Middle School Winner
Frosted leaves glitter with a thousand faces, reflected the features of men treading by, guns in hand. They each had dark eyes and sideburns that led to mustaches and beards. One among them was younger- twelve, perhaps- and female, with silky raven locks flowing loose above eyes bluer than the pale winter sky. Her face was splashed with light freckles, her neck graceful and her posture proud. A fur jacket hugged her torso; she carried a rifle and held it with an uplifted chin that spoke clearly of her experience with it.
Ringing through the mist-ridden air was the howl of a wolf, echoing like some sad song riding on the eagle’s forlorn wing. All the men looked up, faces brightening in anticipation. The girl smiled; wolf was her favorite prey. He fought like a soldier, ran like a mustang and died honorably, snapping until the last minute. They began to pick up the pace, dogs that had been loping far and wide tracing the scents of prey that escaped them at every turn began to group up and throw up yips and barks in excitement, shaggy brown and black pelts ruffled in shields against the cold.
“Come,” A man said gruffly, and broke into a jog beside the others, but the girl hesitated, looking back the way she had come. South, ground that had already been trekked, was marred by the footprints of man, while to the north was the pearly expanse of land broken by tall, icy trees where wolf would be hiding. Among all the animals in the high, remote forests of Canada, Canis lupus was her favorite, for his endurance and cunning was unmatched by even the fiercest lynx. She shook her head, bringing herself back to the task and sprinted ahead of the others, nearly matching pace with the yowling dogs. Suddenly the girl stopped, tears touching her eyes.
A young wolf that could barely be considered a yearling stood, shivering in the thin, stark white clothing of his fur that outlined nearly every bone in his body. Blazing yellow eyes widened in fear as the dogs leaped forward, but the girl, consumed with a foreign and irrefutable protective instinct, pulled out her club from a leather strap over her shoulder and beat the larger animals away, yelling obscenities. Moments later the adults arrive, staring in surprise at the girl standing over the skinny creature with eyes like cold fire.
All night she had labored to make the small fence and shelter, but the animal only tried to escape it. Once he grew, she knew, he would free himself. For now, he gulped down the meager piece of food she gave him. Knowing it was not enough and that nobody would miss a woman like her, she bounded into the trees like an elk. As it so happened, she came back with one as well, several hours later when the moon smiled down at the quiet wild with its necklace of glittering stars. She dragged it by the hind legs, the yearling fairly easy to carry, and heaved it over the wolf’s fence. As he looked at her, almost surprised, she dipped her head and grinned. Reassured, the creature tore into the steaming meat, red soon staining the misty fur. He barely noticed the cautious hand hovering mere inches above his pelt, trembling, but he didn’t care enough to move.
“Eat well my friend, and build your strength,” She whispered, finally pulling away. He tilted his head slightly as if contemplating the words. Finally he lifted his lips and backed away, tail stiff and hackles raised like a porcupine’s hide. She laughed and hopped back over the barrier. “Goodnight, little brother!” Her voice sang out, the echo remaining even as she went inside.
Each day she hunted for him. Within a fortnight his muscles had revived, his fur shone like the moon, and his temper became stronger than ever around men. When the girl approached one day, though, he merely tilted his chin up proudly. Not a muscle moved as she dropped her kill, and the girl’s joy at this was apparent. His ears twitched and he wagged his tail-slightly. The girl smiled so wide her cheeks hurt.
A month later, a white blur, tinged with silvery grey and black, bounded away from a log cabin that radiated heat from man’s fires. Finally free, the young wolf sent up a howl of victory. He had his liberty once more, for the girl had set him loose. After a moment he paused, though, and looked back. An almost wistful look came upon him as he laid golden eyes on her. Though his soul and being was wild, he felt a tugging in his heart as he heard her voice on a breeze as sad as the voice it carried.
“Goodbye, my fierce friend, and good luck!” The human waved her hand in the air, and the wolf whimpered with a strange affection for her. He growled, turning away from the human. And yet he hesitated. The wolf snarled again as if chastising himself and tore away from the forest’s edge, leaping toward the building. He stopped, not five feet away from her, and sat down proudly. A long muzzle pointed toward the air and parted in a howl that told of the hardships and victories of his time, of the freedom in the hunt and pack but also of the hunger and hatred. And as he called to the spirits of his ancestors, to the hawk soaring above the cliff and to the bear in his winter den, the girl’s cheeks dampened, trails of tears marring the smooth skin. Finally, finally when he was spent and his throat seemed to crack with dryness, he stopped and regarded the girl. She watched him quietly and crouched down so that they looked at each other as equals. And he licked the girl’s hand, and they were bonded, the tame of man and the wild of wolf.