This would probably be a good time to tell you he had corns. Who? Well, Neil of course, who else. They noticed that while rubbing the reflex zones on his feet, to resuscitate him. It was hard work. Especially amid that stench emanating from his toes… You see, Cleo’s relaxation had been brief and had soon given way to a violent attack of panic. It appeared to her he had stopped breathing. So a new instinct, a new frantic passion she had not been aware of before, was taking possession of her. Mothering. She was at it with a sort of crazy fervor. Pigli reluctantly joined in, just to please her, or better said, to make her desperate yells stop. He tried to convince her they were better off with him dead, at least this way he could never harm anyone with his singing again. But that only sent her berserk. She was terrified Neil would die in her arms and, after all, she wasn’t about destroying lesser creatures, such as cocks; there was no fame to be had in that. No, no, she was determined Neil would live. Which he did. Eventually. Corny feet and all.
The first thing Neil did when he came to his senses was moan. The second thing Neil did was to purse his lips and whisper softly ‘Thank you, thank you, gentle creature’ to Pigli who was leaning over him at an unusually close distance. It must be said, in Pigli’s defense, however, that he had not arrived at this solution by choice. His free will had been drastically impaired by Cleo’s hysteria until he was basically left with only two options: to give Neil a mouth-to-mouth or to risk being viciously attacked by an – in all probability – rabid and paranoid sheep.
Neil’s eyes finally opened, but they were dim and opaque, so Cleo promptly poured a gallon of cold source water on his face and nearly drowned him. He choked and sneezed half a dozen times. His eyes gleamed a little more vividly after that. But to Cleo’s unspoken dismay, it was the indolent wolf that was absorbing Neil’s attention entirely. After all her efforts! She had been on this planet a long time, but she had yet to get used to male ingratitude. She had met with it so often and still she couldn’t master it without a sob. She could see Neil was not in full possession of his faculties – and, between you and me, she doubted he ever would be – but he was visibly struck by Pigli’s presence. As for Pigli, the cold-blooded devil-may-care had turned his back on the whole affair, too busy wiping his mouth with the back of his paw. He sat in the shade looking disgusted.
‘Say, haven’t we met before?’, the giddy cock finally managed to articulate.
‘Ohhh, you probably say that to all your girlfriends…’ Cleo answered and blushed.
‘Not you, I mean… her!’
‘Her?!’ Cleo’s jealous cry shot through the woods and resonated with the distant corners of the Universe. A supernova somewhere must have imploded from the reverberation. Ah, the deception! Ah, the sorrows of the dedicated nurse whose patient returns to health and leaves unaware of her endeavour! Ah, the pain in a protective mother’s bosom when her only-born gets engaged!… ‘Which her?!’
‘Well, the wolf.’ Startled, Pigli began to make his way back towards them. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen her before. Unless I was dreaming, she saved my life once before. Two days ago, not far from here.’
‘You were dreaming’, said Cleo curtly.
‘That’s quite possible’, Neil readily agreed. ‘I’m an artist you know, that’s what we do.’
‘Yeah, yeah, we know all about it’, she ruffled him. ‘That’s what drugs will do to you. You’re delusional. You fell and hit your head. First of all, this wolf’, she said, pointing to Pigli who was approaching, ‘is a guy. His name is Boss, and I’m Cleo. Remember, I introduced you. But I can see you’re full of unfulfilled fantasies…’
‘Yes, what do you suppose it could all mean?’, Neil asked with genuine interest.
‘Second of all’, Cleo purposefully ignored the interruption, ‘we just got here and there’s no other wolf in these woods. And hasn’t been for a long time. He told me so himself.’
‘For real?’ Neil’s eyes bulged out like Brussels sprouts. ‘But I could swear…’
‘I believe you could, but I’d rather you didn’t. Swearing is very very bad’, she said, swinging a pedagogical hoof in front of his face.
‘No, I meant…. Well, anyway…. Wow, are you sure?’
‘I have to ease up on those uppers, baby. I never knew smoking on an empty stomach can do that to you. And it wasn’t much help to my music either.’
You can say that again, Cleo thought but instead muttered only, ‘Mhmm’ and crossed her two front legs on her chest in righteous outrage.
‘What’s going on here?’ Pigli said, as he stopped by their side. Color was seeping back into Neil’s plumage.
‘Well, someone’s looking better’, Pigli said listlessly.
‘Thaaaanks!’ baaed Cleo, flipping her eyelashes.
