by

John Burnham

 

Clyde opened his eyes.  Nothing came into focus. He tried to move. Everything hurt. Something white moved beside him. He tried to focus on it but he went out again.

Later, Clyde opened his eyes again. This time things were a little clearer. Everything still hurt. The I.V. bottle and rack came into focus. He was in a hospital…no need to do anything…go back to sleep…

The next time Clyde opened his eyes, it was because a sound awakened him. The focus was quite good now. Everything still hurt, so maybe better just move the eyes…Ross! Ross was standing beside the bed.

Clyde smiled at him. “What…?” he said even though it hurt to talk or smile. “Where?”

“Edmonton, pal. You’re in an Edmonton hospital — bear mauled you — do you remember?”

“Uh-uh” Clyde mumbled. He sort of remembered getting a shot off, but it was pretty fuzzy.

“You were damn lucky, only a couple of gashes. Andre must’ve shown up just as it started. That pilot landed a few minutes afterward.” Ross explained.

“Plane…on skis eh…bear…in winter?” Clyde fumbled through the sedative haze.

“No, pal. The plane was on floats. It’s spring. The bears are out and hungry. But, let’s talk about your stuff. It’s great! It’s making quite a name for you. Several offers for studies…a couple of university positions…”

***

After Ross left, Clyde tried to make sense of the conversation. Spring? Open water? Floatplane? Things wouldn’t fit. His last recollection was late winter: Snow. Lakes frozen. He didn’t have a clue what Ross had been so excited about. Besides, he had been having a very pleasant dream about someone small. No details, just someone small with whom he had enjoyed a very special relationship. Pleasant….most pleasant…just go back to sleep for awhile…

Pain awakened Clyde. The sedative had worn off. The pain was sharper now, but his head was clear. Normal function was obviously returning — he wanted a cup of coffee. He rang for the nurse.

“Oh, so we’re awake are we? And how do we feel?”

“Like seven kindsa hell.”

“It’s two in the morning, I’ll get something to help us rest.”

“No thanks…not right now, anyhow. Could you crank the bed up a little? I’d like to sit here for awhile. A cup of coffee sure would taste good. And…and…what month is it?”

“May. The tenth of May. Is that high enough?”

“Fine. That’s fine. Thanks.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“Black.”

Clyde sat in the dark sipping the best cup of coffee he could remember. Remember; that was the problem. The last thing he could remember had happened about the middle of March.  If it was now the tenth of May, there were two blank months. Then, there were those dreams. Each time he had poked out of the sedative fog, it had seemed as though he had just awakened from the same dream. There were no details, just the pleasant sense of a very special relationship. Or was it a dream? Do people dream under sedation? His eyes wandered about the darkened room as he tried to remember.

The coffee had scalded his leg and the stitches had torn at his flesh, but neither item of discomfort seemed important. His heart pounded and his palms tingled, but he was grateful…so grateful: It was just the way the drapes were hanging around the other bed, but for a moment, it had looked like…like…so much so, that he had jerked around involuntarily. But the start had uncorked something in his head. Memories were flooding in now.

Sometimes, it’s better not to remember. The idea of earth — the earth over which homo sapiens had always had dominion — being co-inhabited by a superior species could get you locked up or at least discredited. Besides, what would THEY do if someone blew the whistle on them? Was that what had happened to Andre?  Were THEY the reason everybody considered the old hermit to be half a bubble out?

***

Clyde’s memory of the past two months came back as though it had happened to someone else.

He could see himself on the hill the day he had spotted that wolf pack chasing something. He could remember thinking That can’t be happening…probably didn’t see it right…need a better look, as he rolled over in the snow and tore at the fasteners of his pack. He remembered the feeling of having ten thumbs as he rummaged for the spotting scope.

The hill gave him an unobstructed view of the valley floor for at least two miles. He congratulated himself for having chosen the spot as he trained the spotting scope on the wolf pack. The magnification was great, but the limited field of vision made locating moving targets a challenge. There was the pack…move up toward the leader…there he was…now somewhere ahead of him…there it was! He had been right! The object of their pursuit was running on two legs! They were running down a human!

Clyde stood up as he swung his rifle into position. It was a real cannon — purchased for an assignment in Africa. He located the leader of the pack again and squeezed off a full clip. He couldn’t remember when he had last sighted the gun in and he had to lean forward to prevent the mule kick from knocking him over. Geysers of snow spouted around the lead canine. It stopped and spun around. The rest of the pack bunched up. Clyde sought out the object of their pursuit. It, he, she, whatever, had altered course. Excellent! The intended victim had obviously heard the shots and was running toward the sound.

Clyde trained his gun on the pack again. It was still milling around. Was it frightened enough to abandon the chase? He desperately hoped so. The commercial hunting interests were putting a lot of pressure on the provincial government for another wolf kill. If word of wolves running down a person got out, the politicians would cave in and the air would be alive with people shooting wolves from helicopters. He picked his field glasses out of the snow and checked the position of the pack relative to the running figure. If they resumed the chase, it would pass right beneath the brow of his hill. The wolves were still milling around. He grabbed his pack and began running down the hill. He didn’t think about what he would have to do if the wolves resumed the pursuit, but he instinctively wanted to be a little closer if he had to do it. With heart pounding as much from anxiety as from exertion, he stopped on a rocky ledge which was about twenty feet above the valley floor. He scanned for the chase. This time, he picked up the quarry first. It appeared to be a small person clad in some sort of skidoo suit with a hood. Good runner too — making that kind of time while breaking trail through the snow. Back to the wolves. Damn! They were quite a way behind, but they were back on the trail.

One of the clips in Clyde’s pack was loaded with expanding bullets — useful if you needed to stop an elephant. With a heavy heart, he shoved that clip into the rifle. Then he sat into a comfortable shooting position. When he got the crosshairs on the leader of the pack, the animal appeared to be running straight at him. He tried to compensate for the sighting error he had seen a few minutes earlier and squeezed off the first round. Fur and blood filled the scope. The second wolf appeared. Clyde squeezed the trigger again and that animal’s hind quarters disappeared. As he panned around on the rest of the pack, all he could see was tails. He put the field glasses to his eyes as he stood up. The wolf pack was in full retreat. He felt sick and avoided the carcasses as he panned back to the intended victim who was no longer running but walking with head down — obviously exhausted — straight toward his ledge. Clyde studied the figure. He had never seen such a skidoo suit — made of fine auburn colored fur. Try as he might, he couldn’t identify the pelt. Once this rich turkey had recovered from the ordeal, he or she was in for a stern lecture about supporting people who profited from the death of animals. As he watched, it occurred to him that he might have to deliver the lecture to the person’s parents. The figure appeared to be about four feet tall. It began to stagger. Clyde rushed down off the ledge.

