Somewhere on his travels, Conroy had found it. The human pup. He had brought it home for lack of a better thing to do with it. He had thought that maybe they could use it to teach their pups to hunt, but when he got home, another thing entirely occurred…
* * *
“Conroy, Conroy! Did you bring anything good? The pups are starving and we… why what’s that?” Mother Wolf asked. “What on earth did you bring a human cub for?”
She pawed it, turning it over.
“Bring it over and it can nurse with Blaze and Cassie.”
“But Atalaya, I had brought it home for the pups to hunt!”
“Well, it will help us someday if we help it!”
Atalaya was a firm believer that if someone helped you, you should repay it, and vice versa. Because of this, many a time had she brought home a motherless cub and nursed it back to health.
“We’ll call the human pup Arcadia, and I will raise it.”
Conroy grumbled and growled at this, but not too loudly because mother wolves are very protective of their cubs, and although Arcadia was not a wolf, Atalaya felt very strongly about
Arcadia crawled over to Atalaya, where she was nursing Blaze and Cassie, burrowed herself between them, and began to suckle. Atalaya chuckled softly and glanced over to where Conroy had stopped growling and was sleeping peacefully.
“You just wait,” she said softly, so as not to wake him. “This one will help us, you’ll see!”
She had no idea how right she was, on that warm summer evening.
* * *
FOUR YEARS LATER
Six-year-old Arcadia sat up quickly. What had woken her up? She looked over to Blaze and Cassie. One little tan bundle of fur told her that Blaze was still asleep, but where was Cassie? Arcadia looked all around the cave, then closer at Blaze, to be sure Cassie wasn’t hiding somewhere. She wasn’t. Cassie was always hiding, or playing, so Arcadia wasn’t worried. She was lonely, though, so she howled the “I’m here, where are you?” howl so Cassie would come back. In almost no time she heard a rustling in the forest, but it was not Cassie who stepped out of the bushes, it was Atalaya and Conroy.
“I see you’ve woken up.” Atalaya nuzzled her human cub.
“It’s a good thing, too,” Conroy added, “It’s time to go to the creek.”
By this time Blaze had begun to stir.
“Mamasha, Babashar,” he yawned, “where’s Cassie?”
If wolves could roll their eyes, Conroy would have been rolling his. He had very little patience for cubs when they weren’t hunting, or sleeping. It was his turn to howl the “I’m here, where are you?” with a little more demand in it than Arcadia had used. It didn’t take very long before they heard the familiar rustling in the bushes. What was unfamiliar was the low growl that accompanied the rustles. Conroy growled back, unsure of what to expect. A dark ball of fur hurtled out of the bushes and landed on Arcadia’s back. Arcadia flailed her arms and legs, but to no avail. It was at times like this that she wished she weren’t so different from the rest of her family. She didn’t like having teeth that no one could feel when she sank them into a neck or an ear. She didn’t like not being able to keep up with even Blaze, the baby of the family. And she especially didn’t like how different she looked and smelled. Going to the creek was the worst, because she could see from her reflection in the water that she wasn’t like any of them. She only had fur on the top of her body, and it was red, not brown, like Blaze’s and Cassie’s. Not even black, like Conroy’s and Atalaya’s. Instead, hers was red, and in her eyes, red was the ugliest color in the world.
Atalaya gently grabbed the neck ruff of Cassie, (for that’s who was on Arcadia’s back) and pried her off Arcadia.
“Let’s go to the creek now,” was all she said, unruffled from Cassie’s entrance.
At the creek, Arcadia was almost able to forget that she wasn’t like the rest of her family. She was having too much fun splashing around with them.
* * *
Arcadia sat up and stretched. After being at the creek, everyone had gotten tired and had drifted off to sleep. She had been sleeping under a large tree, in the shade, but now the sun had moved and was in her eyes. She looked around and found Blaze and Cassie just waking up and squinting because of the bright light. Blaze rolled over.
“Where are Mamasha and Babashar? They were here when we drifted off!”
“Don’t worry, Blaze,” said Cassie, always protective of her younger brother. “If they aren’t here, then we’ll just have to go look for them,” and she darted towards the nearest set of trees. Before she could step into the forest, though, Atalaya and Conroy came into the clearing.
“Mamasha! Babashar!” Blaze whimpered with delight. “I was worried! I thought…” Here he broke off and looked hard at his parents. “What’s wrong?” He whimpered again, this time with fear.
“Cassie, Arcadia, you come with me. Blaze, you go with Babashar.” Atalaya paused.
A shot rang out, sounding much louder than it should, in the normally quiet wilderness. She and Conroy ran in opposite directions, Arcadia and Cassie following close behind Atalaya, Conroy carrying Blaze. Atalaya, Arcadia, and Cassie made it home safely, but Conroy ran for miles, with the hunter silently following. He could have gone for miles more, but he was carrying Blaze in his mouth, and that slowed him down.
