Jacob ran through the forest, each paw thudding in rhythm. Thump, thump, thud, thud. He had left the Cullen's house, leaving Nessie for just a few hours to shower and get some clean clothes. That was about all his house was good for recently. He knew it hurt his father to have him gone so much, but it hurt Jacob more to be away from Nessie, so it was necessary.
He thought fondly of Nessie for a second too long and heard a moan in his mind. Ugh, please Jacob. Can't you even go fifteen minutes without thinking about her? Leah complained. As much as a shared wolf mindspace helped them each during battles, Jacob wished he could turn it off sometimes. As do we all, came Leah again.
Jacob decided to concentrate on the cedars and hemlocks and tan oaks that zipped past him as he ran and the constant thump, thump, thud, thud that always accompanied his running.
He broke through the last few trees to the clearing behind of his house where Jacob usually phased back to his human form. He felt the transformation take over his body, cooling and shimmering for an instant. He left the wolf mindspace and he was alone, his thoughts were all his own. He slipped into his ragged shorts, kept strapped around his ankle. The grass was soft on his bare feet, poking up between his toes.
He walked through the blackberry bushes and blooming rhododendrons. Thoughts of Nessie filled his mind completely as he only allowed them to when he was human. He could still feel her small hands grasping his fur as he ran past trees and jumped over small streams. Her bronze hair glinted in the sunlight as they ran, catching a deer to share. She was the size of a six year old and her tight curls had started to lengthen out into waves. She jumped on the deer with ferocious joy and sucked it dry quickly. Watching vampires kill creatures with a neck snap and a jugular drain still made his stomach turn, but watching Nessie was different. She was beautiful and amazing no matter what she was doing.
When she was done she sat on a large rock and Jacob had his fill of the venison. Overall, a perfect breakfast for both of them.
Jacob approached his house slowly, no need to hurry as Nessie was doing a lesson with Jasper: history. That was something Jacob didn't mind missing. As he neared the house he shared with his father and sister, he could hear Sam Uley and Jacob's father Billy in the kitchen. Something in their tone, conspiratorial almost, made Jacob stop just outside the kitchen window. Out of view, out of sight, and with the stiff salty wind coming off the ocean, out of smell.
"It's only right he have it now," Sam explained, "Now that he is an Alpha, he is the rightful heir of Ephraim and everything that Ephraim left behind."
"He's not ready, yet." Billy's voice was hard, still a little resentful but also protective. "He has not learned enough, endured enough or experienced enough. You are still the Alpha for the Wolf Protectors."
"Billy, he has learned more than you know. He has really grown up since becoming his own Alpha. I really think it is his time. Besides, I could never see what you and Ray could see. To me, it is only words," Sam placed something on the kitchen table with a thump and after a moment the front door close behind him. Sam passed by on foot, walking back to his house.
Jacob peeked through the kitchen window, and saw an old book, a Wolf Protector symbol on its cover. Jacob's father slipped the book onto his lap and wheeled himself out of Jacob's view, back to his bedroom. Jacob stood, motionless and puzzled. What was Sam trying to give to him and why was his father trying to keep it from him? He heard the clunk of wood hitting on wood. Then the wheelchair jushing across the carpet. Jacob waited until he could hear the squeak of the rubber wheels on the kitchen linoleum. He walked around the house, entering at the front door and heading toward the refrigerator.
"Hey, dad." Jacob scrounged in the fridge and found something appetizing: leftover pasta in a red sauce. Even though the Cullens were better cooks than Billy or Rachel, the faint stink of vampire never really left the plates, silverware or food. It was nice to eat food that didn't burn his nose. He grabbed a fork and leaned his back against the counter, eating the cold pasta out of the container without warming it. "What's up?"
"Not much. What's up with you, Jake?"
"Same old, same old. Patrols, trying to not kill Leah, avoiding the vampires my best friend lives with, you know. The same." Jacob smiled at his father as he shorthanded his life for humorous effect. "Thought I would come get a change of clothes and miss the history lesson Nessie is having."
