Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


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EPISODE 14 
Wolverine

 

 

The trapper woke slowly, aware of a sense of foreboding. He didn’t know why, but for some reason, all his senses were on edge. Without thought, he reached for the Sword that lay on the spruce boughs by his bedroll.

That’s very good. Perfect reaction…shh! Not a sound.

Remembering his lessons, the trapper closed his mouth and tried to form the words clearly in his head. What is it?

Ruffie. He’s not moving, he’s not barking. He’s just standing, staring upwind. Something is up there, and he doesn’t know what it is.

Ruffie’s been in these woods with me for five years; whatever is here, he knows it.

Not this time.

The trapper regarded the dog for a while as it stood, stiff-legged, hackles raised, its nose testing the wind. What could it be? It’s not human, or he’d be barking. Same with a bear or a wolf. Elk or deer and he would be in hunting form, not afraid. The trapper pondered for a moment, and then his thoughts took a sudden twist. Oh, shit. I hope it’s not a wolverine.

What’s a wolverine?

What do you know about weasels?

I don’t know why, but I have a distinct aversion to them. From what I’ve heard, nobody likes them much, except for their pelts. About as bloodthirsty a killer as your average Rogue Sword, I’ve heard. What’s that got to do with wolverines?

Think of a weasel the size of a small bear. With a toothache.

Not pleasant.

Stories say a wolverine will put the run on a full-size grizzly. Tough, mean, no fear. And disaster on a trapline.

Why?

Because they’re smart, too. They follow the line, wait until the traps are full, then eat what’s in the traps. What they don’t eat, they foul so nobody else can use it either: the trap and the trap site as well. You got a wolverine moves in on your trapline, you might as well pull in your traps and go to town for a month or two.

Is it any danger to you?

Who knows? Nobody ever sees one. Or lives to tell the tale, anyway.
Are you sure this isn’t just some kind of boogeyman oldsters make up to scare the young ones? If nobody ever sees one…

The trapper rubbed his eyes, shook his head, and peered out through the forest. That was just an expression. I seen one, once. For about two heartbeats, then it was gone. But the tracks was there afterwards.

Then the trapper spoke out loud. “And if it’s a wolverine, it already knows we’re here, so there’s no need to be quiet. Ruffie, come here. Come here, boy. Sword, make him come here.”

The dog’s ear twitched, but his head stayed pointing rigidly up the trail.

Why?

“Because a wolverine would kill him soon as look at him. He wouldn’t have a chance.”

I don’t know. I have a higher opinion of dear Ruffian’s intelligence than I started with.

“If you mean he’s too cowardly to get into a fight, you might be right.”

Precisely. But let’s keep him here, by all means. He may come in useful if the thing attacks.

“I’m less worried about it attacking than I am about it destroying our camp if I go out. And after that, my trap line.”

Well, I doubt if you’re leaving camp for a while, and your leg healing to the point where you can set up your trapline is a month or so down the road. Why don’t we just ignore it and go about our business?

”What’s our business? I don’t do anything except lie here. My leg still hurts like blazes. How do I know it’s healing properly?”

We know because I can see it.

“You can see it? Inside my leg?”

That’s right.

“You can see what’s happening inside me?”

Most certainly. Give me a moment…Yes, your leg is healing nicely. I work on it while you are asleep.”

“You work on it?”

“Yes, I cannot actually create healing, but I can help you heal yourself by increasing blood flow to the injured area and inducing cleansing.

“Anything else?”

I can see a bunch of extra bone building up around the break. Give it a year and that leg will be stronger than the other one.

“What else can you see?”

A lot of icky stuff. I can see your heart pumping blood around, and I can see what’s left of your dinner. Wait a moment…I can see some sort of irritation in your left shoulder. Does it hurt?

“That must be where I dislocated it, years ago. It bothers me if I overuse it. I think it’s the crutch.”

And dear Ruffie has a huge ball of fur halfway down his gut from that rotting elk leg he hauled back into camp yesterday. I hope it doesn’t get stuck.