The first thing Clyde noticed as he neared the form, which was now only dragging itself through the snow, was that the hood was still snugly about the wearer’s head instead of being thrown back. The figure faltered and fell headlong into the snow. Clyde rushed forward, but stopped dead a few feet away; he couldn’t see any boots. He shouted a few words of encouragement. The form raised itself on hands and knees with head bowed. Clyde moved forward again, but was arrested a second time. The face looking at him wasn’t human. It was more like a lemur. The eyes looked absolutely human and seemed to convey exhausted relief until shock took hold of Clyde. Then, they registered dismay. The creature sat down, put its hands over its eyes and began to make noises which sounded like human sobbing.

The sight of the hands caused Clyde’s professional curiosity to replace shock. They were covered with hair, but shaped exactly as a man’s. As the shock left Clyde and concern for the wight’s wellbeing again took control of his mind, it looked up. The eyes were red and there were tears on its face. Clyde began to speak in soothing tones. The animal’s eyes brightened and its mouth widened slightly as the lips parted. The teeth belonged to an omnivorous species and were too small to be of any defensive use. Clyde began to wonder just how this thing defended itself. The hands had no claws; obviously it didn’t fight. No tail, five toes pointed straight forward, small hands — it didn’t climb trees. Clyde stepped forward. The creature showed no alarm. Clyde reached out his hand. The animal raised a hand and touched his. The palm was smooth and soft. Clyde’s adrenalin level was now returning to normal. His shoulder was beginning to ache from the pounding of the big rifle, but his head was clearing. It was becoming apparent to him that the dream of every wildlife biologist — an uncataloged species — was holding his hand. He studied the face as delight coursed through him. The creature’s mouth widened and opened a little more. Its eyes twinkled. He wasn’t certain, but he got the impression that he must have smiled and the thing was smiling back at him. The facial expression certainly wasn’t a human smile, but there was no mistaking the eyes.

The creature moved toward Clyde. It released his hand and wrapped its arms around his legs while burying its face in his coat. Clyde was surprised, but not alarmed. Its touch, its movements were all very gentle.  Nothing suggested aggressiveness or even self-defense. Everything about it suggested vulnerability. It appeared to be the most defenseless animal he had ever encountered. It started making soft noises, like the whimpering of a child who has just been through a harrowing experience. Clyde stroked the creature comfortingly. Its whimpering subsided, but it held on tight with its head buried at Clyde’s beltline. Clyde was surprised that the grip wasn’t any tighter. A frightened monkey infant holds onto its mother fiercely. If this was as tight as the creature could grip, it was weak indeed. Maybe it was just exhausted, possibly weak from hunger. Hunger! Clyde suddenly realized that he was famished. He thought about the sandwiches in his knapsack up on the ledge.

Suddenly, the creature stiffened, loosened its grip slightly, and looked up at him with terrified eyes. What was wrong? Clyde had no idea. He looked quizzically at the creature. It was trembling now. It looked in the direction of the dead wolves. Clyde could see nothing. He raised the field glasses to his eyes. The wolves were coming back. They hadn’t reached the remains of their recently departed pack mates yet, so he couldn’t tell whether they were after the cadavers or were resuming the chase. He grabbed the creature’s hand tightly and headed for the ledge. While climbing, he couldn’t help wondering how the creature had known the wolves were there. It had detected them with its head buried in the folds of his coat. Smell? Hearing? No, they were upwind of the pack.

Clyde’s shoulder protested even the light pressure from the rifle butt as he observed the pack through the scope. He counted six wolves working on the carcasses. They must really be hungry thought Clyde. Hungry! He lowered the rifle and grabbed the knapsack. The creature was sitting calmly beside him. He withdrew a sandwich and held it between them as he unwrapped it. The creature delicately took the half nearest itself and began calmly munching it. Clyde’s half was suspended midway to his gaping mouth. The thing was contentedly munching on the bologna sandwich, taking small bites at a time, being careful not to get any of the mayonnaise on its fur — just like a person. After they had finished both sandwiches, Clyde raised the field glasses and checked the wolves. They had picked the bones clean and were moving away. Clyde’s thoughts returned to his stomach, to the thermos of coffee and the candy bars that were in the larger pack on top of the hill. He got up and pointed to the tracks he had left while running down the hill. The creature looked from him to the tracks and set off up the hill glancing back as it started as if to be certain that it had understood his intent.

The creature strode with ease up the hill. Clyde mentally noted characteristics. Its height seemed to be about half legs. No tail. Narrow shoulders, broad hips. Female perhaps? The luxuriant fur precluded verification. Extremely clean; he had noted no odor when it was hugging him. Adult? No way to tell at this point. It used its hands much as a human would to push branches aside, but didn’t need them to steady itself. At the crest of the hill, it walked directly to Clyde’s pack and waited for him. Clyde was breathing hard, but it was not. Clyde kneeled down and took the thermos out of the pack. The cap — constructed to double as a cup — had a handle on it, but Clyde had his regular coffee mug with him (he believed in making those long days of watching as civilized as possible). Clyde poured coffee into both receptacles and took a sip from his mug while watching the creature.  It picked up the cup as if it were accustomed to using one and took a careful sip of the steaming black liquid.

Clyde dug his notebook out of the pack, walked over to a rock, sat down, and began writing while he sipped his coffee. The creature seated itself in the snow snuggled up against Clyde’s leg. It sipped contentedly while he wrote. Clyde’s coffee cup ran dry before he was through writing. As he was wishing that he had brought the thermos over to the rock with him, the creature shifted to look up at him. More from reflex than anything else, he showed it his empty mug. It rose, walked to the pack, picked up the thermos and brought it back to him. Clyde couldn’t believe the scene. He had realized that the thing was plenty smart, but this performance demonstrated cognition. He had discovered the most intelligent species, next to man on the planet! As he poured another cup, the creature picked up its half-full cup and resumed its position against his leg. He stroked its fur gently. It rested its head on his knee. Clyde’s practiced hand examined the creature as he continued to pet it. It had a very human shaped ear under all that fur. He felt strange stroking the head because it was all too human: high forehead, large cranium and weak jaws. The shoulders were weak too. Large bones, but not much muscle. The fur was the most luxuriant he had ever seen; very thick and pleasant to touch. It made him wonder, if trappers got wind that things like this existed in the Canadian wilderness, it would be like the gold rush all over again. Why had one never been taken?

