Sunday, May 18, 2014

FISH ON!

This is a short story I wrote quite a few years ago.  If draws freely from personal experience, the cabin once belonged to my Grandfather and the fishing is faithfully described from trips to the Wind River in Washington. The rest is fiction, of course.

Hope you like it.....




Bob waited at the train station, the old battered Dodge pickup truck’s windows were down and Bob’s booted feet hung out the passenger window.  The feet disappeared into the cab and Bob waved when he saw Ben appear in the depot doorway.
  “You still driving this old thing?” Ben complained as he eyed the truck up and down. It’s paint, once dark blue, had faded into a dusty blue-gray. Scabs of rust flaked along the running board and around the wheel wells.
“Don’t let looks fool you,” Bob claimed, “this old truck could make her way through anything short of a very deep lake.”
“It looks to me like she’s already proven that,” Ben laughed.  Pointing at a large dent in the bumper, he added, “What twisted your front bumper, you hit a drunk or something?  And what’s all this junk doing back here?”  The pickup’s bed was littered with spare engine parts and tools. Ben added his bag to the collection and hopped into the cab.
“I hit a deer last month.  I came around Chapman’s Curve one night and a big buck just stood in the middle of the road, staring at me.  I couldn’t stop, and had no way to miss him.  All I saw was brown fur and hooves going over the roof.  He landed in the bed back there.  Lucky I didn’t end up in the ditch.”
Looking at the litter in the bed, Ben teased, “He’s not still back there, is he?  It’s hard to tell with all that junk piled up.”
“Naw, I just lowered the tailgate and slid him into a ditch.  And that stuff you call ‘junk’ is needed in case we break down.  This truck ain’t getting any younger, and spares are hard to come by.  I’ve collected enough parts to fix almost anything that can go wrong.  And if you have any ideas where I can get a new truck for free, you just let me know.”  Eying the size of Ben’s suitcase, he added, “That’s a lot of luggage for a fishing weekend, cuz.”
 “I’ve got business in Portland, and it gave me the chance to swing by here and spend a few days with you before I get into it,” Ben replied.
“All you need where we’re going is a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans.  That, and a couple cans of beans will set you up for the whole summer.”
The cousins spent the drive to the cabin catching up on family events.  Ben drank in the forest greenery that flashed by his open window.  He’d been coming up here every summer that he could remember, until college and work interfered with his annual visit.  Too many years had passed since he’d been here last, and he was surprised by how much he had missed it.
Finally, the forest leaves parted to reveal the cabin.  Ben saw that few improvements had been made over the years. The cabin was situated in the center of an overgrown grassy clearing.  Green painted split logs ran horizontally over a rough wood frame to form the outside walls gave it a rustic look, but it was sturdy enough.  Grey asphalt shingles capped the roof, and three wooden steps led up to a porch where a rusty screen hung in a vain attempt to keep out the mosquitoes.  Inside the front door, a rough kitchen table and four chairs served as the eating and sitting area, while a cast iron wood burning stove provided heat and a cooking surface.  A sink with a hand operated water pump completed the kitchen furnishings.  Two small bedrooms were each equipped with a pair of hand built bunk beds.  Old green wool blankets hung in the doorway to provide a modicum of privacy.  Toilet facilities, such as they were, were located out back, forty or more paces from the cabin.
Bob fired up the stove and before long the aroma of beef sizzling in bacon fat filled the cabin.  A quick stew was assembled in the cast iron frying pan and the cousins ate their fill.
“Say, this isn’t what’s left of that deer you hit, is it?” Ben asked as he forked the last bite of stew into his mouth.
Stretching back in the kitchen chair, Bob replied, “Naw, you can’t eat a deer that’s been hit like that, everyone knows that. Their insides get all split open and it spoils the meat.”
“That’s why I asked,” Ben teased.
“Then you should’ve asked before you started eating, not after.”

