A few days ago, we had Palm Sunday. As I stood there with my head low, listening to the prayer, I remembered that I like folding green palm branches into bright, sweet smelling, sticky crosses. How to do it? My fingers found the way. They pierced and cut with nails to separate, flickered in and out of folds and then it was done. I didn’t have to really remember how to. I was a boy again, fully welcome, tied fast by custom. Directly back in the fold, and by blood.
We were all immersed in a gray that we inhaled and sifted back out, over white teeth and panting, wet mouths. The Latin was as thick, deep and final. Other people by me mouthed the words in Spanish as they folded their Spring hymnals to the yellow pages, printed in that language. A Haitian woman beside me offered to let me read too, and began crackling old pages of her coveted rites-book in Creole for me to see the English translation. Our Vietnamese choir folded hands and looked around the incense, as they waited for the priest to signal their chance to sing. Over there, across the yellow painted line of the next parking space, someone passed over a microphone to lean down to tighten laces of one pointed, polished dress shoe. The church doesn’t have a lot of money. Nobody here dares turn the microphone off and risk not being able to get the sound back, ever.
Then the choir director came up again, unfolding his back from the gray mist. Tall, dressed, ready. Secretly glad. I pocketed the palm-cross and straightened my back, to match his.
I’m not always able to get to Mass. Mass doesn’t always help me. Right now, I feel… awful, about wanting to go to church to help myself get over a woman.
I won’t say her name, I’m not here to write about that. But, a horror overcame me recently, that, maybe, after all these months of building the courage to just ask her, that the problem had been… What if, no matter what I did, her first impression always would have been… that I was white and that could never be enough? I can handle not being tall enough, or smart enough for her. But I can’t change my… I feel like a human being again, when I can go to church. With everyone.
I was a little jealous of the homily Mark gave after all that talking we did. It was about false idols. I hope blogging doesn’t become another one of those?
Besides my faith, there’s only one other thing I’ve needed so much in my life. I used to love to write. And, I remember that before I stopped, there was a little wolf named Rhune, an omega animal, who had great adventures set ahead of him. So, I’m hoping that sharing my attempts at manuscript here in a blog will finally hold me accountable and also do the work of fixing that fear I’ve had, of sharing my work and promoting myself… and then, if I can finally finish something, maybe I’ll be that much closer to finally feeling complete. Like every writer there ever was, right?
But, on last Sunday, when a man in yellow robe raised his hands and the incense died away, I knew I’d done the right thing, by coming spiritually home. He was casting aside evil and carrying us, over water, to a new shore. I felt that. And then, we all had to wait a little bit while one of the altar servants jostled a younger boy, to take his cue and ring the bells. Forty days of silence and remembering were coming to an end. It turned out, the children would be the first ones to start the joy, to tell us it was alright. When had I started writing for Rhune? At about their age. So, finally, it was going to be alright to sing out loud in a language I hardly understood, but always needed to share myself in. For all his judgment, Father Mark did say to write it down, write it down, write it down… And, now I’m also seeing, what a boy I’ve been, trying to loving strangers more than they may be able to understand—But Christ teaches us, that it is alright to do so!
Was He speaking of women?
Rhune, I beg you, show me what has been going wrong in my life. People have failed me, but I know that animals were also living together with us so beautifully back then, in Eden.
Who I Am
Ammerwind had the sharpest tongue. This wolf wore a ruby hide and believed himself to be a poet. Speaking in verse at the worst moments, smiling when you are soon to be dead. Beta wolf, known less widely for being sweet, talented most at making the skin beneath your fur crawl.
Thatan, was the Mane Grey alpha. He was a slate wolf of the oldest bloodline and had earned the sharpest ears. When Thatan howled or spoke, when he barked, everyone heard it deep inside the delicate parts of their ears.
Rhune was the runt. That he possessed the sharpest nose suggested that once, long ago, he had been an animal of worth, destined to challenge and win. But now…
“Rune is a dog.” Ammerwind sneered.
“For the last time, I am not.”
“Then, why can’t you find her?”
Rhune leaned back down, snuffed up and down a line of crushed grass.
“The Pristine She smells like water, like dust, like flies, and rot, and fire and bone.” Said ruby Ammerwind.
“Yes, so she smells of too many opposing things.”
“…And also of man.” Graveled Thatan’s laughter.
The beta agreed with this too. “Dogs die a coward’s death, but wolves live a hero’s death… Now, what do you say, Thatan?”
“Ammerwind, our little Rhune deserves neither.”
It took a great deal of concentration for Thatan to tap through fur and bone, deep into the red beta wolf’s mind, and really hear Ammerwind’s dark thoughts before they happened. Though, amazing effort normally amounted to finishing bad jokes.
