The Adventures of a Boy Called WolfChapter
1 - A Boy's Story
Caleb awoke to a wet tongue licking his face. He jerked his eyes open to stare into the gray eyes of a wolf. The wolf let out a low growl and backed up to bare its teeth.
The boy threw off the dew wet blanket as he shook and popped to his feet. He turned and started off at a tear to escape from the big animal. A glance over his shoulder had the wolf looping behind him, Caleb pushed on, his heart pounded, and his lungs scream for air, but the beast's paws kept beating the earth behind him.
At the end of his breath, he emerged from an opening in the trees. The wolf snarled and he looked one more time to see the animal leap. He felt its paws strike his back and he slammed to the ground pressed by the full weight of the large animal. He tried moving, but the wolf howled. He reached out to find, nothing: no sticks, no rocks, and no ground. He lay at the edge of a cliff. Feeling the weight on his back let up, he stole a glance back at the animal, but it vanished.
Caleb opened his eyes to stare at the glowing orb of the sun rising between the trees, sweating, even in the cold dawn.
Dragging himself to his feet, he thought about his situation; at twelve he wore a dirty sweater, his hair lay uncombed, and his fingernails were grubby. It had been days since he had slept in a bed, and he felt miserable.
Rolling up the dew wet blanket, his sole possession, Caleb tied it with a string and marched up the slope to the highway where he jumped the ditch at the edge of the road, but his foot slipped on wet leaves and his shot back into the black mud at the bottom. He avoided falling by grabbing onto a root. As he pulled his foot out of the muck, his shoe, held by the suction, came off. Cursing, he plunged his hand down through the slime to find the muck filled shoe and worked it loose.
Scrambling up the bank, he picked up a stick, and scraped the rotten paste off of the once white shoe. He scooped it out from the inside with his fingers. Finished, he slid the shoe back on his foot and stood up to look at the road.
With no cars in sight he started to walk on the shoulder of the road. He just wanted to dry out. Hearing a noise in the woods; he glanced to see a small deer bound out of the trees and across the road in sheer panic. It passed right in front of him and in two hops sprang over the ditch and disappeared into the woods again.
The source of the deer's panic appeared when a huge dog charged out of the woods and crossed the road. It skidded to a stop and stared at Caleb, sniffing the air. The boy now faced the big wolf of his dream. The wolf snarled a warning at him, and then bounded over the ditch after the deer.
Shivering, Caleb started to walk again and it didn't take long before a rusty pickup truck slowed down and stopped across the road from him. The stocky driver with a bulbous nose and well muscled arms asked, "Where are you going kid?"
"West," mumbled the boy.
"Come on, get in. It's a long ways to anywhere around here."
Caleb, now beyond hungry, walked across the road to get a better look at the man. He looked to be a farmer, safe enough. He walked around the truck, opened the passenger door, and climbed in. The more he looked around the truck, the nastier it looked, moldy half eaten sandwiches rested on top of the dash and crumpled papers littered the floor and seat. His eyes came to rest on a big pistol on the seat, half buried under the paper.
The man seeing the boy's stare said, "Pick it up if you dare."
The boy shook his head.
The short man with a big grin said, "You ain't afraid of a little gun, are you?"
Caleb's chest tightened. "No." Afraid not to, he picked up the weapon with his fingertips. It could have weighed a ton.
"You want to try it? Just point it out the window and pull the trigger. It's easy."
The boy blurted out, "No."
The man shrugged his shoulders, "Suit yourself; it's fun."
Caleb dropped the gun to the seat.
They rode in silence until they neared the town of Summit Point. The man asked, "You hungry, boy?"
Startled, Caleb replied, "No," although he hadn't eaten in two days. When they arrived at the center of the town, he announced, "I have to use the bathroom."
The pickup stopped in front of a grocery store and the little man pointed, "They have one in the back of the store, and on the way out pick up some food. I'll wait here for you."
"I don't have any money."
The man smiled, "I don't either. Just grab something and run out. You aren't afraid of that are you?"
