“Johnny!” Timothy whispered urgently hurrying to his side. “What are you doing here?” Upset and fearful, Timothy quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching. Seeing no one close, he said, “Well?”
“Hi, Timothy...” He started before Timothy cut him off sharply.
“Shhhhhh! Call me Timmm.” His whisper was hoarse with stress. He looked all about again, hoping no one noticed. But they had drawn the attention of Weasel and several other wolves who were looking their way. Oh, ‘yarn and darn’. Timothy was in a panic.
Johnny looked a little hurt. “You said we'd join up as wolves,” he said accusingly, frowning at Timothy's obvious unhappiness at seeing him. “But you never came back for me. I figured I’d join you instead.”
“Yeah. Sure. I... I just wasn't ready for you yet.” He stammered. “Where'd you find the skin?” He swallowed hard as he saw the wolves they'd attracted heading their way. Honey and Bullet had joined the group though and were in the lead ahead of Weasel. Which is a good thing, he hoped. Oh, crud. I have to get them to accept Johnny or they'd be on him for sure.
“I found another skin at the Shepherd's tent,” Johnny went on glad to see Timothy's interest. “You said there might be another one there. You were right. I kept sneaking back to look, and then it was just there one day, like it was meant for me. So I took it,” he said proudly, but he was still offended at how Timothy was acting. “Uh, I had to tie it on myself,” he confided. “So it slips a little sometimes, but it's staying on OK,” he assured Timothy. Timothy could see that the skin was not as good or as big as his.
And the tie job isn't as good as mine either, he noted critically. But now, Honey and Bullet came up with Weasel and the other wolves behind them. Timothy could see that a number of them were the Odd Friends. He felt a little relief at that.
“Who's your new friend, Timmm?” Weasel asked suspiciously as always. Great! He suspects something. These wolves are suspicious of everything. They're so cautious of a new person! If I didn't know better, I'd think they were afraid. The wolves gathered around Johnny. Timothy could see they were unsure of him. A few stretched out their necks, tentatively sniffing. At least Johnny stinks like a wolf. Maybe his skin is fresher than mine, Timothy thought. He hoped he could convince them Johnny was a wolf.
“Who?” Timmy jokingly asked. He looked all around in an exaggerated manner as if he didn't know who they were talking about.
“The cur right beside you...” began Bullet, but Honey shoved him so hard he staggered.
“He knows who you're talking about, Bullet. Don't be stupid.” Honey was annoyed for some reason. To him she snapped, “Knock it off, clowny,” she snarled to him. “Who is he?”
“Him? Oh, he's just someone I met down near the Meadows and got acquainted with.” Timothy acted nonchalant. He was trying hard to think up a convincing story on the fly.
“What's his name?” She said each word slowly with emphasis and a soft growl in her throat.
“Oh, I'm Johnny,” Johnny said brightly. “Pleased to meet you. What's your name?” Timothy groaned inside. Johnny sounded far too cheerful in the face of the glowering suspicious wolves.
“What kind of a wolf-name is Johnny?” Weasel snorted from behind them. Some of the wolves behind him began to laugh. That doesn't sound good, Timothy fretted.
Timothy glared hard at Johnny hoping he'd take the warning and follow his lead. “Ummm. He just told me he's been skirting the Meadows for quite a while. Watching the sheep and staying out of the range of the Shepherd,” Timothy hoped if he talked a bit, they'd get excited that Johnny had been at the Meadows and forget his 'un-wolf-like' name. “He was hoping to catch a wandering lamb or two. Weren't you?” He directed the last sternly at Johnny, nodding his head up and down slightly. Come on, Johnny, he pleaded silently.
Johnny looked at him blankly at first, like he had no idea that the conversation was about him. Seeing Timothy's pleading eyes and his nodding head, he gave a little start and said, “Yeah. Yeah. I was pretty hungry for sheep. Delicious, yummy sheep. Makes me drool even now. You know how much we like sheep. Right?” Timothy groaned, who is going to believe that? That last sounded to me like Johnny himself isn't sure. Surprisingly, Bullet and several others nodded and murmured agreement. He saw Weasel was drooling already at the mention of sheep.
“Sheep are good,” Weasel commented licking his lips.
Honey looked like she was angry. She started to say something, but Weasel and several others began to debate loudly if lamb, ram, sheep, or mutton was best. He breathed a low sigh of relief that the subject was changing from Johnny. He'd found most of the wolves were easily distracted, and for once he was glad of it. Then, he shivered to hear the talk shifted almost immediately to something more bloodthirsty. They began to discuss how best to dismember the sheep once you had him down. He swallowed hard again thinking how they were on a razor's edge here.
Although all the others were suddenly eager to talk sheep, Honey wasn't. She peered at both of them with slitted eyes. The other wolves all began to get into the group conversation. The more they talked of blood, the more the mood got positively jovial among them. Each began to try and tell others about their own opinions, yipping in animation. One young wolf sat down on his haunches, panting, and began to howl about it, showing his excitement over the subject. The whole conversation began to dissolve into pandemonium.
Honey looked around at all the other wolves like they were stupider than she could believe. Then she leaned closer to Timothy and said quietly, under the din of the animated conversation, “This is not a good time for more 'new wolves', Timmm. You were risk enough.” He looked at her wondering what that was supposed to mean, but she had already turned her back to him.
