Forest ranger, John, thinks he’s better off alone. He doesn’t want people in his life because he feels that love only brings him pain. One day, a surprising encounter with a baby changes his mind.
John sat motionless among the brush between the tall pines and watched the golden glow of sunset fade from the sky. The world turned grey, and shadows emerged from the trees on the far side of the clearing. The largest wolf raised its muzzle. John had no doubt it could scent him nearby.
He breathed slowly and deeply even though his heart was racing. The shadowy wolf slowly moved to the deer haunch he’d left near a patch of ferns. Her pups followed, and soon, the little family was devouring the meat.
John smiled. He watched them eat, then headed home along a winding trail through the forest. He kicked off his boots just inside the door to his cabin and lit a lamp. While his dinner was cooking over the fire, he recorded his observations about the wolves
The fire crackled and popped, and insects sang in the night, but no other sounds penetrated the cabin. The wolves were John’s only friends and neighbors in the forest. Except for the occasional hiker, John only saw people on his monthly supply run to the closest town.
Being the only ranger in the area was lonely, but that was how John liked it. The fewer people in his life, the better.
John was checking one of the trails the next day when he noticed some crows squabbling over carrion. Curious, John crept closer. His heart dropped when he recognized the grey and white fur.
“Get away from there!”
John’s voice was scratchy and louder than he’d expected, startling himself and the crows. He knelt beside the small, dead wolf pup. Tears sprang to his eyes.
The little guy had been shot. What monster would do such a thing? He smoothed the pup’s fur with gentle fingers and said a quiet prayer. It wasn’t enough. Although John knew he ought to leave the pup and let the crows do their work, it felt wrong.
Instead, John gathered rocks and built a cairn for the pup. He picked some flowers and placed them atop the mound of stones. As he rose, something moved in his peripheral vision.
It was Jodie, one of the two mama wolves in the small, local pack. She watched him with her yellow eyes, tongue lolling between her fangs.
John looked down, avoiding direct eye contact. “I’m sorry, mama,” he said. “I let you down by not protecting your baby, but it won’t happen again.”
John reported the incident to his supervisor. While waiting to hear back from him, another disturbing event occurred. A few days after John discovered the dead pup, he was woken by a baby’s cries.
John rushed to his door. It was still dark out, but he saw Jodie approaching his hut by the light of his lamp. The wolf was alone and had something in her jaws. She watched John as she set the bundle down at the base of the steps leading to his door. A tiny arm emerged.
The wolf loped back into the trees as John rushed to inspect the package. He hadn’t imagined things: Jodie had brought him a baby! He folded back the swaddling blankets and was relieved to see the child was unharmed. It cried again.
“Having you here makes me wonder if I shouldn’t give the world another chance.”
“Easy there.” John tucked the blankets back around the child and bounced the baby in his arms. A chill ran down his spine as this instinct kicked in, a reminder of a pain he’d buried long ago.
Rather than dwell on the past, John turned his thoughts to the present mystery: where did Jodie find this baby? And how did she know to bring the child to him?
For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels
John called out for the child’s parents, but nobody answered. Not that he was surprised; wolves could cover great distances in a single night, and Jodie could’ve found the child anywhere within that range. He called the local authorities, and then it was just him and the baby.
“Well now, I guess you need some TLC,” John said. He rummaged in the bottom of his closet until he found a tightly wrapped package. It hurt his heart to look through the contents, but he deemed the baby’s need higher than his desire to bury the past. He removed a packet of cloth diapers.
“These were for my son, but he never got to wear them.”
John unwrapped the baby’s swaddling and discovered the child was soaking wet. “I’m guessing you’ll soon put them to use though.”
Once the little boy was dry, John mixed up some formula from his late son’s supplies and fed the boy. With his needs satisfied, the child began babbling at John.
“I’m sure it was quite the adventure, little man,” John replied. “You can consider yourself very lucky that Jodie’s so smart and has such good motherly instincts.”
The baby soon fell asleep. As John cuddled him against his chest, the warmth of his tiny body and the gentle sound of his breath made John realize just how much he’d missed the companionship of friends and family.
“Ain’t much to do about it,” he muttered, rubbing the baby’s back. “My sister, Rosie, got lost in the woods just like you, but we never saw her again. Mom and Pa died of broken hearts a year later. I had to live with my uncle, and he was not a very nice person.”
John sighed. It was cathartic to finally voice his pain, even to a baby who didn’t understand a word of it.
“How did Timothy end up getting separated from you?
“I nearly had a son,” he continued. “I married a beautiful woman shortly after moving back here to Pa’s cabin. We were very happy until our child was stillborn. Maybe we could’ve been happy again after that, but I couldn’t bear any more loss in my life.”
The baby shifted position. John put a hand out to keep him secure, and the child wrapped his fist around John’s finger. The man smiled at the baby even as tears welled in his eyes.
“Having you here makes me wonder if I shouldn’t give the world another chance.” John wondered if he could find happiness in his life, but how could he hope to form a family when he didn’t know anyone?
