Dedicated to the Memory of my father, Albert Chester Burhoe, avid backwoodsman — rifleman in the Algonquin Regiment, Canadian Army in Holland — and wounded POW in Stalag XIB, Fallingbostel, Northern Germany — he served King and Country, asking no reward. He taught me the value of Freedom. NE-KAH-NE-TAH.
A Northwestern Short Story by Brian Alan Burhoe
The lone gray wolf padded through the firwoods.
He stopped to sniff at a patch of icy snow in the long shadows, or rather the brown pellets that speckled it. His stomach gurgled. Rabbit! He had eaten well of rabbit since he had entered this valley. Soon he would eat again.
Good hunting and the discovering of new territory hid some of the young wolf’s loneliness. He missed his pack, especially his littermates. It wasn’t that he had been singled out for exile. The many growing pups born last spring had made the pack too big this new spring. Hunger and discord had driven him out — perhaps to create a new pack.
At times he yearned to go back. To howl his feelings to his distant pack. To hear their welcoming chorus. But he knew better. They were gone.
Other times he had sung his loneliness in answer to strange pack calls but heard no welcome in their replies.
A few days after entering this valley he had stopped howling completely. Nobody howled back.
Through this day, he had been accompanied by some ravens, dark companions following him noisily from above, watching for their share in a kill he might make. Now they had gone with the fading daylight and he missed their company.
Marking the snow patch with a squirt of urine, he searched about for fresher spoor. The only sounds were the patter of his paws on the leaf mould, the whisper of a faint wind in the evergreens, the splashing river off to his side, a few frogs beginning their nightsongs. He sniffed the air then dipped his head to muzzle the moist ground. He cast about through the rich aromas of rotting vegetation, mushrooms, sprouting greenery. Foosh! He had caught the hot scent of bigger game — deer!
The wolf scurried about, snuffing noisily. He stopped and stood rock-still, ears cocked for deer-sound, eyes searching the quickly darkening forest, sensitive foot pads feeling the ground for the solid thump of hoof. Deer! He was shaking with excitement. He dropped a scat, sniffed its rabbity odor. Deer! His mouth watered.
And then a new scent struck him. He almost fell back on his haunches. A new scent — a strange but familiar scent that made the savage wolf whimper.
Johnny Akumi saw the wolf enter the moonlit clearing and smiled. He knew of the approaching wolf from the earlier raven calls and later shifting silences in the riverside frog chorus.
Johnny was a patient man, being of the Tikah people. He had not moved much in his cramped tree shack and did not move now. His old HBC musket was already in place and pointing down.
Ah, it was a big animal, full grown. Tall at the shoulder. A broad, intelligent face. Coat thick, dense and pure gray, darker around the head and back. Two years old, maybe three. It carried itself with the mixed ease and uncertainty of a young adult male.
The wolf entered the clearing stiff-legged. Its slanted gold eyes swept the area, looked up at the tree shack, seemed to gaze straight into Johnny’s eyes. But it was only instinct that made the wolf look his way. Johnny was hidden in shadow. When the night breezes stirred, they wandered toward the river where the animal had come from — but those breezes were cold and lazy, carrying little scent this high from the ground. It had been three days since Johnny had been on the ground in the clearing. And the fresh sap-smell from the fir and spruce of his rough hut would mask his man-scent now.
The wolf lost its caution. And turned its attention to Shossa.
Shossa was Johnny’s best lead dog. A powerful Ungava husky, cunning, cruel, her master’s dog. At two and a half years of age, she was almost as big as the wolf. She had forelegs heavily boned and muscled. Powerful thighs and hind legs. Her head was as broad as a wolf’s, with a white face and black mask around her bright blue eyes. She was chained now in the middle of the clearing. She had been there three days and the ground around her was strong with the blood-spotted urine of a bitch in heat.
Shossa didn’t cringe. She growled, her hackles raised. Good. A wolf would have killed a terrified dog outright. When the wolf crept closer, ears alert, bushy tail wagging, she growled savagely. At that moment she would have gone for its throat.
