Podcast episode #2
||Screen Presence this Episode
It’s a beautiful spring day in the Oregon Eagle Cap Wilderness. In a valley, along a wet, marshy flat, we see a pack of wolves running: Singing Bird and her sons, Watcher and Swift Paw. They run up a creek to a waterfall and the landscape opens up. They see, off in the distance, another wolf is running, looking focused. This is Bear.
He’s made no secret of his presence. He’s been leaving his marks all over their territory, and that is what has brought the entire pack out to confront him. He stands there, huge and scarred and tired—and slightly familiar. He looks at the pack approaching, expecting to recognize someone, but doesn’t. He growls.
An eagle lets out a piercing cry. Watcher suddenly seizes up with a dream he had a few weeks ago, and has tried to forget. In his dream, a gigantic black eagle sweeps down on his family, sending them scattering, then coming to rest with his talons dug into the soil as if he owns the ground. He fears that only bad things can come from such a vision.
Watcher snaps back and yells a warning to the rest of the pack: “Stop! Wait!”
Swift Paw’s ears perk up. He looks at Bear. He’s suddenly twitchy, scared.
Bear lets out a howl, reciting an ancient wolf epic about a dead father and two brothers who were brought to war. He’s calling for his long-lost brother, calling him out to confront him.
Singing Bird finds the song so beautiful that, even though she’s somewhat afraid, she feels her heart breaking, and she wants to welcome this wolf with this powerful voice.
A piercing howl erupts from behind the pack, as Gray Bard, Singing Bird’s mate, trumpets his arrival. He’s an old wolf, but strong. He spies Bear. A deep growl rumbles in his throat.
“It’s true, Watcher,” Gray Bard says. “I know this one from long ago. “He is not to be trusted. He broke my trust—broke up our family, back in the old country. I will destroy him as I should have done long ago.” And with a yelp of excitement, he charges down the slope towards Bear.
Bear snarls, teeth bared, “Father’s dead.”
“Good,” Gray Bard says, and goes straight for Bear’s throat.
The two wolves clash into each other like boulders. Dust kicks up; the fray has begun. Gray Bard has been preparing for this: he manages to drive Bear off. Bear backs away, taken aback at his brother’s ferocity and strength. Gray Bard lets out a triumphant howl of victory. It carries from valley to valley, triggering another scream from the eagle.
The echo is so loud, he can’t hear Bear growling under his breath as he limps away: “Maybe our father isn’t as dead as I thought.”
On a soft moss bed next to a quiet babbling stream in a grove of cedars, Singing Bird licks Gray Bard’s wounds. Swift Paw and Watcher are snapping at each other, messing around as siblings will.
“Long ago, in the old country,” Gray Bard intones, “my youngest brother and I would quarrel. And it’s partially for that reason that I left. My parents could see no wrong in him—they never saw the animals he killed and left without eating, the eagles he mocked with his song. Never a respectful wolf, never mindful of sacred things, he rejected even the wisdom that an older brother could give to a younger one. In that place, I could get no rest. That is why I left. And that is why, to see him again, I realize that there must be a reckoning. He must be driven from this place, or he will destroy our world with his discontent.”
“But why would he come back, father?” Watcher asks. “Why would he come back after all this time, and come searching for you? I don’t understand.”
“Even older than the old, older than my father’s father’s father, this place was our land,” Gray Bard says. “I came here to meet my love, Singing Bird, and to create our family. I came here on the song of our ancient ancestors. It must be the same song that has brought him back on this trail—brought him to break our family apart. I tell you, sons, whatever happens to me, you must protect your mother. I do not think this is the last fight I will have with my brother, Bear. He was a formidable fighter even as a young pup. I could tell you stories … I could tell you stories.”
“Yes,” Watcher says. “He was a great, dark eagle in my visions, his power more than evident. But we must stay strong—we must stay together, right? We can keep things the way they are, despite these ill tidings.”
“Yes, it’s only too true—and I cannot imagine how Bear would treat my meadow blossom here, in my absence.” Gray Bard nods to Singing Bird. “Ever the disrespectful one, ever the one that ran with the angry wild ones of the hills… In a famous family story from my childhood, he even tussled with a bear once upon a time, thus earning his name. Though I don’t doubt my own strength, I do doubt that we can stand against his persistence. So we must be ever watchful. Does everyone understand that?”
