TITLE: Neanderthals, Wolves, and Us: The First Man Standing Series
GENRE: Historical/Magical Realism
A student asked Professor Arny Singer if he could name one incident in his life, which led to his Nobel Prize, and what’s life been like since. The second part wasn’t so easy. Arny preferred to dramatize the interwoven lives of wolves, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens. He failed to mention he lived it, a point Nobel would not find amusing. As for the first part:
Arny took too many chances with wild life.
His mom and dad argued so loud about him, a grizzly bear might stop by to complain. Arny froze like a statue in the blind black outside their tent, trying to understand. Were it not his thirteenth birthday, he guessed, there’d be no hike alone tomorrow with playmate Terry.
Whoosh. A strafing hunter’s wings stole the boy’s breath, and established who’s boss at night on the Rocky Mountain plains.
What a hoot.
He remained standing, surrounded by creepy night sounds, that owl hooting away, not too distant cracking branches, thrilled by the dangers. At a distance, wolves howled. Arny’s heart ached from the sorrow in their song; a wolf pup was dying. He felt one with them. The boy tiptoed away from the tent to the camp perimeter, cocked his head, and let out a little howl. He’d save the pup tomorrow after he and Terry reached their lookout point.
Arny entered his tent and dosed off dreaming a favorite fantasy. He became early boy, stone and spear, running and hunting with wolves.
The next day, Arny and his playmate rubbed and bumped each other between Hemlock shrubs, squashing fragrant blue wheat grasses, and budding Lady’s Tresses. Their binoculars were up, padded elbows down on a gravel bar overlooking the Rocky Mountains’ lower meadows. They were tight and Arny was restless. The cool late afternoon mountain breezes combed the meadows and blew away the gnats. He knew he didn’t have much time left to do it.
“There she goes. I’m going down. I want you to stay here pumpkin, no matter what.” Arny cared for his cute friend with round face.
“Don’t Arny, she’ll kill you.”
“She won’t be back for twenty-two minutes. Don’t worry Terry. You’ll be proud and the pup will have his mom.” For nearly a second full day Arny and Terry had been watching the den, the hole the pup fell in, and the frantic mother pacing back and forth. Arny knew something had to be done.
Terry blurted, “My hero.” She blew a kiss.
“Shh.” Arny slid down the hill, bounded by the den, and lowered himself little by little using the grubby roots from the nearby Red Cedars and shale that encrusted and poked the fourteen-foot deep and skinny hole. The weakened pup offered little resistance. “Oh my little one, you are so cute and so dirty.” Arny kissed the pup, unzipped about halfway, and then slid him between his flannel shirt and thick hooded cotton blend jacket. He zipped up leaving the pup’s head out and struggled up. “We have to get out of here pronto.” Too late. Arny’s noises had brought the other pups out of the den to the top of the hole. Their little yips, frail howl attempts, and an incessant squawking raven lured the pack. Arny peered up at the snarling heads and a piano’s worth of bared ivories. “Uh, oh.”
He stopped two feet from the top, peppered by clumps of rich soil, worms, grass, roots, and pebbles from the large lunging feet above. He shook his head and raised his hood.
“Oh Jesus, help me.” Arny closed his eyes as if at the altar remembering his prayers, pulled the pup out by his scruff, and raised his hand up to a very unhappy family.
One of the wolves weaved his fangs by Arny’s fingers and clenched the pup’s scruff. Arny slid his slobbered hand free of the wolf’s mouth. The snarling stopped. They were all still nearby the hole except for the pups, and there they stayed. Maybe they’re having a party. I need one more miracle. Arny decided to climb out, shaking but resolute. He peeked over the surface and met the golden eyes of the pup’s mom. He was certain it was she; an unusual silver, gray, and white face with two symmetrical gray swirls about her eyes forming a scary but beautiful mask. She held a terrifying focus on the boy who dared to touch her baby. She was crouched and waiting for him. He thought, Don’t eat me, I’m tooooo salty. Arny talked to the predator, “Hello, pretty, pretty.”
Like lightning, the mother struck at the boy before he could back down the hole, clamped down with the right amount of force on the hoody about his neck, and with all the strength of four powerful legs continually jerked backwards until he was prone and defenseless. She let go, loomed over the dazed whimpering human pup, bent down, sniffed his mouth, licked once, and pranced over to her brood, grinning back at the boy, or so Arny thought.
What is so funny? Arny started to crawl away but stopped, turned around and sat, looked back at Terry who was smacking her head as if she could have had a V8. Arny said to the mom, “Thank you ma’am.” Only the almost full-grown juveniles, paid attention to him. The rest of the pack was involved in a free for all. The pups and mother retired to the den. One juvenile started wrestling with Arny’s cowboy boot and then a playmate started pulling the other. Five adults surrounded the boy. They sniffed, rubbed up against him, and attempted to corral the exuberant juvenile delinquents. Arny thought it best to unzip and slide off his boots. He started crawling again, leaving his fancy leather gifts to placate the youngsters. When at the bottom of the steep slope, he peeked back at the pack with their backsides elevated facing the hole, pawing dirt. He beamed up to see Terry’s adoring eyes.