The Outlaw Clears His Name – Extended Epilogue

John Whitefeather stood on the banks of the Mattagami River, just outside of Timmins, Ontario. He waded out onto the rushing water with a sharpened stick, in the manner taught to him by his father, to skewer the bull trout on their way downstream. They were fine and fat with meat and eggs, and they would feed the Coffey family and himself that night and then for another.

Everything in Canada had worked out beautifully. Hardly a day went by without Whitefeather remarking to himself how keen Martha Coffey’s instincts had been. What mattered was not the flag, not the name of the land, but the richness of the soil, the purity of the liberty, the frank fellowship among its people. Canada might as well have been the United States in so many ways. And while there was more progress occurring in beneath the lower forty-eight parallel, as the whites seemed to call it, that was just fine for John Whitefeather. He had no interest in the notion of the white man’s progress. To him, that only meant progress down the wrong path, the path to destruction and desecration.

The white man seemed intent on spilling dirt into the sky, blood and urine into the ground, and rumors of what was happening further to the east was even worse. The year was 1880, and long, straight tubes of brick and metal were belching dark clouds of poison into the sky. It was said that it wouldn’t be long before the sky was brownish gray from one coast to the other, that all of the Earth Mother would be enshrouded in a cloak of darkness. The perfect balance of life on the great mother would be forever changed. Only she could look after those in her charge, only she could maintain the languid pace which suited her so well.

But the white man cared nothing for her, his own creator and mother. He cared for himself, for his desires, and he fulfilled and indulged them at every turn. They had freed their black slaves, fifteen years since, and John Whitefeather had wanted to take it as a good sign. But the laws seemed to have changed little in the terms of the lives of black men and women, many were streaming up into Canada as Whitefeather and the Coffeys had done five years before. John Whitefeather knew the perils of that journey firsthand, and he knew that anybody who undertook the journey only did it out of necessity. For all its faults and frailties, the United States remained a beacon to whites from every corner of the great mother. They came for what was indeed a glorious notion at its heart, though often monstrous on its face.

But the air over the Timmins was sweet and pure, the way the Mother intended. The breeze was crisp and filled with echoes of the recent spring’s promise. It was the hottest season of the year, though it was still not nearly so hot as further south, where temperatures seemed designed to allow only the strongest to survive.

This was a place of greater mercy in the warmer months, but her winters were brutally cold, snows whitening the landscape as they hadn’t done even in Nebraska. There seemed no turn of life which was free of a challenge, a price, a threat. But that only men strong men stronger, a great nation greater. The white men would prove their worth or they would die trying.

John Whitefeather suspected both.

John threw the sharpened stick into the water, plunging it into the back of a flathead catfish as it swam past. He lifted the fish out of the water, flapping and struggling on the stick. Whitefeather pulled the mortally injured creature off the stick and put it in a straw basket sitting in the river. Several others twisted and squirmed as the water passed through the basket. They’d remain alive for a white, not drawing any more predators than necessary over the course of the day’s hunt.

The wolves yapped and barked nearby, somewhere in the dense forest of white pine and tamarack. They were hunting. The cycle of life and death went on in the forest as it did the streams, the towns, the cities, even on the oceans. Whitefeather was ready to leave it all be, let the mother handle things one way or the other. He thought for a moment that they were coming for him, drawn by the fish and diverted by much bigger and more rewarding prey.

Wolves had taken humans before, it was well-known. And the traces found by others had given them stories too gruesome to retell. Wolves had a particular way of taking down their prey, which included circling and biting and then finally ripping out the beast’s anus while it yet lived, to gorge upon the steaming entrails even as the dying creature witnessed the hideous feast.

But if they were going to come against him, the wolves would meet their match. Whitefeather had skills any poor humans those wolves might have been taken hadn’t had. And he had a craving to kill which the wolves could know but could hardly match. There were still scores to settle, as far as John Whitefeather was concerned, and there always would be. No amount of miles or years would put them behind him. They were part of his present, part of his future, as the past was for any man or woman. Even the notion of escape was futile.

Then Whitefeather heard the cry.

Whitefeather knew instantly it was the baying of the prey, high-pitched but of timbre that was distinct, growly and still whining. It was a bear cub, and as the barking and the baying went on, Whitefeather needed little further description of what was happening.

And though life was often cruel for the guilty and innocent alike, that particular sound echoed in Whitefeather’s memory. But it wasn’t the particular sound, but the emotion behind it. Whitefeather knew the sound of that fear, that quivering certainty that nothing would ever be well, that death was all but certain.

He was brought back to a terrible day in his past, one he could never truly escape. The sound of his screaming children and then of their sudden silence, amid the echo of a well-aimed pistol shot. The crying of his wife, whom he was unable to save for being beaten to within an inch of his own life.

