Gathering speed he sprinted, a black-and-white blur of fur. Her shaman's heart raced with his. What had he scented?
Reaching out her senses to join her companion, Candice inhaled cold morning air. Spruce laced with a female doggy scent parted for the bright red smell of blood. Candice closed her eyes to see through his. A steel gray animal thrashed in the brush, radiating pain, then stilled. Upon reaching her, Oreo nosed the wolf’s red stained fur and howled, high and long. A second shot rang out, cutting off the sound.
Pain pierced her shoulder the moment the bullet shattered his. Candice screamed, "Oreo!" She ran to him, cursing the hunter and imploring the spirits. Blood matted Oreo’s coat. On the trail behind her she heard an approaching two-stroke motor. Pressing a hand over Oreo’s wound, Candice yelled, "Help!"
The ATV sprayed dirt as it stopped. Its skinny, gray-bearded driver wore an orange vest and a rifle he couldn’t handle.
"Jackson, you lunatic!”
"Oh, God. Candice, no!”
“Can't you tell the difference between Oreo and a stray wolf?"
“I chased that one outta my own backyard, for chrissakes. They’re everywhere! In town, behind the school. What’s your dog doing running with them?”
Candice launched herself at Jackson, cursing and punching him, knocking her neighbor from the four-wheeler into the brush. One year here and he fancied himself a game warden. Meanwhile, supplies from her own pantry had kept this Cheechako alive through the winter. In retrospect, she wished she hadn’t been so generous. Her hand strayed to the silver blade in her belt.
Panicked, Jackson rolled away and curled into a fetal ball. "I'm sorry!" he whimpered. “I’m sorry!”
Disgusted, Candice stood. "Get us to the clinic."
They loaded both animals. Scowling and muttering under his breath, Jackson drove at breakneck speed into town, but Doc confirmed what Candice already knew. Hope curdled into the sharp ache of despair. Retired sledder Oreo, dearest friend, would run no more.
Half blind with grief, Candice reached the end of the long school day. She dismissed her students to hang black streamers in the gym as people arrived with food and condolences to the potlatch-turned-funeral.
Craggy Jack continued shedding snow, loss promising renewal. The water found its way down his slopes to the sea as twilight gathered at the river mouth. Kids skipped stones, waiting. Elders stood back, singing.
Candice set Oreo's body and the wolf's adrift in her tiny skiff. Steel-gray and black-and-white, they lay like star-crossed lovers in death. Speaking low prayers, she lifted her silver blade over the waters and released a raven feather to the wind. Kerosene lit and the boat blazed.
Smoke rose to the first evening star as Grandmother spoke the familiar tale.
“I am lonely, Mother,” cried the white wolf.
Mother Earth sent him a vision. “In leaving this trail you take the first step on the next.” Lonely Wolf dove under the waves and became a shiny, black whale. Mother painted him with white markings to remind him of his time on the Earth. Transformed, he sings forever the history of the world.
Grandmother fell silent and the people lost sight of the skiff in the sunset.
Jackson broke the spell. "Well, Candice, real pretty. But how’re you gonna fish, now you've burned up your boat?"
A kindergartner took Candice’s hand and slid her dark eyes past Jackson. “Your fault teacher’s leaving.”
Candice gently squeezed the girl’s tiny hand. The little one nodded twice before running off to bring back a shell, or was it a fragment of bone? Candice pulled a leather shoelace from her pocket, tied on the charm, and added it to one hanging around the girl’s neck. Short brown fingers rubbed it like a rosary before tucking it inside her shirt.
Candice inhaled sea air and exhaled her pain. Time to leave. Permission granted. At twenty-seven, she felt old. This little one would serve the people well.
Inside a paperback Candice tucked a photo, Buddy and Oreo finishing the Iditarod in the days when plentiful snow had blessed the trails. Her left shoulder, where Oreo had been shot, ached as she packed. Gritting her teeth, she hefted the backpack. Too heavy. The journey by air and asphalt from False Pass, Alaska to False Key, Florida would require many days and all her savings.
From the plane, Candice saw a pair of tall, dark dorsal fins cut the water and her shaman’s heart raced with them. She reached out with her senses and breathed in the salty spray. Silently, she called to them, wishing them well. She closed her eyes and bounded over the waves with the powerful black-and-white animals. Gaining speed, they leapt as one, exhaling briny breaths to the sky.