Short Fiction Friday

 

“The Lupus” 

by Paul Shirey

              From the second we ventured out into the world on our own, I knew everything would go to shit.  I never had any doubt about myself, mind you, but my brothers were another story.  Willy was a moron from the second he slid into this world.  Jameson wasn’t quite as stupid, but he made up for it in laziness.  Even though we all went forth with the best of intentions, the idea that they would both fail miserably was ever present in my mind. 

                We were all born and raised in Paddington County, where there was plenty of slop and mud to go around.  Our choices were slim in the beginning: escape or die.  Paddington forest provided a world undiscovered by man.  It was a place where we could be ourselves and stop pretending.  It was our sanctuary from death.  But, that was a ruse, too.  Because, death was all around, preying on us, plucking us one by one throughout the day and night, leaving behind only blood and pieces of flesh, a harsh reminder of what could be.

                It was up to each of us to decide how easy we’d welcome death, though.  Willy chose to busy himself in the pleasures of the flesh, fucking every sow that would have him and chewing the hallucinogenic plants to the point of being completely vacant in judgment or smarts.  He built a home (if you want to call it that) out of the hay and straw that sat in the open fields of Knox farms.  It was easy to take and was never missed.  Willy put little effort into its construction.  It looked like a nest.  But, that would be an insult to birds everywhere.  It was a fucking train wreck.  And Willy reveled in its simplicity, even bragged about it.  His complacency annoyed me to no end.  “It’s my life, Bart, and that’s how I’m a live it,” he told me after I expressed my discontent with his lifestyle.

                “Living here in this mud squalor with more weedchewers like yourself?  This is living?”

                “We’re not all high-and-mighty, stuck up pricks like you, Bart.  Some of us want to enjoy our time in the forest and not sit around being pricks, y’know.”  He paused and looked around suspiciously, then whispered, “Hey…Do you think you could spare some change, bro?”

                I wrote him a check and left, resolving never to see him again.  Let him die in the fetid environment he so loved, amongst the other weedchewers and vagrants.  They lived much like they did on the farm, laying around in muck, reveling in the most basic forms of existence.  It was not for me.

                Then, one night, after chewing a few pounds of the “magic weed” and bringing a young sow back to his “nest,” Willy found himself in a predicament, just like all the others living in his area of the forest.  He knew it could happen, but ignored all the warnings.  Ignorance is…well, you get the idea.  While plowing away into the young sow, Willy felt a shadow on his shoulder.  He turned just in time to miss a massive claw striking out in his direction.  The claw instead tore into the backside of the young sow, exposing her spine and flesh.  She squealed in pain, still trapped in the claw’s grip.  Willy ran as fast as he could, looking back only once, bearing witness to a large, dark creature, eyes glowing yellow in the dark.  In a split second he saw the creature’s fangs bared in the moonlight and then the sudden silence of the young sow’s squeals.  He ran into the darkness without thought or agenda, other than escape.

                Jameson likely wished he’d never answered the door.  Willy stood, panting, frantic, eyes wide.  “Jameson, bro, you have to help me.  Something’s after me, I think it’s the fucking Lupus.  The fucking Lupus, man, the big motherfucker.  Seriously, man, you’ve got to let me in.”  Jameson sighed, peeking behind the doorway.  “Go sleep it off, Willy, I don’t have time for this shit.  You’re high as a windmill.  I don’t have any money, either, so you can stop your bullshit lies,” Jameson said, as if on cue.  Willy pleaded. 

               “Jameson…please.  Please, bro, I’m being straight with you, man.  Please let me in.”  Jameson could not deny the sincerity in Willy’s voice and let him in.  He made some tea water and they both drank.  Jameson looked over Willy as he did.  It sickened him to see our brother in such a condition:  Fat, caked with mud, his face full of grime and snot.  He was barely dressed, looking so much as they pretended to be on the farm.  He could not be more unkempt.  Jameson was saddened by what he saw and rightfully so.  Willy should have stayed on the farm, he thought to himself.  Jameson was not the picture of perfection himself.  He was aloof, saggy, looking worn and tired, almost sickly.  He moved slowly and without purpose.  He merely existed, almost as if he were annoyed to do so. 