Clyde checked the wolves through the field glasses. They were milling around on the other side of the valley. Not satisfied enough to lie down, they didn’t seem to know what to do next. He got out the spotting scope for a better look at them. They were lean and scruffy. It hadn’t been a very good winter for the wolf business. He felt pity for them and more than a twinge of remorse for having had to dust two.

Clyde heard something like water running behind him. He turned to see the creature urinating in same posture as a human male. Finished, it scooped up some snow and carefully cleaned its fur. Clyde picked up his notebook and scribbled.

The creature sat down and tried to fit the cup back onto the thermos. Clyde watched in fascination. It was unsuccessful; the idea of threads seemed a little much. Another test occurred to Clyde. He got two candy bars out of the pack and offered the creature one. It carefully set the thermos down and took the offering. Incredible! The sight of food didn’t cause it to drop the thermos. It dealt with the thermos before reaching for the food. It examined the candy bar, unable to decide what to do next. Clyde unwrapped his. The creature immediately did likewise and made short work of the contents, obviously considering them much more palatable than the coffee.

Clyde repacked and put the larger pack on. He picked up his rifle and reached for the smaller pack to find that the creature had slung same across its shoulder. He offered his free hand. The creature took it and they started toward the cabin.

***

Contrary to the practice of most people in his profession, Clyde always named animals. As they walked, he thought of a comic strip character which was a pear shaped mass of fur. Irving. He would call this little guy Irv.

As they neared the fishing cabin which was his headquarters for this project, he began to wonder how Irv would react to Bub. Bub was a very large wolfish looking dog of questionable parentage. Years ago, when doing a bear study in Yellowstone, Clyde had experienced considerable difficulty with camp raiders: small animals, bears, and long-haired bipeds. It was unacceptable to him to do anything which would bring harm to the first two categories. There were laws which protected the third. So, he acquired the Biggest, Ugliest Bloocher he could find and named him accordingly. Bub had proven to be a very dedicated dog: primarily dedicated to the conservation of energy and dedicated to Clyde when it did not interfere with his primary dedication. Bub was an excellent camp guard. He never mustered a desire to go beyond sight of the tent. To Clyde’s knowledge, nothing had ever pushed the issue of its presence at the camp beyond that which elicited a curl of the lip from Bub.

There was no tightening of Irv’s grip on Clyde’s hand or any other sign of fear by the time Clyde was able to identify Bub’s grey mass on the cabin porch. While they were yet some distance from the cabin, Bub got to his feet and began to amble toward them. This was unusual. Bub rarely moved until he could greet Clyde within a hundred yards. He was used to Clyde bringing animals back, so Irv’s presence shouldn’t have anything to do with the uncharacteristic burst of energy. Bub walked up wagging his tail. He could almost look Irv in the eye The latter still seemed unperturbed. Irv reached out his hand with fingers curled. The dog sniffed it and moved a little closer. Irv patted its head and scratched behind its ears. The tail wagged faster. Clyde watched with fascination. This was probably the first time anyone had been able to observe the interaction between a domestic dog and a species this high on the evolutionary ladder. Dogs react to simians as they do to other animals. Clyde had often suspected that they might react differently to a more intelligent species such as dolphins. Now, the thesis was being confirmed. Bub was interacting with Irv as though Irv were a human. Obviously, a species did not have to be as highly evolved as man for dogs to react thusly. It was imperative that Clyde now find out just how intelligent Irv was.

Clyde split a few blocks of wood and carried them into the cabin. Bub had resumed his prone position on the porch. Irv had seated himself beside Bub with an arm draped over the dog while watching the splitting process. Clyde got a fire started in the pot-bellied stove. Then, he heard sounds outside the cabin which shouldn’t have been there. He moved to the window in time to see Irv bring the splitting axe down on a block of wood. It was done unskillfully, but the basic technique was correct. The swing was accomplished only with obvious difficulty; Irv’s upper body did not appear to be very strong. Clyde relished the analysis until he realized that Irv could hurt himself with the axe. This was a new dimension. He had never concerned himself with whether or not the activity of an animal was potentially dangerous to it — he merely observed and analyzed. He had always been careful not to let his actions influence the course of nature. This was different. Irv was sufficiently intelligent that his desire to mimic could get him into trouble.

“Irv! Stop!” Clyde shouted as he started for the door. He felt foolish before it was out; he hadn’t trained Irv to respond to the name. He got to the door to find Irv standing by the chopping block looking in his direction. The look in Irv’s eyes was quizzical. The axe was resting on the ground. The piece of wood on the block would probably have split with one more blow. It was apparent that halting the chopping had not been Irv’s decision. As Clyde approached, Irv’s lower lip began to tremble. Clyde realized that anxiety must still be on his face. He smiled. Irv’s lower lip quit trembling. It was difficult, but he had to accept the idea that this thing was responding to his expressions. Irv’s timidity, his vulnerability aroused all of the protective attitudes which Clyde naturally felt toward animals. That presented a problem. How could he communicate to Irv that he should not use the axe without frightening him? A good swat was an effective means of communicating with Bub, but the same treatment could never be used on Irv. The reward/punishment scheme would be counter-productive here. Some sort of reason perhaps? Irv certainly had shown the rudiments of cognition, maybe simplified reason would work.

Clyde took the axe and pointed to himself while nodding his head and saying “Yes.” Then, he put the axe in Irv’s hand, pointed to him and shook his head sideways while saying “No.” Irv watched without any expression showing in his eyes. Clyde took the axe and very slowly duplicated the path of a swing. Instead of connecting with the wood, he traced the path of the axe glancing off the wood and striking him in the leg. He raised this pant leg to reveal the long scar on his calf. Irv looked wide-eyed at the scar and then pointed to the axe as he looked up at Clyde. Clyde nodded. Irv looked back at the scar and gently touched it…while shaking his head slowly. Clyde stood up. Irv hugged his legs. The thing seemed to have understood something. Amazing. He had considerable doubt as to just how much Irv had understood, but at least an impression seemed to have been made.