Timothy looked back at Johnny and caught his eye. He smiled trying to indicate everything was going to be OK. He leaned over close and whispered, “We're good.” But behind Johnny, he saw Brain coming up with about as many more wolves as were already here. That doubled the crowd immediately. He noted Fang was with Brain and the other new arrivals were all wolves that supported Villain. Oh, dung, he exclaimed under his breath.
“Who's this?” Brain demanded loudly as he strode up with the mean looking bunch. Several wolves at once began to say, "Johnny".
“Jaw-knee? Haw! At leest he's got a reg'lar name,” Brain retorted. “Not like Timmm, here. Who let him come into the Saddle?” He demanded angrily again. He was looking directly at Timothy as he said it.
“Uh… I… didn't bring him.” Timothy stuttered. He could tell Brain was just looking for something to hold against him.
“He came in by himself, Brain”, Honey said aggressively. “He’s got good hunting skills to find us, huh?”
I thought she'd left. This is going to get sticky.
“Huh! Like yoo'd know,” Brain retorted. He sniffed loudly. “He don't smell rite. I figger he must be sick or something. Lotta that goin' 'round.”
Bullet looked confused. “He seems OK. I think.”
“He's fine, Brain.” Honey defended Johnny. “We all just checked him out and he's a regular wolf.”
“Yeah,” Weasel started excitedly. “He was after sheep down by the Meadow and we were just talking about how good sheep taste when...”
“Shut up!” Brain snarled at Weasel and the wolves behind him. They all cringed, including many of the Odd Friends. “He's not in the gang yet. We still haff to decide whether to let him in the Pack or not,” said Brain. “Besides, he has an old stink of sheep on him. If we don't decide to let him in, we eat him.” The other wolves with Brain began to growl and bark in agreement. Johnny's eyes got round.
Behind Brain, Fang called out, “Just kill him now. We got too many pretenders already.”
Brain's wolves began to press in snarling and licking their lips. The Odd Friends with Bullet and Honey began to spread away from where Johnny stood with Timothy. That left Honey and Bullet, who stood their ground along with Howler. Howler mumbled something about he thought Johnny was alright, but the other Odd Friends were obviously too afraid to try to support Johnny any longer. Timothy was horrified.
I have to do something or Johnny is going to be ripped apart. But what can I do? He was at a complete loss.
# Chapter 22
Suddenly, Leader was there. “No one decides to kill a new wolf unless I say so.” And he glowered at the complainers until they began to back away.
“Yoo can't jus' let him in,” Brain snarled, and several behind him agreed noisily. “We have a say in this!” He shouted. His supporters began to move forward again.
“So now you're a supporter of democracy, huh, Brain?” Leader stood firmly, unflinching. Just then, Leader's two bodyguards came up on either side of him. The mob faltered.
“Are you going to Challenge me, Brain?” He demanded softly, but it sounded thunderous. Everyone caught their breath leaving a silence to grow.
“Challenge? Oh... No... No, Leader,” Brain began to grovel and bow his head to show submission. Then he got a sly look and said, “Not me. No...Not me.” He emphasized his last two words making them seem to convey a threat. All his supporters began to slink away. Brain looked around and saw his mob slipping away from him. He gave Leader a cunning lopsided grin. “No Challenge... yet. No, not yet.” He dipped his head again and slunk away quickly. His entire group was already gone.
Leader turned to Timothy and said quietly, “Get your friend used to being a wolf quickly. They aren't happy with all the strange 'new wolves' in the Pack.” Then to Johnny he said, “I Welcome you, Jaw-Knee. Good luck in the Pack." With that, he leapt away with his bodyguards. Timothy wanted to call out his thanks, but with the others still around, he didn't dare to be too supportive of Johnny openly. Honey glared at him and marched away with Bullet trailing.
He shuddered. We could both end up in the jaws of the Pack yet. He was afraid all over again. As he looked around at the now quiet group of friendly wolves, he realized all of these were afraid, too. They were too afraid to be counted on for any support obviously, whether they were Odd Friends, or friendly wolves either one.
To avoid arousing any more suspicions, Timothy and Johnny stayed a while with the friendly group that was left. Timothy wanted to spend time getting them and Johnny acquainted. Before they left them, Jaw-Knee was Johnny's official wolf-name and he seemed to have been accepted. As soon as he could, Timothy got Johnny alone.
Timothy looked around carefully after they got clear of the others. Seeing no one, he turned angrily on Johnny. He had held his pent up stress as long as he could. “What are you doing? You were supposed to wait for me!” Timothy snarled.
“I did wait for you. A long time too, Timmy.” Johnny said defensively.
“Timmm. Call me Timmm. All the time! So you never forget!” Everything Johnny is doing is making it all worse, Timothy decided half panicked.
“OK... Timmm.” Johnny looked down at his feet and shuffled them. “Were you really ever going to come back for me?”
Oh, double dung, Timothy thought. “Sure. Sure, Johnny. Of course I was,” he tried to reassure Johnny.
“Oh, yeah?” Johnny challenged him. “You were gone a long time, Timmm.” Johnny stressed his new name to show he remembered. “I finally gave up waiting, and I gave up on you.” He looked fiercely at Timothy. “You were always telling lies back in the Meadow. I figured that you had just told me another one. And now, when I have finally gotten here, you’re acting awful surprised to see me. You weren't coming back for me were you, Timmy?”
