Emerging Writers. A New Short Story by Angela Rieck.
The Wolf You Feed
An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me between two wolves. One wolf is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Parable attributed to the Cherokee Nation
Rachel and James finished the dishes, Rachel sat on the sofa and turned on their favorite news channel. There was a breaking story—another unarmed young black man had been gunned down by the police in Baltimore. In their anger, the residents were burning and looting parts of downtown. Police in riot gear were setting up a barricade. The predominately black protestors were angry and frustrated, but most were marching peacefully carrying signs ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The mother of the slain victim was leading another protest with a handwritten sign ‘No Justice, No Peace.’ The darkness obscured most of the scene except for burning buildings that silhouetted the protestors. The high school yearbook picture of the slain youth was overlaid on the upper right of the screen. Rachel studied this innocent young man’s soft, big brown eyes and his luminous light brown skin. He had a wide, sweet grin that revealed an endearing gap between his two front teeth.
The reporter indicated that the young man had been in trouble recently. But his aunt described him as a kind boy, a dedicated father to his young son. He was a young man just starting his life, known for his loyalty to friends and family. And now, another innocent toddler would grow up without a father.
Rachel buried her head in her hands and began to silently weep. Her loss of purpose, her loss of foundation, her fractured marriage, her loss of career and friends connected her to the mother’s grief. Raw emotion overwhelmed her, and an unrelenting stream of tears took over.
James sat down beside her and provided an unwelcome back rub. “What is the matter?” he asked quietly.
“It is just so sad, when are they going to stop killing innocent, unarmed black men? When will ‘black lives matter?' I can’t even imagine how awful it must be to be black in America; they are targeted, they are killed, because they are black and poor. I can’t take it. I must do something. I am going to the march tomorrow.”
“I don’t know. You need to be careful.”
“What, do you think, some black man is going to kill me?” Rachel lifted her head in irritation.
“You know that is not what I meant. I was just worried about the volatile situation.”
“I have to do something, I just have to.” Rachel got up and walked outside, the lulling rhythm of the river provided little solace. The pervasive darkness was tempered by a bright moon that sparkled on the water and silhouetted the woodland lining the river. The surreal calm was pierced by the sound of waves lightly lapping against the pier. This stillness allowed the pain to move through her body and become aligned with the darkness.
The wind started to pick up and she could hear the rustling of the marsh grasses. She saw the cloud to cloud lightening; the moon became swiftly obscured. The metallic scent of the air hinted at an impending summer thunderstorm. She had learned that these signs did not guarantee a thunderstorm. Often the storm would pass by, to another county, to another town, to another river. She was hopeful it would, thunderstorms scared her. In New York City they did not slash through the landscape, they seemed more contained. But here they came quickly, without warning, brutal and swift. Rachel walked briskly back to the safety of her home.
Pete and Kathy returned home from their dinner with Rachel and James. Kathy was grateful that she had found a new project; she was going to help Rachel fit into the community. She was already formulating ideas about charity projects for Rachel. Pete was just happy to get the evening over with only minimal conversation with Jimmy. Pete grabbed the remote and turned on their favorite news channel.
The reporter indicated that there were new riots in Baltimore, more looting, more violence. An unarmed black man with a long rap sheet was shot and killed. He had been pulling his keys out of his pocket when a policeman mistook them for a gun. The policeman reacted quickly, shooting and killing him. The experts demonstrated how the glint from the metal of the keys was easy to mistake for a gun. They interviewed the police commissioner who promised a full investigation and was calling for calm. However, his request was ignored by a vocal crowd of angry, violent black men who had started looting and burning the stores in protests. The multi-racial police force was trying to establish a barricade to protect Baltimore residents. Yet, the police were being pelted with trash and stones while enduring insults from this angry crowd. The police had demonstrated calm and used tear gas only when more peaceful efforts to disperse the mob failed. The most recent mug shot of the victim was overlaid on the upper right of the screen. His light brown skin contrasted with his large menacing, brown eyes that were staring down the photographer. His jaw was lifted in defiance and arrogance. His mouth was open displaying a gap between his teeth.
