This time, Timothy had a mission. He’d seen Buster, and that stupid Gainer, yesterday. They’d walked by his family laughing loudly about little baby lambs whose mommies wouldn’t let them out to play. They guffawed as loud as they could and then made threatening faces at him, until his mom came up. Then they suddenly began to act as if they were saints. His mom had said, “Tsk, tsk.” and began to munch the grass near him. It just made him madder and more frustrated, knowing his mom felt like she needed to protect him from those two wool gatherers.
“Hurry up, Johnny,” Timothy called back as he raced to the secret cave
“What’s the rush?” Johnny panted from behind him.
“I know where Buster and Gainer are going to be this afternoon. I think a wolf is going to come by and pay them a visit,” he laughed a bit wickedly.
“All right!” Johnny chortled. “I’ve got to see this.”
“You’re going to come along and watch?” Timothy asked suddenly nervous about that, but he wasn’t sure just why.
“Come along and watch? No way! I’m going to help you scare the fuzz off their blankets,” he declared in a most un-Johnny kind of way. “Those guys pick on me more than they do you, Timmy. I’m due for some revenge,” he said with a menacing tone to his voice. Timothy had never heard his friend sound so blood thirsty.
“Oh, well… sure. Why not?” Timothy couldn’t think of a good reason. He warmed to the idea. “Yeah Johnny, let’s do it. I saw those two over on the grassy knoll above the big flower dale. They had a few ewes around them when I saw them, so I bet they stay there for a while.”
“What are we waiting for?” Johnny exclaimed. “Let’s go do it.”
Ewellen and Skipper had to postpone following Timothy when his mom kept him home. When they came by again, they found he’d just left with Johnny. They had no idea where to find them.
“You know,” Ewellen said. We’ve been promising each other to return to the Shepherd’s tent and see if the wolf-skin is still there. Since we can’t follow Timothy today, this is a good time to do it.”
Skipper rolled his eyes nervously. “I don’t know. That’s where all this started. I’m not sure I want to go there.”
Ewellen Scolded him, “Skipper! I know we have both found plenty of excuses to avoid making the trip to the tent all this time. But now, without Timothy to follow, we need to still be doing something useful. We have to solve this mystery about Timmy.”
“Well… I guess. If Timmy is a were-sheep, we gotta catch him as fast as we can so we can warn the Flock.” Skipper trembled a bit, but Ewellen could see he was trying to not show how afraid he was of actually finding the wolf again.
“That’s the way to fluff wool, Skipper,” Ewellen encouraged. We can’t let that old wolf scare us out of being brave. Besides, I am annoyed at Timothy. He hasn’t even tried to talk to us since he told his lies about the Shepherd’s tent. If we can’t find the skin at the tent when we get there, we’ll know Timothy is involved.” Ewellen tried to sound confident. “I still think that skin has possessed Timothy and is making him into a were-sheep. After all, everyone knows wolf-skins are evil.” Skipper nodded knowingly in agreement.
In spite of their fears, they headed back to the tent. Worried about any wolf presence, they swung higher up in the Meadow to approach the tent from uphill. Ewellen had convinced Skipper of her theory that they could run away downhill faster than it could rush upwards to them.
As they came up over the last rise, Skipper hissed at Ewellen. “I think I hear something.” Afraid of what they might see, they got down and crawled through the bushes. As they peeked over the brush, they saw Timothy and Johnny in front of a cave with something large and brown. Ewellen gasped and dropped back down into the bushes. Skipper followed suit.
“It’s Timothy and Johnny," Ewellen whispered urgently.
“What are they doing?” Skipper asked. "They have the wolf skin.” They raised their heads carefully and watched Johnny helping Timmy pull the wolf-skin on. Ewellen shivered looking at the skin, but from a distance, it wasn’t quite as scary.
“What are they doing with that dirty old thing?” Skipper whispered as the two young rams worked at adjusting the wolf skin on Timothy.
“I think he’s putting it on to wear it,” Ewellen said slowly. “Why, I don’t think he’s a were-sheep at all! It’s just some mean prank he’s pulling on everyone!”
Once Timothy was wearing the skin, he began to jump and kick about in his excitement. They could hear Johnny laughing at his antics. Then, as Timothy and Johnny headed towards the Flock’s main meadows, Ewellen said to Skipper, “Come on. Let’s follow them.” They let the two pranksters get ahead a little before they followed along behind them.
Timothy and Johnny ran across the top of the Mid-Meadows staying near the trees to keep out of sight. They made an odd pair running across the Meadows, one wolf and one sheep. And trailing behind them came two more sheep.
Ewellen and Skipper followed far enough behind the first two that they came up on the grassy knoll just in time to see Timothy sneaking up on Buster and Gainer, and several others. Probably some ewe-friends, she thought, knowing those two.
“Get down,” Ewellen said to Skipper in an urgent whisper. “Look, there's Timmy.”
“What's he doing?” Skipper asked but Ewellen just shook her head. “Where's Johnny?” he asked looking around.
“I don't know. Just watch,” Ewellen replied quietly.
They could see Timothy working his way up close to the two bullies under the cover of a bunch of bushes. When he came to the end of the brush, he slipped behind a pair of redwood trees that were very close to the unsuspecting sheep. Timothy hardly paused there before he leaped out at them yelling and growling. They watched the startled sheep jerk their heads around. Seeing a wolf, the whole bunch tripped over each other trying to get away. They could hear their frightened bleats as the whole bunch sped away.
Ewellen noticed that Buster and Gainer were way in the lead as they ran off. The tough guys weren’t hanging around to worry about the young ewes behind them. Ewellen sniffed at their cowardice. It'd be funny if it weren't so serious. She found herself getting angry that Timmy was behind all these wolf scares.
They watched as Timothy in the wolf skin chased his victims a short ways. Then he stopped chasing and hung his head a bit panting. He stood there and watched until the fleeing sheep were out of sight. Then Timothy began to laugh and prance about. They saw Johnny appear from behind the redwood trees and join him, jumping, and kicking. Ewellen and Skipper could hear them both joined in laughter.
“Woo hoo, Timmy. You scared their wool straight.” Johnny laughed and began to buck and kick. “Wow. I have got to get a skin of my own. That was really funny.”
“Yeah, Johnny,” Timothy replied loud enough for them to hear. “I’m tired of having all the fun scaring everyone by myself. You need to help me out with these scares. Let’s go look for another skin at the Shepherd’s tent tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Johnny exclaimed. “Alright!” They kept laughing as they headed back the way they had come.
“Did you hear that?” Ewellen asked Skipper. “Those two are the wolf that's been scaring everyone!”
“Well, at least Timmy is,” Skipper said staring in the direction they had gone. “That is really mean. He scared Tina and Nina Cottonball when he scared Buster and Gainer. I'd have never guessed that Timmy would turn out to be such a bad apple.” Skipper shook his head. “Buster and Gainer probably had it coming, but those two poor ewes are going to be white as ghosts for weeks now.”
“Come on,” Ewellen said. “This is our chance to prove Timothy was lying when he got us in trouble. If we hurry, we can get some adults and catch up with them before they get all the way back where they were. Quickly! Lets run find Timmy’s parents.” Ewellen took off for where she knew they'd be.
“What if they don’t believe us again?” Skipper huffed out as he ran to keep up with her.
