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Voldamar Blog

Short Stories & Thoughts on writing

January, 29 2015

This installment of heroine Aithera’s mystical journey follows the gifted girl now as a grown woman. Having mastered the gifts that she was born with, Aithera is in a position to help others. Travelling the valley and surrounded by strange storms and forces, she comes across an old man, whose memory seems to falter but who calls himself Devon. The pair are soon joined by another waif, a young girl called Jira who seems to be developing gifts of her own, and who quickly becomes like a sister to Aithera. As these mysterious three journey to discover the missing pieces of the old man’s (strangely powerful) amulet, their backstories become increasingly intertwined…

The prologue does a nice job of bringing Aithera’s history back to us, and from this point on, images and phrases of the prequel recur and orient the reader, especially as Aithera’s new companions start to appear more connected to the Kilbray estate than they first seemed. The narrative moves quickly and flits between dialogue, swathes of action, exposition, and visions. To keep the reader clearly anchored through all these elements and modes of writing is really commendable.

Occasionally, the journeying desciptions and the magic sequences stretch a little too long and are so vague and mysterious that they become difficult to visualize. Aithera’s world is made up of forest, mountain, cave, clearing, but it’s difficult to image the landscape as a whole. But these vaguer episodes are broken by nice, clear images that become landmarks in the prose, like this resonant description of the group’s first cautious observance of a dragon – “Devon whispers softly, “Many creatures of the night now seem to go by day,” as he watches the dark shape travel from sight.” This is a lovely line, creating both an intimate foreground and a compelling horizon for the reader to imagine.

And between these dramatic episodes, the tension breaks and the authors provide scenes of contentment and humor. In one such scene, Jira, Aithera, and Devon prepare a meal for themselves and laugh over the domestic duties. Their relationships develop quickly and are compelling in themselves and their dialogue makes these relationships clear.

In the first of the Demesne books, I found changes in tone to be a little off-putting; here, the switches between colloquial and archaic language seem to be made more consciously. The old man Devon has a noticeably more ancient tone, and the girls note this. The unpredictable tone becomes part of the story’s intrigue rather than a frustrating discrepancy.

Overall, the rising action of the plot is both satisfying and unfinished – Jira’s and Devon’s identities are revealed, the gang is revisited by a figure from the past, and Devon’s transformation reaches its climax, but questions remain, creating curiosity for the next installment…

Thank you Georgina Parfitt for your glowing review and insights.

Do you agree with Georgina Parfitt? Let us know.

On www.towerbabel.com
First in the series led by enigmatic and lovable heroine


Georgina Parfitt

December, 10 2014

This is the first in a series following the fate of a girl called Aithera, whose miraculous birth immediately sets her apart for an extraordinary life. Born into an important position, as the first girl child of the Kilbray estate, Aithera’s infancy is shaped by the pressure of her future marriage and the possible gifts she might inherit.

The book begins with a prologue, whose distant, magical tone does a great job of raising Aithera to myth-like status. From this atmospheric beginning, the Swem pair structure and pace Aithera’s story suspensefully and romantically, every so often cleanly jumping into a new era of her life, and reminding us of time’s passing by counting her summers. In this way, Aithera’s life and the world she’s growing up into comes clear to the reader, and with an increasing sense of foreboding as she grows into a more beautiful, and more dangerous, presence.

Especially effective are the passages where Aithera’s possible marriage is compared to a breeding cycle or a kind of natural selection; the recurring significance of breeding, animals, and genetic qualities keep the thematic quality of the world strong and recognizable.
The criticism I’d make of this world building is that, though the suspense for the emergence of Aithera’s special qualities is well done, I think the reader needs just one or two more hints about the magical qualities of the world as a whole. We get a brief history of the Kilbray family from Gretta in Chapter 8, but many of the references, to dragons, to mages, to Aithera’s elvish antecedents, are revealed without much explanation as new features of the world. Many of the magical elements are assumed rather than shown.