The trapper moved his musket just a fraction to cover the wolf.
Grinning, the timber wolf sat down.
The husky approached the stranger until she came to the end of her chain. She curled her white plumed tail over her back and wagged it. She barked once, whined.
The wolf stood up and when they sniffed noses, Johnny relaxed and watched the courtship. He had done this before. It was common practice among the People. To tie out a bitch in heat and add wolfblood to their dog teams. Shossa, he would keep this spring in the village. Maybe the Sergeant would like that. The Mounted Police complained every summer when the Tikah put their sled dogs on river islands to fend for themselves. What was wrong with that? Come winter, the toughest were always alive to pull the sleds.
And they would be all the stronger with new wolfblood in the pups.
The male and female courted through the night and when dawn was a scarlet belt beyond the coal-black conifers, the wolf made to leave. When Shossa came once more to the end of her chain, the wolf sniffed at the iron links. He pawed the chain. Bit at it. Shook it violently in his muzzle. And when he understood that Shossa was a prisoner in the clearing, the wolf was gone.
The gray wolf came back next evening. He carried something in his mouth — a limp snowshoe rabbit — and dropped it at Shossa’s feet. The husky fell on it with ravenous ferocity while the wolf sat watching, grinning.
The courtship continued.
Ever the patient man, Johnny scarcely stirred in his tree shack. Pulling his fringed buckskin coat about him for warmth, he watched until dawn came and the wolf again tore uselessly at the chain. You want her to go with you, don’t you, Maheeshtan? But Shossa is her master’s dog.
The trapper watched the wolf leave. He would let them mate one last time tonight. He allowed three couplings to ensure pregnancy.
Dogs, of course, were promiscuous. She would leave with her master and not pine for the male.
Wolves, however, mated for life. This Maheeshtan would not give up Shossa. He would search her out.
After the animals had coupled tonight, Johnny would kill the wolf.
The wolf brought a meal to her again. Just a bushy-tailed red squirrel this time. Game was getting scarcer.
Johnny waited. Despite some cautious exercise through the day, and tending to food and elimination, his legs were beginning to cramp on him. And though, in the way of his people, he had taken many light naps, always aware of the living forest around him, deeper sleep had snared him once or twice. Pagh! He was becoming an old man.
But the whelps that he would get from Shossa would make him the envy of the village. Those whelps would be big, inquisitive. And stubborn, of course. The wolfblood would make them that. Beatings with whip and club would finish that, too. The North-West Mounted Police would chastise him again. Do not treat your animals so cruelly, they would say. Hah! What did they know? He had beaten Shossa until her coat was red with blood. Yet she was his best dog.
The trapper jumped, realized that sleep had caught him, that dawn had snuck up on him. And — the wolf was gone.
Shossa lay alone in the misty clearing. Her head rested forlornly on her front paws.
Johnny cursed in the white man’s tongue. The wolf should not have left so soon. He waited. But Maheeshtan didn’t return. When the sun was up, he stretched in the shack, snatched up his musket and climbed down to the ground.
Shossa cocked her ears at him. Otherwise she didn’t stir.
“Hai, Shossa, get up.” Shifting his musket to his left hand, he reached down with his free hand and unfastened the damp chain from the stake, scooped up lengths of it every few feet and unclipped it from around her neck. She didn’t move, only whined. Johnny kicked her in the ribs. “Wicewin!” Reluctantly, she rose.
He would have to use the chain as a leash, then. She would be staked outside his cabin and when Maheeshtan came to claim his mate, the trapper would be waiting with his musket. He flung the chain over her back and reached down with his empty hand to clip it together to make a collar…
The smell of freshly killed rabbit filled the wolf’s nostrils as he rushed for the clearing.
The memory of the feel and smell of his mate’s starvation tormented him and he wanted to bring her more than this. He couldn’t understand why she was trapped in the clearing. He hated the hard snake-thing that held her there.