Caleb's face turned red. Sure that the man would be waiting to take it out on him if he didn't come out with food, he said, "No, I'm not afraid."
The man grinned, "Good, I know we'll cross paths again."
Caleb ran out of the grocery store and would have made it down the street, but a strong hand grabbed his arm causing him to whip around and he lost the food to the street. He jerked and struggled, but the uniformed man held tight. Defeated, he gave it up and glared at the man who wore a sheriff's badge
The man in the pickup truck had disappeared.
Caught, he lost his brave show of anger and went limp. He wanted to sink into the earth; what he imagined dying would be like. The deputy dragged him walking to his office down the street and put him in a locked room in the back of the building for an endless few minutes, and then brought him back to the front office to a chair next to his desk. The Sheriff interrogated the boy, but Caleb played it tough, fixing his eyes on the wall clock behind the deputy. He heard the deputy's words, but he didn't let them sink in.
The deputy went easy on the boy and stopped his questions. "You know that if I don't return you to your home, I will have to call the State Juvenile Authorities."
The boy crossed his arms and kept quiet.
"The store owner is furious. He wants to slam you into jail, after giving you a hard spanking."
"Better that than being in a foster home," snapped the boy.
"So you do talk. Hi, my name is Ben, Ben Johnson." The deputy smiled and extended his right hand to shake, but Caleb kept his arms crossed. Without much conviction in his voice he asked, "Everybody hates me, do you hate me too?"
"No. I think you're a nice kid who's had it real bad. So why did you run away?"
The boy looked down, "They were going to beat me up."
He grimaced and said, "I try to fight them, but they always gang up on me, and I'm the one who gets in trouble."
"What about your foster parents, don't they help you?
The boy shrugged his shoulders, "No. they didn't believe me. They wouldn't do anything about it."
The deputy leaned in and asked, "Did they punish you?"
"No they just ignore me when I complain about it. They said I made it up."
The deputy clasped his hands together and asked, "So where did you hide?"
The boy's eyes opened in surprise, "In the library, but how did you know?"
"I knew another boy with the same problems," the deputy paused, "but he overcame them."
The boy stared at the man a long minute before it hit him, "It was you, wasn't it?"
"Yes." The deputy smiled again, "I grew up an orphan."
The boy's face hardened. "How do I know you aren't lying?"
"I don't have a reason to lie, and I think you would rather go to jail than lie."
"I never get away with it. It just makes things worse." The boy looked down and spit out, "Jail's better than being beat up."
The deputy said, "Fighting is never good. Getting beat up is never good. Running is never good. Sometimes you don't have a choice. You can't let people keep beating on you."
"How do I stop it?" said the boy, pleading.
"I can't give you a good answer to that." The deputy thought for a minute, then looked the boy directly in the eye. "I feel the answer you need, may come sooner than you think. The only thing I know to tell you is; you have to learn to defend yourself."
The boy accused the Deputy, "I bet you called the Juvenile guys, didn't you?"
"I had to. They are going to send a car for you.
Caleb started to twitch and, he blurted out, "I can't go there. I'll die! I'm too small. There are gangs there. They beat up kids like me. Just let me go. I'll leave. You'll never see me again."
"I can't do that," said the deputy.
The front door opened and a tall broad shouldered man with a large hunting knife tucked in his belt entered. He wore a dark green jacket and trousers with knee high soft leather boots. The man's flint grey eyes spooked him. They were hard set in his weathered face. He looked ready for a fight.
The deputy smiled at the man and said to the boy, "However, I'll give you another choice, if you will take it."
"What is that?" the boy asked.
The deputy pointed at the man, "Go with the Raven. If you leave with him, the juvenile authorities can't touch you, at least not for a while."
Caleb looked at the big man and cringed. "Who are you?"
The deputy answered, "He's called The Raven. He's a friend of mine and he's just now leaving town. I guarantee you'll do better with him than with the state."