Ben tried to settle in to sleep, but found the deep quiet of their remote location too great a contrast from the raucous noises of his city apartment.  Eventually, he tuned into the chirping of the crickets and the murmur of the river that ran a couple of hundred yards away.  He finally fell into a deep sleep where he dreamed of large fish sitting at a long mahogany table while they talked over sales strategies.
He awoke at dawn to the cackle of starlings that nested beneath the eaves.  He staggered sleepily to the kitchen and splashed water from the pump onto his face.  The ice cold water cleared the sleep from his head and invigorated him far better than the coffee Bob had brewed in a dented enameled pot.
“These better be starling eggs,” he commented to Bob.  “Those damn birds woke me up before it was even light out.  I want revenge.” 
“Naw, they’re plain old chicken eggs.”  Bob heaped fried ham and potatoes on their plates, and the cousins washed down the country breakfast with scalding hot coffee.  Fortified by the food, they were ready for the day.
The old truck lurched into gear, and they were on their way to the landing where Bob kept an old rowboat chained to a tree.  An early morning fog curled in the meadows that flanked the sandy track that served as a road.  A small herd of deer raised their heads from their grazing at the edge of the meadow to watch unafraid as the truck bounced down the rutted path.  Daisies and buttercups filled every sunlit space with their blossoms.
The sun was rising as they loaded the boat, and its warmth was welcome in the morning chill.  As Ben pushed off, Bob lowered the outboard motor and yanked on the starter rope.  The old Evinrude was well maintained, and coughed into life on the second pull.  Bob expertly guided the boat into the current and pointed the nose upstream.  The water ran clean and clear, and its swift flow provided little hindrance as they motored their way upstream.  As Bob piloted, Ben started rigging the fishing gear. 
At the end of each line, Ben attached a swivel with two eyes.  To one eye, he tied a strong six foot leader already rigged with two small hooks.  To the other eye, he tied a four foot weaker line rigged with a heavy weight.  The weight would drop to the bottom and allow the current to draw the bait out and away from the boat, and the length of the leader would keep the bait suspended above the streambed.  If the weight got caught on the bottom, it would easily break the weaker line and allow the baited hook to drift free.
As the boat puttered upstream, Ben rigged four rods.  They could only fish one rod each, but it was always better to have a ready spare in case one got fouled on the bottom.  This would invariably happen at the time the fish were “on the bite”, so the spare was essential.  Duties completed, Ben had time to admire the view.  Bob had brought the boat into a large pool, where a steep cliff formed a western wall.  This wall would shade the deep waters from the heat of the afternoon sun.  Prime spot,” Ben thought to himself but Bob kept them going upstream.
At the pool’s head, the river tumbled over a rocky shelf, forming a miniature waterfall.  The current was split in two by a large rock in the center of the shelf.  A great volume of water streamed down the twin cascades, and the fast flow ensured any salmon migrating up the river would stop to rest in the pool’s calm waters before tackling the rapids.  From the head of the pool, the main channel crossed at a diagonal from the eastern shore to the western bank, which ran sharply down to the water’s edge.  The western shore was guarded by a steep granite cliff, nearly a hundred feet tall.  Its flanks were thickly clad in cedar and fir trees, which scented the cool morning air.  The eastern shore was flat and was scarcely higher than river level; its floor was cobbled with stones washed by the river into the plain and ground smooth as they tumbled into place.  Centuries of spring floods kept any large trees from growing there, but wildflowers and small alders grew in abundance, along with scrub willow and poplar.  Scottish broom bloomed with fierce yellow flowers, and purple iris drew the attention of butterflies.  Huge dragonflies hovered in the morning sun, darting here and there in search of invisible prey.
Ben sighed contentedly and absorbed the amazing scenery.  He’d spent too much time in cities and offices, and hadn’t realized how much he missed the outdoors until this very moment.  The trip was therapy for his soul; any fish caught would be a bonus.
