About this Story
A young winged antelope finds her way to peace and forgiveness through an unlikely friend.
A young winged antelope finds her way to peace and forgiveness through an unlikely friend.
Covered completely with a variety of songbirds, the proud redwood trees stretched brilliantly into the sky. When a potent gust of wind rattled their branches, the trees lost their feathery covering as the birds relocated. Consequently, the sky turned different shades of vibrant yellows and mellow reds. A multitude of various equally mellifluous calls flooded the air as all creatures in the forest froze to listen, completely hypnotized by the beauty of the flying orchestra.
As the breeze changed trajectory and bid farewell to the land, the animals of the forest increasingly resumed their midday activities.
After the symphony’s departure, Aspen lay in a soft pile of leaves with her eyes towards the heavens. As she snuggled into the folds of her wings, she reminisced on a memory that the birds had triggered.
The sky had been overtaken, just as it had been seconds ago, by hundreds of beautiful birds. Her mother had snuggled her cozily as they watched the stunning performance’s departure. Cuddling each other contentedly, they stared into the sky, watching as the last songbird disappeared into the fluffy clouds.
After the moment had ended, Aspen’s mother stood up and suggested they resume her lesson. “Okay, just as we practiced. I know you can do this,” her mother had instructed as Aspen determinedly opened the deep folds of her muscular, leather-like wings.
Prepared for flight, Aspen had started to trot, which led to a gallop, which finally led to long, graceful strides across the forest. At a full sprint, her athletic, deer-like body flew across the woods.
Leaping into the air, Aspen beat her wings vigorously as she started to gain altitude. Ecstatically, Aspen screamed, “Mom, look at me! I’m finally doing it!” However, as soon as the words left her mouth, she collided with a tree, hurtled head over heels towards the ground, and landed clumsily with a dull thud. Amused, her mother had helped her up and suggested they turn in for the day. Swiftly agreeing, Aspen followed eagerly behind her mother.
Aspen had always taken her mother for granted; she reflectively concluded that one cannot truly appreciate the greatest treasure their heart holds dear until it is gone forever. Aspen fought back tears and tried hard not to think of what had happened next. With the memories flooding her head, however, it soon became apparent that the deed deemed impossible.
A few nights after the flying session, her mother had been viciously attacked and shot by poachers. Because of her young age, Aspen had been too afraid to defend her helpless mother. As the hunters dragged her mother’s poor, lifeless body away, Aspen had watched, folded within the protection of her wings, too terrified to move.
As her life progressed, nothing but boiling hatred had burned inside Aspen’s pounding heart for the murderers who stole her mother. Love was nothing but a stranger; forgiveness was out of the question; and her only dependable friend was rage. Toughened by winters of hardship and companionless summers, Aspen was fueled by her only friend who never ceased to give her the strength she needed to survive. Now that she was four years old, she was prepared to take on anything the horrid human race would dare throw at her. Because of her muscular build, graceful agility, and passionate loathing, she was a force to be reckoned with. All humans, no matter their age or size, were an instant enemy of Aspen’s that she intended to destroy.
Remembering the tragic events of her past, Aspen lay wide awake in her leaf bed. The setting sun informed her that night was approaching, but she could not sleep.
Opening her wings, she decided to scout the area. Darting ahead at full speed, the leapt into the air, beat her wings vigorously, and started to fly. Above the forest, she could see everything with her sharp eyesight.
As the dark orange sun slowly dipped into the horizon, night fell gradually over the deep purple sky. After half an hour of flying, the only light that could be perceived was from the shards of glitter that generously covered the dark canvas of night. Aspen continued to glide, lighted by the multitude of stars.
Suddenly, a glint of color caught her eye from below. Dipping downwards, Aspen descended curiously. A small fire had been lit in the forest.
As Aspen landed gracefully, she silently started to investigate.
Conversing amongst themselves, a group of men sat around the fire. Their tents littered the clearing, and canopies all around flooded the space.
Memories of this horrid species aggressively attacking her mother swamped Aspen’s brain. Her mother had let out a shriek of pain as the bullet shot through her throat. She was gone forever. The hunters had advanced and started to pull the winged antelope’s legs aggressively, trying in vain to move it. Tying her in netting, one of the poachers had remarked that her mother would fetch a pretty penny. Cheering victoriously, they had pulled Aspen’s only supporter into their truck and disappeared into the night.
A loathing disgust boiled over inside of her beating chest as she remembered the last memory she held of her mother. She watched with animosity as the men roasted their meal over the undersized flame. Growling softly, she decided to make her entrance and quietly unfolded her wings.
