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  • Writer's picturechristaleigh

Nature Of The Beast

The old man’s gaze was fixed on the fire, his profile glowing against the black of night. The skin on the side of his face stretched taut over his high cheekbone, the eye that I could see like an onyx marble reflecting the orange and yellow flames, his chin strong and reverent. His hair wasn’t long and thick in the way Native Americans look in National Geographic. It was modern and military cut, neon white in the contrast of darkness. The clothing he wore was indistinct, dark pants and a leather jacket. He wasn’t even sitting “Indian style”, but rather like a man who’s frame is large enough to cradle the universe- the stump beneath him a humble throne, callous-covered bare feet planted solidly on the ground, elbows on his knees. In his hands, he held a cup that offered steam to the smoke of the fire.

He never looked at me, he just stared at the fire, and began to speak:

When your great-grandfather was a boy, he went out on a hunt with his father. Your great-great grandfather. Doc, they called him, because he was a healer.

The boy was a mighty hunter, his bow and arrow blessed by the gods. One day he killed a boar from quite a distance. When he came upon the carcass, he noticed that the boar himself had been a hungry hunter. Near it’s mouth was small creature, wounded and nearly lifeless. The boy kneeled and found himself looking into the eyes of wolf not more than a few weeks old.

Doc drew an arrow, prepared to send the animal on its way, but the boy stood between his father and the pup.

“No,” he said. “You can save him. I can see in his eyes he is a great hunter like me. Save him, and he will be my loyal companion.”

The father laughed at his son and said:

“Some day, we will have to kill him.”

The boy, a reluctant tear welling in his eye, said, “No. I’ll train him. Love him. He is a wolf. He will be loyal.”

And so Doc humored his son, and with a prayer and a touch, healed the young dog. The boy thanked his father, who said, “Remember my words.”

For several years the boy and the wolf were inseparable. The wolf slept and the boy’s feet, the boy shared every meal with the wolf. Because the village was peaceful, the wolf knew peace.

After a while, drought and famine ravaged the land. The animals became few. Villagers began to die of illness and starvation. Even Doc could not heal the wounds of that time.

The boy and the wolf continued to hunt, but would go for days and days without much more than small game. Even with what little he had, the boy would share with the wolf.

Then one day, due to confusion brought on by dehydration, the boy stumbled. He cut his hand, the same hand he fed the wolf with for so many years. Thinking not much of it, the boy cleaned and bandaged his wound.

That night, while sleeping, the scent of the boy’s blood overwhelmed the wolf. You see, the trained wolf was hungry- starving, in fact. He attacked the boy, who woke up to the gnashing of teeth and clenching of jaws around his hand, and when he withdrew for protection, the wolf attacked him directly in the way he knew was most effective- at his throat. In one bite his skin was broken and the wolf could not help himself. His savage claws dug into the boys skin, ripping through his face and pinning him down. The boy struggled to protect himself, but it didn’t do much good.

Before the boy could make sense of what was happening, he heard the tell-tale snap of a bow and the beloved wolf fell limp, the blood of his master fresh on his lips.

The boy cried over the dog’s lifeless body, looking up at his father in confusion, ungrateful for the rescue.

Doc shook his head and said to the boy:

“I told you we would have to kill him some day. The nature of the beast is the nature in us. No matter how much you loved him, he was still a wolf. A wolf only knows how to be a wolf.”

The old man fell silent, as I took in the parable. The fire crackled and the smoke stung my eyes.

Finally, he looked at me. In the amber ambiance of the fire I could see that the other half of his face was tattooed with long jagged scars, and in the place where there should have been another eye was a deep-set crater of skin.

Even with only one eye, he looked right into my soul.

“Remember, child. No matter how much you love, how much you trust, profound hunger can bring out the beast in anyone.”

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