Leader stared at him a little longer, and then said loudly, so the surrounding wolves could hear, “Welcome, Timmm. I, Leader, do Welcome you.” He began to chant as Villain snarled again, upset at Leader's actions.
“Welcome to the Pack.
Let all the Brothers hear, Let all the Brothers fear,
A New Wolf has come, Brother to become.
Welcome to the Pack.
For one fierce day, and one fierce night,
We share in all, and forgive each slight.
Welcome to the Pack.
And when the day is done, when our time is come,
The Wolf returns again, and blood becomes our sin.”
Leader concluded with, “Welcome to the Pack, Timmm. I hope your journey with us is swift and free.” Villain glowered darkly behind Leader.
“Uh, thanks. I'm glad to be here.” Timothy was uncertain. Did he just get admitted to the Pack, or what? And, what was bothering Villain so much? “So, what now?”
“What now? Why, you can do anything you want, Timmm. You're a free wolf. I expect that there's some who will want to celebrate your joining the Pack, however.” Leader looked at where Villain sat scratching. “We all welcome him. Right, Villain?”
“Welcome,” he snarled. “Obey your betters and do as you’re told. You'll survive... maybe.”
“Don't mind Villain, Timmm. He has a religious aversion to immigration.” The wolves listening all laughed loudly at Leader's joke. At least, Timothy assumed it was a joke, though he didn't get it. “Go have some fun, Timmm. I'll come by to talk with you later,” he sounded nonchalant. With that, Leader turned pushing through the crowd. As he left, one of the wolves went with him asking something about hunting rights.
“Relax, silly,” Honey whispered on the other side of him. He jumped. He hadn't realized she was there. “You're safe now, at least for tonight. He's 'Welcomed' you.” She paused, and then said, “I welcome you.” She accented the “I”. There seemed to be an implied meaning there, but Timothy's mind was in a whirl with the day’s events.
“Welcome, Timmm. Welcome to the Pack,” Brain called out over Honey's back grinning. “Arrrrrrrrooooooooooooooo.....” He began to howl, repeatedly.
Suddenly Timothy was mobbed by wolves all saying, “Welcome to the Pack”. All around him, wolf after wolf joined the howling Brain started.
“Welcome to the Pack”, he heard from Bullet who looked like he had mixed feelings.
Timothy heard someone scream, “WELCOME TO THE PACK. PARTY NIGHT. Aaaahhhhhhrooooooooooooo....” He saw that it was Weasel, who bounded off still howling. “Let's carouse. Ca-rrr-ow-ooo-ow-ooo-owse.”
Timothy was caught up in a continuous string of introductions. Wolves kept coming by to make his acquaintance, and sniff him. "There's no way I'm going to remember even a fraction of these wolves," he told himself. "And that sniffing is a little personal sometimes, kind of embarrassing. I hope my sheep scent is still well hidden." Soon the afternoon wore to a close and it started getting dark. The wolves all broke up into dozens of tail chasing events and howling fests. Several were wrestling playfully.
Across the glen, Timothy saw Villain watching with a scowl. "Does he always scowl?" he wondered? But then the wolves around him distracted him again, inviting him to howl with them. He quickly forgot about Villain.
Later as the evening was darkening, Leader walked up quietly behind Timothy, as he was practicing a howl, and startled him with, “Hello... Timmm.”
“Oh. Hi, Leader.” Timothy ducked his head similar to what he had seen Brain do. "I hope I got that right," he said to himself.
“Can we talk?” Leader asked. Not waiting for a reply, he went on, “Let's take a walk. There is a good view of the Upper Falls from the other side of the Saddle. I think you'll find it interesting.” With that, Leader strode away. Timothy hastened to catch up. Leader obviously expected him to follow.
“I could tell when I first saw you that you are a different kind of wolf. That you're different inside than the others.” Leader looked at him slyly as if they shared a secret.
Timothy gulped. "Does he know? Is he going to kill me?" his silent voice panicked. He dared not speak.
Leader went on, “Any wolf who can get through the Meadows is a special one. A wolf who could be... important in the Pack.”
“Important? Me?” Timothy was so startled, he wasn't sure what to say. “But... I just got here. I don't know...” Timothy stopped before he said, “anything about being a wolf.” Instead he said, “... anyone here yet.”
Leader laughed his wolf laugh, which sent shivers down Timothy's back. He sounds so wickedly cool, Timothy thought. I have got to learn to laugh like that.
“You'd be surprised, Timmm. There are a great many wolves in the Pack, who aren't fully wolves, yet. It takes time to learn how the Pack interacts, but you'll learn quickly. I can tell you are a fast learner.” As they walked along, Leader wagged his tail. “The Pack needs to change, Timmm. It needs to grow in new ways. Sometimes the Pack is nothing more than a gang of adolescent criminals. Sometimes it's more.”
“I have a dream, Timmm”, Leader went on, “of a Pack that will last and grow. To do that, I have a plan to bring different kinds of members in. Wolves, who aren't just purely wolves inside; ones who are able to think outside the box. If we stay merely wolves, the Pack will die. Wolves are doomed to fight and struggle against each other, if they can't change. I am trying to make that change happen. Will you help me?”
"Wolves want to change?" Timothy was stunned. He'd never heard of such things. “But, wolves aren't afraid of anything. Why do you... er, I mean, we, have to change?”
Leader sighed. “That is exactly what many say. Those wolves are happy in their ignorance of better ways to live. All they can think of is fun and howling at the moon, chasing rabbits and a quick bloody kill to devour in celebration. They don't care about each other, just themselves. These wolves are against any changes. New members are change. That is what we are voting for tomorrow. Whether to keep allowing wolves like you into the Pack... or not. As a new member of the Pack, you will be allowed to vote tomorrow. It will be important which way you vote, Timmm. The wolves who oppose change are almost enough to win. Will you vote for change, Timmm? Vote for the openness of the Pack that allowed you in?”
Leader's words caused him to think. "Gosh. Here I am. Not only am I in the Pack, but I'm important enough for Leader to speak to me, for him to ask me to vote his way. Wow. In the Flock, no one ever let me vote. Not that they ever really voted much. There just isn't that much controversy in the Flock. In fact," now that Timothy thought about it, "I don't ever remember a vote ever being taken. Everyone just follows the Shepherd. Like sheep," Timothy realized. "I am so glad I made up my mind to run away. This is much more exciting. Besides, I doubt anyone would have cared about how I may have voted back there."
Realizing he'd thought too long, he answered, “Yes sir. I am thankful to be allowed into the Pack, Sir,” he said truthfully. “I would be very glad to vote any way you suggest, Sir.”
Leader smiled showing some startlingly large teeth in his grin. “The wolves in the Pack aren't fearless like you said earlier. They are often afraid, Timmm. You'll see that if you look.” He laughed his wolf laugh again. “Watch your Pack-mates, Timmm. In a few weeks, let's talk again. I'd like to get your opinion of them then.” He turned and bounded over the bushes beside the trail and was gone.
"I have got to learn to laugh like that," Timothy said again admiringly. He tried a guttural laugh that was half hiss. "Close, not too far off. Well, I want to get back and have some fun." Timothy eagerly turned around to head back where the Pack was howling and yipping in the distance.
While he loped back to the others he thought, "Leader isn't so bad. He's actually a pretty nice guy. He's looking out for everyone's good, and he's doing it without being told to do it by the Shepherd. Wow. They don't need the Shepherd here, I guess," Timothy mused. "He doesn't really give you any choices. With Him, the path He leads you down is narrow. No deviations. However, Wolves can take any path they like. Yeah. Being a wolf is great. We're masters of our own destiny. We can make a great wolf pack without any Shepherd, with no one to tell us what to do."
Thinking about Leader, he remembered Villain again. "Just like his name, that one is clearly the “villain” of the group. Hmmmm. How bad a wolf do you have to be for the other wolves to name you Villain?" He decided he'd better ask around as soon as he could. Ahead he could see Brain. He felt like he knew Brain a little, so he headed that way. "Brain always seems to be joking around. He should be pretty safe to talk with," Timothy thought.
“Hey, Brain,” Timothy called as he ran up. Brain had been chasing two other wolves in circles, one of them was Weasel, but he stopped as he heard Timothy call.