“Hey Greg, did you hear that?” questioned one of the men as he set down his roasting stick. “Here, help me with the tranquilizer. Just in case, you know. I’ll check it out.”
Aspen stepped into the light of the fire and let out a ferocious shriek. The air was filled with her blood-curdling scream.
Caught off guard, the men, covered their ears, unable to move. Confused and terrified, the men looked around for the source of the cacophony. Off in the distance, the silhouette of the winged antelope caught their eye.
Opening her massive wings, she reared, snorted, and charged at the men by the fire. Blinded by rage, she beat her wings and bolted at top speed. The sudden gusts of wind from her thrashing wings fueled the fire as it quadrupled in size.
Screaming in terror, the men tried to escape, but were all struck intensely by Aspen’s blow as she charged through the wall of flames. Impressively, three had been hurtled into the air and unconsciously struck the ground seconds later.
This is for you, Mom, Aspen thought passionately as she turned around and sprinted towards the remaining terror-stricken victims.
She continued charging back and forth and around the entire campsite until every camper was sprawled on the floor, unable to move. All the tents had been torn to shreds, the canopies were nothing but piles of poles, and shreds of tarp littered the campsite.
Breathing heavily, she turned to leave, satisfied with her work.
A slight twinge hit her back left leg. Turning, she discovered that she had not knocked out all the humans.
Staring straight at her, a man with a tranquilizer in his hand whispered, “It’s okay, calm down. Please don’t hurt me.”
Preparing for another blow, Aspen growled. Charging forwards, she spread her wings, tripped, rolled over, and weakly sprawled out on the soft earth. Feeling blood pound into her ears, she tried to stand up but could not due to a sudden and aggressive spell of fatigue.
“It’s okay, dearie. You’re just going to have a tiny nap while you come with me,” the man cooed calmly. “I’m not going to hurt you further.”
Growling weakly, Aspen attempted in vain to keep her eyes open, but within seconds, everything went black.
After a few hours, she awoke to the sounds of conversation.
“My first thought was that it was a pronghorn antelope,” one started, “but then I saw the wings.”
“I can’t find anything in the animal kingdom that matches its description,” another added.
“This is incredible! We’ve discovered a new species!
“Hold on, it’s waking up. I’d be careful if I were you. That monster sent the rest of the crew to the hospital.”
Groggily, Aspen opened her eyes. Panicking, she started to desperately question where she was. Her thoughts were interrupted when her eyes met a scientist not far from her.
Snarling, she tried to attack, but restraints applied to her shoulder joints and torso prevented her from doing so. Shaking her head vigorously, she tried again to free herself. The muzzle around her jaw prevented her from baring her massive fangs, but she wished more than anything to tear each and every human in the room to shreds.
“Doctor Fields will be here shortly to run some tests on it,” the second scientist chimed enthusiastically.
“This is so exciting!”
“I’d tranquilize it for the time being, though,” the first added. “I bet it’ll break through those chains by the time he gets here. Nasty brute.”
“Sure, I’ll do it.” he replied as he picked up the tranquilizer.
Glaring intensely through the thick wall of glass that separated them, Aspen’s hate boiled over. Blinded by a frenzy of rage, she attempted again to escape the tight grasp. Feeling the familiar stab in her neck, she eventually succumbed to multiple waves of exhaustion and finally fell into a deep sleep.
“Doctor Fields, pleased to meet you. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve brought my son. He’s fascinated by animals and wants very much to inspect them as I do when he’s older,” Fields explained. “Let’s take a look-see at this beauty.”
Weakly opening her swollen eyes, Aspen glared at the doctor. Every ounce of her urged her to rip the man apart, but she physically could not move a muscle. With a deep sense of loathing, she managed to growl through her thick muzzle while the doctor stepped cautiously into her containment unit with his son close behind.
Sensing the procedure that lay ahead, Aspen’s growl intensified. With great exertion, she managed to lift her head a couple inches. Using every ounce of strength left in her, she let out a shrill shriek. With the ferocity of a lion, she continued to scream while she bared her fangs and glared fixedly at the intruders. The room seemed to shake while her piercing scream reverberated around every corner of the room and Fields and Benny covered their ears.
With no strength left, Aspen’s head collapsed onto the steel floor of the containment unit. Completely motionless and breathing heavily, Aspen could do nothing.