“This is just awful,” said Kathy. “Why don’t they understand how tough it is for policeman out there? That cop had a split second to make decision. Do you think that he wanted to kill that man?”
“Of course not.”
“If I weren’t working I would go up there, the police need to know that regular people appreciate what they do. I am sure that this cop is very upset, he only had a few seconds to make a choice; it was his life or that criminal’s. Now he’ll get suspended, get prosecuted by some person trying to get publicity. It seems like law-abiding citizens are under siege.”
“They’ll probably call anyone who supports the police a racist. Look! About half of the police force is black too! I don’t care what they call us, I am supporting our men in blue!” Pete grabbed a cigarette and walked outside in disgust.
He inhaled his cigarette and looked out over their land. The corn that they had planted was almost a foot tall now. He could feel, rather than see the dark, bright green shoots. An occasional firefly appeared and disappeared in the dark night sky.
He walked over to the equipment shed and watched the barn cats scatter. He could see a pair of eyes in the distance; a fox was beginning his hunt. Pete walked over to the chicken shed to make sure the fence was shut tight. Hearing Pete’s movement, the fox ran back into the forest.
Pete inhaled his cigarette again and looked out over the land. He had not been fortunate enough to be born with land, his father was a day laborer on a farm, his mother, the school librarian. But Pete had dreamed of owning his own piece of land. Kathy was perfect for him. She was kind, smart, and hardworking. She partially inherited the family farm when both of her brothers went south in search of jobs. After her father died, they took out a mortgage and bought rest of the farm from her brothers. Pete loved it. He didn’t mind the hard work, just feeling the earth and watching the crops grow, that was all that he wanted.
An owl hooted, Pete went into the chicken house to make sure that all of the chickens were in their nests. Even the obstreperous rooster had settled in for the night, although sometimes Pete thought that he wouldn’t mind if an owl took him and shut him up. But hens didn’t lay a lot of eggs unless there was a rooster around. Roosters were so aggressive and territorial that if Pete got another one, he probably wouldn’t be any better than this one. But if that rooster continued to get on Pete’s nerves, he would make a nice Sunday dinner.
The young corn shoots starting to rustle. The wind had picked up and the moon was now obscured by dark clouds. He could smell the unmistakable metallic scent that preceded a thunderstorm. ‘A good chance of rain,’ Pete thought. ‘Good, we really need it.’ He moved toward the outdoor porch. He loved nothing more that sitting under a covered porch to fully experience a thunderstorm. He heard thunder rumbling in the distance. Maybe tonight they would be lucky. If it didn’t rain by Saturday, he and Kathy were going to have to get the irrigation out. That damn pump was always breaking down; they needed another but didn’t have enough money to buy one. It was hard to work on a farm on weekends, but a family farm that used to sustain Kathy and her brothers now only made around $10,000 in a good year. Things had changed a lot in 20 years.
He dropped the cigarette onto the ground and stepped on it. He thought about the news and shook his head. Being an NRP, he knew how tough it was to enforce the law. People got mad at him, got in his face, and he had even been shot at by one of the real bad poachers in the area. He couldn’t imagine how tough it was being a cop, where you could be gunned down any time. Last week a guy who was caught hunting out of season got up in his face with the rifle, saying that he was just protecting his property. When Pete pointed out that those pheasants in his bag didn't look too dangerous, the farmer got irate. Pete wouldn’t back down. He gave the man a citation and told him that he if he didn’t pay he was going to show up personally with the police. He couldn’t let these guys intimidate him. He could only imagine what it was like for the police having to stand up to people who had hidden weapons, handguns, knives. At least Pete could see the weapons of his opponents. Pete would like one of those liberals to be on the wrong side of a gun and see how liberal they would be.
The temperature dropped about 10 degrees and Pete smiled. The large raindrops clanged on the tin roof over the porch. A lightning bolt lit the woodland that framed the field; the clap of thunder shook the house. For an eerie instant, the whole landscape lit up. He smiled, nothing like a thunderstorm to clean the earth and wipe away angry thoughts. Kathy brought out a beer and the two sat on the porch holding hands, listening to the downpour.
Here is a link to the first chapter, “The River,” in the event that you missed it. Subsequent chapters will be posted on Hummingbird as they are published.