Ewellen scowled. “We’ll have to make them come with us. We’ll tell them there's a wolf and it’s near Timmy. They’ll come running and they’ll bring some of the big rams to drive the wolf off. Then, Timmy will really catch it!” With that they ran all the way to where Timothy’s folks lived.
They found Timothy’s parents where they usually were, near their home turf. They lucked out. Mr. Buttler was with them along with Timothy’s Uncle Ramsey, Old Wilbur and a couple of other adult sheep. Ewellen and Skipper ran up both bleating and trying to talk at once. Ewellen glared at Skipper who shut up.
Then, between her gasping breaths, she said again, “Hurry. You all have to come right away. There's a wolf and Timmy's there. Hurry. We can still catch them.”
“Just show us,” ordered Mr. Buttler. “You stay here, Ima. Come on, Heeza,” he said to Timothy’s dad. All the rams charged off following the two youngsters who led the way. Ewellen and Skipper were already winded from their earlier run, but they were eager to point the way to Timothy and Johnny. They still managed to make good time as they hurried to catch up.
The group of rescuers caught up with the two boys before they’d gotten half way back to their cave. Timothy and Johnny had stopped several times to nibble grass and laugh some more about scaring Buster and Gainer. Suddenly, out into the clearing where they'd stopped burst a hand full of big rams with Ewellen and Skipper in the lead.
“Wolf,” shouted Mr. Buttler as he saw Timothy in the skin. When he saw Johnny beside the wolf he cried, “Run, Johnny! We’ve got him.” He and all the other rams began to rush forward.
The boys stood frozen and open mouthed at first. Realizing that Timothy was the wolf they were about to attack, Johnny yelled “No, Wait!” He jumped in front of the charging rams, while Timothy just collapsed to the ground and cowered, trying to hide under his own two front legs.
“Get out of the way, Johnny!” yelled Mr. Buttler, trying to dodge around Johnny and butt the wolf.
“That wolf won't get past me,” Uncle Ramsey assured them all.
“Right! Cut him off, Edgar. So he doesn't get away,” Mr. Buttler directed him. They had the wolf trapped now. They began closing in to kill it.
“No. Stop,” cried Ewellen. “That’s not a wolf. It’s just Timmy!”
“It’s Timmy!” chimed in Skipper.
“Yes! It’s Timmy!” Johnny desperately screamed.
“What?” Said Mr. Buttler and Heeza Sheep both at once. Mr. Buttler stopped so fast that the back two rams ran into him.
Timothy quickly took this opportunity to pull the skin from over his head so they could see his face. “It’s meeee!” He squealed. “Don’t hurt me!”
Mr. Buttler’s jaw dropped. Sure enough, it was Timothy with his head sticking out of a wolf skin.
Timothy’s dad didn’t hesitate however, “What are you doing in those rags?” he roared. “Take that thing off right this instant!”
While Timothy cowered, Johnny was still standing in front of him. His heroic effort to save Timothy was now turning into a major embarrassment. The two of them were caught red handed. Disconsolately, Timothy got up and began to pull off the wolf skin. He could see Ewellen gloating behind the adults. He scowled; it was clear whose fault this was. “It's that Ewellen's fault,” he complained to Johnny next to him. “Why couldn’t she just mind her own business?”
Just then, Old Wilbur finally caught up with the rest of them. Wheezing, he gasped out, “Where's the wolf?” That precipitated a great deal of explaining all over again. Mr. Ramsey ended up speaking very loudly to be sure Wilbur could hear them. When he'd heard enough, Old Wilbur looked at Timothy with disgust. “Shame on you. You shouldn't be playing wolf in the Meadows.”
Skipper had been quietly soaking everything in. He looked at Ewellen as she came over grinning from wooly-ear to wooly-ear and whispered, “We are redeemed. Timothy is busted and they are going to believe us this time.” Skipper looked over at Timothy, who looked truly dejected. The adults had made him take off the skin and leave it behind on the ground. He and Johnny were being pushed ahead of the adults. It hadn’t taken Mr. Buttler or Timothy’s dad any time at all to figure out the two had been in cahoots together on this. Even dense Old Wilbur knew it by now.
Ewellen began to feel a little guilty. Timothy looked at her accusingly as he was herded past her. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but loud enough for him to hear, she said fiercely, “That’ll teach you for scaring me.”
# Chapter 12
Timothy disconsolately munched on the grass. It was not bad grass, but he really didn’t care if it were straw. He stared out at the other sheep scattered across the Meadow. They were all more playful and carefree than they’d been in a long while. “Now that they all know there isn’t a wolf prowling about,” he told himself. He looked up as Johnny came limping up with a sour look on his face.
“What happened to you?” Timothy asked, more than a little worried about what was now his only friend.
“My dad got really mad about the wolf-thing. He hurt me pretty good.” Johnny looked away trying to keep Timothy from seeing the tears he was fighting.
“Oh, Shepherd! I am so sorry Johnny.” Johnny just looked away. “So, are you doing anything today?” Timothy asked to change the subject.
“He’s not gonna beat me again,” Johnny suddenly vowed with some force. “Or else...” He didn’t finish.
“Wow, Johnny. You’re angrier than I’ve ever seen you before,” Timothy said. “Uh... I was hoping you’d show up eventually. My parents have restricted me for the rest of my natural life. I am going to rot in this one patch of grass. And the whole Flock hates me now.” Conspiratorially he looked around and his voice sunk to a whisper, “But I’m going to run away, Johnny, for real’s.”
At first, Johnny stared at him with a kind of hunger in his eyes. Then he looked down again, “I don’t want to play any more pretend games, Timothy. You can’t really go.”
“Sure I can.” he wheedled his friend. “I can go, and I'm ready to go. Everyone hates me here now, especially Ewellen and Skipper. You’re my only friend, Johnny. I need your help to get out of here.”
“I don’t know, Timmy. We can’t be hanging out together for a while.” Johnny looked around to see if other sheep were watching them. Timothy turned to where Johnny was looking. His parents were the only ones near, but he could see Mr. Ramsey was taking his turn watching from further away as well. Although they all tried hard not to look like it, they were clearly keeping wool-cleared eyes on him.
Turning back to Johnny, Timothy whispered, “Remember our old plan? The Outside World? The Mountain? I’ll be checking it out while you find your own skin. Remember?” he urged Johnny. Johnny looked uncertain, but he was considering it. Timothy could tell. He knew his friend pretty well. He was going to come around, he knew smugly.
It took a bit more begging and pleading, but Johnny finally did agree to help him. “Next week, OK?” Timothy suggested. “They’re watching me like a hawk right now.” He jerked his head towards his parents and his Uncle Ramsey. He could see another of the older rams had wandered up as well. Johnny was as much the object of their attention as Timothy was. Obviously all of the adults were keeping their eyes on them both.
“OK, Timothy. Next week.” Johnny agreed with resolve. “I... I gotta go. I'm not supposed to be here now.” He headed off at a trot.
“See ya, Johnny,” Timothy called after him. To himself he whispered, “I sure hope he doesn't get cold hooves.”
Timmy could hardly contain his excitement. The week took forever. Finally, the day they had picked arrived. Timothy waited to sneak off until early in the warm afternoon, when everyone was dozing. He crouched and moved along slowly and quietly, till he was out of earshot. Then he bounced up, and ran to where he’d been forced to leave the skin. It was still lying there untouched. Johnny was sitting under a tree a few yards off staring at it like it just might turn back into a wolf.
