Friday, 23 August 2013

The Forest Guardian by Taylor Mcinnis Hicks

 

Taylor is a student at Crandall University in Moncton, NB. This is her first published story.






The long flames licked at the brittle pines and cedars like the forked

tongue of a serpent. The fire had become a relentless blaze that devoured the 

heart of the forest with a persistent hunger. It moved along swiftly, greedily 

consuming everything in its path; the leaves cried out as they withered, the bark  

peeled in the heat and the animals fled as their homes were reduced to ash. In  

the aftermath a morbid rain of ash fluttered to the ground in lifeless woe, 

marking the destruction of the woodland. 

In the rubble of the blackened ruins lay a wolf, charred and burnt along  

with husks of trees fallen in the wake of the flame. Grime and soot covered the 

alpha’s once glossy and magnificent pelt, the fur now sparse and frail. Ash was  

combed through his thick ruff, and caked onto his broad chest. Along his  

muzzle the fur was singed, revealing raw, blistered skin. The wolf’s form  

appeared lifeless, yet a faint rise and fall of its chest signified life. A moment 

passed and an eye flickered open; a glassy gaze that gasped in wakefulness. A 

shuddering exhale emitted from his core, stirring up pale dust on the forest  

floor. His mind began to work, rekindling the past events in a vivid display of  

illustrations projected in his mind in an attempt to retrieve an explanation for  

his current state. He struggled to clear his mind, his body laced in pain, his  

mind hazy. Exhaustion grasped his weakened body, dragging him closer to 

infinite slumber. He shut two round eyes and released another shallow,  

quivering breath. He felt a presence nearby. At that moment, self-preservation 

drew him upward and urged him forward, sparking his veins with a new  

inferno. Pushing with feeble legs, straining torn muscles, the old wolf  

attempted to rise to greet his fate. His legs shook like a new-born fawn, 

threatening to give out, but still he bunched his powerful haunches and raised  

his body ever so slightly. However, gravity won out, and he slipped on the loose  

dirt and fell with a padded thud. Once again, struggling to regain his posture,  

he raised his scorched figure, tongue lolling out of his mouth in effort. But  

again, he slipped back down to the ashen ground. The alpha tried once more,  

draining his depleted energy. He pushed off the ground, faltering and  

stumbling, he managed to raise his head, but only to look directly into the eyes 

of his pursuer. And for the last time he fell.  

In the ashen clearing stood a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man in a

charred plaid shirt who restlessly rolled his shoulders. His hair and beard had  

been singed by the heat of the flames, and his face was besmeared by soot and  

grit. He observed the wolf with the patient eyes and rigid form of a hunter  

closing in on its kill. When the wolf slumped back to the ground for the final  

time, he lowered his gun and gazed ahead hungrily, clenching and un-clenching  

his jaw in anticipation. Stalking forward silently, he raised his rifle once more,  

letting his shaking fingers hover over the trigger. As he neared the wolf it  

fixated a single yellow eye on the man, its lip quivering as it weakly bared its  

curved canines. The man pointed the barrel of the gun at the wolf’s head, veins  

and tendons bulging in his neck and temples as his heart pounded on his  

ribcage like a trapped animal. All the while the wolf still stared and snarled,  

paralyzed by his wounds. The man pressed his fingers lightly over the trigger as  

the wolf’s unfaltering gaze bored into him. His eyes were as round and yellow  

as a harvest moon. This animal was a flawless reflection of nature; 

unpredictable, wild and steadfast. The man exhaled slowly and lowered his gun,  

his hands slick with sweat. He walked away a few paces with his hands on his  

hips he kneeled onto the powdery ash, gathering his thoughts. He looked over 

his shoulder at the fallen creature; a once mighty, elusive hunter, now helpless  

and vulnerable to the wrath of a broken man. A pang of sympathy shot  

through him. He would gain no satisfaction in killing this wolf. All along, this is  

not what he wanted. He wanted the creature to fight back. To show blood-lust,  

hostility and rage. Instead it fled from him like a guilty child. Now, lying on the  

ground with a snarl upon its lips, the wolf seemed equivalent to a warrior with a 

blunt sword or broken spear. He had no chance of survival against his  

opponent, yet he will face death undaunted, because it is ingrained in his  

nature. 