"Sure, sure," he answered. "Sue is coming in a minute to bring me over to Charlie's house. Rachel is over at Paul's, but they should be home at dinner time."
"I will be gone by then. This is just a run-by-changing." Jacob stuffed another bite in his mouth and chewed it quickly for a few seconds before letting the cold tomato sauce covered pasta slip down his throat. He heard the scraping of rocks as tires drove up to the place in front of the house where cars stopped and parked. Not really a driveway, more of a rocky place where grass refused to grow. Jacob looked up and saw the Clearwater's station wagon stop and Sue climb out. "I'll help you out there," Jacob said, placing the clear plastic bowl on the counter and taking the handles behind the wheelchair.
The wheelchair strained against the rocky path. Jacob pushed him to the passenger seat, Sue already there with the door open. With a little struggle, Billy placed himself in the seat, moving each leg carefully with his hands. Jacob could have lifted him up and carried him out there as easily as he carried Nessie around all day, but this was not a child. This was Billy, his father, and Billy hated feeling like an invalid. Getting into a car on his own was something he could do himself, so he insisted he do it. Jacob folded the chair and loaded it into the back of the station wagon, resting it on its side on the brown carpet. He closed the lid to the car and patted it once.
"Take good care of my old man, Sue," Jacob said looking into her window. She grinned at Jacob hesitantly. He knew she liked him better back before her children had insisted on joining his renegade pack. The Vampire Lap Dogs, Leah called herself, her brother and Jacob. Jacob gave Sue a half smile in return.
Jacob stood by the gravel, waiting until the car rounded the corner. He turned back to the faded red house, the wind blowing past his ears. The light grinding of the rocks against his bare feet woke him up to why he had returned home. He went to his bedroom and found only empty dresser drawers. With a moan he looked toward the laundry box: full with cut-off shorts and dirty socks. Jacob gathered the entire box in one swoop and headed over to the laundry room. The small room was near the back, an afterthought with a shed roof and water pipes running on the outside of the walls. Jacob opened the washer lid and was relieved to find it empty. There was nothing worse than finding Rachel's whites sitting soaking wet in the washer when laundry needed to be done.
Once the clothes were being noisily thrown around the basin, Jacob headed back to the kitchen to try to remember what he had been doing. He saw the pasta in the bowl and picked up where he left off. He was nearly to the end of the bowl when he noticed a few leather particles on the counter. A memory of the leather book appeared in his mind. A book that Billy was keeping from him.
In an instant Jacob turned toward Billy's bedroom, the plastic bowl discarded in the sink. The full sized bed was pushed tight against the wall, leaving a space around it large enough for the wheelchair. The quilt his mother made out of workshirts from several different auto repair shops was pulled up tight. There was a wool blanket with ancient patterns folded at the bottom. Next to the foot of the bed was a wooden chest, made from cedar by Jacob's maternal grandfather.
He turned around looking at the dresser with the scratched top. Jacob looked into each drawer, but each drawer was full of clothes, even a layer or two underneath the top things. No book. He looked through the tattered paperbacks and Louis L'amour novels on the bedstand. Nothing older than 1960. Finally Jacob's eyes scanned the room and rested on the chest. He went to it and opened it slowly. There were the wedding dress his mother wore, a few of her favorite baby clothes and memories she and his father shared. Jacob had seen his father looking through this box every year on Sara's birthday and their anniversary.
Off to one side, Jacob saw the book. It was at least a hundred years old, a leatherbound book, the binding hand sewn and the pages ragged.
Jacob sat down on the edge of the bed and turned the book over in his hands. The soft leather felt like his father's hands. Then he flipped through the pages. It was three quarters full, written with pen and pencil. It smelled faintly of sweat, the ocean and the faint musty smell that seeps into everything on the Washington coast. It smelled of his father's room. Jacob turned it over in his hands. The temptation was too great. He opened it and began to read the messy, childish handwriting.