“It’s now or never, Johnny,” Timothy said breathlessly. “Come on.”
Reluctantly Johnny got up and helped get the skin onto him. They used more of the leather strips Johnny stole from the Shepherd’s tent to tie it on as tight as they could get it.
When they finished, Timothy sheepishly asked, “How do I look?”
“Great! You look real!” Johnny didn’t add that he’d never seen a real wolf up close. The skin lay over Timmy’s back and shoulders, and the legs were tied around his sheep’s hooves tightly. Although Timmy had a white underbelly, the skin was plenty large enough to droop over and hide almost all of his wool.
“You’re really going?” Johnny asked suddenly looking sad.
“Yeah, I’m out of here. They’ll be sorry when they see I’m gone.” He answered determinedly.
“Yeah”, Johnny responded halfheartedly.
“Hey. Cheer up. I’ll come back and look for you in a few weeks, when it all blows over. You just need to find your own skin and we’ll be a team out there.”
“You promise, Timmy?” Johnny’s eyes implored him.
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” Timothy suddenly was hesitant. He wasn’t sure if he’d really ever come back for Johnny. Depends, he thought. Resolutely he turned and looked up at the High Ridge where it rose above the Upper Meadow. “I gotta go now, Johnny. I don't want them showing up to stop me. I really don’t want to get caught again at this point.”
“OK.” Johnny said seeming a little lost. “I’ll... uh, be seeing you...Soon, right? Soon.”
“Sure. Soon.” Timothy trotted up into the trees and quickly lost sight of his friend.
Once he was on his way, Timothy felt elated. He hurried across the last of the Mid-Meadows as fast as he could. When he got to the Upper Meadow, he frolicked his way across. He felt free already, even though technically he wasn’t out of the Shepherd’s territory until he climbed up onto the High Ridge. That ridge led up to the higher parts of the Mountain and the Outside World.
“The Outside World! Wow! I’ve never felt so free before. I can do anything I want now. No more answering to anyone. They’ll miss me and it will serve them right. They’ll all wonder, where did that kid Timothy Sheep go? Ha. They’ll all be sorry now I'm gone.” Briefly he saw his parent’s sad faces, but he shrugged that off. He had to get back at them all.
Determined, Timothy headed higher, leaving the Upper Meadow and climbing up the ridge. Here the land was steeper with rocky and narrower trails, but oh the view! He found several places where he could look back down and see all the Meadows at once. He was sure that was the Big Pond in the Lower Meadows over there. And there! That was the stream leading through to the Mid-Meadows. There was his favorite grassy knoll. He could even see a few white dots that had to be sheep. As he climbed higher, he saw the Waterfall where it fell into the Upper Meadows. It didn’t seem big at all from up here.
“I guess it’s all a matter of how you look at things,” he mused.
Timothy kept moving up. Higher and higher. As he went, he zigzagged, going back and forth on each side of the Ridge. He came around a sharp bend in the narrow trail on one side of the ridge, and barely stopped in time to keep from plunging off a cliff. He looked out where the Mountain was missing and was amazed.
“Wow! This Cliff is huge. It must stretch half way around the Mountain. And it drops from here, way up on the High Ridge, all the way down to what looked like another Lower Meadows I've never seen before.” Cliffs. He felt a twinge of fear. "Who would have thought that there were such big holes in the Mountain? It's as if the world has fallen away here."
Between the rock outcroppings and the brush, he got lost trying to get back to the ridge top. He kept wandering, going up whenever he could. He was getting hungry, and thirsty, too. There wasn’t much grass around here. He felt a twinge of regret then, but Timothy was still determined to leave the Meadows and the Flock behind. Eventually, he found some wiry tough clumps of grass and munched the tasteless stuff as he kept climbing.
“Hmmmph. I was right. There is grass everywhere. A little chewy and stringy, but I can eat it. I thought the grass would be greener up here. Maybe it’s only green near the streams.” He shrugged. “Well, there’s gotta be more somewhere.”
Eventually, Timothy and the day were spent together. As the sun went down, Timothy felt pooped. “I’m so tired. My throat is dry and I'm hoarse. I can’t go on, and it’s getting dark.” He looked around worried. “It is getting dark. This is going to be the first night I have ever been alone. I’ve always had my parents and the Flock scattered around me in the Meadows. I never thought about this part of running away.”
Looking down off the ridgeline into a little valley his left, he spied some willow clumps with overhanging branches. He could hear night animals beginning to stir. Many of these were new sounds for him. The willows suddenly seemed like the most inviting place on the whole Mountain. They’d make a good place to hide.
He trotted down to them and saw a place where there was a nook deeper in the branches. He pressed himself back into the thicket, and the overhanging limbs covered him so well he doubted anyone (or thing) would know he was there. He sighed as he tried to snuggle into a comfortable position between the hard branches. Several limbs were poking him, but he wasn’t so uncomfortable that he was willing to move as it got darker and darker.
“I wonder what my folks are doing?” he thought sorrowfully.
Timothy snorted and came awake. He had woken as his drooping head dropped forward. I must have finally dozed off. Ohhh. That one branch is digging into me again, he thought. Timothy wasn’t sure how he was ever going to go back to sleep. He looked out from his thicket. There wasn’t much to see except the dark outline of trees and bushes, black on darker black. Only the deeper shadows marred the darkness out there. “Remind me why I ran away again,” he asked himself. He felt so alone and he was too nervous to dare sleep. Soon though his head nodded again with fatigue.
He snapped his head up again. Timothy could hear a noise moving along the trail he’d come into the willows on. It moved, then stopped, then moved again. It was coming closer, and closer. He could hear when it stepped on a branch, or brushed against a bush, but he couldn’t see it. He kept staring into the dark, hardly daring to breathe.
“There! There it is. A dark shape on the trail. It's moving directly towards me.” It was moving slow, clearly trying not to make any noise. Timothy’s heart raced. “It’s coming for me. It’s a monster wolf or lion, and it’s coming straight to eat me. Oh, how could I have been so stupid as to come up here? Oh, God. Shepherd, help me,” he prayed in a whisper.
Desperately, Timothy looked left and right. There was no way out. He hadn’t planned on having to run! In fact he hadn’t planned at all. He bemoaned his fate, “Oh, foolish, foolish!” He barely breathed. His roaring heart surely would betray him to this thing.
It came closer. And stopped. It was so close, Timothy heard it sniffing the air. Oh, Shepherd! It knows I‘m here, he cried silently. It took a single step towards him, then another. It couldn’t be more than a few feet away now. It sniffed again, louder. And then again, stronger yet. Silence.
Timothy gasped loudly. He had forgotten to breathe.
The bushes directly in front of him erupted in a crashing and roaring. Timothy leaped to his feet in horror. His hoarse voice squalled his fear into the night. “That doesn't sound like me, or even a sheep at all,” he thought as he heard himself. Around him, the noise suddenly tripled. It filled with squealing and crashing, as the brush crashed and branches snapped off everywhere. “Squealing....?” Over his pounding heart, he could make out that the squealing wasn’t him. It was out there in the dark. And it was getting fainter. Slowly the crashing and grunting faded away.
Timothy sank back down to his knees where he had been lying. Shuddering, gasping for some breath now that he let himself breathe again. “Pigs. It was a band of wild pigs!” The relief washed over him so strongly that he thought he might pass out. “Pigs. Oh,” he moaned still in shock.
