A young wolf finds himself drawn to another, dangerous world
The wolf pack silently wandered through the forest, our leader in front. I stood by my mother, straining my ears for any sound that could mean danger. Trotting towards a tree, I lowered my nose to sniff at it. My mother nudged me with her nuzzle.
“Keep together with the rest of the pack, son,” she whispered, tilting her head towards them. “You’ll get lost.”
Darting after the cluster of wolves, I stared at my surroundings.
Gigantic trees loomed over us, a soft breeze ruffling our fur. The trees swayed gracefully, small rays of the full moon’s light slithering through the many branches. Owls hooted, bugs buzzed, and water trickled down some rocks. Everything was peaceful—until all of the adult wolves’ heads snapped towards one side.
I only heard it after the others: shouts. Children’s cries of joy as they played together. Their laughs as someone cracked a joke. Peeking through the leaves, I saw the lights of houses. Man-made structures covered the area, where children chased one another. All I saw was happiness. The wolves froze, eyes fixed on the Legulus (meaning “gatherer”: they called them that because the beings attracted many different kinds of scents). Then they dashed into the trees. My mother dragged me deep into the forest.
My mother loves me. She feeds me when I’m hungry, plays with me when I’m bored, and curls up with me when I’m cold. But there’s one rule she has that I don’t understand: Never go near Legulus.
Shaking myself, I looked up at my mother. She had bent down to lick me as other wolves poured into the cave we were in. The leader carefully peeked out before turning his head back to us and giving everyone a relieving signal. Everyone seemed to relax, except for me, who was more puzzled than scared. Confused, I whined and gnawed at Mother’s leg. Even while standing, my head only reached her elbow.
Soon, we all settled to sleep. I curled against my mother’s warm body and stared at the vast, blue sky. Stars were blinking around the surface as they looked down upon us. The moon’s rays lit everything up, creating eerie shadows of the trees. I turned my head, peering at another cub that was a bit larger than me. She slept curled up between her mother and father. Sighing, I stared next to me, where my father would’ve been.
“I want to tell you something.” His face turned towards mine. “Never tell anyone about what I am going to tell you.”
My father passed away years ago. I was only a few months old when one day, the leader came up to us and said in a low and calm tone, “He is gone.”
We were devastated. It felt like yesterday: me, curled up against my mother’s body, weeping. I still remember the day before he’d died, how he had told me something as we watched the sunset.
“Ever since I first saw Legulus, I was fascinated by them. They seemed like such caring and gentle creatures. So unique and talented, in many ways. But of course, others thought I was crazy.” He gave a sigh. “My dream was to one day be amongst them.”
For a moment, only the sound of nature was heard. I sat by him, watching the sun’s orange glow slowly melt away.
“I want to tell you something.” His face turned towards mine. “Never tell anyone about what I am going to tell you.”
I playfully licked his nose, edging closer to him. “Not even Mother?” I asked.
“Not even Mother.” “Why?”
He sighed a deep, soft sound that was filled with a sorrow that the small, foolish me didn’t recognize. Turning back towards the sun, he said, “Because, if you do, it will bring trouble for all of us. You, me, Mother. So. Do you promise?”
For a moment, I stared into his deep, blue eyes glinting in the dim light. They were always filled with happiness, excitement, and kindness. But at that moment, I noticed, they were also filled with longing.
“I promise,” I said finally, turning away and resting my head on his paws. “What is it?”
A faint smile played on his face before he opened his mouth. “I will tell you a story,” he said.
I gave a sniff. “Mum can’t know of a story?”
He playfully placed his paw on my head, forcing me to shrug it off. “A unique story. About a wolf.”
“What type of wolf?” I immediately pressed, lifting my head to look at him. “A cheeky, curious wolf that loved to explore. He—”
“He’s just like me!”