Language and word choice are other aspects of the novel’s world building that are a little inconsistent at times. I appreciated the moments of humor and romance between the characters, but often their speech patterns and vocabularies were changeable, archaic and formal one moment, completely contemporary the next. This led to comical changes in tone, but also made it difficult to imagine the world at times, and took me out of the flow of reading.

But despite the questions I had about tone and back story, the plot, pace, relationships, and characterization of the novel’s heroine, are all really well deployed and allow the reader a clear and compelling reading experience. What’s more, Aithera is a really lovable protagonist and you can’t help but root for her, which is a must-have quality for the first book in a series.


Do you agree with her assessment? Thank you Georgina for your review.

New Challenge Review

Posted by SFSwem on July 27, 2014
Posted in Book Reviews  | Tagged With: , , , , , | 1 Comment

There is a review of Demesne’s The Challenge out on Kelly Smith’s reviews.

We would like to thank Kelly for reading our book and we are very happy she enjoyed it.
This what she had to say:


Kelly Smith Reviews

Kelly Smith Reviews

“Demesne: The Challenge, by S.F. and D. A. Swem is one Hell of a ride! If you’re a fan of adventure/fantasy novels, you’ll eat this up. If you’re looking for a novel to test the waters, so to speak, I highly recommend this one.

It’s a unique storyline with a powerful cast of characters. The description is vivid and I found myself transported to a whole new world, forgetting that I was simply sitting in bed, reading a book.

It’s also a story about courage, strength and determination. You’ll read breathlessly, hoping for Jira’s victory.

Good work and compelling storytelling!

4/5–nice job!”

Take a look at Kelly Smith Reviews blog. She has reviewed many books, she is an honest reviewer and we appreciate that she is willing to reading indy books and review them as well.
We have been told by those closest to us that “The Challenge” is our best work. That an independent reviewer enjoyed the journey into the Fantasy realm of Aithera, Jira and Devon encourages us to continue to improve our stories.

Can we do it with Science Fiction as we journey to the stars? We hope so.

I was asked the question, the other day. “How big (word count) should chapters be?” and this implied “How big (word count) should the story be?” Also implied would be, “How many chapters should there be?”

My answer was/is, roughly, when the story is told, then you have the word count for story, chapters, and the number of chapters.

My opinion is that a story should have a beginning, middle, big scene, and end. Each chapter that helps lead you in that direction should have the same, beginning, middle, big scene, end.

I have read books that had some short chapters, and I think I remember, there was this one story that only had a one page chapter. Then there were stories that had chapters that could have been stand-a-lone books.

I know an author that shoots for 100k for his books, not sure what his goal for chapters is.

I have taken and split a large chapter into 2, since it seemed to add to the overall effect. I have also gone in and combined 2 chapters into one, again, because it seemed to add to the overall effect of the story.

Of course there are probably rules for all this, just as any english professor, or any editor.

All I can tell you, is that if I am reading a good book. There is no such thing as rules. If I am pulled into the story and don’t want to put down the book, I am not counting words or pages. I am just wrapped up on how the character is going to get into or out of the mess they are in.

Speaking of which, where did I set that book down!

Welcome Robert Stanek

Posted by SFSwem on February 10, 2014
Posted in Thoughts  | Tagged With: , , , , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

We are pleased today to welcome Robert Stanek as a guest on our blog. Robert Stanek is not only the talented author of more than 150 books for adults and children but someone who has been helping other writers ever since his first book was published in 1995.

Back in the early days of the Web, Robert created Writer’s Gallery, Internet Job Center and Internet Daily News to help other writers (archives at http://www.tvpress.com). These days Robert helps other writers by hosting some terrific writers groups, by blogging about writing-related topics, and through his Read Indie tweets on twitter.

On Facebook, Robert Stanek hosts one of the more popular groups for getting the word out about your promotions and free offerings. It’s called “Free Today” and you’ll find the group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/freet…. On Twitter, you can tweet using the hashtag #freetoday as another way to spread the word about your promotions and freebies.

