Season's Christmas Quest
The Dog's Story
By Tara Pollard
Copyright © 2012 Tara Pollard
All right reserved.
Just out of reach of the circling timber wolves below, Season dug his claws into the tree branch, anchoring the hold on his position. Climbing a tree was a good trick for a dog to learn, but Season never imagined that such a skill could one day save his life. He was thankful that he was still young and nimble enough to do it. His master had taught him well, and Season took great pride in it, especially when he received high praise for it.
At home, he was oft en called to do it during parties. Everyone watching would squeal in delight every time he went up that tree, and as a bonus, he received tasty treats for his efforts. He could do lots of tricks, for the reward of a good snack. He could crush plastic water bottles in his mouth and put them in the bin, and he could even put away his own toys in his very own toy box at the end of the day. But there would be no treats for him this day, because this time, climbing that tree was not just a trick, but also a lifesaving skill.
Season knew that he could not climb just any old tree. It had to be a tree with a large, wide trunk and a branch low enough for him to reach easily but high enough to make it look more difficult. He also needed a good running start to propel him up the trunk, and then he had to take a good swift leap from the trunk to reach the branch. It was not easy and took great skill. Furthermore, the branch had to be wide and strong enough to hold his weight and allow him to anchor on it easily. The tree had to be a special tree. Skill or no skill, he felt pretty lucky to have found this particular tree, because it was much like one that grew in his own backyard, and that was miraculous in itself.
As he observed the angry wolves pacing below, he couldn't help wondering why they were trying to kill him in the first place. He hadn't done anything wrong; at least he didn't think he had. The lead wolf, the alpha, raged at him while intermittently biting and snarling at the rest in the pack who failed to catch the dog. As Season watched, he considered that maybe wolves were just plain mean, just as they say in storybooks, and there was no reasoning with them.
But Season tried reasoning with him. He barked at Alpha, trying unsuccessfully to communicate with him. He didn't know why the wolf couldn't understand him since they were both dogs—of a sort, at least. But it seemed to Season that even if the wolf could understand him, Alpha would have none of it anyway, responding with nothing but bared teeth, growls, and snarls. He could tell they were not kindred spirits.
A confused owl swooped down to peer at Season while a family of squirrels kept watch on a higher limb, chattering nervously to each other. A different group of squirrels from another tree began watching and chattering. And then another group joined in the conversation from somewhere else in the woods. It seemed to Season that they were passing the word around.
He was getting weary and sore, clinging to the branch, and he wondered how much longer he could hold his position. When he had first entered the forest, the branches of the trees seemed to grab and scratch at him, seemingly in an attempt to ensnare him. But then, this lone tree had appeared out of nowhere, and it was holding him safe from harm, almost protecting him. He decided not to question it.
Either way, Season knew he could not spend forever in this tree, because by now his muscles were aching from holding on to the branch and he was too hungry and thirsty to tolerate another moment of waiting. He needed to continue on in his quest to save Melissa, before time ran out, and the wolves were not helping. Not in the least.
Just the thought of Melissa made Season's heart ache. He considered her as belonging to him, although she was actually his masters' little daughter, and it was with her that he spent most of his time. He knew he had to envision a plan of escape from those blasted wolves, but his thoughts kept wandering back to her and his fateful decision to leave his safe and warm home to find a way to save her life. Now he wondered if that had been the biggest mistake he'd ever made.
It felt like a lifetime ago that his masters had rushed a very sick and dying Melissa to the hospital, leaving him in solitude to worry if he would ever see her again. He felt betrayed because he didn't understand why they had not taken him along. They almost always took him, and after all, he was just as worried as they were. Didn't they know that a dog can sense when something is wrong?
He remembered the first time they'd met. His masters had wrapped him in a bright, shiny red bow and dropped him into Melissa's arms on the previous Christmas Eve. She had squealed with delight, covering him with kisses. She had named him Season, claiming the joy of the holiday season would last through all the seasons of the year if only he had that name.
He was a bright-eyed golden dog of mixed breed. No one really knew what kind, but they would say that he was part golden retriever, even though his ears were all wrong and he was not nearly as big. He was light golden and as fluffy and soft as a fox. His golden-brown eyes were highlighted in what looked like black eyeliner; he had a soft black nose and big, fuzzy ears that shot straight up. Melissa's hair and eyes were the same color as his, which is why his masters chose him for her. Everyone said they were a matched set and marveled at how her hair shined and his coat glittered in the same color as they sat together in the noonday sun.