Then inexplicably, he began to laugh. “Pigs! Oh quietly,” he warned himself. He struggled to keep it quiet, but he couldn’t stop his laughing. Timothy, “the wolf”, had scared those pigs worse than they had scared him. “That was bah-d, bah-d.” He laughed and laughed. That was the last thing he remembered. Laughing.
# Chapter 13
Timmy woke up cold. Somehow he had finally fallen asleep. Stiffly he got up and staggered out of the willows. At first he was confused about where he was. Then he remembered the pigs last night.
“Whew,” He muttered. “I'm much more comfortable in the daylight.”
He looked around for the path that had led him here, but paths led out in every direction between clumps of willows that were all about. It certainly hadn’t looked like this last night in the dark. He was in a very brushy, heavily willowed canyon with a creek nearby. He couldn’t see it with all the willows cloaking it, but he could hear it. He remembered his thirst. And his tummy told him he was hungry, too.
He looked uphill. This part of the Mountain is much steeper, with higher ups-and-downs than the Meadows. Everything is on a kind of strong slant. Down in the Meadows, the Mountain was much gentler. He mused on this as he climbed up the little valley between the willows. When he passed around the umpteenth clump of willows, he confronted a miniature meadow full of thick high lush grass. The little meadow followed the valley’s bottom up making it sit at what seemed a steep angle to Timothy.
He wasted no time appreciating the beauty of the scene however. Taking two jumps into the grass, he settled into some serious eating. Timothy quickly became aware of how little he had eaten yesterday. In the Meadow he munched and grazed all day long, but up here, grass was not so plentiful. This was the best food he’d seen since he left. Chewing on the long grass, he felt its rougher texture. Although it looked good, it was much coarser, and not as tasty, as at home. Not that it slowed his appetite. Not until he had eaten a good deal did he finally look around the little meadow. The untouched grass showed he was in a place where no sheep had been in a great long time.
Thinking that reminded him of the great adventure he was on. With his tummy fuller, Timothy started to feel free and excited again. He began to talk to himself, “Here I am, way up above the Upper Meadow... someplace. I’m not quite sure exactly where, but I don’t have to care. I’m a wolf now. I not only don’t have the Shepherd to watch out for me, I don’t need the Shepherd. Hah. I hardly ever saw him anyway. I bet he was always off sleeping or something.”
He wondered, as he had many times in the past, What did the Shepherd do most of the time? Of course, He must have something better to do than walk around in the midst of a bunch of dumb old sheep all day. But what? He took another bite of grass as he mused about that. That is a mystery for sure.
After a long hearty meal, he was finally feeling full. Timothy shook himself. The skin still felt foreign on him, but he was getting used to it. He looked back to where he had mowed a strip out into the meadow.
“Even hungry as I was, there is still plenty of grass,” he chuckled. “This is probably a good place to plan on hanging out for a few days. At least till I get the lay of the land up here.” He raised his eyes and looked up at the sides of the valley. The ridges bounding the meadow, behind a screen of willows, were filled with large trees.
“Wow. The trees are much taller here,” he thought admiringly. “I’ve never seen trees this tall before. Some of these must drag the bottom of the clouds,” he supposed. He suddenly wondered how far up the Mountain went?
The flash of something dark at the top of the meadow caught his attention, and broke his chain of thought. He looked more closely and saw a skunk messing around beside a willow clump at the higher end of the meadow. Those willows stuck out into the meadow more than the others around it. It looked to Timothy like he was either digging, or rooting around, near the base of the bushes.
“He must be after something. I wonder what?” His curiosity got the better of him, so he wandered up the valley to see what it was doing.
As he approached the stand of willows, Timothy could see the skunk working his way around to the back side. This put him on the side of the bushes opposite of the skunk. He could hear the skunk digging just further around than where he could see. Timothy walked up closer and began to circle the willows. Looking around, he didn’t see the skunk. The weeds were higher on this side of the bushes. As he took another step, he suddenly saw the skunk just a few feet away in the weeds. Unfortunately the skunk saw Timothy at the same time.
The skunk's eyes bulged, then quick as a flash, the little varmint whirled around. Timothy saw the tail going up in what seemed like slow motion. His feet were mired into the ground and he couldn’t seem to back up. The skunk, tail up, was backing towards him. It had its rear so high in the air, Timothy swore it was doing a handstand. Then the skunk let her rip.
The first blast of spray was coming at him as he tripped over the willow roots trying to back up faster. Although he dodged some of the main stream, the stinky cloud enveloped him. Gagging, Timothy tried to turn and run. That was when the second blast hit him dead center. Timothy howled just like a wolf as he floundered, turning himself around. He beat a quick retreat back out into the open meadow. All he could think of was to get away from that skunk.
“Oh, wooly boogers! Awwwwwwrg, that stinks!” Timothy bellowed trying to wipe it off on the grass. “Why did you have to go and do that for?”
“Why do you think?” The skunk retorted. “You’re a wolf. I’m dinner. But not today! No sir-ree. Got you! And it serves you right.” He intently watched Timothy rolling around in the grass trying to get the slimy spray off and cocked his head.
“Wolf?” Timothy suddenly remembered that he was, to all appearances, a wolf now. “You sprayed a wolf?” He asked incredulously. “Aren’t you afraid of us wolves?”
“Hmmmph,” the skunk said a little indignantly. “Why? You’re all the same. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Then he turned and walked off into the willows like he was king of the forest. “I wiped the grin off of your face better than you’ll wipe my scent off it,” he cast back at Timothy just as he disappeared into the willows. Timothy was surprised. Most of the skunks he’d met back home were friendly. Of course, that was when he was a sheep.
“Oh, crud. I stink so bad that I can’t even think of how to describe it.” He saw the stream nearby and rushed over to it. Maybe the water would help. He splashed down into the cold water and gasped. “Oww! That’s cold!” He exclaimed. He jerked his head up at the sound of someone laughing.
“Hah, ha, ha, ha.” Timothy saw an old gray badger laughing at him from the mound of his burrow. “Stuck yer nose right into it, didn’t you?” the Badger sounded as grouchy as he looked. He cocked his head and said, “You’re pretty stupid for a wolf.”
“Shut up.” Timothy snarled trying to wash himself off in the middle of some cattails. “I am a wolf, you know. Maybe I was hungry.”
“Takes a pretty dumb wolf to walk up on Ole Petey that way,” the Badger admonished in his grumbling voice. “You acted just like you'd never even considered Petey’d let you have it if you got too close.”
“Petey’s just lucky, I didn’t eat him,” Timothy retorted.
“Like you ate up that grass earlier?” the Badger asked smugly. “I’ve never seen a wolf sick enough to eat a tenth of what you put away. Why a month around here and you’ll have the whole valley stripped to the ground the way you eat.” He paused raising an eyebrow, “You sure you’re a wolf?” He looked doubtful.
“Of course I am,” Timothy felt a surge of panic. “Maybe I’ll eat you, you old fool.” He tried to look menacing.
“Hah. I’m not afraid of a wolf, especially a stupid one. Hah, ha, ha.” Timothy must have looked less sure at the grouchy old badger’s self assurance. “Hah, see! You know better than to give me a hard time. Guess you are smarter than you look,” he admitted grudgingly.
“Whew!’ Timothy gasped. “What is that?” He had just rubbed on a big leafed weed that smelled almost as strong as the skunk. Now he had two odors on him.
