Thursday, January 12, 2017

Communication Breakdown

The long, hopeful howls of a hunting pack rose above the forest surrounding Talbot’s Peak. Augustus Hancock nudged his brother Drew. “Go ahead. Call her. I dare you.”


“Why not? You like her, right?”

“Dog, she’s with her family.”

“All the better,” Augie said. “If you call her now, it shows you’re Alpha. You know what you want and you go for it. You’re not afraid of her dad.”

“Aug, I am afraid of her dad.”

“You keep thinking like that and you’ll never get a date for the dance. Or you’ll end up going with … ” Augie shuddered theatrically. “Some herbivore.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Drew said. “Their dads won’t rip your throat out.”

“No, they’ll just gore you or stomp you or kick you or chew off your—”

“Okay, okay. Point taken.” Drew hauled in a mighty breath and let it go again. “I’m calling her.”

Minutes passed. Augie huffed. “Chicken.”

“I am. I really am.”

“Bwawk buck buck buck.”

“Knock it off.” Drew ditched his clothes, shifted to his wolf form, and let out an echoing howl. Other than the crack at the end—both his voices were still adjusting to puberty—it sounded rather impressive.

The howls in the distance broke off. The air grew dangerously still.

Then they got an answer. Robust, eager, and alto enough to indicate it was a she-wolf.

“Holy scat!” Augie said, impressed. “Is that her?”

Drew shifted back, his wrinkled muzzle transforming into a human frown. “Heck no. That’s her sister, Mimi. Betsy’s voice has more of a rumble to it.”

“Betsy, Mimi, what’s the difference? A date’s a date.”

“No way. Mimi’s gamma. She’s in heat, like, 24/7. She’s the only she-wolf I know who humps legs. Betsy is … I dunno, she’s got this confidence about her. And her fur’s all golden, with these four white paws, and her tail is like a—”

“I get the picture,” Augie said. “Tell me more about the horny one.”

Just then another howl rolled out of the forest, this one a rich soprano. “That’s her! That’s her!” Drew wriggled like a puppy. “Did she say yes? Does she sound like she’s saying yes?”

“Ask her again. Find out.” Drew shifted and howled back. Then he waited.

The reply took a moment to reach them. This howl was not soprano. This howl was bass, sharp enough to rip air, and had a growl at the end of it. And it was headed their way.

Drew switched back to human so fast he lost his balance and landed ass-first on the frozen ground. “Ohmydogohmydogohmydog that’s her dad! He’s gonna kill us! Augie, what’re we gonna dooooooooo?” His last word rose up in a panicked howl as he switched back to four legs—the better to run with—and took off for Talbot’s Peak.

Augie shrugged and gathered up his brother’s clothes. Then he reached into his own pocket and pulled out a small vial of elk urine (always be prepared for the worst, their coyote aunt had taught them) and sprinkled it on the ground to camouflage their scent. Then he found himself a hiding place behind a deadfall and waited.

Not long afterwards the pack arrived. The big slate-gray Alpha looked ready—and able—to rip alligators apart. Drew had been right to be nervous. Two lighter gray females and a golden she stood by with impatient looks on their snouts while the male scoured the ground for a trail. The elk piss finally defeated him and he stalked off, followed by the eye-rolls and heavy sighs of his womenfolk, who exchanged long-suffering looks before they finally trotted after him.

The smaller gray she-wolf lingered, just for a moment. She sniffed with evident interest where Drew’s clothes had lain.

Augie stood up. They stared at each other. He winked at her. She winked back.

# # #

Augie eventually found his brother in Java Joe’s, huddled at a table and working on his third cup of coffee. The proprietor, who was used to shifter customers, had provided him with a robe. Augie dumped his clothes on the table. “I hope that’s decaf,” he said, pulling up a chair.

“Where the hell were you?”

“Getting a date. I don’t know why you’re so down on Mimi. She seems friendly enough to me. Oh, and you’re too late about Betsy. She’s already going to the dance with some other wolf. I did try to put in a good word for you.”

“Thanks a helluva lot.”

“You’re welcome. Remember what Aunt Lucia always told us. You gotta be sure and you gotta be smart, but above all you gotta be quick.” He slapped his brother on the shoulder. “See you at the dance.”

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