Honorable Mention, Young Adult Fiction Category; 2010 Bethesda Magazine/Bethesda Urban Partnership Short Story and Essay Contest
I was sure that my eyes were glowing with the strangest luminescence possible although I could not see myself. I knew there were fangs sprouting from my mouth and protruding from my lips although I could not see myself. I knew that the new bushy and gray body part was a tail, although I could not see myself. All these things I knew for they came from nagging tugging feelings deep within the soul, and when the noisy white noise from my transformation died down, I knew these were my new wolf instincts.
That was my life a year ago. Or was it? For the days can pass and months can pass and a week will seem all the same. I am part of a pack now. Our leader, Duplicity is as fair as he is wise and righteous. He has led us on the hunt and there has been many an animal we have taken down because of his strategy. The day he found me, Duplicity knew I was human. Apparently, he had been human too, but now we all speak the tongue of the noble wolf. At the time, it had only been Duplicity and his mate, Overcaste, who made up the pack. Overcaste used to be human too. Overcaste and Duplicity changed to wolf around the same time. But, the past is the past and the present is where we are, so I do not concern myself with what is not needed to be known to me. Now we have growing numbers. Although we have never had cubs under paw, Duplicity has time and time again found humans that are now wolf in every new land we arrive in, and time and time again he has let them stay and join our pack. Such generosity is honorable for sure!
“Sage, go with Overcaste and flush the doe from the bush. We must strike while she is weak from recovering from illness. I shall ambush from here and show the new ones how to attack and hunt.” Duplicity’s order cut through the crisp air.
“Yes Alpha,” I responded, respectfully giving a short bow before bursting through the brush, a gray streak, like a wild fire in a dry forest.
I sensed Overcaste before I saw her, and good thing, for she was directly in my way.
“Watch it,” she snarled, ripping through a growl the sound of splintering wooden doors. I was an ear’s distance from knocking into her.
“My apologies,” I humbly whined, bowing my head low.
“May I remind you of your place,” Overcaste snapped before she whirled around to face the bushes. “The doe lays 10 paces away. She’s drowsy, but I’m not sure if the mate is there too. I doubt it, but you can never be so sure.”
“Does Duplicity know?” I yelped in surprise. I knew in wolfdom, the loss of the mate would be unbearable. I was sure all animals would feel this way.
“Of course he knows,” Overcaste responded icily. “That’s the whole point of this specific doe. We know she has a mate, and if you kill her, the buck will come back for his revenge.”
“But he’ll be devastated!” I felt so sympathetic.
“The more the merrier as I always say,” Overcaste mumbled with sarcastic cheeriness.
I was aghast, but what could I do, for I am Beta while they are Alpha.
“Let’s go,” she muttered to me gutturally, then darted off into the brush; I immediately followed.
The buck whose mate I was now about to kill did not matter anymore. I was for the hunt. It dominated my blood and life for the few minutes it took. It was exhilarating.
“She will be missed,” Duplicity says now. He is standing in front of the dead doe we killed. The buzz of satisfaction sinks into my heart and becomes a lead weight.
“What about her mate?” I ask Duplicity. I know my eyes must be questioning, curious, perhaps even fearful.
“We eat her now, and when he comes for us later, we will take him down too,” Duplicity smiles. “This secures a meal in the future, do you not see, Sage?”
I find myself nodding reluctantly. I glance at the doe, and nearly jump when I think the doe’s chest heaved in breath.
“Are you sure she’s dead?” I almost demand, bewildered. “She will be in lots of pain if she is alive when we eat her.”
Duplicity continues to smile at me. “Surely the time you have been in my pack has strengthened your trust? I always deal the final blow, and thus always they are assured a swift and painless death.”
He is right, I think to myself. He must be. He is Duplicity, Duplicity the kind.
Duplicity encourages us to gorge ourselves after he and his mate have their fill. As I eat my fill, I jump when I hear a pained moan. I immediately look at Duplicity who is sitting serenely, glancing at the doe’s face. I follow his gaze and almost faint when I see the doe blink, but that is impossible. The doe would have to be alive, and I look again at Duplicity. He is still glancing at the doe’s eyes. I am satisfied. If Duplicity had seen the doe blink, he would have killed the poor thing and ended her misery.