“Way-el, it's the new-bie,” Brain drawled. The other two wolves ran off and, for a minute, Brain looked like he wanted to chase after them. Instead he called at their backs, “Rrrrarrg, I'll catch you two later.” Then he turned towards, Timothy. “Wot dew yoo want?” He asked grumpily.
“I was just looking for someone I knew. I wanted to ask a few questions.” As grouchy as Brain was, Timothy decided he better try a bit of flattery. “I figured if anyone knew all about the Pack, it'd be you. I mean, seeing you're so smart and all.”
Brain stared at him blankly for a minute, seeming to weigh Timothy's words, trying to decide if Timothy was making fun of him. Timothy tried to keep a sincere look on his face, and then remembered it didn't matter with the wolf mask over his head. It always held the same frozen look. Brain lowered his head and sniffed once, then he smiled cunningly. He obviously decided to be pleased. “Wal, I reckon I do know all about the Pack an' all. I don' miss much yoo see.”
“I bet you don't,” Timothy hurried to say. “I couldn't help noticing the wolf called Villain. He didn't seem very happy. What's up with him?”
“Oh, he’s the baddest of the bad.” Brain said knowingly, sounding proud and admiring. Then conspiratorially he added, “Don’t turn your back on him when he’s anywhere close, or your squirrel meat.” Timothy noticed Brain's accent and style of speaking changed when he spoke about Villain.
“I mean, did something happen to make him angry tonight?”
“Him? He was born mad. Mad two ways, some say. Don't take nothin' personal there, Timmm. He's been that way long as I recall.” Brain looked around cautiously, making sure who was in earshot. “He don' get along with Leader. Doesn't like the way Leader is lettin' all manner of wolves in. Yoo fer example. Heh heh heh heh.” Brain laughed. It sounded more like a hyena than a wolf to Timothy.
“I think, Leader let yoo in jus' to spite Villain. Villain, now, he's so worked up over this, I think he'd rather kill yoo than let yoo in." Timothy blanched. "Not that it’s personal. Heh heh heh. He'd feel that way about any new add-dition to the Pack. But yoo mite want to walk careful 'round him. He's pretty upset with Leader, what with the vote tomorrow an' all.” Brain's ears perked up and he looked behind Timothy suddenly. Timothy turned to see Bullet and Honey come up with several other wolves.
“Yeah. What's this vote about, Brain?”
“The whole votin' thing is Leader's idea. Calls it democracy. Supposed to be some way of makin' a decision without fightin' 'bout it. Dumb idea.”
“No. I mean, what are they voting about?”
Brain scowled and looked at the others, “Haven't yoo bin listenin'? What they’re votin' about is lettin' new wolves in, particularly strange wolves. Leader has let a bunch in, an' most of us aren't sure he's fit to be called Leader. Lot of con-tro-versy,” Bran nodded, stressing the last word. He looked like he was proud he knew the word, too.
Timothy was worried. "It sounds like there is a lot of opposition to Leader's plan. All this excitement about voting here could make a fellow nervous," he tried to sound like he didn't care. "This voting thing seems to be risky. So, what if Leader wins the Vote tomorrow?” He asked as nonchalantly as he could, but he watched all the wolves to see if he could tell how they each felt.
Brain shrugged and laughed. “Heh heh, heh heh heh. If Leader wins, nothin'. But if Villain wins, there might jus' be a few less members.” Brain's face held a particularly blood thirsty look on it all of a sudden. Timothy shuddered. He reminded himself that he really was among a pack of wolves, or maybe a gang of adolescent criminals, if he used Leaders words.
Suddenly, Brain was less friendly, “Good thing they accepted you already, or maybe not. We'd have torn you limb from limb if Leader hadn't chanted yoo in. 'In chanted' yoo so as to speak. Heh heh, heh heh. Jus' so yoo know, under Pack Law, we were supposed to rip yoo apart rite there in Badger's Valley, if yoo didn't join us. Can't have stray wolves or another Pack move in now, can we?” Brain entertained himself so much that he didn't notice the shocked silence from Timmm.
"Good thing I have a mask on," Timothy thought." I wouldn't want any of them to know how badly that just scared me." Struggling to remain as calm as he could he said, “I don't think I'd have ever come along had I known that, Brain.”
Brian laughed his hyena laugh again. It sounded a lot nastier now. Snidely he said to the others standing around them, so that all could hear, “Timmm here's a cool cucumber. Why he never shows no emotion at all. He has a reel dead-pan face. Bet you can't get a rise out of 'im,” Brain chortled to Bullet who just looked uncomfortable. Brain laughed another nasty laugh and turned back to Timothy. “Yer funnier than me, Timmm. ” He laughed again as he started off to join the howling again. He stopped though, turned half-way back and looking pointedly at the other wolves, said, “Just joking, Timmm. Welcome to the Pack. Heh Heh heh, ha ha, ha howwwoooooollllllll...” He continued to howl as he ran to catch up with his two friends.
There was a silence as Brain ran off. Then Honey said, “Well, Timmm. Can you tell which way Brain is sure to vote tomorrow?”
Timothy looked at her. Once again, he wasn't sure how safe he really was here. “I don't think he likes me,” was all he managed to say.
“Now, that is funny, Timmm,” Bullet said trying to lighten the mood. “You'd make a great straight-wolf in a comedy routine.”
“Don't mind Brain, he hasn't got enough brains to know that he'd be one of the wolves culled from the Pack.” Honey said with some vehemence. “A real wolf shouldn't feel threatened by wolves who are different. There's no need to keep them out of the Pack.”
Bullet grimaced, “No politics, Honey. Not yet. I have to run anyway. I’m meeting Ferdie and Thor to catch some rabbits.” Timothy’s stomach got queasy as it sasnk in that he was going with some other wolves to kill something. He was glad He didn’t know any of the rabbits up here. In the Meadow, especially when he was a lamb, Timothy had scampered around playing with the rabbits quite a bit. Uneasy, he looked at Honey and didn’t see any reaction to this announcement of impending murder.
He swallowed and attempted to cover his unease with conversation. “Uh, I recall Thor from earlier, but Ferdie? I don’t think I’ve met him.”
“Sure you did. He was next to Thor in the Saddle. Ferdinand? We just call him Ferdie. He doesn’t like his regular name, says it makes him sound too soft. Well, I’m off.” Bullet headed up the slope back towards the Saddle.
“Why don't you come with me? Let me introduce you around.” She began to walk off. He hurried to catch up. “You have a lot of wolves to meet.”
“Sure”, Timothy said eagerly. Ahead he could see a trail through the trees. She was headed that way. “Um... Where are we headed?”
“Up on the Point. There's a popular spot where the moon is easy to see all night.”
“Really? That's cool. Is it far?”
Timothy followed Honey over to where half dozen wolves were all lounging or basking in the last of the sun. As they walked up, two wolves stood up and came over right away showing an immediate interest in him. He saw they were she-wolves when they came up.
“Timmm, this is Frisky and Grizzelda.” She gestured with her snout at each of the wolves as she spoke. “Watch yourself. These gals are looking for mates.”
“Your just jealous, Honey,” Grizzelda said in a catty way. “Hi ya, Timmm. New on the Mountain?” Timothy saw Frisky was right behind her batting her eyes.
When Timmm stuttered, Honey jumped in and intervened, “I need to introduce Timmm to everyone else right now, Grizz.” She made a face at the she-wolf and steered him towards the other wolves.
“Whew. Thanks,” he said to Honey under his breath.
“You owe me.” But she seemed glad of his reaction. “This here is Billy.” Billy nodded at Timothy as he was introduced. Timothy thought Billy looked a little ragged. His skin hung loosely and he had a couple of bumps on his head. "I'm sure glad I don't look quite that odd," Timothy thought to himself. Seeing Billy, made him feel a little more confident that his wolf-skin disguise was going to be good enough. Politely he nodded.
