Once upon a time, long ago, there was a distant place where people had animal spirits. Every time someone reached the age of 13, they had to go out into the wilderness (with a partner) and let an animal choose them, then become their spirit, friend and companion for life. When the bond was made, the teenager would make the animal’s call. Most of the respected and strong teenagers would earn their spirit by fighting it and winning to prove that they are worthy to be their companion. But, as The Wise Man always said, the ‘spirit chooses the bearer’. Some were much harder than others to tame and in some scenarios, fighting would not be a good idea… For example: an elephant or a gorilla or even a lion were near impossible to tame. This was partly because of their position in the animal world and their strength and majesty. Though a mouse or small cat would be the easiest options. This is the story of a courageous thirteen-year-old boy who, not being very favoured or popular in his life showed everyone who didn’t treat him well enough who was boss. This boy was determined to do well by taming the most rare and strongest of all animals.
Hi, my name is Seb or Respect. I always thought that my name meant that people would respect me – as if. As you’ll find out, I was not the most popular boy you could find. I’m the sort of person who has no friends and just goes straight home after being taught by The Wise Man. The ones who were popular would hang out with their millions of ‘friends’ [more like minions if you ask me] and have names like ‘Bravery’, ‘Strength’ and ‘Courageous’. I was just stuck with Respect – which nobody gave to me.
It was an hour before my ceremony and I was running through the village seeing as many animal faces as human. The Wise Man was leading it, and my only wish was for him not to put me with Tom (Strength). Tom and I had never had a very good history. I would always be better at using my brain and respecting people than him. He would always be better at using his muscles and beating people up. I will admit that together we would be a great team – if we didn’t despise each other like a cat and a mouse.
The ceremony went on as it did every year: people in a hearty spirit, and cheering when the pairs were chosen. Even the pairs themselves were happy – all except for me and Tom. The ones who were pleased, popular and had been looking up to this all their life could ignore the fact that they were going into a forest with dangerous wild animals. The Wise Man had chosen Tom as my partner, because he thought that we would work well together. Maybe he’s not so wise after all. All the pairs had been lined up at the edge of the forest, where The Wise Man would give them his last words of wisdom. When he finally got to where we were, he said to me, “You may be thinking about your name the wrong way, Seb. Respect is the most useful virtue. Respect can even be stronger than strength in some ways. And remember, the spirit chooses the bearer.” After his final words, we headed off into the deep, dark, dangerous woods with nothing but a mere knife against the wilderness.
“You’re not going to last one day, Seb,” said Tom, after we’d walked for five minutes. To be honest, I was surprised that he had stayed with me for so long. It was still light in the sky but I thought we should probably find shelter soon. I knew that I couldn’t get through this without him. I would just get torn apart by wild animals. Although, because he hadn’t gone away yet, he must not be so stupid as to ignore the fact that he also couldn’t survive without me, for he couldn’t tell a poisonous mushroom from a sweet, succulent berry.
It was starting to get dark in the skies and, after a lot of persuading; I managed to get Big Arms off his big, lazy backside to help me make a shelter and protection for the night. Using pure strength, Tom snapped a massive branch and I chopped it into thin stakes then sharpened the tops. When I had finished, I stuck them next to each other all around us to make a circular protection barrier. Using the same type of wood, we made a fire in the centre of our circle. We sat down at the fire in silence. There was no sound except for a distant owl hooting and the crackling fire. Hopefully the barrier would protect us for the night.
Tom was tending to the fire and I was fashioning a lattice for the roof of our shelter, using twigs and leaves. I was starving and, apparently, so was Tom. He got up without a word and ran deep into the forest. For a second I thought he would leave me. Though, soon after, he returned with a dead goose in his hands. We roasted the big bird on the fire until it was golden brown. Tom greedily dug in, leaving only two small legs for me. I was nibbling on my ration, but he was gobbling his feast. Even without his spirit, he was eating like animal. I put the finishing touches to our shelter, which were supported by two small trees in our circle. Our camp was pretty good for three hours’ work so, satisfied I would get through the night, I went to sleep. When I woke up, I realized that I had overestimated Tom’s brain, and that I was stupid to believe he would stay.
I got up with no-one in sight. The fire was out, and there were footprints heading out of the circle. I was a bit disappointed, for I thought we were starting to be friends. But I guess I was wrong. I would have to go on alone. I started to head out, my stomach rumbling. I was glad I had saved one goose leg for later though I thought I should save it for emergencies. Where to start…? I didn’t have any animal in mind, but I doubted I would get one of the big ones. Since we were meant to be a pair anyway, I started to follow Tom’s footprints, scanning the undergrowth for small rodents and the treetops for birds since they were in my league.
He must have gone far. I had been following Tom’s footprints all morning, finding nothing but large beetles and spiders on the way. A small rodent or a bird is sad enough, but insects? I would never shake off the embarrassment. Suddenly, I heard a loud hiss and a snarl coming from the direction that Tom’s footprints pointed to. It sounded like a big cat, a dangerously big cat. I was terrified, for it sounded quite close. Then I heard a boy screech in pain, almost as loud as the cat. As much as I wanted to run, someone sounded like they needed help.
I sprinted towards the cries of pain, my heart racing like a herd of wildebeest. From about 100 metres back, I spotted a sabre-toothed tiger slowly closing in on a very large figure. No-one else is as large as that. It must be Tom! Having crept closer, I hid behind a large tree. Tom fearlessly charged at the beast, knocking it to the ground. Obviously, Tom was trying to tame the tiger by fighting it and proving that he was a companion worthy of the strongest animal spirit. This clearly didn’t do much, for the sabre-tooth got up easily and roared defiantly. Helplessly, I watched as the huge creature, larger than a lion, swiped Tom across the face with a giant paw. The blow knocked him out with the force of a bull’s charge. Clearly, the sabre-tooth wouldn’t be defeated by strength, for he was the king of the forest. And how do you treat a king? With respect…
Before I put my crazy plan into action, I had to check whether Tom was OK. I ran into the glade, the sabre-tooth ignoring me because he was prowling around victoriously. I moved Tom into a safe place, acknowledging that his wounds didn’t need tending to instantly. Now for the plan. Staying low, I walked slowly towards the awesome cat. Surprisingly, when he saw me, he didn’t attack me straight away. I had to act quickly, for this wouldn’t last for long.
I bowed low, letting him see that I knew he was better than me. I moved slowly, head still bowed, looking at the ground between us. I could now feel the tiger’s warm breath and grasp the size of his lethal teeth, as long as my arm. I was absolutely terrified, but at the same time, I was in awe of this majestic and powerful spirit. He had let me this close, so I was confident that my plan would work. Though, now I wasn’t doing it just for my safety, I believed that this amazing animal could actually become my spirit. Gradually, I moved my hand up to touch his furry neck. He took a step back, but only one. I tried again, and this time he allowed me to touch him. I pulled out of my leaf pouch the goose leg I had saved, and offered it to the tiger. He took it from my hand, without even scratching me. I moved around to his side and leapt onto his back, roaring for the first time in my life – the sabre-tooth’. My spirit had chosen me.
Words: 1655, words to date: 8247
This story is dedicated to Martin, who had the idea of ‘The Wilderness’.