When I was a pup, my father said, “You will one day become the Alpha of our clan. You must be ready to lead your fellow wolves.” I didn’t want to even think of the day that I would succeed my father. I was just happy in the bliss of my youth and eager to play with my littermates and friends. But, ultimately, fate had other plans. My father, Moonbright, passed away when I was still a young wolf, barely even a year yet. My mother, Sky Eyes managed to keep our pack together, but our clan needed an alpha male to lead. She asked me to quickly take my father’s place so she could relinquish her spot as alpha female to my mate, though I did not have one. At only a year old, I, Snowheart, became the alpha to my father’s legacy and my mother stepped down as alpha female and awaited the day when I would finally secure a mate. In this, and in many of my other feats my parents put forth in front of me, I was a disappointment.
Now, already a year has passed and I still haven’t found a mate. My mother grows weary with worry. She tells me almost daily of the new suitable females in our clan and even relays gossip to other wolves in other clans about her mate-less son and they, in turn, tell her of their daughters waiting for a strapping young wolf. I am not at all interested. Even the scents of the females’ pheromones, either when they are in heat or are not, do not sway my judgement of them, nor the lack of my desire for them. My mother, sick with worry, tells me that I am definitely strange. I think so too, but I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers her and everyone else. Rather than mating with females, my interests lie elsewhere.
I have always wondered what lies outside our territory. I have desired to go beyond our lands and seek out other clans, meet others not like ourselves. Adventure is most appealing to me. I want to explore, but my pack is in dire need of leadership. However, I’m not the most suited for the task. I have told my mother to offer the position to my siblings—any of my other siblings—but she insists that I have a duty to my kin. To drive the point across, she tells me the story of Blackfang.
“You don’t want to be like him.” She would tell me often. “He was a tempered young wolf with a rebellious mind. He had not a single intention of carrying out his parents’ wishes. He fled his pack, left his family to be succeeded by lesser wolves and, ultimately, doomed his kin.”
“He sounds interesting.” I would tell her and she’d glare at me. I’d lower my head and silently regret my comment. My mother punished me for back-talking. I was still a pup then, but even now she reminds me of Blackfang and his story. I don’t want to be a traitor, neither an outcast, but I fear I will never taste the wonders of this world if I do not leave.
“Snowheart.” One of the lesser wolves, Swiftpaw, calls out to me as I gaze across the riverbank. I turn my attention to him and acknowledge him. “The other wolves and I are gathering at the clearing for the Dazzling Night tonight. Are you going to accompany us?” The night sky becomes alive with shooting stars around this time and I am left to be asked this invitation each time and each time I decline. It’s a mate thing that my fellow wolves attend to either find a mate or humor the one they already have. I can’t find much appeal in the event, so I don’t go. This time too, I decline. “Come on, you never attend it. When are you going to stop worrying your mother and find a mate already?”
“I’m not interested in finding a mate. Now leave me alone.” I tell Swiftpaw aggressively as I growl.
“You are definitely strange, Snowheart. You need you get your priorities straight and realize that it’s your duty to the pack to find a mate.” Swiftpaw manages to say before trotting off towards the clearing. I sigh and wonder if I truly am not a wolf at all. The simplest and most instinctual thing for a male wolf to do is seek a mate. If I cannot do such a simple thing, how can I call myself a wolf, much less the alpha male of my pack?
I lower my body and lie down beside the river and wish I could just become something else, but even the flight feathered clans and the swift feet clans seek for mates—especially the swift feet clans. I sigh again and dip my paws into the river a bit to relax.
“Snowheart.” A sweet voice calls me awake from my slumber and nudges my side. Sweetsong, a female wolf I would often play with when I was young licks my cheek and nips at my ear. “Why are you here when you should be at the clearing. It’s Dazzling Night tonight.”
“I don’t want to see the spectacle.” I say nonchalantly.
“I was hoping we could go together.” She asks sweetly, seductively so. She has, many times, attempted to strike desire in me, but I am never fazed in the slightest by her advances and I am now growing a bit tired of rejecting her as politely as possible. I am sure if I were normal, I would have accepted her as my mate in a heartbeat, but I am not normal. “Not interested as usual, huh?”
