When Wolves Cry
The sign at the entrance to Wolf Lake Indian Reservation bent and swayed, but it withstood all of Aaron’s rage despite a constant pelting with a crowbar. The metal absorbed the beating until his hands stung. He forced himself back into the truck and drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the scar on his stomach trying to stop the memory of the Native American man that stabbed him. The sign brought it all back. The GPS directed him to the area where the reported sighting of a captive lynx took place. He drove to the outskirts of the reservation until he found the right dirt road and stayed alert because the deep woods hid many secrets and dangers.
The house looked deserted with shredded curtains and broken glass in the small windows. A graveyard of engines and other debris created a maze of junk around the house. Aaron pulled out the crowbar, not needing the tranquilizer gun until he found the lynx. Trash overflowed in the area often blowing past him into the woods in a gust of wind.
It disgusted him to see people living in such horrid condition and how often they hoarded animals and even had children living with them. The stench of death wafted over him, like a rogue wave in the ocean, almost stopping him in his tracks. The silence made him hesitate; although he wasn’t a police officer, the people around here didn’t take lightly to the government telling them what they can and can’t do. A clang from his left made him spin around and duck behind a stack of wood. He left the gun in the truck; he stopped carrying it not ever wanting to feel responsible for someone’s death ever again. With the crowbar held out in front of him, he peeked out and saw a child washing a cage out with a sponge and bucket.
She was dark skinned and her long black hair had a red-tailed hawk feather hanging from it. He stood up and approached keeping an eye on the house at all times.
When she saw him, the girl recoiled and dropped the sponge into the bucket. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I’m not here to hurt you. Is there a lynx here?” He waited for a minute, but she remained quiet. “A big cat?”
The girl pointed to a shed. He noticed burns and bruises on her arms and the scar on his stomach began to pulsate like it was alive.
The shed looked locked, but it did have numerous air vents along its sides. Inside he heard breathing and knew something alive was locked in this prison. He had to move quickly to release it and get away before any dangerous confrontations. He looked at the Indian girl and put his finger to his lips then went to the truck and pulled out the tranquilizer gun. A single strike from the crowbar broke the cheap lock, but a noise came from inside the house. A door opened and a giant of a man in stained overalls came outside.
“Lakota,” he bellowed.
The sound of his voice sent chills through Aaron. The man scanned the yard with eyes that could penetrate even the toughest animal. Aaron shivered, remembering the same look from his father that made him curl up and wait for the beating that always followed. A dog missing patches of fur barked from near the house, and he feared the man would kill it like his father did to his dog. The thought made him clench his fist, but he froze in the fetal position waiting for something terrible to happen until he heard the girl’s voice. “I’m coming,” she yelled and looked in his direction. It broke the dark trance the flashback put him in.
The little girl ran to the man like a rabbit to a fox. Aaron reached out to stop her but then withdrew his hand at the last second. She is only an Indian girl. The man scanned the yard again but couldn’t see Aaron hiding behind the shed. Inside, the cat paced back and forth sounding like its fury was building up. The sound of a slap made him wince and he stood up to see Lakota on the ground underneath the man. He ducked back down and knew he wouldn’t risk his life to save an Indian girl.
The man dragged the girl inside, and after a long wait, Aaron opened the door of the shed and gasped when he saw the scraggly lynx inside. It paced in its own waste and its water bowl was empty. It sides moved with every breath showing the outline of its ribs. Its eyes stared through him to the woods beyond. He had no doubt it couldn’t survive in these condition much longer. He raised the gun and fired. The lynx made a sorrowful cry then toppled over. He opened the cage and dragged the cat toward his truck hoping the girl kept quiet. The cat’s condition made it lighter than normal and he hefted it onto his truck locking it in his cage.