“And this, is Piggy,” Honey went on. Piggy looked up at their approach. Up closer now, he saw Piggy had a stubby nose that looked out of place
“I saw you earlier, up in the Saddle,” Piggy grunted at Timothy. Brain had called him fat before, but Timothy could see that this wolf's skin was stretched so tight, it looked like he'd burst. He had shorter legs than the other wolves and he had a bare pink belly. "Must have drug the hair off somehow," Timothy thought. "Maybe cause he has shorter legs." He nodded and grinned at Piggy to show he recognized him.
“Here's Juan.” Honey indicated. Timothy looked and saw another wolf he'd met earlier.
“Hola, Timmm,” Juan responded. Timmm came out sounding like “Team-m-m”, but Juan was friendly enough. His accent was definitely different from Brain's.
“Hi, Juan. I remember you from up in the Saddle. We talked just a bit.”
“Si. That’s right, Timmm. Hey, man. Welcome to the Pack. We’re gonna have a lotta fun. Yoo’ll see. You gotta excuse me. I see the ladies are waiting.” With that he playfully bounded over to Frisky and Grizz where began he began to flirt around.
“Juan is a good guy, Timmm. He’s dependable and very loyal. I’d recommend that you keep him as a friend in the future.” Honey looked over at where he was showing off to the ladies before she continued. “He’s always interested in the ladies. He’s definitely more of a wolf in that regard than most others. And, he gets kind of macho sometimes. But you can’t find a better friend up here, except maybe Bullet.”
Timothy wasn’t sure how Juan could be more of a wolf than any other wolf. Thinking that 'macho' must be some kind of a wolf word, Timothy watched Juan acting cool with the two ladies with a bemused feeling. "So, Juan is a ladies’ man? Hmmmph."
Honey saw him watching the females and pulled him away roughly. “Come over here. Howler, this is Timmm,” she introduced the last of the new wolves.
Howler turned to look at Timothy. “Howdy. Y'all are right welcome. We're always glad to see a new wolf,” Howler hung his tongue out and panted. "Wow! His tail is wagging so fast it’s amazing it doesn't come off. Mine certainly would. I mean, if I was able to even wag it," he thought. Howler came up close and began to sniff him all over in a very friendly way. "Hey. That's a bit personal!" He shied away as Howler sniffed his bottom.
“Stop it Howler,” Honey said sternly. “Come on everyone. Let’s head on up to the Point. The moon is on the way up and it'll be almost full. There is going to be some great howling tonight.” Timothy traipsed after them as they ran and played on the way back, around and up to the Point. He laughed at their nipping, and generally mischievous fun as they went.
"Don't get too excited and start prancing or gamboling," he reminded himself. "I'm not a sheep any more." His new friends ran about taking turns tearing up the bushes, pretending they were adversaries, and digging at gopher holes. "They're being pests," Timothy thought. "Kind of like Buster and Gainer’s bullying, but in really funny ways. They're acting like I did down in the Meadows, acting as a wolf. It's fun to be wild and careless. And it's harmless fun," he told himself. "Well, mostly harmless." The gophers surely disapproved.
# Chapter 17
"Ohhh. Man, that sun is bright." Timothy lifted up his head and put it back down. "Ohhh. My head feels like it's three sizes too big, and does it hurt! I'm so tired. How late did I stay up howling? What time is it?" he wondered squinting into the sunlight. Some wolves ran by laughing and yipping. "Ohhhhh. Do they have to be so noisy? I hurt all over more than anywhere else," he moaned.
One of the wolves running by stopped. He peered upwards to see who it was. Honey was standing there with a crooked half grin on her muzzle. “What's a matter, sport? Are you just coming to?” She laughed merrily at him. He felt like he should have been angry at her for laughing, but she did it in such a charming way.
He laughed back, a little hoarsely he thought. “I'm fine. I'm fine. Really, not a problem at all.” But he just laid there.
She looked down at him and cocked her head. “Never had 'the weed' before, huh? You didn't seem that inexperienced last night.”
“Weed? What...what weed?” He made another effort to raise his head.
“Jimsponweed, silly. You were awesome at howling.” She said flirtatiously shuffling a paw in the dirt. Then she laughed again. “I didn't think you were ever going to stop.”
"No wonder I am hoarse." Tentatively Timothy rolled off his side onto his belly. Gathering his legs under him, he tried to stand up. After a failed first attempt, he managed to gain his feet. The forest spun around him. “Ohhhhh....Make it stop,” he whined.
That caused Honey to laugh again. “That's why no one with any brains messes with that stuff. It'll kill you. At the very least it'll make you wish you were dead. Come on, big baby,” she said accusingly. “Get up and move around. You'll live.”
“I'm not so sure of that,” he groaned trying to rub his now throbbing head with one hoof. "Paw," he told himself. "It's a paw, now. I need to remember these things."
“Well, I'm going to go get something to eat”, she said. “I'm starving. Want to come along?” Timothy felt a rumbling in his stomach at the suggestion of food. He wasn’t sure if he was starving, or going to be sick. To himself he said, "Mutton, I hate to throw up. That's the worst thing ever!"
“Maybe. Where are you going to eat?” he asked.
“Over near the Upper Falls, there’s a big meadow. There are lots of fat dumb rabbits there, and a few ground hogs. We can catch a few in no time,” She responded brightly.
Catch rabbits! She's going to go kill something. Timothy shivered. It is so easy to forget that I'm a lamb among the wolves now.
“I think I'll pass. I'm... not ready to eat just yet.”
Honey looked a little annoyed with him. “Weak stomach, huh? Well, suit yourself,” she said as she bounded off. “Hey Bullet. Wait up,” she called as another small group of wolves ran by.
"What's wrong with her? I'm the one who is sick here," he moaned to himself. But headache or not, he was starving. He really had the munchies, he realized. He turned in the opposite direction that Honey had taken and started walking on his wobbly legs.
"It won't do to have Honey catch me eating grass," he figured. "Or to catch me throwing it back up if it doesn’t stay down."
As Timothy walked along, hoping to find a secluded grassy spot out in this direction, he remembered a little more about last night. He'd met a lot more wolves, though most of those meetings were pretty fuzzy. Some of those wolves were pretty dumb, he recalled, almost on a par with Brain. But they mostly all seemed nice in a rough way. Being rude to each other must be part of the game. They all called each other bad names and yelled insults all night. I guess that's fun. He shook his head, partly to clear it, and partly incredulous that he was actually here with the wolf pack. All these new animals I've met are wolves clean through to the bone. Real wolves. Wow, Timothy shivered. It was scary and exciting all at once.
Before he went too far, he found a deep swale at the top of a canyon. It dropped off the far side of High Ridge. In the bottom was a good supply of grass. There the ground was damp and shaded from the sun. "Oh boy. Food!" He thought as he trotted over to it. "Gosh, I'm so glad I don't have to go any further." He quickly began to munch away. "Not very good grass," he winced. "Not like the Meadow's grass." He sighed, "but it's OK. I'm free up here," he reminded himself as a wave of homesickness washed over him. "No one is here to tell me what to do."
His stomach had finally settled down, he hadn’t been sure it would. He was just about full, when he looked up with a mouth full of grass, and there was Brain grinning at him from across the patch of grass. Caught! He froze trying to figure out what to say.
"Uhmm..Hi, Brain." It came out unintelligible as he mumbled around the grass in his mouth. Brain padded forward still grinning a little evilly. Timothy swallowed a wad of grass and managed to get out, “Hey, Brain. I can explain.”
Brain stopped and gave a short bark of laughter. “Stomach ache, huh? Yoo go rite ahead. That’s what I do when my stomach hurts. Eat some grass and presto... in a few hours yoo’ll be feeling better. 'Course, yoo'll be barfing all over the country side. But it makes you feel better. Yuk, yuk, yuk.” Timothy realized that Brain's sympathy was as phony as his smile. “Weed'll mess up a tender tummy,” he chortled.
Timothy thought fast and decided to go along with Brain's mistake. “Yeah. Uh... my belly is really churning. I figure I'll be throwing up before long.”
“Ummmm, Ummmm.” Brain said licking his lips. “I love a warm meal. 'Specially if it's old meat. Cain't beat old meat,” he said.
"Uh oh." Timothy thought. "I thought they were all joking last night when they said that Brain would eat anything. I guess not. Wooly boogers! I really don't have to vomit. And I hate making myself do it, too. Plus, all I've had is grass. He'll know there isn't any meat in it."
