Authors: Chris Kurtz
There's a clump of tall grass on a high bank that overlooks the meadow. I crawl inside the clump and wait for my brothers.
I lie perfectly still. Completely camouflaged. Unseen. A top predator at his most dangerous. Totally invisible.
Then a fly lands on my ear. It tickles. I do not stir. A top predator does not break his cover for any reason short of life and death. The fly circles the edge of my ear and tickles some more. I do not move a muscle.
The fly takes a sightseeing adventureâsouthbound. It's walking on the inside of my ear! The tickle curls my paws, but otherwise I remain
still as a statue. It turns out this fellow has a special move saved up for me. It's called the go-deep-and-then-buzz-as-loud-as-you-can move.
I jump about four feet in the air and hit the ground running, shaking my head as hard as I can. My ear has decided this is a life-and-death matter.
When I am sure the bug has taken his game somewhere else, I hop back into my hiding place. If any wary prey has seen that display of strength and agility, they will be long gone. All the rodents and vermin who happened to be watching at that moment are shivering at the bottoms of their holes.
The thought of vermin makes me think about Hector and the way he helped me get away from Alexandra. I hope he is meeting girl rats, and that at least one of them doesn't find him as ugly or disgusting as I do.
He's fine, I tell myself. He is probably having a party.
But what if the other rats take a disliking to that strange white fur and kick him out? Then where will he go? He can't hide. At night he
practically glows. An owl or a weasel would make short work of him.
What? Is it possible I'm worried about Hector? Never in a million dog years did I think I would worry about that little pest. But here I am fretting about him.
Maybe Glory is watching out for him. It would be just like her to spend her free days checking up on the little guy instead of testing the wild winds of Yellowstone. I think of her racing down a canyon on wings that feel young and quick again.
If I wasn't such a cold-blooded predator, I would say that I miss them both. I would say that I am going soft and that I care about those two unfortunate critters. But a cold-blooded predator has no time for such tender feelings. He thinks of one thing onlyâsurvival for himself and for the pack.
I lie very still in my hiding place and remind myself over and over that my pack is out there somewhere. They will bound over to me when they see me. Their heads will be up, ready to welcome the newest hunter into their group. The wolf leader will lick my nose and I will lick his and then we will sniff each other.
We will sniff noses, and we will sniff necks and shoulders. Sniffing is a big deal in the dog world. Then we will move down and sniff sides and back legs. And then will come the big finish of the sniffing business, where we will sniff â¦ Well, never mind that part. If you're not a dog or a wolf, you might not understand. The important thing is that we will sniff each other and then we will hunt.
While I am running through all that sniffing in my mind, the sun is getting hotter and hotter. My hiding place is getting more and more uncomfortable. Grass and sticks can poke the soft underbelly of even the most ferocious top predator. There is another thing that's getting uncomfortable.
I start thinking about dog food. Delicious, crunchy, perfectly sized dog food and a cool bowl of water right next to the food. “No,” I whisper sternly. A wolf, even a wolf in training, does not crave dog food. He does not wish for crisp, duck-flavored Nibbles and Nuggets, perfectly identical, tested for taste on millions of dogs â¦
, I tell myself.
Instead, I work over my introduction lines. “Howdy, folks.” I'm pleased with how deep and smooth my voice sounds in my mind. “Do you reckon you could use another really wild, really brave hunting partner?” I call that my bold Western approach. Always effective.
Or I could say, “Jumping jackrabbits. I was just about to go out on another one of my fantastically successful hunting trips. Want to come along?” I call that my surprised-but-happy-to-meet-you approach.
Or I could impress them with the city-dog-meets-country-cousin approach. “Hot dog in hamburger heaven. Haven't I seen you before?”
A loping sound makes me lift my head, and at the far edge of the meadow I see them.
All my fancy introductions fly out of my head. I won't deny it. I am thrilled. I am so thrilled that my feet are shaking, and my shaky feet make my legs shake, which makes my whole body shake.
This is the most exciting moment of my life. I am maybe just a touch overwhelmed at the sight of the greatest hunters in the world.
I watch them glide into the meadow grass that reaches almost up to their bellies. I stay perfectly still. A fly could land on my eyeball, jump into my ear, walk across my brain and out the other side, and I would not make a sound.
The wolves are beautiful and frightening. They are just as amazing as I thought they would be, only more so.
At first I think they are just there for a little romp in the grass. But the lead wolf changes direction suddenly and starts sniffing this way and that.
The other wolves join in on either side. They move as if they are one wolf.
I know what they are doing. Something is hiding for its life in the tall grass. The hunt is on.
Suddenly they leap into action. The lead wolf charges forward with the other two close beside. I can't see what they're pursuing, but I know a hunt when I see it. Whenever the prey darts left, the wolf on the left cuts it off.
They are powerful and fast.
There is no escape.
Then the animal, the prey, jumps into the air for a second, and I see what they are chasing. It's a rabbit. A brown fellow with a white tail. He has tried everything else to escape, and now he is leaping. But it's too late. As soon as he lands, the teeth are just inches away.
My heart is knocking on my ribs. I know that
the end is near for the rabbit. To my horror, I realize that I'm rooting for the little guy to get away.
I've never been so shocked in all my life. What sort of wolf brother ever cheers for the rabbit?