When he turned the truck around he saw other packing crates in the yard that could contain animals. Another clearing contained a large hawk hanging upside down with its wings spread in a huge span from one tree to another. Skins of other animals were stretched across poles like clothes hung out to dry. The largest one looked like a wolf. He gasped and stopped the truck to take it in until he shivered. He thought of the big man and he knew there had to be other men nearby. This was an animal trafficking hub and he would report it when he got back. The door opened on the house, and he cringed until he saw it was just the Indian girl. He stopped when he saw a tear rolling down the girl’s cheek. The giant walked out, and he panicked spinning the wheel and heading down a different road unsure of where it led waiting for the blast of a gunshot, but the only sound came from a desperate animal somewhere in the bleak maze of cages that made up this nightmare menagerie.
If he got help, he could save more animals. The radio to the station always worked and he called in. “Can you send help?” he asked the on duty captain.
“Yes, Felicia is available.”
“Never mind,” he said remembering her telling someone she was half Cherokee.
The other men made fun of her feathers and dress. They all avoided her. Once he saw her crying, but it made the harassment worse. She deserved it for bragging about being an Indian. The truck bounced making him aware of the drugged lynx shifting violently in the back, but he feared going back to face the man and his gun. The GPS failed to find his location and he continued driving without any ideal where he was going. Sleet started to fall which often happened in northern Idaho this time of year. The truck slid around a curve causing him to frantically turn the wheel which made him go sideways until he hit a tree and his head banged the steering wheel.
Darkness started to overcome him, and he felt nothing which scared him more than pain. He couldn’t focus when the pain seared through him until he heard someone speaking in another language. He recognized it as a Native American dialect. The pain faded, and he saw the shadow of a small girl. He cried out, “I’m sorry. It was my fault. My friends and I attacked the Indian man. He stabbed me in self-defense and we all hit him then he fell back and hit his head and died. We just ran away and left him there. I still see his pleading eyes looking for help.”
The girl touched his scar and the tears came until he felt the sleet coming in from the broken window until he blacked out. The sound of the lynx scratching in the back of the truck woke him up. The pain was gone and he seemed to have no injuries. It was a miracle when he saw the damage to the truck. He called for help and when he put the radio down he saw a feather in the front seat. He knew that feather. It was from a red-tailed hawk just like the one Lakota wore in her hair, except for its black edges, like someone burned it. The howl of a lonely wolf from far away made him feel a deep sadness; the sound faded away when no pack mates answered it and silence returned to the woods. The tears came again, and he felt the loneliness in his own life overwhelming him and hoped no one would find him, but his wish didn’t come true when flashing lights broke the darkness.
He called the police to report the traffickers then went home. He felt relieved after his confession and the scar didn’t hurt like usual, but the silence around him caused a dull pain in his stomach. When he called back he discovered that the police didn’t even search for the traffickers yet. No one reported a child missing and animal trafficking wasn’t a felony in Idaho. He knew that the reservations rarely trusted the police and wouldn’t report a missing girl. She could be from anywhere, even Canada. He stormed out and drove toward the trafficker’s location. The darkness would hide him, but the traffickers hunted in the dark and it was more dangerous to be in the woods. If he could think clearly, he would make a plan, but the girl with the feather distorted his thinking and he just wanted to save Lakota. Maybe it would help make up for the man he killed or at least help relieve his guilt.
The dark roads strained his eyes and he almost drifted off until he saw a large wolf dart
across the road. A narrow miss made him concentrate more. The GPS showed him the way, and when he was within fifty yards, he pulled over. The smell of smoke filled his nose, and he hoped they weren’t burning animals in an attempt to escape capture. But it was much worse then he feared.
The building simmered and crackled like popcorn in a fire when the sleet hit it. Aaron walked carefully, avoiding the embers that shined like devil’s eyes all around him. With his gun out, he approached the building only to find it gone except for blackened mounds of wood. The girl. They must have taken her with them. The wind changed direction and he
smelled burnt flesh. Waves of nausea threatened to overcome him, but he continued on. Inside, he saw one burning pile of blackened flesh that resembled a bear. Other piles only made him feel sicker and he ended up throwing up in violent seizures. He hoped the girl was safe, but when he saw a small pair of shoes he collapsed. Would they kill her? That thought was bad but selling her to someone for a sex slave wasn’t much better. The police came after his call and made him leave.