I think that’s about all I need to know at the moment. Why can you do all that stuff?”

It was bred into me so I could help my Hand if he was wounded.

“Does that mean I’m your Hand?”

I’m afraid so.

The trapper chuckled and indicated his leg. “Not much glory on this field of battle.”

I suppose not. But I have been taught that there are other ways to demonstrate courage and fortitude. I am now beginning to understand.

“The point is, what do we do about the wolverine?”

Two choices: stay here or head for your cabin. How are you feeling?

The trapper hauled himself to his feet, rested the injured foot on the bedroll. “It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to.”

The Cat observed the bones flex as the weight came down. The mend seems to be holding, as long as you don’t put any more weight on it than that.

“Then I think we’d better hit the trail. If that thing gets into the cabin, it will make  it uninhabitable.”

How much can you carry and use your crutches?

The man mused a moment. “I need three bundles. The traps and the indestructables I don’t need I can leave here. The most useful and necessary stuff goes in my pack on my back. Bedroll and everything else wrapped in the tarp, and I’ll drag it along on a rope. I can take about three steps, then turn and pull it in. It will slide easily on this snow, especially in the morning when the surface is harder. If it warms up too much and it starts breaking through, I’ll have to think up something else.”
Well, let’s not dawdle. Ruffie thinks our friend is still out there. Around farther to the east, it seems.

With a glance at his dog, the trapper started packing. From what the Cat could read of his mind, he was worried, but glad to be moving again.

 Three hours later, he wasn’t so happy.

You’re sweating.

The man gasped for breath, then spoke inside his head. You noticed.

You said sweating was bad in cold weather.

It is. I’d better take a break. Any sign of our nasty friend?

I haven’t had an inkling. Ruffie seemed very happy to leave camp, but he’s been sticking to your heels all morning. Well, as close as your little sled will allow. Is that normal?

His breathing more even, the trapper returned to speech. “Oh, yes. I’m breaking trail, and with this bundle behind me, it makes for very easy walking.

For the wolverine as well, I suppose.

“This snow isn’t deep. Only up to my knees, now that it has had a week to settle. It wouldn’t slow a wolverine down very much.”
I see. Well, just remember, if it attacks, do not go for your axe, much though you might like to. Fighting is my métier, and your sight is still a little blurry.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. Do you think it’s permanent?”

There’s still a bubble of blood pressing against your brain. It’s going away slowly.

“Thank you, doctor. Now that I’ve rested, I think we’d better push on.”

Wait a minute…

“What?”

Ruffie…

The dog had bounded ahead and was standing in the same alert pose as that morning, his hackles up, a low growl rumbling steadily in his chest.

The man’s hand fumbled for the Sword’s hilt. “Looks like it’s in front of us.”

Ruffie certainly thinks so.

The man let his hand fall away and shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. That’s the direction we have to go. Keep your eyes open.” He shouldered his pack and ploughed haltingly ahead.

With no eyes worth opening, the Cat amused herself by trying to insert herself into the dog’s mind, to read the scents that swirled there. It was rather distasteful – such a canine atmosphere – but it might be very useful to know what a wolverine smelled like. Somehow she had a memory of the smell of weasel, probably brought with her from her former life as a wild cat, and she wondered if it would smell like that.

It wasn’t hard to penetrate into the dog’s mind, and his concentration on the odour brought it to her attention immediately.

Whew! That smells like a weasel that hasn’t groomed itself for a month. In mating season. I wonder which direction…Ahh. That way. She oriented herself through the dog’s eyes, as he peered to the left. The man pushed up behind the dog, and Ruffie moved ahead gingerly.

All senses alert, the trio moved on in their halting manner: the man stopping to drag his improvised sled, the dog halting to sniff the air.

Suddenly he stopped, and the growl grew to a snarl.

“Whatcha got, Ruffie?”

Tracks, I think.

