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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘At The Forest’s Edge’: a short story

Buddy was many things. He was happy, most of the time, a sort of haze of contentment that permeated his entire life. He was loved, lounging his days away surrounded by his family. He was also, perhaps most importantly, a dog.

His long, fluffy tail waved as he stood in the park, head moving back and forth, ears twitching. Off to the right was his mother—his human mother, that is—talking with one of her friends. Further into the park, he saw his friend, Brutus, the large pitbull lounging in the summer sun, one lazy eye cracked open. To his left were the woods, trees stretching to the sky, shading the damp earth beneath. He saw the branches waving in the breeze, and—

Squirrel!

Almost before the thought reached his mind, he was off, chasing a flash of brown fur, tongue lolling from his mouth. He raced between the trees, deeper into the forest, until the sun was almost swallowed by the grasping leaves. The earth was soft beneath his paws, the scents of the forest surrounded him, and he could neither smell nor see a squirrel anywhere.

Drat.

It wasn’t the first squirrel he had lost (as a matter of fact, he had lost every squirrel he had ever chased) but the failure stung all the same, and with a bowed head, buddy turned back. It was then that he realized he was not alone.

“What’s one of your kind doing here?”

The words were low and deep, spoken in a strange sort of growling tone that was nothing like the barking cadence of any of the park dogs. Buddy felt his hackles raise as he backed away from the figure now looming before him. Tall, with long, thin legs, an angular face and fur of gray and brown and white. A wolf, looking down on him like a vengeful spirit of the past come to life.

“Chasing a squirrel.” His words were quiet, short and clipped, too afraid to speak comfortably yet too proud to quail or beg.

The wolf snarled. “I was out catching dinner.” A squirrel corpse lay next to him, its throat torn.

Buddy began to inch around him, subtly moving back onto the trail he had followed out here in the first place. “And now you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me …”

“I could go for seconds.” The wolf smiled at him, somehow making the expression far more disturbing than any smile should be. Buddy froze, observing the almost playful cant to the other canine’s head. They stood like that for three seconds, four, before the wolf relaxed, and the amusement faded from its eyes. “But if I did, I’ve no doubt your masters would come after me with rifle in hand.”

Buddy too slowly began to relax, but his curiosity was raised. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

The wolf snorted, and rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know? They kill wolves that fall out of line. That touch anything that belongs to the humans. I once heard of a wolf, shot just for going too near the forest’s edge.”

Buddy snorted, the breath coming from his nose hot and fast, as his eyes narrowed. “My mom would never!”

The wolf curled his lip. “You call a human your mother? Have you no respect for the dog that sired you?”

“I’ve respect,” Buddy spoke through gritted teeth, “for the one who raised me, who took me in, who cared for me.”

“Pah.” the wolf scoffed. “respect for humans? In their concrete towers? You dogs have truly lost everything.” The wolf paced, glaring hatefully and disdainfully.

“And you would prefer to live out here?” Buddy paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “How many days a week do you eat, wolf? How many days a week are you warm and safe? I can tell you how often I eat. I can tell you how often I am warm.” Buddy looked the wolf straight in the eyes, disdain matching disdain. “Every. Damn. Day.”

“And at what cost? I live by my own rules, my own merits.” The wolf nodded his head at the dead squirrel by his feet. “When I eat, it is because I was skilled. When I do not, it is because I was not. You would throw yourself on the mercy of humanity for a scrap of meat. The hand that feeds you is the same one that puts a leash around your neck. You say you live well? I say you’ve never lived a day in your life. All you’ve done is survive.” The wolf spat.

“Your idiotic pride will lead you to an early grave.” Buddy shook his head.

The wolf glared at him. He glared back. For a long moment, neither moved.

“I think you should leave.” The wolf finally spoke, low and calm. “Before I decide I really am hungry.”

Buddy, finally reminded that he was, indeed, standing face to face with a wolf, broke off his glare.

“I’ll be going, then.”

And so, Buddy left. He went back that night to a warm house and a loving mother and a bowl full of food. And when his mother locked the door behind him, he did not mind—it was much better in here than out there, after all.

And so, the wolf went back to his cave, and ate the squirrel he had caught. And when the seasons turned to winter and the wolf shivered in his cave, cold and hungry, he did not envy the humans’ bright houses in the cramped cities. It was better out here than in there, after all.

Their paths never crossed again. They never forgot each other.

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