The Art of Dying

by Michael Nafekh

The wolf lay abandoned in the buzzing meadow. I’d shot it while smiling. Back then, I was part of a local committee that hunted wolves, and we wrongly thought that if fewer wolves meant more deer, no wolves would create a hunter’s paradise. The wolf was still alive when my shadow fell over her, but I could tell she was fading. I approached carefully from behind, but as I came into view, she looked directly at me. Her body was done, but her eyes burned with a fierce, green fire, and in seeing that light I realized that those I had discarded as senseless pests had sentience and motivations and, like us, an undying need to perpetuate. I fell to my knees then, thoroughly humbled, and placed a hand on her blood-slickened hide. As I wept, time lost its purpose. It was me and the meadow and the warm sun and the wolf stretching in all directions.

That night I dreamed an inexplicable dream. I was again in the meadow. The bright, incandescent moon dripped liquid silver over everything. There lay the wolf, where I had left her, crisscrossed by the faint moon-cast shadows of gently swaying switchgrass, almost seeming to be asleep. I walked over to her and saw with a start that her eyes still held that brilliant green fire, undeterred even as maggots tumbled from the sockets. I looked away, repulsed.

Look! The muzzle of the wolf moved slightly, resulting in a gentle stream of offal dripping to stain the grass below. Resting my gaze on her pus-streaked muzzle, I talked at the ground. ‘Are you in pain?’ My eyes dropped down to her stomach, where my bullet had entered. Her intestines were pulled like streamers and strewn in a loose, settled pile around her midriff.

‘Are you suffering?’

Silence.

The wind died. Then she again spoke: I am beyond self.

I finally looked into her eyes. There was neither pain nor suffering there.

Rest your hand upon my side. I hesitated. Just under the fur, I could see maggots and other detritivores busy at work. ‘I’m afraid,’ I admitted. Her degrading muzzle lifted in a slight, empathetic grin.

I, too, was afraid. Nodding slowly, I leaned forward and, resting my hand in the same spot I had the day before, looked her permissively in the eyes. I felt a tugging sensation before my body relaxed. The stars began to streak in the sky like rain on a windowpane. The moon fell like a stone in a deep, deep lake and the sun rose to meet it equidistantly, blazing a line of light across the hemisphere. Time doubled, tripled, quadrupled, until whole days passed in minutes. I stared as the she-wolf’s body was animated in a final mockery of life before maggots spilled forth, passing through my hand as if I were nothing more than an apparition. As meat and muscle and organ were broken down the body seemed to deflate, but still, even still, that fierce green fire held me in a soft, reassuring gaze. Then the fur, given nothing to attach to, was shed to expose pure, white bone.

‘Is it over?’ I asked as the last of the detritivores left. My hand rested gently on one of her jutting, polished ribs.

No, she sighed. It has only just begun.

When I awoke her final words rung in my mind and I grew thoughtful. The following afternoon, I went to town hall and revoked my membership status with wildlife control, and that evening I returned to the she-wolf’s body with my tent. In the nights that followed, I saw the coyote and the vulture and the bear all feasting from her body until not a scrap of meat was left, and in the weeks to come, her bones were taken away by foxes and raccoons. I saw the patch of rot beneath the corpse cause nourishing brown mushrooms to grow from what had been dead ground. The following summer, I saw a generation of rabbits eat the mushrooms and, after they became too numerous, I saw wolves feast and grow complacent before winter.

My tent has since become a shabby lean-to and I grow old. Decay on a molecular level. I am human, and so I fear death, but I rest assured that my end will facilitate a million new beginnings. I have chosen to die in the meadow where she died so long ago, and in doing so join with her in existing not as self, but as everything in between self. Energy. Flux. Entropy. Heat. The stuff generated from my decay will find itself in reeds by water banks combating erosion, in the bodies of predators trying to survive the long, cold winters, and in the small tufts of flowers which sprout through cracks in the pavement of slums. I will be everything and nothing, not seen or known, but perpetuated to mingle with the others who have crumbled to dust. To mingle with her.

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