When the beta and alpha were satisfied and the runt could be done with it, Rhune fulfilled what the pack had fetched him for. “Her scent goes through here.”
Other wolves roved their ears in that direction, but their muzzles stayed fixed on an obvious trail of disturbed undergrowth.
A low, rasping growl rose from the forest’s melody. Thatan warned him. “You’re lying.”
“But my nose cannot tell a lie.”
Near sin to insult a wolf’s nose.
“You’d push me that far, Rhune?”
“I’ll lose my life if I don’t lead you all correctly. I can’t afford to lie, Packleader. That is what I meant.”
“He means, he means, he’s mean!”
“Be quiet, Ammerwind. Listen, all you Mane Grey. If this is where The Dhamshee has gone, out into the Edge of Forest, then that is where we must hunt her. You know how much we need her blessing. It is worth all that we have lost… and this is also the measurement you’ll make, at how hard you’ll bite and tear her when we catch her. Come on, one and all of us!”
Wolves flicked tails and strutted in formation, past along the scent-trail Rhune indicated. Of course, the runt would not be invited to the kill, nor any of the first-meat. The last Rune saw of Thatan was his hanging jowls, packed tight with yellow teeth and lolling, red tongue. As bad as sun-fall. The beta Ammerwind followed as always, large bushy tail blotting out the view. Rune scurried back into the shadows at the final moment, bracing himself for the strike…
But once they were through the cavern and at the other side, Thatan, ever clever, hesitated before the final clearing. Rhune cussed through clenched teeth. Thatan waited for a long time, sniffed for himself. Sat down on back haunches. The wind began to change. “Where did Rhune go?”
“Rune—he’s still a dog!” cried Ammerwind all of a sudden. Thatan picked up on the beta’s cue as fast as instinct. Bears rushed out from the tallest grass and tore through wolf-ranks.
The Mane Grey ran, pincered, tried to hide, but no stratagem worked. Thatan sounded the call for Carnivory to be used, but the Bears were ready for it. The animals waited until the ancient unliving thick gray power erupted, and then opened jowls to swallow the lupine essence. Wolves snarled wild as their very souls were snuffed in and boiled down in the bellies of those who wielded Omnivory. This was the power not only to eat other animals, but to eat everything. The power belonging to those who guarded the world.
Thatan and Ammerwind nipped and stole round as best as they could while green-ghosted, but the bears were more skilled. So then, beta and alpha were running together, and whining about their fear together as if puppies, when the green vapor finally lashed them up. King Theoden raised on two bowed legs, swiped golden claws through the air, and put away the dust gathered in the storm of hunting. His bear warriors stopped killing, panted, faced West where they all knew Rhune was hiding.
“Good dog.” Joked Theoden. “Our victory was due to an ambush so unlike hallowed fighters, which you provided, second, the ancient ursal powers, and finally, a good sharp nose which finally tipped the scales into The Dhamshee’s favor. So you said, ‘…my nose doesn’t lie.’ But, it can. You tell creatures that a star is a shining stone, or sand is water, and when they’ve never known it before, they can’t tell any difference. Your nose is on a superior plane that the rest of us can hardly imagine, and so, I thank you, oh nasty one, for granting us this chance to finally end our enemies.”
Rhune sniffed around, tramped one way, then skittered tentatively in the other direction. “Common enemies. The Mane Grey pack could not leap into the Howling Beyond as quickly as those using Omnivory. That slim opening was your main advantage. Don’t make what I’ve done seem so important.”
The bear King Theoden came over to him, snuffing hard. White peeling bark armor blasted sunlight all over the place and Rhune found himself groveling again. “Are you afraid? Yes, you nose knows before you do, that’s the real reason for all this humility, Rhune. Thatan and Ammerwind escaped into the Howling Beyond. You do, in truth, smell them. And, no, you don’t get any of the bears’ wine.”
“Wait–then, you didn’t do your part!”
“Carnivory, or cussed as connivery, is dependent on stealth and trickery and bartering with those beautiful ancients who once gave up their immortal lives for the peaceful existence of the young ones, to come after. Among some species, the power was stolen, Rhune. You think the two wolves with the most to lose aren’t going to rely upon that same scheme as their thief ancestors, so that they can survive and harass us, on some other day? For the first time, the Howling Beyond failed to shield the Mane Grey pack, and it was because its noble leaders were willing to use Carnivory against their own.
