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Old Before I Die

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Author's note: This is my entry for CrazyWords' May 2015 Fairy Tale Contest. My Subject was Old Sultan by The Brothers Grimm.

It’s late at night, and I’m standing watch. Fresh rain smell of the day earlier loiters the air, as to implore the now dying storm to stay. And I’m sitting in the grass, too. The pasture, which had been mowed recently, was now especially crisp. My belly felt wet as I lied down. It was water; dew comes much later as a morning’s greeting from afar. And through those gnarled woods, where trees sob as the lichens and ivys smother their massive but helpless frameworks, where the water babbles endlessly over the music of chirping crickets and croaking frogs, there sits a pair of yellow eyes. It’s like two torches flickering on; if there was a pack of them you’d think the forest was on fire. Wh


ile a frightening sight for most old dogs, I wasn’t afraid. I knew those eyes. They saved my life.

“Old Sultan, my kinsman..” the wolf said in his rugged, wise, charming tone as he trailed farther into his sentence. He was not a fast talker, and I awaited patiently for him to finish, my ears perking up. After all, he saved my life. There was no higher voice of reason than the being who does that.

“ are well? And eating well, too, I hope. That shepard ought to treat you.”

“And he did.” I thought back to my wonderful dinner. “How am I? Hm.” I suppose it was odd for me to be out here. It was not regularly expected of me to stay awake so late into the night, where it would be completely black if not for the moonlight and the fireflies that strayed past dusk. “I am not troubled, simply staying for the sheep.”

The wolf laughed hoarsely. He’s almost as old as I am, but twice as frightening to a stranger. Countless scars are outlined by patches of irregular fur. His face had been half-clawed off, yet here he stands as a testament to the duress of his kind. He clears his throat and makes a cursory examination of the pasture before continuing. It takes a minute, or seems like it.

“Sultan, my dear sir. You see, I too suffer from the hardships of age. I can no longer run at speeds required to catch deer so easily; I tire much quicker and my bite is much weaker.” He sniffs the air, far from my eye contact. The stars would be much more interesting. I hope I’m not a chore to talk to. “And I try to do my good deeds, but I have no owners to reward me for them. I belong with nature, and she can be a cruel mistress. So as a favor, I ask for one of your sheep so that I may not starve, and so that I may serve this world alongside you.”

I blink. It takes a minute to process his reasoning. Sound enough from his position, but he has not done all my master has. I smile, and return his respectful inquiry. “I am afraid I cannot, good sir. I must remain true to my master, as he is the reason I have been gifted life for as long as I have. Surely your prey is not impossible to obtain in the forests. You have the young, the old, the sickly and weak. Don’t count on taking a sheep from me.”

“He wanted you dead, after all. Would one sheep risk your life? You have proven your use, and he does not expect you to watch over the sheep as keenly as you once did.”

“I don’t look at it that way. He gave me the opportunity to show him why I deserve to live, if anything.”

The wolf bows and wordlessly dips back into the void of the forest. That was too easy. I can’t trust him just like that; his charm may fool all but the wise, but I am of the latter. I rush inside. My master sits, as almost to await my return.

“Good boy?” His eyebrows raise through his crooked metal frames, hand-repaired.

“The wolf, master. I think he has plans of taking a sheep tonight.”

My words hold like iron. “Then I will await him, Old Sultan. And you may rest, as--”

“Rest I cannot, master! He troubles me even now; his wit swatting at any chance of good dreams and restful slumber.”

“Then together we will await the wolf.” His gentle touch grazes across my head. “You are good straight from your fur to your heart, Sultan.”

It is now nearing the twilight hour, and my master and I are about to complete our watch, the nightly duties finished. The wolf would not dare to take in broad daylight, as we both knew he had no chance of success. Sheep shriek like a siren and flee like greyhounds, in spite of their weak minds and bodies. It was only when they were asleep that the wolf would have an opportunity. And there the wolf was, the transient window of night left confirming his plan was premeditated. Master awaited with his rifle, firing a shot and splitting blades of grass at the wolf’s feet.

“Was I not clear?! Why do you take my words with a grain of salt and mock me on my own pasture!?” I stammered.

The wolf’s jaw hangs agape. “I misunderstood. I heard little earnest in your statement.”

“You superficially earn my trust and then deem it appropriate to steal from me?”

“Begone, mangy fiend!” my master screamed.

The wolf jumped and backed away, snarling. “I will have my sheep, dog. You’ll regret this.”

With that he was retreated into the thick of the trees. I didn’t feel much threatened, even when the wolf came around the next day with a boar and challenged me. I stood my ground, but it was surely suicide to run into the forest. They left momentarily, and I could only watch in horror as they dragged a dying deer up the hill to the edge where forest meets pasture. He was screaming, but they were tired screams. Screams of one with not much scream left; the deer had lost a lot of blood, as seen by the crimson trail lining the grass. The boar ran the poor animal right into a tree, goring him with his tusks. The deer’s chest cavity split open, entrails falling flaccidly to the ground like wet noodles. And the poor creature was still alive! In a swift motion the wolf dug his teeth into the deer’s throat, throwing him to the ground with such force that the windpipe was torn right out. And that’s where the wolf met my gaze once more, snarling viciously with flesh and blood and windpipe all curdled in his jaws.

I called for help. I couldn’t afford to be afraid after watching such horrific acts. The true morality of the wolf painted him as an abomination that had to be stopped, but it was possible alone. I had an old friend, a cat; she was still standing on three legs and with one eye and no voice, rarely venturing outside of her corner of the pasture. But often the call to arms has no bias. She was standing there, next to me and a little wobbly. I hadn’t noticed, so there was no way to tell how long she’d been there, but on three legs the cat looked twice as stoic as her species usually looks on four. And in equal bravery she hopped along towards them. Well, bravery or foolishness.

“Stop! Easy!” There was little protection that the pasture’s fence provided. The boar could knock it down with little effort. But the wolf and boar began to run! Was it such a brave soul that leaped towards danger that they feared would have an unseen weapon? It was difficult to put into perspective, but they were sprinting away, and we were quick to follow. Oh, they were terrible at hiding, too. The boar’s ear stuck clean out of the bush. My cat friend dug her claw into his scalp, biting down hard on his ear and tearing part of it off with a forceful jerk!

“Stop, stop!” The boar was sobbing. “I’m not the real coward. He’s up there.” He motioned upward to the tree, where the wolf growled.

“You f-fool! You’ve blown my c-cover!” The wolf’s voice trembled in fear.

My dear cat guardian spit out tufts of the boar’s hair and ear. I was speechless, but the cat and I started laughing. Laughing and laughing that the situation was ridiculous, of how we should both really be dead like the deer and how I should have never felt fear so great that chills down my spine had left me paralyzed. It was endless; I felt like I was going to pass out from laughing so hard.

We laughed until we heard a shot and the wolf fell out of the tree. And then silence fell, too.

Written by Avenging Angel
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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