A wince flashed across my father’s face. “Just like you,” he echoed. “Then, one day, like always, he was exploring the woods when he came across a Legulus. He was tall, an adult. The scent of wood, smoke, and leaves wafted off him. The wolf was curious. Like always. He walked toward the Legulus and when the Legulus saw the wolf, he did not do anything. He was not like the usual hunters that would usually wander in the woods. Instead, he was kind and caring, and his laugh was soft and nice. In no time, the young wolf befriended him. The wolf learned his name was Orson. Orson was like a second parent. Sometimes, Orson would sit by a fire and feed him bits of meat—delicious, coated in fat, and cooked above the blazing fire.
“But there was one flaw in their relationship. Wolves despise Legulus. They view them as dangerous creatures. If they knew about him, they would surely chase him. So, for Orson’s sake, the wolf hid his existence from the rest of the wolves. He secretly met with him when the sun set. He covered the scent of the treats by chewing twigs and rats. He disguised Orson’s scent with mud.
“Their relationship grew. But Orson began to miss their meetings. He would be gone, and come back the next day worn out. The young wolf grew worried. Finally, Orson stopped coming altogether. Every day, for two months, the wolf waited for him. But he never came. The wolf thought he had passed away. Then one day, out of the blue, he came back—this time with lots of meat and a raging fire that burned as they cuddled together under the bright stars. This time, Orson stayed for the night, talking to him, hugging him, and pressing his forehead to the wolf’s. Then he left. The wolf knew he wasn’t coming back, that Orson was saying goodbye.
“But the next morning, the wolf couldn’t hold it together. He dashed after Orson’s fading aroma, through the trees, onto Legulus land, following his friend’s trail. Finally, when his nose was dry from sniffing, his body weak from running and his mouth tired of panting, he found it: a small house, coated in a thin layer of the first snowflakes. He smelled the familiar burn of wood, a wisp of Orson’s scent. It was carried away by the wind. Then, he saw him: Orson, sitting inside his house. In his arms was a small boy, sleeping peacefully. He saw the smile on Orson’s face. Then he knew. Orson had a new life, a new family. He had a life. Without the wolf.
“The wolf sadly walked back to his pack, worn out and dejected. He never went back to Orson’s house. But he never told the wolves about it. He never spoke a word about his time with him. It was a secret. But he longed for Orson. Every day, he stared up into the sky and longed to be with his friend, cuddled next to him as they watched the stars.”
I sat in silence for a while after my father stopped. Then I said, “What happened to the wolf after that?”
“He would continue to live life,” my father said quietly, “until he died a peaceful death.”
“Why didn’t he go back to Orson?”
“Because,” my father said, “Orson was happy with his family. He didn’t want to get in the way. It was their life.”
I gave a little pout. “If the story ended with the wolf living with Orson and the little boy, it would’ve been nice.”
My father gave a small smile. He stayed silent. I slid into my sleep. The next day he was gone.
* * *
The sun shone brightly as birds sang cheerfully, and the world began to wake. I drowsily lifted my head and got up on my feet. Yawning, I shook myself and scanned the other wolves that were starting to stir to find Mother. I found her still deep asleep. Looking around, I found only a few wolves awake, some searching the ground for any scraps from yesterday’s hunt.
My paws met moist leaves as I stepped out into the early morning breeze. The sky was orange, and the scent of wet wood wafted through the air. Grinning, I leapt out of the cave, pouncing into puddles. Cold water wet my fur as leaves and grass grabbed at me. Tongue hanging, I dashed through the trees, past startled squirrels, a sleeping snake, and frogs jumping across the forest floor. My heart pounded in my chest as the world awakened around me.
I could see a clearing in front of me. The rays of light peeked through the many branches, highlighting leaves. It became larger and larger as my paws sped eagerly. Then, head first, I broke through the border of leaves and mushrooms. I peered around, and looked down below me. Tall grasses covered the area. They danced along with the wind, swaying gracefully. Grass occasionally twitched, probably where a creature was waking.
My eyes landed on something. A man, clearly visible amongst the green grass. He held something in his arm. I strained my eyes, but could not make out what it was, as he was quite a long distance away. Was it . . . a stick? Two options immediately popped into my head. Mother would tell me to run, since “Legulus are dangerous.” I thought for a moment. But this Legulus wasn’t showing any sign of threat. He was pointing it at stuff and waving it around now; surely he wanted to play. I remembered Mother’s words: “All Legulus are a threat to us. They hunt us like rats.” The other option shone more brightly.