Timothy looked around worriedly at Johnny's use of his name, to see if any of the wolves were close. None were. Whew, he sighed relieved. This is going to be harder than I thought. “Sure, I was coming back,” he answered smoothly. Wasn't I? He asked himself wondering how certain he was of that.
“Sure I was,” he repeated as much to reassure himself as Johnny. “It’s just that, it took a while for me to find the wolves...,” he didn't want to tell Johnny they'd found him. Especially since Johnny had found the Pack by himself. “And then... then I discovered how dangerous it was here. How close I was to getting eaten myself.” He shuddered. Yeah, he told himself. That was the way it was. He was sure that he had done it the way he had for Johnny's own good.
“And then too, I wasn't sure where to find another wolf skin. You know mine was the only one we'd ever found.” With his surety of being right, his confidence reasserted itself. In fact, he felt he had a right to be a little mad at Johnny instead of the other way around. “I was really working hard here, Jaw-knee,” he emphasized the new name as well. “You have no idea what I've been through, getting up here by myself and struggling to fit in. These wolves are all bloodthirsty and fierce and...”
Everything’s fine now,” Johnny cut in soothingly. “I’m sorry I questioned you. You’re my lifelong friend. And, look, they like me. So, we’ll be fine.” He finished up brightly with a winning smile.
It was wasted on Timothy, who had learned to be far more cautious living in the Pack. Johnny is totally casting his worries on the wind and he is so blissfully ignorant of all the stupid little sheepy-slips that he keeps making over and over, Timothy thought angrily. I was fitting in so well, and now Johnny might mess it all up for me. Ohhhh, I am so mad at Johnny! I really have to explain to Johnny and make him understand.
“Listen, Johnny,” he began, ready to let out his anger at his friend.
“Jaw-Knee,” Johnny corrected him, looking like he was going to choke on laughter.
Timothy stared at him for a moment blankly, then he laughed. Johnny couldn't contain himself any longer either. They both laughed until they hurt. Finally when they wound down, Timothy decided that he wasn't so much angry as worried for them both.
“Jaw-Knee,” he emphasized it and Johnny snickered again. “Listen. Everything here is much more serious than I thought when we were back in the Meadow, and deadly.” Johnny's ears perked straight up at the last. “Whenever anyone new comes along, the Leader has to Welcome you into the Pack. If they decide that they don't like you, and won’t let you in, they kill and eat you right then.” He saw Johnny swallow hard. Good, he thought.
“I was lucky. The wolves I met first took me to see the Leader right away. He had to accept me before they decided to let me stay. Later, I learned that there are a lot of the wolves that just attack a new wolf on sight. It's just the Leader that allows anyone new to join the Pack. If he hadn't been here when I came, or showed up in the nick of time when you got here, we'd both have been made into the main course.”
Johnny's eyes had grown almost as big as earlier. But he swallowed again and said, “Our being here was just meant to be, Timmy, I mean Timmm. The Shepherd always says that God watches over us. I guess he has been, huh?”
Timothy sighed. “Yeah, I guess so.” I'm not sure what to believe anymore. Things on the Mountain are so different than in the Meadow. “You need to listen to me very carefully, Jaw-Knee. Both our lives are going to depend on how well you can improve your impersonation of a wolf. I think I have made a place for us here in the Pack. But until you get really good at acting the part, we are both in jeopardy.”
Johnny looked worried. “Well... We can always just run away again right? I mean if it doesn't work out, we'll just go back to the Flock.”
Timothy thought about it. I can't go back to the Flock, he groaned. Things are really going well here, he tried to convince himself. I'm sure I'll have plenty of warning if the wolves start not liking them. “Sure. We'll know if they don't like us, Jaw-Knee. But I don't know about going back to the Flock. That would be pretty embarrassing to have to come crawling back.” Timothy stared off into the distance.
Johnny cleared his throat. “Well anyway, they were all pretty friendly to you back there. I mean, except for that wolf, Brain, and his group. It's kind of like Buster and Gainer, isn't it, Timmy?” At Timothy's sharp look he quickly said, “Timmm.”
“What do you mean?” Timothy was puzzled.
“I mean not everyone in the Flock is mean like Buster and Gainer. Maybe it’s that way in the Pack. Maybe there are just a few bad ones here we need to avoid.”
Timothy thought about what Johnny said. He wasn't too sure. “Maybe, but it's more like a whole lot of Busters and Gainers, and just a few Honeys.”
“Honey?” Johnny asked raising his eyebrows. “So, why is she so important? Is she kind of like Ewellen back home?”
“Like Ewellen?” Timothy hadn't thought of her, or Skipper for that matter for a long time. “I'd like her to be a friend like Ewellen. Or maybe even a better friend.”
“Timmm!” Johnny feigned shock. “You're not going to fall in love with some new girlfriend are you? You really may want to make sure you stick with your own kind.”
“Stick with my own...? Oh. Oh no. It's not like that. Not at all. I mean, like... she's a friend. Sure. A pretty good friend for a wolf, but...not like that.” I'm babbling. He clamped his jaw shut. It wasn't like that, right? But... maybe... I mean, if she wasn't a wolf...