Bob maneuvered the boat to the very head of the channel.  Further upstream they couldn’t go, for the cascade and the steep rock shelf guarded against any further incursion into the wildness beyond.  Bob dropped anchor and let out enough line to keep them in place near the head of the channel.  A battered plastic bleach bottle served to keep the anchor line afloat.  While the boat’s nose pointed upstream, the stern gently swayed back and forth in the swift clear current.  Bob secured the anchor line to a cleat at the boats’ bow.  Once he was certain the line would hold, Bob stopped the motor and tipped the propeller up.  “We’ll fish here awhile,” he quietly announced.
Ben opened the insulated box where the bait was kept.  Sand shrimp or fresh salmon roe make the best salmon bait, and Bob had brought shrimp this trip.  If they caught a hen they would have roe to try later.  Bob and Ben each selected a shrimp and threaded the carapace through the top hook.  A segment of the tail went through the second hook.  Once in the water, this would present the shrimp head up, much like it would look naturally.  Never mind that shrimp don’t live in fresh water,” Ben thought.  Salmon were accustomed to growing fat on shrimp, and seeing one here in the river would trigger a reaction conditioned by three or four years of making their living in the open sea.
Bob anointed the shrimp with the foulest smelling concoction Ben had ever encountered.  “Stop complaining,” Bob growled, “This stuff is irresistible to fish.”  The lines were tossed a few yards downstream, and slack was given to let the weight drop to the bottom.  Bob had chosen the right side, which was nearest the thickly wooded western shore.  Ben was off the left.  The rods were placed in the oarlocks, and the slack was retrieved.  “The rest is up to the fish,” Bob said.
Ben leaned back, stretched out his legs, and contemplated the cloudless sky until the corner of his eye caught a small movement.  A mink noiselessly made his way down the western bank, darting among the gray granite boulders and along the trunk of a downed cedar, searching for a small fish to serve as his breakfast.  A few yards downstream, an osprey perched in the topmost branch of a tall fir.  A blue heron flew lazily upstream, and thought the shallows along the eastern shore would be a perfect place to hunt for minnows.  As he landed, the osprey swooped down from the fir and brushed past the heron, who quickly decided there probably were better fishing grounds elsewhere.  The heron took to the air and continued on upstream.  Satisfied the interloper would not return, the osprey regained his throne in the top of the fir.
Just then Ben’s rod bent double as a salmon decided to snack on the shrimp.  He waited a few seconds to make sure the fish had taken the bait, then picked up the rod and gave a strong pull to set the hook.  The salmon responded with an even stronger pull, and headed back down river.  “Fish on!” Ben yelled, and Bob scrambled to the bow and loosed the anchor line from the cleat, and allowed the boat to drift free.
Ben reeled against the pull of the fish, and at first made no progress.  The drag screamed and line continued to run off the spool.  But the boat was now floating downriver along with the fish, and Ben was able to retrieve some line.  The salmon was fresh come from the sea, and used his strength in a desperate pull to break free.  For five minutes they battled, and the water’s flow along with the pull of the fish had carried the boat into the large pool where the current settled down.  Ben continued to pump the rod and retrieve what line he could, until the fish finally tired.  As the salmon drew near the boat, they could see his silver sides flashing in the clear water.  Ben brought the fish alongside the boat, and Bob positioned the net.  The fish caught sight of the net and startled, and swam off for another run.  Once more the drag screamed in protest, but Ben was slowly able to bring him back alongside the boat.  The fish was too tired for a third run, and Bob deftly netted the first catch of the day and brought a beautiful chrome bright twenty-five pound king salmon on board.
“That’s a keeper,” Bob proclaimed as he lowered the salmon into the fish box.  He pulled the motor’s starter rope and the engine roared as Bob piloted them back upstream.  Ben renewed his line with fresh leader and hooks along the way, then went up to the bow.  As Bob brought them to where the bleach bottle floated, Ben retrieved the anchor line and secured it to its cleat.
It was as perfect as any day could ever be.  The cousins talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of women along with anything else that came to mind. 
As evening fell, they made their way back to the boat landing with four fish in the box.  Ben had caught three, and knew that Bob had given him the preferred location.  As they hauled the boat out of the water, Ben looked up at the deepening sky and breathed a prayer of thanks to God in His heaven for allowing such places as this to still exist upon the earth.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Mouths of Babes

