Palo Alto Weekly 22nd Annual Short Story
Third Place Child
by Langsi Wu
For as long as I remember, I have had dreams and visions of other red wolves, howling in rage and their eyes clouded with anguish and running away from something I couldn’t see. Each time, the dreams would end with a flash of scarlet as red as blood. I would always howl at them to ask them who they were running from, and if I could help them. They would always keep on running like they hadn’t heard me. This time though, it was different. As I pleaded them to tell me what was wrong, one of them, a female, turned to me and looked at me with sorrow and love in her eyes, and then turned and sprinted away again. I felt my heart race. That female wolf looked so familiar; and I didn’t know how, but I knew that wolf was my mother.
I woke when sounds of human feet trampled the ground outside my pen. I jumped up and retreated to the farthest corner. Though I was with these humans for as long I can remember, my instinct told me to beware of them.
I have no memory of the wilderness, or my pack, except for the visions/dreams that I have every so often. Thorn, an old red wolf who lived in the pen next to me, told me that my pack was wiped out by humans who thought they were a threat to the cattle. That would explain why the visions ended with a flash of red: blood. Everyday, humans came and checked on me, and the other red wolves in the area. Nobody knew what the humans were planning to do with us, but Thorn claims they tie something around your neck and set you free, occasionally capturing you again and then setting you free once more. I didn’t know if it was true, but I still feared what the humans planed to do with me. I don’t think they would go through all the trouble feeding me just for the fun of it.
One day, a female red wolf, about the same age as me, joined me. She was tranquilized when she first entered my pen, but soon woke. She looked at me warily, and asked, “Where is this place?”
“I woke up here as a pup,” I answered.” I do not know more of this place than you do, but I know the creatures here do not ill treat us. They feed us, study us, but do not harm us. Where do you come from?”
“I come from a place where us wolves can come and go as we please. We do not have limited space, and we catch food ourselves.”
I listened to all this, astonished.
“How did you end up here then?” I wondered.
She snarled, and replied,
“The creatures that brought me here had sneaked up near midnight. My family and I were sleeping, and even though the wolf on guard howled a warning, we had no chance against the creatures. They shot us, and when we next woke, it was dark. They captured every member of the pack, but released us all back, except for me. I believe it was because I am the only female wolf in my family, excluding my mother, but I imagine they thought she was too old.”
This went on for a while; I telling her about my past and visions, she telling about life before the humans captured her.
* * *
Dusk (that was her name), and I soon became fast friends. She taught me the ways of the wild, like how to stalk prey, and how to greet a wolf higher in rank than you. One day, the humans came in as usual, but instead of leaving, they pointed something at me and Dusk, and everything went dark. When I finally woke, the first thing I noticed was that we were moving and there was something uncomfortable around my neck and I lifted my paw and tried to take it off. When I couldn’t, I tried to make the best of it, and wondered if Thorn was right.
“Dusk?” I asked hesitantly, not sure of what to expect.
“I’m here,” came the snarled reply. “This is how you and I and all the other wolves probably became prisoners.”
The thing that was moving us suddenly screeched to a stop, and Dusk and I retreated to a corner. Light slowly flooded in the blackness, and I growled. To my surprise, no one entered, and soon, my curiosity got better of me. I slowly walked toward the light, with Dusk following me. As I blinked in the sudden sunlight, I gasped in pleasant surprise. Ahead of me were trees, as far as the eye could see. Some of the humans stood to the side, and I wondered if this was a trick. One of the humans showed his teeth, but not in a threatening manner. I suspiciously took a few steps forward, but none of them stopped me. Behind me, Dusk gave a gasp of recognition, and pelted forward. I stared at her in shock , before racing after her. As I followed her, I glanced back to see if the humans would do anything. All of them just showed their teeth, and waved their paws.
* * *
I chased Dusk for many miles, asking her to stop. When she finally did, I scolded her.
“Why did you dash off so fast?”
Her only respond was to point her nose to the left. I sniffed the air. The odor was familiar. I inhaled again and narrowed my eyes as I thought about why the smell was so familiar. Then it hit me. It was the smell that Dusk wore when she first joined me in the pen. This is why Dusk raced off. This was her home, the place she lived before humans came and caught her. I was frightened. I did not have any memories of the wild, except for the visions, and I did not know how to survive in the wild, even with Dusk’s lessons.