Whitefeather hadn’t been able to save them, but he was still able to save whatever poor creature was thereupon being cornered by greater numbers, stronger creatures, predators bent on devouring and indulging. Natural or not, human or not, something in Whitefeather would not let him abide another massacre of the innocent, not then and not ever.

Whitefeather left the basket in the rushing water and turned to stalk into the forest by the riverbend, where the wolves had treed their prey.

The chatter of the wolves told Whitefeather that they were aware of his presence. It was as if they were discussing a new danger in their midst, one bent on interrupting their task. They had to assume he wanted the prey for himself, as this was the natural way of the world.

And they were almost right, but Whitefeather wasn’t about to try to explain it to them, not in words or concepts that any human would know.

Whitefeather drew his Colt pistol. It had six shots and he didn’t yet know how many wolves he was facing. He left his hunting knife in the sheath at his waist, for use in close combat. Whitefeather had not desire to kill the wolves, who were only doing what the great mother demanded of them. Motherless cubs were doomed to die, predator and prey each having their part to play in the great cycle. But Whitefeather was still a man, and as a man he had his own place in that cycle and outside of it as well, one thing which the white seemed to have right.

It hardly mattered. They scattered to leave their prey, a treed black bear cub, guarded by two wolves at the foot of the pitch pine, growling and snapping their jaws at Whitefeather as he approached.

But the others hadn’t retreated. They were only relocating to collect again and attack from the rear and every side. They were even then approaching to outflank him, close in quickly and tear him to pieces, an altogether different kind of prey.

Whitefeather stepped back as they did just what he expected. Their white fangs flashed, jaws snapping, lips curling to reveal pink gums and drooling tongues. They growled and barked, lurching in and snapping before jutting back. Each time they got closer, testing their prey’s skills and their own risk.

There were six of them, and though killing a few might chase the rest off, Whitefeather knew a better way to handle it. He flipped the Colt pistol around, so that the wooden handle, reinforced by metal, would serve as a club. Wielding it in his right hand, Whitefeather spun and swung it at the nearest wolf, which happened to be behind him.

The crack preceded the yelp. The wolf snapped to the side and jutted back, clearly as surprised as it was hurt. Whitefeather delivered another hard blow to a wolf which had seen an opportunity, the mass of grey and brown fur lurching close.

Thwack! The blow came down hard on the wolf’s forehead. The animal barked and shook his head and staggered back, but it didn’t seem that the creature would remain long on its feet, much less launch another attack.

And there were still four which hadn’t been struck, the fifth still alive and an active concern. The bear cub called out from the branches above them as it clung to life, as if a warning that Whitefeather was being attacked yet again.

He turned just as a wolf lurched at him from the side, very nearly digging his fangs into Whitefeather’s flesh. A swift strike of the gun handle knocked into the beast’s snout, the crack telling Whitefeather that he’d damaged the creature’s upper jaw. It would never hunt again, and the other wolves would see this and drive it out of the pack.

Or they would eat it.

But the spirit of the hunt and the nearness of the kill made the other wolves bolder, until one managed to get a grip on the back of Whitefeather’s calf. The fangs dug in deep, the specialty of the lupine. Those jaws clamped down, the teeth sank in, the growl and snarl reverberated in his meat. The wolf shook its head with murderous vigor, and despite tensing his leg Whitefeather could feel his leg muscles tearing, blood pouring down the back of his leg.

Whitefeather flipped the Cold around in his hand, no longer a cudgel but a firearm. He leveled the gun at the top of the wolve, so embroiled in its attack and so fixed on Whitefeather’s death that it seemed to give not a single care for its own.

Bang!

The wolf yelped, but the jaws remained locked on his calf by instinct, as if the creature was ready to drag Whitefeather with it to the great hunting ground for an eternal battle.

Bang!

There was too little of the wolf’s skull to retain a hold on his leg, the weighty animal finally releasing him. The other wolves watched, heads low and eyes yellow, growling uncertain before pulling back. They left two dead, at least one more was injured.

Whitefeather turned to look up at the cub in the tree. “Come down now, Little Paw.”

The bear growled and whined, and Whitefather glanced at the gun in his hand. He huffed and holstered it, then went on, “You see? You have nothing to fear.”

But the cub cried out and the wolf barked as it pounced. Whitefeather turned to see the what was undoubtedly the pack’s leader. It was bigger than the others, a massive male, and its jaws snapped at his face, his throat, his weight shoving Whitefeather back and down and to the forest floor. The creature pushed himself toward Whitefeather with a murderous rage, a sense of vengeance which Whitefeather knew all too well from his own experience. It brought the two together, though they would not be united long.

Whitefeather could only hold the wolf back from reaching his throat, the beast’s drool warm against the man’s cheek. The creature was heavy and driven and close to the kill. The closer it got, the more likely that kill became.