A true story just in time for Mother's Day.....


A---, a five year old girl, was in the bathroom while her mother was getting into the shower.

"Mommy, it looks like someone let the air out of your bottom," she said.

A little puzzled, her mother asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Because it is droopy and sags a little, like a balloon with some air out of it."

The moral of the story is to never ask a child why they say something unless you are ready for the truth.



And for Mother's Day, Conclave: A Journal of Character has offered all back issues available free on Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle, no problem, there are free Kindle apps for nearly every platform.

Simply go to Amazon.com and search for Conclave A Journal of Character in Kindle format for your free downloads - available this weekend only.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Alex



December 24, 1999 – that was the day we picked up the smallest, cutest, smartest little white fluffy dog that ever was. That Christmas, all our daughter wanted was a small, white fluffy, dog. We tried to talk her out of it.  “A dog is a huge responsibility,” we told her, but she would not budge. A small, white, fluffy dog.

A little north of Tampa, my wife spotted a kennel where they bred Bichon Frises.  Bichons are small, white, fluffy dogs and they had one left of a litter born in October.  The last one was spoken for, but the deal had not been sealed and there was a chance we could still get him.

He was a handsome pup, friendly and intelligent.  He could have been a show dog except for a glaring defect – Bichon tails are supposed to arc upward and forward, then drape over their left side in a graceful spray of fluffy long fur.  This one had a spiral tail, and was not suitable for a show dog. No matter, we weren’t interested in a show dog. We wanted a pet for our daughter.

But the man who had placed a hold on the puppy was interested in a show dog, and the tail was a deal breaker.  We had ourselves a puppy.

We brought him home in a pet carrier, lined with a fake sheepskin blanket to help him stay warm.  He was nearly invisible in there, but his coal black eyes and nose were like three holes burned in the white blanket.

At home, we debated how to present the puppy.  Wrapping the carrier was out of the question, and the dog made too much noise to try to keep him a secret.  So early the afternoon of December 24, we placed the carrier beside the Christmas tree and went to get our daughter.

She spied the carrier and ran to open the cage door.  Peering inside, she yelled, “What kind of trick is this, there is no puppy in there.” Invisible against the white of the blanket, the puppy was huddled in the back of the carrier.

“Reach in the back,” I answered, and she did.  When she withdrew her hand, it contained the small, white fluffy puppy she wanted.  There was no need for thanks, the joy on her face said it all.

Over the next few days, we got to know this little addition to our family.  It took us a while to name him, nothing seemed to quite fit.  His intelligent eyes, warm and loving demeanor, the way he held himself deflected every name we tried on him.  Finally one stuck – Alex.  We named him for Alexander the Great and it suited him.

I mentioned his intelligence, this trait got him into trouble more than once.  When he was still young, I shared a snack of cheese and crackers with him.  He ate the cheese and left the cracker on the floor and walked away. “Where do you think you’re going, Alex? Get back here and clean up the mess you left behind.” He looked over his shoulder and came back to finish eating the cracker he’d left behind.

Alex had a favorite toy, a golden colored stuffed bear we dubbed Honey Bear. He loved playing “Hide and Seek” with Honey Bear.  We would send Alex into the hallway while we would hide the bear, sometimes in an obvious place, sometime in a hard to find place.  Alex would come out and search for it until he found his toy.

One evening, Alex crossed the family room with Honey Bear in his mouth.  I could tell from his gait something was going on.  He got halfway across the family room before disaster struck. The bear fell from his mouth, and hidden behind the bear was a bottle of perfume he had stolen from our daughter’s purse.  He loved the scent, and was going to keep it for himself.

I could tell the tale of how he unzipped a visitor’s backpack and stole a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, but the best story of all happened another Christmas.  My wife received a lot of small presents from the students at school. They were all wrapped, of course, and she placed the presents under the tree and planned to open them on Christmas day.

I came home from work, and she asked, “Have you been getting into chocolates and leaving the wrappers behind the chair in the bedroom?” 

“No,” I replied, “what are you talking about?” She showed me the brown cups piled behind the bedroom chair. “I have no idea how these got here.” I picked up the wrappers and tossed them into the trash.

Christmas day came, and presents were unwrapped.  Picking up a package, she said, “Look at this.”  It was a box of chocolates with a hole gnawed into the bottom of the package.  Alex had helped himself to the contents, and was smart enough to chew through the bottom of the box, pull out a chocolate, and flip the box back over to hide his crime.