I stand frozen. The chase stops short. The lead wolf dips his head in the grass and jerks his head back and forth. I can't see it but I imagine the quick bite. And then the stillness. The three hunters lift their heads and look around while they catch their breath.
Yellow eyes. Yellow eyes boring into anything that moves. If you get locked onto by a pair of those eyes, you stay looked at. That's what happened to the rabbit.
That little guy never had a chance. It wasn't exactly a fair fight. He was seven times smaller than even one wolf. And there were three of them.
For a second, I think about walking out there and telling them to pick on someone their own size. I think about marching right out and staring them down. And then it hits me. I am about the same size as the rabbit they are about to snack on.
I crouch in the grass. I decide to stay right where I am. Only a little bit lower down.
“Get it over with,” I whisper.
But they still don't eat that poor rabbit. Instead they lift their noses in the air, throw their heads back and forth, and sniff really hard. Something has caught their attention. Something that seems mighty interesting.
I settle myself down for another show. I promise myself that this time I won't root for the prey. It's all about survival, I tell myself. You can't be softhearted when you're the top predator.
“Okay, brother wolves. Go git him,” I whisper.
That's when I realize that the wind has shifted. It's blowing from behind me, over my back, and down onto the meadow.
My brother wolves are walking my way.
Something is so interesting to them that they have left that dead rabbit where it lies in the grass.
They stroll over to a certain bush, and I suddenly wish I had not left my calling card right where any old top predator can find it and trace the scent another twenty feet over.
The trembling in my feet isn't excitement this time.
I wish I'd stayed with Mona.
I wish I'd listened to Glory.
I think about making a break for it. I think about how quickly I left Alexandra in the dust.
Then I think about how those wolves ran down a lightning-fast rabbit with all of its twisting and turning tricks.
No matter if I choose to run or just stay in my shivery clump of grass, it looks as if I have only a minute or two left to live.
The wolves don't move a blade of grass when they take a step. They are in no hurry.
I can see every whisker now, every silver hair among the gold and brown and black. They are beautiful. They are strong and confident.
And they are going to eat me.
The sun is burning hot on the top of my head, and I think about how I have seen my last sunset.
Just when it seems as if it can't get any worse, it does.
A flash of white catches my eye. A fat little
rodent waddles his way down the dry, dusty bank to the meadow just behind the wolves. He must not have seen the wolves. Rats can't see very well. He is looking at that nice, green meadow grass.
I can just imagine what he's thinking. He's thinking about all the hiding places and girl rats who would definitely make a home in such a beautiful place.
Unfortunately, I'm not the only one who sees him.
The wolves turn. They don't miss a thing. They have heard his little scurrying footsteps. At first they just stare as if they can't believe their eyes. It's possible that tasty rodents in Yellowstone Park don't often waddle by dressed in an easy-to-spot white outfit, all fattened up and ready to eat.
They don't just stand and stare for long. You don't become a top predator by standing around and staring when your midday snack strolls by.
The wolves turn their backs on me. I think about jumping up right then and hightailing it out of there. But my legs won't move.
The rat stops in his tracks. He sees the trouble he is in too late.
You might think I'm thrilled to have the wolves get interested in someone else. But I am not thrilled at all. I know, for sure, that it is my brother rat in the dirt.
As I watch, the wolves surround Hector. I can see his face clearly now. It is a face I have seen every morning of my life.
He crouches down as low as he can go in the dust and shows his yellow teeth. I've always thought those teeth were creepy, but these wolves don't seem too impressed. In fact, the wolves seem to be grinning.
One of them reaches out a paw and flips Hector over. Another one grabs him in his teeth and tosses him spinning in the air.
They are playing with him.
It's too much for me to watch. I can't do it. My legs stand up on their own. I take a step. My brain screams at me to run in the opposite direction. But my legs run me right toward those wolves.
Unbelievably, I bark at them.
I reach right down to the biggest, fiercest part of me and woof with all the power I can muster.
Okay, I admit it. I yap. I yip and yap, and I give it everything I have.
They aren't going to gobble down my friend without a fight. These top predators will learn what it's like to face down the baddest pet-store Chihuahua the world has ever seen.
Okay, I'll admit that my loudest and angriest barking has never caused anyone to run away in fear. Or even to back away slowly.
But I'm hoping that just this once the wolves will tuck their tails and run.
They also don't wag their tails and walk up to me in a friendly, sniffing sort of way.
Instead they all pull their lips over their teeth and snarl. There is no sound in the universe as frightening as the snarl of a wild wolf.
Ice tingles spread down my legs. But I'm not going to stop barking. Okay, yapping.
I yap like I've never yapped before. I yap as if twenty burglars have broken into Mona's apartment. I yap as if a hundred buffalo have gotten loose in Central Park, and it's up to me to move them along. I yap as if it were my last yapâwhich I figure it probably is. Then I yap some more.
And for just a moment, it seems to confuse the wolves. They look at me as if this is something
they might need to take a minute to figure out. Before they eat it.
I see Hector gather himself off the ground where he landed. He begins to sneak a few steps closer to the meadow. Then he makes a dash for it and disappears into the long grass. I hope there's a hole somewhere close by.
The wolves don't notice. In a stiff-legged way, they begin to move in my direction. I stop yapping. There are no snarls now. Heads low and ears forward, the pack is done figuring or being confused or surprised.
They are hunting.