We finish the doe and move on. Duplicity is telling the before-humans about certain lessons or rules to live by. Never backstab a fellow wolf, look out for evil, and never kill for the sake of killing. All that he had taught me, he teaches to the new ones. We travel for days. That is something unusual about us. We never have a marked territory. Thus we invade other packs’ territory and slip in and out quietly. This pack is home to me, where I can feel safe in a world where I no longer have a home. In every new land we stay in, a before-human is found. It is as if Duplicity knows where to find the before-humans, like a premonition. Almost as if he is the cause. But that of course, is absurd. He cannot be the reason for the changes, which is eerie and painful, for he teaches never to dole out unnecessary pain to another, to think about the other being’s feelings and happiness. He cannot be the reason for he is Duplicity, Duplicity the kind, the noble. I know Duplicity cannot be the cause, for I do not remember seeing him that day, only after my change. He nursed me back to health, for I had been found with a wound on my leg. I had thought they were bite marks from something that had attacked me, but he had said they were scratches from a bush or something I must have scraped against, so perhaps I was wrong. I confess, my memories of such early events of my new life are hazy. Even the ends of my old life have frayed like string.
I stop my useless pondering of my past, for Duplicity says we should stop. I stop.
“We have arrived in our new land,” Duplicity says. “You may all rest now.”
The pack immediately begins to settle down and rest, for Duplicity always scouts the area alone once we arrive in a new place. I fall asleep, for there is nothing to do, and I am tired.
When I wake up, Duplicity and Overcaste are sleeping curled up with each other. I look at the five wolves we had collected since I joined. They had all been weary of his ways, and in fact, still are. They only stay for this is their only home. The five before-humans do not seem to trust Duplicity. Why they do not, I know not, for they never voice their opinions and reasons to me. I snort a breath through my nostrils and watch the small wisps rise into the cool night air. The leaves have begun to turn color, but have not yet fallen. I wonder where we are, but remind myself before falling asleep that Duplicity leads us, and so I rest easy, knowing that Duplicity is always right.
I wake to the rising rays of the morning sun. Duplicity is already up. He looks at me, and the rest of the pack, who are all still sleeping. Overcaste is looking at me critically, as if she is trying to unravel a dark secret from my mind. It is only the three of us who are awake.
“Sage, I have found another before-human,” Duplicity breathed out quietly to me. I guess he does not want to wake the whole pack. “Help Overcaste and me go get the new one.”
“Okay,” I say, and we are off. As we run, Overcaste sidles up to me.
“Why do you follow Duplicity? Don’t you ever doubt him? Or wonder if his word is not true?” The questions she asks me almost sounds like the questions the other pack members have.
“No, for I realize Duplicity is the truth. He is always right,” I tell her with sincere honesty.
The way she looks at me almost makes me feel uncomfortable. “I pity you,” she says harshly. “I pity those without a brain,” Overcaste snaps, then lopes off to join Duplicity to talk to him.
Duplicity leads us straight to the before-human. He is lying on the ground, unconscious. Duplicity nudges his neck with a paw. There is a nasty bite wound on the new one’s leg.
When the before-human wakes, his eyes snap open, his mouth in a snarl. I leap in front of Duplicity and go into the defensive. I can tell the new one wants to harm Duplicity. I say to him in a firm voice, “I am Sage, this is Duplicity, and that is Overcaste. We are here to help you.”
The new one has his eyes narrowed and untrusting, glaring at Duplicity. “I am Endure,” he snarls, “and I plan revenge for he whom you protect, he who has turned me wolf!”
Duplicity looks steadily at Endure. “Such a shame you must die, Endure. I could tell you would have been a great fighter, a wonderful warrior, but I suppose only Sage can follow blind obedience.”
I look at Duplicity in shock. “You would kill him?”
“No, I shall not get my paws dirty. You will.” He looks at me expectantly, as does Overcaste, who is looking on as if following through on his order would confirm something. Endure looks at me pleadingly. “He is the cause for all the humans turning into wolves! He was the one that bit me on my leg yesterday! If he says he’s innocent, he’s lying! Please, if we take them on together, we can defeat them.”
I drink in Endure’s words slowly, shaking my head to the rate of how fast I digest and comprehend. “No, you do not see. Duplicity is truth, he is always right.”
I lunge at Endure and deal with him. His struggling makes the battle messy, and as he goes limp, Overcaste is shaking her head. Duplicity is grinning hauntingly.