Aloud he said, “Um, you know... You're welcome to the hot meal, Brain, but I've had a lot of grass and some of those mustard flowers too, I think. When it comes up, it isn't going to be pretty.”
“Mustard! I hate mustard,” Brain said disappointed. He paused, his small brain struggling to make a decision between greed and taste. Taste won. “Ahhhh. Fergit it. Go barf over by the trees will yoo? And cover it up. I don' want to be tempted an' then end up eatin' mustard.” With that he turned and stalked away. Obviously Brain's dignity was offended at some offal that even he couldn't consume. Timothy advised himself to remember mustard in case he got caught again.
Timothy didn't waste any time. He hurried over to the trees and got behind a big one. He made sounds like he was really heaving. Then he pawed the pine needles and dirt up, so it looked like he buried it. When he came out from behind the tree, Brain was still there, looking like he regretted his decision not to eat it. Timothy decided he better act this out all the way. He walked over to where Brain was standing.
“You're right, Brain. I feel better already.” With a little something in his stomach, Timothy realized that was true. He did feel better.
“Yoo'll do better when yoo get used to the weed,” he said knowingly.
Timothy shook his head, "No way. I am never going near that stuff again. It’s pure poison." He recalled Johnny's dad. Weed had destroyed him. Timothy remembered a question he had about the wolf he met first. “Brain, you remember Mask? How did he get to be a lone wolf?”
“Wal, a long time back, he an Villain were brothers. But Villain took a disliking for him, over a lady wolf, I think. It was years ago. They had a terrible fight. Some say Mask won, but don't yoo ever say that where Villain can hear yoo.”
“Aren't all the wolves in the Pack blood brothers? I heard wolves are always there for each other.”
Sourly, Brain said, “Yoo ask a lot of questions, Timmm. No one does anything for yoo, unless they want somethin'. How'd yoo get this old as a wolf and not get no wiser?” Brain looked up at where the sun was in the sky. “Better git back, I guess. They're gonna do the vote pretty soon.” With that he simply turned and headed off in the direction he'd come.
Once Brain was far enough away, Timothy said, "Whew. That was closer than I liked. I had better be a lot more careful from here on out." He began to trot after Brain, but he made sure that he stayed well behind. Brain took the shortest way back to the Saddle and, reminded about the vote, Timothy decided he wanted to get there, too. He had to admit that he seriously wanted to vote for the Pack to keep accepting more wolves. He definitely had a vested interest.
When he came up into the Saddle, he went straight to the clearing. "It's already packed with the Pack." He shook his head. "Brain's humor must be wearing off on me," he thought. He looked around. A little ways off he spotted Honey and Bullet and several of the others that he knew. He threaded his way through the assembled wolves till he joined them.
“Hi, Honey,” he said eager to be friendly again.
“Hmmph,” She said. “Looks like you actually lived after all. Figured out not to eat that weed yet?” She sarcastically asked.
Timothy was taken aback. Gee, what has her all upset? He decided to try and ignore her mood. “I have definitely figured that out. Sorry I wasn't up to going with you this morning,” he offered. “I wouldn't have kept up with you if I had, I'm afraid.”
She seemed to lighten up at his apology. “Well, I'm glad you realized that you missed my company. Took till noon, did it?” She said teasingly.
Timothy missed her meaning. “Yeah, I was pretty sick till just a bit ago.” He saw her look and realized his mistake, “But... But I missed you before you were even out of sight,” he rushed the words out thinking fast.
Honey looked happy he'd said that. She leaned over to him and whispered, “So, how are you going to vote?”
He decided it was his turn to tease now. “Oh, I don't know. Wait and see,” he said trying to be sound indifferent.
Honey's mouth flew open to say something, but she was interrupted by the arrival of Leader who was trailed closely by a scowling Villain. Behind them were two big wolves. One was jet black and the other a dusty light gray. Honey quietly told him they were the score-keepers. Behind them came a dozen, or so, older wolves. They all strode forward into the very center of the crowd.
“Pack Brothers,” began Leader loudly, so that he could be heard throughout the clearing. “You all know why we are here. We are here to make a vote. A vote to decide how we will be as a Pack.” He paused and looked around gravely. Timothy saw Leader's eyes rest on him briefly as they swept through the clustered wolves.
“There is a disagreement within the Pack. There are two ways and we must choose between them. One way...,” Leader paused and his eyes again passed over the crowd, “...is my way.” He paused again. “The other is Villain's way.”
“We shall each speak to you of our path for the Pack. You will listen, and think, and choose between us. If you choose my way, it will be as it is now. I shall be Leader, and Villain will submit.” Another pause. “If you choose Villain's way,” Timothy saw a grin on Villain's face for the first time. (I think I like his scowl better, he whispered to Honey, shuddering.) “Villain shall become the Leader, and I shall be called Nameless thereafter. I will leave the Pack, and the Pack shall follow Villain's path.”
"What?" Timothy blinked stupidly. "Leader leave the Pack? No way!" Honey shook her head as an uproar started when all the wolves tried to talk at once. Timothy saw a look of fear and anguish on Honey's face. "She's afraid Leader will lose and have to leave," he realized quietly. Bullet was frantically whispering to Howler and Piggy, but he couldn't hear what they were saying.
Just then, the two big wolves with Villain and Leader howled louder than Timothy had thought a wolf could. The gathered wolves quieted, all pushing forwards to see what was happening. “ATTENTION. ATTENTION.” Leader's booming voice quieted the rest. “Now, we will begin by hearing the way of each. I will begin with my way,” he laughed humorlessly. “Since I am Leader and I get my choice.” Several others laughed as well in the crowd, but most were too stunned to do more than murmur. “Then, you will hear Villain's way.”
He waited till the murmurs died away. Then he walked in a circle three times, widening it with each loop. The wolves moved back and Timothy saw that he was making a space in the crowd by doing this. When he had a space around him, he began again.
“Brother Wolves. I have been with you these long years. I have been leader long enough to not remember how many moons that has been. Life has been good, has it not?” He demanded of the Pack. There were murmurs of approval and some of derision. “Before I was leader, there was strife in the Pack, strife and blood. It was hard then, hard for cubs to survive without meeting a violent death. Hard for widowed females to eat and survive the winters. But now, it is better.”
“I have brought peace and security for all. To continue this, I have opened the Pack to new wolves. Some of these wolves are different from us. They are different inside, wolves of a different type. New wolves will help our Pack to become stronger, by being more peaceful; to become invincible, by acting for the good of the whole Pack, instead of 'every wolf for himself'. Isn't that what the Brothers want? To be well fed? To be safe at night? To have Brother Wolves who can be trusted? Choose my way. Vote for me and I will remain leader. And you will remain free and safe wolves.” Leader gazed about the gathering once more. Timothy was almost sure that he looked straight at him for a second time. Leader turned and walked back to where the two large wolves and Villain were.
Villain stepped forward as Leader left the circle he'd made. As he stepped into the vacant circle, he turned, looking in every direction once with a glare and a scowl. Then he shouted. “What has the Pack become?” He looked around again. “I see wolves here. Proud roaring wolves. Terrors of the forest. And... I see how soft you have all become.” He sneered at the Pack. “I see wolves that are not the fittest. Wolves that are not the strongest. Wolves who should not survive.” He circled glaring again, daring those at the edges to deny him.
“Leader has weakened us. He says that he took away strife and blood. He took away glory and winning. He took away being top of the food chain, even with each other. Some of you out there are soft and flabby. Some of you aren't true wolves at all. We need to rid our Pack of these 'different' wolves of Leader's. Being different should be a crime.” Timothy's heart skipped a beat. A few yips came from back in the Pack.
Villain went on, “No. Regardless of your skin, you aren't the free brothers in blood you used to be,” He paused looking about.
“Peaceful,” he snorted. “We don't get stronger by being peaceful. We become strong by struggling every day, against everything, and everyone. Cubs are best raised in a hard life. Cull out the weak misfits until only the best survive. This is the Pack we need.” A louder scattering of yips and yaps of agreement sounded out behind Timothy. “Who leads this Pack? It should be the strongest, the meanest, the biggest, and the most cunning.” More yips and yaps. Villain plunged on, “Choose my way. I bring strength back. Choose my way. We will fill the forests around us with a new fear. And…,” he looked threateningly around at the wolves, then stopped and held his gaze straight on Timothy. “Purge those who are 'different'.”