The man spoke in a gentle voice, "Well, Ben seems to think that I will take you on. H'm, let's see, I can promise you that you won't be locked up, you won't go hungry, and you won't be beaten or abused. There will be some hard work involved, but it won't be anything you can't handle. If you don't like it, I'll bring you back here."
"Why should I go with you?" the boy asked. "You're just going to cut me up with that knife. How do I know you will bring me back here? Besides, what kind of name is Raven? It sounds like a girl's name."
"It's just what I'm called. I can promise you the adventure of a lifetime. You will get a chance to do things you never imagined you could do. You'll learn to ride horses for a start. What you can and will do is up to you. It's much better than your other choice."
Caleb looked at his feet and thought about it for a long minute. He wanted to believe the man. He also wanted to ask him what he meant. The hard work part scared him, but the adventure part drew him in. He had always dreamed of escaping to a different world. Ever since he had discovered adventure books in the library; he wanted a different life, to explore the world, like the people he had read about, to see jungles and castles. He looked up at the big man and then at the deputy, "Why are you doing this?"
The deputy smiled. "You remind me of myself when I was young. I don't want you to go to Juvenile Hall. You can do better if you have a chance. If you continue the way you're headed, you will have a bleak life. Living on the street or in Juvenile Hall is an invitation to gang violence. The Raven helped me once. I bet he will help you. He didn't tell you, but the hard part is, he will make you keep up with your school work."
"Do I have a choice?"
"Yes, of course you have a choice. The Raven is a fair and good man. Do you want Juvenile Hall or the Raven? There is no going back to the streets."
Caleb saw his way out. "OK, I'll go."
"Good," said the deputy. "There isn't much time before the state car gets here." The Raven and the deputy signed several papers.
The big man said, "Let me introduce you to Red." He led the boy outside to meet a girl holding the reins to four horses. Standing a little taller than the boy, she extended a calloused hand to shake with a grip of iron. She dressed similar to the Raven, but also sported a gray hooded cloak, with her curly copper red hair spilling out, brilliant in the morning sun.
Caleb looked up at the first horse, a gray spotted giant, the second horse all black, the third horse was brown with white legs, and the last horse loaded with bundles looked bored.
The girl smiled and said, "Here, let me introduce you to Easy Rider." She passed the leads of three horses to the Raven and led out the brown horse with the white legs, saddled and loaded with large bags on each side. "You'll ride him. He's a gelding and quite gentle."
"I can't ride a horse," he complained.
Red chuckled, "Well, you could walk, but I wouldn't suggest doing that. We have a long ways to go. Besides it's easy."
He leaned over to Red and whispered into her ear, "How do I get on him?"
She smiled and pointed the boy to the left side of Easy Rider. She showed him how to get onto the horse by first mounting up herself, then dismounting. She made him repeat it in one motion.
Red kept the reins, tied a lead to them and mounted the huge spotted horse. She turned to the boy. "It's easy to sit on the horse. Don't kick or squeeze with your legs. It'll confuse him and he might try to run away with you."
The Deputy said to the Raven, "You had better hurry up; the state car will be here soon. I can't keep them from taking the boy if they show up." His face lit up. "But, before you go I have something for Caleb." He stepped into his office and came right back out with a heavy stiff coat with a Sheriff's badge on it. He removed the badge and handed the coat up to the boy. "You'll need this."
The boy took the coat and thanked the deputy, not wanting to appear ungrateful. He put the coat on, despite it being too large and too warm.
The Raven tied the pack horse's leader to his own black horse's saddle, hopped up, clucked it to a walk, and turned it down a side street. Red followed with Caleb in tow. He found it easy to sit on the horse just like the girl said, by holding on to the saddle horn.
From an alleyway a short stocky man observed the receding caravan, a look of delight in his eyes.
The riders soon reached the edge of town, started up a large grassy hill, entered a line of trees, and ascended through the forest.
The state car never arrived at the Deputies office.
Deputy Johnson received a call on his radio about a robbery in progress at the hardware store on the far side of town with shots fired. Shouldering a shotgun, he raced to the scene in his Jeep.