“I’m sorry, Sweetsong.” I say softly.
“Perhaps, you’d rather attend with Fierceclaw?” She teases bitterly. Fierceclaw, my loyal and honorable companion since we were pups has been a doting friend to me. He is kind and noble, brave and quick on his feet. We have been close since we were pups, so much so that Sweetsong is often jealous of our closeness.
“Don’t say such things. I don’t want to attend with anyone.”
“No, I am sure if Fierceclaw asks, you will accept.” Sweetsong says with a huff before she turns to leave. “If you were even slightly interested in females, you would have shown such interest in any of us long ago. I truly believe you must be flawed.” She leaves with a growl.
Flawed, she says. It is true I do not show interest in females, but having interest in males? I suppose I never thought of it. Most do not speak of those who are flawed, the ones who have mates of the same sex. They are outcasts and are often forgotten. Their stories are never told so none of us really know of those who were once in our pack that had been flawed. We just hear vague rumors of such wolves existing. I do not think I am one of them, though I have never really given it much thought.
Fierceclaw and I have been companions for a long time, but I do not see him as a mate. The other males in my pack are wonderful hunters and great childhood companions, but I do not see them in romantic ways either. Perhaps I truly am strange. I am neither normal, nor flawed. I sigh as I wonder if I can continue my life without a mate forever. I lift myself from my sulking spot and begin to make the short trek to the clearing to join the rest of my pack for the Dazzling Night.
Amongst the many couples and courting males trying to impress females, I find a spot to sit. Some females take notice of my presence and pay attention to me instead of the males clearly interested in them. I get glares from the males and begin to accumulate a crowd of females around me asking if I’d like to watch the star show with them. I try to give them my response, but they begin to argue among themselves.
I begin to get irritated, but before I get to speak, an ominous howl echoes in the usually quiet night. Everyone, even the noisy females, perk their ears towards the sound and silently await another call.
“It’s a loner.” One of the females whispers.
Another eerie call from the loner, but not a single response from my pack, nor neighboring packs. The wolf’s call goes unanswered and I am left to wonder why. Usually we or other wolf packs howl back to signal if there is a need for a position in our packs that need to be filled. I then believe that the loner is calling so its own pack can find them again, but something seems off.
“That howl…” Fierceclaw says as he looks towards the mountains where the call originated from. “We must move, Snowheart.” He says as he approaches me. “It isn’t safe here.”
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“That howl is a warning.” Fierceclaw tells me sternly. “We must move. Hurry.” Everyone begins moving and I am left to wonder why it is that everyone is so familiar with such a lonesome and ominous call.
“A warning from who? A warning for what?” I ask as I try to keep my pace with Fierceclaw.
“Damn it, Snow.” He says angrily. “There’s something coming this way. We must hurry.” The pack’s pace quickens, but my curiosity makes me stop and look out towards the clearing where we all were once peacefully awaiting the star show. I sigh before following my pack. Our movement alerts all of our members to move along with us. They abandon whatever they were doing before to join us in our trek towards safety.
Suddenly, without any warning, there is a loud sound that erupts from deep within the forest and we hear an amass of animals fleeing from the forest frantically. Fierceclaw and Sweetsong push me to get me out of my dazed state and run with me towards a place we did not yet know we were going until we would get there. The smell of smoke begins to waft in the air which I could not ignore as it got thicker.
My pack is panicking and suddenly I could no longer keep track of each of them in my sight. All I could think about was getting myself to safety. In the midst of the stampede of various animals and the heavy smoke, I suddenly found it very difficult to keep my pace with my pack and began to choke. I am pushed aside by heavier and more violent animals as I collapse on the ground. The glow of the burning fire begins to get nearer and nearer as I lie in the tall grass of the forest. I could no longer see my pack or any other animal nearby. I whine as I closed my eyes and wait for a horrible fate like no other.
Before sleep overtakes, I feel a nudge at my side and think it is Fierceclaw, but quickly toss away the thought as I see beautiful black fur come into view like a dark cloud. The creature, whatever it is, begins to move me and lift me before I feel almost weightless upon their back. They are careful not to drop me as they sprint through the thick brush of the forest that would soon become ablaze. I close my eyes as sleep and weariness overcomes me.