Junebug’s Secret (March 2022)
By Jenna Hanan Moore
Junebug awoke from a dream of chasing Drakalupes across the universe and found herself nestled between her two sleeping humans. Their names were Daddy and Mommy, although they sometimes called each other Jeff and Paloma. Oh, how she loved them! She wagged her tail and stretched.
Also known as Junie-Moon, Peanut, and several other silly nicknames, Junebug was a sixteen-pound terrier with fluffy white fur and one brown ear. Being the size of a house cat didn’t quell her desire to chase much larger animals. For although she was small, the blood of her fierce wolfy ancestors flowed through her veins. She would protect her humans with her life if necessary, just as her ancestors had protected theirs during the Drakalupe invasion.
But why think of that now? It was time to wake up her humans so they could take her for her morning walk! Oh, how Junebug loved her walks! She began licking Daddy’s face.
“Silly girl,” he said, petting her head.
Mommy began to stir too. “Good morning, Peanut!” Junebug turned to lick Mommy’s face, then rolled over on her back so both humans could rub her belly.
After several glorious minutes of belly rubs and cuddles, Mommy and Daddy got out of bed. Junebug waited while they brushed their teeth and put on an extra layer of fur. At long last, Daddy said the magic words.
“Junie! Wanna go for a walkie?”
Oh boy! Did she ever! She ran to the bedroom door, wagging her tail. When Daddy opened the door, she raced downstairs, followed by both humans. Mommy put on Junebug’s harness, and they headed out into the cool, spring morning.
Half a block from the house, they turned onto an earthen path that wound a short distance through the woods. The humans called this the nature trail; Junebug called it the best walk ever. She stopped to sniff the air. No sign of her nemesis. She trotted along next to Mommy, turning her attention to the scents along the ground.
When they reached the end of the nature trail, they turned onto to a paved path along the road leading home. That’s when Junebug spotted the large brown animal nibbling a shrub next to the road. Mommy and Daddy called this animal a deer, but Junebug knew better. It was a descendant of the Drakalupes. She bared her teeth and growled.
Mommy tugged at the leash. “You are not going to chase that deer, Junebug! She could hurt you!”
Junebug let out a single bark. The deer looked up, then ran into the woods. Junebug trotted happily towards home, proud that she had chased away the intruder.
“Come on, Junie-Moon,” Daddy coaxed. “Let’s go get breakfast.” She picked up her pace. She loved breakfast!
After breakfast, Junebug settled in on the sofa to nap while Mommy worked at her desk. As much as Junebug loved her family, she wished they could understand her language. She longed to tell them the story of the Drakalupe invasion. Maybe then they’d see the danger.
It was a bitterly cold night, but the wolves had to leave the warmth of their den to find food. Sometimes a nearby pack of humans left scraps of food near their fire, and other times they had to hunt. Leyira left the den with her mate, Janek, and two other wolves.
Soon, they reached the cluster of human dens, which sat along the border between the great plain and the forest. Tomasz, the friendliest human in the pack, was sitting on a large rock and holding his bow. The fire was out. Strange. Tomasz, wrapped in bear furs for warmth, was staring at the horizon. He did not react to the wolves as they approached. Also strange. The wolves sniffed the air. No food, but there was another scent. Fear.
Leyira approached Tomasz. He did not respond until she was nearly within reach.
“Oh hello, beautiful girl!” He reached out to stroke her fur. Leyira nuzzled his shoulder. She wanted to ask why he smelled of fear, but humans could not understand the language of wolves as wolves understood the language of humans.
Tomasz rose from his seat, slinging his bow over his shoulder. “I’ve got something for you.” He walked toward a nearby tree, knelt, and brushed the snow aside. He lifted a wooden covering, reached into a hole where the humans stored food, and pulled out the roasted carcass of a small boar. Leyira licked her chops as the aroma reached her nostrils.
“You’d best take that to your den,” Tomasz said. “That thing is coming closer.” He looked toward the horizon. Leyira looked too, but no creature was approaching, only a faint, green light.
Leyira tilted her head inquisitively. Tomasz sighed. “I wish I could explain, but even the Elders don’t know what it is.” He dropped the carcass at her feet. “Go on. Take that back to your den.” She nuzzled Tomasz’s shoulder in thanks. He patted her head. “Go on home, girl.”