Bursting into the field, I leapt down the sloped land before dashing towards the man. My heart thumped in excitement, tail wagging as I drew closer. Only after he had turned around and started walking away from me did I see the boy. His head barely peeked over the tall grass, brown hair cheerfully bouncing up and down every step he took. He started following the man, but suddenly shouted something before hurrying back. The man turned and disappeared into the forest as the boy retraced his steps. He was running straight towards me. I froze. My mind raced, but my body didn’t react. Then he saw me.
A startled expression was on his face. He seemed to be considering something. I knew I should’ve run. I knew I should’ve dashed into the trees behind me and ran back to mother and continued the day as if nothing happened. But I couldn’t—a strong pull was pulling me towards the boy, the urge to get closer. But, then again, what if this boy was a danger? I crouched low, eyes glued to him. He took a step toward me. My heart gave a leap, but I sensed no threat in the way he moved or looked. Finally, he crouched down, reaching his arm out and calling out to me, “Hey! Come here!”
His voice was high, welcoming and joyful. Finally, I crept forward, a warm feeling crawling down my spine as he called for me again. I was within reach now. His arm moved towards my neck. I knew I should be aware, alert and bolting into the forest. Yet, I thought as I looked into the small boy’s face, how much of a threat could this curious boy be?
* * *
We spent the whole day together. The man didn’t return—I’d assumed he had gone home—and I always kept my distance. When the sun was way above our heads, he took something out from his bag. The aroma of meat floated through the air and reached my nose. He held out a piece to me. I barely hesitated before gulping it down. It was different from fresh meat—plain, in a way. But it was delicious, and I eyed his lunch for more. He just gave a small chuckle that warmed my heart before tossing me another piece.
That day, I made sure we didn’t bump into the wolves. We took a long walk around, past some streams and through some woods. All the while I stuck to his side. In the evening, when I knew I had to go back to Mother soon, I laid down on the very edge of the grass field, laying my head next to the boy. His soft brown eyes scanned me, then he reached his arms out. He laid his hand on my head. My muscles jumped, but my body warmed and trusted the gentle hand. Soon, he stroked me on my back, and I knew he was harmless and was my friend.
After that, we met every day in the same field, at the same time. He would call me Night. He would always have the same thing as lunch, and it seemed his father, I’d assumed, always gave it to him. I had never even come close enough to the father to identify his scent, but it seemed that the boy wanted me far away whenever his father came to pick him up—he always shooed me into the forest. It was like how I hid him from the wolf pack.
“Atlas!” his father’s voice boomed through the grass field. I learned his name was that. Every night, I thought about him and his hand resting on my back. It reminded me of the story Father had always told me. I wondered what this story meant. I knew the pained expression and unique story had a meaning twisted into it, hidden right underneath my nose, but I didn’t know what it was. Every day, I feared the boy’s disappearance. I feared he would leave me as Orson had left the wolf in the story. Yet he never did. Every day, he came back and laughed as I devoured my share of his strange, pink meat. Then he would hurry to run after his father’s voice calling for him. Every day was the same, joyful, heaven-like day. Until one day. That one day changed everything.
It was a normal evening. Atlas threw his belongings into his bag and got up, brushing off the leaves on his knees. Shaking myself off, I got up with him and we both turned to the right to make our way down the path for our daily stroll. Suddenly, I heard a howl. I froze, ears twitching. Atlas stopped as well, pausing before calling for me. I didn’t move. Another howl. This time closer.
Atlas seemed to stop as well, a shiver of fear running down his back. Then I saw her. Her eyes stood out through the green leaves as she stared at the boy— a hungry predator in her eyes. Her body was rigid, the hair on her back bristling.
“When a bond is formed, wolves cannot tear themselves away from the Legulus. So when the Legulus leaves, the wolf follows.”
Atlas followed my gaze and gave a cry as he spotted my mother. She called for me, eyes still trained on Atlas. I bounded over to her, knowing what she would say after bringing me to a “safer place.”