No, he wasn’t the best dog ever, but he entertained us, loved us, and welcomed us home with his corkscrew tail wagging and his whole body wriggling a hearty greeting.

He died today, at the ripe old age of fourteen years and six months.  We will miss you, Alex.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Milestone

As of today, this blog has received its 4000th visitor.  Thank you to each and every one of you who have taken time to read the entries here.  It is gratifying to find there are so many people around the world who find there are entries here that catch your interest.

Thank you again, and please don't be shy. I'd love to read your comments.


Friday, February 21, 2014

LAND OF FIRE

This is the opening segment of my first novel, a WWII novel of intrigue and suspense that crosses three continents.  Inspired by true events, the story follows a stash of plundered Nazi treasure.  The novel was a quarter-finalist in a contest that Amazon ran, and also won the Florida Writers' Association Royal Palm Literary Award.

Let me know via email if you would like to see this story make it to print.

All the best,

G. Thomas Gill

LAND OF FIRE
Chapter 1



Jose Guzman peered through the darkness as he piloted the battered old fishing boat upriver.  “Keep a sharp watch, boys,” he called.  “The channel along here is as twisted as the penis of a pig.  Remember, there will be no money for any of us if we don’t get a full load of shrimp.”
“Yes, Papa.”  Tomas rubbed his sleepy eyes nudged his cousin Miguel, “Wake up,” he whispered, “or Papa will use you for bait.”
Miguel jerked, “I’m awake,” he complained, “stop poking me.”   
“How long before we get home, papa?” Tomas asked, holding his nose against the pungent smell of the salt marsh.  “It stinks here.”
“Get used to it son, it’s the smell of money.”
Jose rigged a lamp to the end of a pole and hung it over the bow.  All through the night they dipped their nets into the pool of light, and filled their tubs to overflowing.  Shrimp weren’t the only things that gravitated to the light.  As they drifted through the Rio Plata marshes, droves of insects swarmed toward the glowing lamp, causing the fishermen to curse the buzzing hordes that flew into their ears and mouths.  A large school of pejerreye, feeding on the smaller crustaceans that swam into the light had accompanied the shrimp into their nets.  The shrimp ran large and would fetch a good price on the docks of Buenos Aires.  And the pejerreye were prized for their delicate flavor; the sale of these silver fish would provide a welcome bonus.  The night’s work would keep the family fed for two weeks at least.
Homeward bound, a a mild chop disturbed the river’s surface, and it was a good thing for the fishermen.  The weight of the catch caused the small boat to ride low in the dark water.  Occasionally, a larger wave would wash over the gunwale, causing the boys to grab for the bailing buckets.
Jose listened carefully to the chugging of the Gray Marine engine as it powered them upriver.  The steady firing of the four cylinders assured him they would have no trouble reaching home before breakfast.  The sound of the engine blended with the slapping of waves against the bow to create a monotonous rhythm that made him fight to stay awake.  Jose gazed at the stars as he steered the craft and wondered if the night’s work would net enough profit to allow him to freshen the faded and scabby remains of the paint that now clung reluctantly to the lapstrake hull.  He knew the boat was sound and worthy of investment.  It wouldn’t take much to make the old twenty foot workboat as good as new.  Perhaps there would be some money left over for paint.
 “Papa, something is floating in the water, straight ahead!” Tomas called.  The cry split the night and Jose spun the wheel.  Reluctantly, the laden boat came to starboard.  In the dim pre-dawn light the boys could barely make out a shape in the water.  “Good eyes, Tomas,” yelled Jose.  He didn’t want to risk losing the crew, the boat or the catch as he slowed the engine for a better look.
“Is it a log?” Jose called.  Sometimes, logs would float downriver from deep in the interior.  If it was the right type of wood, like algarroba or ebony, it would be a valuable find.  “Bring it alongside and let’s see what it is.”
Miguel grabbed a gaff and dragged the debris alongside the boat.  He struggled to raise the gaff.  “It’s heavy, Uncle, it must be a log.”  Grunting, he added, “Tomas, give me a hand here.”  Together, the two boys strained to lift the burden.
“You don’t have to bring it on board, just raise it up enough so I can see what type of wood it is.  If it’s worth anything, I’ll tow it behind us.  Hang on, here I come.”
Jose cut the engine and edged forward, lamp in hand.  Miguel and Tomas renewed their grip on the gaff and heaved.  The burden began to rise.  “Just a little more,” Tomas grunted. 
Both boys screamed as a man’s face, white as the belly of a fish, bobbed above the gunwale.  Miguel nearly dropped the gaff as Tomas crossed himself, muttering softly, “Madre de Dios.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Hunt

I would like to share with you a short story that was written several years ago.  Enjoy!