Go Indie (https://www.facebook.com/groups/goindie/) is another terrific group for writers that Robert hosts on Facebook. Go Indie is a group dedicated to promoting indie authors, indie books, and indie booksellers. On Twitter, you can also use hashtag #goindie to spread the word about your books.

On Goodreads.com, Robert hosts the Read Indies group. Read Indies helps to provide a platform for writers to discuss their books and writing-related topics. Read Indies is at http://goodreads.com/group/show/88011.

Robert also writes the Read Indies Blog (http://readindies.blogspot.com/). The blog discusses many important writing-related issues and details many of the challenges indie authors face in gaining mainstream acceptance. Some of the more interesting posts:

Taking Your Work from Print to Film – http://readindies.blogspot.com/2012/1…

Selling Rights to Your Books – http://readindies.blogspot.com/2012/1…

Viewpoints on Rejection Letters – http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/0…

Understanding Bestseller Lists – http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/0…

Finding Success as a Writer – http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/0…

You can learn more about Robert and his books at www.robert-stanek.com.

Hear ye, Hear ye,

A Book Announcement is ready to be made.
  We would like to announce the fourth book of the Demesne YA fantasy series “The Challenge” is now live on amazon.com and smashwords.com e-book for your favorite device.
 Short synopsis of “The Challenge”
   Montiack invokes the Matriarch Challenge, a deadly duel on dragon back. The first obstacle for Jira is to find a dragon from her own clan as her dragon mount. Her connection to the valley and to the crystal, and any help from her friends Aithera and Devon is forbidden by the First Matriarch, and any interference will be met by instant death.
Links to this and the first three books of course can be found on our book site www.voldamar.com
For more information about our books please feel free to contact Steven Swem at writers@voldamar.com
We are and independent self publishing team. We hope you enjoy our stories.

The Escape

Posted by SFSwem on May 30, 2013
Posted in Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , , , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

The Escape

He was in a group of other denim jacketed teenagers, as they passed by the window of the school.  I noticed, on several occasions, that this one, tall, long armed, blond haired, youth kept taking darting glances as he passed by.

Class had been over for two hours when he returns alone.  He slowly comes out of the alley just north of the school.  He steps quickly and carefully so as to not step on any of the papers or cans that littered the sidewalk, and only an occasional scuffle could be heard from his black sneakers.  Hands in pants pockets, he walks down the street.  Glancing over his shoulder from time to time, he passes by the school, without looking in the window, and stops a couple of doors away to lean against the side of the building.  Back against the wall, just outside the light from the street lamp, right leg crossed over his left, and just looking up and down the street, acting casual but checking out the area.  The shade of his faded denim cloths allowed him to blend with the shadows.  He keeps this relaxed state for a couple of minutes then moves into the light, and with a quick look both ways, turns his attention to the window.  As time passes his shoulders drop slightly, his head slowly moving from side to side as he looked over the items in the school.

Stepping out of the doorway, I quietly cross the street being careful to stay out of the reflection in the window, to stop in a position, just outside of the glow of the street light, and slightly behind his right shoulder.  I waited, and watch his reflection in the window.

The wait is not long.  I had made no sound in my approach, yet, he knows that I’m here and where. The shoulders and back slowly straighten as he comes to his full six feet of height, and there is the subtle movement as he shifts his weight onto his left leg.  I remained still and see by the reflection in the window that his thin,   ¨sandy eyebrows, are knit together into a frown and his lips tightly pressed together.  He is perfectly still.  A moment passes, then there is a further shifting of weight as he gets ready to move.

“I will not inform your friends.”  I say quietly.

His reaction is good.  There is only the slightest hesitation before he shows his surprise and turns in the wrong direction, then spins all the way around to face the direction of my voice.

“What the … You scared the …  who’s there?”

His voice is at that awkward time.  Mixed in with the high tones of a boy, there is the rich mellow tones of a man.

“I am the owner of this school.”

“Well, hey, I was just looking.  I wasn’t thinking of breaking in or anything. Where do you get off sneaking around in the shadows.  You could get hurt coming up on somebody like that.”  His last sentence demanding.

