by Ben Goodridge
©2009 Ben Goodridge
Im more comfortable outside than inside. Im more comfortable in the wild than in a house. And the fewer clothes I wear, the more comfortable I am. So of course Im now sîtting inside, wearing a smart suit with a waistcoat and cravat, in the manor house on Morgans Island.
The study hadnt changed. Morgan had brought with him every knickknack he could collect from his estate grounds back in England, and the Victorian furniture was polished and bright. He didnt lack for servants, did Morgan; they glided around in their strategic orbits, wearing black suits and polished shoes, with holes in the backs of their trousers for their tails. They brought drinks and sweets, they whisked away empty plates and empty glasses, they swept feather dusters over the furniture, they rearranged the books on the shelves and made minute adjustments to the clocks.
I hadnt seen Morgan for ten years, though he appeared to have aged about thirty. He was old now, and feeble, and walked as if made of glass. He smelled like iced tea, and wine, and bad medicine. His hair was white, and his hands trembled. Though my heart went out to him, I was careful to keep it shielded against him, because I felt sure he would try to find a way into it again. Id grown too much and come too far.
Little Fox, he said to me, you came back.
I had to. This was once my home, and youre still my family.
He smiled. I didnt remember his lips being so thin. My brother the Colonel tells me youre impossible to control. He says that you flee the grounds of the estate for days at a time without so much as a note. In truth, hes despaired of ever providing you with a decent education. But now that I see you again all I can feel is the love.
You sent me away, I replied. When I became more of a burden than you wanted.
He raised a wagging finger. You were pollution, Little Fox. You confused our people. You confused the Colony.
I was ten, I said. What does a ten-year-old know?
I folded my arms. I was right.
Really? You were safe here. You had all you needed. Even after what happened with school, even after everything the others did to you, you still think you were right?
I was right, I said. Id rather have it like this.
So be it, said Morgan. And now youre back. Id imagine that youd begin to pollute the Colony again.
I came back to see you.
And pollute the Colony, said Morgan, whether you intend it or not. He shook his head a bit, and lit a cigarette with trembling hands. I should like to ask you to join us again, to become part of our family but I know that wont ever happen. The only other thing I could ask is for you to avoid the others in the Colony, and not bring to them your ideas of what the world should be. The world is as it is, and Ive done all I can to prepare my people for it. Now that its my turn to go, I would ask that you separate yourself from them, so their course will not change. He shook his head. And I know I cant ask you to do that, either. So all I can do is watch, and pray that when I am gone, some vestige of what Ive built will survive after youve passed through.
Master, said one of the Rottweillers standing near the door, its time for your medicine. Then you have to sleep.
Its only seven, said Morgan. Tchah! Very well. See to it that Little Fox has a room, though I feel sure hed prefer to sleep in a tree somewhere.
One is prepared, Master, said the Rottweiller. He reached out a paw. Come on, Little Fox, Ill show you.
Is he comfortable? I said, as we walked towards the suites.
Oh, yes, said the Rottweiller. Hes in no pain, and his spirits are good. He wasnt eager to talk, and I couldnt blame him. The doctor says he can have a glass of wine with dinner, and makes sure he goes to bed at a decent hour.
I sniffed. Are you wearing perfume? I said, curious.
He glanced at me. Cologne, he said. Maybe a little pomade. His hair was trimmed short and slicked back, a civilized contrast to my own long, wild locks. His fur was so slick that I could practically see my reflection in it. One could have shaved with the crease in his trousers. He cleared his throat, mindful of my examination. Ill bring you a supper tray, if you like. Weve carved an excellent roast, and weve already opened some of the Masters wine.
I wont need a supper. Ill be hunting tonight.
I dont think that would be a very good idea, Master Little Fox. It doesnt sound healthy.
Im sorry if it disappoints the kitchen, but the Master would appreciate the principle, even if he didnt agree with the diet. That was a lieMorgan had never approved of my principles, and hed always taken the opportunity to tell me so in his letters and in person. Im sure hed love to hear that Id eaten Colony food for supper. I sat down at the desk to compose a letter for my guardians back at the Estate, and the Rottweiller shrugged, bowed, and left.