First Hunt

Heads to the ground, noses to the wind, a small band of buffalo cropped the autumn-bronzed prairie grass as they slowly made their way up a gentle slope.  Spotted Calf crawled behind the buffalo, heedless of the rough ground scraping against his bare chest.  Armed with a bow, four arrows, a flint knife hanging from a leather thong around his neck, and all the strength contained in his fourteen year old arms, the young Indian was deep into the hunt.  An antelope skin draped over his back rendered him nearly invisible against the landscape as he crept closer to his prey.

His was a sacred quest, for this was his first hunt alone.  If successful, Spotted Calf would become a man.  Success would bring honor to his people and the warriors would welcome him into their ranks as they sat at council.  Failure meant disgrace, and it would be better to die alone than return home without meat.  His life would mean nothing then.  Men would ignore him and women would make him fetch their water and haul their firewood, cuffing his ears if he tarried along the way.  That was a fate no man could endure.  He could not fail. Death was preferable.

Slowly and silently he stalked the buffalo, patiently working his way close enough to risk a killing shot.  The first shot was crucial; the arrow had to hit a vital organ.  The lungs were good, the heart was better.  A second shot was unlikely.  The arrow’s flight would stampede the herd, and Spotted Calf would have to travel far for the chance to try again.  But if the arrow flew true, the wounded animal would weaken and would not have strength for a long run. 

Spotted Calf brushed aside all thoughts of failure as he focused on the buffalo. Mentally, he located the best spot to loose his bow.  So far, things were going well. The shaggy beasts remained unaware of his presence.  The air was crisp and the dry prairie grass crackled slightly under his belly.  He raised his head and snuffed the air.  A breeze blew steadily from the north, carrying the pleasant smell of freshly cropped grass along with the pungent odor of unwashed buffalo and their fresh droppings.  Another scent rode the wind as well; the first hint of bitter snows that would soon come to cover the prairie.  Now was the time for Spotted Calf and his family to make their way southward to the tree lined valleys.  It would be good to have fresh meat for the journey.

The lead animal was an old bull, made wise and wary by many winters.  He snorted to clear his nostrils and tested the air for any scent of an enemy.  He stopped at the edge of an old wallow.  A roll in the dust would rid his skin of ticks and fleas, and leave behind a layer of dirt that would protect his matted hide from the biting flies that threatened to drive him mad.

Three cows made up his harem and a single yearling calf completed the small herd.  Spotted Calf briefly wondered why the animals hadn’t joined the main band for the yearly migration south.  The migration was so vast that the entire sky filled with dust and the earth trembled from the force of their hooves as they passed by.  Surely there was room in the main herd for a few more animals.

But these five remained, perhaps because the old bull knew he would lose the last of his wives to a younger male if he came anywhere near the main herd.  Spotted Calf decided the Great Spirit allowed them to stay behind, giving him the chance to prove his worth as a hunter.

A boy’s first hunt was far more than going out to get meat for the tribe.  That was important, of course, for the people would not survive without meat.  But to the Lakota, buffalo were sacred animals, given by the Great Spirit to sustain life.  The large, shaggy beasts provided more than food.  Their skins provided clothing and coverings for the lodges; even their sinews were used for stitching and to join the flint points to the arrow’s shaft.  In turn, the Lakota implored the Great Spirit to prosper the buffalo, which were so plentiful it took three full days for the herd to pass in their annual migration.

