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Rational Animals


In the light of the fireplace flames, his flesh, where the wolf had not torn it asunder, was the perfect bronze of an autumn sky as it dusted the golden grassland of the valley just before the coming snows. It was as beautiful as I remembered it, but much softer than in my dreams. Each arm was sharply defined, with well-worked muscles, his legs long and lean like a runner’s, but his throat and chest where the wolf had attacked were nothing more than raw, mangled wounds, each one torn through to the meat below, each one still welling with the richness of blood.

The wounds needed to be stitched, but the thought of piercing his flesh and causing him any more pain gave me serious pause. I knew, however, it needed to be done. So, with a trembling hand, I took the needle and thread I’d boiled in herbs and carefully sewed small stitches. I forced my fingers to be still as I bound his flesh. When the tedious task was complete, I wrapped each wound with more healing herbs and carefully wound it with bandages. The rest was up to him.

The night progressed slowly. As he lay wrapped in the warmth of my bedding, it was soon apparent that the fever had come, and with it the chilled onslaught of darkened dreams. Each groan he made was filled with terror. Each shudder brought a fear of reopening his wounds.

I heard the voices of my ancestors calling out to me, telling me it was time to take my greatest journey. My grandfather called to me, whispered in my ear. I knew I had no choice but to enter his dreamlands… I knew if I did not at least try to call him back to the land of the living, my wounded stranger would die.

The night lay heavy beyond the walls of my small cabin. Frigid winds whispered along the meadows and through the timber. Wolf song called out mournfully in the night. Fearful chills rushed down my spine. With a heavy, worried heart, I stood in the center of my room and watched as this strange and beautiful man fought the devils of the fever—his brow heavy with perspiration, his body wracked with violent chills, moaning something about a great white darkness. It made me wonder where his dream walk would lead us, and if we were both strong enough to come out of it alive.

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