I shed layer upon layer of clothes with increasing relief. The bed had a canopy over it, which just added insult to injury. I went to the dresser, pulled out a couple of shirts, and tied their sleeves around my waist. I figured the sparse coverage would be sufficient concession to modesty without strangling me alive.
My station on Morgans Island was a difficult one. The place had been founded around 1870 with the best of intentions: Namely, keeping my kind safe from human bigotry and hatred. So the man I called Morgan, and my people called Master, had his first generation of settlers build a small colony that became a community, complete with shops, a school, and a small white church. We stayed near the village or the Manor, since the wild animals that prowled the jungles wouldnt come near either.
The Colony was not walled; it was mere custom that kept us exiled from the lands without. That sounded like an invitation to the adventurous seven-year-old I was, and I often spread panic and terror throughout the village by disappearing into the forests to explore. I discovered sparkling lagoons, shining rivers, teeming jungles, a magnificent mountain with its peak in the clouds, a sand beach stretching around half the island, and groves of coconut and pineapple trees and date palms, planted by sailors over a century before.
It puzzled me even then. If the hazards of civilization were so great my people must needs flee them to keep safe, why had we worked so hard to resurrect that same civilization on these shores? And why should we regard the rest of the island was a trackless wasteland? Morgans Island was so much more than just our little corner of it that I wondered how anyone ever stayed put. Therefore, I started hunting rabbits, which had also arrived on the island on a trade ship.
I chased the rabbits even when I was a tiny pup, though I was eight before I caught one, and wondered what in the world to do with it. As it happened, I was hungry from the chase, and instinct took over. The screams of my parents when I returned to the village were mortifying; they thought the blood soaking my fur was my own. When they discovered what I had done, they sent me straight to the Islands physician, who gave me a purgative.
Still, I was addicted. There was a time before my exile when I was eating more rabbits than regular food. They made me feel strong. I got away with it for a long, long time. I found hunting to be easier when I wore fewer clothes. My parents were pleased that I was keeping so clean, but my scrubbing was just to minimize my scent. I dont even remember when other boys started following me into the forests.
It was a beautiful few months. We swam in the lagoons and wrestled in the mud when it rained. We grew sleek on fruits and nuts and what animals we could catch. We ate frogs, cicadas, grasshoppers, fishanything we could catch. We gathered around campfires to tell each other lies, and napped away the lazy Sundays when we should have been in church.
It couldnt last because a father buttonholed his son at one point and forced the truth out of him. Ill never know who betrayed us, and Im pleased not to know, since I understood the betrayal well and how our code of secrecy was so vital to our plans that it was our undoing. There were grave discussions, solemn councils, and a great deal of discipline for many of the pups involved.
For my part, I spent a week locked in my room with iron bars on the window.
It wasnt the end of my love of wild things, heavens no! Rather, it was but the beginning. For reasons unknown, those in the village feared me. I didnt see it at the time, but I was living the beginnings of a life outside the stratified layers of our civilized community. I had no need for school, or church, or to learn a trade, except for their sake rather than mine. They feared me because I had freedom they dared not claim for themselves. No ordinary discipline would deal with my transgressions.
So at length, I was transported across the sea to the estate of Morgans elder brother, a former infantryman, to live under his militaristic discipline. It was a tremendous mistake, were their intention to put a leash on my proclivities. For although the Colonels estate might lie at the heart of civilized country, it was nevertheless in the middle of a vast hunting ground, which enabled me to add quail, pheasant, partridge, and even deer to my diet. As well, Morgans brother ruled the estate with an iron fist and was too willing to use the back of his hand when he felt his charges werent sufficiently disciplined. After some merciless beatings, I felt it advisable to ensure my façade was as opaque as possible before resuming my nocturnal wanderings and my extracurricular snacks.