“You know,” the badger said conversationally. “Rubbing on that skunk cabbage isn’t going to improve your odor, or the smell in this whole valley, worth a dang. If you keep this up, your stink is going to ruin my supper,” the Badger scowled. Then he reluctantly said, “If you rub over there on those anise plants, it’ll cut the smell. Their licorice odor will help cover up those other stinks.”
Timothy wasn’t sure if he could believe the argumentative old coot. However, he was desperate enough to try anything. He headed over to where the Badger had indicated. Just as he reached the better smelling plants, he heard the badger call after him,
“Oh, and Kid? You should rub that white belly of yours into the mud down by the creek some more, if you want to be closer to all the same color.” Timothy whirled around, but the old grouch had disappeared down his hole.
“Does he suspect something? Or not?” Timothy asked himself. His self assurance was at a new low. He paused, but his own smell drove him into the anise plants for some serious rubbing. He reminded himself not to forget to rub some mud on his stomach afterward. “That’s what I get for being curious. I guess my dad was right. ‘Curiosity killed the sheep’. It just about got me, anyway.”
Later after he got out of the mud, Timothy moved down to the lower end of the meadow. “I need to stay further away from that grouchy old badger,” he told himself. And, although he didn't admit it, the skunk, too.
The rest of his first day passed uneventfully after that, except he stunk so badly he could barely stand himself. He ate more of the grass and a few new flowers he wasn’t familiar with. One of the pretty ones tasted almost as bad as the skunk smelled. He spit for almost an hour afterward. Then he even went back and took a bite of the anise to get the taste out of his mouth.
“I've got a lot to learn about my new home,” he realized.
It took a few days for the smell to wear off enough for Timothy to feel like he could stand being with himself. Those next days passed quickly. In fact, Timothy lost track of the days, since he was so alone.
“Here in my new little valley, I can do anything I want to, he kept telling himself. This is great. There's no one to order me about or to scold me for teasing the lambs. Except there are no lambs to tease,” he sighed. Of course there was the old badger. He’d argued with the badger at least a dozen times already. The badger seemed to relish the very idea of an argument. Timothy's being a wolf didn’t intimidate him one little bit either. Timothy puzzled on that one. He was still worried the badger knew he wasn’t what he pretended to be. Luckily the subject never came back up in all the arguments.
Other than the arguments and seeing new sights though, there wasn’t too much to do after a few days. In fact, it was turning out to be a little boring sometimes. But he was sure that once he got to know the neighborhood, it’d be great. Wait and see. Yeah, he told himself again. Wait and see. He had to admit that he did feel kind of lonely and kind of sad.
Two days later, as he was out wandering around, getting to know the area, Timothy saw his first wolf.
# Chapter 14
Timothy had spent the morning eating more of the tough grass by the creek, and watching out for Ole Petey. The Outside World was getting boring, however, so he decided to climb up on the High Ridge before it got too hot. His little valley lay right next to it, which was convenient, he told himself. It was a clear day, with a bit of a breeze up on the ridge top when he got there.
"Why, I can still see the Meadows from here," he said in a surprised voice. As he looked down at them, he said morosely to himself, "They seem awfully far away. I wonder what my parents are doing right now, or Johnny, or even Ewellen and Skipper?" A wave of loneliness washed over him. Timothy wasn't as angry with them now as when he left.
He looked up the High Ridge. "I know it runs from here all the way down to the Meadows. I wonder how much farther up it goes," he mused. He froze. Thirty feet or so up the ridge, a wolf stood staring at him, watching. Timothy felt a thrill of fear run up his spine. He quickly looked left and right, searching for others, for the rest of the gang. There weren't any to be seen. He didn't know whether to be relieved or not. He swallowed hard as he realized he'd never been this close to a real live wolf before, not ever.
The wolf had dark markings forming a mask around his eyes. The markings made Timothy feel like he had seen this wolf before, but he couldn't say when. It had cold gray eyes. They looked hard as stone staring at him. The wolf’s dark hair hung on a lean frame, looking a little tattered. The tips of his fur had started to gray giving it the appearance of being a lighter shade. It may be old, but it was a big rough looking male wolf.
Timothy cleared his throat nervously. "Remember," he told himself. "You're a wolf, too. How would a wolf start a conversation?" While he was trying to decide, the other solved the problem for him.
“Stay away. Are you sick?” The wolf suddenly asked. “You don't smell right.” He lifted his nose as he said the last bit. “ Owwwwwwwwowwwooooooooo”, He suddenly howled. “You reek of old skunk and mud and anise. And, hmmmmmm, been in the Shepherd's Meadows have we? I can smell the sheep on you.”
“Oh. I, uh... was down there, trying to get me a sheep. I love sheep.” Timothy tried to talk as he thought a wolf should. “I mean, to eat of course. Just a regular wolf, that's me. Heh, heh.”
“Stupid of you,” The wolf snarled with disgust. “The Shepherd will get you. Smart wolves stay away from the Flock. I hate sheep. You should too, if you want to stay alive.” The wolf looked nervously around. “You alone?” He asked suspiciously.
“Oh, me? Alone?” Was he asking so he could decide whether to eat me? “Uh, yeah. I'm alone. Just out being free and going where I want.”
The wolf looked at him funny and cocked his head half sideways. “Don't be stupid. I can see you're alone. No, I meant are you 'a lone'? A lone wolf?”
Confused, he thought, "A lone wolf? What should he answer? Is being 'a lone' different from being 'alone'?" But he could see the wolf was getting impatient. “Well, I... uh, am alone right now. And, I've been making my 'lone' way up here from the Meadows. So...”
“You're a bit slow aren't you?” The wolf interrupted him rudely.
“Me? Slow?” That irritated him. “No. Not really. I'm just new up here and I'm not sure what you meant,” Timothy said defensively.
“Not sure about being 'lone'?” He asked quizzically. “You sure you're not sick or something? I really don't have time for you.” It shook its head and turned to walk away.
“Wait!” Timothy exclaimed. “Don't leave. Like I said, I'm new around here and I was hoping to join your Pack. Are they close?” He took a tentative step towards the wolf.
“Stay back, I said!” The wolf snarled half crouching. Timothy thought for a moment that he was going to attack and backed up several steps quickly. The wolf turned his head again and peered sideways at Timothy. He raised his snout and sniffed loudly, testing the air again. A sudden cunning was apparent in his masked eyes. He got a queer wolf grin on his face, and then said conversationally, “You're a strange wolf, and not from here, or you'd know a lone wolf when you saw one. I have no Pack.” The wolf's tone changed abruptly again. “I hate the Pack. They hate me.” He snarled again, apparently at the very thought of the Pack.
“Well, no need to get upset. I just want to be friendly and hang out. We wolves aren't afraid of anything.” Timothy added the last as an afterthought, so he wouldn’t appear afraid. This one seemed like a crazy type. He seemed to flip between friendly, and paranoid, or maybe angry, or... delusional? He thought of Johnny's dad and the jimsonweed. Was this wolf “on” it, too?
“Friendly! Owwwwwwwwowwwooooooooo, hoo, hoooooo,” The howl turned into a laugh that Timothy wasn't too sure was sane. “I hate wolves worse than I hate sheep. That's why I'm a lone wolf. See? The important word is 'lone'.” The wolf stressed the last word strongly. “From what I make of you, you'd do better to stay away from the Pack and any other wolves, too,” the wolf said coldly.