“I have noted your interest on several occasions.  Why have you not come in?”

“The dudes think that anybody who takes this crap is a coward.”

“You are not really sure of that.  Do you find that your friends ideas are not your own?”

“The dudes do not lie to each other, we take care of our own.”  Taking a step foreword, voice cracking as he reacts.

“They lie to others.  Having learned to lie, could it be that they could lie to you without you knowing it?”  Still speaking softly.  “You have lied to them.”

“I don’t lie to the dudes.  I tell them everything that I see or hear.”

“Then why haven’t you informed them of your interests in this school?  Withholding that information, is that not a lie of your wants and feelings.?”

“Shut up man, your trying to confuse me with your fancy words.  Besides what do you know about my wants and feelings?”  Turning quickly, he nimbly runs down the street and disappears around the corner.

He ran, and ran hard.  He ran until his chest hurt and his breath was coming in ragged gasps.

I don’t lie!  I don’t lie!  How dare he think that I lie.  Where does he get off, telling me I lie?  It’s true, that I haven’t told the guys about the school.  It seems interesting, but I am not a coward.  The dudes are my only friends, the only ones that understand me.  They wouldn’t lie to me, would they?  I’m one of them and no coward.

He stops near a park and plops down on a bench to catch his breath.  Let’s see, where am I?  Looking around he recognizes land marks.  Oh no, I’m in the Red Devil’s territory.  This park is there major turf.  I know better than to come anywhere near here.  I had better get away before they find me.  Look what that jerk made me do!  Let’s see, if I go up to Maple then over Oak, I can . . .

The sounds reached him, when the slight breeze shifted and comes in from the park.  He starts to walk away but stops, then heads into the park.  Shaking his head.  I shouldn’t do this, but maybe I can get a some evidence on the Devils.  If I stay out of sight, I should stay out of trouble.  See, you’re not a coward.  If I get caught they’ll kill me, but I am going to spy anyway.  I am not a coward.

Coming to the edge of some trees, and staying deep in the shadows, he finds a small group of the Devils, harassing an elderly couple, near one of the sparsely placed park lights.  Kneeling down by the base of the tree and watching from just behind the trunk.  The fools, they should have known that taking a walk in the park this late at night is dangerous.  Maybe the Devils will just take their money and let em go, but it doesn’t look and sound like it, they are really fired up.  Why did they have to take their walk here.  Maybe an anonymous call to 911 will help em.

From out of the shadows on the other side of the pathway.  “You boys seem to be looking for some trouble.  Why don’t you leave this couple alone and go about some peaceful, and legal, type of business.”

That voice! It’s him!  The guy from the school.  Where is he?  What’s he doing here?  I’m the fastest guy around here, and he’s an adult.  How did he get here?  There’s no way he could have followed me.

A figure, dressed in dark slacks and a dark sweater steps out from the shadows and into the light.  A calm but determined look on his face.  Hands casually down by his side.

“Hey look boys, another fool who doesn’t know better than to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong.  Hey big man, why don’t you go away before you get hurt and have to go crying to your mama.”

He’s not stopping!  He’s going right up to Jimmy.  Shuddering.  He’s the worst of this lot.  I had better make that call now.

“This couple will not be one of your victims tonight.  They will continue there walk and you boys will go elsewhere.”

“Ok big man, you first.  Then we’ll get back to business.  No body tells Jimmy Shaw of the Devils, what to do.”

Here it comes.  Jimmy is known to send in one of the other boys, and when you’re back is turned, then he sneaks up and catches you by surprise.  What the . . . Franks on the ground and Jimmy’s on his knees.  What did that guy do to him?  Here comes the rest of em, he’s had it . . .  what’s he doing?  He’s moving to fast, I can’t make it out.  He’s tossing those guys around like they were dolls.  Well at least the old folks are making a break for it.  They’ll be safe.  Looks like the Devils have had enough for tonight.  Look at em run.  Beaten on their own turf, boy are they going   to be pissed.  Look at him, just standing there, not even breathing hard.  Six street lords against one guy.  Wait a

minute, he’s turning this way.  No, it can’t be possible.  There’s no way that he can see me.  But, the way he’s look this way, it’s as if he knows I’m here.  Closing his eyes for just a moment.  Boy is this guy creepy.  Opening his eyes to keep a close eye on this guy.  He’s gone!  Where did he go?  I didn’t hear anything.  I had better get out of here before my luck changes, this place is too weird for my liking.


