I returned to school today at father’s insistence. I am only a few weeks away from attaining my diploma and while it is still unclear if I shall further my education at Primrose College my father is clear in his wishes for me to finish my schooling thus far. I think Mr. Stone was surprised to see me in class again. He did not give pause but the look on his face when I walked through the door was surely one of surprise.
At the end of the school day he asked to have a word with me. I was far from surprised at the request.
“Sarah.” He began once we were alone.
“I am glad to see your parents saw fit to return you to school.”
“My father was quite insistent.”
“I know I may have overstepped my bounds in applying to college for you, and I apologize for my boldness.”
“You should have spoke with me before my parents.”
“I can see that now. Please forgive me. It was only your best interest I was seeking.”
“What is done is done.”
“Very well. Please give my best to your mother and father. I will not delay you further.”
“Good day, Mr. Stone.” I nodded my head and left.
I was perhaps harsher with my teacher than strictly necessary or called for. I had dreaded in some way attending class again after the incident with my parents. His demeanor had been inappropriate and I have yet to forget his condescension toward my parents. For some actions there are no excuses.
Truthfully, I was thinking quite a lot but not one bit of my thoughts turned toward my responsibilities and where I was supposed to be. Instead I rejoiced in the ride. Father hates it when I run Jasper. There is an indescribable freedom as the wind rushes through my hair and my heart races with Jasper. He loves the run as much as I. I can see it in his eyes and feel it in his stride.
The ride, the freedom of the ride, that is what I needed today. Shame on me for putting my needs ahead of my responsibilities. I cannot help who I am though. The burden of what I want and cannot have is weighing me down. I barely sleep at night. I am unfocussed all the time. All I ever think about is going away to school.
I love my parents. I truly do. I have though, come to feel my place is elsewhere and not here. I feel as though a storm sits on the horizon, just out of sight and sound. The world is changing and somewhere, there is not just a place but a need for me. I have to find that place and yet I think there is no one, except perhaps Sam, who can understand.
As Jasper and I reached the foot hills, I noticed the sun dipping its head in the sky. There was hardly a cloud to be seen. The mountains were snowcapped and even nearby there were pockets of late melting snow. Birds chirped there spring tunes of love all around me. The snap of a nearby twig startled me from my thoughts. Jasper snorted a warning.
Looking toward the sound I saw it. The wolf snarled. Even in its aggressive state it was beautiful. The white and gray hair are a luxury export item from our town. Cruel to hunt an animal purely to skin it and sell its fur but the world can be a cruel place for anyone. The wolf seemed to be gauging whether Jasper and I were a threat or food. I did my best to keep Jasper calm.
Another twig to my right and behind me this time. I glanced and saw white and gray. My heart began to pound in my chest. I looked back toward the first wolf just in time to see it mid-air. An instant later I was thrown to the ground as Jasper raised up and kicked the wolf to the ground. The wolf growled. Jasper snorted and moved protectively toward me.
I slowly pushed myself up from the ground. I winced as I stood, my ankle shooting pain. Not quite broken I thought. Assessing the situation, I determined there were only two of them. They were circling us, sizing us up and I was sizing them up. I swallowed my panic and forced my brain to think.
Jasper was eyeing the wolves wearily. Despite his warnings and stance I could feel his fear. The air seemed to pulse in tune with throbbing blood in my ears. The wolves were careful hunters. They knew we were far from easy prey. They were waiting for the right moment to attack again.
I knew mounting Jasper and riding out was not an option. Even if we could out run them, I have never mounted Jasper or any horse on the first try. I silently cursed myself for being so stupid as to ride out alone with not a soul aware of my destination. I kicked dirt toward one of the wolves in my frustration. It only served to make it angrier.
It began to lunge toward me. Jasper tensed and angled himself for a kick. The wolf stopped and snarled frustration. It was then I began to work out a solution for our predicament. There were stones on the ground at my feet. Many of them large enough to hurt if they were thrown. I carefully scouted for a larger one that was still light enough for me to throw. I kept my eyes on the wolves and only used my hands to search.
