The Sublators is a fantasy novella. Has werewolf and philosophical themes.
| The wolf knew that it hated. It could not remember why; the details of a past life, tottering about on two legs, listening to sounds just to listen and not to hunt, these things were little more to the wolf than a dream without context. The wolf knew, though, that something had been taken from it. Something related to that dream. Another world and another life now impossibly distant when only the sounds and scents of it sometimes reaching his ears and his snout.
Sometimes the wolf’s mouth would water when it heard those sounds and smelled those scents. At first this mouth-watering brought anguish and the wolf would tear at his face with its paws, scarring his countenance. He would climb the ridges at night and howl mournfully at the white sphere which gave and took its light like as fickle as a female in heat. He was always hungry but eating seemed to make the dream fade more. He used to resist eating, but tonight he could not remember why he had bothered. It made no sense not to eat. Eating was joy.
Still, the wolf knew that it hated. It could remember a man, fur lining his cowl and the scent of venom coming from within his hood. The fur smelled faintly of wolf but this was not why he hated the man. The man had bared his teeth and offered him strength but all he had given him was a nightmare.
The wolf ate. Mostly rabbits in traps, foxes in cages. One thing he remembered from his dreams were the traps. The men, tottering ridiculously about on their two legs, would set the traps made from iron. The wolf usually felt envy when he saw or scented them but today he felt hunger more than anything else. The wolf remembered: The traps were made of iron and would trap legs, they were made of wood to trap rabbits, they were like a spider’s web and trapped foxed. They could even trap bears if their iron teeth were large enough. The men could trap anything and for some reason the wolf felt pride.
Why did he feel pride? Was it because he knew how the men’s tricks worked? They could not trap him. He would enter their territory, unevenly marked as it was, and steal their prey. He would eat fresh meat. The joy of fresh meat would be his and then maybe his pain and hatred would fade a bit more.
He hid above the ridge until the scents and sounds of men had passed. The wind changed, then returned. Still no men. The white sphere favored him with its light, almost necessary to avoid the iron teeth. He slipped from the brush and strode down the embankment, following a scent of blood. Already the scent had filled the air. Perhaps a rabbit had been mangled in an iron trap, but it smelled more of deer. The scent of its urine confirmed for him that it could not escape. A pitiful moan caressed his ears, almost as the sounds he had listened to in his dream once had.
The light of the moon shone upon an iron sphere with teeth. The wolf avoided this trap carefully. A rabbit trapped behind thin, uniform wooden sticks squealed and bounced against the walls in panic when it saw him, but he ignored it because there was better prey ahead. Just over the next ridge he was sure; the scents danced up and down on the wind. A trail of saliva dripped between his legs as he climbed on all fours, full of anticipation.
There it was! A young deer! It turned quickly to look at him, its soft moans replaced with a serenade of terror. It bucked and tried to get away, but its leg was stuck fast. It nearly fell as blood sprayed, but the iron teeth of the man-trap held it fast. The wolf’s hatred melted away and all to be felt was joy. It bounded forward, leaping, its saliva leaving a trail behind it through the air instead of upon the ground. It had slept many times since last eating and the steady pain in its stomach was forgotten as it flew towards its prey, yellow teeth grasping.
And then, pain! A loud crack followed an agony racing through his leg. He howled. He howled and howled and pulled, but he could not get free. Something had grasped his leg. What was it! It had teeth! He attacked it viciously with his own teeth, but it did not lessen its grip. He pawed at it as pain lanced mercilessly through his body, but he could not get free. He tried to remember something, something from his dream-- didn’t he know what this was? Didn’t he know there was a way to open it? But the pain was too great and he could not remember anything. He struggled, he snarled and howled and roared; but no matter how he fought the hard black teeth would not loosen their grip.
And the worst thing of all was the deer. The deer! It was just out of his grasp. He reached towards it, snapping with his fangs. It shied away but in truth there was no need to. His prey, his beautiful pathetic prey, was just barely out of his reach. He howled in hunger and rage and self-pity.