Timothy felt sure that was meant for him. What does Villain have against me, he wondered worriedly? Yipping and yapping continued all about. Not everyone, but a lot. Some looked indecisive. Villain strutted triumphantly back to where Leader stood. He stopped and stared at Leader before stepping around to the other side of the large black score-keeper wolf.
“Hate will set you free,” whispered Honey. “That’s what he’s selling. He advocates making any wolves that are different into a sub-class of wolf and treating them worse than our prey.” Timothy looked at her in shock. “So Timmm, how are you going to vote?”
Before he could answer, Leader called for attention again, and the Pack grew quiet. “So those who have ears have heard. Those who have eyes have seen. Now it is time to choose the way.”
“We now decide a Vote. Whitey,” the pale gray wolf tossed his head proudly, “will take the vote of those who choose my way. And, Blackie,” Leader gestured at the black wolf, “will take the vote of those who choose Villain's way.” Timothy saw that Villain seemed very happy with himself. He leered viciously, grinning at all the wolves around him.
# Chapter 18
“We will begin the Vote with our newest member.”
Villain looked startled. “What's this?” He demanded angrily. "What trick are you up to, Leader?”
“No trick, Villain. You spoke of courageous wolves being your goal. Of strong and mighty wolves who do not fear anything. Am I right? Who better to start this Vote, than the one wolf who has crossed the Meadow alone? You all heard him, he crossed the Meadow, and it did not even occur to him to be afraid of the Shepherd.” This brought the assembly to a roar with wolves growling and yipping. They'd all heard of Timmm and his exploit. Leader let the noise continue for some time before he called again for attention.
“Timmm,” he called. “Come forward.”
Hesitantly, Timothy looked at Honey. “Go ahead,” She whispered urgently. “Get up there and vote.”
“Vote?” He whispered back. “I don't know how.”
“You fool. Just go up and do what they tell you. One goes to Leader's Score-keeper, then one goes for Villain's. This keeps up until one of the two, has no wolf left to pass their Score-keeper. The other then, obviously has more and wins.”
“That's kind of complicated,” Timothy kept whispering. He was arguing to delay moving. “Why do it that way?”
“Have you ever heard of a wolf who can count higher than two?” She responded sarcastically. “Now, go!” She shoved him forward.
Timothy stumbled forward and looked at Leader. He was waiting patiently for him. Squaring his shoulders, he marched into the vacant circle Leader had made. Villain was glaring at him as if I had two heads. That didn't help Timothy's nerves at all. The Pack had settled into an eerie silence. Every wolf seemed to be watching and measuring him.
As he came up, Leader simply said, “Choose the Score-Keeper who will count you, Timmm. Mine... or Villain's.”
He looked back to Honey. She was motioning him on desperately. It was all she could do to restrain herself from charging up and throwing Timothy at the right Score-keeper. He saw her mouth form the words, “Go on.”
Resolutely he stepped up to Whitey, Leader's Score-keeper, and said loudly so he could be heard, “I vote for Leader.” Immediately the pack broke out in a roar again. He could hear noises of arguments. Whining and growling, yipping and yapping, the entire Pack was agitated by Timmm's vote. Uncertain, he stood there and looked around slowly at the wolves. He was afraid. He was a sheep in wolf's clothing and he was afraid that he had just stirred up the Pack into some kind of a killing frenzy.
Honey stared at him amazed. There was Timmm. His face emotionless, calmly voting the first Vote. And now standing there, staring down the whole Pack! Her heart fluttered. He was the most fearless wolf she had ever met. How had she ever gotten the opinion that he was naive and foolish? She felt her face heat. She had been rude to him this morning. And again, just before the Vote. Oh, how she hoped he wouldn't be like most male wolves and hold a grudge. She looked again, and saw his calm passive face looking at her. Her heart did a flip flop. Oh. He was looking at her. Why did that make her feel so flustered, she asked herself? But she knew.
Timothy looked back behind him. In the middle of all the noise, he looked to Honey, hoping to see that he had pleased her with his choice. She stared back at him for a time, then dropped her gaze and shuffled about. Did I do wrong? Why is she acting that way? He felt a wave of despair. What have I done now?
Leader leaned forward to him and said softly, “Thank you, son. You've done enough. You can move on.”
“Yeah. There're others to Vote.” Brain had hurried up to place the first Vote for Villain. “We ain't done yet,” he asserted. “G'wan get outa the way.” Brain was clearly mad at Timothy's vote. His accent got worse when he was agitated. Numbly, Timothy walked past the Score-Keepers into an area marked off for those who had already voted.
Now, he had to wait till the last wolf was counted. After he and Brain voted, there formed up two steady lines of voters, one line in front of each Score-keeper. Alternately they let a wolf pass on each side, keeping an even count, one for one on each side.
Timothy sat there feeling a little dazed. Maybe I'm not completely over last night's poison? After a while, wolves began to come up to him and pat him, and tell him they were on his side. It seemed to matter to them that he knew how they'd voted. Some asked him again about crossing the Meadows. Bullet came up with a grin and told him he was the calmest wolf in the Pack. “Man. Nothing fazes you.” Bullet's eager friendliness made him feel better and safer. He kept watching the counting, and then caught himself counting. As a sheep, Timothy actually could count very well. Maybe it was the stress, but as he counted wolves he began to get sleepy.
Timothy awoke with a start. He could hear a louder murmuring that was becoming a yipping, yapping mayhem. The wolves were howling and, after a few repeats, he managed to figure out what was being said. Leader had won the vote. Relief swept over him.
Around him, most of the wolves were yipping excitedly. The entire pack was filled with excitement and energy. He could see everyone was talking at once to everyone else. Many looked like they were having arguments, but mostly it was happy, if animated, discussions going on.
Leader had won. Timothy grinned as the cheering wolves swirled around him. He saw Honey go by. She was with Howler and Billy. She caught his gaze and smiled self-consciously, but then looked down and kept going. Timothy started to follow, but the way she'd acted before came back to him. Had she just hurried away? He stopped, suddenly unsure again. In the noisy crowd of wolves, Timothy felt totally alone.
To his left, Timothy saw Villain in the crowd. He was especially noticeable because he wasn't in motion like the rest of the crowd. He scowled so darkly the crowd avoided getting too close to him, leaving a small gap around him. That was the only open space in the saddle. He looked like he was conversing with a wolf Timothy knew to be called Fang. Villain snapped at an excited wolf that frisked by too closely. The wolf shied away from Villain's swipe and kept going. Glowering, Villain turned back to Fang, obviously angry at the interruption. As he did, he saw Timothy watching him. He looked straight back at Timothy and snarled something that, even through the noise, sounded gutturally like a curse. “Come on,” he snarled at Fang, and both of them bounded away.
Timothy looked around. Villain's vicious reaction made him more than a little nervous again. He blinked as he saw Leader just a few feet away, clearly coming towards him. “Thank you, Timmm,” Leader smiled one of his trademark smiles.
“What? What do you mean? Why thank me?” Timothy stuttered some.
“Why, for your help in winning the election of course.”
Timothy barked a short laugh in disbelief. “How did I help? You did all the speaking.”
Leader laughed back at him. “Don't pretend to be surprised. Your expressionless face gives you away.” He surveyed the celebrating wolves all around them. “You're very cunning, Timmm. I don't think that I have fully appreciated that until just now.” He paused, inspecting Timothy as if he hadn't met him before. “I appreciate your choosing my way in this. I must admit that for a minute I was afraid you'd be my undoing, and choose Villain's way instead. You are very hard to figure out, Timmm. You don't react like the other wolves.”
Timothy wasn't sure if he should be flattered or concerned at Leader's words. “I still don't know why you think that I made a big difference.”
