Nikki held out her hand, palm open to the smaller version of Mizz Damsel.
“He,” Gardner corrected Nikki, “And he’s a friendly bugger, just the odd thing is that he’s not a yapper like his momma. Quiet as a church mouse, than one, is.”
The neighbors will love that, Nikki thought to herself as the small white and black mass of fur tentatively came closer to her outstretched fingers. It was hard for Nikki to conceptualize that the little ball of white and black fur that had chosen to bravely set itself in her open palm would grow up to be the size of a large cat, but the moment that she spotted a single just a hint of a small brown eye, she was hooked.
“Well, guess that settles that,” Gardner said through a large smile, “You’re a mama, now.”
Nikki’s smile was almost as wide as Gardner’s, “I suppose I am.”
If Nikki had thought the drive to Gardner’s cabin had been far too long of a drive, the drive home was by far even more torturous. Afraid to further scare the small shivering wad of fur swaddled in an extra sweater Nikki had in the back on the passenger seat she drove even slower down the rutted service roads back, taking almost four hours to reach her apartment complex. Once she had parked, she gingerly picked up the puppy, still not having found a name that seemed to fit and carried him into the front foyer where she met one of her neighbors from up stairs. The man was a maitre de at one of the more pricier restaurants that she couldn’t afford on her salary, and the way the man carried himself, he knew it. He looked at the small dog with polite smile though disdain was shining through his overly showing teeth. Out of politeness, he asked where Nikki had gotten such an adorable creature. Nikki was only too happy to share the story of Gardner and the tale his granddaughter had told of the puppy’s father.
The man’s eyebrow arched up then with an airy tone he remarked, “Takitawah? More like tacky, if you want my opinion” before he had decided the proper amount of time of presumed sociability had expired.
Tacky.Nikki liked that. She lifted the small puppy on the sweater up to her eyes and cooed softly,
“Nice to meet you Tacky.”
Half way up the still snow blanketed mountain top on the warm still day of spring stood a wolf in the middle of a frozen tarn looking up at the sky expectantly. The calmness was broken only a meter ahead of the wolf by a forceful wind that blew from nowhere downward into the ice crusted snow blanket. The wind was strong, stray wisps of it cut through the thick grey coat of the year old wolf, chilling its flesh. A fine spray of sharp ice crystals attacked its nostrils, slightly muffling the almost alien scent of human that began to emerge from the wind shaft’s center. The wolf’s instincts were to run from the offensive odor, but it remained stationary, only narrowing its eyelids to partially shield its eyes from the mini-storm’s fury. It had to remind itself that it was the one who called upon the goddess for assistance.
The small ice storm ended moments after it had begun, leaving only a meter in diameter mound of snow topped with a gray Stetson with its center bulging outward. The wolf’s ears prickled back ever so slightly when a human voice, muffled but still quite gruff, came from the Stetson.
“Well, are ya gonna just stand there or are ya going to friggin’ dig me outta this shit before it crushes both me and my friggin’ balls?”
The wolf gave a nod to the snow mound and started to dig around the Stetson with its large grey paws. It was a little concerned that it had understood the voice, the rare encounters it had previously with humans they had only spoken with sharp intonations of gibberish – but this one eerily made sense. The wolf was precise with its pulls on the snow, keeping away from the grayish fabric that was appearing with each paw full of snow being removed from the area around the Stetson. Snow crumbled into the pawed divots, slowly revealing that it was a human underneath the Stetson. The rounded face was ruddy from the cool snow that had surrounded it, with short brown bristles with splotches of white covering most of the lower part of it face – the wolf did not see the sparseness of fur as being very utile in the weather. The more snow the wolf removed, the more of the face under the Stetson appeared; an almost bulbous nose then a set of eyes as dark brown as the wolf’s own with long strands of brown stringy hair along the back and sides that had streaks of white that ran liberally through it.
Once the wolf had dug deep enough around the human to uncover his shoulders, the man began to shimmy around; loosening the snow iron maiden the wind courier had placed him in. It took ten more minutes of the man’s movements and the wolf’s powerful paws to allow the man to move more than a millimeter in any direction. The wolf, both tired from the digging and sensing a quicker extraction method, clamped the collar of the man’s grey duster in its jaws and pulled. The wolf could feel the man pushing against the snow to help ease the wolf’s onus of his weight and momentarily the man laid breathing heavily on top of the snow free of the hole his entrance had created. The wolf released the collar, quickly biting into the snow to wash its tongue from the noxious flavors the duster had left on it before it sat down and patiently waited for the human to sufficiently recuperate.
