Authors: W.C. Hoffman
“Five sleeping bags, guns everywhere,” Tomek mouthed silently to his brother. Drake agreed with the assessment, adding that every coat sported badges. Drake and Tomek knew they were now dealing with the type of people Uncle had warned them about. Not knowing what part of the “government” these intruders represented was not an issue. All that mattered is they were government and that was enough to eliminate them. Even if they were doing so in Uncle’s honor, it was the right thing to do in their minds.
While sitting in the tree 60 yards away from the sleeping intruders they devised their plan. Tomek would stay back at 20 yards using his bow on the three bags closest to him. Drake would stalk up and wait for Tomek's first shot. While the intruders’ focus was on where in the dark the arrows were coming from Drake would use his throwing knives and eliminate any left standing.
The plan seemed simple and had little risk to the twins. However, their entire outlook on the situation changed instantly when Tomek spoke to his brother, this time clear and out loud,
“They have a wolf.”
itting in the canopy of the oak tree amongst the growing acorns and unrelenting mosquitoes Drake clearly heard what his brother had said. Like many of the other obstacles they faced, Uncle's voice was there with them as they pondered what to do.
“A wolf is a hunter, a killer and yet still a pack animal. When you find one alone, you must kill it before he can tell the pack where you are. Just like a pack of wolves, you two must fight and hunt together. Alone you are weak, together you are unstoppable. Never fight a pack of wolves. Separate them and take them out, one by one.”
When Tomek looked upon the group he saw a wolf, unlike his brother Drake. Drake thinking more broadly saw a pack. “I’ll shoot the wolf first. Once it is gone we can take on the rest,” Tomek said. Drake knew that shooting a wolf would not be a silent matter. That was the difference between killing an animal and a man. A man dies in silence, scared of his fate and in shock. Drake knew the wolf would howl and scream upon being hit with the arrow and alert the rest of the deputies in the pack making them much harder to eliminate.
“I have a better idea” Drake informed Tomek while pulling out a jar on honey from his back pack. Tomek seeing the jar smiled, immediately he knew that his brother’s plan was the perfect solution. Uncle had killed a black bear this way once after it continued to invade the garden night after night. The old bear’s skin was so thick Uncle's stone arrowhead would hardly penetrate the bruin’s hide. So like Uncle before them, they knew that for the rule of
After 5, Stay Alive
was going to come into play.
With his brother’s approval, Drake climbed down with the nightshade and death angel tainted honey jar and his steady accompaniment of knives in tow. The deputies foolishly had set camp right along a narrow, dirt-packed game trail. The absence of fallen leaves and gravel from the cleared trail allowed Drake a silent approach. Ignoring the clouds of mosquitoes whirling around his head and humming in his ears he dropped to the ground at 30 yards.
Crawling hand by hand, he was now at 10 yards. With the constant light show put on by the green illuminated fireflies, his darkness-adjusted eyes combined with the flickering glow of what was left of the fire made it bright as daylight to him. This was the point of no return and Drake had to decide whether to step over the sleeping deputies to get close enough to the wolf or to work his way around the outside of the still-sleeping pack. Working his way around the outside meant leaving the hard packed trail and the possibility of waking the pack as his steps crunched on the forest floor. Knowing that if even a single wolf was to wake up, he would be in trouble. Drake chose the riskier but silent route.
The fire sat aglow with embers as Drake approached the first bag. Thankfully, the smoke from the fire had removed most of the mosquitoes from the camp area and Drake could utilize his full concentration without being bothered. Sleeping on his back with a monstrous snoring roar, Drake approached the sleeping bag of what looked to be a giant. Compared to his 16-year-old frame, Drake had never seen a man of Deputy Coleman's size. He also could not believe the others somehow remained asleep through the sound of the snoring giant. While stepping over Coleman's wide waist, he could not help but giggle to himself as the deputy did his best impersonation of a black bear's mating roar. Two more bags of sleeping enemies stood between Drake and Aurora.
Henderson on her side was a quick hop over and much easier to get by than the previous bear he had just passed due to the sheer size difference between the two. Looking back to ensure the pack was still asleep he stood over Henderson. Something was different. Not only did Drake recognize the body as being smaller but there was something else. There was something about her face that drew him in.