“I am still owed, you over-stuffed—”
“No, Rhune. You are to run fast. We killed the wolves we wanted. Those other two will die eventually without the females, or while hunting you. So, the Bears get rid of you all without breaking our pact.” Theoden got level with Rhune’s eye. “And I… did not tell you… to murder all the she-wolves. Your death is your own doing. Justice. Now that it is safe, we will hibernate.”
“You can’t hibernate every time you can’t ‘solve’ a problem Theoden.”
The Bears marched around, panting heavily and grunted white teeth over stained tips of bloodied grass steaming against a glad blue sky. She-bears and their mates groaned in response, and white bark armor clattered as the bears brushed past each other, to the South Den. Rhune snuffed and understood where their cubs were hidden. Could he manage a little one for revenge, or a perhaps a repast?
To Rhune, bears always looked incredibly lazy, fat, or stupid for being so sleepy. Then, Rhune decided to tell King Theoden that. “Look you, wolf! Hearwynn will eventually become bored with you and rush the world along to your death day, no matter what comes. I hope it is fast, for you to still be mocking me. Now run away from here!”
The gold grass began to glow as the blue night sky fell quickly. Hearwynn seemed to rush time along when important things were about to happen. It was like the world itself could not wait to get to the best parts of the story. Hearwynn? Hearwynn was coming back to life.
Rhune ran harder…
And so, Rhune, the most deceptive and sly, with the sharpest nose of all the wolves, would be the one to find her. After so many years, Hearwynn had awakened and Rhune’s luck was going to change. Hearwynn returning had to be the reason for the little wolf’s unusual luck at staying fed, with an omega wolf’s scant muscle. The return of the planet’s fond gaze upon Rhune’s hide was what caused the others to need him when they could have discovered the truth and instead blamed him for murders. The Mane Grey pack’s foolish trust in Rhune, the fast alliance with the Bears and Rhune, this was fate turning to the runt wolf once again.
Rhune was able to feel joy again, that the story was continuing. As the long edges of his jowls lifted into toothy grin, another gift came. Beneath his paws, and he tried that rock at the edge of a creek again… yes, he’d found the true scent of The Dhamshee at last. She had been concealing her trail alongside the water. And now, Rhune was able to find the scent of the Dhamshee.
The bold, stinging scent of her eventually led Rune’s good nose to streams that wound through mountains and down into cool valleys beneath rivers. Rhune came to the place where Hearwynn had ended the story once long ago, and so the land out there had turned itself into a desert of rock and sand. He crept in closer. As Rhune did so, sprigs of green things bloomed beneath the pads of his feet. Tough weed burrs chose that place to uncatch from his fur and set down roots.
Rhune found The Dhamshee laying naked by a calm, silvery pool that flowed until it stopped flat at the story’s dead-edge. And, Pristine She must have seen a scraggly creature coming toward her, bringing a curious parade of green life behind him. The whole world followed him.
“I know you, Rhune. You are the protagonist?”
Only now, did Rhune begin to breathe easily. He would not have to use an alpha’s strength to subdue her. The sun flashed along the blue horizon, then went out. A gray moon burned at the edges until it defined its cream crescent. Hearwynn was more than ready for this.
The Dhamshee was spoken of as a supreme creative force, and said to take many forms. Tonight she chose to be a human woman. Strange, two-legged, beautiful. She smoothed long fingers over her glowing form. No fur, but skin. All of her together, like one long, talking fang. At the least, Rhune could appreciate that. He began to admire it.
“A great tragedy has brought me to Hearwynn. I believe you are the one, who is owed a wish. What do you wish of The Dhamshee?”
Rhune laughed through his nose, both nostrils wheezed at once, a silver of snot cast out and ran down, down, over one of his yellow fangs. Two green paws with black nails came forward, then two more bringing up legs behind scratched and clicked to a stop against the petrified dirt.
“Female, do you see how I am? How I was cheated early on in life, denied the right to mate? Do you know how I’ve suffered, how I was so cruelly treated… What I need now, in my long, lonely youth, more than anything, is to be completely stripped of all the evil I’ve inherited, drag it out of me, burn it away, cleanse it, pluck every lupine hair of my body until I am no longer a wolf. I no longer have a need for Carnivory, I hate it.”
“So then, you wish to die?”
“I want to mate. Then, I want to die. Like a feckless aphid.”
“Oh, Rhune,” The Dhamshee said, “You do not understand what I am. That is not what She is. When a woman comes… she may knead you into something she wants. She may listen or try to lead you, but a lover does not try to end you. So then… I will remake you, into someone even you can love. You shall be the greatest, most beloved creature on this planet or in this story.” Bells began to ring.
Is this how guilty you are for neglecting me all these years, Hearwynn?
If I cannot have it in life, Rhune, you shall win it here.
Hearwynn… that’s pathetic.