‘What is this?! What is this? We can’t go there, we have a plan! We have a deal!!! Come back right now!!!’
Cleo’s desperate yells were echoing through the forest. They emptied the trees of clusters after clusters of birds now darting terrified in all directions. And yet, the wolf and the cock raced ahead. Neil, of course, had to be carried, but Pigli had discovered new strength and his limbs worked like turbo-reactors. They were fast and firm and through his nostrils the cold damp forest air circulated leaving behind only small wreaths of fog. Only Cleo kept screaming and pleading from behind:
‘What about me? Don’t go! Come back! Come back now! We have a deal!’
At this point Pigli braked to a skidding halt on the wet, leaf-covered floor of the forest, which sent Neil flying longer than he’d ever flown in one stretch during his entire existence, until his glorious and quite enjoyable ascension was suddenly cut short by a bald-faced tree. The wolf turned to Cleo, and atomized her with the intensity of his glare.
‘You listen here and you listen good’, Pigli began his shocking discourse which launched a shudder through Cleo’s ringlets. ‘The deal’s off. Do you hear me? You can join us or you can return to your lot, and I won’t be terribly grieved if you do. It’s your choice. But you’d better stop this yelling RIGHT NOW!!! I’m a wolf, darn it, and I’m not your puppet!’
Cleo’s eyes widened all the way to her ears, which were already flattened towards the back of her neck from the fright she had just received. For a couple of moments she was incapacitated. She couldn’t move from the spot. Not a single inch. It was as if she had taken root. She was petrified and, at the same time, unable to control the quiver in her tummy and the cold chills along her spine. Her eyelids filled with burning, glittering tears, like a string of sharp little diamonds, dribbling onto the forest floor, and only her super-ovine ambition kept her from wailing out loud. But after a few minutes, with Boss and Neil gone, the realisation of finding herself all alone in the dark womb of the forest and the terrible restrain of not having anyone to talk to made the blood return to her body. It came swiftly, with new warmth and a new fire, and spurred her onwards. She was not about to go back a loser. She was not going to desert her friends. And she was not going to be a burden. She’ll let everyone know what Cleo the Sheep is made of. She’ll let everyone know what Cleo the Sheep can do! And as for the wolf, well, a strange awe for him crept over her, and she didn’t fight it back. At least now she could see why everybody called him “the Boss”.
They arrived at the place Neil rigorously indicated in the afternoon. It was pleasant and warm, the pink blossoms were swaying in the apricot trees and the valley gaped beneath them as far as the eye could see. As soon as they’d gotten there, Pigli had become unapproachable; there was no way to communicate with him. He did not talk and he did not listen, he did not eat and he just barely breathed. He was totally focused on his detective work. Identifying tracks, footprints and scents. Neil and Cleo on the other hand welcomed the opportunity to lie on their backs, sunbathe, and enjoy a little snack. No one felt too much like talking. Everyone was getting in touch with their own selves, fighting their own ghosts, I guess. A few hours trickled away. The evening was glorious and they were glad of it. Suddenly, however, the wolf squealed so loud that they both sprang to their feet and rushed into the brushwood to help him, worried to death he had fallen into a trap. But he hadn’t. They found him sitting by a series of footprints with lowered forehead.
‘The left posterior paw. Look at the mark. It’s shallower. A limp. She wasn’t using this one so much.’
‘You mean, I wasn’t dreaming?’, Neil ventured a question, fascinated by the discovery.
‘No. It’s her. It’s Tina.’
‘Who’s Tina?’, the cock inquired softly, genuinely baffled. There was something about Pigli’s attitude and sorrow. No one dared to talk too loud.
Uh-oh, here it goes – love pains, thought Cleo. It dawned on her. All that disappointment with life, that imperturbable cynicism, and then the sudden passion, the anger that took possession of him as he recalled the shooting incident. What else can it be when a male goes months without shaving and no longer enjoys the hunt? It wasn’t hard to put 2 and 2 together and Cleo was quite the investigator herself. Now she understood but refrained from giving tongue to it. She extended the wolf a kind, considerate glance. He reciprocated it and lay himself down by the footprints, nearly embracing them.
‘Who is Tina?’, Neil whispered again into Cleo’s ear.
‘An old… friend’, she finally explained, looking deep into Pigli’s eyes. It’s ok, you can tell him, they read.
‘An old girlfriend’, she added.
(to be continued)