This was a writing assignment a long time ago. What should have been added? Was more discriptives needed? What might have made it better?

Let us hear from you.


’”Hey beaver face, my pencil needs sharpened.  Come over here and chew on it for me and make it good and sharp again.  Ha Ha Ha.”

Was the sound of trouble ringing down the hall.

“Ron Crum and his gang of trouble makers.”  Thinking to myself.  “Thinking they own the school.  Where’s Canary?  Ron’s not so nasty when there’s a teacher around.  What a way to start a new class.  I’m here to learn how to draw houses and now I have to put up with him.”  Trying to get some other kid between Ron and myself.  “This isn’t going to be as much fun as I thought it was.”

As the bell rings, the loud mouth with the leather jacket waits by the door.  As I start to pass, he bumps me into the edge of the doorway.  My left shoulder hits the door jamb.  Knocking my books from my hands.  I inhale sharply against the pain, and try to act as if nothing has happened.  While trying to pick up the scattered papers and books, Canary looks up from his desk.  I must be beat red in the face, as I hear the snickers from the other kids.  My ears feel hot.

Getting to an open drafting table, I sneak a glance at Ron.  His greased hair combed straight back.   Spikes and chains all over his jacket and those square toed boots.  I quickly look away, when he slowly looks up at me with that nasty smile of his.  “I’m dead meat.”

All through class.  I got plugged with spit balls, erasers and paper clips.  Whenever Canary was not looking.  Twice I had to erase, big heavy scribble lines, when Ron bumped into my elbow.  Canary left the room once, Ron snuck up behind me.

“I’m going to get you bean pole, after school.”

I jumped and another line.

“I’m going to use you for a pipe cleaner on my cars exhaust pipe string bean.  It hasn’t had a good cleaning in a long time.”

The sweat feels like a rivers running down my face.  Hands starting to shake slightly.

Reaching around he knocks my pencil container off the table.  Canary returns as I’m picking up the lead that spilled out.

“What am I going to do?  There  ¸’s going to be five or six of his buddies with him!  Why me?  If I leave through the west exit, maybe I can avoid him.  Then he’ll really be mad!  Maybe . . . ”  A ringing breaks into my train of thought.  “The bell!  Class is over!  I’m dead.”

“I’ll be waiting bean pole.”  Knocking my books off the desk, snickering as he leaves to meet some of his friends.

I head for my next class.  “Only five more periods before the end of the world.  I should have stayed in bed.”

By the end of the day, my nerves had settled down.  I had almost completely forgotten about Ron.  Then again, with Ginny in most of my other classes, it was hard to think about anything else.  Too bad I’m too chicken to ask her for a date.

When school let out, I saw Ron leave by the west wing.  I left by the east.

The next day did not start out on a good note.  I woke up late.  Was late getting to the bus stop.  Banged my shin on the seat in front of me.  And my temper, which is extreme, by this time was on a short, very short fuse.

I had completely forgotten about Ron, and didn’t even see him until the drafting class.  I got to the classroom shortly after the first bell, and it was open.  As I entered the room Ron was waiting.  A couple of his friends, one on either side of the doorway.  It was just me and them in the room.

“You didn’t show up yesterday.  I was looking forward to some fun, and you made me look bad in front of my friends.  Now I’m going to have to trash you.”  Taking a step forward.

That was the match to the fuse.  “BACK OFF PUSS FACE”  my temper exploding.  If I’m going to get beat up, then it might as well be over something worth while.  “I’m in no mood to put up with your garbage!”  Standing my ground.  My knees starting to shake slightly.

“You think that your skinny butt can take me?  Look at the worm, Johnny.  He thinks he’s got a backbone!”