The man reached into his pocket, taking out a mostly crushed pack of cigarettes, flicking open the package and extracting one, using his forefinger and thumb to partially straighten out the cigarette as he brought it up to his mouth. He put the pack back in his pocket, brushing out some of the snow that had packed itself into it, searching for his lighter. Having found the lighter, he brought it out, banged it on the side of his forehead to knock out a stray chunk of snow from the flint case and lit the cigarette. He took a long draw. He closed his eyes as the smoke slowly curled from his nostrils; the wolf sneezed.
The man’s eyes shot open, as if he had forgotten that the huge grey wolf was even there. He winced slightly as he lifted his back off the snow, then tumbled from his buttocks to his knees then rose erect. He knocked clumps of snow from his duster and pants, wiped the sweat from his Stetson’s brim then went back to ignoring the wolf, concentrating on the billowy wisps of cigarette smoke instead.
The wolf regarded the goddess’s answer to its plea; the man was not as tall as it had supposed humans were, it could put it paws on the man’s shoulders without stretching to look the man square in the eyes. The human’s body was not a lithe as the wolf imagined the goddess’s champion would have, it reminded the wolf of a beaver. The wolf was having difficulty understanding its naturalized uneasiness around such a pathetic creature like a human –until it looked at the man’s eyes. The eyes were that of a different kind of predator than the wolf was who killed to live; this man killed for the enjoyment of another’s death. If this man was what a human was close up, then the wolf’s instincts were correct in fearing him.
“Friggin’ great, my first animal case, and I get the friggin’ beastly version of a drama queen,” the man said gruffly to himself, startling the wolf who realized the human had interpreted its thoughts. The man took a last drag off his cigarette, pinching off the red cherry with his fingers and put the butt into his pocket.
“The name’s Jared Club,” the man introduced himself to the wolf as he got down on one knee so that he could be eye level with the wolf. “And yes, I can sorta sense what you’re thinking, so considering what that yap of yours is capable of doin’, don’t bother openin’ it, kapeesh?”
The wolf nodded.
“Good,” Club said, refraining from smiling lest the wolf would consider the bounty hunter’s expression of relief as a challenge. “So what’s up your ass?”
The wolf’s eyes widened slightly, one of its ears folded halfway down as it turned to look at its tail, sniffing loudly in order to determine what the object was the human was referring to.
Club flicked the tip of his Stetson up to his thinning hairline, cursing himself for using casual speak instead of formal. He rubbed the flesh between his eyes, and then took a deep breath.
“Not literally,” he said with a slight apologetic tone, “look, I’ve got a slug thingie in my head that allows me to understand you and you for to understand me. Unfortunately it has a bit of an issue with the vernacular. What I mean to say is that I understand that you have a problem that requires a more than lupine touch to solve.”
The wolf, gave a wary look at its backside, then turned its head back to the human and nodded. It stood up, motioned for the man to follow it and began to walk down the far side of the mountain tarn. The two walked for almost half a day, down one side of a mountain, half way up and around another; all the while the bounty hunter grumbled that the wolf could have set a meeting place a little closer to the area of concern. The time did allow Club to give a rambling monologue in lieu of a written resume on his qualifications, none of which the wolf seemed particularly interested in. In return though, the wolf let escape from its mind little glints of information that provided Club with the background information: half blind emerging from a dark but warm place, the hazy image of another grey cub, the sound of a deep human male voice, the pain of its head being thrown around as its vessel began to run towards to danger to its survival; the unceremonious expulsion onto the ground as the vessel it was in leapt up at the threat then disappearing, leaving it alone with a smaller version of the threat. There had been a large booming sound, the cry of a dying wolf, the sound of a tiny growl, the pain and fright of feelings something welling within its lungs, the belief that it was about to die as it felt something large formed in its mouth, the expelling of that something, a frightened human cry. More human shouting, then the sound of feet running quickly away. Club could see a descent down a steep, rocky crevice, the unmoving bodies of what he assumed would have been the wolf’s mother and its sibling, and a large yellow stain between two ruts just a meter ahead of the dead family in the soft spring runoff water’s mud.
Club could feel the sorrow, anger and hunger that flooded the wolf as it started with its new eyes upon the blood soaked human crawling, whimpering, and calling out some alien language. He could almost taste the juiciness and satisfaction of the wolf cub’s first meal on the flesh and bone of the one that took its family away. He saw other images, ones of the wolf’s first kill, a lame snow hare, but most of the images were of just mountain and snow, with no other wolves in sight. A log cabin almost half buried into the side of a valley with bright lights that almost called to the wolf, the sound of a canine bark that made it seek a closer investigation.
Club followed the grey wolf to the edge of the snow capped butte that overlooked a modest looking cabin down below. Club had just seen the cabin in the wolf’s mind, something had happened when it had gone in for a closer look. The wolf stared down intently as it sat down roughly on his hind quarters while leaving his two forelegs stiff. Club plopped down just as unceremoniously as the wolf, casually dangling his legs over the steep ledge. There were no humans around, but as Club squinted he could make the figure of a small dog chained beside the front veranda.