                Willy told his story of the beast’s attack and Jameson began to feel his skin crawl, as if something lived underneath it.  He broke into hives and his anxiety began to kick in.  He ate some his anti-anxiety herbs, but they did little to help.  “We must…we must fortify my home.  If the beast tracks you here…there…there will be no stopping him.”  Willy was suddenly the epitome of helpfulness.  “What can I do to help?  What must we do?”  He was on his feet, eyes wide with anticipation.

                “We must find more wood.  We must venture out,” said Jameson.  Willy sprung to the door, eager to save his life by following his brother’s instruction.  He yanked it open and dashed out with haste.  It was a fatal mistake, and the pinnacle to every other mistake he’d made in his life up to that point.  The claw was suddenly before him, bearing down with ferocious speed, only this time there was no young sow to bear the brunt of its force.  Willy squealed more in fear than pain as his stomach was cut open, exposing his entrails. 

                Jameson froze in horror, standing in the doorway like the slouch that he was.  He was useless.  Willy, somehow, some way, was able to push back from the second advance from the claw.  He knocked into Jameson, sending them both toppling onto one another and into the wooden shack.  With all his might, Jameson sprang up to slam the door shut, barely missing the snapping jaws of the beast as he did.  He wiped the beast’s saliva from his face after emplacing the locking board.  He turned to Willy. “Jesus, Willy.  It is the Lupus!” 

                That was what he was called all throughout the forest.  There were many other names, but his reputation became The Lupus after many camp tales made him more legendary than he actually was.  His fangs seemed to hang over his upper lip at all times, as if his anger never subsided even for a second.  His eyes were as bright as lanterns, of which I can attest.  It is a soul-wrenching sight.  He was five times the normal size of his kind and his fur seemed more like sharpened spikes than matted hair.  It was right to fear him.  It was wrong to underestimate him. 

                The Lupus crept maliciously around Jameson’s wooden shack, peering inside through each break in the wood.  Clumsily built, it was as if Jameson cared only to have a shell of a structure, rather than something formidable against weather or predator.  I visited Jameson on numerous occasions and suggested he build the walls up, so as there was not a peek to the forest, save a window or two.  He shrugged me off every time, set in his ways, stubborn and ignorant.  I warned him of something like The Lupus breaking in and chewing him to bits.  Jameson would have none of it.

                Willy lay on the floor, squealing in pain, his intestines exposed, blood pooling around him.  He tried in vain to keep his insides in.  Jameson quickly managed to put a wet towel on top of the exposed area, retreating to the innermost part of the shack, awaiting the next move.  The Lupus growled, baring his tremendous fangs.  They were ivory in color, slightly yellow where they met the gums, and built like a staircase of death.  He continued to circle the shack, taunting my brothers, striking fear into their hearts and minds.  It was brilliant in its primitiveness.

                He could demolish the structure with little effort at all, but chose instead to toy with them.  If the beast could smile, he would.  Perhaps, he did.  Perhaps, he laughed.  Only my brothers know for sure.  Finally, after a few minutes of torturous agonizing, the beast spoke.  “You know who I am, pigs?” 

                  Jameson swallowed hard, a glimmer of hope rising inside him.  “Y-yes.  You are The Lupus.”

                “That’s right, little pig.  I am The Lupus.  And since you know who I am then you know why I’m here, yes?”  The Lupus spoke with a deep ferocity, a guttural edge on every word, like the grinding of metal and wood.

                “You…You intend to eat us,” Jameson said meekly.  The Lupus rammed his head onto the side of the structure, his eye penetrating through the break in the wood, looking directly at Jameson.  Jameson felt urine drain down his leg, pooling at his feet and mixing with Willy’s blood.  “Yes!” exclaimed The Lupus in a dark, lustful manner. “I am going to eat every bit of your flesh, pig.  You and your mate, there.  However, I will grant you a choice.  You can open the door and come to me without a fight or I can smash this pathetic structure down and take you.  If you come to me, I will kill you quick so you will not suffer.  However, if you make me smash this shack down, I will tear you apart and eat you in pieces, keeping your heart alive and brain stirring, so that you feel every ounce of pain that I can impart on you.”

