Deep in the woods that proliferate at the edge of human civilization, there lived a pack of shaggy gray wolves. This pack was one of the larger, stronger packs around, numbering four adults and four well-fed cubs. Several generations of wolves convened to form this pack, as is customary for the species. Leading the pack was the broad-shouldered alpha wolf Santos and the patient den mother Maria, parents to the four cubs and offspring of the elder two.
Maria raised the cubs while Santos scavenged and hunted for food: this is how it was and how it had always been. Though Santos’ inexplicable desire to consume his own children had long since abated, Maria still kept the cubs separate from him for the most part. Santos didn’t mind, he preferred the lonely hunt, and he bristled at being hassled by a bunch of nipping, barking pups. However, like all parents of multiple children, Santos did have a favorite, his pick of the litter: the smallest male cub, Eduardo. Santos would specially clean his fur and keep him in the range of smell when guarding the den.
One evening, Santos decided to take Eduardo out for a hunt. Santos had never offered this to his other children, and they’d never asked. If they felt slighted by their father’s preference for Eduardo, the other cubs never let on. They stayed back at the den, happily doing whatever it is that cubs like to do all night. Santos and Eduardo set out in the early evening, when it was still dusk, so they could put some distance between the den and themselves by nightfall.
Hours later, Santos and Eduardo found themselves in a bright, grassy clearing. Santos spotted a deer idly standing beside a fallen tree, nibbling at the moss that grew on its underside. He gave his son a look which instructed Eduardo to stay back and remain silent, then Santos stealthily stalked the deer. When he was close enough to pounce, Santos leaped from his spot in the tall grass and lunged directly for the deer’s throat.
In a split-second, everything went wrong. The deer turned its head just in time so that Santos’ fangs missed their target. Santos landed hard on the ground, taking much of the blow from falling on his neck. The startled deer reared up on its hind legs, and with its full weight crashed down on Santos’ writhing form, smashing his insides with a series of sickeningly sharp snapping sounds. The deer reared back and descended again and again, puffs of hot steam billowing from its nostrils with every thud of its hooves. Santos stopped moving, and the deer sprinted away into the dense woods, disappearing from sight almost immediately.
After some time, Eduardo timidly crept over to his father’s prostrate, mangled body. Santos’ limbs jutted out at awkward angles and his fur was matted with blood. The wolf’s tongue lolled grotesquely from his mouth and his breath was ragged and watery. He looked at his son with panicked, wet eyes, and spoke:
“Soon I will be dead, Eduardo, and you will lead the pack. Take the tongue from my mouth and carry it back to the den. Show your mother and your grandparents, tell the tale of my last moments to your sister and brothers, keep and honor me as I have honored the pack.”
Eduardo nodded slowly and paced around to his father’s head. Timidly, he lowered his snout so that he could smell his father’s hot, bloody breath expelling directly into his nose. Eduardo took Santos’ tongue in his mouth, which caused Santos to twitch and whimper. The cub then bit down hard, making his father whine and squeal as blood sprayed into Eduardo’s mouth. After some work, Eduardo tore the tongue away from his father and held it loosely in his jaws, like his mother would carry him when he strayed too far from the den. Santos stared blankly at his son, and with a last, whining wheeze, expired there in the clearing.
Silently paying his last respects, Eduardo turned and began the long trek back to the pack, his father’s tongue hanging limp between Eduardo’s fangs. He could taste his father’s blood trickling into his throat, which made him feel a little sick, but still Eduardo soldiered on. If he kept a brisk pace, he could be back to the den before dawn and maybe make it to the stream to wash his mouth out before daylight.
After a while, Eduardo’s jaw began to ache. He tensed and released it at the hinge, careful not to bite Santos’ tongue, but this offered him little relief. Crows followed overhead, flying from treetop to treetop, enticed by the smell of blood. Eduardo wondered if scavengers had already discovered his father’s body back in the clearing: he decided that they almost certainly had. His jaw continued to ache, the salty taste of blood continued to trickle into his throat.
Eduardo walked for a long time, until the blood stopped flowing from his father’s tongue and started to scab. The cub’s jaw ached so badly that he dropped Santos’ tongue for a moment to stretch his mouth and neck. When he picked the tongue up again, it was covered in ants that stung Eduardo’s own tongue and palate mercilessly. Tears welled in Eduardo’s eyes, and it occurred to him that he had not cried when witnessing his own father’s death. This made him cry even harder, making it all the more difficult to continue carrying Santos’ tongue.
The cub continued to walk, salty streaks burning into his furry cheeks. The hinge of his jaw hurt so badly that Eduardo was sure it would soon break. He began to get angry, first cursing this pointless task and then cursing his father for having demanded it of him. “And so I will bring this den back to camp, and I will tell the tale of my father’s death, and I will honor my father, and what then? Will this disgusting torture be worth it? Will my family be impressed with my fortitude?” Eduardo was annoyed and considered spitting out his father’s tongue, but did not. Wearily, he plod along, Santos’ tongue held between his teeth.
When he was about twenty feet from camp, Eduardo had enough. He was tired, his jaw and his paws ached, his father’s dried blood was caked around his snout like a macabre, rusty goatee. “Fuck this,” thought Eduardo, and he spat out Santos’ tongue unceremoniously. Eduardo loped over to the nearby stream where he washed out his mouth, then the cub went to his sleeping family and curled up beside his mother Maria for a nap.