“Alexander!” hollered Quintus into the bowels of the sawmill.
Alexander looked up. “Aye?”
“Maman, she say you come!” hollered Quintus.
“What’s the matter?” Alexander called back.
“She say you understand!” Quintus said and left. He ran towards his grand-mere’s house.
“Kent! I need to go see Natalie,” said Alexander.
“Aye!” hollered Kent.
Alexander turned off his machinery and grabbing his hat headed outside. He’d only been to work two weeks since returning home. It had taken him a week to get Jelka use to Natalie and comfortable staying with her. In fact, it had been Celia that worked the magic. Jelka had been helping her around the house. As he got closer to the center of town, he saw people heading towards Celia’s house. As he got closer, he began to hear the howls. He ran harder. When he got to the door, he was let in and Alice took him straight to her Grand-mere’s bedroom. It was filled with women, Jelka among them. Dr. Abrams was in one corner. Their eyes met, and he shook his head.
“She wanted you,” said Natalie with tears streaming down her face.
Alexander knelt beside the bed with the tiny woman nestled in the pillows. “I’m here Celia,” he said.
“Bless me, old way,” she gasped.
“May your breath follow the wind, may the sun drive away the cold, may the pain flow away like water, and may the earth receive you in her arms. Run with your ancestors. Peace to you,” he said as his hands moved in blessing gestures.
Celia smiled at him, squeezed Natalie’s hand and closed her eyes. Her breath grew shallower until if was hard to tell if she breathed at all. After a few minutes, Natalie began to cry harder and put Celia’s hand down. She stood, covered her face and turned to the comfort of Brian’s arms as he moved up to her. Dr. Abrams checked Celia, and then left the room to fill out a death certificate.
The howls of sorrow broadcast Celia’s death. Work stopped, and people prepared for a different family gathering than the one less than a month before. As Natalie sat with her mother’s body, Jenny and the women organized things. Sally went to clean the saloon along with Marie, Tilly and Georgina. Quintus and Caroline organized the children to get them out of the way while the adults worked. Brian and Kent went to the cemetery while Jacques got the backhoe.
Jelka came in with the water to bath Celia a little while later. She put it down and was walking out when Natalie stopped her. “Jelka, would you help me?” she asked.
“Aye,” Jelka whispered. Together, the two women washed Celia and dressed her in her favorite dark blue dress. Jelka did her hair and Natalie found a few things to tuck into the pockets of Celia’s dress. There was a picture of her husband Martin, and one of all eleven children, a favorite hanky and the dried wreath she’d worn on her wedding day.
When they were ready, Kent came with the casket. He and Brian placed Celia inside and then carried it to the parlor where it would stay for the afternoon. It was too hot to wait much longer for the burial. Friends and family came by to pay their respects. They brought food and some placed flowers in the casket. Bundles of wild flowers and herbs alongside flowers cut from gardens.
At sunset, the casket was carried by Celia’s remaining sons and grandsons. The family followed behind and people filled the cemetery. It was the first time in ages that so many had been gathered. The casket sat at the edge of the grave with the family all around. Brian and Alexander stood at one end.
“We gather under the moon, in the woods and beneath open skies to honor a woman who has been a matriarch in our community. Celia was the oldest amongst us. She’s related to so many gathered here. Eleven children, thirty-five grandchildren and I have no idea of how many great-grandchildren. Not always an easy women to love, she did demand respect. Respect given by family by blood and family by choice,” Alexander said. He lifted a small glass full of the licorice liqueur Celia loved. “To Celia,” Alexander drank the liqueur.
“Goodbye Maman,” Natalie said and took a sip of the liqueur.
“To Celia, Thank you for being a strength to this community and such a pain in the ass that things got done,” said Brian. He took his sip.
Everyone there took their turn toasting Celia. The last ones were Jekla, Tilly and Georgina. They simply raised their glasses and drank.
The men lowered the casket into the grave. Once it was in the ground, people walked past placing flowers or pouring glasses of liqueur into the grave. Then the family walked back to the saloon where the food had been laid out. Brian, Kent and Alexander filled in the grave. When it was filled in, they walked down to join the others.
The dinner while somber wasn’t without laughter. Tales of Celia were told and people recounted some of the their worse encounters with Celia’s sharp tongue.
“You remember when she shoo off the sheriff after Big Joe died?” asked Kent.
“Aye. Thought him ass have a Celia sized bite out of it,” said Luc.
“Then there that time she kill that rapist. Cut his nuts off and leave him to bleed,” said another man.