It wasnt all bad. I experienced winter for the first time, and was pleased to find my fur equal to the climate. The Colonels other children were four strapping boys, the youngest two years my senior. One by one, they went off to the military academy where my people were not allowed to go. However, I did receive an excellent education at the hands of the Colonels tutors. I learned a great deal about literature and art, as well as science, and showed some burgeoning interest in medicine. I felt there must be a way to keep the wild and the civilized in some sort of balance, to use the one to improve the condition of the other. I was a good pup; I shined in class and always kept my quarters tidy, while at the same time, I also let my hair grow long and often slipped out of the upstairs window sans clothing to hunt turkeys in the snow.
Still, its debatable whether Id have stayed wild had the Colonel not employed an elderly Wolf as assistant gardener. Kaybrock was his name; hed lived wild for a long time before age and need drove him to earn his living in the civilized manner, and he was the only person in my new world who encouraged me to stay wild, to always keep one paw reaching for freedom. One day itll be my pleasure to write down all he taught me.
I had been ten years on the estate, enduring the beatings of the Colonel while nipping out to the hunting grounds for my pleasure, apprenticed to the beloved gardener, when the letter arrived from the Colony. The Master was illa massive coronary had swept away the better part of his health, and no one knew how much time remained. And in his final days, he was eager to connect with the lost sheep of his flock. Thus did I return to the island, on my guard and honor
The Rottweiller footman returned with a dinner tray, his presence disrupting my ruminations; he bowed, then left without a word. I looked over the fare without enthusiasmmeat so spiced as to be tasteless, broiled black, and a massive heap of mixed vegetables. It was inedible. In this so-called meal, I recognized a challenge: Eat the food. Show youre not lost to us. Show an old man hope.
I opened the window and dropped down into the garden. Then I slipped across the rear courtyard, over the hedge, and into the forests.
The air was hot and heavy, like a wet woolen blanket. Id missed its leaden humidity.
The jungle was nearly impenetrable here. I skirted some tangled, thorny shrubbery, and scampered up a tree, trying to get my bearings. It had been a long time.
Still, now I could see the mountain, and I dropped down to the ground and started towards it. I had to crawl in places, as vines and branches lashed my arms. At times it seemed that it was as if the jungle would tie me down, as if it was reaching for me, challenging me to crawl deeper. I was also two feet taller than the last time Id scrambled through the undergrowth, and found myself pinioned more than once.
The growth did thin enough to allow easier passage inside of a quarter mile, and I moved with a silence Id never achieved before meeting Kaybrock. Memories piled upon memories as the dark, wet smell of the forest summoned them: Rabbit trailocelot trailboar trail. I spread out full length on the ground and rested my cheek against this last one. Id hunted a boar once. I was young and foolish; I caught nothing but a severe collection of bruises, and I had to think up excuses for the next few days for my tender walk and slow movements. I wondered if I could catch a boar now
Then, of a suddenness, I realized: I was the biggest predator on the island! I was at least a match for all the animals my Master had warned me about as a child. Best of all, I was hungry.
I hunted for a while. Not the boarI didnt feel quite up to catching one. Just rabbits. Kaybrock was always very impressed with my hunting style, and his teachings put a spin on it that my people might have found curious. I hunt the way a fox hunts, almost; a silent, slinking creep, but with heavy wolfish influences, like the long chase and the ability to occasionally take larger game. It took me but half an hour to catch two lively rabbits, which I tied to my sleeves and chose to eat at the river. It was a silly, romantic conceit. Walking around with meat on me was sure to interest any other local predators, who were even more likely to be at the river, where the water was fresh and clean.
I could smell the water before I heard it, and hear it before I could see it, and I approached the base of the waterfall with the feeling that I was not alone. I chose to slinkno one is as silent as a Fox who wishes to be silentand approached the lagoon with one paw on my prey, and the other brushing aside the leaves before my face.
Two of my people swam in the river.
They played in the water for a while, and then the female said something to the male, something drowned out by the waterfall. Then she was gone, following the river back towards the village. It would be a long walk for her, since the river twisted and turned before it reached the mill. The male climbed out and shook down, watching her go.
Then I recognized the male: Hed been one of those willing to follow me into the forests as a child! And now, here he was as a grown Wolf, tall and reedy and skinny as two sticks. His name was Dover, and I would recognize the smell of him anywhere, even as an adult. I stepped from the bushes and said, Dover?