‘I meant him.’
‘Oh.’ Another twinge, another kick in the stomach.
‘I see you’re back’, Pigli growled. ‘Are you here to stay this time, or should I plan my dinner?’
‘Ha ha ha! Sarcastic’, Neil said. ‘I like that.’ But there was a lump in his throat which he eventually swallowed.
‘So, she tells me you’re the only wolf left in these parts, huh?’, Neil inquired.
‘I am. Yes. What of it?’
‘Boy, in that case, I must have really had a bad week!’
‘No kidding…’, Pigli said and rolled his eyes.
‘Yeah, ’cause just two days ago, I could swear another wolf saved my life, not far from here, in a clearing just above the village.’
‘Another wolf? You mean… here?’, Pigli’s ears perked up. He toyed with a hypothesis but quickly dismissed it. ‘Nah, that’s impossible’, he concluded. It was no use getting his hopes up on the ravings of a lunatic.
‘Go figure. It must have been a dream, a mirage or something. I hadn’t eaten in a while… But this wolf, I mean, she felt so real, my throat still hurts. I mean, why do you suppose I would dream a she-wolf? Can it mean something? Oh my gosh, danger, enemies, what?’
‘Wait a minute, wait a minute! A she-wolf, you said? Describe this… dream of yours, will you?’, the Boss urged.
From the sidelines of her self-imposed exile, Cleo noticed an unusual spark in the wolf’s eyes.
‘Well, you see, I had just run away from the barn. There was a loose plank and I snuck out under it during the night. It was early morning already, they were bound to realize I was missing – no wake-up call, you see – and I had barely gotten as far as Abbot Point. You know the place? Yes.’ Pigli was nodding heavily, eager to push the story ahead. ‘Well, I was drained, I’m not much good at flying – not enough practice I suppose – so that’s when they caught up with me. My master and his posse. So I darted into the bushes for cover, determined to make one last run for it when, what do you know?’
‘I find myself face to face with a wolf! As close as you and me, dude, you know’.
‘So… I freeze. I totally freeze, paralyzed with fear. I must have passed out I guess, with the posse on my tracks, that’s the only explanation. And while I was out I was imagining things. I mean, there she is, this wolf, across my path, right before me, I can feel her breath on my feathers… I shake. I stammer. I mumble my prayers. I tell myself this must be the end, you know. Funny. It still feels so real… How come you’re interested, by the way?’
‘That’s me. I like to hear mental patients’ stories. Go ahead.’
‘So then the most amazing thing happens. This creature, this angel in a wolf’s coat, what does she do?’
‘You’re sure it was a she?’
‘I think it was a she. Definitely. I mean, I should be able to recognize a she, you’d think.’
‘Ok, ok. So what does she do?’
‘See, this is where I should have heard the first alarm bells – she talks! And in the kindest and most gentle of voices. Now, what is wrong with this picture? This cannot be real. I mean, how often does that happen in real life? You tell me.’
‘Very clever… What did she say ?’
‘Poor you, you look beat, she says. Do you need any help? I’m thinking, she’s pulling my leg, right? I’ll be the main dish for lunch. But just imagine, before I can make a gesture, she snatches me up by the throat, tells me to play dead – that’s not hard at this point, trust me – and what do you think she does next?’
‘She makes a run for it, dude! She leaps out of the forest, into the clearing, snarls at the posse, shows a couple of white, razor-sharp fangs, and puts them all to flight. There, she says. They’ll all think you’re paté now, and they’ll stop searching. You’re safe. I know what it’s like to be a prisoner, she tells me. I was one myself. Take care now, and she vanishes. Before I can even say thanks. Then I notice a limp in her left leg. Is that some kind of sign, in dream language or what? I mean it’s not even plausible, right?’
‘Right, right…’ said Pigli in a trance, juggling hundreds of conflicting ideas in his brain all at once. His face had tautened and he had become so focused, so determined during the last minutes that even Cleo could see it was a bad time to distract him. A strange kind of inner turbulence had taken over him.
‘Tell me this’, Pigli finally said in a quick breath. ‘Do you think you could accurately locate the place from your “dream”? I mean, can you recognize the exact spot; can you take me to it? I haven’t been around those parts in a long time.’
‘I think so but why…’
‘Thank you, buddy! Let’s go!’, and without waiting for the other two, Pigli dashed ahead in the direction of Abbot Point.
(to be continued)