In time, the cold sphere gave up its territory in the sky to the hot, orange sphere and the wolf had given up all hopes of eating. Eventually a thirst began, long and terrible. He lapped up his own blood but it was not enough to assuage him. He had almost no strength left and saw no point in fighting against the black teeth any longer, as he had given up and tried again and given up many times.
In the afternoon, the men came. They tread carefully about, uncovering traps hidden under leaves and lifting frightened rabbits up upon their hoofed slave-beasts. They slit the doe’s throat and hefted her up upon their slave-beast. The wolf lay still, feigning death. The men began to make sounds and somehow the wolf could understand what the sounds were trying to show.
“Hell fire on a frog iris, what you reckon we oughta do with this here wolf, Jeremiah?” said the smaller male.
“I don’t think he’s dead, son.” said the larger, older male. “Don't get close. Those wolves are crafty. Might have been a danger to your brother, God help him. Glad we got one here.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” the smaller male said. His blue eyes were small and pensive as he spoke. “Daft kid had this weird thing about wolves. He always thought they were great. Look how ugly this one is, though. He sure messed up his face somewhere along the way.”
“The old ones are the crafty ones. He looks old to me. They get scars sometimes, fighting with other wolves. Probably this fellow was so old that he couldn't hunt no more, so he came after our prey. Usually they know better than to do that.”
“What should we do with him? Jerry? Spear 'em?”
“We spear him to make sure that he’s dead, then the women can do something with his pelt. Wolf stew is pretty good too. He’s a beaut, except for that face.”
The wolf cracked open one eye. The men were getting sticks from off their slave-beast. Long sticks with sharp ends. A whimper escaped his throat; he knew what those sticks were for. He was too weak to struggle anymore. This was his end.
Then, HATRED! Hatred filled him! Who had done this to him? Where was the man in the hood? The man who smelled like venom? Where was he! The wolf began to howl. He howled with rage but also with sorrow. He howled as hard as he could.
“Woah, he’s alive all right.” said the smaller man.
“Maybe he knows his end is near?” said the large, graying man.
“I don’t know but let’s shut him up, he's gonna make me feel sorry for him. I hate the sound of a howling wolf. Always puts me on edge.”
The men advanced towards him, holding their sharp sticks firmly in their hands. The wolf howled. The men got close, close enough to use their sticks but not close enough for him to use his teeth. He shook and howled. The older man raised his stick, the sharp end pointed at the wolf's heart. The younger man did not. The older man looked curiously at the younger man, who was looking over the ridge from which the wolf had come.
“What is it, mate? Is there more wolves? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“It’s...” the smaller man stuttered.
“Spit it out,” said the graying man impatiently. “I want to know if I can turn around.”
“Sir, you can turn around.” said a cool, calm voice. This voice was not like the other voices. It sounded like a snake moving over rocks, or snow falling off the branch of a tree. It sounded like an owl that had learned how to speak with the mouths of men.
The graying man looked back over his shoulder. “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here, gypsie. One of our boys disappeared after you talked to him about magic. We think he ran off into the wilderness looking for some wolves or some magic and we don’t like magic in these parts."
"Yeah!" shouted the younger man. The old man gave his charge a disapproving look. "You be quiet now, Rodrik." Then he turned around to face the new arrival.
"Too many bad memories. You understand. Memories about the Sublators.” The graying man kept his calm, but there was a subtle anger present in his voice. He looked up to better assess their new companion. The cold man stood atop the grassy ridge, his features shadowed by the fur-lined hood of his cloak. His green eyes shone forth venomously, almost in juxtaposition to his calm expression.
“I am not headed for your village;” the man offered calmly. “I am only here for that wolf.”
“You're here for the wolf?” the gray man was surprised. “You own this wolf? You keep wolves as pets? That almost makes me think that you’re a wizard. We don’t like wizards...” before he could finish, a shouting from the younger man behind him cut him off.
“You’re a wizard! You’re a wizard! We hate wizards! We’ll kill you!” the smaller, younger man howled. The graying man saw the cold man raise his hand, as if to ward off an attack. What was that young fool doing? Was he going to throw his spear?
