bowing and drifts piling against their trunks. A single, dead pine stands amid the living. Its twisted and tortured bare branches reach upward, perhaps pleading to some divine being for merciful release.

In this wasted and danger-laced landscape, there is a horse and a man. The horse is a jet-black stallion, and the man is on its back. The collar of his beaver furred coat is turned up, and his cowboy hat is pulled down over his forehead, obscuring his face. He rocks back and forth with the horse’s great, exhausting leaps as it struggles through snow higher than its hocks. It half rears and pushes off with its back legs, just clearing the top of the snow and coming back down a mere three or four feet away, repeating the process without stopping. The steed slows, the short, high leaps consuming energy too soon, too fast. It finally stops, lather covering it in big, white globs and sweat running down its withers. It heaves a great, snorting sight and settles in the snow, perhaps telling the blizzard, “Alright. I give up. You’ve done your worst, and I’ve done my best, and you've won.” The man sighs, reaches up to brush the building snow off his mustache and beard, and warily watches the horse’s neck steam.

“Come on, boy,” he says softly, patting its damp neck. He kicks its flanks, and the horse stands, then slowly sinks back into the deepening snow. He kicks it harder, twice, and it makes the tremendous effort to take one more leap but makes it no farther. “Come on, Horse. Giddap,” he says half-heartedly. The snow finds its way under his hat as he looks up, squinting, looking for the slope that should be right there. All he can see is the swirling snow that obscures almost everything. He can’t help thinking how harsh it is to die less than a mile from safety. There’s a slope right here close. And on the other side a small settlement started by fur traders. But he would never make it there now. With a heavy silence, the man also surrenders to the overwhelming power of the storm. He settles on the horse’s withers and neck waiting for the inevitable end. He even forces himself into sleep, wishing for a peaceful death. But just before his bleary, red-rimmed eyes close for the least time, the snow moves. Large chunks of it rise off the ground, weaving together and apart in smooth motions. The man watches them absentmindedly, knowing them to be hallucinations.

The horse nickers and stirs restlessly. Without warning, it screams, a high-pitched, fearful neigh, and jolts forward. With a small struggle, the horse breaks out of the drifts that have been greedily engulfing it, causing a sudden, small explosion of damp snow. The horse careens forward, eyes rolling and nostrils flaring. Surprised, the man is almost thrown, but he hangs on to the saddle and squeezes his legs around the horse, the reins lost. The horse slows its mad dash as it encounters a sharp rise, but still it plows forward. It turns, starting back down, but a snarl accompanies a set of snapping teeth that stop just short of its nose. It turns the other way but is met with the same result. The horse panics, wildly wheeling and turning. It comes to a reluctant stop facing down the slope, its breath coming in great gusts through its wide nostrils. The air is cold enough to turn its breath to mist, but it doesn’t linger long, the wind and snow quickly taking it away.

The man groans as he slowly rises, his arms and legs weak from maintaining the life-saving death grip that kept him from falling off. He forgets it as soon as he sees the source of the horse’s fear: The moving snow. Only it’s not snow. It’s seven pure white wolves. Their blue eyes and black noses almost seem to float, their coats blending into the driving snow. They stand in a semi-circle, leaving the area behind the horse open. He waits for the wolves to make the final move, tear at the horse’s exposed neck, and bring it down before going for their second victim: Him. But nothing moves except for the horse’s still flaring nostrils and the ever swirling snow and wind. The wolves just stand there staring, as if waiting. They seem surreal and unearthly. It takes the man awhile to figure out why. For all the wind and snow, the wolves are completely still. The wind does not part their fur or blow back their ears, and the snowflakes do not stick to their noses. The stand on top of the snow, even though their weight should force them down a few inches. The more he looks, the more things he finds to indicate these are not normal wolves. The don’t have the starved look of wolves in winter, wolves don’t have blue eyes, and whoever heard of so many rare white wolves in one place? His mind casts about for an answer and falls on a legend: Ghosts. Hard to believe when the stories are told around a fire or in a warm house. Easier to believe with the snowflakes tracing eerie patterns in the wind and the wolves standing there untouched by it all.