Leader gave Timothy another piercing gaze, and said, “Come on Timmm, don't play dumb. Everyone in the Pack knows about you by now. It took almost no time for the rumor-mill to spread the word about you. In short, you're famous. You’re the 'new mysterious wolf'. You're good sized and not a bad looking wolf in this crowd. Your story has been spread far and wide in the Pack. You passed through the Shepherd's Meadows and you're still alive. Not only that, but you appear genuinely unconcerned about having done that feat. There aren’t any other wolves here willing to get close to the Meadows. Wolves won't go into the Meadows, Timmm. The Shepherd gets them all.”
Timothy frowned under his mask. I've never heard this about the Shepherd back home. Why was that, he wondered? And if the Shepherd ‘gets them all’, then why didn’t the shepherd get him?
Leader went on. “Many of the wolves admire you for that trip across the Meadows. They wish they had the guts to cross the Meadows. You make it seem like that’s something even they could do. Oh, yes, Timmm. You are more famous than maybe you realize. But with your poker-face, I just can't tell about you.” He shrugged, “So, choosing you to vote first was a gamble I had to take. Everyone out there was watching to see how you voted, Timmm. You are 'the-wolf-who-crossed-the-Meadows'. When you voted for my way, dozens of undecided wolves followed suit. Just the heat of that moment was enough for a wolf to get excited and follow the leader. In this case that leader was you, Timmm.”
“So, you think I had that much influence?” Timothy was confused. “Just because I crossed the Meadows?”
Leader gave him a long measuring stare again. “Either you are a very humble, and maybe ignorant, wolf; or you are a 'wolf-to-be-watched', as well as a 'meadow-crosser'.” Leader paused weighing his words. “Be careful how you play at politics here, Timmm. You've clearly been a lone wolf for some time. The politics in this Pack could be a trap for the unwary. This gang of wolves is very close to its violent nature. A misstep or error on your part, or mine, could result in a good number of wolves getting killed.”
Leader looked off in the direction that Villain had gone. “I have been balancing the different groups in the Pack against each other in an effort to keep Villain from starting a bloodbath. Villain is convinced that the only good wolf is a violent wolf. And he desperately wants to be the next leader.” Leader sighed, sounding tired. “Be careful of Villain, Timmm. Whatever you choose in the future, remember that you are a threat to Villain, just because you are here. The admiration of the other wolves is something Villain is very jealous of. After the Vote, which he knows you won for me, he will surely be looking for a chance for you to have an 'accident'.”
Timothy's jaw dropped. Accident? “You mean that Villain might try to hurt me?”
“You or the friends you've made in the Pack. Villain seldom takes his opponents on directly. If I were you, I would count my friends very carefully here, Timmm. And watch out for Villain's friends. Some lesser wolf may take a shot at you just to improve his status with Villain. It would give a young wolf a lot of prestige to do something to you and get away with it.”
“So, who do I trust, Leader? I haven't been here long enough to tell.”
“Let me suggest a few friendly names. Honey, of course. Bullet, he's committed to Honey and a better Pack. Juan. He's an outsider, too, like you, and his accent makes him stand out as different. Howler... I think you can pick more names from there. Start with these friends, Timmm. Ask them about the other wolves. Who to trust. Who to avoid. As smart as you are, I'm sure you'll figure out who you can count on, who you can't, and who you should fear.” With that, Leader turned and walked away. Timothy looked after his retreating form admiring how Leader carried himself so regally.
Standing alone, Timothy watched the receding Leader as he disappeared into the other wolves. Friends? He shook his head. He felt a pang of homesickness and thought of his sheep friends. Johnny, Ewellyn, and even Skipper. "I feel free up here as a wolf," he told himself again. "But being free this way is sure nerve wracking. Surely Leader was exaggerating about a bloodbath. Most of the wolves in the Pack seem to get along well."
# Chapter 19
A couple of happy young wolves came bounding up to Timothy full of pent up excitement and energy. They were babbling about how the vote went, and making sure Timothy knew they voted the same way he had. More young wolves padded up panting happily. Soon there was a crowd of young pack members all about him, making a new din of noise. They were all trying to ask him questions, or talk with him, at once. Quickly the questions became about his trip across the Meadows.
Leader is right, Timothy realized listening to them. They all keep asking about the Meadow. Timothy did find himself enjoying all the attention. He was not only a wolf, but an important one now. His head swelled as he felt important answering their questions. When he didn't know the answer, he just made up something. Of course, he made sure that whatever he said made him sound good. They're as gullible as Johnny, he thought. They'll believe anything I tell them.
Finally, one wanted to know, “Have you seen the Shepherd?”
Timothy paused and thought about it. He was surprised that he couldn't remember ever seeing the Shepherd. Everyone in the Flock has seen the Shepherd, haven't they? They see him all the time. Right? I mean, I've seen lots of evidence of the Shepherd. It always seemed like I just missed bumping into Him. Why was that? What does that mean, he wondered?
“No,” he answered thoughtfully and truthfully. “I have never seen the Shepherd. I have been at the Shepherd's Tent, though.”
“Wow! You were at the Tent itself?” one asked.
Another incredulous young tan wolf chimed in, “How did you keep from getting killed?”
“Yeah,” another whined. “Doesn't the tent itself reach out to pull the skin off your bones?” The wolves chortled at that one, but Timothy remembered how he had found his skin.
“I did see a skin hanging there at the tent. A skin that had been pulled off some sad wolf,” he responded knowingly, shaking his head. “It was a horrible sight. The Shepherd killed and skinned him.” He looked to see the effect. They were mesmerized, riveted to his every word. Some had their mouths hanging open and tongues panting. Satisfied at their reaction, he continued. “Oh, there are lots of terrible things at the tent. Why, I barely got away with this skin of mine.” Literally, he thought.
The crowd of young wolves blanched suitably and reacted with, “No way.” “Really?” And even, “I'm not going near there.” That last one caused a lot of wolf-calls and rude remarks, but none of the others would claim they were willing to visit the Meadows, or the tent, themselves either.
Timothy modified the truth more as he went now. “Yeah. It looked like the Shepherd had skinned maybe a dozen. If I hadn't been so good at sneaking around, and stealthily slipping through the Meadows, I guess that could have been me.” He was gratified by more sounds of admiration at his bravery from them. It made him briefly forget Leader's advice to be careful. He felt cocksure and arrogant enough to brag now.
“But how did you avoid the Shepherd after you were actually at His tent?” This came from the incredulous tan wolf again.
“Why, I slunk around behind the trees, and circled through the stream three times to hide my tracks. I was as careful and crafty as could be.” Timothy was enjoying the tale himself now. He could see that he had these young ones hanging on his every word. He went on for a while longer, when a barking laugh behind him interrupted his narrative.
Brain was standing there with his crooked grin. “Well,” he said snidely. “That there's some 'mazing ex-ploits. You sure have a lot of wolves believin' yoo actually went thru the Meadows.”
Timmm bristled at the suggestion that he was a liar. Sure I embellished it a bit, but I've done all that when I was playing wolf out in the Meadows. It wasn't like it was really a lie, exactly.
Turning to Brain, he posed to look aggressive and he tried his best growl, “I didn't see you on the Meadow when I was there, Brain. If you don't believe me, why not run down there, and go check out the Shepherd's tent? Or, come with me. I'll show you what's in the Shepherd's tent.” He heard his earlier audience gasp behind him.
“He wasn’t just at the Shepherd's tent. He was actually inside the tent!” He heard one whisper, to be echoed as it was passed around the younger pups.
Brain was as surprised at Timothy's statement as the others were. He quickly glanced around to see everyone staring at him. Embarrassed, he began to circle around like he was a caged animal. He snarled at the surrounding wolves and they backed away. Then he turned swiftly to glare at Timothy. Timothy swallowed hard, but stood his ground as unflinchingly as he could.
It's only Brain, he told himself.
Brain stopped snarling and looked confused at Timothy's complete calm. Brain was clearly disappointed. He made a wry face and looked back up the hill like he suddenly had somewhere else to be. Then he shrugged and laughed saying, "That's too long a trip fer this late in the day. Well, gotta be on about my business." With that, he ran off saying loudly that it was late and he needed to be somewhere.
The other wolves all began to laugh and crowd around Timothy. They clapped him on the back like he had just won some great battle. He laughed with them. Funny, it actually felt like he had won an important victory. As all the young wolves milled about excitedly, Timothy saw Brain join Villain up on the hill a ways behind the group. They began to speak quietly together. All the while Brain kept looking back his way.