He lounges at me.  Arms out stretched to grab the front of my shirt.  I am six feet tall and weight one hundred pounds.  Ron stands a head shorter  and must weight around on  “e sixty.

Just before he reaches me, I drop my books.  Lean slightly to my left.  Grab his right wrist with booth hands.  Pivot to my right on my left foot, letting my right foot angle backwards and to my left.  Using my weight to guide his momentum, I spin him around and let go.  He stumbled backwards, tripping on his own feet, crashing into one of the drafting tables.  Ending up all tangled in the legs and cross members of the table.  The look of complete surprise on his face.  He just laid there.

Then, Canary speaks up.  “That will be enough!  Mr. Crumb, when you get out from under that table, we will take a little trip to the office.  Mr. Murry wants to see you, and. . .” he pauses a moment.  “I think he’ll be interested in this little stunt.”

Now I really start to shake.  I picked up my books and sit down, hard, on my stool.  “That Judo stuff works.  I thought that class was just something to do.  Mr. Soto was right.  Use your attackers weight and momentum against him.  I don’t believe it.”

“Hey Swem.” Ron asks, getting out from under the table.  “How did you do that?”

“Come along Crum, you have other problems to worry about.”  Canary takes Rons arm and they leave the classroom.  “Take your seats class and start your projects.  I’ll be back in a moment.”

Ron was suspended from school, for a week, for starting the fight.  After that he never gave me much trouble.  He would taunt and call names, but he never tried to start another fight.  And ALWAYS stayed out of arms reach.


(This story is based on true life back in the good old High School days. Names have of course been changed.)

Chapter 15 out of 21 chapters, is off to the editor. The current project is right on track.

What? Huh? Just what do you think you’re up to? Are you really sending off just one chapter at a time to the editor? Are you nuts?

This might be what some are thinking, if they are following my entries in my face book fan page.

So what am I up to? Why not wait and send the whole manuscript to the editor? Well, let me splane the madness.

Pst, pst; that was intentional.

We work at it and work at it, and finally we think we have the story, from start to finish. Now back to the beginning. We throughly go through the first 3 chapters and eventually call it good. Then we notify the editor and when she is ready we send off the first chapter with synopsis of the story, chapter by chapter. This starts the editing process of sending and receiving chapters.

This does 2 things.

It imposes a deadline: We know that we will be getting a chapter back, so we have to have another chapter ready to go out to editing. If we are not ready, it breaks the flow.

This gives a sense of progress: Chapter by chapter editing gives us a sense of progress, of flow, of accomplishment. I know, that’s silly, but hey, that is how we see it.

Since we think the manuscript is complete, we do a final review of the chapter before it goes out to our editor. This way we only partially fall into the trap of “we can add this to make it better.” The rewriting trap.

Getting a chapter back from editing, going over it and then sending it out and getting comments back from beta reader, gives us a sense of progress. If we sent the whole manuscript out for editing, that would take what? Month or two to come back. Then we would have a couple of weeks of checking it out? Then we would need to send it out for beta reading. Another couple of months? Before we get it back? So while we wait for the return of our work, we sit around and twiddle our fingers. So to speak.

Now some might say, that would be a good time to work on the next project. And they would be right. But for me, waiting for the whole book to come back makes it feel like I have not accomplished anything, that I am not doing anything for it.

When we get a chapter back from editing or from beta reading, it’s like the 25th of December. “Lets see what others had to say about it.” Do our thing and then, wait with anticipation for the next one.

Lone Wolf

Posted by SFSwem on May 14, 2013
Posted in Short Stories  | Tagged With: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Note: This is a work of fiction. Something that simple sprang to mind.

Lone Wolf

With all her big brothers and sisters off to school, our ranch became a lonely place for our three-year-old daughter, Becky. She longed for playmates. Cattle and horses were too big to cuddle and farm machinery dangerous for a child so small. We promised to buy her a puppy, but in the meantime, “pretend” puppies popped up nearly every day.