I picked one after a tense minute of searching. I hefted it in my right hand. The extra weight and moving increased the discomfort coming from my injured ankle. I winced. The wolves seemed to be taunting me. Taking pleasure in their secure knowledge I was hurt. They had time on their side and they danced accordingly. I aimed and threw.
The wolf gracefully jumped to the side and the stone tumbled to the ground with a gently thud. The wolf made a strange throaty noise. I swear it was snickering at me. I knelt again and found a second stone. This one was lighter. With enough speed it would still likely have the desired effect and maybe this time I could throw it fast enough that the wolf wouldn’t be able to avoid it. I hefted it carefully, this time gritting my teeth through the pain in my ankle and refusing to flinch. I threw.
The wolf yelped like a kicked dog. It shook its head and stepped back. There was no laughter this time. The wolf gave an angry howl and I heard a rustling behind me. It was then I realized my mistake. I had forgotten about the second wolf.
I spun around to see it launching itself into the air at me. Jasper moved to intercept it. I did not stop to watch. I grabbed frantically for another stone on the ground. My fingers clawed one up as I spun back toward the first wolf. I felt a fingernail bend and snap as I pulled the stone from the dirt. There was no time to think. The first wolf was in flight and only seconds from crashing into me. I brought the stone up and rather than throwing it I smashed it with all my strength into the wolf’s mouth. At the same time I heard a thud and an ear piercing yelp.
The first wolf hit the ground with blood running from its mouth. It carefully backed away from me. I wanted to look behind me to see how Jasper had managed but I knew I could not take my eyes off the one in front of me or it would attack again. I heard whimpering behind me and Jasper’s snorting.
Jasper turned toward the wolf I was watching retreat. He took a purposeful stride toward it. The wolf turned and ran into the woods. I look behind me and saw we were once again alone. Jasper came to me and nuzzled his head against my cheek. I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him for a moment. We were safe.
I decided it was not wise to remain there. I hurt my ankle further as I attempted to mount Jasper again. On my eighth attempt, with tears in my eyes, I finally made it. My left hand was bleeding from my index finger where I had torn the nail off grabbing the rock which had likely saved my life. I carefully wrapped it in the folds of my sleeve, already hearing my mother’s scolding for staining my clothes.
Jasper trotted slower than usual as we left. I think he was still jittery. My ankle throbbed with every step he took. The sun had set and it was too dark for my eyes to see any longer. Jasper guided us toward home. We had to pass the school house again and as we neared it I could see light coming from it. Mr. Stone was undoubtedly still working.
I nudged Jasper toward the school and after a moment’s hesitation he changed directions and we came to a stop in front of the white building. I considered my options and decided a dismount and walking inside was not going to happen.
“Mr. Stone.” I called out.
The door to the school opened and Mr. Stone strolled out with a confused look on his face.
“I need your help.”
I could see the concern on his face even in the shadows of the night.
“You may start explaining yourself anytime, Sarah.”
“When I left here, I went riding into the foothills. Jasper and I ran into a pair of timber wolves.”
“What were you thinking to head into the foothills alone?” Mr. Stone interrupted me.
“I needed time to think.”
“Fanciful excuse, Sarah. It sounds to me as though thinking was exactly what you were not doing.”
“Be that as it may, I was lost in thought and paid no mind to where I was going until I was already there.”
“Jasper threw you and fought off a couple of wolves to protect you?”
I nodded my head confirming his questioning statement.
“God must be looking out for you. I have seen elk taken down by timber wolves in less than a minute.”
“Not God, Jasper.”
“You should not say things like that.”
“You speak the truth but I am wizened enough to know better than to speak it openly.”
“I made a mistake.”
“If I tell my parents what I did today and why I was not there…” My voice trailed off.
Mr. Stone sighed. He looked at me for a moment and then closed his eyes. The silence between us felt heavy, weighted down with the untold lies I bargained for. I was about to rescind my request and ask he take me home.
“All right. I will help you, but you are not getting off without punishment.” He looked unflinchingly into my eyes.