He looked up, looking ready to jump back into the river. Who are you? he said, scrambling backwards. What do you want?
Its me, I said, reaching out a paw. Little Fox.
He stared at me for a moment, then grasped my paw and held it. I yanked him off the ground, and he threw his arms around me and hugged me tight. Little Fox! he said. Dear God, Id heard you were back on the island, but theyd prohibited any of us from seeing you!
Your Master invited me back, I said. We sat down by the lagoon. I couldnt say no. Not now.
I know, said Dover. Its a terrible thing. Its like losing our father. He reached up and touched my face. Look at you now. And your hair! Dont they have barbers in England?
None willing to hold me down long enough, I said, taking one of the rabbits off my sleeve. Lunch?
He shook his head. I havent eaten raw meat in... gosh, I dont know how long. Times have changed, Little Fox. Many of our old skulk dont sneak into the forests anymore. None of us hunt. When you were taken, it was as if the wilderness was taken from us as well.
Madness, I said. We were strongyou were strong. You know we werent meant to live the way he wanted us to live.
Maybe, he said. Maybe not. Its all we know, Little Fox. Its all you knew, too. I never understood where you got the courage.
Yet youre here, in the woods, now, I said, offering him the rabbit again.
He took it. I never could let it go. He buried his muzzle in the rabbits skin and sniffed. Ive missed this, he said, starting to feed.
Maybe losing our Master is an opportunity, I said.
He looked at me, his cheeks bulging.
Maybe we have the chance to lead our people out of the village and into the forests. We learned. They can learn, too.
He shook his head and swallowed. Most of them would never go, he said. Theyll continue to be good little humans, and go to their good little schools and their good little church, and patronize their good little shops and work their good little farms, as if the rest of the island was all desert.
Would you go?
He sighed. Hed savaged the rabbit well, I noted. Im not ten anymore, he said. Back then, I would have said yes in a minute. Sure, lets flee to the other side of the mountain and form a tribe, build fires and sing songs and hunt birds in the trees. But now? It sounds like a childs dream. No books to read? No shelter from the rain? No tobacco to smoke, no music to listen to, no lamps and no gas to light them? No medicine? Good God, no sanitary facilities? If the conditions didnt kill us, wed go mad!
Without the Master, there wont be any restraints on you. You dont have to abandon the village and march straight into the forests the day after his funeral. You can take your time. Find your own way. Learn to live with the best of both worlds.
And you have, I suppose?
I grinned. Its not so easy back in the civilized world, I said. Indulging my better half tends to involve hiding.
When the Master is gone, the prohibition against you will also be gone, said Dover. Only our own Council will lead us then, and I doubt theyll renew it.
Oh so? The Council doesnt think Ill poison the minds of your tidy little society?
He shrugged. If you do, theyll deal with that as it happens. But honestly, theyre not going to cast a brother to the waves again. Not the Masters favorite. He stood up. Thanks for the kill. I must go, or Ill be missed. So will you.
Ill stay a while, I said. Maybe have a swim.
Dont stay long. I smell rain.
I grinned. Rain couldnt hurt me. He left the lagoon, far from quietly. Someone had to refresh his memory concerning how to move with stealth.
The rain started near midnight just as I was burying the bones. It was strong and steady, and soaked me through the fur. Id always said that if our people could spend just one hour dancing naked in the rain, theyd slough off the bonds of civilization in a heartbeat. And that is exactly what I did for as long as the rain lasted, which left me breathless and exuberant, and I spent the balance of the night exploring all the places I used to go with the skulk.
It may have been around four in the morning when, worn and grubby, I padded through the cornfields, through the mud, towards the barns. I was deliciously tired and ragged. There were lights in the farmhouse. I slid the barn door open, and slipped inside.
The cows in their stalls didnt notice me. They were too acclimatized to the paws of my people to be frightened by one, even one with wild hair and a wilder gleam in his eye. I touched each one on the rump as I passed, as if testing the meat.