Fields stared in terror at the monster that lay mere feet away. “Benny, stay behind me,” he warned as he carefully advanced towards Aspen. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Staring intently at the creature, Benny smiled and let go of his father’s hand. “No,” Benny responded innocently as he walked closer to Aspen.
“That’s quite close enough,” Fields urged, suddenly fearing for his son’s safety. With the memory of Aspen’s shriek fresh in his mind, Fields desperately grabbed his son’s arm.
“No. Let me see.” Benny responded, escaping his father’s grasp.
“Don’t get any closer! She’ll hurt you, Benny!”
“No, I want to go closer,” Benny decided resolutely, and he scooted closer until he stood inches away from her snarling face.
“BENNY STOP!” Fields yelled desperately, but it was no use.
Leaning forward, Benny suddenly cradled the monster’s head and cooed softly, instantly aware of her downy soft fur. With his caring arms around Aspen’s face, Benny whispered gently, “You are very pretty. And soft.” Snuggling Aspen’s head, Benny stroked the creature lovingly. “Daddy, can I keep her, I wanna call her Teddy.”
Deeply moved by his young son’s immense act of blind bravery, Fields replied simply, “No, buddy, I’m afraid you can’t. She really hurt Uncle Greg and the rest of my team. She’s not very nice to people. After we classify her, we’re taking her back to the forest with a tag so we can track her.”
“She’s not mean! She likes me, see?” Benny pleaded with tears in his eyes. To demonstrate his point, he hugged Aspen tighter. “And she’s so cuddly; she can sleep with me!” Turning his head and meeting her gaze, he added, “I love her.”
Something inside of Aspen’s hard heart suddenly changed. With the small boy clinging to her muzzled face, Aspen felt aware of an emotion she had not felt in over three years: love. As Benny continued to stroke her face, Aspen’s exhausted brain overflowed with thoughts of her mother.
Her mother had caressed her in almost the same way as Benny was doing now. Aspen remembered the word of wisdom her mother had given her that long while ago. “Remember, Aspen,” her mother had instructed, “forgiveness is the center of all life. Our forest would not operate as well as it does without it. Forgive and you will be loved. Hold on and you will face hardships galore.”
At that moment, in Benny’s arms, Aspen stood resolved: she would forgive. I forgive all of you, she thought resolutely. I forgive the ones who killed my mother, the ones who darted me, and the ones who have kept me imprisoned in this incredibly uncomfortable unit. I forgive everyone.
Her inability to forgive must have been the source of her hardships. As she decided to escape the grasp of rage and hate, she an overwhelming sense of peace overcome her. With her new sense of purpose in mind, she leaned further into the child’s embrace, relaxed completely, and closed her eyes.
Taken aback, Fields stared at the remarkable scene before his eyes. “I do have to hang onto, er, Teddy for a little longer if you’d like to visit her again,” he suggested. “But we really should get going.”
“Okay, daddy,” Benny replied, eager to meet with his friend again. “I’ll see you later, Teddy.”
Over the next month, Doctor Fields arrived regularly to check on Aspen and help her regain her strength so that she could return to the forest. Each day, the doctor’s son followed close behind.
“Teddy!” Benny squealed, hurrying towards his friend’s side. “I missed you.”
I missed you too, Aspen’s gaze replied. She smiled warmly as Benny gently stroked her.
“You’re making excellent progress, Teddy. I’d say you’re ready to head back to the forest. I'll drive you out there next week.” Fields reported.
The fateful day finally arrived as the pickup truck stopped at the edge of the beautiful redwood-filled forest.
Opening the back of his trailer, Fields let Aspen out and together they stared at the stunning scenery around them. Miles of prodigious trees colored the forest a rich mahogany and the sunlight shining through the curtains of leaves set the cool, dew-sprinkled grass to scintillation. Atop a particularly tall redwood, hundreds of brightly colored songbirds proudly chirped their own distinctive tune. Altogether, the tune was the most beautiful noise the doctor and Aspen had ever heard. In awe, they stood for a minute, listening to the music.
Shattering the perfect moment, Fields sighed, “Well, I guess this is your stop, old buddy.” He stared into Aspen’s kind-hearted eyes and smiled. “I’m really gonna miss you, Teddy. It must be hard, though, missing your home for a whole month, so it’s time for you to head back. I’m sorry for all the hardships the team and I have put you through and I wish you the best.” Fields stroked Aspen gently. “Goodbye.”
I’ll miss you too. And it’s okay, Aspen smiled as she thought of what she would say if she could talk. She started to open the folds of her wings and prepared for takeoff. I forgive you.