Surprised Timothy asks, “Why? I just want to, you know, have some fun.” He paused. It was apparent the wolf didn't particularly like him. “What's wrong? I thought the Pack was a good thing. Don't you have a lot of fun in the Pack? Aren't you all Brothers?”
The wolf stared at him for what seemed like minutes, and then he finally mumbled, “Can’t trust a wolf. Not even your brother wolf, especially not your brother.” It turned and took two fast steps, then stopped and turned back, “Stay a loner if you have to stay a wolf. Being in the Pack starts nice and cozy, but they'll rip you to shreds if anything goes sour later. And sooner or later, it always goes sour.” He turned away again, but paused considering something. Looking back once more, he said, “Oh, and if I were you, putting some more mud on that white stomach would really be a good idea.” With that the wolf gave a great leap and was gone.
"More mud? Does he know I'm not a wolf?" Timothy shuddered and looked all around. He was very nervous about whether the wolf was truly gone or not. He was nervous, but excited, too. "Wow. That was an interesting conversation. My first with a wolf," he reminded himself. "That's right! I actually talked with my first wolf!" As excited as he felt, he was a little depressed at how the meeting had gone.
"Wooly boogers! I tried to make friends, but he sure seemed strange. Then he just ran off. Why, he really just barely talked to me. That was rude. Of course... he didn't eat me. Lone wolf, hmmmph. I hope he's just a lone nut-case." Timothy looked around again cautiously, still not completely sure if the wolf was really gone, or if there wasn't another around. "I hope all wolves aren't like that, but at least I proved I can fit in with wolves," he told himself hopefully. Timothy looked down at his dirty, but still white tummy. "I better go get some more fresh mud," he said and headed back to the creek.
The next few days went by slowly with only the old badger to argue with. Timothy was certain by now that the crusty old thing just loved to argue, and didn't care about what. One bright day, he found a new patch of slimy greenish mud beside the creek. It coated his white stomach much better than plain mud, and it stained his fur as well. That gooey greenish-black gunk worked much better than he had expected, although it had its own new smell. He sniffed, then told himself, "At least with all the new mud, and anise rubbing, the skunk smell was finally pretty well gone."
He had stumbled upon the new mud at the upper end of his little valley while he was avoiding Ole Petey once again. That skunk took pleasure in trying to ambush him. Hearing a noise above him, he cringed and looked up to where the valley became a jumble of rocks that climbed up to the High Ridge. Thinking of the skunk, Timothy was afraid he'd let the pest sneak up on him and that he was about to get sprayed again. Petey had attempted to spray him again just yesterday and he had learned to be wary of him.
But, it wasn't Ole Petey, or the badger, who often followed him around trying to start another argument. Staring at him from some distance away, where the trees came down the side of the ridge to the rocks, were four Wolves. Timothy shivered with excitement, and a little fear, he admitted.
The front two wolves had their noses in the air, while the back two cautiously watched back and forth around the valley. All were lean and sleek. Their fur was smooth and well groomed. None of them were the wolf he had met the week before. Very carefully Timothy lifted his head and looked around. Seeing no others, he returned his gaze to them.
"Act like a wolf," he whispered to himself. "Last time I didn't have a chance to plan what to say, but I've thought about what to do when I met another wolf. I've thought a lot. I have a whole speech ready to go. Be calm. Be confident." Timothy took a deep breath and said, “Hi.” He opened his mouth to speak again and immediately all his planned words fled.
The wolves moved quickly. They clambered around and over the rocks, coming down until they stopped in the grass in front of him. The one in front continued to sniff the air, while the other three fanned out around him.
“Yer new to the Mountain”, the front one said. “Never seen yoo b'fore”. He continued to sniff, looking a little perplexed.
“Oh. Yeah. I'm new around here. I, uh... came up through the Meadows,” Timothy claimed. "Which is actually true. It’s best to keep my story as close to the truth as possible," he reminded himself silently.
“Through the Meadows!” A lighter furred female exclaimed. “Haven't you heard of the Shepherd? You're lucky you aren't a skin by His tent right now. Better to stay high and keep clear of him.”
"Maybe that's where my skin came from," he thought, but he responded with, “Oh, I didn't have a problem I couldn't handle.”
“He looks like a wolf.” The first wolf complained to those behind him, “But he don' smell right. I'm not shure he's reelly a wolf.”
This brought some derisory laughter from the others, and a growling “Hmmmph” from the female. They all milled around him uncertain and sniffing.
“Dude! Wot Are yew?” The talkative one asked finally.
“I’m a wolf. What do you think?” Timothy was a little panicky. He struggled to stay calm, suddenly glad that the wolf-mask over his face would hide any scared looks he might otherwise show. "Mustn't let them see me unsure," he told himself. They all smelled his skin one more time.
“Well,... I guess he must be a wolf. He shure is more stale and musty smellin' than I can recall myself ever smellin' before,” he said to the rest of them, sniffing once again. “Ya know I can 'scents' things like that.” Then he grinned at the others. One whined, but the rest acted a little disgusted with his pun.
“Well, I have been sick.” Timothy volunteered lamely. “But I'm all better now.”
“Pea yew, dude. You stink of anise with a skunk chaser.” the first wolf said, clearly relaxing now.
"I guess Ole Petey got me so bad I just can't smell it any more," Timothy thought chagrined.
The wolf walked around Timothy as he spoke. “An' sheep! Whot ya been doin’? Rolling in the grass where the sheepies have gone”.
“Uhg, sheep dung. That’s nasty,” the dark wolf in the rear said shaking his head as if to dislodge that thought.
“Makes me hungry,” the other brown-colored one in the back added drooling.
“Everything makes you hungry,” the only female wolf in the group snorted.
Timothy shuddered at the wolves’ comments about sheep and being hungry, but played along. “Yeah. I do it when I go though the Meadows. That way I don’t scare them as bad with my scent. It helps me to stalk them and the Shepherd doesn't notice me so much.”
That apparently sounded somewhat logical to them. The dark wolf whined, but the hungry one enthusiastically said that he was surprised they had never thought of it. That started an argument between the dark male and the brown one as to the merits of this particular ruse. Listening for a while, the female finally asserted it was a good ploy. The dark wolf and the talkative one both looked at her, then the dark one claimed he was too wolve-ly to stoop to that tactic. The hungry one just kept talking about eating sheep. Although still worried a bit, Timothy was starting to feel safe with them in his wolf costume.
“They call me Brain.” The talkative wolf said with a lop-sided grin on his lean face. “Wots yer name?” Brain had a long ragged scar along the top of his head. Obviously, Timothy thought, this guy is a few bricks shy of a load and that scar could be the cause.
“Tim-mm...”, Timothy started to say, but stopped. What kind of a wolf-name is Timothy? he asks himself.
“Timmm. That’s a new one. Ain’t heard that name before.” Brain lifted one ear and tilted his head sideways. “Oughta call yoo Stinky,” he said with a toothy grin.
The female wolf scowled at Brain. “Knock it off, Brain. Don't start a wolf-fight. He doesn't smell that bad. It's old sheep stink.” She sniffed again. “The anise smell is stronger than anything else, and even the skunk smells like it's at least a week old.”
“Yeah. Brain,” Timothy said blustering more forcefully like he thought a wolf should. “The name is Timmm. What of it?”