They woke him in the morning. “We’re sorry, but we found the body of a girl.”
He gasped and stared at the burnt feather on the table. “Did she have a feather in her hair?”
“A feather in her hair.”
“I’m sorry, but she was burnt beyond recognition. We can’t even identify her.”
“The traffickers must have feared capture and killed the girl and burned everything before running to the north.”
“Thanks,” he dropped the phone then hit the wall so hard he broke his fingers and left a hole then stormed out of the apartment with the feather in his pocket. In the animal control headquarters, he paced like the lynx that was still recovering in the animal hospital. A call came in for a suspected animal trafficking case in the north. It could be the same people. He ran to get his gear until the shift captain stopped him. “You can’t drive,” he said.
“I have to go. It can be them.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t let you go alone with the broken fingers.” He looked around until his eyes locked on Felicia. “She can drive.”
“You refused her help before. What happened?”
The captain stared at him then shook his head. “Okay,” he said.
Aaron looked at Felicia and saw something familiar. Could she be a relative of the man they attacked? It was a small town. The eyes that haunted him stared back and the scar started to throb. They walked out in silence and he kept his eyes forward unable to meet her. Above them a red-tailed hawk cruised in ever lowering circles until Aaron stopped walking to watch it. He shaded his eyes and saw a puff of smoke trailing it.
“Did you see that?”
“See what?” Felicia looked up into the sky. “The hawk?”
“No, the smoke coming from it.” He continued to watch, but when he blinked his eyes the smoke disappeared. “It’s gone.”
“No, it’s not. The hawk’s right there,” she looked at him with huge brown eyes.
He never saw her smile maybe because of the treatment she received from the other employees. Her stare made him freeze. “I see it. But there was—,” he stopped. “Never mind.” The hawk turned and flapped its huge wings frantically breaking the circle pattern.
"Where’s it going?” Felicia asked.
“North. Hurry, let’s follow it. It’s leading us to the traffickers.” He pulled out the burnt feather and put it on the dashboard on the passenger side of the truck.
“Okay, but it’s a bit strange to follow a hawk.” She started the engine.
“You must have a lot of strange secrets."
“I’m sorry,” he looked down.
“I like secrets especially dark ones.” She looked over at him and steered them out onto the road heading north. The hawk became a speck in the sky, but they could still follow it.
“Then you will really like mine, but you may kill me if you discover it.”
Felicia looked straight ahead and continued to follow the hawk into the wilderness toward unknown danger. “It hurts that everyone treats me bad because I’m Native American,” she blurted out.
The force of the words made Aaron wince.
“I’m sorry,” he swallowed a lot of air and started to cough.
“Are you okay?”
“No, I have something to tell you.” He stopped when the scar started to pulsate.
“You’re saved by the bell,” she said stopping the car at a clearing filled with cages.
“I was part of a group that attacked a Native American once,” he blurted out.
After a minute of silence Felicia turned toward him. “I’m sure it was a long time ago.”
“He died.” Aaron yelled then turned away. He looked out the window seeing an ugly image staring back at him. The silence filled the truck and he prepared for an attack. He held back tears and watched the hawk circle above them.
A wolf cried from inside one of cages breaking the stillness. “You always know there is going to be trouble when wolves cry.”
“Really,” he said.
“It’s an old saying my father told me once.” Her eyes glistened but she stared straight ahead.
“Then there is going to be trouble,” he said, hoping it wasn’t between them.
“Are you ready?” Felicia said opening the door and pulling out her gun.
He wiped his eyes and watched her get out. “As ready as I will ever be.” They approached the trafficker’s cabin in silence, but Aaron’s heart pounded like the beating of a marching band’s bass drum leading them into battle.