How Id hated milking the cows when I lived here! How I hated the cows. It was illogical for any animal to be so stupid, and still have survived the rigors of evolution. They were ugly, they were smelly, and Id cleaned up after them from the time I was seven. The Colonel didnt keep cows, thank the Gods, and not having to put up with these horrible beasts for the last ten years had been a relief.
I heard a door slam, and the clank of milk buckets. Standing just outside the stall, a horrified gape crossing her face, was a young milkmaid carrying a stool and pail. What in the world do you think youre doing here? she cried.
I know you, I said. I know your scent.
Get out of here!
You are familiar, I said, and then I twigged: The last time Id seen this beautiful young woman, she was swimming in the river with Dover.
Yes, Id heard you were back, she snapped. The communitys Wild Child, the exile. I would have thought that your time in England would have done you some good. Put some manners into you, at least. She dropped the milking stool and sat haughtily on it, then went to work.
Im hurt, I said playfully. My manners are impeccable! I was at Marlborough, after all.
She shook her head. You just think youre something special, dont you? she said, not looking up. And you think everyone else should think youre special, too. Well, let me tell you this, Mr. Special: Youre filthy, youre naked, your fur is greasy, your hair is like a nest, youre covered with hay and chaff, youve been romping in the jungles half the night, and you smell.
Come along, I said, acting hurt. Im not that bad, am I? I sat cross-legged in the hay and put my paws behind my head. When I was here, romping through the jungles half the night was our evening social. Whats more, I dont think it ended when I left. Seems to me that some of our people still romp through the jungles on a regular basis. I leaned in. Do you romp through the jungles, beautiful woman?
She stared at me, the tips of her ears turning red. Im sure I dont know what you mean, she said, standing up. She swept past in such a hurry that she had to return for her milk bucket. I helped her carry it as far as the pails, and then helped her pour it in. She didnt need my help, but she didnt shoo me away, either. I took one of the other pails and we went to the next pair of cows in line. Her eartips were still red.
So tell me, I said, hunkering down on the stool and going to work, are you in love with me, or are you just in love with the wild? Is that why you smell the way you do?
For a moment, there was only the hiss-hiss of milk striking the pail. Then she said, You have more wild in you than everyone else in the village. I love Dover because of what you taught him. The whole skulk was crushed when you were taken from them. Some of them harbor quite a measure of anger and resentment against our Master for what he did.
We finished in silence, and carried the pails back to the canister. Will you stay? she said.
I havent decided. There would be opposition to my staying, Im sure. As well, Ive been away from this life for so long, I doubt Ill ever fit into it.
Youve chosen a hard road.
The easy ones arent worth walking. I finished and picked up the bucket. On my way to the canister, I kissed her on top of her head. I could smell her soap, and her hair, and I could smell Dover. I wondered if she kept the scent around to remind her, or if she just hadnt had time for a bath.
I have to get back, she said, emptying her pail. I have school.
Arent you a bit old for school?
I teach, she said, flicking her tail. I saw daylight outside as she walked through the door, and decided that it was time I returned to the manor.
It was a long slog across the jungle back to the manor, unaccustomed as I was to the humidity. I didnt want to bother with the window again, choosing to march straight through the front door as if I did it every day of my life. I am frequently accused of arrogance, and frequently justify the accusation.
The manor house was still a quarter-mile distant when I sensed a fluid shift of movement in the bushes. My instincts sounded the alarm, but it wasnt strong enough. These were my people, my family. The signals were wrong. They were out of proportion.
I barely caught a glimpse of even one of them before someone threw a black bag over my face and cinched the drawstring around my neck. Someone else swung a fist, cuffing my muzzle hard enough to draw blood.
I no longer needed my instincts. Whether my assailants were fighting by any rule-set I was familiar with, I neither knew nor cared. My people are meant to fight to survive, to do anything to stay alive in a combat situation: In short, we fight dirty.
With sight and scent muzzled, I relied on sound and touch, the feel of the air, the sound of footsteps. They telegraphed their swings with primate grunts and could strike only glancing blows, while I swung with my claws outstretched, drawing blood and tearing fabric.
