Once there lived a young moose named Virgil. Like most moose, he loved the wandering through the trees, grazing in the meadow, and wading out into the shallows of the pond for a refreshingly cool drink. As did other moose, he had a large antlers, a dark pelt, and hooves that clopped as he walked. From the outside he appeared to be as moose-like as any moose could be. Yet there was something about Virgil that made him unique, a secret that ruled how he behaved within the confines of his surroundings.
This characteristic of Virgil’s wasn’t something he noticed in infancy or even as he spent long hours at the side of his mother learning to be a moose. No, it was only after the awkward years of adolescence when his mother told him it was time to go out on his own and make his place in the forest that Virgil began to realize there was something about him that was downright different.
That first night – alone in the forest – Virgil settled down beneath a canopy of pines. It was only as darkness fell that Virgil recognized his first problem; he was terrified of the dark. Every other night, as he had bedded down for the evening, his mother had been there beside him, but this night he was alone and every snapping twig, hooting owl, and howling coyote sent shivers through his spine. When morning came, Virgil realized he hadn’t slept a wink.
Exhausted, he wandered slowly down to the pond to get a drink. As he looked up after drinking his fill, he noticed another moose there on the other side of the pond. Delighted, Virgil took off, using the last of his energy reserve to meet up with this newfound moose friend.
“Hello,” Virgil called, when he was still some distance away.
The other moose looked up, then around to see if Virgil was indeed addressing him. “Hello?” he answered tentatively.
“I’m Virgil!” Virgil called.
“Oh,” replied the other moose, cautiously.
Kicking against the water extra hard, Virgil finally made his way to the shallows on that same side of the pond. “Wow. Isn’t it a beautiful morning?”
“I suppose so,” the other moose stated, eyeing Virgil up and down.
“What is your name?”
“What are you doing today, Karl?”
Karl took a step back, stumbling over a rock and nearly dropping into the water. “Um … I’m not sure. Probably grazing for awhile, then scratching my antlers against a tree, I may have to relive myself a time or two and – Oh! I have a duel to fight at 2:30.”
“Yeah. I met this lovely young thing named Delilah and things were going really well until Tony showed up.”
“He claims that Delilah is his gal, but she didn’t seem so convinced, so I told him I’d fight him for her.”
Virgil’s eyes grew wide. “That’s great! I could be your second. I know I’m young, but I am fierce and if you get knocked down, I could take a few hits for you while you recover.”
“Yeah … I uh … I think Delilah is a ‘one-moose’ kind of cow.”
“Oh, I have no interest in her.”
“No! I just figured you and I could spend the day together and if that is what you have planned … well I’d be more than happy to be your wingman.”
“Uh … I don’t think so.”
“It’s just not done.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not moose-like. We don’t hang out and we only pair up at certain times of the year – if you know what I mean.”
“But don’t you want a friend?”
“Oh,” Virgil said, his antlered head suddenly quite heavy.
“Sorry man. I just … I’m sorry,” said Karl, turning away and walking off into the trees.
Virgil stood for awhile in the cold water, allowing the chill to sink through his skin and numbing him. Not moose-like? What did that mean? Were all moose really solitary creatures? No. Karl was an anomaly, an abnormality among moose. All Virgil needed to do was to find another moose to be his friend.
After several long, sleepless nights alone, Virgil was able to test his theory about moose solidarity – this time with Tony.
If the encounter with Karl was bad, the interaction with Tony was off the charts. For the first time in nearly a week, Virgil awoke as dawn broke. It was only as he moved and realized every inch of him ached that he recognized that the only reason he’d slept that previous night is because Tony had rendered him unconscious and he was just emerging from his stupor.
That was enough, however. Virgil realized that whether he liked it or not, he was on his own. Still terrified of the darkness, Virgil took to sleeping during the day so that he could be fresh and aware at nightfall. Many weeks passed this way and then the first snows fell. Still Virgil kept to his graveyard schedule, passing the long nights of winter alone in the darkness, but fully alert.
Virgil’s life might have continued as such if not for a chance encounter in the spring. One day as he was resting, he heard a sound that he didn’t recognize. Opening his eyes, it took a moment before they cleared and he could figure out what he was seeing. There, partially hidden by the forest were several two legged creatures with strange, unrecognizable calls. As the creatures walked along, unnaturally, the pitch of their call changed as did the appearance of their faces. Sometimes the call was low and steady. Other times it was lilting, almost like the chirping of a bird.
Examining the creatures further, he noted their fur patterns were odd, thick and heavy above the eyes and around the neck; almost nonexistent.
Recalling his encounter with Tony, Virgil followed the creatures at a distance. (It isn’t easy for a moose to tip-toe, but he gave it a first-rate effort.) For several miles, he followed the creatures until they finally stopped. Virgil watched in horror as they removed what seemed to be half of their entire bodies. Were the masochistic? Suicidal? But no. Their eyes seemed to sparkle as they did so. Perhaps the separation wasn’t painful then; like the shedding of a winter coat.
From the trees he continued to monitor the creatures as they built cocoons and then began putting things inside them. But then – to his surprise – they then walked away from the cocoons and went down to the water with long sticks.
Virgil watched as the creatures caught fish from the sticks, drank from his favorite stream, and wandered around as though not really having a purpose. As afternoon fell, despite his curiosity, Virgil drifted off to sleep. He awoke at dusk and continued to watch the creatures. As night fell, they crawled into the cocoons.
How long would they stay inside the cocoon? Virgil wondered. Would it be weeks like the butterflies, or much, much longer? Virgil was fascinated, so cautiously, he moved forward. As he stood near the cocoon, he could hear the sound of contented breathing. It was soothing … hypnotic … and for the first time in years, Virgil drifted off to sleep.
The next morning he was awakened by movement nearby. For several seconds he stared at the creature and the creature stared back. Then – much like the last noise a rabbit ever makes – the creature shrieked. Virgil didn’t think, just reacted and ran; anything to get away from that horrific sound. It was then he learned another of life’s lessons: the creatures were erratic.
Now there was no peace for Virgil. The night contained the creatures of the dark and in the day, these new creatures – “people” he discovered they were called – occasionally crossed his path. As he watched bears, wolves, and mountain lions shy away from them, he began to realize that people were not only unpredictable, but something to be feared.
Yet if the other animals feared them, Virgil concluded, being near them would keep him safe and possibly help him to sleep through the night. And so, when darkness fell and the other sounds of the forest grew too ominous, Virgil moose-tip-toed toward the encampments of people where he settled in (mostly) and allowed the peaceful sounds of slumber to lull him into a (somewhat) restful nights sleep.