Brain backed down right away. “Oh, nuttin. I was jus’ askin’. Kinda funnin'. So... Timmm.” He ignored the female wolf, trying to slight her. She frowned at him, but let it go. Timothy could tell that Brain was annoyed with her speaking up in his defense. “This is Bullet. He’s named that cause of the bullet hole he has in one ear.” Brains indicated the dark wolf. Timothy didn’t know what a bullet was, but he was afraid to ask and show his ignorance.
The female stalked purposefully between Bullet and Brain and curled her lips showing her teeth. Brain took the hint. “The cutie here is Honey. Heh Heh, cause she’s sweet. Heh heh.” Honey scowled at him so fiercely that he hurried on, “An' the scrawny fella there, who'll eat anything, is Weasel. We’re not sure he’s really a wolf,” Brain whispered confidentially, and as loudly as he could. “We think he’s at least part weasel.” Brain finished up with a wink at Timothy.
“Go sniff a pine tree, Brain. You’re mother was scared by a bear and dropped you on your head,” Weasel retorted. Turning to Timothy he said, “I’m called Weasel, because I can slip through any gate, or opening, half the size any other wolf can. Helps with the chicken coops.” He ended with pride.
Timothy shook his head and thought, "Chicken coops? What’s a chicken coop? For that matter, what’s a bullet hole? I'm gonna have to work on getting educated here as fast as I can."
“An' chickens make him hungry, too. Huh Weasel?” Brain teased.
“Maybe I'm hungry enough to just take a bite out of you, Brain.” Weasel retorted, flashing his fangs menacingly.
Brain changed the conversation and after a bit more chatter, Timothy ventured, “Hey, you guys know a wolf with some dark markings around his eyes. He kind of looked like a raccoon. He came by a while back, all by himself.”
“Oh him,” Brain harrumphed out a growl. “That's gotta be Mask. He's a lone wolf. An' I reely mean lone! He hates the Pack.”
“He hates everything,” chimed in Weasel.
“Yeah. We're supposed to be on the lookout for him,” Bullet grunted. “'Enemy of the Pack' and all.”
Timothy looked at him with surprise. “I thought that all us wolves got along together.”
Brain gave the others all a sharp look before looking back at Timothy. “Why shure we doo. Ya wanna come back an meet the rest of the Pack?” Brain asked generously. “I'm shure they'd love to meet yoo. An' we are always lookin' fer new members.”
"Wow. You're inviting me back to meet the Pack? Uh, I mean. Sure,” he corrected as casually as he could muster. “How many are in the Pack?”
Brain screwed his face up into a grimace. “Don’t know. More’n I got toes and tail. Enough, I reckon. Enough that we pulled down a stag a few weeks back.” Timothy wondered if that was the one he saw being chased. “Not so many as we have trubble sharin' the food an feedin’ ourselves.” He said quickly, looking proud of himself, “Yeah, enough. That’s what we are. Enough.”
“Well,” Timothy said. “What are we waiting for? I'm ready.”
“It's a climb. We've settled in up on the Saddle,” Weasel said. “Brain's a bit slow going uphill. His skull wasn't the only thing that got scarred when he stuck his head in that trap.”
“Shut yer own trap,” Brain growled. “I'll show yoo who's slow.” With that he took off back up the rocks towards the High Ridge top. Yipping with laughter and snarling crude jokes, the whole bunch headed after him with Timothy in the rear wondering, "What's a trap?"
# Chapter 15
The climb up to the top of High Ridge was steep. Timothy tried not to show how winded it made him. He noticed the wolves looking at him from time to time, but he pretended not to notice. Honey seemed the most curious of all. Once they reached the ridge top, they ran along it, going up and up through the pine trees.
“So...uh...Honey,” Timothy nervously. “What's the Pack like?”
“What do you mean? It's the Pack. Haven't you ever been in a Pack before?”
“No. I mean, maybe as a kid ...er pup, but too far back to remember.”
“Well, the Leader makes the big decisions, but otherwise we all kind of do whatever we want. The Leader is sort of like a king, so I'd say the Pack is its own little kingdom.”
“Ha!” Brain interjected loudly. “More like a gang than a king-dumb. If it's a king-dumb, then it's got a dumb king.”
“I wouldn't talk about Leader that way, Brain. Pay no attention to him. He thinks he's smart.” With that, Honey winked at him and nodded at Brain to indicate who her comment was about. Timothy looked up at Brain's backside going up the Mountain ahead of them.
“Ah herd that,” Brain retorted.
“At least you're not deaf, too,” Honey snapped back. That brought a laugh from the whole group. Even Brain joined in, half-heartedly.
Soon the High Ridge formed a little peak, a point. Just beyond that the ridge made a saddle before it melted into the Mountain. Timothy saw the trees here formed a glade protecting it from the worst of any wind or storms. It was in this saddle that the Pack had set up their camp..
“This is the Saddle. And that's Wolf Point, or just the Point. Here, we're just below where the Upper Mountain begins,” Bullet volunteered.
"I never thought about the Mountain having parts," Timothy thought blankly. "It's always just been...The Mountain. Does that mean I've lived my whole life on the Lower Mountain?" Suddenly the world seemed a whole lot larger to Timothy.
Brain was still leading the way as they entered the Saddle. He looked over his shoulder and called back, “Home sweet home, Timmm. Most all of us'll be here tonight. When we're all here, there's hardly standin' room.” He wagged his tail cheerfully. “An' we have a Pack meetin' tomorrow. It'll be the mos' wolves we've had here in a long time. There's a big vote comin' up. Everyone'll be here fer that.”
Timothy, Timmm, he reminded himself, was all eyes as they padded though the glade. Around him were several dozen wolves. He trembled with excitement. "Here I am, with a Pack, just like I always dreamed." He barked a laugh of joy as he looked around. Several of the wolves with him grinned back at him, between pants. He wasn't sure what they thought he meant, but it seemed to please them.
Brain led the way to the center of the Saddle and camp. As they passed wolves, some of them fell in behind. Nervously he looked over his shoulder. "There are an awful lot of wolves here," he thought. "I hope they don't suddenly decide to eat me."
Honey noticed his unease. “Relax, Timmm. They're just curious. Everyone wants to see a new wolf. New faces are a major topic of conversation up here right now. Not everyone is in favor of them joining.” She paused and frowned looking distracted briefly. “We're taking you to meet Leader. Unless he welcomes you to the Pack, your ass is grass.” She laughed at his hesitation. “Relax, Timmm. I'm joking. Remember, Brain said we were looking for new blood.”
“Oh... Sure.” As long as it's not my blood, he silently prayed. Timothy straightened up and tried to look larger. He was never as glad as now that his last growth spurt had really helped his size. “Um...Honey... What are all the wolves meeting tomorrow for?”
“That's a long story, Timmm,” Honey explained. “Leader has been growing the Pack fast, too fast for some. There's a group saying new wolves, like you, shouldn't be allowed in so easily. They claim most of them don't belong in the Pack.”
"Gulp. I hope I can get in," Timothy worried to himself. Aloud he said, “So, are the ones that don't belong mean or something?”
Honey laughed. “Mean? Wolves are supposed to be mean, Timmm.”
"Oops. Shoot. I'm not doing too well here," he mentally chided himself. He corrected himself, “Well...sure, but... I meant are they hurting the Pack?”
Honey looked like she wondered about him, but she said, “I guess that could be argued both ways. Which is why there is going to be a vote. You'll hear it all at the vote tomorrow and can make up your own mind.”