Then, a familiar call rang through the forest. Atlas’s father was calling for him. I heard his footsteps, and soon he appeared behind Atlas. Upon seeing us, the wolves, he clung to Atlas’s arm before shoving him behind his body. Both Atlas and I stood there, frozen. Both our parents stared at each other. Parent to parent. Father to Mother. Legulus to Wolf. They stood there for a while, my mother in the shadows of the forest before she gestured for me to go back. I gave a protesting whine.
Still eyeing Atlas’s father, she gave me a nudge with her snout. When I still didn’t go, she grabbed me by the scruff and tugged. My heart filled with rage, and my paws dug into the soil. I pulled free and growled at my mother.
She seemed shocked at first, then angry as she gave a warning. I stood still, a low rumble escaping my mouth. I stopped, turning to Atlas and making my way toward him. He didn’t seem scared, although I could tell he was wary of my mother. Atlas crouched down, taking me in his arms and ruffled my fur.
My mother seemed shocked and there was emotion on her face. Was it— sadness?
Clutching Atlas’s arms tightly, his father turned and they went home.
My mother bounded towards me and wrinkled her nose at the smell of Atlas on my fur. I followed her obediently, knowing I was in trouble.
She didn’t seem angry. Sad, rather. We walked in silence back up to where the rest of the wolves lay resting for the night. Finally, my mother spoke.
“When a bond is formed, wolves cannot tear themselves away from the Legulus. So when the Legulus leaves, the wolf follows.”
I stared at her, surprised at the sudden break in silence. “Mum—what do you mean?”
She didn’t say anything. We reached the other wolves as a sick feeling rested in my stomach. My mother told me to go to the leader of the wolves.
He rested in the back of the cave. Little glimpses of sunlight glistened on his gray coat. When he looked up to meet my gaze, his yellow eyes burned through me like he knew every secret and was reading me for any flaws. Yet his eyes didn’t judge. They acknowledged. Finally, he spoke, his voice strong, despite his age.
“Sit. I must tell you something.”
I settled by him, watching as he waited for me to rest. He sat there in silence like he was thinking about what to say.
“There is a reason why wolves are meant to stay away from Legulus.”
My mind raced. So, it wasn’t because they were “dangerous beings”? Then why?
Why would it be so important to keep wolves away from Legulus?
“It’s because,” he said, reading my thoughts, “the bond between a wolf and a Legulus is strong. Once it’s formed, it is hard to break. That is, at least, for the wolf.” I sat there, confused. He continued, despite my puzzled expression. “Wolves would frequently befriend Legulus. They would form a bond like no other. The wolf would be overjoyed. Then one day, the Legulus would leave. Sometimes it might be because they perished. Or because they moved. The wolf would then tell everyone they were going to find the Legulus, and usually, never return. Others who did would usually spend the rest of their days dejected and sad.
That’s why cubs are taught that Legulus are dangerous. To stop the misery and missing wolves.”
The truth sank in like a rock sinking to the bottom of a lake. “That’s . . . it’s impossible.”
“Legulus would never leave them. Atlas would never . . .” Would he?
Then a thought struck me. It was like a blow to the head, and it made me dizzy. “Father . . . he . . .?”
“Yes, your father was one of them. He told us he was going to go. He never returned. Despite all the warnings.” He gave a soft sigh, turning to me.
I just shrank back, shaking my head. “Why do they do that? Legulus wouldn’t build a relationship just to lead wolves away from their homes . . . would they?”
He shook his head. “The truth is much simpler. Wolves decide to leave the wolf life and live a carefree life with Legulus. They live in their house. Never hunt again, never care. But leave their friends and family behind.”
He leaned in, his breath stirring my fur.
“Mother wants to keep you safe. To keep you from leaving her behind. The rest is up to you.”
The new information and realizations were too much to handle. So many truths and lies were uncovered. But I had the answer to a question I had been asking my whole life. It was my father. His story. The story he’d told me had been about him. And I had convinced him to go. To run away from his family. Run away to his death.