                With that, Jameson shat himself, adding another addition of fluid to the pile at his feet.  Willy was no longer squealing.  He laid silent, eyes wide, listening, anticipating.  Jameson turned to Willy.  He nodded to a rug in the kitchen area.  Willy looked to the rug, confused.  Jameson mouthed the words, “follow me.”  Willy just lay there, unsure of what to do.  The Lupus growled at Jameson, causing him to jump.  “Well, pig, what shall it be?”  Jameson struggled with the words, fumbling to find them.  Willy noticed that Jameson’s hands began to fumble as well, shaking violently.  Upon closer inspection he saw that they weren’t fumbling, but searching. 

                Jameson was leaning against a small table, his hands now moving back and forth, scanning for something.  “Lupus, sir, I…I will, uh…I will comply, sir, that is, I will…uh…yes…”  Jameson stared at that big yellow eye as it stared back at him and suddenly the fear on his face morphed into fleeting courage.  His brow furrowed and his body shifted, producing a rusty screwtool and shoved it forward.  The Lupus’ eye made a popping sound as the tool pierced his retina like a fork into a poached egg.  The Lupus howled with ferocity, his head jutting backwards. 

                Jameson grabbed Willy by his half torn clothing and dragged him backwards to the kitchen.  He peeled back the rug to reveal a perfectly dug hole in the ground.  Willy squealed in pain and fear as Jameson jumped into the hole, pulling Willy along with him.  Willy watched the world go dark as he was dragged inside the hole, but not before seeing The Lupus’ claw decimate the shack with one swift slash.  Splintered timber and wet leaves filled the air and Jameson’s home was no more.  The last thing Willy heard before blacking out was The Lupus’ roar, followed by his promise:” I will make you suffer for this, swine!”

               It must be noted that I had travelled down a far different path than my brothers.  I did everything in advance of them.  I left the womb first, then the teat, then the farm.  I was always eager to branch out, eager to find my life in the forest.  I joined with the elders almost immediately and learned the ways of science and technology.  I learned of weapons beyond my teeth.  I learned of fire.  I learned the craft of cheating my own food chain.  While so many others ventured forth blindly, I sought to see before I walked.

                My path was not easy.  It took years of servitude and biting my tongue to gain that which I had.  I suffered abuse, doubt, even hatred from the elders, but eventually proved myself worthy.  All you really have to do is survive.  Many similar creatures died about my feet in the same pursuit.  It should be easy to see why I would feel such disgust at my brothers’ lack of concern or foresight to prepare for an evolved life outside the farm.  Paddington Forest is a large, twisting maze of creatures living a life unseen by the eyes of man.  Hares, Foxes, Toads, Mice, Squirrel, All manner of birds, Deer, and countless others thrived there.   It is another world altogether and to flourish within it, one must sharpen their wits.  My brothers’ were barely a dull blade.

                My home was built of brick and concrete, acquired over many months from an abandoned construction project near my old farm.   It was backbreaking work, hauling all of the materials into the forest, but with the help of the locals it was finished by spring.  I built fortifications, booby traps, and emplaced spring-loaded weaponry around the grounds and within the home itself.  It was built to fight from the outside in, if that should ever be needed.  Most locals called it “the fortress,” but I dismissed such labels.  It was my protection.  I knew my place in the circle of life.  I just didn’t like it there.  The “fortress” was my middle finger to Mother Nature.

                I was more amused than surprised to see Jameson and Willy squealing like piglets as they crested the trees and ran straight to my front door late in the evening.  I watched for a moment to see what had led them there, but nothing appeared.  I flipped the lever, which activated all my exterior home defenses, powered with pulleys and steam, each system ratcheted into place, ready to deal death to any intruder within twenty meters of my home. 

                I walked to the floor level and unlatched the front door, spilling my brothers into the atrium.  They were panting and wheezing, doubling over with sweat and blood.  Willy was as white as Farmer Jacobs’ wife’s sheets, blowing in the summer breeze.  The towel was still applied to his belly with twine wrapped around, holding him together.  Jameson struggled to catch his breath and so I led him to the water trough and he drank two bucketful’s before finally speaking. 