Then one seized my tail and gave it an almighty yank. At the same time, something hard and heavy slammed across my bruised face. The force was enough to dump me in the mud. Before I could even draw breath, I had been kicked across the muzzle. Stars exploded in my eyes and the sack was sodden with blood.
Then the beating began.
Once my unknown assailants had me on the defensive, they were merciless. Whatever rules had governed their initial attack were forgotten. They punched and kicked and hit, and then discovered the simple joys of using claws to tear flesh and rend fur. They said little, but as their attack grew more savage, they made low, angry growls and snarls in their throats.
Ive no way of knowing how long it went on, except that I was beyond even fighting before they had finished, and was laying in the road as deadweight before they tired of me.
One rumbled, Thats enough, and then only one person was punching me. He hit hard, whoever he was, drawing back his fist all the way and swinging from his shoulder. I said thats enough.
He still alive?
Good. Someone spat on me. I felt very lightheaded and cold. For all the thrashing I had suffered, what now hurt most of all was a small stone in the roadway, poking into my side.
It was some time before I could move, and I might have been unconscious for part of it. I hooked my fingers under the drawstring and pulled the sack free. I felt sick. The pool of blood I lay in was my own. Breathing hurt. I had broken ribs, huge bruises, abrasions, contusions, lacerations, and who knew what else. I prodded broken teeth with a swollen tongue and felt the sharp, electric pain of it.
I got to my feet slowly, feeling as if bits of me would fall off should I move too fast. The ground was very far away, and the road was no longer straight. I took small, slow steps, weaving like a drunkard. I clutched my arm as if it gave me a specific complaint, but it had no more damage than the rest of me. Twice, I stopped to be sick, but nothing came up.
My blood ran down the door as I rang the bell, and I took care not to lean against the mahogany when it opened. The footman gasped at the sight of me: Little Fox! he cried, and took my arm. There was something in this simple act, in no longer being dependent on my own failing body, that drained my strength from me, and he was holding me up to help me to the sofa and put me down.
I heard voices. Get the Physician. Ill get the Master. Bring hot water, quickly. Then someone was washing me, cleaning the blood from my face and body and exploring the damage done. It was very restful.
Whats happened? What have they done to my Little Fox? It was Morgan, their Master, brought from his own sickbed to visit mine. Oh, my dear Lord. Oh, my God.
The bleeding has stopped, said the physician. He may still have internal damage.
What happened? asked Morgan, his voice thick with horror.
Dont member... I mumbled.
This looks like a beating, Master, said the physician. Im almost afraid to admit that one of our own has assaulted our brother. He stood up. Ive done what I can. If youd like a moment alone...
Yes, please, said Morgan, sitting down heavily. The physician left, and I looked up at my Master with swollen eyes. He appeared iridescent, almost glowing.
I need you to be strong now, he said, gripping my paw. Well take care of you. You dont object to using medicine, right? Then well give you medicine. Whatever my Little Fox wants.
Father stop, I said.
It was hard to say anything. I had to be very conscious of what I was going to say, and then breathe in deep to exhale the words. Talking was fatiguing, and I wanted to rest.
I know you sent them, I said. I know you didnt intend this but you sent them.
Little Fox! Morgan looked shocked. How could you say...
I shook my head. It hurt. I dont know what you intended. Give me a scare, probably. Make me run to my Master as I used to when I was a pup. The physician had given me morphine, and I felt as if I was very far away. You couldnt have wanted them to get carried away But they did. When they started all their hatred of me poured out of them and they couldnt stop. Nothing could stop them.
I just wanted them to bring you to me, said Morgan. That was all I wanted them to do.
I was coming to see you anyway, Morgan I murmured, surrendering to the anodyne. I was coming home.
I fell asleep.
They tell me it was touch-and-go for a few hours, that I came too close to death for anyone to want to face. However, I have the constitution of my people, and a beating that would have killed a human was no match for it. Within two days, I was walking; within a week I was as good as new, or nearly so, what with the bandages covering the deepest scars and a faint, occasional ringing in my ears. I still walked as if I was eighty years old, and running was straight out of the question. I also grew tired easily, and was impatient with my broken body and willed it to heal faster.