“So the dog’s owner may seem a little mean because of the chain,” Club said with a hint of annoyance, “But that looks like a mighty small dog and it’s probably for its own safety. You know, to keep it from being killed by bears, badgers, or hungry wolves. This isn’t what I would consider a situation in need of divine intervention.”
The wolf flattened its ears and shot the human a dirty look. Club was silent for a moment, his eye brows furrowing as he tried to sort out the images the wolf’s mind was transmitting. They relaxed once he thought he had gotten the gist of the situation.
“So you got a little frisky, did ya?” the bounty hunter asked with a slight grin on his face.
The wolf flipped his snout up and down, his eyes doleful.
Club took out a set of miniature binoculars to get a closer look at the wolf’s love interest; his eye brows shot up for a moment as he looked away from the lenses to the wolf.
“A friggin’ Shih Tzu?” Club said with a hint of incredulousness. He turned back to the small dog in his binocular sights for a second look, just in case he had been mistaken. Nope. He turned back to the wolf.
“The big bad wolf that can damn near slice and dice friggin’ mountain tops and you choose to get it on with a friggin’ Shih Tzu?”
The wolf let out a tiny sigh.
Jared’s mind began to whirl, what would possess a wild creature such as this wolf to accost such a domesticated breed? He thought of what he knew about the Takitawah. Ordinarily the bitch would give birth to three; two males, an alpha and an omega, and one female pup. The trio’s first meal would be that of their mother, not just her milk, but her flesh as well, ingesting the power mystical power of wind that flowed through her veins. The female pup would grow to take the place of the mother while the alpha male would grow developing a set of powerful lungs capable of harnessing the capabilities of moving great amounts of snow. The omega pup would grow and develop the ability to focus the energy though it did not possess the powerful lungs. The forces of nature that the wolves possessed were far greater than a single pup could endure and live, therefore nature chose to split the power so that the species would continue to thrive. After a year, when both the alpha and omega were mature, the alpha would slay the omega, the focusing ability being infused through the meat of the omega into the lungs of the alpha. The newly ingrained alpha would then carry on the tradition of keeping the balance of nature intact by carefully choosing unstable snow masses then baying a thin sonic boom like call towards the snow, causing an avalanche and saving the area from the possibility of a much larger avalanche in the future that could severely damage the natural order of the mountain. The process was quite an expansion of energy, afterwards it was the job of the female to guard the alpha as it rested to recuperate, as well as five years later her duty would be to further propagate the survival of the species. The question was that since obviously this was not the female pup, which of the male pups this wolf was. Not being able to come up with any other option, Club decided that civilized manners be damned. He leaned forward slightly then took a quick look between the wolf’s two forelegs. He straightened back up.
“Guess you’re the omega,” Jared said staring straight out at the snow drizzled sides of the hill across from the butte.
The tip of the wolf’s ears turned limp as the animal hung its head down, which the bounty hunter to as a silent affirmation of his assumption.
While a blow to the wolf’s self-esteem, the visual evidence of being the omega wolf helped Club see the big picture: there had been a hiccup in the natural ecological cycle which could negatively affect the artificial sense of reality that the Celestial Republic of Gods, Goddesses and Mythical Creatures and Beings had so diligently sought to protect. A lone alpha Takitawah among humans wasn’t that big of a deal, as it grew it would certainly generate some huge ass dust devils, but the damage would be minimal, almost benign. A lone omega Takitawah however, it was like letting a five year old go out with a multi arrowed crossbow without a safety on. The omega couldn’t take out a mountain but Club knew from experience that paper cuts were often far more painful than a deep serrated gash. If the wolf had bred with that Shih Tzu, then there was a good possibility that it passed its ability on down the genetic Y chromosome – the wolf knew this and had called for reinforcements. Good for him, Club thought, too bad the fucker couldn’t have kept it in his fur in the first place though. Club told the wolf to go back to wherever its den was; he would handle it from here on. The wolf nodded, stood up and then stuck its head straight out but did not move looking ahead at the mountains on the other side of the little valley.
Balance, there must be balance, the wolf kept on repeating in its mind, freely admitting Club to view. Club gave a cruel grin.