When they reached the top of the hill, the horsemen entered a large clearing in the woods. "We're going up there," Red said, pointing up at several mountains in the distance.
Caleb wide eyed asked, "How long will it take to get there?"
"About a day and a half, then we go through the pass between those two peaks." She indicated two of the closer mountains. "Then it's one more day."
They followed a western course, up and down hills, and soon descended into a forested valley. The trees they were traveling through were enormous, and spaced well apart from each other. The trail proved easy, with very little undergrowth to slow them down, the ground almost level and soft. The horse's breathing and muffled hoof beats were the only sounds to be heard.
They soon came to a stream and the Raven called a stop to water the horses. They dismounted to let the horses drink their fill of water. Red took packets of dried fruit from her saddlebag and led Caleb up the stream away from the horses. He looked back in the direction of the Raven and asked, "He doesn't talk much, does he?"
Red followed his stare, "No, he doesn't, but pay attention to what he does." She brought up a soft leather water bag and offered him a drink. He took several big gulps before he handed it back to her, and she took a large swallow from the bag.
Caleb furrowed his eyebrows, "Why is he called the Raven?"
Red laughed and said, "He's called the Raven because he's a tracker. He finds people. Ravens are good at finding things. He received his name when he became a knight.
Caleb stared at Red in disbelief. "He's a knight? There are no knights. You're joking, right?"
Red crossed her arms and gave the boy a challenging stare. "He's a knight, you'll see."
He realized he didn't know one important fact. "Where are we going?"
Red's eyes lit up, "Oh, we're going up to the high country, to the valley where we camp during the summer."
"What do you do there?"
"We ride a lot, take care of the horses, learn self defense, and archery.
"I mean what do you do for fun?"
Red laughed, "When the day's work is over I get to ride Mary a lot, There is always something fun to do. Besides, most of the work is easy."
"Yeah, my Percheron, the horse I've been riding."
A tune sounded through the trees and Red pulled a small fife from under her cloak signal back with a similar tune. "He's calling us. It's time to get going." They trotted down to the horses which grazed by the stream.
The Raven retrieved something out of the pack horse's saddlebags, and whispered into Red's ear. She nodded and pulled some clothes out of Easy Rider's saddle bags, giving them to the man. He looked at the boy a long minute and said, "Why don't you come with me? You need to do something."
Caleb looked at Red who nodded and decided it must be important. He walked behind the man as they went downstream.
When they were out of sight of the horses the man stopped to face the boy, "Take off your coat."
"What?" answered Caleb.
"Take off your coat."
The Raven furrowed his eyebrows and repeated with a more stern voice, "Take off that coat or I'll take it off for you."
Caleb's opened his eyes wide, but slipped the coat off and handed it to the man, who tossed it aside. "Now what?"
"Here are some clean clothes; you're going to take a bath"
The boy yelled, "No, no way! I don't know you."
"I'll be back up there, but before we go any further, you're going to wash up, both you and your clothes. You smell like a goat."
"Suit yourself." The Raven took one step, grabbed the boy by his belt, shoulder, lifted him, and walked straight out into the stream until the water came up to his thighs. Caleb struggled, but the Raven held tight and tossed him out into the swift water. He landed with a splash and submerged before popping back up; gasping for breath. The frigid water seized his chest, robbing him of speech, as he fought to regain his feet.
The man reached into his pocket, pulled out a bar of soap, and held it out to the boy. "I'm going back to the horses. Wash everything, even where the sun don't shine. Then wash your clothes and throw them on the bank. When you're clean get dressed in those dry clothes and come back to us. We'll be waiting." He climbed the bank and walked upstream to the horses.
Caleb pulled his sweater off and scrubbed soap into it. Satisfied he rinsed and tossed it onto a rock and set to work on the rest of his clothes. He finished the garments and cleansed himself with frozen fingers. Scrambling out of the stream he struggled to put on Red's shirt, tunic, and trousers. Not till he put on the deputy's coat did he find relief from the pain of the cold. Carrying his wet clothes, he stomped upstream towards the two riders; water squishing out of his white sneakers.