I had just finished washing the lunch dishes when the screen door slammed and Becky rushed in, cheeks flushed with excitement. “Mama!” she cried. “Come see my new doggy! I gave him water two times already. He’s so thirsty!” I sighed. Another of Becky’s imaginary dogs. “Please come, Mama.” She tugged at my jeans, her brown eyes pleading, “He’s crying–and he can’t walk!”

“Can’t walk?” Now that was a twist. All her previous make-believe dogs could do marvelous things. One balanced a ball on the end of its nose. Another dug a hole that went all the way through the earth and fell out on a star on the other side. Still another danced on a tightrope. Why suddenly a dog that couldn’t walk?

“All right, honey,” I said. By the time I tried to follow her, Becky had already disappeared into the mesquite. “Where are you?” I called “Over here by the oak stump.  Hurry, Mama!”

I parted the thorny branches and raised my hand against the glare of the Arizona sun. A numbing chill gripped me.

There she was, sitting on her heels, toes dug firmly in the sand, and cradled in her lap was the unmistakable head of a wolf! Beyond its head rose massive black shoulders. The rest of the body lay completely hidden inside the hollow stump of a fallen oak.

“Becky!” My mouth felt dry. “Don’t move.” I stepped closer. Pale-yellow eyes narrowed. Black lips tightened, exposing double sets of two-inch fangs. Suddenly the wolf trembled. Its teeth clacked, and a piteous whine rose from its throat.

“It’s all right, boy,” Becky crooned. “Don’t be afraid. That’s my mama, and she loves you, too.”

Then the unbelievable happened. As her tiny hands stroked the great shaggy head, I heard the gentle thump, thump, thumping of the wolf’s tail from deep inside the stump.

What was wrong with the animal? I wondered. Why couldn’t he get up? I couldn’t tell.  Nor did I dare to step any closer. I glanced at the empty water bowl. My memory flashed back to the five skunks that last week had torn the burlap from a leaking pipe in a frenzied effort to reach water during the final agonies of rabies. Of course! Rabies! Warning signs had been posted all over the county, and hadn’t Becky said, “He’s so thirsty?”

I had to get Becky away. “Honey.” My throat tightened. “Put his head down and come to Mama. We’ll go find help.”

Reluctantly, Becky got up and kissed the wolf on the nose before she walked slowly into my outstretched arms. Sad yellow eyes followed her. Then the wolf’s head sank to the ground.

With Becky safe in my arms, I ran to the barns where Brian, one of our cowhands, was saddling up to check heifers in the north pasture. “Brian! Come quickly. Becky found a wolf in the oak stump near the wash! I think it has rabies!”

“I’ll be there in a jiffy,” he said as I hurried back to the house, eager to put Becky down for her nap. I didn’t want her to see Brian come out of the bunkhouse. I knew he’d have a gun.

“But, I want to give my doggy his water,” she cried. I kissed her and gave her some stuffed animals to play with. “Honey, let Mom and Brian take care of him for now,” I said.

Moments later, I reached the oak stump. Brian stood looking down at the beast. “It’s a Mexican lobo all right,” he said, “and a big one!”

“Whew! It’s not rabies,” Brian said. “But, he’s sure hurt real bad. Don’t you think it’s best I put him out of his misery?”

The word “yes” was on my lips, when Becky emerged from the bushes. “Is Brian going to make him well, Mama?” She hauled the animal’s head onto her lap again, and buried her face in the coarse, dark fur. This time I wasn’t the only one who heard the thumping of the lobo’s tail.

That afternoon my husband, Bill, and our veterinarian came to see the wolf.

Observing the trust the animal had in our child, Doc said to me, “Suppose you let Becky and me tend to this fella together.” Minutes later, as child and vet reassured the stricken beast, the hypodermic found its mark. The yellow eyes closed. “He’s asleep now,” said the vet. “Give me a hand here, Bill.” They hauled the massive body out of the stump. The animal must have been over five feet long and well over one-hundred pounds. The hip and leg had been mutilated by bullets. Doc did what he had to in order to clean the wound and then gave the patient a dose of penicillin. Next day he returned and inserted a metal rod to replace the missing bone.