Whitefeather had once chance only. He pushed back against the wolf’s throat with one hand and drew his hunting knife with the other. He thrust it forward and up and into the wolf’s vulnerable belly. The creature helped, but it was too late. It looked into Whitefeather’s eyes, another few futile snaps of its jaws. The beasts hot blood poured over Whitefeather’s hand, its weight pressing harder against the animal to rid it of those final seconds of agony. With a final gasp, the creature let go of its life on Earth and fell to the side.

Whitefeather lay there, his heart beating fast, blood pumping in his veins. He pulled away and pushed himself away from the dead wolf. He stood up, rising to his full posture, tall and strong and prevailing over wilderness.

He sheathed his knife and turned to look up at the bear, still clinging to the tree. “You are safe now, Little Paw.”

But the animal whined and shook its young head, unwilling to risk and that only seemed reasonable to Whitefeather’s way of thinking. Seeing a remedy, Whitefeather dragged the dead pack leader away from the foot of the pitch pine tree. Once in the dogwood, Whitefeather said to the bear cub, “You see? There is no threat to you here, Little Paw.”

The bear clearly wasn’t convinced, and Whitefeather looked around to make sure the danger was truly passed. His instincts told him that he’d prevailed. The pack’s leader had held back, his failed attack would be the last.

Seeing a clear remedy, Whitefeather left the dead wolves and treed bear cub to return to his basket of dying fish. He lifted the straw basket out of the rushing river, water pouring out of the seams as Whitefeather carried it back to the forest.

He returned to the foot of the tree and set down the basket. He held up one writhing bull trout, flecking fresh river water as it struggled in Whitefeather’s grip. He held it up and the bear cub looked down, whining and growling again, but with a different tone. The animal showed more curiosity and desperation than anything else. The animal inched its way down, revealing itself to be a young male. Whitefeather held the fish up and the bear came close enough to take it. The big brute bit into the bear and climbed into Whitefeather’s arms, using its front paws to hold the wriggling fish as it gobbled the thing down.

Whitefeather couldn’t help break out in a little huff of laughter, scratching the cub’s forehead and stroking its ears. The trout nearly vanished it its famished young jaws, and it was quick to help itself to another from the basket.

“This is your thanks, to rob me of my hard day’s work?” The bear cub ignored him and Whitefeather threw back his head and erupted into a fit of laughter. All was right in the forest again, and he’d made what he knew would be a stalwart and lifelong friend.

Whitefeather glanced around, knowing that to leave the bear cub would be to abandon it to a certain fate. He’d never left his friends behind, and he wasn’t about to take up the practice.

“You have a good appetite,” Whitefeather said, petting the animal’s bristly had. It moaned just a bit, a clear expression of its fondness for the gesture. “You’ll have to carry your weight at the Coffey place, and that’s going to be quite a lot of weight as the months go by, eh?” He looked the bear over, the creature showing no fear of him, only the trust from a new bond, forged in fear and in courage, in difference and in unity. “Still, there’s much good use we could put you to, eh? And you will always have a friend in this part of the land.”

The bear looked up, chewing its second fish. “Very well.” Whitefeather stood up and walked to the alpha wolf. He heaved its massive weight over the back of his neck, hind legs over his right shoulder and forelegs over the left.

He picked up the basket of fish just as Little Paw grabbed his third fish. Whitefeather picked up the basket and the little black bear cub followed along, the fish still in its teeth.

“This wolf will pay your way until you can hunt, or charm the Coffey women. I believe you might just be adored by the girl, Mary. You will protect her, all the family. They are ones to accept the isolated, the lonely, the deserving.” They walked on a bit further, a thrush fluttering out of a canopy of balsam poplar branches over Whitefeather’s head. “I make no promises, so be on your best behavior. But I think you will make a good addition to the family, Little Paw.”

The two walked on together, beginning a fast friendship that would become legendary in that part of the hills. Even generations later, people would speak of that Cheyenne warrior, once part of a white family and then to found his own, and his fast friendship with the black bear that some refused to believe had ever died. They lay head to pillow certain that, somewhere out there, Whitefeather and Little Paw roamed the wilderness, bringing peace and justice to a rugged and often lawless land.

THE END


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14 thoughts on “The Outlaw Clears His Name – Extended Epilogue”

    1. hello, just finished the outlaw clears his name , i thouthorly enjoyed this story and im looking forward to the next one which i know will be just as good.

  1. I enjoyed the book. Although I was very disappointed in the Epilogue. Wanted to hear more of Wil and family.

  2. I loved this story that was well written. Keep writing lots of books because you have fast become one of my favorite authors.

  3. I want to preface my review by saying I very much enjoyed reading your story. However, I spent a considerable amount of time getting past the errors: spelling, grammar, different names, etc. In the future, you may want to spend more time, or money editing your work. That being said, I’m looking forward to your next story.

    1. Thank you CJ!

      Glad that you enjoyed the book! I really appreciate your kind and honest feedback! It’s always welcome, as it helps me become better and better.

      I’ll check with my editor about these.

      Have a lovely day!

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