“Any other wolf would not have made the same decision,” I overhear Overcaste murmur to her mate.
She looks so miserable and depressed I almost feel I’ve made the wrong decision, but I remember Duplicity’s orders and Endure’s accusations and know I’ve done right. I was protecting our Alpha.
Duplicity looks on curiously, almost disinterestedly, at the limp and bloody body, almost as if seeing a toy in a new color; it is a curious trifle for a moment until it is realized it is not new after all.
“Sage, get rid of the body,” Duplicity finally concludes with finality.
“Where?” I ask.
“The river,” Overcaste breaks in, clearly disturbed, but Duplicity shakes his head, unhurried.
“The decaying flesh will poison the river. Overcaste, remember to think of the well-being of others. Sage, bury him, and bury him well. Overcaste and I will leave. Remember to wash away the blood on your body.”
I bow with respect as he and his mate leave. Then I begin digging.
I finish digging the grave and jump out of it. Then, holding the body by the scruff of its neck,
I begin tugging and pulling until I manage to pull him near the mouth of the deep hole. I walk around him and nudge him in with my nose.
The body smells of death, as the whole place is starting to, but I pay it no mind. I hear stirring at the bottom of the hole as I begin moving the dirt back in. Filling the grave back with dirt is slower than digging one up.
“Sage, does your name not mean ‘wise one’?” asks a mournful voice calling up from the hole.
I push a pawful of dirt into the hole. I hear pained coughing.
“Sage, does ‘duplicity’ not mean ‘a lie’?” questions the groan.
I push a pawful of dirt into the hole. I hear a sneeze and wheezing.
“Sage, does not Duplicity teach of caring about the well-being of others?”
I stop, unable to stand the questions any more. “Is it not true that you attacked Duplicity?” I spit out before pushing a deliberate amount of dirt into the hole.
“Is it not true your name means ‘to last’, or ‘to continue on’?” I push another amount into the hole. I peer down.
Endure is lying on his side, most of his body covered in dirt. His eyes yield pain, shouting injury, yet he merely lies there, pleading silently, turning his face to me, as if I am the sun, his last hope.
“Please,” he begs to me, one last plea of a dead wolf.
“You had your chance with Duplicity,” I say to the lump of matted fur.
I listen no more, and he says no more, and I fill the hole up to the top. Then I listen for the tell-tale sign of running water and trot to it. I bathe myself in the river.
I gallop to where the pack is resting and slow to a slow gait. My fur is dry as I had remembered to shake my fur, and the sprint had evaporated all the other water from my coat.
“Hello, Alpha, pack,” I say, nodding my head first to Duplicity, then the others.
Duplicity smiles warmly and tilts his head in reply. “Hello.”
The other wolves are staring knives at me, as if suspicious, and Overcaste is glancing at me without emotion. She is as a slate scrubbed clean, wiped and washed to get rid of all the chalk on the board.
Duplicity makes an announcement. “Pack, we will go on the hunt soon.”
He begins giving directions to the other members, then turns to me. “You will come with me and ambush. Now everyone,” Duplicity says, “let’s hunt.”
I run off with Duplicity and take my position as he takes his.
“So, Sage, how are your feelings on what happened today?” asks Duplicity.
I cock my head to the side. “I know I have done right. It was your order I have followed, and your order will I follow my entire life.”
Duplicity beamed, brimming with pleasure. “What of reward?” murmured Duplicity, mostly to himself.
“Your approval is my only reward,” I reply, and he beams at me, his face brimming with such happiness that I am sure he glows.
“Yes, excellent reply, and you have proven yourself to me today.”
I thank him, then tense, sensing the prey.
He also tenses before uttering a single, “go,” before rushing off. I follow him, faithful.
In the end, as a never-ending cycle of before-humans go through our pack, I see many unworthy ones that Duplicity has me weed off. Overcaste is always brought with me, to watch me, to learn from me. The pain in her eyes over my deeds shines through the most, but she hides it from the rest of the pack. Every time I kill an unworthy being off, she asks me if what I am doing is right. She asks me why I obey Duplicity.
Each time I say the one and only truth I know, an unwavering light in the otherwise total darkness of the world. Duplicity is the truth; he is always right.
Michelle Mei lives in Germantown and is a sophomore at Poolesville High School. She wrote this story for an English class; it was an attempt to duplicate Edgar Allan Poe’s writing style and use of irony.