Irv watched with great interest while Clyde cut up potatoes, onions and sausage. He seemed to enjoy the aroma of the concoction as Clyde turned it over in the frying pan. Clyde put the portion for Bub in a dish by the door so that the draft admitted by the inadequate weather stripping would cool it. He thought about what he should do with Irv’s helping. It seemed most natural to put it on the table, so he did. The wooden box which Clyde had manufactured to protect his laptop computer during transport was pressed into service as Irv’s booster. Irv watched Clyde use the fork and copied the action. Irv didn’t wait for a demonstration when Clyde handed him an orange for dessert. Clyde was fascinated by the care Irv took to avoid dropping any food on his fur. When Clyde didn’t offer anything further after the orange, Irv went outside closing the door after himself. Clyde went to the window. Irv was on the porch using snow to carefully clean his hands and the fur around his mouth. Clyde stuck his head out the door, called, “Irv,” and motioned him inside. Irv hesitated for a second while looking at his hands — apparently not yet satisfied with their cleanliness — then he walked in. Clyde poured water into the washbasin and then demonstrated the use of soap, washcloth and towel. Irv seemed delighted by the effectiveness of the arrangement. Clyde watched closely, noting that Irv didn’t seem to have much use for the towel.

Irv followed Clyde when he went outside to start the portable generator. He showed no interest in going near the purring machine but Clyde pointed to it, shook his head and said “No!” anyway. Irv nodded. Back inside, Clyde fired up his computer and busied himself with integrating the notes he had taken during the day into his report. Irv would sit down with his back against Clyde’s leg for awhile, then pad about the cabin inspecting things and return to the place by Clyde’s leg. Weary from the excitement of the day, Clyde was ready to retire when he finished typing up his notes. He unrolled the sleeping bag beside the stove. He didn’t use it in the cabin. He used sheets and blankets here. He indicated to Irv that the sleeping bag was his accommodation, banked the fire in the stove and shut down the generator.

Once between the sheets, Clyde drifted off almost immediately. Not for long. He was awakened by the sound of sobbing. It took him a few minutes to put things back together sufficiently to recognize the source. “Irv, what the hell…” he said shining the flashlight toward the stove. Irv was curled up in a ball. Clyde went over and was able to stop the sobbing with a touch. Clyde dragged the sleeping bag and Irv over beside his bed, retired face down, draped a hand over the edge of the bed so that it rested on Irv and was once more out. After what seemed to Clyde like only a few minutes, he was awakened by a reminder that he had neglected the before-bed coffee dump. While trying to ignore the necessity of having to get up again, he became aware that his hand was no longer resting on Irv. Irv’s hand was now resting on him. Irv was sitting against the wall so that his shoulder would be high enough to keep a hand on Clyde. How long he had been sitting like that, Clyde didn’t know. Clyde muttered the whole time he was taking care of nature’s call. He liked animals, but not in bed with him. That was reserved for those of his own species. When he came back into the cabin, he took the legs off the bed so that Irv could keep a hand on him while lying down.

As Clyde settled down for the third try at a night’s sleep, disturbing thoughts began to intrude. This was Thursday. Supplies were coming in on Saturday. That would represent a problem. The pilot would be Viki. She was in her mid twenties and doing the bush pilot thing because it was her current method of annoying her socialite parents. She had become fascinated with the forty-plus naturalist to whom she hauled more poundage of linens, towels, fuel and other civilizing items than food. Clyde suspected that her interest in him had as much to do with the discomfiture which it caused her parents as anything. That was fine with him. She was convenient in the present circumstance. Beyond that, he could do without the complications. The thought of making love to her with Irv around would not compute. It would be too much like having another person around to audit the procedure.

After breakfast the next morning, Clyde gathered up the ice fishing gear and set off down the lake with Irv at his heels. It was his habit to stick around the cabin on the Friday before supplies came in because Andre might be by. Andre was an old hermit who trapped and panned some gold in another valley. Everybody considered Andre to be crazier than a hoot. Clyde had not found him that screwy. He enjoyed talking with Andre about animal behavior and found the man actually quite knowledgeable. If Andre needed something, he would be by before nightfall so that Clyde could radio the request in.

Although the fishing proved unproductive, Clyde wasn’t bored. Irv’s activity was fascinating. At the moment, he was over on the bank petting a squirrel. Small animals and birds seemed to have no fear of Irv. In fact, they seemed to mildly enjoy his company. They would walk or fly to him, get a friendly pat or scratch and then be on their way. Clyde jotted down each species on the procession.

Around mid-morning, Andre ambled up the lake. Although Clyde enjoyed talking with Andre and liked to be able to help him, he didn’t exactly relish Andre’s staying over to wait for his goods. The man just didn’t bathe often enough. Andre walked up and spat his tobacco plug into the hole Clyde was fishing through.

“Trying to kill my fishing for good?” Clyde asked good-naturedly.

“Dat chum ’em” Andre replied with a grin.  “Ya gotcher leetle book?”

Clyde flipped to a new page in his notebook and replied, “Shoot.”

Andre reeled off a few items and then stopped abruptly. Clyde looked up. Andre was staring at Irv.

“Do you know what that is?” asked Clyde.

“Oui, aye knows whut dat be ‘n you in bigger trouble den you kin imagine. Ferget ‘d list! Don’ need nuttin!” was Andre’s reply as he turned to retrace his steps down the lake. Clyde started to say something in protest, but Andre turned back toward him. ” ‘Most forgot.  Dere’s rogue grizzly ’bout. Old, sick ‘n danger’s — watch yerself.”

“Thanks” said Clyde as Andre hurried off. Maybe he was as crazy as the locals claimed. The line jerked and Clyde hauled a fish through the hole. Irv watched Clyde bait the hooks, throw the line back into the hole and commence to clean the fish.

When Clyde resumed his vigil at the hole, Irv picked up the fish and began walking around on the ice. Mystifed, Clyde watched. Presently, Irv dropped the fish. Clyde watched, trying to make sense out of the action. Irv picked up the fish and dropped it on the same spot. Maybe he thinks that are there…may as well humor him…can’t do any worse than where I’m at” thought Clyde. He got the saw and made a hole where Irv had dropped the fish. During the next hour, Clyde pulled a dozen fish through the hole. Irv took over the cleaning task after the line started jerking when Clyde was halfway through cleaning the first one. The fish fry they enjoyed that night left Clyde wishing he had taken a few more.