The other wolves all agree.
Back in the marsh, the family is nosing around in the grasses, hunting ground squirrels, listening for their peeping calls. Suddenly, Watcher is overwhelmed with a feeling of dread.
“I feel the presence of Bear… like the bears that steal our food so often, I feel this Bear is coming to scatter our family. Now… I feel his presence.”
“You have a perceptive cub there, Bard,” Bear growls. He steps out from the reeds and snarls at Gray Bard. “Filled their heads with your stories, haven’t you? Oh, you tell such pretty stories, brother. Of course, you always could. I was the one who took Father’s beatings and bites. After they let him go from that prisons where the two-leggeds kept him for all those years, twisting his mind and teaching him to hate, oh, he couldn’t hurt pretty little Gray Bard. But Bear? Hah! How do you think I learned to be such a fighter?”
Watcher flattens his ears against his head and growls. Below, there is an eruption of squirrel voices, peeping, calling out their alarm. Gray Bard howls and charges Bear once again. Rocks fly, squirrels scream, and the family pack whimpers as the two brothers claw at each other, slashing noses, ripping eyelids, snapping bones, tearing ears to bits. With one last violent snarl, as Gray Bard goes into what he thinks is the killing blow, Bear comes in from below, grabs his throat, and rips it open. Blood pours out across the ground, splattering Singing Bird’s face, getting into her eyes.
Bear throws Gray Bard’s limp, tattered body into the muck with a splash of mud and blood. Ground squirrels run frantically and ravens fly from their roosts. Singing Bird rushes to Gray Bard’s side.
Choking on his own blood, Gray Bard rasps: “My love… Singing Bird… run… save yourself…”
Singing Bird nuzzles him, then yips for Watcher and Swift Paw to follow her before taking off. Watcher instead lets out a keen howl and lunges at Bear, hoping beyond hope that hurting Bear will bring back his father. Swift Paw also leaps to attack. Terrified, Singing Bird yips and howls for her pups to come follow her—but to no avail.
Bear bats Watcher away almost effortlessly, but while Watcher is distracting him, Swift Paw comes in from behind and hits Bear. Bear turns around to be slashed again by Swift Paw. He is still tired from his first fight, so Swift Paw is quicker than he is, attacking Bear again and again.
Bear manages to slip away, though. And as he’s limping away, he mutters: “It doesn’t matter… he’s dead.”
That night, Bear returns to the creek. Gray Bard’s body lies there, flies bothering his nose and eyes, crowding around his wounds. Tiny, minnow-like fish nose at his carcass.
“Finally got what’s coming to you, you self-righteous son of a bitch. Always telling me what to do and how to act and how I should listen to my wise older brother. So wise. Who was the one who took the hits? Who was the one who took the bites? He beat the hell out of me, and where were you, older brother? You ran away. You left me there to rot. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to find your scent here on the other side of the mountains. But I did. And you act just like he did—always first to bite. All I ever wanted to do was set up a territory of my own, but no, you had to drive off the ‘shadow.’ That’s all I ever was to you. Just like him. I never even had a chance to tell you how he died. The old mangy cur finally got too old, but he didn’t let his hate grow old with him.”
The wind changes direction. All the insects go silent. The Gray Bard’s corpse is suddenly inhabited by his not-yet-departed spirit. The sinews and broken ligaments of his jaws click against each other. “Curse you,” he growls, bubbling into the water. “Curse you.”
“You spent your whole life cursing me,” Bear snaps. “I’ll live a long time to outlive your curses.”
“You have a black heart. You were born with a black heart.”
“No… I wasn’t born that way. You made it that way. You and dad. By the way…” His voice lowers to a hiss: “I killed him.”
Gray Bard lets out a throttling choke as a string of bubbles come out of his broken mouth. Little minnows scatter in the dark water, a cloud of flies lift up.
“You should have learned the same lesson he did. Don’t abuse someone that you can’t beat down.” Bear skulks away into the darkness.
Fade to black.