“Honey is in favor of adding new wolves that are less ferocious,” Bullet chimed in, ignoring her scowl. “She's hoping to mellow out the Pack, to make it a good place to raise cubs.”
“I din't know yoo were the motherly type, Honey,” Brain laughed nastily.
“Come over here closer. I'll mother you!” She said it so threateningly, Brain dropped the subject.
The number of wolves following them increased steadily as they walked further into the camp. By the time Brain stopped in a small clearing near the Saddle's center, there must have been a half a hundred gathered. “Here we are,” He announced loudly.
Timothy wasn't sure if he was talking to him or the gathering wolves. The word must have gone out ahead of them. He could see more were gathering from all sides. A ring of sleek lean bodies surrounded him now. Even though he was getting used to the smell of his skin, the scent of all these wolves at once was almost overpowering.
“Who's theece Brain?” A wolf in the front of the crowd asked.
“Hi, Juan. Let me inter-duce Timmm. Found him down near Ole Badger's hole. Thot we'd bring him back to join the Pack.”
"He said, 'Join the Pack'!" Timothy's thoughts were overjoyed. "Wow. I can't believe I am actually on the verge of joining a Pack, right here and now."
“Timmm,” Brain brought him back to his senses. “This here is Juan. He came up from way south some-wear a long time ago and stayed. He's Juan happy go lucky guy.”
Timothy turned to stare at Brain briefly. "Are you trying to be funny again? That was terrible." Juan shook his head at Brain too, but ignored him and looked Timmm over critically.
"An' this is Thor.” Brain said gesturing to another large brown wolf. “He has a lisp and he's been Thor ever since he got inta that poison oak reel bad.” Timothy winced this time at Brain’s attempt at more humor. Brain, seeing the lack of expression on the wolf mask over Timothy's face, took it as a challenge to his puns. He started to rattle off even more names. Every name came with a witty slur or cutting pun. Brain was determined to get a reaction out of Timmm. There was, “Ferdinand... 'a bull of a wolf'; Piggy... 'that hog is the only fat wolf on the Mountain'; Whistler... 'every wolf wants ta whistle at something'; Howler... 'he'll dog you around wherever you go'; and it went on.”
Timothy was just about overloaded with names, and puns, when pushing through the surrounding ring of wolves came a very large gray wolf followed by several others. His muzzle was white and he had a number of scars on his sides and legs.
“What's going on here, Brain?” He demanded in a regal tone while examining Timothy carefully.
Brain stopped his ranting of names in mid-slur. This must be someone very important in the Pack, Timothy realized. Brain faced the gray wolf and immediately dipped his head to show submission.
Loudly he began, so that all the gathered wolves could hear, “Hail, Leader. I present to yoo, Timmm, from The Lower Mountain. We found him down near Ole Badger's hole.” Brain repeated the same introduction he’d given earlier all over again. Then he added, “He came up thru the Meadows.” Timmm (he reminded himself that was his name) heard the surrounding Pack gasp and murmur excitedly. The interest among the wolves was suddenly increased.
Brain went on, “He must be a fierce wolf of grate cunning. He spent 'nuff time in the Meadows to stink of sheep. He ain't got no fear of the Shepherd and says he slipped thru with no problems. Slipped by the Shepherd, mind yoo.” Brain paused to let that sink in. There were more murmurs from the crowd. “Thot we'd bring him back to join the Pack.” Brain stopped talking and grinned his wolf-grin ear to ear at Timothy. “Timmm, meet Leader. He's head of the Pack.”
The big gray wolf looked at Timmm appraisingly. Timothy, embarrassed at Brain's tale, tried to stand up straighter and act unconcerned.
“What's his name?” Timothy whispered to Brain. “What do I call him?”
Brain looked at him as if he was surprised at the question. “Leader,” he barked a laugh. “We just call him Leader. He had a name once, but don’t need it no more. He’s bin the leader so long now, he’s jus' Leader. We know who he is,” Brain clarified. As a large charcoal and black wolf came up next to Leader, he said in a lower whisper, “An' that's Villain.”
Leader looked at Villain as he slunk up in a half crouch. Villain was younger and wider in the chest than Leader. Timothy blinked. Villain looked like the worst nightmare Timothy had ever had about wolves. He had a fierce snarl on his face continuously and acted as if he were about to leap at me. Villain didn’t look happy at all. Timothy noted that Leader gave him an annoyed look before turning back to inspect Timothy once more.
“How old are you, son?” He asked.
“I... I'm almost three, sir,” he responded promptly, lying about the extra year.
“And you say you came through the Meadows to get here?”
“Yessir.” Timothy snapped back. “I guess I never thought not to.” At least that is honest, he told himself, but it brought another murmur from the surrounding wolves.
Leader raised his eyebrows. He posed a few questions about the Lower Falls and the Mid-Meadow. Timothy was surprised the gray wolf was so familiar with the layout of things there. He answered feeling more comfortable. After a couple of more questions, Leader asked Timothy, “Have you seen the huge boulder that sits in the Mid-Meadow by the Pond?”
“By the Pond? The big pond under the oak thicket?” Timothy asked a bit confused. “Um, maybe you're thinking of someplace else, Leader. There isn't a boulder anywhere near the pond.” He could hear an intake of breath from the wolves all about him. "Oh, Shepherd! Did I just make a big mistake?"Timothy worried silently. He had been trying to be nice and not contradict the lead wolf, but he knew there wasn't a big boulder there.
“I guess you have been in the Meadows after all, Timmm. You're right. There isn't any boulder there.” The crowd began to murmur again. “I am impressed, too. You didn't just skirt around the edge of the Meadows. You must have gone right through the middle of the Shepherd's domain. And yet... here you are, whole and in one piece.” Now the wolves were speaking to each other so loudly it was hard to hear.
Timothy stared back. It had been a test. His panicked thoughts flew, "Gosh, I was tempted to just go along with anything Leader said to avoid any disagreement." He swallowed hard. "It’s just luck I decided to tell the truth."
He rushed to answer, Leader. “Uh, yeah. I guess I did... I mean. I did go through that part of the Meadow.”
“You keep a pretty straight face, even under stress, Timmm. How do you do that?” Leader asked a trifle lazily, as if he already knew the answer. “How do you remain so calm, when other young wolves are so... excitable?” He finished. The crowd grew silent listening for his answer.
Timothy was thinking hard. "I can't tell if I'm being baited, and he knows I'm a sheep, or not. How can I answer this one?" Then he remembered an old saying his folks said came from the Shepherd. So he said, “Well, sir. You see, 'all things come to he who waits'. I figure, if I'm calm and patient, I'll learn everything I need to get by.”
Leader looked like he'd just been reminded of something he'd forgotten long ago. He stared blankly for a minute. Then he smiled a cunning wolf-smile, and said so softly that Timothy could barely hear, “That's a very deep remark for a young wolf to make.”
Villain cut in, “We don't need more new members. We have more than we need right now,” he growled. “Bringing in more strange wolves before the Vote is foolish. It'll mess up the pecking order.”
“We're not chickens, Villain. We shouldn't have to worry about the pecking order.” Leader contradicted Villain. Villain scowled furiously at Leader. Leader watched him calmly, with a critical look, considering something.
Timothy wasn't sure if Leader was considering eating him or not. He found he was holding his breath.