In the manner of his tribe, Spotted Calf’s father prepared the boy for this day.  To sharpen his senses, he had eaten no meat for two weeks, and had fasted for the last two days.  To purge his body of all human scent, he entered the sacred lodge where a hot fire burned and heated rocks were splashed with water from a tightly woven willow basket.  Steam filled the lodge and sweat ran down his back as the shaman chanted and beat a quiet rhythm on a drum.  Tufts of buffalo grass mingled with sage were loosely knotted and placed into the fire.  The aromatic smoke permeated the steamy lodge, infusing the hut with the distinctive aroma of herbs.  To complete the cleansing, Spotted Calf rubbed the plants over every inch of his body.  When he emerged from the bath, a swim in a nearby stream ensured that very little scent remained to identify him as a Lakota Sioux, Human Being of the plains.

His mother had prepared an antelope skin to cover him on his hunt.  Buffalo had weak eyes; they relied on the strength of their nostrils to alert them to danger.  If by chance they were to spot the boy, the antelope hide would assure them there was nothing to fear.

Spotted Calf carried four arrows which were a gift from his grandfather.  “The heads on these arrows were carved by my father,” Grandfather explained, “and I used them on my first hunt.  The women removed the points from the meat I brought home and saved them for me.  Now it is time to pass them to you.  May the Great Spirit give you the eye of the eagle, the strength of the bear, and the cunning of the wolf.”

And the Great Spirit led him across miles of open prairie to the knoll where the buffalo grazed and grunted.  Soon it would be time to loose his bow.  A cloud of dust rose from the wallow where the old bull rolled and snorted.  Contented, the cows grazed; they would not move without their leader and the bull was not yet finished with his bath.  Spotted Calf took advantage of the opportunity and slowly closed the gap between them.

Now he was ready.  With steady hands he removed the bow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to the string.  Which animal should he take?  The old bull would bring much glory to the hunter, and Spotted Calf could easily sink an arrow into his unprotected abdomen as the bull rolled in the wallow.  He slowly rose to a crouch and aimed his arrow at the old bull’s heart.

But the tribe needed meat, and the old bull would prove to be as tough to eat as the antelope hide that concealed Spotted Calf’s form in the deep grass.  Surely the yearling calf would make a far better feast than the iron hard bull.  Spotted Calf hesitated, choosing between glory and the needs of his people.  The moment of hesitation nearly cost him his life.

A lone gray wolf, lean and spare, leapt from the cover of the deep grass.  With a growl resonating from the pit of a belly long empty, the wolf launched himself at Spotted Calf’s throat.

Just as he loosed his arrow, the corner of the lad’s eye caught movement.  Turning to confront his attacker, he instinctively raised his left arm to defend his throat and felt the wolf’s fangs sink into his forearm.  The enraged wolf clamped down on his arm until tooth met bone, then clenched his jaws in a grip of death.

The flight of the arrow and the sound of the wolf’s first growl stampeded the herd, but Spotted Calf did not notice.  Locked in desperate battle, he punched and kicked and shook the wolf to no avail.  It was nearly too late before he remembered the knife that hung from his neck.

Clutching the wooden hilt, he stabbed at the wolf but the cord that hung around his neck was too short and he could not land a killing blow.  The eyes of the wolf were narrowed into yellow slits that watched for another chance at the boy’s throat.  Spotted Calf strained at the thong that held the knife but it was well made and would not break.  He began to slip the leather loop over his head in an effort to free the blade.

The wolf struck again.  The animal loosed his grip on the boy’s arm and made another lunge for his throat.  The attack brought the wolf inside the limited range of Spotted Calf’s knife.  Catching the wolf in mid-leap, he thrust the blade into its neck.  Howling, the wolf dropped to the ground, turned, and sprang again.  The force of the leap knocked the boy down.

The boy landed on his back, but the wolf was once again in range of the small flint blade, and Spotted Calf raised the knife and held it tight.  The wolf’s momentum carried him toward the boy’s throat, but the blade caught the wolf’s abdomen and ripped open his empty stomach.  The boy rolled and the wolf missed his throat by inches.