He saw Johnny grinning at him. “Why you...,” Timothy jumped on him and they collapsed in a pile laughing. When they had settled into an exhausted heap, Timothy filled Johnny in on his experiences with the Pack as best he could. When he was done, he said, “Seriously, Jaw-Knee, you need to do everything I tell you, exactly like I tell you. In addition to all the dangers in this place, that group of bad wolves is giving the Leader a lot of trouble. Honey and the Odd Friends are afraid that they'll get the upper hand here.”
“Ok, Timmm. I'll learn everything I can as fast as I can. But...can you help me with one thing. This skin is slipping and I've got this terrible itch right between my shoulder blades.”
Laughing again, Timothy helped Johnny adjust his skin and tie it on better, and he scratched his itch. He had gotten pretty good at tying his own skin by himself. When he was done, he surveyed it and thought it was much better. “Now, Jaw-Knee. Let's go join the Odd Friends first. They're the safest ones to be learning how to be a wolf with.” But seeing Johnny brought back a lot of memories of the Meadows that Timothy had been too busy to think about. He shrugged them off for now.
As the day went on, both the Timothy and Johnny had fun playing and tearing up the forest with their new wolf friends. Mostly the Odd Friends, but a number were some of the younger wolves. They terrorized a family of squirrels and then chased a bunch of rabbits. The others all scattered and Timmy took the opportunity to let his rabbit get away, but pretended afterwards that he had killed and eaten it. He was less than happy with all the killing the wolves did, even though he tried to justify it once to Johnny. He'd said, “They're only a minor species. It's not like they're an important creature like a sheep.”
Johnny didn't look too sure. “But, what if they do get a sheep...” Johnny worried.
“We’re practically on the other side of the mountain here. The Good Shepherd won’t let that happen.” Timothy hoped he was sure of that. I mean, sure a sheep or two has disappeared from time to time, and they always talked about wolves getting them. But... Not in a long time. Right? He asked himself. I've never known any of the sheep that disappeared. Not as far back as I can remember. And neither did my parents or any other sheep I knew. Surely the Shepherd wouldn't let that happen.
By the end of the day, Jaw-Knee was pretty well accepted by the Odd Friends and the other young wolves that they'd played around with. Feeling smug, Timothy congratulated himself with satisfaction that he’d been able to talk the Pack into accepting Johnny. Both of them stayed up late howling at a moon half-obscured by clouds.
Johnny’s going to like never having to do anything but have fun and howl around, thought Timothy.
# Chapter 23
Timothy began to teach Johnny all he knew, or thought he knew, about Pack life over the next few weeks. One particular evening, it occurred to Timothy that Johnny was listening like his life depended on it. Which it does, Timothy reflected. But I am glad that Johnny is taking being here seriously.
“Hey, you two,” Bullet trotted up. “Honey and I, we're gathering up some wolves for another fun night after the moon rises. You guys in?”
“Yeah,” Johnny yipped excitedly. “I love it when we all howl together.”
“Sure,” Timothy answered more calmly. “Where are we meeting everyone at?”
“The Point,” called Bullet as he took off to tell others about the howl-fest. Timothy looked up the Mountain. Good choice. There’s always a great view of the moon from the Point. A lot of the trees are gone up there and it's mostly rocks. It makes for a hard seat though. Good thing I have some wool padding.
“Let's go get something to eat before we start,” Johnny suggested. “There's a small secluded dell on the other side of the Point that has some grass by the stream there. It's not far from the Safe Spot where the Odd Friends hang out.”
“I know the place,” Timothy answered. “Beat you there.” With that he took off running.
“Hey!” Was all he heard Johnny say until they were stuffing their faces with grass. They always took advantage of an opportunity to feed themselves whenever they could. Most meals were just a few bites on the fly, so the other wolves didn’t notice. It was almost fully dark when they finally had their fill. When they were done, Timothy led the way up, around the steep side of the Point, to the top. There, they joined a small group of milling wolves.
“Where's the moon at?” Johnny complained.
Bullet scowled. “I thought it’d be up by now, but Honey says it won't come up for another couple of hours yet. She’s always right. Everyone else took off to try their luck at the chicken coop. We're all that stayed to howl.”
“What's a chicken coop?” Johnny asked.
“You gotta see it to believe it,” Bullet said with excitement. “All those chickens, crowded together in one little place. Talk about some fast food that's easy to get.” He licked his lips.
“Yeah, if you don't mind a mouthful of feathers,” Honey said as she sauntered up and sat next to Timothy. Her closeness made him feel a little nervous. “Hey, Timmm,” she said softly.
“Uh... Hi, Honey,” was all he could manage back. He saw Johnny grinning and making faces behind her back. “Stop it.”
“What?” She asked.
“Oh, not you. I... uh, was hoping to see you tonight.”
“Were you?” She smiled coyly. “Why?”
Why?Come on, Timothy said to himself. Why? “Why? Well, uh, I guess because I just like being around you.” He thought that sounded lame.
Honey apparently didn't mind his answer though. She smiled again and said, “Well. We've got a couple of hours to kill before the moon comes up. Anybody know any good stories?” She was looking at Timothy as she said it.
“Oh, I do. I do.” Wabbit was just hopping with excitement.
Oh no, Timothy groaned. Wabbit is full of stories. But most of them don't make much sense, especially in a wolf-way.