She picked up the carcass as Tomasz rose and returned to the rock where he sat keeping watch through the night. Leyira turned and walked towards her companions, who were waiting on the perimeter of the humans’ encampment. Their gazes, like Tomasz’s, were fixed on the green light on the horizon.
When Leyira reached them, she, too, looked to the horizon. The light was growing larger and brighter, but the sky along the horizon remained dark. As the light approached, she saw that there were three lights, not just one.
The air was filled with a gentle hum, which grew in volume until it was a loud buzz. A strange cylindrical shape took form in the sky behind the three lights. The shape gradually descended until it landed in the snow. The wolves sniffed the air, but the strange creature had no scent.
Tomasz readied his bow, and the wolves raised their hackles. They watched in silence as the creature opened its mouth and stuck out its tongue. Smaller creatures began to walk down the tongue towards the snow. Only then did the wolves begin to detect the faint scent of other animals, a scent they did not recognize.
Janek howled a warning and Tomasz blew into a horn. “Take that back to the den,” Janek whispered to Leyira, indicating the carcass. “We may have to fight.” Instead, she ran to the top of nearby bluff. She hid the carcass in the snow and waited silently, watching.
Several humans emerged from their dens, armed with bows, and six wolves arrived in response to Janek’s call. The small group stood together in a single battle line, watching the strange creatures approach across the plain.
These four-legged creatures moved gracefully and swiftly. The closer they got, the larger they loomed. Although smaller than bears, the creatures were larger than all other known animals. They had brown fur, black hooves, and bulging muscles. Most had great racks of silver horns that branched out from their heads in elaborate patterns ending in sharp, spear-like tips.
When the creatures reached the encampment, they stopped running and formed a line of their own. They greatly outnumbered the humans and wolves. The largest creature stood at the center of the line, a full head taller than the creatures next to him. The sharp points of his massive antlers glistened in the moonlight. He did not open his mouth, yet a voice boomed forth, speaking a language that could be understood by both humans and wolves.
“We are the Drakalupes. We have come from a world far away to find food. If you step aside and allow us to take what we need, no harm will befall you. But if you do not heed this warning, we shall destroy you.”
Perhaps the Drakalupe leader spoke truth. Perhaps if there were enough food to share, the Drakalupes would leave them in peace. But this had been a harsh winter, and food was scarce. If the Drakalupes took what they wanted, the wolves and humans would not survive.
Tomasz broke the silence. “Our world has little food, just like yours. If we share what we can, will you leave us in peace?”
The Drakalupe leader showed no emotion. “Show me. Then we shall see.”
Tomasz walked away from the encampment, motioning for the Drakalupe leader to follow. The other humans, wolves, and Drakalupes stood frozen, watching. From her perch atop the bluff, Leyira saw that Tomasz was leading the Drakalupe towards the water.
In warmer months, the water was a place of abundant food. Berries grew on the plants that lined its shores. The grasses, now dormant under the snow, returned to life, and flowers bloomed. Caribou, rabbits, and marmots were drawn by the plants and berries. Birds were drawn by the insects that emerged in the spring and the fish that swam in the water itself. In winter, however, the flowers and berries did not grow, the water was covered by layers of ice, and most birds and animals stayed away. Surely, the Drakalupe would not be satisfied by what he found. Leyira raced down the back of the bluff, taking a different path to the water. She loved Tomasz almost as if he were a pack member; she could not allow him to face the Drakalupe alone.
When Leyira reached the water, she hid in the brush.
“Where is the food you promised?” the Drakalupe demanded.
“There is water under the ice, and fish swim in the water. Follow me, but be careful.”
The Drakalupe followed Tomasz onto the ice. “You’d best stay here,” Tomasz cautioned after they’d walked several paces. “The ice gets thinner.” Tomasz got down and slid across the ice on his belly. He sat up, pulled an arrow from his quiver, and plunged it into a hole in the ice. When he pulled out the arrow, there was a fish on the end.
The Drakalupe started towards Tomasz. “Wait! The ice is too thin. Stay where you are.” Tomasz slid across the ice towards the Drakalupe, then rose and walked the rest of the way. He removed the fish from the arrow and handed it to the Drakalupe, who swallowed it in one gulp.
“Is that all?” the Drakalupe asked, his voice booming.