But that sun disappeared rapidly when a canopy of darkness began covering the skies, forbidding light to shine through it. The days had become nearly as dark as night and wrapped in a shroud of the bleakest gray. The land became covered in ash as if the sun had burned itself up, dropping the remnants upon the earth. The land seemed to wither and die, as a strange, dark winter cold settled upon it. And then ...
Season's attention was suddenly yanked back to the present as he nearly lost his grip on the branch and fell off. He had to concentrate and not let his mind wander.
Alpha noticed and slammed into the tree, shaking it mightily as he jumped and leaped at him, but Season held on tight. The branch was not that high, but it was just out of reach of the wolves. Alpha had unsuccessfully tried to climb the tree himself, mimicking Season in his attempts. He took the same long running jump that he saw Season take, but he was so big and heavy, he kept falling to the ground with a thud. Finally, the alpha paced back and forth, seething in anger, biting at any who made the mistake of getting too close. His pack whined.
Season wondered if he would eventually get too big to climb trees too, but at this moment, he was just happy it had worked. As he held on to his branch, he again tried to find out what the wolves wanted. He barked, he whined, and he even had the nerve to growl at the giant wolves, but they refused to respond, except to snarl and snap back at him. Finally, Alpha stopped pacing. He stared hatefully at Season as a rumbling began deep in his throat. Suddenly, words began to form, but they were foreign to Season. He did not understand the language of the wolf at all. He could communicate with other dogs because there was a kinship between them. He also understood cats and birds for the most part since they were familiar to him. But he was unable to comprehend much of what Alpha said.
Then, Alpha's throaty voice began to change in some odd way, as though he were no longer speaking in his native wolf language. Season heard one thing that completely baffled him. Alpha growled out what sounded like "A king is born to privilege." It sounded like the kind of words a human would use. Season had heard the words somewhere before, but couldn't remember where or when. He had no idea what it could mean either. He wasn't even sure he had heard the wolf correctly. He saw Alpha watching him with glaring eyes as though demanding a response. "A king is born to privilege," Alpha repeated.
Season didn't know how to respond and had just opened his mouth to ask the wolf what he meant by it when a loud boom exploded around them. Less than a moment later, the earth began to quake so brutally that the wolves fell and rolled over one another. Season's tree began swaying violently, swinging him back and forth, until the branch he was sitting on cracked and then broke and dropped into the crowd of wolves below.
Season landed hard on the rocky soil beneath him, barely missing Alpha. He rolled off the branch, scraping his nose and mouth on a sharp bed of stones, causing his own blood to flow. When the shaking ended, he rose to his feet unsteadily. Some of the wolves were caught under the branch as it bounced and rolled, and scrambled to get out from underneath it. Season snorted and shook the blood from his head just as the earth lurched again, causing the pack wolves to tumble into him. His blood splattered all over them, and when they finally righted themselves, they seemed to think the blood was their own. They began whimpering and limping around as though they were gravely injured.
Season looked around for Alpha and found that he had backed quite a distance away from him. Unexpectedly, Season saw fear in his eyes as he seemed to be trying to get as much space between them as he possibly could. He wondered if the wolf thought he had just beat up his pack, but he hadn't purposely touched them at all. Maybe the Alpha thought he was the cause of the earthquake. Quickly, Season pulled himself erect and filled his lungs with as much air as possible. His fur stood on end, and he tried to make his body look as big and fierce as possible. At least he would pretend to be fierce if it would make the wolves go away.
It was not lost on Season that Alpha assessed the look of his bloody pack hobbling around and realized they were going to be useless for a while. Alpha took one last look at Season and turned and ran, but he failed to look where he was going and in his haste plunged headfirst into a large patch of briar bushes. To make matters worse, the rest of the pack unwittingly followed him into it, slamming him farther into the thorny shrubbery.
Season couldn't take his eyes off the scene as they all began thrashing around, causing the thorns to bite into them. Alpha rolled and kicked them out of the way until he finally broke free of the bushes, escaping with a bunch of thorn branches that had attached themselves firmly to the top of his head and encircled it like a wreath. Howling his indignation, he ran off while the others hastily followed, yelping and crying as some of the brush was torn from its roots and clung to their bristled gray fur.
Season stood frozen at the spot as he watched them disappear, stunned by the strange turn of events. He felt an eerie calm after all the commotion and wasn't sure what to do next. Getting ahold of himself, he spun around and took off, running through the trees in the opposite direction, just in case Alpha decided to regroup and come after him again.