“Well, it looks like you’ve got yourselves a Mexican lobo,” Doc said. “He looks to be about three years old, and even as pups, they don’t tame real easy. I’m amazed at the way this big fella took to your little gal. But, often there’s something that goes on between children and animals that we grownups don’t understand.”

Becky named the wolf Ralph and carried food and water to the stump every day. Ralph’s recovery was not easy. For three months he dragged his injured hindquarters by clawing the earth with his front paws. From the way he lowered his eyelids when we massaged the atrophied limbs, we knew he endured excruciating pain, but not once did he ever try to bite the hands of those who cared for him.

Four months to the day, Ralph finally stood unaided. His huge frame shook as long-unused muscles were activated. Bill and I patted and praised him. It was Becky to whom he turned for a gentle word, a kiss or a smile responded to these gestures of love, by swinging his busy tail like a pendulum.

As his strength grew, Ralph followed Becky all over the ranch. Together they roamed the desert pastures, the golden-haired child often stooping low, sharing with the great lame wolf whispered secrets of nature’s wonders. When evening came, he returned like a silent shadow to his hollow stump that had surely become his special place. As time went on, although he lived primarily in the brush, the habits of this timid creature endeared him more and more to all of us.

His reaction to people other than our family was yet another story. Strangers terrified him, yet his affection for and protectiveness of Becky brought him out of the desert and fields at the sight of every unknown pickup or car. Occasionally he’d approach, lips taut, exposing a nervous smile full of chattering teeth.  More often he’d simply pace and finally sulk off to his tree stump, perhaps to worry alone.

Becky’s first day of school was sad for Ralph. After the bus left, he refused to return to the yard. Instead, he lay by the side of the road and waited. When Becky returned, he limped and tottered in wild, joyous circles around her. This welcoming ritual persisted throughout her school years.

Although Ralph seemed happy on the ranch, he disappeared into the surrounding deserts and mountains for several weeks during the spring mating season, leaving us to worry about his safety. This was calving season, and fellow ranchers watched for coyotes, cougars, wild dogs and, of course, the lone wolf. Ralph was lucky.

During Ralph’s twelve years on our ranch, his habits remained unchanged.

Always keeping his distance, he tolerated other pets and endured the activities of our busy family, but his love for Becky never wavered.

Then the spring came when our neighbor told us he’d shot and killed a she-wolf and grazed her mate, who had been running with her.  Sure enough, Ralph returned home with another bullet wound.

Becky, nearly fifteen years old now, sat with Ralph’s head resting on her lap. He, too, must have been about fifteen and was gray with age. As Bill removed the bullet, my memory raced back through the years. Once again, I saw a chubby three-year-old girl stroking the head of a huge black wolf and heard a small voice murmuring, “It’s all right, boy. Don’t be afraid. That’s my mama, and she loves you, too.”

Although the wound wasn’t serious, this time Ralph didn’t get well. Precious pounds fell away. The once luxurious fur turned dull and dry, and his trips to the yard in search of Becky’s companionship ceased. All day long he rested quietly.

When night fell, old and stiff as he was, he disappeared into the desert and surrounding hills. By dawn his food was gone. The morning came when we found him dead. The yellow eyes were closed. Stretched out in front of the oak stump, he appeared but a shadow of the proud beast he once had been. A lump in my throat choked me as I watched Becky stroke his shaggy neck, tears streaming down her face.

“I’ll miss him so,” she cried.

Then as I covered him with a blanket, we were startled by a strange rustling sound from inside the stump. Becky looked inside. Two tiny yellow eyes peered back and puppy fangs glinted in the semi-darkness. Ralph’s pup!

Had a dying instinct told him his motherless offspring would be safe here, as he had been, with those who loved him? Hot tears spilled on baby fur as Becky gathered the trembling bundle in her arms. “It’s all right, little Ralphie,” she murmured. “Don’t be afraid. That’s my mom, and she loves you, too.”