Several others moaned out loud and were less discreet. Wabbit, being thick skinned, ignored the calls of derision and launched into his story. It started as a typical Wabbit-type story at first, something about running back and forth between carrot patches.
“What's a carrot?” Johnny leaned over and asked. Timothy shrugged.
Then, Wabbit’s story shifted tone and got scary. Something horrible was watching as Wabbit and others ran between the patches. It was a nameless monster that was never seen, but that ripped whoever it caught apart with “Blood everywhere!” According to Wabbit.
This timeWabbit's story is pretty scary, Timothy thought uncomfortably.
As Wabbit’s tale ended with the monster closing in, Piggy shouted, “Boo.” Everyone jumped or whirled around. Piggy started laughing, and so did Boar. That started others off laughing, even if the laughter was a bit sickly from some.
“That's not funny, Piggy. And I don't like your story, Wabbit.” Bullet said angrily. He looked around at everyone and Timothy realized he could see the whites of Bullet's eyes.
“Bullet, Piggy was only joking...” Honey began.
“I don't care. Stupid joke,” he snarled at Piggy. Then, “Stupid story,” he yelled at Wabbit who cringed. “I'm going back to the Saddle, where wolves are more respectful.” With that he bounded away, looking over his shoulder, as well as back and forth in every direction, as he went.
That story scared him! He's running up to the Saddle cause there are a lot more other wolves around there, Timothy realized.
“What was tha-aat all about?” Billy asked gruffly.
Howler spoke up in his southern drawl, “Y'all haven't been here quite as long as me. There are some things about the Pack y'all ought to know. 'Scuse me Honey, but I've found that most of our fellow wolves are scared of just about everything. Ya notice how they are usually so respectful to each other? I mean, when they aren't being mean? That ain't respect. It’s 'cause they're afraid not to. Disrespecting another wolf can get you maimed at the very least. An' being maimed means you can't catch food to eat.”
Timothy remembered hearing about a couple of wolves that died because they were too sick or cripple to fend for themselves. Very few of the wolves ever shared anything, especially food, without a reason.
“Why aren't there any hurt or sick sheep in the Meadow?” said Johnny whispered in Timothy’s ear. “You know, I've never seen anyone maimed or sick there.”
Timothy mused for a bit, then he whispered back, “My folks always told me that the Shepherd heals everyone. I guess that must be why.” Thinking of his parents made Timothy feel a pang of homesickness.
Howler was going on. “Wolves even fear the Pack itself. Everyone's afraid they’ll be cast out, or killed in a brawl. Afraid to be alone, and afraid to be in the Pack,” he shook his head. “And, they fear other Packs, an’ lone wolves as well. That’s ‘cause, sometimes, Packs go to war with each other. An’ ya never know when a lone wolf is rabid or something.”
“What’s rabid?” Johnny asked. Timothy shrugged, but no one else paid him any attention.
“Everyone acts tough, ‘cause they’re ashamed of their fear. They fear bears, and lions. They fear falling from the heights they climb. They fear things that go bump in the night. That's why your story upset Bullet when Piggy cried 'Boo', Wabbit. 'Cause, among all the other fears, a sudden loud noise could mean another wolf is sneaking up on you. They fear the Lightning and the Wind. They fear the clouds that close in around the mountain top and hide their vision. And they fear Man. They fear the very scent of Man.”
“What's Man, Timmm?” Johnny asked in a whisper again.
“I'm not real sure, Jaw-Knee. It sounds kind of like the Shepherd and we know everyone here is scared of Him.” More from His legend than the number of wolves He’s killed from what I can tell. “But Man is something different. Bullet told me that Man holds sticks that make loud noises and kill at a distance.”
Howler kept on going, “They fear getting hurt. Just getting hurt can get you killed before you have a chance to heal.” Timothy did know from talking to the wolves that they didn’t always heal completely when they got hurt. Not like in the Meadows. They often ended up with deformed limbs and twisted features covered with hideous scars, like Brain, he reminded himself. Almost every wolf Timothy knew had a scar or two. Some were pretty ugly looking scars. The worse the scar, the greater their pride in it. He wasn't sure if he understood that. To him it just seemed that it was proof they had done something so dangerous that they'd been injured.
Howler went on, “All that malarkey about 'The fearless wolves' we've all heard about... well, they aren't fearless at all,” he concluded. Timothy didn't think he had ever heard Howler say that much before.
Timothy was taken back. Wolves not fearless? Who could believe that? But he knew they weren’t at all like he had expected. The more he thought about it, the clearer it seemed. In fact, he decided, I guess Howler's right. They really aren't fearless after all. He knew from his own experience that a strong bluff was usually enough to back off the meanest of them. I guess Johnny and I just need to act tough and cool. Then we can bluff our way through everything. At least that was Timothy's current best theory.
The whole group sat in silence for a time. Howler's revelations had hit deep in them all. I guess all of us are afraid inside about something.
“Honey, what do you think about what Howler said?” Timmm asked her. Honey was clearly upset. At first she wouldn't raise her snout. “Honey...Are you ok?” Timmm ventured.
“No,” Honey was crying. “No, I am not OK. I'm one of the Pack and I am even more afraid than Howler says I am.” Her nose was running and she wiped at it ineffectually. “It's all true. You all really need to know. The wolves here do fear everything, but they fear change most. That's why Leader has let you all join us here. We need to change. And that terrifies the Pack worse than the last Pack-war did.” She burst in to sobs as she turned and ran off in the direction Bullet had gone.
