Go Back   Palimpsest > Palimpsest Forums > Features

Thread Tools Display Modes
Prev Previous Post   Next Post Next
Old 29th Oct 2006, 14:14   #1
Senior Palimpsester

has the freedom of Palimp City
Noumenon's Avatar
Join Date: 13 Jul 2006
Location: Madrid, Spain
Posts: 3,793
Default OLD WOLF - a short story

This was the first short story I'd written for about eight years. After faffing around with it only half completed I joined a local writer's circle with the intention of using their expectation to read out a piece of my own work as a rod to my back and finished it a week later, around the end of June.

Once there was an old wolf who had run with the pack all his life. It was all he knew. He remembered, back when he was still a cub and new in the world, how even though he seemed to shiver with energy at dawn the pack would run tirelessly until dusk and beyond, and his young legs would not. Then his mother would open her jaws wide to scoop him up and carry him on, and even though he could feel her killing teeth press through the softness of his pelt he never again felt so safe as he did there.

There were times when the prey drew so far ahead of the pack that they grew as thin and empty as the moon and the other wolves would look hungrily at him, the smallest and still without a kill to offer for the food he ate. Then his mother would show them her dry teeth and their heads would drop to look for the scent of the hunt elsewhere. In time he grew into a strong hunter, he killed so the pack could eat and he never feared their teeth again. But without his mother’s teeth he would not have lived to do so.

He didn’t remember the day his mother fell from the pack, only that gradually she seemed less present until she was no longer with them at all. The pack runs onward, never back, and although the old wolf – then in his prime – would delay after sleep and run last so she could follow his scent, he never saw or heard her again. Before long he ceased to wait and for a while took his rightful place at the nose of the pack. For many years she passed from his memory entirely.

As his life progressed the wolf both lead and followed, ate and went hungry; but as he grew older the other wolves grew younger around him, stronger, faster, surer in the hunt, and he found himself falling through the pack until he ran last again. As his legs tired the pack would run ahead, so that sometimes the kill came without him and only scraps remained; in time, the others would already be at rest when he finally caught up, leaving him still more tired when all rose and moved on with the next dawn.

It seemed to him that now he hunted his own pack – theirs was the scent he followed, they the sight that fired him, they the slim chance to feed. Then a day came when he followed their scent from dawn to dusk and beyond only to have to lie down in the dark and, for the first time, sleep alone. From then each day their scent grew weaker until finally he could find no trace. He had fallen from the pack.

The pack runs onward, never back. In its wake the old wolf learnt that the prey also knew this to be true, for all around him were the cruel signs of it: sounds of the small, silenced by his approach and too fleet for tired legs to pursue; or the sight of the large, too strong or numerous for him to tackle alone; and everywhere their scent, leading in all directions like the shadow of a tree’s branches, their source just as far out of reach.

He found the hunger of loneliness to be greater than the hunger of the pack. He tried to eat green leaves like the small prey, even gnawed tree-bark like some of the large, but it made his jaws ache and his innards knot, left his tongue dry and soiled. He followed the sound of water to a thin, brackish stream and drank, let it wash through his mouth to deaden the taste. Then came a brief sound from across the stream.

Movement drew his eye. Small, struggling under his yellow gaze, one leg trapped in a tangle of dense briar, wide dark eyes stared back. Long thorns had torn fur and skin, and his nose was suddenly full of the scent of blood – how had it not been before? Saliva gushed into his mouth, drooling into the stream, his legs shaking as though he had hunted this prey over many miles and finally cornered it here.

He took it with lavish joy, not realising until he was done that he squatted half in the stream, damming and soaking it, his hind end matted and chill. He rose and shook, staggered away on stiff legs still relishing the taste of the kill. That night he curled up around the warmth inside him and slept soundly. The old wolf dreamed.

In the deeper dark of the dream, the comforting pressure of his mother’s teeth was felt and seen the same, dry white like distant mountain peaks beneath the moon, small but huge as well. This full moon was not mottled and pale but the glowing coil of her eye, free to rove over all but always turning to watch over him. He felt small, smaller than a cub, smaller even than the prey that had become his last kill. Tiny. Vanishing.

The old wolf woke slowly, stretching tired limbs and aching jaw, and rose. Then the lost memory of his mother swept through him like a stunning fall – he began to spin on the spot, expecting somewhere to see her return. But whether onward or back there was nothing but forest, no familiar scent but that of the elusive prey laying low. Yet something remained, pressing like a memory of teeth, as clear ahead as it was behind. He stopped his frantic turning, instinctively facing onward.

He started away, not at the pace of a pack but slowly, without the intent that comes tracking the hunt but full of this feeling, new yet familiar. A teeth feeling, like the rending of the kill, like being pulled both onward and back. From ahead came the sound of small prey, starting-stopping disturbance of the bracken, but then the rare voice of the prey itself – high chirps of panic. He approached without haste, saw the flurry of its departure through the undergrowth, then saw what it left behind.

Frozen before him crouched the smallest of young prey, too terrified to follow its mother, abandoned at the last only when approaching death became certain. Now it sought to hide behind stillness, too new in the world to know that this was not enough. He had taken such before and would have done so again without hesitation, but now he looked upon the young and felt no hunger. Only the pull of teeth not his own.

The old wolf moved closer, the scent of fear high and powerful, until his shadow lay over the young prey and still it did not flee. He nudged it with his nose and it fell on its side as if stunned, chest fluttering, one unblinking eye staring widely up at him. He looked up, around, seeing and hearing only the forest. Then he opened his jaws and scooped up the young, felt the furious beating of its heart. And he ran.

He ran in pursuit of the young’s mother as if he was with the pack again, with the abandon that only comes when the kill is certain. Even when she could no longer be ahead he ran on, the taste of fur soft in his mouth. The sun swept high then low but still he ran, and when the moon rose and he felt his burden fall asleep on his tongue he ran through the darkness until the dawn, until his legs failed and he fell, heavily and deep. He slept and did not dream.

When the old wolf awoke the sun was gone; so too his tiny burden. The dark of night was all around, except for the round moon high above. Despite his long rest he was weary, more so than ever before in his life, too weak to search for the young prey or carry it onward. So instead he waited, waited for the moon to turn and look down at him, waited for the deeper dark to open its jaws and scoop him up and carry him on.
Noumenon is offline   Reply With Quote

Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
running on MT : A Short Story - by amner amner Features 9 1st Dec 2011 20:35
Small Wonder short story festival wshaw General Chat 5 12th Sep 2011 16:23
The Vampire in the Attic - audio short story Flutty Book Reviews 0 12th Jan 2006 13:41
100 - a short story, part 1 - by amner Palimpsest_Features Features 0 28th May 2003 13:44
100 - a short story, part 2 - by Norman Clature Palimpsest_Features Features 0 28th May 2003 13:40

All times are GMT +1. The time now is 20:48.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.