A long, drawn out howl from the center wolf shatters the expectancy of the air. The horse rears with a frightened whinny, wheels, and goes up the slope in long, staggering leaps. The wolves are white shadows, hard to distinguish, but after focusing, the man can see two on either side and three behind. They easily catch up, their paws still only skimming the snow. But they still make no attempts to bring the horse down. They simply match their pace to the horse’s, taking long, slow, loping strides, seeming to almost steer the horse. The horse stops, jerking the man in the saddle still hanging on to the saddlehorn. This time, the man is wiser, and as soon as the horse halts, he leans forward, grabbing for the reins with both hands. He manages to get one and then the other. He sits up quickly, and seeing the way in front open, turns in the saddle. The wolves behind him are once again still, and once again it is the center wolf that make the first move. It cocks its head, staring into his eyes. Its mouth shapes into a … smile? Its eyes glint, but not maliciously, and it drives forward, swiping its claws along the right side of the horse’s rump, soaring like an apparition. It also draws blood, unlike an apparition. The horse once again leaps forward, the wolves directing it up the hill. Suddenly, the horse is lurching and sliding down a slope, and the man yanks on the reins held tight in his white knuckles, not wanting the horse to stumble and roll. It obediently stops, locking its front legs and throwing snow. It still fidgets restlessly, tugging at the bit and flipping its head in an effort to get the bit in its teeth. The man retains control as he looks back. The wolves are lined up on top of the ridge facing him, and even though he is too far away to see them clearly through the blizzard, he gets the impression of an intelligence greater than his own. As one, they bow their heads, raise them in a joyful howl, turn, and vanish on the other side of the ridge. It is then that the man realizes where he is. His heart rising in joy and relief, he kicks the horse and heads down at a diagonal. The slope becomes more gradual until it flattens out into what the man knows is a valley. A valley where, nestled in the folds of the land, there is a small settlement. He continues forward, and a structure looms out of the gray. A log cabin. Then another and another. He whoops for joy, resisting the urge to throw his hat in the air. He continues to the middle of the small cluster of homes where there’s a trading post, a stable, and a home connected to the stable. He swings off the horse, sinking into the snow up to his thighs. He leads the horse into the warm, dry stable and puts it in a stall. He slowly, tiredly loosens the girth and unbuckles the bride, then throws off the saddle and saddle blanket, drapes them on the divider, and puts the bridle on top. The horse settles into the straw with a whicker, too tired to sample the hay or water. The man kneels to inspect its bloodied rump, using a handful of straw to wipe away the blood. When he clears it enough to see the wound, the skin knits together before his eyes, until there is not even a trace of dried blood. Then there’s a bright flash that leaves spots before the man's astonished eyes. When his vision clears, he finds the white silhouette of a wolf on the horse’s rump where before his horse did not have even one white dot. He stands, swallows dryly, and wanders over the door at the back of the stable, his movements mechanical and unsure in his disbelief. He knocks hard, and the door swings open fast enough to cause a breeze. A woman stands in the doorway, her nut brown hair in a bun with a few pieces escaping. She has a blanket draped over her clothes and is clutching it with one hand. She takes one look the the man’s bedraggled figure and falls into his arms, weeping.

“Shhh,” the man murmurs comfortingly, turning his head to kiss her softly on the cheek.

“I thought I’d lost you,” she sobs. The man hugs her tighter as her sobs fade away.

A little girl dashes out the door, yelling, “Papa! Papa!” He kneels to sweep her up in his arms and spin her around. He halts her progress, holding her with gentle hands. Her arms go around his neck. “Did you get the new horsie?” she asks excitedly. He nods, his eyes bright. “Can I see it?”

“Of course you can!” he says, putting her down and taking her hand. He leads her to the stall, her mother following. He lifts the girl up to sit on the stall door. She sits there for a few seconds, then says, “What’s his name?”

“How’d you know it was a he?” he asks, laughing. She shrugs her shoulders.

“I guessed!” she squeals as he tickles her sides.

“Well, I haven’t--” He breaks off, a slow smile spreading across his face. “White Wolf. His name is White Wolf.” His wife gives him a puzzled glance.

“White Wolf? That’s a strange name for a black horse,” she says teasingly. He smiles and puts his arm around her waist.

“Yes,” he says knowingly. “Yes, it is.”

 


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