“Bummer,” Piggy said. “And all because I thought I was funny.”
# Chapter 24
Everyone began to break up. No one was in the mood to stay and wait for the moon any longer. Howling just didn't seem like fun anymore.
After a fretful night of dreaming, where something he never saw, called a carrot, was chasing him, Timothy got up and stretched. Wabbit hopped by.
“I heard from some pups that Villain and his thugs are getting worse. They’re harassing a lot more of the others and their getting openly vocal about opposing Leader.”
“Villain and his cronies have always been mean,” Timothy snorted.
“Maybe, but now they were going above and beyond simple meanness. Dominic told me they’re forcing their dominance over all the wolves, a few at a time. Everyone has started calling the wolves hanging out with Villain, his “bullies”. As the week went on, Timothy noticed that Wabbit’s gossip appeared to be right. The bullies had begun to inflict their most vicious torments on the Odd Friends. Being different was an extra special reason to find ways to intimidate and threaten them. All the half-wolves and wannabes started staying closer together in defense.
Near the end of that week, Timothy was on one of his lone trips exploring the Mountain, and nibbling grass as he went. As he did, he came out on top of a scarp that looked down on a plateau of low scrub brush. Out running back and forth in the brush below was Wabbit. He was there with some younger wolves. Timothy could see them all playing and hopping in imitation of Wabbit's hops. Clearly they were all having fun trying to out-do each other in copying Wabbit.
Brain with Weasel and some of Villain's boys came bounding into view then. When they came up, they headed straight for Wabbit. Oh oh, Timothy said to himself. This can't be good. He could see that Brain was acting as the leader of this group.
“Wabbit.” Timothy heard Brain call out. “We got some biz'ness wit yoo.” He could see the young wolves playing with Wabbit stop and stare. “The rest of yoo better scram or we'll have biz'ness wit yoo too.” Immediately Wabbit's young wolf-friends began to slink away. A couple took off running immediately at Brain's tone. They knew there was about to be trouble, and whether they liked Wabbit or not, they were getting out of there.
Oh dung. Wabbit is gonna be in some real trouble. He's out there all alone. Man, what am I going to do? There are five of them counting Brain. He saw that one of them was Weasel. He could see they had Wabbit surrounded and cut off from any hope of escape.
If I don't get down there, they just might kill him. They’re going to work him over good at the very least. He hesitated. He was afraid. If he went down there, they might jump him, too. But he saw the wolves were baring their teeth and starting to shove Wabbit around. Cockle burrs! I have to go. He cut off through the bushes to his right and within a minute he was down on the plateau. He ran up behind Brain.
They were closing in on Wabbit now, snarling. Oh, Shepherd, don't let this end up like the stag. They are about to go for him. Shoot. He had no plan what so ever. He took a deep breath. Act tough. Act sure. Bluff your way.
“Brain!” He stopped and yelled when he got within about 30 yards. All heads jerked towards him. He saw they'd all stopped in their tracks and were staring at him. Wabbit was looking, too. “What's going on, Brain?” He asked loudly. He was winded from his run and hoped he sounded calmer than he felt.
'None a yer concern, Timmm,” Brain replied nastily. “Yoo ought'a git outa here while yoo can.”
Timothy swallowed, but he started walking forward slowly but steadily towards Brain. “I think it does look like my business, Brain. Like some serious business.” As he paced forward, he could see one of the wolves nervously looking about to see if Timothy had any friends behind them.
“This iz between Wabbit an’ us. Yoo got no call here.” Brain was trying to ignore him, staring at Wabbit still. But, Timothy kept walking slowly and steadily at him.
“I go where I want, Brain.” An inspiration hit him. “I go through the Meadows. I go to the Shepherd's tent. No one tells me where I have call to go, or not to go.” Weasel whined as he turned and begin to lope away. Now, it's four to one, he said to himself. He felt a surge of confidence as he saw two of the others were acting uncertain now. They kept looking after Weasel.
Brain could see he was losing his allies. He almost screamed at Timothy then. “Go away. What do yoo care?” Another wolf started off after Weasel, and neither of the remaining two seemed very interested in hanging around.
Now, Timothy felt assured. He was getting closer to Brain now, so he slowed a little more. Calmly he said, “Are you challenging my right to be concerned now?” The word “challenge” did it. The last two broke and ran. Brain turned to look after them, and paused.
Then Brain whirled back on him. Timothy stopped moving completely, thinking he'd just blown it with his bluff. Oh, Shepherd, he's going to attack me. Brain looked wild. “Challenge?” His look changed to despair, “Jus go away Timmm. Its jus' Wabbit.”
“No, I think you should go away, Brain.”
Brain stood there. His mouth open. He looked behind him past where Wabbit was still standing frozen. All his support was halfway up the hill now and still moving. He turned back defeated. “Sure... Sure, Timmm.... Look, we were jus’ having a little fun, yoo no?”
“No, Brain. I don't. Why don't you take off, so you can catch up with your friends?”
“I got no friends,” he mumbled. “'Specially now. Yoo made me look bad Timmm, in front of them.”
“I haven't done anything except walk up here, Brain. Why don't you leave now? I don't want to see you anymore.”