Clyde retired expecting an undisturbed sleep. Somewhere in the wee small hours, he was awakened by Irv’s violent trembling. There was something else in the room — something big. He couldn’t see clearly, but it appeared to be by the table. Why wasn’t Bub making a fuss? Where was his rifle? As he quietly slipped a hand from beneath the covers, he got the distinct impression that he had no need of the weapon. Where had that come from? His fingertips touched the cool metal…quietly, now…his palm slid across the barrel… He tried to close his hand on the gun and could not. He tried to withdraw his arm. He couldn’t. Trapped by the nightmare stuff of an unseen menace and his body refusing to obey his mind, he shook his head trying to wake up. Nothing happened. He could feel the first stages of shock chilling his members. The impression that he didn’t need the rifle was even stronger now. It seemed like a better idea to get the flashlight and have a look. Warm waves of relief moved from his toes upward as his hand obediently dropped to grasp the halogen special. Seated at the table was a duplicate of Irv; except that it was maybe twice as big.

Clyde shined the light over to the stove. Bub was lying quietly in the position he had assumed upon retiring.  What was the matter with the dog? Suddenly, it seemed to him that the dog had been told to sleep. The presence of the thought was profoundly disturbing. As a scientist, Clyde habitually analyzed everything. The many hours spent alone had given him ample opportunity to know his own mental processes quite well. The concept that the dog had been told to sleep didn’t belong there. The thing probably killed him, thought Clyde as he shined the light back toward the table.

The creature’s face assumed the expression that Clyde had taken for Irv’s smile. Loud barking from the direction of the stove caused Clyde to swing the light back there. Bub was standing, bristled up, with bared teeth. He alternated growls and barks several more times, relaxed, returned to his spot by the stove, laid down and resumed his sleep.

Confused, Clyde shined the light back on the creature at the table. There was an unmistakable twinkle in the eyes. There was something else too. It obviously found the bright light uncomfortable, but it didn’t betray any anxiety at being blinded. Did the light blind it? Clyde slowly reached for the rifle while holding the light directly on the creature’s face. Again, his hand refused to close around it. The implications of the experiment cascaded in upon Clyde. Although blinded by the flashlight beam, the creature could tell what he was doing. That’s why it didn’t mind being blinded; sight was a secondary sense. The creature put a hand in front of its eyes and Clyde got the idea that lighting the Coleman lantern would be a most appropriate thing to do. Clyde didn’t miss the implication of the thought. The lantern would make his unbidden guest more comfortable; it wouldn’t do him any particular good. That thought hadn’t originated in his own head. The thing seated at the table was telepathic! Fear vanished from Clyde’s being as scientific curiosity took possession of him.

“I’m gonna need my dammed hand back if I’m gonna light the light” said Clyde in an irascible tone usually reserved for humans. He was immediately able to pull his hand away from the gun. Setting the flashlight down so that it shined on the creature, he lit the gas lantern and dressed. Observing the creature as he did so, he noticed how quietly it sat — just as he did when taking pains not to alarm an animal.

The creature stood slowly, obvioulsy taking care to avoid any movement that Clyde might interpret as threatening, and walked out the door. Compelled by something he didn’t recognize, Clyde followed and stood beside the creature on the porch. It was indeed seven foot plus. He felt drawn to look at a particular grove of trees. The full moon revealed a large shaggy shape moving toward them. The rogue Grizzly! It was skinny with saliva foaming off yellow, broken fangs, obviously sick, obviously not able to run down anything faster than a man, obviously hungry. Clyde started for his rifle but found himself unable to move anything below his neck. As he stared in horror, the bear walked up, looked them over for a few seconds and walked out of sight on the other side of the camp. Clyde staggered back into the cabin on rubber knees. His first stop was the cupboard where he downed a couple of stiff belts of rye straight from the bottle. He then turned to face his guest who was again placidly seated at the table. “Can I make some coffee before we continue?” he asked.

Clyde struggled with his own thoughts as he measured the grounds. It was clear that the scenario on the porch had been enacted to demonstrate that this thing had complete control over other living things. Hence, he, Clyde, homo sapiens ignoramus was the inferior species. The concept was clear, but difficult to accept. The thousands of years mankind had spent considering itself the epitome of creation militated against the obvious.

Once the coffee was brewing, Clyde sat down opposite the creature. Its eyes were neither benign nor malicious, simply confident.  “What are you, where are you from?” Clyde asked looking at its face. As their eyes met, he experienced something like a data dump into his own mind.

It was not ‘from’ anywhere. Its kind had coexisted with man from the beginning. The key term seemed to be ‘coexistence’. Clyde found himself more painfully aware than ever before that humans have never been able to coexist with anything. They either subjugate or eradicate. He saw the plight of a species vastly superior to man, but not nearly as prolific. Their only hope of coexistence was to keep people unaware of their existence. He smiled as he thought of them coexisting with men by keeping humans ignorant of the fact that they had to coexist with anything. Clyde kept his eyes on his folded hands; he didn’t want any more information until he had sorted this out. Learning something this way was a neat sensation, but there was something alien about the whole concept that he needed to define before he could receive any more. Coexistence, that was it! Humans would have talked about survival of the species; this thing was talking about coexistence. Admiration welled up in him. He looked up wondering if the thing didn’t have a name. It somehow didn’t seem appropriate to converse, or at least exchange ideas without some form of address.

Clyde got up and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Roon, would you like some of this?” he asked. Roon, where had that come from? Oh, yeah, he had been wondering about its name. This was going to take some getting used to. He could see in his mind’s eye a carton of milk and a glass sitting in front of Roon. He took this to mean that the big guy didn’t drink coffee, but how did he know about milk?

Clyde placed a carton of milk and a glass on the table without looking his guest in the eye. “How…for millenia? It doesn’t seem possible,” he fumbled.

As the creature poured itself a glass of milk, ideas again began coming into Clyde’s mind. He didn’t look at Roon but tried to turn the concepts into sentences as they came. It was a little like talking to himself, but much easier than trying to sort out the pure ideas that came from Roon.