I never knew who my assailants wereI hadnt thought to collect their scents from the roadway after my assault. Besides, it wasnt important. The whole village felt the guilt of the crime. Those who visited the main house cast their eyes down when they saw me hobbling past, trying to build my strength. It was rather an irony; fearing the harm I might inflict on their precious community, my assailants had caused far more damage to the social climate than to me.
The healthier I was, the more frail and weak Morgan became, until he no longer left his bed at all. I visited him frequently, hoping that seeing his favorite regain his health would help restore his own. My assault had thrown him into a deep depression, and I couldnt bring him cheer for all the world.
To bolster his spirits, I visited him the day my last bandages came off. I stood before his bed and spun. Look, Morgan! I said. Im free of it!
He smiled, and I realized that in the night he had lost still more of his failing strength. The food next to his bed was untouched. His skin was like paper. It was time.
I sat down in the seat next to his bed and took his hand in my paws. Master, I said.
He opened his eyes a crack and looked at me. My boy, he said kindly.
Im sorry. My stubbornness has done this to you.
No. He shook his head. You were right. You were right about many things. Do you remember why I founded this colony? He coughed. To free you all from the prejudices and cruelties of the people in our homeland. And look at what Ive become More coughing. Im no better than them.
Thats not true, Master, I said. Youve given us skills and powers we never would have had if we were wild. Now we can take those skills, and create a homeland with the best of both worlds.
It wont be easy, said Morgan. The two sides of your existence will always be in conflict.
No road worth walking is easy, I said.
He raised his eyebrows a bit. Who taught you that?
I raised his hand and kissed it. You did, Master, I said.
The nurses were in and out, emptying bedpans and performing dreadful offices I couldnt contemplate. At least I was there when he breathed his last, making sure the last thing he heard was the voice of the one he loved most of all calling him Master.
After he died, there were other duties to perform, all of which I watched through a watery sea of tears. A doctor dispatched a runner to notify the village and ring the church bells. The doctor also served as undertaker, as our tiny island had no morgue, and bound the body for interment. Attendants wheeled in the coffin while I stood there like a lump, moved his body into it, and dogged down the screws. I woke when the pallbearers entered. One of them put his paw on my shoulder. I looked at him, and he said, You were his favorite.
I shouldered the coffin in his place, and led the funeral procession down the long, winding road to the village. It was astonishing that no one on this island had died during the entire existence of the colony; even more astonishing that the first to die would be its Master. The roads were lined with mourners as far as I could see. I could smell the grief and loss.
The load was light for six of my people to carry only a mile, and by the time we wound towards the church, we had a comet-tail of mourners joining the parade. I heard weeping, saw parents hugging their pups, saw the elderly with their paws resting on the shoulders of their progeny. The church, the largest building on the island after the manor house, loomed before us. Its bells pealed. The sound was uplifting, and I felt my heart beat a little faster.
I let go of my burden and ran towards the church. The gesture caused a murmur to sweep through the crowd, but no one stopped me. I took hold of a climbing trellis and scaled the wall, then scrambled up to the peak of the roof. Breathless, I tore off my clothes and flung them to the ground far below me. The crowd gasped. The parade had stopped in its tracks. My pulse grew wilder, my blood hotter.
Hand over hand, I scaled the steeple. My sore bones complained, but I ignored them. The shingles were wooden and old, and they gave my paws splinters. Sweat shone on my fur. The wind caught my hair and waved it like a flag. I stood at the peak of the steeple, hanging onto the crucifix at the top for balance. Every eye in the village was on me.
Tears streaked my face and blew away in the wind as I did justice to the Master with the only gesture I felt was honest and sincere. I mourned Morgan with a howl that rang out to the mountain and back again.
Below me, in the crowd, another howl started. Then another. More howls joined those, and the chorus rang out, honoring the Master the way our people should honor our beloved dead. It would be a lie to say the whole village howled outfewer than half joined the funeral choirbut it was some time before the howls and their echoes faded away.
The pallbearers guided the coffin into the church. I stood on the steeple for a moment more, gazing out across the village, past the Manor House, at the jungle beyond. Then I climbed down to the ground and joined my family.