“You knew this was the way it was going to end all along, didn’t you?” the man asked the wolf. The wolf did not take its eyes off the other side of the mountains. Club stood up and looked at the wolf. “You knew, yet you still did it.” No response. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
Club lifted his left arm up to shoulder height, curling his fingers half way towards his palm. A moment later a broad sword with a blade almost two and a half feet long, six inches wide with a gold gilded hilt with a large single jade oval placed in the center phased into his grip. He brought the sword to the front of his body, bringing his right hand to join his left and unceremoniously let the blade fall, severing the wolf’s head and half its neck from its body. The thick padding of snow was soft enough that the wolf’s head did not roll but simply stuck out from the snout up for a moment before both the head and body turned to salt. Jared watched as the frozen surroundings reacted with the salt, both being dissolved until nothing was left until there was nothing more than a wolf shaped puddle of water resting atop the base layer of ice. Club wondered if he should admire the wolf’s bravery in facing the consequences of his actions or feel disdain for the wolf’s cowardice at forsaking its privilege to fight for its life. Before he could decide which, he felt as if he was being watched.
“I’m sorry, Grandmother,” Club said before he released his grip on the broadsword that then disappeared before it would have hit the ground and turned to face his watcher.
“And what is it you purport to be sorry for, my child,” the squat porcupine that sat on its haunches behind the bounty hunter asked, “For in your heart you are very the opposite of so.”
Club’s cheeks flushed; this could get dicey. He tried to always use terms of familiarity when he had to deal with a god or goddess, be it Uncle, Mother, Father, or in this case, Grandmother, for two reasons. Firstly, a sign of respect for something that was light years more powerful than he was always appropriate, and secondly, in hopes that that slightest of hesitation in that being on determining their relationship to the bounty hunter he could haul ass if he had to in order to avoid being roasted, frozen, having his flesh torn off piece by piece or worse of the worse, lectured. The goddess obviously wasn’t into playing the game though she was the one who called him into it.
“Figured it was the proper thing to say,” Club mumbled.
The whiskers of the porcupine spread upwards as a smile crossed its muzzle.
“That’s why I chose you, Jared,” the porcupine said gently, “Humans have such a delightfully macabre way of masking their actions under the umbrella of propriety.”
“Am I human?” Club responded back sharply, “Cuz I don’t feel I am…not anymore.”
The porcupine closed its dark eyes, Club could sense intangible warmth enveloping him then dissipating. The porcupine’s eyes opened.
“You are as human as you wish to be, Jared,” it answered with a slight hint of chidingness to its tone. “Until your soul no longer resists the temptations that you face with our kind, you will be human – no matter what physical changes you have experienced with us. I called upon you because of your humanity; any other hunter wouldn’t have seen a simple solution as you did to the problem of an un-whole Takitawah. Any other hunter would have tried to see the options, to judge the consequences of his life or his death as it pertained to the cosmic plane.”
Club nodded, understanding.
“So I was your own personal cleaning crew, huh? So why didn’t you…” Club stopped his question before he finished asking something he already knew the answer to: the prime directive of the Celestial Republic, no direct interference in the activities of mortals. Takitawahs, while certainly being mystical, lived, ate, drank, shit, bred and died – that was the definition of mortal, though Club had made the very human mistake of forgetting that humanity were not the only mortals that occupied the Earth. He changed gears instead of facing a lecture on the prime directive.
“Did you know about the Takitawah breeding with a domestic dog?”
The porcupine shook its head. “Unfortunately, this area is almost in the centre of three microwave towers.”
Club accidentally let a smile cross his lips. Blame it on his warped sense of humor, but he found it almost ludicrous – beings with almost total omnipotence being thwarted by an invention of the very beings that looked to them for all the answers. He wasn’t too sure exactly on the theory of why microwaves interfered so much with the telekinetic powers of the population of the Celestial Republic; whether it was because the frequency was similar so it was a disruptive influence or that it acted as an unintentional shield. Whatever the case, in a world more and more each day crying to the Heavens for answers, the increased technology was muting those pleas.
The porcupine and the bounty hunter looked down the butte when they heard the sound of a large wooden door creak open. A large man came out of the cabin, walked over to the dog that was on the tether, sat down beside it and began petting it.
“Now the question is whether or not the Takitawah pup survived the cross species birth,” the porcupine stated.
Club rubbed the four day old growth along his chin. “It’s not like I can just walk down there and knock on the door either,” he said aloud.
The porcupine looked at him and asked why he couldn’t. The bounty hunter explained that he wasn’t dressed in a manner that would seem normal, particularly his well worn looking snakeskin boots were not customary hiking apparel, and without a vehicle, or some kind of look like a logger, the man in the cabin would be quick to become suspicious and attempt to detain him for some mortal authorities or perhaps take things into his own hands.
“I think I have a solution to your problem, Jared,” the porcupine said evenly.
“Run,” the porcupine repeated, the large smile returning to its face. “Real fast.”
“How‘s running supposed to…”
Club never finished his question. The porcupine was expanding, getting larger…and larger…with some very particularly nasty looking fangs out sizing the small incisors the porcupine had just moments before.