When he reached a little clearing he thought would be good for defending himself and Blaze against the hunter, he turned to fight. When the man cautiously entered the clearing, Conroy threw himself on him, with all the strength he could muster. It wasn’t enough. The hunter fired a shot—just one shot—and it hit home. Conroy dropped to the ground, lifeless. Blaze rushed forward, calling, “Babashar, Babashar! Get up, get up, oh please get up, there’s a hunter right beside you! Please Babashar, get up, I’ll be a good cub and never cause you any trouble, just please, please PLEASE won’t you get up!” The hunter picked up the whimpering cub, wrapped it in his coat, and settled down to wait for whatever came to investigate the dead wolf ’s body.
* * *
Meanwhile, Atalaya, Cassie and Arcadia huddled in the corner of the cave. They were shaking with fear for their father and brother.
The night passed quickly but Blaze and Conroy did not come home. Atalaya finally made a decision. She told the girls to stay there while she went to look for them. Cassie begged to go, but Atalaya refused. “I can cover more ground this way.” This wasn’t the real reason she wouldn’t let them go, though; she was afraid for their safety in the face of danger.
So she set out. She traveled many miles before she found her first clue. Smoke. The hunter had decided to make a blazing fire. As she got closer, she could hear the sound of a whimper. It was Blaze! He was trapped in a small crate lying at the feet of the hunter. But she could not see Conroy. As Atalaya looked closer, she wondered if the hunter had captured only Blaze, or if he had Conroy chained somewhere else. Only a few meters away, though, lay the outline of a wolf body. As she drew closer, Atalaya at first thought that the wolf might be sleeping, but as she came within a few inches, she smelt that he was dead. When she started nosing him, the full realization hit her.
This dead wolf was Conroy.
With a mournful howl, Atalaya threw herself at the hunter, covering the distance between the dead body of Conroy and the hunter in mere seconds. The hunter whipped around and started to reach for his gun, but he wasn’t fast enough. Atalaya sank her teeth into his neck and wouldn’t let go. The man sat there fighting the beast, then pulled a knife from his boot and stabbed the snarling animal in the ribs again and again. Atalaya slouched to the ground, then retreated towards home, but not making it far. A little while later she collapsed in a furry heap on the ground, never making it home.
* * *
Early the next morning, Cassie and Arcadia were playing at the mouth of the cave when they heard a sound in the bushes. They turned and saw nothing, so continued playing. At noon they were restless.
“I’m going to find Mamasha!” declared Cassie.
“Oh, don’t go, I’m sure she’ll be home soon,” replied Arcadia calmly.
“And what if she’s not here?”
“Then we’ll go out and look for her.”
But Atalaya did not come home, so Arcadia and Cassie set out. They had not gone far when they heard something they had never heard before. It was a roaring sound, increasing in volume as it got closer, like thunder to their ears.
Then something very large came speeding towards them, stopped, and before they could run, a man stepped out of the big, dark, noisy thing. He pointed a gun at Cassie, and then… BAM! Cassie slumped to the ground. Unknown to Arcadia, who thought her sister was dead, the man had used a tranquilizer on Cassie. The man walked forward, and Arcadia yelped, then retreated back to the cave.
“Wow, there really is a wolf girl,” thought the man out loud, as he claimed his prize. As he picked up Cassie, he heard a low, mournful howl, like the one he had heard the morning before. Arcadia had lost everyone… her sister, her brother, her Mamasha, and her Babashar. What could she do? She was so distressed that she just lay in a heap in the corner, waiting for the light of the morning to awaken her.
The bright beams of sunlight poured down onto Arcadia’s aching body. The little rock cave seemed unknown to her because there was nothing to cuddle with, no one to play with, and nothing to eat. She was completely alone and she was afraid.
She decided to follow the tracks of the large noisy thing. She traveled many miles and then she found something to eat. It was a little rat that the unknown thing had run over. She did not stop long because the little girl was anxious to find her family. A while later she finally came to the outskirts of a small village. It was getting dark so Arcadia found some comfortable bushes and lay there for the night. She awoke slightly before dawn, remembering her quest from the day before.
She promptly began circling the tiny town until she caught the scent of the “thing.” Once inside the town, she began searching for the location of the “thing,” and upon finding it she climbed up and began looking for her sister. She did not find Cassie, but a strange noise made her look up. It was voices of people that looked just like her! A kindergarten class was walking by in single file, and Arcadia crept up to the bushes to watch. Suddenly, she heard a shrill bark from one of the tall buildings without faces peering out of the windows. She darted towards the most likely entrance—an open window—and quickly clambered inside, forgetting all about the class.
Now she looked to the most likely place Cassie would be hiding, a wooden box. She crept softly up to it and whispered, “Cassie, is that you?” But it was not Cassie’s voice that greeted her, it was Blaze!
“Arcadia! You’re here! He killed Babashar… and took me!”
“I know, Blaze, that’s why I’m here, to rescue you and Cassie and to have my revenge.”
These last words were spoken in an undertone so Blaze could not hear them.
“Blaze, is Cassie here?” she asked.
“I think so,” replied Blaze. “I thought I heard them bring her in last night.”
“OK,” said Arcadia, “the first step is to free you.”