This worried Timothy, but he thought, Now that I'm a Pack Brother, they can't touch me right?
Timothy stayed up howling till late again to celebrate the success of the vote with his newest friends. He met at least a dozen more new young wolves, but he could only remember a couple of them later. There was Kachina, a brown she-wolf with mottled spots on both front paws, and Demeter, a huge young male with boundless energy and questions for Timothy. This time he stayed as far away as he could from the jimsonweed when someone started passing it out. He watched as a number of the young wolves began to chew it. Since he was unaffected tonight, it was easy to see how quickly they became dopey and foolish.
“Those are the “Dopers”, Timmm.” Honey was suddenly right by his side. “They chew that weed almost every night, and some most all day, too. They think they're having fun, but when you're straight and watching, you can see how stupid it makes them.”
“Er... I guess I resembled that the other night, huh? Sorry.” Timothy was chagrined.
Honey laughed at him. “Don't worry, stud. You weren't too bad. First time users get real active and funny. It’s the ones who keep using it who get bad. They do less and less, until all they do is lie around or stumble about. Pretty pathetic isn't it?” Honey was disgusted with them. He had to agree.
Honey hung around with him the rest of the night. They went from howling group to howling group, and joined in at every party. “Making the rounds”, Honey called it. He noticed she got a lot of male attention at every howling group they stopped at. Eventually he fell asleep with her and some other youngsters of the Pack.
The next day, Timothy slipped off right away while most of the wolves were still sleeping. He wanted some time to eat grass when no one was looking. He found another small vale that wasn’t as close or easy to reach. It was filled with good looking grass. But again, it wasn't nearly as tastey as it looked.
“Hmmph. It’s not as good as the grass in the Meadow, he said morosely around a mouthful of grass. “But at least I found another place I can sneak off to for meals. I’m going to make sure I find more opportunities to sneak off and eat each day. Being a wolf sure makes me hungry.”
Timothy spent the better part of that day wandering and exploring the Mountain. He was enjoying his freedom and feeling completely safe as a wolf, when he came upon a cougar. It stared at him cautiously and then it said calmly, “I got no quarrel with the Pack. You got no quarrel with me.” When Timothy politely agreed, it turned and was gone in one bound.
"Oh ,wooly boogers," he told himself. "Lambchops! Am I glad to be a wolf or what?"
Late in the afternoon, Timothy found he had climbed higher than he had ever been before on the Mountain. He was well above the saddle exploring a rocky prominence when out of the bushes crashed a wolf. It was Juan. He had the remains of a dead rabbit in his mouth.
“Hi Juan.” Timothy hailed him.
“Mmmmmferrmmmm.” Juan replied with the rabbit hanging out of his jaws.
Timothy tried not to get sick looking at the rabbit, which was quite bloody. He had ran and played with lots of rabbits in the Meadows. Now, he looked sadly at it. “What did you say?” He asked Juan.
Juan dropped the rabbit and grinned. “I said, ‘how do you like your rabbit? Fresh, or aged a week?’” Timothy stared a second at Juan, trying be sure he understood Juan's accent. At the same time, he was trying to ignore the torn body of the bloody rabbit.
“Nothing like last week’s rabbit,” he quipped repeating what he had heard Weasel say.
“Hey. You know, man. I can share. Honey, she is always trying to remind me. To share, you know? You want some, dude?” Juan generously offered Timothy the leftovers.
“Oh,” He feigned disinterest now. “Rabbits are pretty small. And,… I already ate, too. Maybe next week, when it's aged.” He stifled an urge to gag, but tried to pretend some interest. Another wolf, whose name he couldn't remember, ran up, snatched it, and took off. As it ran, the wolf swallowed it in two chomps.
“Hey, man. No rabbit tricks! I wasn't done with that,” Juan yelled after the thief. He was rewarded with laughter as the wolf kept running.
“Oh, well. Sorry, dude. You snooze, you lose”, said Juan shrugging. “For such a well fed wolf, you’re sure a picky eater, Timmm.” He sounded doubtful as he looked at Timothy.
“You are Juan fast wolf, Juan” Timothy quipped, mimicking Brain to keep the mood light. “Rabbits are hard to catch.” He tried to sound admiring.
“That Brain is teaching you some bad humor, man.” Juan returned.” Your puns are as bad as his. But yeah, you're right. You have to be fast to catch enough rabbits to stay as fat as me.”
Timothy raised his eyebrows. Juan looked pretty lean but he tried to be supportive, “You look great, Juan.” As h thought of it, it occurred to him that all the wolves except Piggy were thin to the point of being gaunt. He tried to remember how many wolves he may have seen that actually appeared well fed. He couldn't remember any. I wonder why? Is there something I'm missing here? Timothy didn't know how often they killed cause he didn’t hang around with them when they hunted or ate. He was too squeamish for that,
“No, man. You look great. You’re the best fed wolf I know.” Juan cocked his head and looked at Timothy slyly. “Are you holding out on us, man? You must be an awesome hunter. How come you never share? I think I’ll sick Honey on you, man. She'll make you share.” Juan laughed, thinking that was funny.
Timothy thought as fast as he could. He laughed as hard as Juan did, like he'd just been told a really funny joke. “Juan.” he admonished him, “You snooze, you lose, man.”
Juan stared for a second, and then laughed as uproariously as Timothy. “Ha ha ha. You are a wolf's wolf, Timmm. Nobody has it on you. Ha ha. But, you may not want to tell that one to Honey. She's serious about this sharing stuff, man.” He shook his head. He turned to head back where he had come. “Gotta catch more rabbits, dude. Especially since I just lost the last one. You're making me look bad. I gotta be more sleek, man. Maybe I'll catch Honey's eye too, huh?” He laughed again as he ran off out of sight.
Juan's comment bothered Timothy. He wasn't sure he wanted Honey to notice Juan, but he was pleased that someone else thought she was interested in him.
# Chapter 20
That evening, as he headed back to the Saddle, Timothy met up with Honey and Bullet. She was a bit standoffish again, but seemed happy enough to see him. Bullet was quiet as only Bullet could be.
“Where are you headed?” Timothy asked. “You're hurrying along like you're on some kind of business.”
Honey seemed a little hesitant, but she said, “We're meeting with some friends tonight, some of Leader's new wolves.” She accentuated the word “new”.
“There are more new wolves like me,” Timothy asked?
“Not like you,” Bullet cut in gruffly. “You're a wolf through and through. We're meeting with Leader's 'new' wolves.” He accented the word new again. “You know? The ‘different’ wolves. The ones Leader thinks we can learn from.” When Timmm didn't seem to get it, he went on exasperated. “For Pete’s sake, the ones who aren’t wolves on the inside.”
“Hush, Bullet.” Honey looked around to see if anyone was listening. “Don't ever say that.” She turned to look at Timothy. Then, she looked down shyly. “Come and meet them, Timmm. If you really are as important as Leader thinks, then you should get to know the new wolves. You're going to hear the Pack talking about them sometime.”
“Sure.” Timothy took a few quick hops to fall into step with them. “Where are we going?” He asked her.
“You'll see,” was all she'd say. Timothy followed her for a ways before a smaller trail split off. Honey turned onto it. It circled down and back to a place below the Point. As they wound down and around below the Point, Timothy asked Honey about the other new wolves, “Leader lets a group of 'less-than-wolfish' wolves hang out with the Pack.” Honey began to explain. “He seems to enjoy their different perspectives on things. Most of this group doesn't seem to hunt much. They really want to be in the Pack though, and they aren't bad types.”
“But, they all smell strange,” Bullet piped in.
Timothy thought about himself. Do I still smell strange, too?
Honey gave Bullet a hard look. “Don't be cruel. They can't help what they smell like. That's a trait that's hard to change.” Bullet looked embarrassed, but not completely convinced she was right.
Bullet went on, “They hang out with us regular wolves. They like to run around with us and be seen hanging out. They try to talk and act all cool. Sometimes they do better than others. Juan calls them 'wannabes'. He thinks they're wolves who don't know how to act like wolves. Honey called them the 'Pretenders', once.” She scowled at him, but didn't deny it.