Defeated, Brain tucked his tail between his legs and began to trot, then run, but not after the other wolves. He headed straight out in the opposite direction away from the Saddle. Where's he going? Timothy wondered.
Wabbit came up half loping, half hopping. “Wow, Timmm. You saved my life.”
Relieved, Timothy exclaimed. “Are you OK? What in the world were you doing out here? And alone? You know how Villain's bullies have been lately,” he scolded. He felt almost sick with relief. What would I have done if this had turned into a fight? I have no clue. That thought sent a cold chill down his spine.
“Sorry, Timmm,” Wabbit timidly responded. “I was with some other wolves. How was I to know they'd all run off and leave me in a pinch?”
“Just stay closer to the Odd Friends from now on, Wabbit. You're the smallest and they may try again. Come on. I'll walk back with you just in case.”
As they walked back, Wabbit began to say over and over what a hero, Timmm was. At first, he kind of liked the sound of being a hero. Then, he had a sudden fear. He remembered stories he'd been told by others in the Pack. If word gets around that I'm a hero, some of the bigger wolves will want to take me on. I could end up in more trouble than ever.
As they walked along, Wabbit kept on thanking him and saying hero until finally Timothy said, “Look, Wabbit. Let's not tell anyone.”
“But... Why not? You scared them all away. It was great.”
“Well... uh, if the word gets out that they had you cornered so easily, more wolves may try it with you when nobody is around to help you.” He hoped that sounded plausible enough.
Wabbit cocked his head thinking about it. Timothy almost laughed in spite of his worry. Wabbit had one of his big ears straight up and the other drooping. How did he do that?
Reluctantly, Wabbit agreed. “You could be right, I guess.”
When they got back to the Saddle, Honey came up and said, “I'm glad you two came back in. Villain's bullies have been trying to intimidate the Odd Friends everywhere today. Billy was tripped and threatened this morning, and Piggy got shoved off a steep path. Good thing he is so fat. He rolled part way down the hill before he got stuck between two trees. It took him an hour to get loose though, he said.” She paused to draw a breath. “We need to start staying closer together. I know Villain's thugs are working on lots of other wolves too. I hear the bullies are trying to scare them and get them to back Villain against Leader.”
Juan came up on the other side and said, “Eets true, Timmm. I had a friend warn me that I better start supporting Villain cause he is taking over.”
“Does Leader know this is happening?” Timothy asked.
“He knows, man, but what can you do? Eh?”
“The last Pack meeting ended in a big argument, I heard.” Honey looked around secretively. “Villain made some threats to Leader at the meeting in front of everyone. That is really not good. We need to gather everyone so we can all watch each other's backs tonight.”
“He's already out passing the word to all our friends. They are all to meet up at the Safe Spot.” Timothy looked around. At least we should feel safer, he supposed.
# Chapter 25
The next day was another bright clear day. Timothy was fooling around with Johnny, making some “innocent” mischief with the squirrels. They had finally made the squirrels so mad, they were chattering cuss words and jumping from branch to branch. Laughing and snarling to scare them into new antics, Timothy and Johnny were having a great time.
Honey came running up to him. “Timmm, there's trouble. We need to gather all the Odd Friends and friendly wolves we can. Now! Villain is making his move.” Timmm stared blankly. Making his move? What move, he wondered? This couldn't be good, not if it involves Villain. So far all Timmm's dealings with Villain had been at a distance. He'd like to keep it that way if he could.
Running quickly to catch up with Honey, he heard her directions, “You go left and I'll go right. There's not much time, so just swing around the Saddle and the Point. Call in everyone you can. I just told Howler to bay out his loudest return howl. I'll meet you up in the Saddle.” Saying that, Honey whirled and ran off to his right. Left, he thought stupidly? I thought she said... He stopped. Whatever, I guess left or right, I better go the other way.
He looked around and saw Johnny had come up looking curious. He’s wondering what happened, Timothy thought. “Come on, Jaw-Knee,” he shouted. “Follow me. Something's up.” Together they ran around their side below the Saddle and Point. Is our side really left? He thought foolishly. He shook that odd thought off. This is no time for that.
He could hear Howler trumpeting out the “return” call of the Pack. As they ran, he found Piggy and Boar together and sent them up to the Saddle. Next, he saw Juan down below him and yelled until Juan looked his way. He pointed up and called out, “The Saddle. Quickly.” Then he was off again. He only found a few other friendly wolves before he reached the far side of the Point. “We need to head back now, I think, he told Johnny.
When they reached the Saddle, Timothy could see a large crowd had already formed. He could hear lots of yelling and shouting. Where’s Honey? But he couldn't find her in the press of wolves. Below, in the bowl of the Saddle, he saw Leader standing alone. He was ringed by at least twenty snarling wolves that he knew had to be Villain's bullies. Beside him lying in their own blood were his two bodyguards.
“Oh Shepherd,” Timothy prayed as he charged down the hill. I’ve got to help Leader. Vaguely he could hear Johnny behind him calling. He kept pushing his way past dozens of milling wolves. Most seemed completely unsure of what to do, but Villain's troops were all organized. He could see a ring of wolves outside the ones moving in on Leader. They’re keeping all the other wolves at bay so they can't help Leader. Plus, there are small groups of wolves just attacking others in the crowd. Villain again, Timothy decided, keeping any resistance from organizing. Two wolves saw Timothy running towards the fight and veered to head him off. They moved into a position to bar him as he approached. He roared and charged with his head down. He hit between them and sent them both sprawling.
