His yellow eyes narrowed on my exposed throat as he bent his legs subtly, preparing to spring. Adrenaline pulsed through me as my flight instinct threatened to overtake me. A throaty huff announced his intent, his tongue flicking through the stained ivory frame of his canines. The mist of our rapid breathing punched the frozen air between us in the shared recognition of what the next act of our deadly dance would be.
I steeled myself for the impact as he sprang.
”Stand yer ground.”
McTaggart’s ragged drawl broke the steady drone of the front-loader’s engine as it rumbled through the yard. I pried my eyes away from cavorting wolves on the berm overlooking the transfer station to respond, “What now, old-timer?”
“Watch yerself, kid.”
At twenty-four I was no kid, though the old-timers in Patuanak liked to refer to me as such. Since arriving to work with Tohmah, a young Christian Dené, translating the New Testament into Na-Déné, I had been fighting a losing battle to reclaim my actual first name, Stephen, from the nickname disease that pervades every inhabited corner of Northern Saskatchewan. Things didn’t improve when I got the job running garbage transfers to Beauval, ninety miles south, with a crotchety old fart like Joseph “Mac” McTaggart.
McTaggart began slowly backing between the piles of black plastic bags filled with the waste of Patuanak and the nearby Dené reservation. The truck jerked to a stop, it’s headlights spraying the rise in the failing light. Leaning his formidable bulk forward on the wheel, he grunted as he studied the gray wolves.
“Seems like more of ‘em every year. Those up there are jus’ pups, they got the blue eyes so they most prob’ly jus waiting for the others ta have their fill.” The young wolves were still, watching the truck intently. “Now, if ya have the misfortune of running inta those yella-eyes ‘round here, ya best remember two things.”
McTaggart fished a cigarette from shirt pocket. Bitterly cold air rushed in as I rolled down my window a crack, anticipating the thick cloud about to fill the cabin.
“First, they ain’t scared of ya. They been riflin’ through our trash for so long that we get ta smellin’ more like food than danger to ‘em. And them buggers eat sixty pounds each at one sittin’, so ya wouldn’t be much more than a snack for a couple of ‘em.”
“Next off, never, ever run. They jus’ looking for somethin’ to chase. They like ta hamstring ya, chew up your legs and then take ya down. Ya run, they eat… stay put and ya might…might…survive. Yella eyes like their prey yella.” He snorted at his own wit as he leaned back, satisfied that he had sufficiently scared the greenhorn.
But it wasn’t until I got back to meet Tohmah for some more translation, far from the wolves, that I began to know real fear.
”Stand yer ground.”
The words echoed in my mind as the hot, rancid breath brushed past my cheek.
“You should have stayed in Helena, Stephen. At least there someone might have cared when they find what’s left of you.” The voice lowered. “I was watching you today…what a fitting place for you to stock up on the garbage you’re feeding these poor ignorant eskimos.”
I began shaking as the black voice resonating through Tohmah tore through my soul. He prowled around me, testing my defenses…searching for the key that would make me run.
The seething whisper continued, “What? You think your faith can protect you? It’s as worthless as you! You think your precious book can shield you?” Peals of grisly laughter like a chalkboard being scraped tore at my confidence. I clenched the muscles of my legs, preparing to run, as he plunged deeper into my hidden fears, mocking me.
“Where is your Savior now? Where was your dear Messiah when I waylaid your little helper?” Tohmah’s terrified voice whined from the mouth of the beast, “No…no…Jesus, help me…nooo…”.
Something clicked into place within me.
As warm calm poured through me, I watched a fleeting shadow of fear pass across the yellow glow of his soulless eyes.
I thrust my open palm toward him, ”In the Name of Jesus Christ, I cast you out Satan!” Tohmah crumpled to the floor as a piercing howl shook the room.
Exhausted, I dropped to my knees, crying praises as Tohmah’s questioning brown eyes peered back at me.
“’Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves’” Luke 10:23
The Dené are an aboriginal group of the First Nations tribes who live in the northern boreal and Arctic regions of Canada. Na-Déné is their language.
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