by Renee Carter Hall
Reverend Thomas Stevens said goodbye to the last of his congregation as they filed out, then went to look for Luke.
He found the young wolf exactly where he expected: sitting on the stone bench in the churchyard, under the willow tree, its curtain of green half-hiding Luke's pale gray coat. It was not far, Stevens noted, from where he had seen Luke for the very first time.
He had found the infant wolf nearly fifteen years before, left swaddled on the church steps on a cold November evening. Back then, he'd been new to the church and to his calling, filled with notions of changing the world, of spreading love and hope and light to everyone he met.
The years had made him wiser--not to mention about ten pounds heavier, he thought, ruefully remembering all the church suppers since he'd arrived. But raising Luke, as he'd named the pup, had taught him the most. Sometimes, he had realized, changing the world could be as much about changing diapers as changing the hearts of strangers.
Several church members, including a childless couple, had offered to take Luke in. He had been tempted to agree at first; it seemed the perfect solution. And yet, something in him felt he was as called to raise Luke as he had been called to Christ's service. So while Luke was petted and looked after and well-loved by everyone at New Horizon, it was Stevens he looked to as an adoptive father.
Luke didn't look up when he sat down.
"Something's troubling you," Stevens said softly.
Luke swallowed, and Stevens could see that the wolf was holding back tears. Stevens laid his hand over Luke's, the fur feeling like someone wearing suede gloves.
"Would you like to talk about it?" Stevens asked, then let go of Luke's hand.
Luke sighed, then began to sign. "Today I asked the same as I always ask. I pray and I pray and--nothing." The last sign was a quick, emphatic movement, his hands jerked apart in obvious frustration.
"I know it's hard," Stevens said.
This, he figured, was the reason Luke had been left at the church. There was nothing wrong with the wolf's hearing, but he was unable to make any sound, let alone speak. It was strange for the wolves to abandon a pup--their communal way of life seemed to place so much stock in the young--but perhaps they saw it as a weakness to be purged from their clan. He didn't know enough of their ways to be certain.
So he had taught Luke a form of sign language, learning it himself as they went along. Even then, it was often a frustrating way to communicate, as the short fingers of Luke's pawlike hands made some nuances difficult.
"They all say, if I believe," Luke continued, "they say I will speak. They say I will sing, if I believe. And I believe. But..." Luke shook his head. "Nothing. Always nothing."
It was Stevens' turn to sigh. Years ago, Luke had asked him if God could heal him, could fix whatever was wrong so he would be able to speak. And Stevens, so full of faith that was almost giddy with it, had told him yes, that if it was God's will, it could be done.
But whether you were human or wolf, it was never easy to learn that the answer to a prayer could be no.
"I want to sing, when everyone else does," Luke finished. "Every other wolf can sing."
Stevens had heard wolfsong once, as part of a cultural program the church had hosted before he'd found Luke. He remembered the clear, rising tones, each voice ringing through the sanctuary like the reverberation of a bell...
Then he remembered something else and smiled. "Come with me."
* * *
The handbells were still in their box, brand-new except for needing a bit of polish. The previous pastor had bought them in hopes of forming a handbell choir, but apparently no one had been interested, and the box had sat in a corner of the office closet ever since.
He felt silly for not thinking of them earlier. He'd considered giving Luke some kind of musical instrument before, but the shape of the wolf's mouth made wind instruments too difficult, his short fingers weren't suited to keyboards, and his claws could easier cut a string than pluck one.
Luke picked up one of the bells and tipped it back. A clear tone echoed through the office, and Luke's ears and tail lifted.
"You'll need to practice a lot to be ready for next Sunday," Stevens warned.
Luke smiled and set the bell down. "I'll be ready."
* * *
A week later, Luke took his place beside the choir as if he'd always been there, with the bells lined up neatly on a table before him. As the choir began the first hymn, Luke came in gently, one note here, another there, each one a perfect accent to the melody. He had spent the night before polishing each bell, and the brass winked and shone in the morning sunlight.
Stevens swallowed past the lump in his throat, watching Luke's joyful expression as he played. It was not the same, of course; it couldn't be. But what it was, was beautiful nonetheless.
Later, when everyone had gone, he watched Luke carefully pack the bells one by one into their box. The wolf paused a moment in the empty sanctuary, then lifted his gaze to the ceiling, touched his fingertips to his mouth, and turned his palms up.
"Yes," Stevens whispered, echoing. "Thank you."
This work and all characters (c) 2007 Renee Carter Hall ("Poetigress") May not be reprinted, reposted, or redistributed without written permission.
Unable to speak, a young wolf adopted by a minister finds his own way to worship. This was written as a response to a prompt ("bells") posted years ago on a now-defunct furry writing website.