“I call them the 'Odd Friends' now.” Honey said defensively. “They seem almost desperate to be accepted, Timmm. They either over-do, or under-do, things a wolf takes for granted. But most all of them are nice. I mean, once you get to know them.”
There were cliffs below them, and a towering cliff above them that climbed up to the Point. Timothy looked around and saw the way they'd come was the only one way in.
“Wow. This is pretty hidden away.”
“It's a nice hideaway. A good place for close friends to feel safe,” she responded.
Away from the cliff edge, ahead of them, Timothy saw a handful of wolves. They were all different shapes and sizes. Now that Timothy was getting used to being with wolves, he could see there was definitely something odd about them all. They just didn't quite look like the rest of the wolves in the Pack. There was something similar about them all, but Timothy couldn't quite put his hoof, er… paw, on it though. He counted them, ...two, three, …. seven, eight. They were mostly just lying about or engaged in conversations with each other. “Are these your friends you were talking about?”
“Yes. Some of them. Come meet them.”
Bullet began to point them out, “That fat one there laying down. That's Piggy.” Piggy was lying lazily in a patch of mud next to another large fat wolf. Timothy knew Piggy already and could see why he was grouped with the “odd” wolves. Bullet grinned and waved. Piggy leaned forward to wave at them, before he laid back into the mud.
Aside to Timothy, Bullet went on, “Piggy will eat anything and he is pretty greedy about it, too. And he smells bad.” At Honey's sharp look, Bullet said, “No, really Honey. I mean bad. Even the other wolf-wannabes try to stay up wind of him.” Bullet gestured back at his subject. “Piggy tries hard to fit in, but he kind of overdoes it. He will go for anything anyone proposes, as long as it sounds even remotely wolfish. We're not sure how smart he is either.” That last was whispered.
Honey rolled her eyes. “Bullet, you are so critical sometimes.”
“And this is Boar,” Bullet pointed to the wolf next to Piggy. He resembled Piggy quite a bit in size and he had the same funny nose, but he had a great deal more hair and a couple of his front teeth stuck out funny. “He is Piggy’s quiet brother. He says he's only here because Piggy is.” Then quietly he added, so only Timothy could hear, “He doesn’t smell nearly as bad. There’s something wild about him still.”
A smallish wolf hopped over between Piggy and Boar. “Hi. I'm Wabbit. I couldn't help but hear that Bullet is doing introductions. You really should speak nicer about your brother wolves, you know.” That last was directed at Bullet.
Timothy looked at his rather large ears. Obviously those worked very well. He'd want to remember that, he told himself. He politely tried not to stare. “Um... Hi. Nice to meet you, Wabbit.”
Bullet looked annoyed about Wabbit having heard him more than anything else. “Wabbit here hops from bush to bush following the Pack. Usually he stays hidden. You never know when, or where, he will pop up. He's kind of small, but he can run like the wind.” Wabbit looked proud at Bullet's last statement. That managed to annoy Bullet some more. He cleared his throat, “Harrumph. We mostly ignore him. None of the regular Pack is too interested in harassing him, except the cubs. Mostly cause he's not any threat to even the weakest of the other wolves. So, the rule is to not pick on him, but... ,” he said a little louder to assure Wabbit's big ears heard him, “I can make an exception.” Wabbit winced a bit.
“The cubs are always trying to start a fight with me, though,” Wabbit complained. “Which is why I hide out so much. You should tell their parents to teach them better manners, I say,” he said to Bullet shaking a paw at him. At this, Bullet rolled his eyes.
As they were leaving Wabbit, Bullet whispered, “He complains a lot.”
“I heard that”, Wabbit called from behind them making Bullet flinch.
They headed towards a longer legged wolf who looked a little mangy. Timothy recognized Billy. Bullet nodded to him as he said, “This here is Billy. You met him last time you came here. He chews on the occasional tin can like it's candy. That has most of the other wolves leaving him alone.” Billy was chewing on something shiny right then Timothy noticed. “There, see. What did I say? Look at him eat that can. He can chew nails and spit tacks. He can be pretty grumpy and critical though, too. I think he’s always trying to get everyone’s goat.”
Bullet continued, introducing him to several other 'wannabe-wolves', but Timothy wasn't paying much attention. He saw Honey was chatting with another wolf. They looked to both be very happily caught up in their conversation. She seems to be awfully fond of that one, Timothy thought. He felt a small pang of jealousy. He reminded himself, I hardly even know her really and besides she's angry with me most of the time. She could hardly be too interested in me, I guess.
Bullet saw his gaze. “That last one Honey's with now is Howler." Surprised, Timothy realized he'd met Howler already as well. Bullet continued filling him in about Howler, "He doesn't seem to have a natural wolf-bone in his body. He can hardly be mean if he tries. He wags his tail all the time and would sooner lick you to death than anything else, but he can out-smell the rest of the Pack put together. He helped us track down that stag we got last month”.
Timothy smothered a shudder. Was that the stag I watched them chase above the Meadow a few weeks back? That seemed like a very long time ago, now.
Howler came over happily, wagging his tail just like Bullet said. “Hey, I met you already,” he said and began to sniff Timothy like the day before. He almost immediately got a bit too familiar with his cold nose again.
Timothy turned in a circle, trying to pull away, but Howler followed sniffing at his rear oblivious to Timothy’s discomfort. Keeping moving he said, “Hi. Uh…Yeah. Thanks, Howler. I'm sure we'll be great friends.”
“That cold nose is what Howler calls southern hospitality, Timmm.” Honey chuckled. “Don't mind him.” Timothy wasn’t real sure about the hospitality, but Howler did stop sniffing.
“Honey and I have taken on the task of teaching this group to be more wolf-ly,” Bullet grimaced. “It’s turning out to be harder than we thought. Maybe you'd like to help?” He sounded hopeful.
“Hey,” Bullet turned away from Timothy and yelled at the rag-tag bunch of wolves. “Are we gonna have some fun or what?” With that, they all began to gather together eagerly. “Time to start a good howling contest,” Bullet announced. Everybody was in favor of that idea. They howled back and forth for what seemed like a long time to Timothy, with everyone taking turns howling. Often the group would criticize their howl. Bullet said that Piggy wasn't howling, he was squealing. That brought guffaws of laughter from everyone but Piggy, who got defensive. “At least I can howl. Wabbit don't make enough noise to scare a rabbit, even when he tries.
Wabbit sniffed loudly, but wouldn't dignify Piggy's complaint by answering. This brought out more laughing. Timothy figured they must all be pretty giddy to think it so funny, but he laughed as hard as any, especially when Piggy and Boar's laughter made them snort. More insults began to fly.
Then Howler said, “Wabbit smells like he died a long time ago.” They all laughed some more, but only half heartedly. The laughter sounded a bit nervous to Timothy. That must have rankled Howler, cause he said, “I'm serious. In fact, sometimes Wabbit almost smells like something I should be chasing. But I can't quite remember why.” They laughed a little at Howler's deeply confused look, but it was scattered.
He's really was serious about it, Timothy saw. Of course, he was learning that Howler was almost comically serious most of the time.
Wabbit looked kind of scared at first, but he laughed again, a little forced it seemed to Timothy. Then he said brightly, “Aw, Howler is just remembering his rabbit-chasing from last week and has his ‘W’ and ‘R’ mixed up.” That evoked a few more laughs. Howler looked embarrassed at first, but the more he looked embarrassed, the more everyone laughed. Finally he gave up and joined in. Soon they were all laughing like before and shoving each other. Someone started the fake growling followed by the nipping at heels and tails, and it rapidly got out of hand. Timothy had a great time with this group of weird wolves. He heard them call themselves the Odd Friends, just like Honey had.
The day after Timothy's meeting with the Odd Friends started normal enough. As normal as any day seemed to a sheep in a pack of wolves, Timothy supposed. He had just wandered up into the Saddle, when another odd-looking wolf came up. At first, Timothy thought it was one of the Odd Friends from the previous day. He turned to wish him a good morning.
Timothy gasped in surprise. The odd-looking wolf had his best friend Johnny inside. He grinned at Timothy from inside his own wolf-skin.