The gray man started to turn around, when he heard a strange hissing and snapping sound. He heard a yelp come from his young charge. It had only taken the graying man a moment to turn around, yet his ward was now kneeling, grasping his face in his hands. His spear was gone. He vaguely saw the tail of a rattlesnake slithering away into the brush. The young man’s face was swelling with great speed, turning red almost to the point of bursting as blood seeped from two holes in his cheek. Then he fell forward from his knees to the ground.
“Rodrik! My God, what happened?” shouted the old man. He started to rush forward, but quickly remembering himself, chose to gingerly circled around the wolf which had lain there silently this whole time. As he circled around the wolf, he took a careful, wary look at it. Its eyes were fixed upon the newer arrival to the scene, its lips drawn back from its teeth in a quiet snarl. It had not even seemed to notice his charge fall forward, almost on top of it, though it did not seem to be dead. Spittle foamed along its mouth and its breaths were short and tense.
The graying man examined his ward quickly. It was clear to him that he had taken a rattlesnake bite to the face. If he lived, he would thank him for this later; the old man took out his knife and quickly gashed the young man’s face open, squeezing out the yellow-brown venom that had collected into the swelling wound.
“Your friend was attacked by a rattler-” the cold man began.
“Shut up! I know that!” yelled the older man. “I can see that! I can see he was attacked by a snake. But I don’t know how. I don’t know how a snake gets up to a man’s face like that.” He picked up the smaller man, as well as he could, and began to half-drag and half carry him towards their pack horse. The deer would have to wait. The cold man stood calmly, adjusting the straps of his traveler’s backpack. A knife, curved and sinister, jangled at his hip as he adjusted his weight, waiting calmly for the older man to leave. A sling of some sort protruded from the pack.
“I wish you the best of luck with treating your friend.” the green-eyed man offered. The older, graying man glared at him with more than a bit of fear in his eyes.
“Don’t show your face around these parts again. You got that?”
The cold man smiled; though dirt caked his features, his teeth were somehow meticulously white. “No promises. I am a traveler after all.”
“You’re a witch is what you are. A wizard. We’re not afraid of you, wizard.” the old man was shaking as he tried to lift his whimpering charge up upon the horse, but his strength failed him and he dropped to the ground. The old man swore and lifted him again as the other man stood patiently by, and with some effort the younger man’s upper body became slumped over the saddle of the pack horse. Without another word, the graying man left back the way they had come, looking warily over his shoulder at the green-eyed man who had already walked up to and knelt before the wolf.
The wolf knew that he hated. He also knew that he hated this man. But he had forgotten something up until now; he also feared this man! He made him so fearful! He whimpered as a rough hand, stinking of snake, reached out towards his face and caressed his head. There was no love in his caress.
“Oh, you poor thing. You poor, stupid thing.” said the man. “You were not suitable. Your soul became the wolf too quickly. Was it because you are a child?” the man pondered for a moment, as if he had asked a rhetorical question to the wind. Eventually he stood up and looked at the noon sun. “Just how far is the divide, between beast and man? Can a child not straddle it?” he looked back down, and the wolf whimpered. “Or would this have happened to you even if you were older?” A moment passed, the wind hummed and the wolf stared up in mute horror.
The cold man knelt down again. “I’m sorry, but I have to take my magic back now. I only have so much, you know. I only have so much. But you did well. I have learned things from you.” he reached out with his scaly hand again and this time, for the last time, the wolf howled. Then, all of the wolf’s hatred went away.
"I will have to find someone with a bigger soul," the man said quietly.
Many days later, the villagers returned to the scene. The younger man had survived but his face was scarred and discolored and would remain as such for the rest of his life. His features quivered with rage. In their iron traps, they found the corpses of a deer and a young boy, the boy being the younger of two brothers from their village. No one dared to comfort the young man because he was clearly cursed. Not long after, he left the village, following the tracks of a traveler who seemed headed for the city.