Season ran through the forest trees as though they weren't even there. The way became steeper, but he didn't slow down and kept running higher and higher up the sloping landscape until he became aware that his right front leg was hurting. With each loping step he took, he could feel a throbbing ache. He dared not stop, but after running for many miles, he could stand the pain no longer and plopped down to rest his leg and catch his breath. He lifted his nose to sniff the air and confirmed he was not being followed. On the plus side, he thought, he learned something new and could now identify the scent of wolves.
Season licked his hurting leg, but it was of no help at all because his mouth was dry from thirst. At least he wasn't bleeding anymore and the cuts were not all that bad, but his fur was stained from his own blood, and he didn't look as clean and pristine as he had before he left his home. He felt a bit discouraged because, so far, his journey had not started out well at all. He looked around and noticed he was at the edge of an open clearing, but with a very good view over the trees at the farthest edge.
He could see a mountain in the distance glowing red with fire, spewing black ash and billowing smoke. He wondered if that was what had caused the explosion and the quake that followed. As he watched the smoke pouring out, he also wondered if all the ash falling was coming from it. Seemingly close, but straight ahead, was another mountain that looked warm and inviting, with a glow that reminded him of his wonderful fireplace at home and how, when lit, it gave him comfort and warmth. Around the edges of the glow, he could see little white lights dancing around and twinkling about like glittering stars or maybe even fireflies.
He felt the cold begin to overtake him and shivered. While he was running, he couldn't feel it, but at rest the cold crept under his fur, and the higher he climbed, the colder it became. He wanted to be safe and warm again, and if he could not be home sleeping by his own fireplace, he might as well go up to the mountain with the glow and check it out. Then again, he thought, it could very well be a campfire, and that would mean food and possibly help. Maybe he could find out what those little lights were while he was at it.
Season was tired though. He needed to rest his leg for a bit and wanted to close his burning eyes for a moment before continuing, but his thirst became so overwhelming, he was compelled to get up and leave the clearing. He wandered through the trees with his eyes fixed on that mountain with the red glow. He found himself favoring the leg while limping along on the other three.
As he pushed onward, he became lost in thought about the statement Alpha had made. He had said, "A king is born to privilege." The words sounded familiar, but they were hidden in his memory somewhere, and he didn't know who that king could be. Was it Alpha? Was he king of the forest? If so, Season thought, he was going to be in a world of trouble.
Now that the incident was over, he began thinking about how hilarious the wolves had looked when they ran off with those thorns trailing behind them. He smiled, panting with delight and if he could have, he would have laughed out loud like his master ... like a human. That thought gave him sudden insight. Season definitely had heard those words before; they were the words that a human would speak, not an animal.
Not only that, but they were his own master's words. He knew it for sure now. The master had taught him lots of words and sentences, and so had Melissa. Season knew his commands, of course, and he knew the names of many items, but he also listened very carefully when Melissa read stories aloud or recited poems. At night, Father would make up new stories for her, and every night Melissa would beg him for one. His master would laugh as Season settled nearby with his ears at rapt attention, trying hard to listen.
Melissa had begged her father to write the stories down in a book so they could be shared with others. He said he might just do that, but he never had done so. He loved to write poetry, and that he kept mostly to himself. When Melissa asked him why, he told her that his poems were personal. He said they were between him and the "king of the universe" and no one else needed to read them. Melissa felt she needed to, though.
One day he forgot to put his journal of poems away, and Melissa happened upon the binder. Season watched while she eagerly turned the pages and then stopped at one where he had written in the margin of the page, "This is my favorite." She told him it was titled "The King" and read the poem out loud to him. Later, she spied her father putting the journal in its proper place. After that day, she would sneak out the binder whenever possible and read that poem. Season listened to every word, day after day, as she memorized it out loud, reciting it over and over until she knew it by heart—until he knew it by heart as well. Now he couldn't remember a word of it, and it haunted him.
He kept repeating the words a king is born to privilege as he climbed higher and higher up the slope on his three legs. He came to yet another clearing among the trees and threw himself down on the soft pine needles to rest, keeping his eyes on that glowing mountain. It didn't seem any closer to him at all. He licked his leg, or tried to, as he again wondered where he could find fresh, clean water. As thirsty as he was, he was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open. He lay his head down and closed them for just a moment, hoping it would at least help ease the stinging of his smoke-irritated eyes.
Excerpted from Season's Christmas Quest by Tara Pollard Copyright © 2012 by Tara Pollard. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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