The man looked over the dog’s shoulder. A line of indentations came from the left, crossed their route, and disappeared into the brush again. Deep indentations, spattering the snow around them, made by an animal bounding through the drifts. The trapper looked closer, but the snow had fallen back into the bottom of the hole, and there were no tracks to see. In fact, the snow was still falling back in.

“Recent.”

How recent?”

“Hard to say. We wouldn’t have heard nothin’, no matter how close he was. This new snow really deadens sound.” He peered into the woods to the right where the tracks led.

The Cat strained to clear his vision, sending her own senses out. He’s not out there now. Not very close, anyway.

“How do you know?”

I can sense living things. There are only small animals and a few birds within a bowshot of here.

“You can tell if it’s within a bowshot?”
Farther than that, if it’s a big animal. For example, there’s an elk coming towards us at the moment. Fast.

Where?”

Off to the right. Running from the wolverine, maybe. If it really is a wolverine. Could those be bear tracks? A young bear, maybe, disturbed from hibernation?

The trapper looked down at the tracks again. “Born this spring, so near nine months old? Yes, it would be about that big. But if he’s been sleeping, he’d be pretty dozy. Not running like that.”

Unless he was frightened by a wolverine.

The man’s thought’s took a suspicious turn. “Are you laughing at me?”

Just covering all the possibilities.

“Yeah, well this ain’t no laughing matter.”

I’m sure it isn’t. Are you rested enough to go on? How much farther to your cabin?

He looked up at the mountains on the skyline. “Not far, now. Half a day if I was healthy. Doubt if we’ll make it much farther tonight, though. There’s a real steep section coming up.”

It was a steep section. Their path angled up a hillside, and the improvised sled kept sliding down off the trail and getting tangled in the brush. By the time they reached the top, both knew that the trapper had reached his limit.

He paused and used the back of his mitt to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “Time to quit.”

I agree. Your leg doesn’t look too good.”

“Have I broken it again?””

Oh, you’d know if it broke. No, it’s just getting sorer. I don’t need to tell you that.

“No, you don’t. Let’s look for a campsite.”

With a little trimming, a small spruce just off the trail made a decent, if crowded, spot, and soon the trapper had a fire going and snow water heating. Ruffie hung around closer to camp than usual, and the Cat had to use all her powers to persuade him to go hunting. Finally the image of a rabbit bounding just in front of his nose sent him trotting out with something resembling enthusiasm.

“I don’t want him to go too far. There’s some rabbit left over from the two we caught in the snares a couple of nights ago.”

You need your strength tomorrow. He’ll be all right. And if he isn’t, he isn’t.

“You would say that. He’s not your dog.”

I understand. Still, you need the food…wait a moment…he’s very excited…yes! He caught one.

“You can tell?”

He’s too far away to get any images, but I got a surge of emotion, then satisfaction. Now I’ll make sure he brings it back. Then you can do your share.

She sent a beckoning to the dog, reminding him of his master’s love waiting for him back at camp. It was becoming disgustingly simple. The dog was somehow aware of her presence, but seemed to have accepted her as part of his pack. Well, it certainly made life easier.

This time, when the dog returned with his booty he brought it straight to his master, to receive the usual payment of love and appreciation. Soon both dog and master’s noses were assailed by the smell of roasting flesh. After they had eaten, the trapper lay back on his bedroll, staring up into the boughs overhead.

No more wolverine sign.

“No sign is a good sign, as I see it.”

So maybe it’s gone.

“If we’re lucky it was just passing through, headed somewhere else.”

If it existed at all.

“You’re back on that, are you?”

Well, you have to admit your evidence is rather sketchy. Ruffie most certainly smelled something, but who knows what?

“And what about the tracks? All right. That could have been a bear. But I don’t think so.”

I don’t want you all worried over nothing. You have to guard that leg properly. Running through the snow all day hasn’t helped it any.

The trapper frowned. “Look, Sword, or whoever you are. I make my own decisions. I decided I was ready to move, and I moved. I went as far and as fast as I thought was necessary.”