What was it, he wondered. Why was this human different? He quickly realized as he got closer and closer, now down on one knee. Henderson is a woman. Of course Uncle had warned them about the dangers of these creatures, but Drake had secretly always disagreed with Uncle on this aspect of human nature. Drake remembered clearly the only woman he had ever talked to. The only dark-skinned person he had ever seen besides himself and Tomek. The nurse from all those years ago. Something about Henderson reminded him of the nurse. While he could not explain his instant infatuation he was excited to tell Tomek about it upon his return.
Still waiting, Tomek watching from his perch had an arrow knocked and instantly grew angry with his brother who was now six feet from the sleeping wolf and down on his knee staring into the face of a sleeping target.
What is he doing
Tomek’s anger began to boil. Growing impatient with his brother's sudden enchantment, Tomek drew his bow, feeling the tension in his back as he held the string at full draw he aimed directly over his brother’s shoulder. Tomek saw his brother draw in closer to Henderson and his decision was made. Releasing the grip on his fingers holding back the string, it drug across his bare cheek propelling the arrow downrange, where it directly impacted the middle of the fire pit.
With sparks and embers flying into the air from the arrow’s thud-like landing, Drake jumped up and peered into the darkness. At that moment two thoughts crossed his mind: “
What in the hell is Tomek doing shooting at me?
” and “
Where in the hell is he
Both thoughts continually ran through his mind as he stared into the darkness. He knew that if not for the wolf being present, their original plan would have worked perfectly. All five of the targets would have been eliminated easily from the darkness if not for the wolf. Even knowing what tree Tomek was in, Drake could not see his brother.
“The wolf!” Drake heard the words escape from the darkness. Taking heed to his brother's sudden warning he slowly spun around, relieved to see all the deputies still sleeping, none the wiser about the arrow’s now prominent presence standing tall up on end in the fire pit. His relief quickly evaporated not by what he saw, but by what he heard next.
The low toned, gutturally growl was not like one he had heard before. Different and somehow more intimidating than a bear or even a coyote, Aurora was awake. Looking directly at Drake with hunched shoulders, the hair on her back rose like some sort of medieval beast waiting to attack, Drake knew he was in trouble. Reaching for a knife slowly only made things worse as Aurora stepped forward showing her teeth. Drake knew that running was useless and even if he did make it to a spot he could climb, the rest of the pack would have him trapped like a cat stuck in a tree.
Drake looked again to the darkness with hope that another arrow would find its way into the circle of sleeping men and kill the wolf holding him silently captive. He pleaded with his eyes silently into the darkness for help, but there was no arrow. Much like the moment when he was in the river with a gun to his head, Drake was alone in a fight, with his brother standing by doing nothing.
“Aurora lay down you stupid mutt!” the sheriff demanded, without rolling over to see exactly why she was growling. Aurora held her position while taking her intent gaze off of Drake to look over at the sheriff. Much like the moment with the hunter in the river Drake relied on one of Uncle's teachings again.
“Never close your eyes just before you kill a man. That is the moment when your weakness will be seen.” “The snake has open eyes when he strikes the rat!”
Using the break in the wolf's concentration, Drake reached down to his right cargo pocket and tossed the contents to the ground. The jar of honey now lay opened in between him and the dog. With a great sense of relief Drake watched as she lowered her head sniffing the sweetness of the jar. The opening was big enough for Aurora to fit her snout into. Feverishly the dog buried her attention into getting every last drop of the deadly gold bee syrup from out of the jar.
The wolf now ignoring Drake, he slipped away from the group and exited back down the path where he originally entered the camp. Stepping back over the still bear-like snoring of Coleman, he looked back and saw the arrow still sticking up in the now extinguished fire pit. Drake walked back toward the pit, grabbing the half-broken cedar arrow shaft at the fletching and quickly making his exit again over Coleman and back down the trail.