“We perpetrate the fiction that humans are the apex of creation. As long as you think that, you will never look for answers in a direction which would point to us. The fact is, we are much better suited for survival than you. We are perfectly comfortable in all climatic conditions except the most extreme. Therefore, our kind has never found it necessary to expend the kind of energy you do on protecting yourselves from the environment. Our mental capacity has been much more completely realized since it is not channeled into the dead end of technology.”

“So that’s why your communication with me is telepathic?” asked Clyde. “Can you speak, make noise?”

“No.  If we ever could, it has been so long ago that there is no memory.”

“So, how have you escaped detection by humans?”

Roon faded from sight before Clyde’s eyes. Clyde was rooted in his seat; staring with wide eyes at where the creature had been when he reappeared.

“How did you do that?”

Clyde was suddenly reminded of the way the brain fills in from memory the spot where the optic nerve attaches to the retina.

“So, this ability of yours to control the minds of other creatures is your means of defense?” observed Clyde.

“Always the naturalist, eh? Studying, analyzing me even though you are terrified. That’s good. You are a refreshing specimen of your kind.”

Clyde squirmed uncomfortably. He hadn’t wanted to make a sentence out of that last idea. He was experiencing extreme difficulty adjusting to the role of inferior species, but ‘specimen’ was really a little much. Unquestionably that was what he was, but his subconscious seemed to keep asserting that the inverse should be true. But, what else was he? If push came to shove, his life depended upon Roon’s whim. In a flash, he had a new appreciation for the position of the animal kingdom relative to man.

An unbidden thought intruded upon Clyde’s ruminations. Roon was here about Irv.

“Irv?” Clyde started — realizing at once that Irv was an infant. “I haven’t hurt him. In fact, I saved him from those wolves!”

Roon looked placidly at him. “I appreciate your actions, but they have placed us in a predicament.”

“Predicament?”

“Yes, you see, the one you call Irv is my son. I am over a hundred years old and he is my only child. However, he is deficient. You would call him retarded. To an extent, he knows what goes on in other minds, but he lacks the ability to project his thoughts. He cannot communicate nor control the minds of other creatures.”

“Therefore, he’s defenseless!” interjected Clyde as the lights came on.

“Precisely so, and a liability to coexistence. That is why he was left to that wolf pack.”

“Whaaat?”

“It was decided that, for the sake of coexistence, he could not go on living. I could never have set a predator on him. That job was given to another who bungled it. I don’t know where he was when you spotted the chase, why he didn’t know you were there, why he didn’t intervene or any of that. All I know is that we are now faced with a very touchy situation.”

“How so?” Clyde asked, beginning to feel the beginnings of a real dislike for this big guy. The coexistence justification didn’t make sense, the idea of abandoning an infant to predators was simply unthinkable and a neat little guy like Irv… Unsolicited concepts began to form in Clyde’s mind. Roon was communicating again. He quit thinking and began to listen. As he did so, he was again intrigued by what sounded like his own patterns of speech uttering alien concepts.

“Minds are not open to Irv as they are to others of my kind. He can detect things like approval, disapproval, pleasure, pain, intent and the like, but as far as any real communication of ideas — no. This means that he has lived all of his life sensing disapproval, but not knowing why. His misery made the decision to let him die easier for me. Meeting you has given him his first taste of approval. He’s not bright enough to discount that approval because it comes from an inferior species. He’s just overjoyed to find a large biped who accepts him. I’m pleased to see him happy, but in order to let that happiness continue, I’ve committed the most heinous crime known to my kind.”

“Crime?”

“Exposing myself to you. If Irv is to continue to enjoy your company, you have to know so that you can cooperate.”

“Cooperate?”

“Yes.  For instance, when the plane comes in tomorrow, I will see to it that the pilot is unable to see either myself or Irv.”

“Ok. Am I to send her on her way when we have the plane unloaded?”

“You are to carry on with her as you usually do. After she leaves on Sunday, I will return Irv to you. But remember, one word to her about any of this and she will have to go.”

“Go?…you wouldn’t…why…what could you..?”

“I most certainly would scramble her head to make her think flying straight into that bluff at the end of the lake was the appropriate thing to do.”

“That would be unconscionable…murder” Clyde murmured.

“If Viki were here and I attacked her. Would you have any compunction about blowing my head off?”

“Noo..,” replied Clyde slowly.

“But, you now acknowledge me as your intellectual superior. If we apply the same rationale that you apply to your relationship with other animals, doesn’t that give me the right to do whatever I wish with one of your kind?”

Clyde couldn’t get the thoughts that were swirling in his head to form a coherent answer. Roon broke in. “I rest my case. Loyalty to one’s own kind is always the bottom line regardless of the intellectual fantasies we might entertain before being put to the test. It is interesting though, how one’s parental instincts seem to get in the way of even loyalty to species. My own kind will now consider me the most dangerous sort of traitor. I trust that you do understand the implications of my position.”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“So, you agree to cooperate with me; to play by the rules I dictate?”

“Yes, it doesn’t seem like I have much choice.”

“Don’t be so pouty. There is more to your doing this than coercion. Had I not thought this would be the case, I would never have ventured this far.”

The glow which filled Clyde at this expression of approval emboldened him to ask the question which had been on the tip of his tongue every time he opened his mouth. “Are you…what they call…er…makes the tracks…like…?”

“Yes, some of us do get careless and leave tracks or let people see us. We are known variously to your kind as Yeti, Abominable Snowman, Sasquatch or something like that.”

***

Clyde awoke the next morning unable to remember going to bed after his conversation with Roon. Irv was nowhere to be seen. As Clyde prepared breakfast, he began to wonder whether or not the events of the past couple of days had really happened. He looked at the notebook which covered the last two days. Pages had been torn out. He fired up his laptop. There were no files pertaining to Irv. He didn’t remember erasing them. Had they ever been there? As he walked out onto the porch to dump the dishwater, he noticed two sets of footprints in the snow. They looked as though they had been made by humans. One set was much larger than any human foot, the other about average. There was just the four impressions in the snow; no trail to or from them. The letters TTFN were traced in the snow beneath. “TaTa For Now” thought Clyde. These guys even knew about Pooh Bear. Tricky. No wonder the sightings never received any credibility. They just introduced enough imponderable elements to push the event beyond that which would be taken seriously by sophisticated homo sapiens.

