The Alpha and the Beta
Short Fiction ~ Steve Wade
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 11
As though I were from his own bloodline, he accepted me into his den. We formed an instant alliance. We existed as a pack of two: alpha and beta.
At first, being the newly arrived subordinate, I learned to scamper out of his path. As alpha, he made no effort to step over or walk around me. My yelps and cries of pain did, however, awaken in him the tenderness of a dam. Always, having trodden on my paw or flank, he’d let out a guilty bark, scrunch down beside me, soothing sounds coming from his throat, while he caressed me with his forelimbs.
Outside our den in the Big Space my role shifted from beta to caretaker. Attached to each other by a cord made from dried cowhide, connected to a cowhide loop about my neck, we two became one. Through the cord, I could feel his every intention. He decided where we went and what we did. But my designated duties were to alert him to danger, to forewarn against obstacles or enemies.
“Easy Lobo,” the alpha said to me one evening when we were returning from a ramble when the Big Light made way for the White Light thrown by the Moon
Although I never learned nor mastered the Alpha’s strange tongue, we have always understood each other. And right away I understood from his tone that he sensed what I already knew. Behind us, in the shadows, we were being stalked.
Through my own deep-base growls, I jerked my head quickly towards the alpha, and then back to the threat before us. I could feel the hackles bunched on my neck. My lips I curled back as much as I could to ensure the attackers could see the whiteness of my canines against the pink of my gums. My threat worked.
The pack’s leader, a long creature who smelled like unclean death stopped before he was within ambush distance. His subordinates aped him. That’s when the alpha unhooked from around my neck the cowhide cord that connected us.
I bounded forward, my gums curled, my teeth bared and dripping saliva, in my throat a snarl. In his panic to flee, the leader fell backwards, exposing his throat. I pounced on him, closed my jaws about the vulnerable flesh. His cowardly subordinates abandoned their leader. While he squealed like a worried hog, they fled.
But the alpha approached at his usual pace - a cautious one. With his head tilted sideways, he felt about while crouched till he touched my back. Through his touch I felt a kind of healing lightning. And the sounds he made soothed. But he then turned his attention to the sickly cur in my jaws. This I got through the shift pitch in his voice. His tone became harsh, yet filled with what I knew to be a warning. I could almost guess what he said. He’d told the cur to quit struggling, to cease his screeching, and to surrender to my jaws.
The enemy complied. He left off screaming, his flailing limbs grew flaccid, and he tilted back his head, offering me his throat.
I, in turn, slackened my jaws, but continued to press my teeth into his vulnerable neck flesh. But, even towards such an ailing cur, my instincts compelled me to honour the laws of combat. He was surrendering.
“That’s it, Lobo,” the alpha said. “Good boy. Leave it now.”
I released his throat, and moved backwards. Slapping my tongue in and out through my teeth in disgust.
“Here, Lobo,” the alpha called. “Home, boy. Let’s go home.”
And home we went, bruised and wounded, but undefeated.
There were other attacks during our long companionship, but together these we countered and survived. Our loyalty to each other was as constant as the shift from Big Light to the awakening of the Moon. But the Great Grey Prowler, his voice hoarse through howling in his efforts to sway my allegiance, never relented.
My body. Unable to turn my loyalty, he concentrated on my body. He weakened my bones as he weakens the branches of a tree, and my joints he stiffened the way he takes control of a wayward and wending river by freezing its surface. In pain and zapped of energy, I lost complete interest in food - all part of the Prowler’s plan. For without sustenance and liquid, the body finds no need to continue, to suck in oxygen and pad the earth.
The alpha, my leader, stayed with me until the Great Grey Prowler emerged from the Forest of Dreams to claim me as his legion.
“Come,” the Prowler said to me. “It is your time.”
Ready now to give the huge wolf, as dark as deep grey storm clouds, instant allegiance, I felt myself slipping from my own skin and loping after him. But behind me I heard strange sounds from the alpha. I twisted my head about. He was weeping. In his arms he cradled my lifeless body. Only then did I understand the enormity of our friendship, and why he, the alpha, depended so much on my guidance.
The tears that he shed he wept from sightless eyes. Something my living instincts never programmed me to understand. I remained and watched him fumble about for tools in the garden shed. My body he buried beneath the pear tree in full blossom. Ignoring the snarled orders of Death, the huge wolf all birds and beasts know as the Great Grey Prowler, I returned to my master early after the next sunrise.
At first, the alpha was terrified that I had cheated Death of one of his rightful minions. But, as soon as he felt the life-force beating beneath my pelt, he slowly accepted me again as his most loyal companion. Blind though he is, the alpha is the only one who sees me now. For he sees me with vision greater than the eyesight of an eagle - he sees me with his heart.
Steve Wade’s fiction has been published and anthologised in over fifty print publications. He has had stories shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story Competition and the Hennessy Award. He has won first prize in the Delvin Garradrimna Short Story Competition on four occasions. Winner of the Short Story category in the Write By the Sea writing Competition 2019. First Prize Winner of the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Writing Competition 2020. His short story collection, ‘In Fields of Butterfly flames’, was published in October 2020 by Bridge House. www.stephenwade.ie
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