Child services arrived that afternoon to fetch the baby. John looked down at his sweet face and couldn’t bear to hand the boy over. He wished he might keep the baby with all his heart, but it was impossible.
Afterward, John was struck by how empty his cabin seemed without the sound of the baby gurgling and giggling. All he could hope for now was that the child would soon be returned to his family.
For the next few weeks, John distracted himself from wondering about the lost baby by throwing all his energy into searching for signs of the people responsible for killing the wolf pup. However, heavy rain had recently passed through the area, destroying any tracks.
One day, John got a phone call that put his heart to rest about one worry. The baby’s mother called to thank him for caring for her son.
“Please, won’t you join me and my family for dinner?” the woman said.
“It’s the least I can do to repay you for keeping my son safe.”
John was a little hesitant but agreed to meet the family for dinner. After all, hadn’t he just decided he should give the world another chance?
When John arrived at the family’s home, he was greeted by a bubbly woman with a beaming smile.
“You must be John. Come inside, I’m Rosie, and my husband Mike is in the next room with Timothy, who you’ve already met.”
“I had a sister called Rosie,” he replied as he stepped inside.
“Had?” Rosie arched her eyebrows.
“I’d rather not discuss it.” John glanced away just as a man came to the door.
John was feeling a little overwhelmed, having met two people in a few minutes when he’d barely spoken to anyone for the past few years. However, he began to feel more comfortable while they enjoyed dinner.
Afterward, Rosie brought baby Timothy to him. He smiled down at the boy in his arms.
“I’ve got a question,” John said. “How did Timothy end up getting separated from you?
Rosie exchanged a glance with Mike. “I wanted to show my husband the wonderful area I grew up in but lost control of the car when a deer ran across the road. We hit a tree, and both lost consciousness. When we woke up, emergency services was there but Timothy had vanished.”
“Did child services tell you one of the wolves brought him to me?”
“No.” Rosie straightened in her seat. “Are you for real?”
John nodded. “Her name’s Jodie. You said you grew up near the forest, Rosie. Which town were you from?”
Rosie laughed. “None. I spent my early childhood in a cabin my dad built in the forest. It was idyllic, but then I got lost one day. I was bounced from shelter to shelter while they tried to find my parents, but by the time they finally tracked them down, both had passed away.
“I was placed into foster care then,” Rosie continued.
“Honestly, I don’t remember much of those early days. Sometimes it feels like a dream I made up, but I know it’s real because of this. It’s the one thing I have from my parents.”
John stared at the locket Rosie lifted from beneath her shirt. It was the last piece of the puzzle.\
“You’re my sister,” John exclaimed. “Even if your story wasn’t similar, I recognize that locket. An inscription inside it says: ‘Follow your heart home.’
Rosie’s jaw dropped. “But…I never even mentioned I had a brother..how…is that really you, John?”
John nodded. “We thought the worst when you disappeared. It never even crossed my mind that you might still be alive.”
The siblings hugged. They spent the rest of the evening catching up on all the life events they’d missed over the last thirty years. It was an emotional reunion. More than once, he looked down at Timothy, asleep in his arms, and couldn’t believe that the sweet baby Jodie brought him had turned out to be his nephew.
It was difficult for John to leave, especially when he handed Timothy over to Mike, and the child started crying. It was as though the baby didn’t want him to go either.
John drove home along the rutted track winding through the forest with a sense of lightness in his heart he hadn’t experienced since childhood. However, all those good feelings vanished when he heard gunshots ring out through the trees.
John grabbed his rifle, radio, and torch and entered the forest. He called for backup and raced toward the direction of the gunshots. Soon, he came across a trio of armed men, and they were heading for Jodie’s den!
John hung back to radio his position and then followed the men’s tracks through the woods using his torch. When it became clear they were there to hunt the wolves illegally, John leaped out and arrested them.
The next day, when Rosie came to visit, John told her how Timothy’s savior had almost fallen victim to poachers. She then suggested they start an organization to help protect the wolves.
“It’s the least I can do,” Rosie said. She was looking at John’s cabin with tears in her eyes.
“It’s a little overwhelming being back here after all this time. So many memories are coming back to me.”
John put his arm around his sister. They stood together silently for a while, surrounded by the towering pines. John watched a bird flutter between the rays of light falling through the tree branches and inhaled the scent of the forest. Now he’d found his family; there was just one thing left for John to do.
Over the next few weeks, with Rosie’s help, John finally summoned the courage to call his ex-wife, Melanie. He told her all about meeting Timothy and how their late son’s things had come in handy to help the baby.
They cried together over the phone and decided to meet up. Melanie was curious about Timothy and wanted to meet him.
That was the start of a renewed relationship between John and Melanie. Within a year, they’d remarried, and not long afterward, Melanie fell pregnant. Soon, John was the proud father of a baby boy called Conri, a name which honored his Irish heritage as well as the wolves as it meant ‘Wolf King’.