by Relvin Gonzalez Rodriguez
"Now," Alpha said.
They were deep in the forest, Alpha and the others, and their fur soaked with the last of the Spring cold showers.
Czar started moving, but Alpha stopped him with a soft growl.
Alpha pointed with his snout at an oblivious rabbit. “Omega, go.”
A few bushels hid their bodies. Omega froze and left the rabbit wide open for Czar to take charge. With one jump, he came out of his position and bit the rabbit's shoulder. Aztek came out from a different angle and chewed on the rabbit's feet. Alpha looked at Omega for a moment, then turned to walk towards the prey.
The brothers in the pack had spent the aftermath of the hunt pointing their snouts and mocking Omega. It was between whimper and growl, the valley where anything left alone long enough will evolve, and rivers run with unpredictable currents, where Omega jolted from everything. From a hill a few meters high, Alpha, the father and group leader, stared at his sons and glanced for moments at the horizon, and at this height he forced his eyes to see more than what they conceded.
It was in the last few years, when a group of human hunters ambushed the forest and killed the mother, Accalia, and the youngest female, Ziva. Three human males held back Alpha as he watched the remaining two slaughter Accalia. He remembered the way the air smelled that day; the must after a downpour, the sound of deceitful uneventfulness, the peace and dangers of nature, the high top trees swaying and wet leaves rustling down, gentle and somehow colorful as they skewed in and out of sunlight, and the sound of boots as they stumped upon the Earth. Czar and Aztek saw it too, though they were too young to recall it anywhere outside their night terrors. Omega, the oldest of the three, remembered everything.
Shame and anger propelled Omega forward, somewhere across the forest. The children never scouted alone, even if they were of age, but he longed to tell his wordless story to the mud and the trees and rest alone where he could howl at the moon and listen in silence long enough to see if it would answer.
Alpha sauntered towards the remaining sons.
“Find him,” he said.
“But he is old enough,” Czar said. Aztec assented.
After a good hundred yards, Omega made a stop and leaned against the rough bark of pine. He dried his tears with the top of his right paw when the sound of bushels ruffling two meters forward stopped him. He saw what he had been waiting for, a chance to prove himself. A joyful little girl gathered apples, danced to no music, and sang to no audience. The girl’s cherry red overcoat hid her pale Brazilian satinwood hair, though strands of it curled and peaked out to the sides. Omega looked at the half moon still lingering in daylight, and then back at the girl.
From the dark stepped forward the wolf. He featured his fangs and tranced toward her. The girl backed away and gripped her basket. An apple rolled on the ground and touched one of Omega’s paws. When he raised his gaze, she was gone.
Behind Omega, a few contemptuous chuckles from his brothers interrupted the silence.
“Father seeks you,” Aztec said.
Alpha saw the shapes of his sons approaching and allowed the world to become blurry again.
“Omega,” the father said.
His eldest marched past him and curled in a corner and thought of her in the reddish fever of her memory. Omega wished to see her again. He was at that age, Alpha thought. He wished to find something; a thing which is missing but has no name. If for a moment, in the expanse of life, that illness takes you by storm, so shall I wait it out, Alpha thought, and allow him to find his way back at the edge of the impossible. But for every dozen ducks in a row you get one that can’t quite float still, and one day, in the universal fall of growth, spreads its wings and learns it was an eagle all along. And so Omega rose before the sun, carried forward by the influence of the wind, and allowed himself to be kidnapped by unknown forces. Alpha saw him, smiled, and went back to sleep.
Omega walked into a clearing. A group of houses formed a circle and stood erect before him, each pointing to the opposite side. He followed the scent of apple to one wooden doorstep. Omega leaned on the door on its two front legs and knocked at the base of his forehead. Twice he struck as hard as he could. The door opened.
An old woman knelt down and hugged Omega.
“I have been waiting for you,” she said. “It’s been far too long.”
There were pies stacked on the marble countertops, each one decorated with a layer of various stencil or lattice patterns, and the oven’s timer had just passed 40. The old lady grabbed a pie, crumbled the aluminum off the top, and put it on the floor.
“They are all for you,” she said. “I just need some rest.” She turned off the oven and collapsed on her bed with the grace of an airless feather.
He opened the door to the bedroom and took a timid bite of her finger. The old lady smiled and petted him on the head. Omega felt a rush of blood, a blinding explosion, and bit off her entire hand. Omega bit and chew until the black hole of eternal spoilage pulled the last bit of both their lights in. For a few seconds, the only sound was the drops of blood dripping from Omega's mouth. He looked at a small puddle that had formed from the droplets. The reflection tried to be him but failed.
One knock, two knocks, and two quicker ones followed. Omega turned to an open closet in the grandmother's bedroom and pulled down a nightgown with his bloody teeth. He became her, and the child’s smile became wide when she saw him. In a hug which felt more like an impulse, he smelled into consciousness a flash of his mother and the men that hacked at her, and a short whimper bursted out.
She rubbed his forehead just above the eyes, pressing on his skull. “There, there,” she said. “I better take these to the kitchen.”
A drawer rolled open, and the contents clinked on its full stop.
“Grandma, I brought you more apples. Do you think today will be the day?”
Cold steel pressed against the side of the wolf's stomach. It’s just an apple, she muttered. Again through the shoulder, it’s just an apple, and once in the back. Omega saw the world turn 90 degrees as he fell on his side. The child stood still and defiant with a knife the size of her arm.
Omega stood on five inches of snow, and an Inca rope bridge appeared in front of him. The bridge swung and whipped to the sides, and the hail hammered the steps and collapsed with each blow. Accalia and Ziva howled at the other side.
“It is time,” Accalia said.
The wind pulled him closer to the first step. Omega pressed his paws into the snow, but they slid forward.
“It’s time. It’s time. There’s nothing you can do.” Ziva said.
“How can this be it, if I never was?” Omega said.
And the storm subsided, the bridge vanished, the mother and sister disintegrated, all his memories forgotten, and last to leave was the reflex to reach out and salvage that which has fallen into an endless well.
The child cut an inch deep into Omega’s skin. A few hours later, like an expert at her trade, she had created a mangled coat out of the wolf's fur, his face still attached at the top. She put on her jacket and went out to the woods with the bloody knife inside her basket. She put Omega's face on hers, and her eyes blinked inside the holes that used to harbour Omega’s vision. Her blonde hair came out to the sides. It was cold out, and the night was near. She grabbed on to the sides of the coat and covered her torso. Outside the other six houses, the neighbors stood and nodded their approval.
The pack of wolves ate a deer on the grooves of a dell. The child descended, standing tall with her hands together.
“Omega, son, what great big eyes you have,” Alpha said.
“All the better to see you with,” the child said.
"Why do you stand on two legs?"
“All the freer my hands to kill you.”
The child pulled her hands apart, grabbed the knife, and the coat fell to the ground, and the body of a naked woman stood before them. The shape grew a foot and a half taller; her sculpted body subdued the pack. Czar and Aztek succumbed to her charge, bowing their heads and lowering their ears. They were the first ones to die by decapitation.
Alpha looked at the woman and took a step back. “Those eyes…”
“We have been looking for you,” the woman said.
Alpha closed his eyes and took a bow in surrender. “You found me.”
Relvin Gonzalez Rodriguez - Austin, Texas