Drake did not go far into the woods. He wanted to stay hidden and watch to make sure the tainted jar of death did its work on the wolf. Making his way back up into a tree 20 yards from the camp, Tomek joined him. They shared a glance and Tomek knew he was in for a chewing, but that would have to wait. He looked at Drake, shrugged his shoulders and in a simple attempt to compliment and flatter some of the anger out of Drake said, “I knew you were fine. You always figure your own way out.”
Aurora finished what she could of the jar and laid back down next to Ravizza. The twins knew all to well what would happen next. If only a small, dipped dart could take down a deer, the entire jar would be more than enough to kill not only a single dog but the whole pack if need be. Within five minutes, whimpering and rolling on the ground Aurora woke up Ravizza with a constant pawing at his back. “What’s wrong, girl?” he asked, holding her tight as she lay in his lap shivering. Seeing the jar laying on the ground in the early morning sunrise he asked the group loud enough to wake them all up “”What is this jar, which one of you gave this to her?”
Coleman, who had packed all the food provisions for the group, examined the jar.
“I did not bring this.”
Smelling it he said, “We have no use for honey on this trip.” Coleman took a swab of the sticky honey on his finger and again held it to his nose. “Yup, honey,” he shrugged, opening his mouth.
The twins watched and were ecstatic as Coleman's finger moved towards his mouth to taste the death syrup. Neither of them had figured the giant would be this easy to take out of the pack. A two-for-one kill was the best possible outcome.
Tomek looked at Drake and whispered “The big bear has to eat big meals.”
“Put it down, you damn block-headed fool!” Henderson yelled while springing across the camp slamming into Coleman. Because of his size he didn't move upon the impact that flung her to the ground. However her jarring hit was enough to make him question the substance and he wiped his finger off on his pant leg.
“So close” Drake said disappointingly.
After the ruckus the group’s attention focused back onto the now dying K-9 lying in Ravizza' lap. With tears on his face he held onto his German Shepherd partner, pleading for her to recover and come back to him. The twins knew she was not coming back, but were impressed with how long she had lasted thus far. Still struggling to breathe, the dog remained in Ravizza's grasp, lying there with her outstretched tongue. Suddenly, the dog again began to convulse.
“No, why? No, she is all I have left. No, why?” Ravizza sobbed more unintelligible words in his moment of panicking grief, not caring who could see or hear him. The rest of the group, stunned and saddened at the outpouring of emotion coming from their brother in arms stood by solemnly.
It was something in the way Ravizza poured over the imminent death of the wolf that struck Drake. Until now, death was just death. No sadness, no joy, just death. Drake watched the grief on Ravizza's face first with amazement and then with a modicum of his own sadness.
“What must it be like to feel for something like that?”
Drake had never felt that way when Uncle died. He just was gone and that was all. Drake even ran through the idea of losing his brother. The only emotions that arose were the anger regarding having to do all of the survival, hunting, trapping and garden work by himself. Watching Ravizza cry over his now-suffering dog did stir up emotions in Drake. He did not feel sorry for the wolf. The wolf had to die. He did feel pain and some form of sorrow for Ravizza. Both Tomek and Drake had seen enough and climbed down the back side of the large oak out of sight from the deputies still all standing there watching.
Aurora's chest raised and lowered, shaking with each lift of her rib cage. Whimpering as she exhaled each time through her now completely dry nose Ravizza looked into her brown eyes. Glassed over and lifeless, not focusing back on her owner, the eyes seemed empty. Rubbing his thumb over her head and looking into her eyes Ravizza felt like her soul was gone. Aurora's soul may have left her body but the whimpering and crying not only remained but grew louder and more desperate.
Drake looked back one more time to see the rest of the group now packing their gear, no longer watching Aurora's feeble struggle to hold on to life. Everyone had gone, except Ravizza and Henderson. Drake looked closely and saw Henderson now crying openly. Drake could not take it anymore.
Silently, end over end gaining speed as it neared its final destination the throwing knife that left Drake’s hand found its mark. Blood burst from Aurora’s ribcage as the blade lacerated its way into her body, only stopping at the hilt. She shook once more and the whimpering was over. Out of sympathy for Henderson, Drake had showed weakness, he killed the wolf. Uncle would not be happy.