Here she tugged, pulled, and bit at the rope tying Blaze’s cage shut. Finally, it gave way. Having freed Blaze, she wandered cautiously. She could hear strange voices, but there was no barking from Cassie, and Arcadia would soon find out why. There was a sock tied around her muzzle and a long thin rope around her neck. Arcadia could see the fear and anger in Cassie’s eyes. She stared in horror as two little girls were poking and hugging the frightened wolf. Arcadia could stand the suspense no longer, so she leaped into the room and yanked the cord from the surprised man. As the middle-aged woman clutched the screaming girls, Arcadia started to race out the door, when she noticed one of the girls. She looked just like her! Suddenly, Arcadia dropped the rope, and Cassie started to run away, but stopped at the expression on Arcadia’s face.
Arcadia realized something that had been nagging her since seeing the kindergarten class, and the hunter’s children. She knew what it was now. She was not a wolf girl. She was a human being, just like the two girls in the corner. It was then that she realized that, being a human, she would have to move away from her beloved family. The thought shocked her so thoroughly it took her breath away.
“Are you all right?” Cassie asked, concerned.
Arcadia was too stunned to answer at first, but when she got her breath back she was able to gasp out a reply.
“I just need to go back to the cave.”
“Are you sure?” Cassie asked again, looking more worried than Arcadia had ever seen her.
“I just need to go back to the cave!” Arcadia repeated, louder.
“So long as you’ll be OK.”
“I’ll be fine,” Arcadia answered.
* * *
That night, in a dream, Arcadia was visited by the Great Mother Wolf. “You are not a wolf anymore,” she told Arcadia, “you are a human. You do not belong here anymore. You must think about your future, and your family’s future. What is best for you? What is best for them?” Then Arcadia woke up.
With Blaze and Cassie still sleeping, Arcadia turned the thought of living with the hunter’s family over and over in her mind. She knew now that she couldn’t continue living with her wolf family, no matter how much she loved them, because no matter which way she looked at it, she knew that, sooner or later, she would have to go live with humans anyway. The time had just come sooner as opposed to later. It was nearing dawn when she made her final decision. She would ask the hunter if she could live with him and his family. Having the matter settled in her mind, she cried herself to sleep.
* * *
The next morning, when she woke up, Arcadia couldn’t stand the thought of being alone, so she woke up Cassie. Blaze she let sleep. She told Cassie that she wanted to go back to the town, and although Cassie didn’t understand why, she reluctantly agreed to come.
When they reached the town, Arcadia started towards the hunter’s house, Cassie uneasily following behind. As soon as the house was in sight, Cassie visibly started slowing.
“Why did you come back here?” she asked.
Arcadia didn’t answer, so Cassie didn’t persist. When they got to the house, Arcadia stopped in front of the window she had entered through before, hoisted Cassie through, then climbed through herself. She started exploring, looking for the hunter. She finally narrowed all the smells down to his, inside a room with the door half open. She squeezed through, then motioned for Cassie to follow. As she did so, her tail accidentally jarred the door, making a squeaking sound. The man seated at the desk spun around. When he saw who it was, his jaw dropped.
“Why did you come back?” the confused man asked.
But Arcadia had only been taught wolf language, so the man only heard barks and growls. Arcadia felt that, as a human, she was responsible for her Babashar’s death. Tears streamed down her dirty cheeks as the whole family (who was gathered in the room by this time) stared in amazement. Even though there were tears, she could still see the soft brown eyes of her sister.
“Come on!” whispered Cassie, “Aren’t you coming?”
“No, I can’t,” sobbed Arcadia, “not after I have killed our Babashar.”
“You didn’t kill him,” Cassie said, surprised, “that nasty man over there did.”
“Well, I’m human too, so it was partly my fault.”
“Oh,” sighed Cassie, knowing it was no use trying to convince her stubborn sister. “I guess it’s goodbye then.”
“Yes, it is goodbye,” answered Arcadia softly.
Then Cassie turned away with her tail dropped and walked out of the small house. Arcadia turned to the man, who looked at her compassionately, and then she slowly walked towards him.
“She needs a home,” said the hunter. The wife nodded, and then the girls charged to the dirty and ragged girl. Arcadia shied at first, and then realized that the two girls were merely hugging her.
Arcadia felt loved already, so many warm faces and loving arms, she almost felt at home… the word reminded her of her Mamasha. What had become of her beloved mother? The question was answered within a few days, when Blaze, Cassie, and their Mamasha came to town. Atalaya was very much healed, and very happy but at the same time sad that her child she loved dearly was moving away. After many hugs and kisses the wolf family returned to their small cave in the forest.
Arcadia lived a long and happy life with the hunter’s family. She went to school and learned to talk. Then she went to university and became a wildlife vet. This helped her family a lot and made them very happy. Her new name was Helen, but she was known to all of the wolves as Arcadia, the Adventurous Woman!
* * *
Sometimes, on warm nights, if she felt like it, Atalaya would bring Blaze and Cassie down to see Arcadia. They would never forget the human cub that brought them together again.