Viki buzzed the cabin right on time. Clyde was not surprised to find the footprints gone as he walked out of the cabin. Viki brought, in addition to the ordered supplies, a VCR, monitor, a couple of movies and a bottle of wine. Clyde was impressed. They made love, ate, watched a movie, made love, ate, watched the other movie, drank the wine, made love and Clyde was finished until late the next morning. When he awoke, Viki had breakfast ready.

***

Late in the afternoon, Clyde stood on the ice watching Viki’s plane disappear. He wasn’t startled when he felt Irv’s hand take hold of his. He had expected them to be somewhere close. Roon was holding Irv’s other hand. Irv sort of skipped between them as they walked toward the cabin. He let go of their hands when he caught sight of Bub. He ran up and started rough housing the dog. Bub seemed pleased.

Roon sat at the table. Clyde interpreted this as a sign that he wanted to converse, so he set a glass and a half gallon of milk before Roon and poured himself a cup of coffee. As he was returning to the table, the words “I want to thank you for the last thirty hours,” appeared in his mind.  Thirty hours?  Viki had arrived about thirty hours ago, but what did that have to do with anything?

“I don’t understand,” Clyde said as he seated himself.

“The last thirty hours have been the best Irv and I have ever spent together. I have lived in fear since we first suspected that something was wrong with him — fear that he would turn out to be what he is — a liability to coexistence. Therefore, I pushed him, trying to make him appear to be that which he is not, thinking that I could save him. Naturally, all that accomplished was to completely frustrate him and cause him to fear me. This is the first time we have ever been able to enjoy each other for we really are. He’s actually a very neat little guy.”

I coulda told you that, Bozo, went through Clyde’s mind, but he didn’t say it. Instead, he just looked at Roon over the edge of his coffee cup. What was that other thought? Coexistence. How could Irv be a liability to coexistence?”

“Bozo…I accept.”

“Damn, but it’s hard to converse with someone who knows what I’m thinking,” said Clyde, genuinely annoyed.

“I can understand. Anyway, I believe that I have devised a means whereby you may accrue benefit from our situation, however it turns out.”

Clyde was still slightly miffed, both by Roon’s treatment of Irv and by his being suddenly thrust back into the role of inferior species. “Carry on,” he said flatly.

“I have been able to communicate to Irv your interest in animal behavior. He can guide you to any animal you want to observe. Since animals are not afraid of us, that will provide you with observational opportunities which you would not otherwise get.”

“Won’t they still be afraid of me?”

“No, when confronted by two cognitive species at the same time, animals will behave according to the pattern dictated by the higher variety.”

“You are trying to say that they will ignore me if Irv is along?” Possibilities cascaded through Clyde’s mind. The idea of animals ignoring him was intoxicating. It would be like being invisible. He could find out anything he wanted to know. A naturalist’s dream! He’d have to order more disks and notebooks. Notebooks? He looked at Roon. “Did you tear those pages out of my notebook and do I have the right to ask why?” he asked.

Roon looked toward Irv.

“Oh, you removed them because they contained references to Irv. Did you erase the files from my disk?”

Clyde got a picture of himself erasing the files. “Probably under your control because you can’t type.”

Roon “smiled.”

“So, why don’t I remember doing it?”

The concept grew in Clyde’s mind that Roon had somehow eliminated the memory. He began feeling cold as another dimension of his inferiority became apparent. “Can you erase anything from my mind?” he quietly asked after a long pause. The impressions which then formed in Clyde’s mind were so alien that it took him several minutes to make even a modicum of sense from them. It seemed as though Roon could erase events, but not the emotional responses associated with those events. “So level with me,” Clyde asked, “Just exactly how do you see me?”

The responses Clyde felt toward a leopard cub formed in his mind; cute, inferior, potentially very dangerous. “Thanks,” he said curtly without trying to hide his irritation.

Roon turned his palms upward and shrugged his shoulders.

“Dammit! Stop that!” growled Clyde. “I’ll bet you guys never use physical gestures with each other, do you?”

Roon’s eyes twinkled.

The impression had a dimension Clyde couldn’t sort out. Disgust was the closest he could come, but, never having felt disgust for an animal, he couldn’t make it fit.

***

The next few weeks were the best Clyde had ever experienced. It took less effort than he had expected to develop a means of communicating to Irv what animal he wished to observe. Irv was overjoyed to be able to do something which obviously meant so much to Clyde. Due to Irv’s help, Clyde was able to wind up the wolf study as the spring thaw got underway. Every day thereafter, new species would become available for observation. Clyde filled copious notebooks. He typed at the word processor every night until his eyeballs hung out.

Clyde’s closest friend, Ross Milton, held a teaching position in Winnipeg. Clyde sent disks to Ross who responded with great enthusiasm. He thought the wolf study extraordinarily complete. He was quite interested in subsequent data, but, as time went on, he began to express more interest in whatever revolutionary observing technique Clyde was using to obtain the information than in the data itself. Whenever Viki brought supplies, Roon took Irv. As time went on, Roon began to take Irv when there was no reason. Clyde was pleased for their sake, but he missed Irv, even when he was gone for only a few hours.

There was one close call. Irv and Clyde were sitting by the lake when a helicopter came low and fast over the ridge and settled right in front of them. Clyde shooed Irv into the bush, but he doubted that he had been quick enough. The ranger who alighted from the chopper wore a grave look.

“Did I see you with a cub bear down here?” the ranger asked as he walked up to Clyde.

“Do I look that dumb?” replied Clyde casually.

“Must’ve been the light. I see bears all over the place today. A hiker was mauled day before yesterday down on Tatla creek. He died this morning. We’ve been over to talk to Andre and he tells us there’s a rogue grizzly hereabouts. I wanted to warn you ‘n find out if you’d seen him.”

“Yes, I’ve seen him. I’d guess he’s the one you want. It was better than a month ago, though.” Clyde omitted the location of his sighting and hoped the ranger wouldn’t ask; he didn’t like to lie.

“Thanks ‘n be careful,” said the ranger.

“No time for coffee?”

“No stomach for it: I was up at the hospital this morning, the air’s rough today, don’t like riding in those fling-wing things anyhow, everything’s against me.”

“Aw, whimper. Take of yourself,” called Clyde as the ranger walked back toward his nemesis.