                He recounted everything, starting with Willy’s first encounter.  I listened intently, focusing on every detail, formulating a plan as I did.  I thought of all the variables, all the means in which The Lupus would (or could) retaliate.  I put myself in his claws and thought of what I might do.  Surely, I would want bloody vengeance.  I moved to tend to Willy’s wounds, but it was too late.  His breath had ceased and there was no coming back.  His blood loss was too great.  His eyes were half-open as he died, much like they were most of his life, stoned off the weed.  I pushed his eyelids closed and stared at his face for a long moment.  “Stupid Willy.  God-damned stupid,” I uttered under my breath.  I pulled a blanket from the closet and covered his body.  Jameson stood, crying like a piglet, a long strand of snot oozing from his nose to my floor.

                “Clean yourself up, Jameson.  The Lupus will be here soon.  He will track you here and try to kill us all.”  Jameson wiped his nose and looked to me with wounded eyes.  “What shall we do, Bart?”  I looked him in the eyes.  “We will have to kill him instead, Jameson.”  Jameson was naturally dumbfounded.  He had lived his life as a victim, perfectly prepared to live up to his role on the food chain and end up as torn flesh for a coyote or sliced bacon on a man’s breakfast plate.  I chose neither of those roles and I was prepared to defend my stance.

                The Lupus was a powerful adversary, no doubt.  But, he was arrogant and overconfident.  He was also quite old, even if he didn’t show it.  He’d been born with the old pack in Paddington forest and had become its alpha male.  He was ruthless and violent, more so than any other alpha male had been in his pack.  Eventually, he had either scared off or killed all the other males, including his own cubs.  He was too sinister to coexist.  After the last female moved on, the only wolf left in Paddington forest was The Lupus, which accounts for the “The” in his Latin name.  There were no others.

                While The Lupus felt all powerful, being the sole predatory force in Paddington forest, the truth was that it was his greatest weakness.  He had no back up, no alliances.  Even the foxes and coyotes were afraid of him, which meant that he was severely outnumbered by every other creature in Paddington.  In the end it would take far less to bring him down.

                It was well past midnight when he arrived, walking slowly out of the forest and into the clearing, like an apparition from the shadows.  His right eye dangled like a toy, still attached to the socket, much like a yo-yo on a string.  The blood had caked and formed a dark shadow along the side of his face.  The other eye shone its usual yellow, and those infamous fangs flashed brightly in the moonlight.  I felt a pang of fear in my throat, but choked it back, instead shifting my focus, just as the elders had taught me.  Focus is everything.  To think of the worst is to let it happen.  I thought only of The Lupus’ pelt by my fireplace.

                Jameson, fed and slightly rested, was stationed on the surrounding balcony of the house.  Four spear guns were positioned on each corner, covering all areas of the house.  Additionally, there were snap traps hidden under the brush leading up to the main gate (which is spiked at the top).  Spring loaded arrows were aligned around the floor level, attached to various pulleys on the balcony.  The two doors into the house were heavily fortified and bolted, made of tempered wood more than a foot long in width.  Inside the home were various spears, edged weapons, and firesmoke balls. 

                In short, I was well prepared. 

                The Lupus approached the gate, easily avoiding my snap traps.  I guess I expected he would be keen to some of them, but I was surprised at the ease in which he sniffed them out.  Jameson and I watched him from the slot windows inside the house, waiting to see what he would do.  Jameson seemed dazed, no longer shaking with fear, but instead paralyzed by exhaustion.  However, his eyes told me that he had fight left in him, more so than he’d ever shown.

                “Are you ready for this, brother?”  Jameson looked to me slowly.  “I am ready, Bart.  I wish to see this awful creature dead and gone.”  I nodded, satisfied with Jameson’s response.  “Follow the plan and do not deviate and we will see him dead before sunrise, I promise you.  Are you sure you can remain steadfast?”  I asked, a last ditch effort to assure success from Jameson.

                “I know that I have never been one to rely on, Bart.  I know this.  I accept it.  I have been weak in your eyes.  But, I swear to you, I am ready and I will not fail.  I do this for Willy and for all the others who have lost their lives to this wretched fucking dog,” Jameson stared at The Lupus as he said every word.  And I believed him.  “Let’s get to our positions, then.”