I have noticed that when humans are under emotional stress, their logic changes.

“And I have noticed that your ideas always seem to run counter to mine. If you exist at all.”

What do you mean?

“It should be perfectly obvious what I mean. I only started hearing this voice in my head since I banged it. Now that my eyesight has returned, I’m expecting the rest of it to go back to normal any time as well. So I have every reason to expect you to disappear some time soon.”

That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

“And your refusal to believe in a real and tangible danger is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. I haven’t survived a lifetime in the woods by ignoring danger. Even the possibility of danger. So anything that tells me to ignore danger is a threat to me. Since this threat is coming from my own head, I have to assume that I have some sort of desire to die, and that you are just my brain trying to deal with that wish.”

 You certainly are showing a wish to die, if you refuse to believe in the one being who has saved your life.

“Oh, I’m sure you have saved my life. I’m just not sure that you exist.”

 Now I’m beginning to agree with you. You are insane.

“No, no. Follow my logic. I am a very experienced woodsman with a strong will to survive. When I was in desperate straits, even when my mind couldn’t function properly, there was a part of me that just took over. The part, deep inside, that wanted me to live. Stranger things have happened, when people are in terrible situations. You hear stories about it all the time.”

So I’m just a secret part of your mind.

“Maybe. You know how people talk to themselves; ‘Come on Trapper, get a fire going. Come on, boy, there has to be a willow clump in this creek bottom. Just one more step.’ That sort of thing.”

So why are you talking to me now?

“Two reasons. First, it helps me deal with this mental problem I’m having.”

I see. And second?

The trapper grinned. “Second, I suppose there’s a corner of my mind that thinks you might be real. If you are, then I don’t want a magic Sword mad at me.”

You’re just doing this on purpose! You want to get back at me because I said your old wolverine might not be real.

“That’s partly true. That was bad advice you gave me. I have to believe it is there, no matter how slim the chances, because if it is there, I’m in trouble.”

Sort of like me. If I’m really here…

Again the trapper chuckled. “If you’re really here, then I’ve been talking to you for a week, and I don’t see you as any kind of vindictive spirit, who’s going to punish me for being cautious.”

Thanks a lot.

“You’re welcome. On the other hand, if you aren’t here, it probably isn’t healthy for me to be helping this little problem I have to exist. So I think I’ll just stop talking to you for a while.”

You’re going to stop? Just like that?

There was no answer.

Come on, Trapper. This is ridiculous. Here we are, two beings stuck in the mountains for the winter, and we’re going to spend the whole time in silence? That’s completely stupid. What if I see that wolverine coming and you don’t? Do you want me to just sit there silent and let it eat you?

The trapper leaned out and put more wood on the fire. “Well, Ruffie, my boy. I suppose it’s bed time, isn’t it? Sort of boring, sitting and staring into the fire. We’ve got books at the cabin, don’t we? The sooner we get to sleep, the earlier we get on the trail in the morning.”

Pulling off his boot and quilted waistcoat, the man rolled into his blankets. He tumbled around for a while because his leg was sore, but eventually exhaustion took over, and he slept.

So that’s the way it’s going to work, is it? He’s not going to talk to me, because I don’t agree with him. Well, I’m not going to be juvenile about it. I’ve got work to do.

The Cat scanned down his leg, easing the muscles that were tightened, loosening the blood vessels so the affected area got the best flow. Then she pulled back and sent her senses reaching out into the forest. She found that, in spite of the fact that the man was asleep, she could still use his life force to aid her in stretching out. there were few creatures about in the night: none large enough or near enough to be dangerous.

No wolverines, anyway.

The Sword settled in to watch.

Humph! As if I don’t exist. What a completely stupid idea. Of course I exist!

At least, I think I do. What if I’m just a part of his mind? No, I remember all sorts of things from before I met him. But if I only exist in his mind, I might think I had earlier memories, when actually they’re just made up from things that happened to him.

No, that’s ridiculous. I must exist.

This could be a very long winter.  

       

 

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