The Path of Needles
Peter Tatara - June 15, 2006
Once upon a time, as I was walking through the woods, I came upon a wolf pup. I was always told to go through the woods straight and true, never to doddle, and never, ever to approach any mangy, grey dogs. But, as I stood there, I couldn't help but do exactly what my grandmother had always warned me against. The pup startled me in the middle of the path. He looked helpless, a little ball of fluff. He stopped me in my tracks. There wasn't a demon there. I didn't see any ferocious claws and fangs. Only two sweet eyes shivering as they looked up from the forest floor. He was scared of me.
I slowly approached the thing. I bent down in the mud. I sat there with him and held out my hand. The animal didn't snap. He didn't bite my fingers. Instead, kicking into the earth, he whimpered. The wolf pup tried to back away, but as he did, I saw what was wrong. He had a lame foot. A deep wound in his paw from a hunter's trap had knocked the little thing down. Blood. It shook as my hand neared it. My eyes touched his eyes, and his eyes touched mine. The whole animal quivered as I placed my palm atop his back.
He suppressed a yelp trying to be strong. Kneeling, my fingers upon his fur, my eyes upon his, I parted my lips. The pup spasmed and started to cry. The wolf pup cried. Pathetic, I wrapped him up in my red coat. The louder he sobbed, the more closely I pressed him to me. Rocking together, it wouldn't be until the sky was the color before night that he accepted my touch. His little heart stopped trying to break through his chest as, carefully, I dried his tears. Did he trust me? I looked up, and with the darkness around us, I didn't feel it safe to move. Did I trust him? What was I afraid of? Wolves?
I gathered wood and started a fire. It took some time. I was cold. I was scared. I blew on the kindling and gave it shelter inside my hands. Slowly, a whisper of smoke started to rise. Twigs and acorns twisted and snapped, sending off tiny sparks into the black. The wolf and I watched pinecones sizzle. We huddled together on our island of light, both shaking as shadows licked our backs. Ripping a ribbon from my coat, I bandaged his paw. I told the pup all my secrets to make his own pain not matter as much. We spent the night together. We spent twenty nights together.
Come the morning, the path had disappeared. The trees and rocks all moved to different places, there was nothing there as it was before. Walking with the wolf, we headed east only to find dead leaves. Going to the west, we met with a wall of thorns. To the north, we came upon gnarled roots. I tripped on one and could only limp the way south. The pup stayed by my side. We found nothing, in every direction the forest only growing deeper.
Come the night, come every night, I made a fire and whispered into the wolf pup's ear. He listened to me. One night, when I was hungry, he disappeared and when he returned, he brought me a hare. I cooked the rabbit and ate it, realizing as I did that the pup killed this for me. Finally, I saw the animal's teeth and claws. I felt afraid. My, what big ears you have! As he sat across the fire from me, I saw what grandmother warned me of. My, what big eyes you have! There was blood on his coat. My, what big teeth you have! He could eat me, and if he was healthy, he surely would. The pup had no idea why I suddenly withdrew and didn't finish my meal. He watched me with eyes not understanding until he was overcome by sleep. The fire turned blue, and the embers went extinct. I picked up a rock and stood with it over his head. Had he moved during the night, I would have cracked his skull.
The next day, we walked toward the mountains. From there, we could see where we were. It would take some days to get to the top, and many times we thought we were there, but each summit we ascended proved to be but a foothill, dropping away to reveal the next, higher peak. Below the moon, we would camp. I changed the wolf pup's dressing and pet his head. There were noises coming from the black woods, but I never saw the monsters that lived in the wind.
After rehearsal after rehearsal, we climbed the last mountain. We raced to the top. We cut ourselves on a briar patch. We stared down at storm clouds and treetops. We didn't find our way out. When night came, it started to rain. Lightning. Thunder. I heard a whimper and thought it was the pup, but as I looked down at him, I realized the one shivering was me. Sleet. Hail. The wolf rose and walked to my side. He licked my wounds and stood strong as I shook under his belly. He kept me dry.
When the clouds ceased to roil, I looked out. I spied not a mangy, grey dog, but only two sweet eyes shivering as the looked upon me. After I tended to his foot and held him against my breast, he placed his mouth against mine. For a moment, the fear instilled in me by my grandmother returned. But, soon, it subsided. As long as he is lost, I will stay with him. And, as long as I am lost, he will stay with me. And, when we see the sun, we will stay together still.