                The Lupus sniffed at the gate of my home, hesitant and cautious.  He was smart.  Not hasty or careless at all.  Had I underestimated him? I asked myself, stepping out onto my balcony.  The Lupus jerked his head toward me as I did and I admit it gave me pause and struck fear into my heart.  I tucked it away quickly and moved onward.  “I say good evening to you, Lupus.  May I be of service to you in some way?”  The Lupus shook his fur, as if stretching, and casually walked toward my direction. 

                “Yes, you may march your fat swine asses out of that house so that I may feast on your bones.”  I played it as calm as I could, treating the exchange as a business transaction.  False confidence can sometimes be just as good as the real thing.  “Hmm, that seems rather harsh, Lupus.  Is there some reason you have a vendetta against me?”

                The Lupus reeled back in dark laughter.  “Don’t be an asshole, piglet.  I can smell the blood and fear of your friends inside that fortress of yours.  I can smell the fear off your flesh.  As for a vendetta…what does it matter?  You are my prey and that’s the way it is.  The fact that your friend has taken my eye only compounds my desire to kill you all.  Aside from that, little piggy, there is no need for vengeance.  I am merely hungry, insatiably so, and I wish to eat pig flesh.  You understand, I’m sure.”

                His short-sightedness and arrogance changed my mood immediately.  There it was again.  We were merely fuel for his belly and that was all he saw.  Despite the fact that I had built a home unlike any other of my kind, he persisted in belittling my existence.  “I see.  Well, perhaps you noticed that I am not dangling from your teeth or squealing in fear from the sight of you, because I am not simply a meal, but a formidable opponent.  One that would see your blood spilled on these very grounds,” I said, this time with my own arrogance in place.

                The Lupus bellowed in laughter then let out a side-splitting howl, his nose to the sky, the right eye bouncing to and fro.  “I will give you a choice, swine, just as I did your friends.  You will all march out here into the clearing and face a quick death or I shall pounce on your fortress until it crumbles and make each of you suffer a long, drawn out death, leaving your very souls scarred from my fangs.  You have a moment to decide, before I act on the latter.”  The Lupus said this casually, even turning his back to scan the area, as if he were bored with it all.  As he did this, Jameson moved the spear gun that hid in the shadows of the moonlight and pointed it toward The Lupus.  I peered to him from my peripherals to see that the sights were lined up properly.  I could sense his hesitation, his lack of confidence, his fear.  I willed him with all of my being to fire, to take this beast down while the opportunity was so ripe.

                I grew impatient, ready to run as fast as I could to Jameson’s position and do it myself.  I started to twitch, inching toward that agenda.  The Lupus began to turn and face us, ever so slowly.  I turned my head, no longer trying to hide my ruse.  “Jameson,” I whispered.  With that, The Lupus’ ears went upward, detecting our plot.  “Jameson, now!”  I bellowed.

                 The crack of the twine releasing the spear echoed into the air and the sound to follow was a yelp unlike any I’d ever heard.  The spear had travelled perfectly, sailing to its target with precision.  The Lupus hit the ground hard, the spear emplaced into his lower back.  He lay still for a moment, then struggled on the ground, as if wrestling with something.  My heart grew with elation.  We had succeeded.  Our distraction had worked!  I turned to Jameson who still gripped the spear gun.  “Jameson, you did it, brother!”  I ran to his side and helped him prepare another spear.  Jameson, for the first time since we were children, smiled at his own success.  It was a fine moment for him.  But, it was not to last.

                We fumbled with the second spear, missing the twine twice.  Jameson suddenly froze and backed up.  The Lupus was on his feet, staring directly at us.  In his mouth was the spear, pulled from his flesh, blood oozing off the edge.  He bit hard and snapped the spear in two.  Even I jumped at the sight of this, dropping the new spear to the ground.  Jameson turned and ran to the balcony door.  The Lupus caught sight of this and leapt with great strength into the air.  His right leg caught the tip of the gate, tripping him mid-air and sending him colliding into the front yard.  I quickly moved to my arrow pulley and flipped the lever, sending a flurry of arrows into The Lupus’ hide.  For the second time he yelped in pain and it was music to my ears.  We will slay this beast tonight, I thought aloud.  Jameson had made it to the balcony door, but fidgeted with opening it.  If he would only focus, I thought.