This wound was fatal to the wolf.  With entrails spilling from the cut in his belly, the wolf tried to run but collapsed a few steps away from Spotted Calf.  Dazed, the boy rose to totter on unsteady feet.  Blood flowed from the gashes on his arm, and Spotted Calf used the knife to slice strips of bandage from the antelope hide.  He cut the thong from his neck and used the cord to bind the leather to his arm.  He hoped the makeshift bandage would hold until he could get back to his people.

What would he tell them when he arrived at camp?  Unless forced by the most extreme circumstances, the Lakota would not eat wolf.  Perhaps the dead animal would explain why he did not come home with meat.  Perhaps they would forgive his negligence and let him try again.

Weakened by hunger and loss of blood and staggering under the weight of the wolf, Spotted Calf stumbled his way back to the village.  The trek, which took only a couple of hours that morning, now seemed to take an eternity.  The autumn sun was casting long shadows as he approached the outskirts of the camp.  Guided by the smell of cooking fires and barking dogs, his feet made their way to the center of the village where he collapsed as the world went black.

In the morning, he woke in the familiar confines of his tipi.  His mother was softly humming an ancient tune as she prepared food for her injured son.  Spotted Calf could smell the aroma of boiling herbs and wild onions rising from the broth his mother had made.

Spotted Calf partially rose, supporting his shoulders with his good arm.  “Drink this,” his mother gently urged, “and when you are strong enough you will face the council.”

Spotted Calf knew what waited for him at the council.  He had failed in his first hunt, and his fate was certain.  He was glad his mother had turned back to her cooking; she did not see the bitter tears that formed in the corner of his eyes.  Spotted Calf turned his face to the wall to hide his shame.

His mother continued to nourish him with the broth.  It was not long before he was able to eat a little meat.  Bit by bit, Spotted Calf could feel his strength returning.  Near sundown, his father entered the tipi.

“Son, it is time,” he announced, “the council has gathered.  They want to hear of your hunt.”

Spotted Calf rose from his bed and accompanied his father to the place of meeting.  Though not a word was spoken, he noticed the questioning glances of the women as he made his way through the village.  The elders and warriors of the tribe were gathered in a circle at the center of the village.  Spotted Calf was ushered to a place inside the circle.

Chief Tall Bear was the first to speak.  “Our son, when you returned to the village from your hunt, you could not speak for yourself, so Flying Eagle and Leaping Antelope walked your path to learn your story.”

Flying Eagle, with his hands more eloquent than his words, continued, “We followed your steps and found the place where you found the buffalo.  We followed where you crept behind the herd and prepared your bow, and we saw where the wolf crouched in hiding.  We saw the blood on the grass where you battled the wolf, and we found the calf you shot with your arrow.”  Flying Eagle sat down.

Spotted Calf’s father glanced proudly at his son.  “The broth your mother prepared for you was made from the meat of that calf,” he said. “The rest was divided amongst the tribe as law requires.”

Chief Tall Bear spoke again.  “Spotted Calf left our village as a boy, but returned as a man, proven in hunt; proven in battle.  Hear me, all people.  He is worthy to join the ranks of the warriors; he is worthy of his place in the council.  From this day forward, he is no longer known as Spotted Calf.  As of now and for all time, he will be known as Gray Wolf, hunter of the plains, warrior of the Lakota.”

Gray Wolf’s father spoke.  “Here is the skin of the wolf which attacked without mercy.  You will wear this in honor, my son.  Like the wolf, you are fierce in battle and loyal to your people.”  His father draped the skin so the scalp covered the top of Gray Wolf’s head.   “And here are the teeth of your brother, the wolf,” he added.  “With these, I will make a necklace for you to wear in remembrance of your great fight.”

Gray Wolf’s grandfather came to him and said, “Here is the bow and the three arrows which you left on the prairie.  Here is the fourth arrowhead, the one which pierced the heart of the yearling buffalo.  Your eye was keen, my son, and your aim was true.”

Chief Tall Bear concluded the ceremony.  “May your courage be an inspiration to us all.  We live in a world where the hunter, at any moment, may become the hunted.”

A drumbeat started and the chanting song began.  One by one, the warriors rose to dance.  Gray Wolf was the last to rise.  Somehow, the throbbing in his arm faded as he joined in.  He could not help but notice the admiring glances from the maidens as they watched the warriors dance.