Tears rolled out my eyes the whole night. My head ached from thinking, and I was frustrated, confused, and scared. Mixed feelings were twirling in a violent tornado in my chest. Had I led my father to his death? Was it his death? Or was he . . . still alive? I stood up straight. The relationship between Atlas and I could not be saved. The truth was the truth. But I could find my father. Tell him to come back. Convince him that I was just a small, foolish kid. I had been wrong, but I was right now.
The next morning, I woke up exhausted from last night’s realizations. But there was one thing that I had thought about. Yesterday, I had finally had a whiff of Atlas’s father’s scent. It was nearly familiar. I knew there was no mistake. Atlas’s father was Orson.
Despite my mother’s pleas and warnings, I set off to meet Atlas. It was late, and I had my doubts about him being there. But as I broke into the clearing, I spotted him sitting under a tree. A relieved weight was lifted off my shoulders as I started bounding towards him, carefree. Then Orson walked out from behind a tree. My body went rigid. Atlas called to me in a reassuring tone. Hesitantly, I continued to make my way towards them, giving Orson wary glances. I made my way all the way to Atlas and licked his hands as they wrapped around me. Orson made his way towards Atlas and knelt down to give me a pat.
It seemed like a dream, looking into the face of the person I knew so well, and missed so dearly.
I let him, taking in his scent. This was the man my father gave up everything to be with. Then, Orson got up and beckoned. I sensed Atlas’s worries but was puzzled about what. Atlas trailed his father, calling for me to follow. Trotting beside Atlas, I made my way through the grass, following Orson. As we walked, questions filled my head. There was so much to take in—I felt like anything could be a lie. Finally, Orson stopped. He whistled. It rang through the air, through forest and grass. After some waiting, someone appeared out of the grass. Orson smiled, and called out to him,
“Fumus,” he cried, throwing his arms out wide.
The wolf hesitated. He spotted me. I spotted him. It seemed like a dream, looking into the face of the person I knew so well, and missed so dearly.
We all played together, laughed together, and ate together. Father was like his usual self, cheerful and full of energy. He would sit beside Orson, and Orson would wrap his arm around his neck. Finally, after chasing Father, eating lots, and begging Atlas for more, I flopped down to the floor, exhausted. The sun shone brightly, light shining over the field, now flattened by all of us running around. I knelt beside Father and Atlas, my mouth threatening to pop with all the questions I had.
“Why did you leave the wolves?” I asked hesitantly, breaking the silence between us.
“I was happiest with Orson,” he said. “And I didn’t mean to abandon you. I told you the story just in case I left, hoping one day you would understand and come looking for me.”
I sat there, thinking. “Do you know why they tell us Legulus are dangerous?” Father nodded. “They still do think so, in a way. Not like in the predator way, though. They think wolves get attached and can’t leave their Legulus.”
We stayed silent, each pondering the many thoughts that ran through our heads. Instead, we turned our attention to Atlas and Orson’s conversation.
“This is why I didn’t want you to make friends with a wolf,” Orson said. “They can’t live in the wild anymore. And school will start soon; you will need to leave.”
“I know. But, I can’t just leave Night behind,” complained Atlas, twirling some of my fur between his fingers. “There has to be a way, Dad. You did it with Fumus.” “It was a mistake,” Orson said. “Fumus can’t live in the wild anymore. He can’t fend for himself, can’t hunt for food. But he chose me, Atlas. He chose me over
living with his pack.”
“I’m sure Night would choose me too,” Atlas said quietly.
I got up and licked his face in what I hoped was a reassuring manner. A grin broke onto his face as he playfully pushed me away and ruffled my fur.
“See?” he said. “He chose me!”
That day, Orson and Atlas walked back. I knew they were going home. To my surprise, Father followed them.
“I can’t live with you,” he said. “Son, go back to the pack; you don’t belong with Legulus.”
I stood still, torn between two decisions. Then, I made up my mind. “No,” I said confidently, stepping towards him. “I can’t just leave Atlas.”
My father’s blue gaze was trained on me, but I stared back. Finally, he sighed. “Fine,” he said.