                I ran to his aid, hoping that The Lupus would be detained as we made our way back into the house and prepared more weapons if needed.  “Bart, this fucking door is stuck!  It’s stuck!  Help me!”  Jameson was a wreck.  “Calm down, brother.  Lift and turn, it’s all that needs be done,” I said, rushing quickly to his aid.  I brushed his hands away and executed the motions.  The latch opened and the door opened.  “See?” I said, assuredly.  Jameson breathed easy and started to move in then stopped suddenly, as if he’d forgotten something.  “Hurry, brother, hurry!” I yelled.  Then, my vision opened up and I could see beyond Jameson.  A yellow eye staring directly at me.  I stepped back.  The Lupus was perched on the balcony, some twenty arrows stuck into the left side of his hide, right eye still dangling, blood drizzling from the first spear wound and a silent rage seeping from his stare. 

                I looked to Jameson’s chest and saw a number of spikes protruding from it.  They were Lupus’ claws.  “Jameson…brother,” I said, suddenly remorseful of every slight I had ever had against him. “Bart,” Jameson uttered, blood pouring out of his mouth in a thin line, “Kill this bastard…”  And with that he was gone before my eyes.  The Lupus lifted Jameson’s body over his mouth, dangling him like a sardine and dropped him in, the rows of sharp teeth shredding his flesh with the first snap.

                The Lupus’ eye was trained on me with each bite and I was frozen in horror as I watched him devour Jameson one bite at a time, blood gushing from the sides of his mouth in buckets.  Each chomp pushed Jameson’s body further down the beast’s throat, ending with the head.  In one instant I saw Jameson’s face, wide with terror, and in the next he was gone forever.  I struggled to focus, to realign myself, to step out of the emotional chains that bound me.  The Lupus faced me, the remnants of my brother dripping from his lips.  He smiled wide, revealing his now bloody teeth and flicked his tongue about, licking up every last drop with pleasure.  I jerked forward and lunged into the upper room through the balcony door, narrowly missing a swipe from The Lupus’ claw, which inadvertently slammed the door shut behind me.  I quickly threw on the latch, sealing it shut, and wasted no time.  I grabbed one of the edged weapons from my armament and slid open the nearest slot window, thrusting the weapon through. 

                Another yelp from The Lupus.  I had stabbed him for sure, but was not positive as to where.  I peeked through the slot and saw that I had pierced his right ear, effectively slicing it open, like scissors to paper.  The next second I found myself jumping backwards as the beast’s claw scraped at the window slot.  I slammed it shut as fast as I could, temporarily trapping the claw.  I slammed again and again until it shattered and fell to my floor.  There was no yelp this time, but a growl like a tractor engine starting up.  It shook my very bones and I knew at that moment that either The Lupus or I would die that night. 

                I walked backwards, thinking of my next move, clutching the edged weapon closely.  The Lupus’ large frame had moved to my rooftop and was walking around, sniffing, scratching, looking for a way in.  My breath caught in my throat.  “The chimney,” I said aloud.  I had nothing in place.  It is likely the bastard could squeeze in if he really wanted to.  And I knew he did.  I followed the sounds of his sniffing, then heard his voice, muffled, speaking to me.

                “Your friend was delicious, piggy.  I hope you taste as good.  I hunger still and look forward to savoring you to the last drop.  I will start with your feet so that you cannot escape me.  Then, the fun will begin.   Does that frighten you, pig?  It should.  It damn well should,” he goaded.

                I moved forward with the plan in my mind.  “You live up to your reputation, Lupus:  A sadistic devil.  You have been a cur since your birth.  You’ve even scared off your own kind.  You are the last wolf in this forest.  Once you are dead, there will be no one to take your place.  And that was my brother you killed, you son of a demented bitch. I will see you dead for that,” I yelled into the open air, praying that every syllable met his ears.

                “My kind,” he snorted, “They were weak, piggy, just like you.  None of them understood our true nature.  All too eager to compromise, to cohabit with our food.  How asinine.  How pathetic.  In the end they were all given a choice, just as I gave you.  Leave this forest for good or stay in it and die by my fangs.  This forest is mine as well as everything in it.  That includes you, piggy.”