Another wolf was suddenly in his way and he dodged to get by, but there were still more in the way again. Beyond them, he saw Villain walking towards Leader. As he watched, the two attacked each other. It wasn't a fair fight at all. From behind Leader, Villain’s bullies bit at Leader's flank and legs.
Leader threw Villain back, but an attack from his side made him turn his head. That was when Villain pounced again. He had a clear shot at Leader's neck. Timothy could see Villain's teeth tearing into Leader's neck. “Noooo,” he screamed. Two more of Villain’s wolves went down in front of Timothy as they tried to block him. In a frenzy he stomped them with his hooves as they bit at him from below. One wailed and took off limping, but the other jerked and was still. Timothy swallowed sickly. Taking a deep breath, he tried to plunge on, but quickly the crowd of wolves became too thick. They crowded about on all sides. I can't force my way through any more. Those around him were howling and yipping in excitement at the violence. I can't reach Leader.
In horror, Timothy watched Villain shake his mighty jaws and saw the red flying from Leader's throat. Leader's head began to flop loosely as Villain shook his limply twitching form again and again. Then, Villain just dropped him. He raised his bloodied snout and howled victoriously. His ring of wolves closed in now, nosing Leader's body and yipping. The crowd around Villain and his cronies was getting wilder. At least a dozen other fights were going on around Villain's ring of fighters and a determined group of wolves were fighting their way through on the other side.
Villain looked up and caught sight of Timmm in the crowd struggling to reach him. He grinned ferally and flashed his fangs in defiance. Timmm roared at him. He didn't know what he was saying. He just roared. On the other side, the determined attackers were bearing down on Villain when he disdainfully turned and bounded away. His assistant killers followed him. Timmm could see that the rescuing group was suddenly alone in the center with Leader's body. He realized then that the first wolf to reach Leader was Honey. He could see the anguish on her face from where he was.
Just as suddenly, the crowd of wolves in front of Timmm melted away. He pressed forward not questioning why it was suddenly so easy. As most of the wolves in front of him left, they followed after Villain. In just a few leaps, he was in the center, too. Timmm ran up next to Honey who was kneeling next to Leader and weeping in great sobs. He dropped down beside her and moaned, “No. No.” Dazedly he nuzzled Leader with his snout. Some of leader's blood smeared his nose.
“How can this be?” Timmm cried. “How can they just kill him? Aren’t we all brother wolves here? Aren't we all one Pack?”
“Who can trust the love of a brother wolf?” Came a soft whisper from Leader. His head stirred slightly which caused more blood to flow out staining the earth. “There's... a... lesson in...this, Timmm.” He gasped and wheezed with a terrible rattle.
“What?” Timmm moaned. “What lesson is there in this?” he demanded. Honey was wailing behind him now making a soft howling filled with grief.
“You can’t trust a wolf”, he mumbled. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Not even your brother.” He struggled to lift his head, “Especially not your brother.” His breath rattled in his chest again, worse. Timmm knew he was near death. “Funny,” he coughed and blood ran down his furry cheek. “I spent my whole life learning that.” His eyes flickered, and closed. Timmy watched, aghast, as the old wolf gagged and choked his last blood out. He opened his eyes one last time and their eyes met. Then, Leader died.
Timmm felt totally sickened. “He...He's dead,” he said simply. Honey just rocked beside him wailing out her grief. Some of the wolves who tried to help Honey reach Leader joined her howl. The Saddle rang with howls, both grief and rage. Timothy stared at Leader's dead body numbly. Beside him, Honey began to weep again. He looked at the surrounding Pack. Some were laughing. Others had turned away in disgust.
The majority were just in an excited blood-lust. Yipping and prancing. Howling, not with grief, but in joy and abandon even though it was day and there was no moon. He realized, They really don't care who died. Not the majority of them. They’re just excited that someone did. It suddenly seemed to him that death was everywhere, and could happen anytime, without notice or warning. He looked from Friend to Foe. Even the friendly wolves are in a blood-frenzy. Any one of them could suddenly become my death. I’ve never felt so mortal and frail.
Getting up, Timmm staggered a few steps away. What will I do now? What will Johnny and I do, he corrected himself? This is no longer just about me and having fun. What will we do? What is going to happen with the Pack now? He looked around at the faces of wolves that he thought of as fun friends a short time ago. He was now half terrified of them all. What am I doing in this gang?
Bullet came up to Leader's still form. “Look at this,” he said quietly. Timmm looked, as did Honey between her sniffling. Bullet pulled Leader's skin at the wound. It began to tear and give way.
“What are you doing?” Honey shrieked at him and gave a snarling lunge at him. “Desecrator.”
“No. Stop, Honey. Look,” Bullet said through teeth clenched on Leader's skin. Honey stopped and stared. Timmm stared, too. Leader was wearing a fake skin. He's wearing a wolf-skin. Like me, Timmm gulped. Bullet pulled again and it came off over his head. Leader was a wild ram in wolf's clothing. Practically speaking, he’s a sheep like me, Timmm said to himself in shock. All he could do was to stare. Nothing felt like it could be real. He was as shocked at this discovery as he was at the killing.