“Food is scarce in winter, but if you camp here until spring, maybe we can help each other. You run faster than us, so you can hunt further out on the plains than we can go, but we know the secret places, like this one. We can find more food if we work together.”
Leyira sniffed the air. The Drakalupe’s anger was steadily growing. Silently, she crept through the brush until she was close enough to pounce on the Drakalupe with one leap.
Tomasz continued his plea. “When spring comes, food is plentiful. We can give you berries and fish and game to take back to — wherever you came from.”
“Not good enough!” the Drakalupe bellowed. “We will take what is ours!” He began to stomp his front legs. Cracks appeared in the ice. Tomasz looked past the Drakalupe toward the shore. The Drakalupe lowered his head, pointing his great rack of horns in Tomasz’s direction.
Leyira leapt from her hiding place. She tore at the flesh on the Drakalupe’s rear leg with her teeth and her front paws. The Drakalupe cried out in pain and surprise. He turned to face Leyira, but she dashed to the side, out of his reach. With the Drakalupe distracted, Tomasz was able to reach the shore and ready his bow.
The Drakalupe tried to pounce on Leyira, but her agility gave her an advantage in the thick brush surrounding the water. The chase ended when Tomasz struck the Drakalupe with a well-placed arrow.
The huge beast fell to the forest floor. Tomasz knelt in the snow. Leyira ran to him, crouched at his side, and rubbed her head against his face.
“You okay, girl?” he asked, stroking her fur as she quietly nuzzled him and licked his face. “I wish I didn’t have to do that. We could have helped each other.”
They remained together only briefly. Soon, Tomasz trudged through the snow toward the humans’ encampment, while Leyira ran through the woods to find more wolves. The wolves would need to take the Drakalupes by surprise if they were to prevail.
As daylight began to paint the eastern horizon, Leyira and fourteen other wolves approached the encampment. They came stealthily across the plain behind the line of Drakalupes that stood facing the defensive line of humans and wolves.
Meanwhile, Tomasz addressed the Drakalupes, describing the abundance of food they could expect to find if they waited for the warmer months that were just ahead.
A Drakalupe interrupted. “Where is our leader? Why has he not returned?” Several Drakalupes pawed the ground.
Just then, the approaching wolves broke into a run. The startled Drakalupes found themselves fending off attacks from both sides with no leader to guide them. Soon, they fled back to the strange cylindrical object from which they had emerged hours earlier. Once they were inside, the object rose through the sky until it disappeared.
The humans and wolves watched the spectacle in stunned silence. They did not notice until the following day that the Drakalupes had left behind six of their smallest and weakest members.
Tomasz pleaded with the other humans to let the animals live. “These six pose no threat by themselves, and we have enough food to share with so few.”
The other humans did not understand Tomasz’s compassion for the remaining Drakalupes, but they could not have prevailed in the great battle without the help of the wolves he’d befriended. They agreed to let the six small Drakalupes live in peace.
Over the years and centuries that followed, the Drakalupes mated with caribou and produced offspring that were smaller and more docile than the Drakalupes. Their descendants — which came to be known as deer — learned to eat things that humans and wolves could not — things like leaves, ivy, and tree bark. Meanwhile, the friendship between wolves and humans deepened. Over time, many of the wolves grew tamer with each generation, until they became dogs and moved into the soft, warm interiors of humans’ homes. Humans forgot the story of the great battle when they stopped sitting around campfires telling tales of the heroes of yore. But wolves and dogs passed the story down from generation to generation.
And so it came to pass, one beautiful evening, thousands of years after the great battle, a feisty terrier named Junebug ate the bits of juicy steak that had been added to her kibble, licked her chops, and settled down on the sofa with her family for a nap. Her humans knew nothing of the Drakalupe invasion, but Junebug knew the story by heart. She’d heard it from her mother when she was a tiny puppy. When the Drakalupes returned, she would be ready to face them. As she drifted off to sleep, Junebug dreamed of chasing Drakalupes across the universe.
Text copyright © 2022 by the author. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: Jenna Hanan Moore (Facebook) is an appeals court attorney and speculative fiction writer who loves to travel, take pictures, sing along with the radio when no one is listening, watch Star Trek, and immerse herself in a good story or in nature. She lives in southern Illinois with her husband and dog, but she left her heart in the Pacific Northwest.