                I quickly set the firesmoke balls in the fireplace, just under the water cauldron.  Timing would be crucial.  If I failed, then my options would slim.  I could make it to my secure basement, but there was no escape from there.  He would wait me out until death for sure.  I wanted an end to this.  The Lupus followed my voice to the chimney.  I could hear his nose sniffing from above.  “It sounds like you have it all figured out then, Lupus.  Perhaps it is time to end this game, once and for all.  If you hunger, then come and eat.  It is late and I tire of your presence,” I bellowed loudly.

                “Oh, I’m coming for you, piggy, fear not.  But, your haste is in vain.  I have promised you a long, slow death and I intend to keep my word.”  I could hear his claws testing the chimney, preparing for the shuffle down.  I quietly unlocked the balcony door and played my actions over in my head.  Speed was of the utmost importance.  “Come then, Lupus.  Let it begin!” 

                He began his shuffle down the chimney, moving ferociously fast.  I quickly lit a firesmoke ball and tossed it into the chimney.  As soon as the spark set, it ignited all the others in a quick burst of flame.  I was out the door immediately.  I ran out, sprinting down the balcony and to the rooftop ladder, spear in hand.  I shimmied up as fast as I could, praying that my plan would work, knowing full well that I rushed to success or death.

                I crested over the edge of the roof and could suddenly hear The Lupus’ voice.  “What is this?  What are you doing, piggy?  You fucking swine!  I will kill you!”  I scurried to the chimney, never flinching, never looking back.  I had to catch him at the right moment.  Smoke erupted from the chimney in large, black puffs.  I prayed it would be enough to send The Lupus up for air.  I watched the smoke pillow out, waiting for my moment to strike, spear arched back, at the ready.  Suddenly, his paw grabbed out from the smoke and gripped the edge of the chimney.  It had worked!

                I had only seconds.  I reeled back in anticipation.  And then, a familiar sight.  That glowing yellow eye.  I struck, using every ounce of my weight to jab the spear into The Lupus’ flesh.  The tip pierced his pelt at the neck, driven forward with a force I didn’t know I had, puncturing out the opposite side.  I let go of the spear and leapt back, awaiting the next move.  The spear held the weight of The Lupus, teetering on both sides of the chimney, effectively roasting him from below.  He had not the strength to climb the rest of the way out or the luxury of falling all the way in. 

                My body suddenly relaxed, but I did not rest.  I ran back and grabbed another spear and quickly made my way back, feeling much more confidant in doing so.  The beast’s mouth tried to open and close, again and again, as if the fight simply would not die, no matter the physical restrictions.  I pointed the spear at The Lupus looking it directly in that glowing eye.  No words needed to be spoken.  No need to gloat or make a statement.  I simply leaned in and stared, letting my expression say all that needed be said, as I watched the yellow glow slowly turn into a dead gray. 

                I stood there for what seemed like hours and suddenly felt the sun on my back.  It was the dawn of a new day.  A new day indeed.  I doused the flames in the chimney and used my pulleys to lift The Lupus out of the chimney, his lower half charred and devoid of fur.  I laid the body out in the field and cut Jameson’s body from the corpse.  He deserved a proper burial, as did Willy.  It was in that moment that I realized neither of them was as weak as I had thought.  Both had fought for their own survival, rather than relent to the cycle of death that was expected.  In their final moments, they had earned my respect and apologies. 

                I cut what was left of The Lupus’ pelt away and cleaned it thoroughly, hanging it out to dry for days.  I buried my brothers in the front yard, each with their own brick and mortar headstone.  And just outside the gate, I buried the remains of The Lupus, along with his own headstone, which simply read: Here Lies “The Lupus.”  I had no statement to make.  No need to drag his body through the forest.  His exit would be felt throughout, an exhale from all the creatures within, causing a calm, peaceful breeze to flow from end to end. 

                And now I stare at his pelt, sprawled in front of the very fireplace that helped seal his fate.  He was the last of his kind, still clutching to the old ways.  The pelt stood as a reminder to all others that we had it within ourselves to change our own destiny.  We need only to focus and it will be so.

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