As the helicopter lifted off, Clyde looked into the bush where he had shooed Irv. Irv was nowhere to be seen, but the antics of a chipmunk betrayed his presence. Roon must be somewhere around.

“Roon!” Clyde called as he watched the chipmunk. No response. Irv did not appear.  No message in his head — nothing.

“Roon, I know you’re around somewhere. I want to talk to you.”

No response.

When the sound of the chopper could no longer be heard, Irv appeared.

“Roon?” said Clyde to Irv.

Irv shook his head.

It then became clear to Clyde. They must be working in shifts. Whoever was on duty at the moment wouldn’t reveal himself. A vague uneasiness crept into Clyde. Others of Roon’s kind knew. That didn’t sound good.

***

Clyde and Irv had another week together. It was Friday. Viki was due in the next day. Clyde had spent the day at the word processor. He was getting badly behind. Irv had learned to fish, so Clyde sent him off to get them a mess of trout for supper. Bub had gone along.  (Lately, Irv had been developing enough confidence to make short trips away from Clyde. Bub had surprised all of them by accompanying Irv on these forays. It appeared that Bub regarded Irv as a human child.) When the sun dipped below the mountains, Clyde realized that Irv should have been back long ago. He grabbed his flashlight and gun as he rushed out of the cabin. Twilight had practically succumbed to night when he found the fishing gear. There was blood all over the ground. Something had been dragged into the bush. Clyde beat a hasty retreat back to the cabin. No telling where the bear was. At this time of day, all the advantages lay with the bear. He cried for the first time in many years…and tried to think of what he should do next.

Clyde had always loved animals. He hadn’t been able to tolerate any specimen of his own kind long enough to experience what other people called a meaningful relationship. He had discovered that Irv, though severely retarded by THEIR standards, was at least as intelligent as any human. And, he had none of the characteristics which Clyde found objectionable in humans. Theirs had been a very meaningful relationship indeed. Clyde had never experienced such a sense of loss.

Heavy footfalls sounded on the porch. Roon. Door opening…

“Tell me it aint!” pleaded Clyde as Roon’s hairy head came through the door.

Roon sat down heavily.  Clyde tried to concentrate.  “Same guy who muffed the job the day you met Irv. Had the bear kill Irv, then turned him on your dog and came back to us with Irv’s body.”

“Take me to him and I’ll blow his fuckin’ fuzzy face to….”

“No, he has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has redeemed himself. Irv was a liability to coexistence; he had to go sooner or later. All I could hope for was that he enjoy a few weeks of his life. He actually had longer than I expected.”

“Monsters! That does it!” Clyde bellowed through tears, “I’m gonna blow the whistle — tell everybody about you.” He intended defiance as he met Roon’s eyes, but the data dump occurred anyhow. He became suddenly aware of how prone humans were to kill one another over trivial misunderstandings. That thought was extended to what could happen if human misunderstandings were slightly nudged by Roon’s kind. Armegaddon could be tomorrow if these things got bent out of shape! What had kept them from doing it? Undoubtedly, the world would be a more secure place for them without man. Was that what Roon meant by coexistence? Was there some sort of delicate balance that kept them from doing humans in? Was Irv was a threat to coexistence by his very inability to understand the delicate balance?

***

Clyde awoke in full daylight without being able to remember going to bed. The memory of last evening numbed his appetite for food, study, everything. He went out and sat down by the edge of the lake. Presently, Roon walked up and sat beside him.

“It has been decided what is to be done,” appeared in Clyde’s mind.

“Yeah?” said Clyde without looking up, without interest.

The scenario began to unfold within Clyde’s head. He saw himself shoot Roon. Another of Roon’s kind came out of the bush and carried the body off. While Clyde was watching, the rogue Grizzly charged him from behind and knocked him down. Andre appeared and killed the bear. While Andre was tending to Clyde’s wounds, Viki landed. She radioed for the medivac chopper.

Clyde suddenly knew whether or not he liked the guy. “No! I couldn’t…nobody could make me…why?”

Roon looked at the ground. Clyde tried to drag himself together enough to concentrate.

“Because I am a criminal. The worst sort in our society. Revealing myself to you showed a weakness which cannot be tolerated. The others realized that I was also becoming entirely too fond of you. They killed Irv yesterday because they felt that things had gone too far. The line we were treading was too close to disclosure. There are those in our society who advocate eliminating your kind, but most of us feel that such action would reduce us to fur covered humans. I don’t have any trouble realizing that my weakness could precipitate a situation in which we would find ourselves more human than we like to think we are. I can’t live with myself now that I know I could be the catalyst for the destruction of your kind — particularly after knowing you.”

“But you said I’d shoot you…no…no…I couldn’t, wouldn’t!” babbled Clyde.

Roon put a hand on Clyde’s shoulder. Their eyes met. Clyde understood that it would be his gun in his hand, but he wouldn’t be in control. Another flood of alien concepts flooded in. Slowly, he realized that these guys weren’t hooked up for sexual love. Their highest emotional fulfillment occurred between children and parents. He got a glimpse of what it had done to Roon when Irv was abandoned to the wolves. He couldn’t grasp the high Roon had experienced when given the opportunity to know Irv. The blackness of the void Roon now faced was also beyond his understanding, but seeing it helped him understand why Roon didn’t want to go on. The knowledge that the other and the bear were approaching seemed relatively unimportant….

***

The time interval between Roon’s last words (for want of a better term) and waking up in the hospital was blank and stayed that way. Why hadn’t the other memory wipe worked as well?  Maybe old Roon was even more of a gambler than he thought. If so, he had won. Clyde had less than no inclination to tell anybody about any of this. Natural selection and survival of the fittest were theories which made it abundantly clear that bucking a superior species wasn’t wise. He wasn’t interested in seeing Homo Sapiens on the endangered species list. He sat for several more long minutes trying to fathom the “coexistence” concept. Why was it important to them to coexist with a species which was at once disgusting and a threat to the environment? The effort to get his mind around the concept proved exhausting. He rang for the nurse.

“Would we like another cup of coffee?”

“No thanks. We’d appreciate that ‘something to help us sleep’ now.”

The drug began to take hold.  The bed got more comfortable by the second. Nothing hurt anymore. Morpheus began to gather him in her arms.

Hello…Irv?….

 

ends

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