The man in the plaid shirt rose to his feet, slung his rifle over his shoulder and gazed at the wolf once more. Still the alpha snarled fiercely, still his gaze burned into him with the intensity of a red-hot poker, but then  something unexpected happened. The wolf blinked, long and slow, the snarl fading from his muzzle, and when he opened his eyes, they glimmered and  swam with an awareness that was nearly human.  

So it seems you do have mercy after all, spoke a strange, echoing voice, tinged with  

notes of pain.  

The man’s eyes widened in astonishment, he whirled around to look behind  

him, but no one was there save for the ash that swirled across the ground in a  

subtle wind. He turned to face every corner of the clearing to the same result.  

“Who’s there?” he called frantically, the corded muscles in his arms flexing as  

he gripped his rifle. 

A low rumbling that sounded oddly like a strained chuckle resonated behind  

him. He turned to look at the fallen wolf, and to his amazement the creature’s  

scorched chest shook with shallow laughter and his eyes gleamed in  

amusement.  

Admittedly, you are not the keenest, but you have the mind of a true warrior; noble, constant,  

and willing to protect that which he loves.  

The man stared at the wolf, his chest heaving as he sucked in deep draughts of  

air to calm himself. “How is this—” 

Possible? 

“But you’re j-just a m-mindless animal...” stuttered the man as he began to back 

away, “A beast!” 

Ah yes, the wolf whispered almost inaudibly, a deep-dwelling sadness creeping  

into his voice.  

But of course, you are plagued by the same narrow mindset as the rest of them.  

“What are you?” the man asked. 

I am an old friend and enemy, I am the wind in the trees and the soil that feeds the roots. I  

am the elusive one, and the protector.  

“But you killed him,” the man accused, pointing a shaking finger at the alpha,  

his voice choked with emotion. “And you knew, you knew what you were  

doing, whatever you are, you’re a murderer, you’re inhuman, you’re a  

monster!” The man shouted, his finger still extended and his eyes bulging in  

rage.  

I do not hunt your people for sport. I do not kill your offspring out of fear. I do not punish  

those who have committed no wrong.  

“But you killed him, my brother….” the man whimpered, streams of  

tears cleared the stains from his muddied face. He covered his face with a large,  

veined hand as a heaving sob emanating from his chest. 



Your brother lives. 

The man remained silent for a long moment before uncovering his face, “how?  

We found his clothes in shreds, his blood, we searched for a body, the wolves,  

you…you….” 

To kill him would not be punishment enough for massacring my kin. We have as much a  

right to live as you, as he has learned.  

“What have you done to him?...” he asked solemnly, his eyes averted, fists  

clenched.  

Nothing to harm him. I have given him a chance to atone for his mistakes. His journey is not 

an easy one. But still, he has changed. Just as you will. 

He raised his deep set eyes and fixated the wolf with a piercing stare. 

 “What do you mean by that?” he questioned, fear and uncertainty marking his  

words. 

It means you are worthy of the responsibility that I will bestow upon you. You sought 

vengeance on me for years because you blamed me for the death of your brother. You  

drove me from my home with fire and destruction, and now you will be the death of me.  But  

in the end, your hate dwindled and you saw a glimpse of truth. That this is not what you  

wanted. 

The man released a pent up sigh, “No, it wasn’t what I wanted…but how am I  

worthy in your eyes? I have done wrong and that is responsibility enough.” 

You have morality. You are not as corrupt as some. Either way, you are the one I have 

Chosen. See it a curse or a gift, you will receive what I will give you.  

And with those words, the wolf went stiff and his eyes became unfocused and 

glassy, and from underneath him a thick carpet of viridian grass speckled with 

wildflowers flowed outward like a ripple in the sea. The man barely had time to 

blink in disbelief before a gust of hot air washed over him and he faded from  

consciousness.
 
 
Next week, visit Bangladesh with me. A young, low lying country with over 400 rivers where if the sea level rose by 1 meter, 10% of the country would be flooded. A peaceful nation with over 142 million inhabitants. Home of the Bishwa Ijtema, the 2nd largest congregation of Muslims in the world, in 2010, five million men gathered to pray for peace.




 

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