The first page had one name written on it, then crossed off and another name written below it.
Sept 1, 1885
This is Stoopid.
stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid
Mr. Smith says my journal is not stupid and he says yusterday doesn't count. I say it would be easy to write more if he did not hit my hand. He hit my other hand for that. Levi laffed and kept reading.
yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday yesterday
laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed laughed
They call me Ephraim. But it is not my name. My father named me Tah-yat'l. But Mr. Smith will not call me that. He says I need a civlised name. But they cannot say it like he does, so the other kids call me Efrait. I box their ears, but they do not stop. They cannot make the MMMMM sound.
civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized civilized
No school tomorrow. Levi and I will hunt. My arrow is faster than his.
Mr. Smith calls it weekend. I call it my real life. Levi and I hunt deer. I shot two arrows before he shot one. Mother was proud and even Father smiled when he saw how many antlers it had. My mother and sisters made it for dinner and dried more for winter. Father and I started to prepare the skin for a blanket. He says my 15 years means now I am a man.
I have been at this school for 3 years and still Mr. Smith says I need to go more. That is why he gave me this journal. He thinks that writing is impornt. But writing will not feed my sisters at home and writing will not make the pale-faces leave.
important important important important important important important important important important
Levi and I found a bur on the way to school. I hid it in my hand until Mr. Smith was helping a little kid on the other side of the room. I slipped up to his chair and hid the bur where his butt would hit it. Levi laughed and I almost got caught. Good thing I am fast. Mr. Smith did not think it was funny. His pants now have a hole in them and we can see his gray underthings. His clothes are so fragile. A small bur would never rip a hole in my father's clothes. His elk armor will even stop an arrow. But he does not wear that everyday. His ermine leggings and loin cloth are enough. I wore mine on my first day to school and Mr. Smith told me to leave until I was wearing britches. Father said I did not have to return. Mr. Smith came to my house with a pair of britches and a white shirt a week later. Father scowled.
It has rained all week. If it keeps up, we will fish for summer coho. I would rather hunt with arrows. Father says the deer come and go. The ocean will always feed us.
Father and Uncle Kal'ha went sealing yesterday and came home with one seal each. I remember a time when so many were caught they hardly fit in their canoe. But things change and guns and spears cast by white men make seals sink so many are lost. We had seal for dinner and probably will have more tonight. Levi and I do not need to fish now. Father says no more deer but Levi is begging to hunt. Mother says I have to take my sisters to find bear grass for her baskets. Maybe Levi will come.
This is a wolf journal. You had better be a wolf if you are reading this.
Finally I have a reason to write. I have not been to school since my last entry. My father told Mr. Smith I would not return. He brought this journal home. Mr. Smith tried to find me but I have been in the woods for weeks now. I did not look like myself.
Levi and I took Tobt'a and Ptle'la into the woods where I knew the bear grass would be. The cedars grew up tall and the wind cast their wonderful scent into the air, surrounding the clearing. One large spruce tree stood like a sentinel. My sisters were young, only 10 and 7. But Tobt'a has been pulling bear grass for years, so they would be fine doing the women's work. Levi and I climbed and jumped around the trees. He runs faster than I do and I keep trying to change that. We were 50 feet away from the girls when we heard Tobt'a scream. She knows better than to scream with nothing wrong, so Levi and I rushed back.
Levi stopped and started shaking as soon as he got to the clearing where the girls were. Over his shoulder I saw a white man leaning over my Ptle'la. She looked pale and blood was dripping from his mouth. Lifeless. Before I could understand what had happened, I was shaking and then I leaped forward and grabbed the man's shoulder with my teeth. It would have been useless except I noticed my teeth were sharp and at the end of a wolf snout. In a moment, another wolf was at my side, ripping the man's arm. I could hear Levi in my mind.
Damn Cold One.