He was in the clearing and on them before he realized that she was not alone.
A strange creature stood over her on its hind legs like a starved bear. The creature was covered in old deer skins. The creature had the putrid smell he had detected faintly on his mate and on the snake-thing that tied her to the ground.
The wolf dropped the rabbit to growl at the figure that held his mate.
This creature — he sensed that this was what had been watching them from the big nest in the tree — made startled growlings and let go of his mate to swing up something in its other paw.
The husky saw the wolf. She yelped in excitement and ran to join him. Her ears back, she yipped in joy and bumped her eager muzzle against his. She licked his mouth and he took her muzzle in his teeth in loving greeting.
“Shossa!” The creature was growling something to her. The sounds meant nothing to the wolf.
His mate whined. She turned her head and looked back at the creature as if it were a pack mate. When it spoke again, sharply, demanding, she slowly left the wolf’s side and walked back over to it, ears flattened, head down, tail down.
The wolf felt alone.
The creature lifted the long stick-like thing in its arms and pointed it at him. The wolf looked into the dark hole at the end of the thing and shivered.
His mate was frightened. She barked loudly at the creature and butted its leg with her shoulder. The creature was knocked sideways. Snarling, it kicked back at her.
The wolf raged. He sprang at the creature. He wanted to tear out its hot throat. They fell to the hard ground together. There was a sudden great thunder and flash of fire.
“Yiii!” The wolf jumped away.
The strange thunder hopped away through the trees. Wings of smoke stinking of rotten eggs drifted around them, then chased the thunder. There was a hissing in the wolf’s ears.
The putrid-smelling creature was sitting up, making sharp sounds at him, scrambling with a paw to pick up the stick-thing that had made the awful thunder.
His mate barked, ran toward him, took a nip at his shoulder, then rushed past him. She was free! The cold snake that had kept her tied to the clearing lay curled and lifeless on the ground — its grasp empty.
Spinning, the wolf followed her.
They ran in terror, in freedom, eyes wide, tails out behind them.
They ran together, side by side, until they came to the river.
They stopped, lapped the water noisily, sniffed one another, licked one another. For a short time, they fell to the dank ground and panted happily.
Then the gray wolf and his mate stood up, stretched, yawned, and loped off into the firwoods.
NOTE: The basic concepts of this story in the Jack London Tradition came out of yarns my father told me about the Northern Cree trappers he proudly served with in the Algonquin Regiment (Johnny Akumi is not Cree but Tikah).
And by stories written by Sir Charles G D Roberts, Jack London, Grey Owl, Ernest Thompson Seton, George Marsh and Farley Mowat (NEVER CRY WOLF), not to forget the great pulp fiction stories of writers like James Oliver Curwood and Samuel Alexander White.
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The story “WOLFBLOOD” and accompanying written material on this page copyright © by Brian Alan Burhoe
==>> To see links to my published Fiction, go to THE LIFE AND WORKS OF BRIAN ALAN BURHOE Right Here, Mon Ami!
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“WOW! This is a TRUE LOVE STORY — with wolves. LOVE it! Happy ending too!” – MiA @MiAKittyGirl
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“GREAT SHORT STORY! DOES REMIND ME OF CALL OF THE WILD, WHITE FANG… I WONDER HOW THOSE BEBÉS GREW UP WITH THE DOG MAMA AND WOLF PAPA?” – Evelyn @evelyn_m_k
“CIVILIZED BEARS: THAT WAS QUITE A STORY. EXCELLENT!” – A. R. Warrior @AAllen69
What are Ungava huskies? Keyword Meanings: Maheeshtan, Ungava huskies, HBC musket, wolf dogs
WOLFBLOOD: Northwestern Fiction in the Jack London Tradition
Keywords: Algonquin Regiment, Civilized Bears, James B Hendryx, Never Cry Wolf, Pulp Fiction, Wolf Dogs
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