“Will your family welcome us?” I wondered.
“I do not know,” she confessed. “It has been many seasons since I last saw them. They might not recognize me.”
“We have no choice do we?” she went on. “Even if I teach you how to survive, a life with just two wolves is full of danger. And even if they do recognize me, they might not take you in.”
She did not say what she’d do if her pack won’t accept me.
I did not know what to say. I was frightened that Dusk’s family would be hostile, but on the other hand, if we lived as lone wolves, we would die before long.
Dusk stepped into the clearly marked territory, and then another. I followed her cautiously, every muscle in my body tensed with fear and readiness. Will Dusk’s kin welcome us? Will they welcome me? And if they didn’t, what would I do?
* * *
After a few miles, two male wolves came into view. They growled at the sight of Dusk and me, and crouched as they readied themselves to spring.
“Russet, Copper, do you not recognize me?” Dusk questioned.
The two wolves narrowed their eyes in suspicion. They remained crouched, but their bristling pelts began to lie flat again.
“Dusk?” one of them asked incredulously. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” Dusked answered.
The second wolf bared his teeth.
“And who’s that with you?”
Dusk beckoned me forward with her tail.
“I met him during the time when I was captured.”
“And why did you bring him here?”
“The humans release us together,” Dusk said defensively. “He has been with the humans since he was a pup; he doesn’t remember anything about the wild. If I left him alone, he would have died. You should have more sympathy, Copper.”
Copper growled, but said nothing.
“Copper is right, Dusk,” said the other wolf uncomfortably. “What would our father say if your friend here joined us? You know he insists that his family has to be purebred, since so many of our kind are having half-red wolf, half-coyote pups. Are you sure he’s pure bred?”
Dusk twitched her tail in annoyance but remained silent. Throughout the whole argument, I remained quiet. Now I spoke up.
“I won’t join your family if it makes things difficult. Dusk taught me how to survive; I’ll just become a lone wolf.”
Russet looked at me with sympathy in his eyes.
“Let’s see what my father thinks about this first. There might be a chance he’ll allow you to stay.”
Copper let out a snort at this and muttered,
Russet glared at him and led the way to their camp.
* * *
“Who are these wolves?” asked a male wolf as we entered their camp.
He looked commanding, and walked with an air of power. An aged female wolf, though still beautiful, followed him. She paused when she saw Dusk, and sprinted forward to meet her.
“Oh, my daughter has returned,” she cried.
She and Dusk murmured to each other for a minute. Then she looked at me, and said,
“Will you mind leaving my family to discuss this?” she asked.
She murmured something to her husband, and then they went into a den with Copper, Russet, and Dusk. I sat myself down as they discussed my fate.
* * *
I knew the answer as soon as the family exited. Copper looked smug, and Dusk’s father looked triumphant. Dusk and her mother look angry and sad, while Russet looked neutral, battered by his loyalty to his father and sympathy to me.
Dusk came to me, and said simply,
“I’m sorry. Mother and I tried our best to change his mind. He would have taken you in if he was certain that you were pure.”
I shook my head, trying to clear the thoughts from my head. What should I do now? How will I live?
“It’s fine,” I managed to choke out. “Well…I’ll just leave now.”
She looked at me with a sparkle in her eye.
“I’ll be leaving, too,” she said.
I opened my mouth to reply, but Copper beat me.
“What? You can’t abandon us, and you just came back!”
The rest of the family gathered around, dumbfounded.
Dusk lifted her head, and said clearly and calmly, with no hesitation,
“I can take care of myself now. I’m looking forward of making my own pack, and I’ve always wanted to go out and explore. I’ll always remember what you taught me, but it’s time I go my own way.”
The rest of the family was speechless, and they looked at their leader for his reaction at this unexpected announcement.
He was silent for a moment, but stretched his neck forward so it was on top of Dusk’s head.
“I give you my approval. You can take care of yourself, and I can give you nothing except a father’s blessing.”
Everyone was taken back but went forward to wish Dusk good luck.
“Sleep here tonight, so you can have the next day to explore,” urged her mother.
And that’s exactly what we did.
In the long tradition of wilderness writing, this young author has
beautifully rendered a red wolf's point of view in a tense drama with
real emotion. And the various wolves in the pack are presented as
individual, well-differentiated characters -- a feat deserving of