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The boy awoke in almost complete darkness, the only light coming from the crescent moon and the millions of stars above. From his place high up in the secluded hilly forest, he looked down at the valley. A fire from his followers sent a wisp of smoke up into the air.
â€˜This is the forth day,’ he thought, â€˜could they really still be on my trail? They must be using an Indian tracker.’
Using how long it had taken him to get to his excellent vantage point, he guessed they were about half a day’s ride on a horse away from him.
A loud wailing cry pierced the air close to the boy, making him jump back in surprise, almost making him fall down the steep hill to his left. Drawing his Colt, he aimed it straight at The Wanderer. A Red Wolf, The Wanderer had followed the boy when he was back serving the Union. “No, no, not now. Please, be quiet,” the boy said fearfully, stealing a glance back over to the fire many miles away…
When the war had started, the boy and two of his buddies had signed up, eager to help the Union with a quick victory. They were assigned to a group out west, on a Union outpost near Illinois. Their troop managed to go almost four months with no battle.
During this time, The Wanderer came into the boy’s life. At meal times a wolf would come from the edge of the outpost, hoping for some small scraps of meat. The boy, a sympathetic one, brought him the left overs of his meal. Following that, the wolf showed up every day at sunset, when the soldiers would have their supper. The soldiers, with this being their only amusement, named the scrawny wolf The Wanderer, because he never seemed to be with a pack, a loner. This continued for several weeks, every day at sunset, the soldiers in the watchtower would call, “Here comes The Wanderer, get your food ready,” always followed by steady laughter from the rest of the camp.
But one day, a different cry rose from the watchtower.
“Confederates!” was the yell the resonated through the outpost, and the skirmish began. The boy was rattled. The skirmish was quick but bloody. He was forced to shoot. It was kill or be killed. It was never that way when hunting. The seventeen year old had grown up on a farm in New Hampshire, and had seen animals that had been killed, and killed a couple small animals himself, but always from a distance. Before the war, the most he’d ever harmed a human being was in small, schoolyard scuffles. When he shot a boy on the opposing side, he saw the light leaving his eyes, eyes that were younger than his own. He didn’t sleep at all that night.
Scared, and never wanting to see battle ever again, he grabbed a Colt pistol, a saddlebag full of food, a horse, and set off for his family’s farm. He realized during the second night that they were following him. He saw three or four black dots, moving closer with each passing day. There was almost no coverage in which to hide, just wide-open plains. On the third day, he spotted some large hills covered with foliage. He watched until the dots stopped moving for the day, and then, light only by the stars, he turned up into the hills.
The Wanderer let out a loud piercing cry.
“Stop!” the boy whispered, growing increasingly uneasy.
They know that cry; they know he’s with me.
Stop, you’re scaring yourself, it could be any wolf.
But its not.
Back and forth his mind went, one side trying to win out over the other. After watching the campfire down in the plains for some time, light began to climb up over the eastern sky. My farm is already light, the notion forming in the boy’s mind, the two sides of him thinking as one.
Not able to wait any longer, he grabbed his few possessions, and set out, hoping to gain a small head start. The Wanderer let out a howl, hoping for the meat he always got back at the outpost.
“No, no, no,” the boy groaned. “You must be quiet.”
He rode in silence for almost half an hour, the wolf galloping along beside him, with a look as if he wanted to play. The boy glanced back, and to his horror saw the black dots moving along behind him. With a kick to the horse, he urged it faster, the wolf still keeping par.
The Wanderer was silent until they stopped for the night. The fire was much closer then the night before, maybe only ten miles or so. After the boy had eaten, the wolf rang out with his cry again, hoping for scraps. Once The Wanderer started, he refused to stop, letting out his cry very few minutes. The boy tried everything, nothing working. His thoughts turned to the fully loaded pistol lying just a few feet away from him.
I can do it, and then take off. I can’t be more than a day or two away from home by now. They will lose the trail.
Gingerly moving over toward the tied up horse, he slowly reached his hand into his satchel and pulled out the pistol. He cocked it, ready to fire, and pointed it toward the howling animal.
He stopped. He remembered what he was running from, the death, the light leaving another living things eyes. The light would leave The Wanderer’s just as the boy he had shot with the very gun he was holding in his hand now. Unable to do it, he shot up into the air, promptly silencing the wolf. He got on the horse, and rode off. The wolf followed, in complete silence. The Wanderer understood.
The dots followed until about noon the next day, when they decided it was no longer worth it, and turned around. The boy and The Wanderer sat and watched them go. They ate, then headed off towards the mountains marking the border between Vermont and New Hampshire, the setting sun at their backs.
The boy could already imagine the endless rows of the apple orchard, and the sounds of night as he fell asleep, and birds as he awoke in the morning. He could already drink the crisp, cool water down in the river where he always swam as a young boy.
“New Hampshire is past those mountains,” the boy confided to The Wanderer, his companion, “and we will be home by tomorrow.”
Oil Springs, Kentucky
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