I gasped and froze. But then I understood. Legends passed down from grandfathers had told us about the cold ones who drink blood. Some of our people thought the pale-faces were cold ones when they first arrived, pale as a lily. But soon they were revealed to be a different kind of threat. But here in front of me was a real cold one. Cold and hard, a chunk in my mouth began to ooze and I threw it aside. Levi had removed another arm so I launched myself into his legs, ripping them off at the thigh.
There was fear in Tobt'a's eyes as she gathered up the lifeless body of our little sister and scooted away.
Levi and I continued, until only a stump with a head remained. His red eyes closed in pain. The screaming from the cold one's mouth did not make me feel better. Revenge was not complete. The cold one's stumpy body flailed slightly, moving toward an arm.
Fire, Levi thought and I knew he was right. We needed fire or the bloodsucker would re-form. But my paws were useless. Levi's eyes shot around the forest. I could still hear my little sister sobbing.
One of us needed to be human again. I strained to remember that part of the story. Was there a chant? A ritual? What was I supposed to do?
Where are you? My father's voice rang in my head as though he were next to me.
In the shadows of the Big Spruce, the meadow with the bear grass, I thought immediately, relieved that perhaps my father knew what to do.
Yes, he answered my unspoken question, I will be right there.
Levi growled at the cold one and grabbed his disconnected arm in his mouth, throwing it further away. The arm had been trying to return.
I looked over at Tobt'a and Ptle'la's body in her arms and knew that my cheerful little sister would never be the same. Her face was tear-ridden and smeared with blood. My family blood. A growl formed in my throat and I tore into the cold one again, separating every inch of its body I could get a hold of. The flesh flew in every direction like rocks thrown into a pond all at once.
Enough. My father entered the clearing, a large spruce-bark colored Wolf. In an instant the fur pulled back and he was standing there before me, his black eyes flashing. "Step away, Tah-yat'l."
I felt a shiver go through my body and my head bowed to the ground. I backed up slowly, not having a choice in the matter. I did not quite understand the power that made me obey, but I could not rebel. My father was fast, gathering dry needles and leaves then quickly rubbing two sticks together in their midst. The kindling smoked, then caught fire. He added bigger sticks and soon the fire was large enough for the job. He grabbed the stumpy cold one and threw it in the fire. One last scream and the only sound was the crackling of the fire and the sobbing of my sister.
He instructed us to gather the parts of the cold one and throw them in the fire. "Do not miss a single scrap."
He turned and walked past the fire now spewing a new smell and purple smoke. He gathered his daughters in his arms cradling them together and turned back towards us. "I will be back. Stay here until then." I saw a tear glint near his eye as he ran to the village.
Levi and I gathered bits and pieces and sat down to watch and wait. His fur was black like his hair and shiny in the sun. I looked down at myself and realized I was a rich brown with a white belly. Of course, I thought, I become a ferocious wolf and I still look cuddly.
This is weird, right? I said, wanting to get our thoughts away from the flickering fire.
Weird like fated or weird like magic or weird like strange?
I was silent for a moment. He was not laughing. He was somber and thinking about all the things he couldn't do if he were a wolf. No hands for hugging or fishing. No arrows, no family life. I guess all three. I was silent again. He didn't seem to want any company.
We felt someone join us in our minds again. I am on my way back. My father sprinted past the trees covered in moss and the paths women and children used to gather berries and grasses. I could see him remembering the run into the village and to our longhouse. Mother looked up with a start and then scurried to his side. She took little Ptle''la and laid her on the floor, tears flowing from her eyes. He stroked back the hair of Tobt'a as she stared blankly at the roof above her sleep platform, her cedar bark dress covered in dirt and blood. My heart broke with his.
The memory ended as he jumped into the clearing with us. He examined the area, sniffing each clump of bear grass and each spruce needle. He found a few more chunks of cold one and tossed them in the receding fire. Finally satisfied that the entire creature was destroyed, he turned to us.
Welcome to the life of the Protector. There is much to do. With that, he led us deeper into the woods, the scent of incense behind us.