“Or, how ’bout that salesman come ask her she want to sell the farm?” said Jacques.
“Non! Is that the one go to the sheriff cause she hit him?” asked another man.
“Aye,” said Jacques. “She beat him with her rolling pin.”
“You think that bad, you should hear what she yell all those English wives,” said Petite Luc to his father.
“Oh?” Luc asked.
“Aye, I get an earful I get home. Tilly, she tell me all. Good thing Natalie is not the bitch Grand-mere was,” said Petite Luc.
Others around nodded in agreement. Natalie as the oldest was now the family head. Everyone ate, drank and after the moon was well up, the children were put to bed while the adults shifted and ran out their grief.
Natalie and Brian were amongst the first to shift. They left the back porch of their cabin and headed up to the high meadow. Kent and others shifted as they watched the two wolves run into the forest. Alexander stood next to Jelka on their cabin porch.
“You want to shift and run?” he asked. She had avoided shifting even though they were home.
“Umm..” she started.
“Come, run with us. Celia wanted you to shift and run. Do this for her,” said Alexander. He began to undress, turning his back to Jelka. They still hadn’t made love, and while he wanted to give her time, he was falling deeper and deeper in love with her. He shifted and sat down and waited for Jelka.
Jelka looked at Alexander in wolf form. He was deep brown with reddish highlights. She sighed. Pulling off her dress, she got a bit self conscious and turned. Had Alexander been unshifted, he would have gasped at the scars on her back and legs. She had been careful to never undress around him, not even at the camp in Croatia. She had been whipped more than once in the camp for being stubborn and surviving. She ran her fingers through her chin length hair in a nervous motion and then shifted. The fur on her back was silvered where the scars criss-crossed in the nearly black fur.
Wolf sniffed the she-wolf. She wobbled and was unsteady. He bumped noses with her and then the two of them sniffed each other all over. They circled each other for a moment, nose to tail. Then Wolf jumped off the porch and ran part way out into the meadow. The she-wolf followed. He began to run slowly and then picked up speed. The she-wolf followed. As they ran, she gained her balance and began to run zig-zags around Wolf.
Tongue lolling, he ran and nipped at her playfully. She responded and they played down across the meadow and up into the mountains.
Brian and Natalie were relaxing in the high meadow. They had shifted once they got here so that they could talk. Natalie had cried and Brian held her. It felt good just to touch. They watched as other wolves ran past on the edges of the meadow. One pair was nipping and playing on the far end.
“Who is that?” Natalie asked.
Brian sniffed the air. “That Alexander and Jelka. He finally get her to shift.”
“She got stripes?” Natalie asked as the she-wolf had her back towards them.
“Non, that is? I don’ know,” said Brian. “Mebbe scars? Like Bizzet where that fur never grow right? It was different color.”
“Aye. Mebbe. We see soon enough,” said Natalie.
“Why you say?” asked Brian.
“Use your nose,” laughed Natalie.
Brian sniffed the air again. “Nothing.”
“Old man! She is nearly in heat. Jenny thought maybe a week ago she was, but no. Now, maybe tomorrow or tonight,” said Natalie.
“You think they mate good?” asked Brian. He still wondered at the logic of bringing home Jelka.
“I hope. That Alexander is 40? Still no mate? Not funny like my brother Joaquin who like men. He needs a mate,” said Natalie.
“Aye, Like I need you,” he said and kissed her.
Two days later, Alexander was on his way home for lunch when a scent hit his nose. It climbed up there and wrapped around his brain. He went from a walk to a run and when he opened the door, he found Jelka had shifted. She sat in front of the table, wagging her tail. He smiled, stripped and shifted.
The two wolves shot out the door and headed high up into the mountains. The she-wolf was nervous, but had such an ache. She rubbed herself on the wolf and then ran farther up the mountain.
Wolf chased the she-wolf. She smelled… good. His balls ached. He ran up to her and just as he got close enough to grab the ruff of her neck, she darted off. He tried herding her against some rocks, but instead, she leapt to the top of them. He followed. She darted between two trees and then stopped in the middle of a meadow. She stood still, tail lifted. He came close, sniffed and licked her. The scent drove his desires. He mounted her. He grabbed the ruff of fur at her neck and bit as his cock drove deep.
The she-wolf yelped and tried to pull away for a moment and then got caught up in the feelings of being mated. Wolf increased his pace and held his mate tight with his fore-legs. His paced increased until his balls and brain seemed to explode at the same time. The knot had formed tight and held the two wolves together. After a while, they curled up in a ball and slept.