My heart gave a leap of joy as I rushed to Atlas’s side, jumping on him in excitement.
As we drew closer, the scent became unbearable. Fuel wafted through the air, itching my throat and making my eyes water. Dozens of people were everywhere. It was busy, clustered, and noisy. People shouted and laughed. Some ran; others didn’t. People ate, played, and talked. It was a place where anything and everything happened. It was frightening, like realizing how small I was. The village loomed over us, freely letting all noises out. I stuck close to Atlas, but even then, I had trouble not getting lost. I would turn around and find they had disappeared. And lights. Lights were everywhere, blinding, like small pieces of the sun.
Finally, the crowd thinned, and the noise died down as we reached an area with fewer people. I felt exhausted from the day and the busy village. However, my father seemed fine, like it was a normal day. He just went inside the house and hopped on a sofa to settle down next to Orson. The house was small, and filled with the scent of Orson, Atlas, and Father. Yet it seemed quiet and bare compared to the constant noises of the forest, and trees guarding us. I settled under a chair, sneezing from the smell of the rough carpet, missing the moist feel of dirt under my paws.
The next day was unreal. We stayed in the house for the rest of the day. Breakfast was some meat in a bowl. There was no need to go hunting. We didn’t even need to take a stroll to get some water from a stream. It just flowed out from the tap, into another bowl. There was no worrying that we wouldn’t be able to catch our lunch. It always came in a bowl. Despite Atlas and Father’s company, I felt a strong urge to do something. We hadn’t been doing anything. Only playing, eating, playing, and eating. I remembered Fang’s words. This was the carefree life that wolves got used to. This life prevented them from being wolves that could live in the wild, hunting for food and always alert for any predators lurking in the shadows. Here, there were no shadows for any predators to hide in.
I felt relieved when we went back to the field. I enjoyed the soft breeze and longed for my mother. Getting away from the crowded streets was a relief. It was everything mixed together, and it was too much to be alert. The fields felt like home. Atlas was quiet, ruffling my fur. I had heard him and Orson talking yesterday. It seemed they had made a decision, but I didn’t know what it was about. Father sat next to me, grooming his paws.
We spent another day like the first one, exhausting ourselves, playing, resting, and then getting back up to play again. It continued until the evening. Then, we got up to go. Only then did I realize the sad but understanding look on Atlas’s face. He gave me a hug but didn’t call for me when they left. Father gave me a look.
“Stay. This is where you belong.”
Deep inside, I knew this was true. I belonged with the rest of the wolves. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
“No! I can live like you, Father,” I pleaded, running up to him as he turned away. “This is no blessing, son,” he said, turning to me. “I can’t catch my own food. I don’t have a choice. If I go back to the pack, I won’t be able to hunt. I’ll be like a cub. But you, you can still hunt. It’s not too late for you to turn back, son. This is a curse.
I’m stuck with this life forever. You’re not.”
Atlas bent over, and for a moment, I wished he would call for me and I would run after him. But he didn’t. He cuddled me in his arms, and whispered, “You’re not a dog, Night. You’re a wolf. Wolves aren’t meant to eat canned food. They aren’t supposed to be locked in a house or wandering through a village. They’re supposed to be with the rest of the wolves.” He stood up. “Go,” he said. “You can come to my house anytime. But you can’t live with us, Night. Go back to your wolf pack. Hunt. Hide. Live like a wolf.”
My legs felt numb as I walked towards the cave where I knew my pack would be. Soon, I smelled their presence. Wolf fur, and fresh meat, probably leftovers from their dinner. I walked in, eyes searching for my mother. I found her, sitting in a corner. As soon as she saw me, she cried out in relief and brought me in, scolding me forgoing. I told here verything. From Father being alive to the bustling village. When I had finished, she looked shocked, puzzled, and overwhelmed with emotions. “He is alive?” she breathed. “He has been, for all these years?”
That night, I cuddled with my mother; something I missed doing during my short stay at Orson’s house. The breeze ruffled my fur. The moon shone brightly. The stars looked down at us as we drifted into our sleep. I knew this is where I belonged. Below the stars.