(Editor's note: Craig S. Nelson, former CEO of Nelson, the North Bay's largest staffing company, also loves to write and recently published the novel, God Left Manor Farm. It is a military thriller that immerses you in a world where animals rule and war to defend their beliefs and way of life, a commentary on the politics of today. In a world where animals have endured centuries of independence from man, where wilds are separated from the domesticated, the days of peace are about to come to an end.  One can only hope Manor Farm's misery does not become true for our world. Following in an excerpt. The book is widely available from booksellers.)

Jean and Marcel did not say a word as Louis dropped his huge, pink head onto his fat front legs and closed his eyes. 

With total trust in the Poodles, he began snoring in minutes.

          “I am assuming neither of us will sleep,” Marcel said.  Although Marcel was smarter, Jean ruled in combat situations.  “It is only one night and I’d feel better if we each watched one side of the path.”     

                “I was thinking the same thing,” Jean said.

                They dropped down side by side with their heads in opposite directions.  Their black coats, covered in dust, were nearly invisible even with the full moon.  Marcel faced north and Jean faced south.  The terrain on either side was the same, tall pines yards apart with rock strewn across the barren earth.  There were no pine needles on the ground this time of year.   The view south sloped downward and the view north slightly up.

                The sun broke through the clouds ten hours later and Louis finally stirred.  Jean and Marcel had finished their breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, apples and bread that the cooks of Knight Farm had packed for them.  A portion, big enough for two Poodles, was on a cloth that bore the emblem of Knight Farm.  The morning air chilled their bones at this altitude despite the warming weather. 

                “You should not have let me sleep through my watch Marcel,” Louis said as firmly as he could manage.

                “We were both awake Ambassador and we saw no reason to wake you,” Jean said before Marcel could say something sarcastic.

                Louis grunted but did not have the energy to protest this explanation.  Louis shook the stiffness out of his body and took his time eating the double portion that the Poodles had left him.  An hour later, they were on the path making their way up a steep incline.  Louis had already passed from stiff, to lose, to laboring as they made their way through the mountains.  Unlike where they had camped, the trees were thick from hundreds of years of growth with no fires to clear out the dead or dying fir trees.  The path narrowed to just twelve inches as it was mostly used by wild deer crossing from one side of the mountain to the other in spring and fall.  The deer traveled in order to avoid the bitter cold of the east or the oppressive heat of the west.  At this time of year, early spring, the weather was perfect on both sides of the mountain. 

                “Wait,” Marcel said sharply.

                “What is it?” Louis asked quietly.

                Marcel did not answer.  He sniffed the air as did Jean.  Jean growled.  Wolves appeared out of the forest, as if by magic, and surrounded them.  There were twelve in sight and Jean could smell more in the forest.  One-eye stepped silently onto the path, ten yards ahead of the three from Snail Farm.

                “Good morning, Ambassador,” One-eye said. 

Louis recognized him immediately as he looked much the same as the day he had poked his eye out with his tusk.  Louis flashed to his own reflection he’d seen the morning, before they had left Knight Farm.  He wondered why his body had turned to fat and folds and One-eye looked leaner and more muscular than he had ten years earlier.  One-eye, his muzzle of white contrasting sharply with his coat of grey, stepped within six feet of Louis.  The Poodles growled deeply as the wolves growled and yelped.

                “We do not want you two,” One-eye said dismissively to Jean and Marcel, training his good eye on first one and then the other.  “It is the Pig I want.  You may go.”

                “Can’t do that, I’m afraid,” Jean said with an unsettling calm.

                “As you wish,” One-eye said.  “I have longed for this day for ten years,” One-eye continued after redirecting his attention to Louis.  “Yes, you took my eye.  This is not a big deal to me.   But you also destroyed most of my family and that is an awfully big deal.”

                Louis and the Poodles did not respond.  One-eye lifted his left paw and two wolves were on each of them in seconds.  They nipped at Louis, drawing blood but never staying close enough for Louis to strike them with his now dull and brittle tusks.  Jean and Marcel fought valiantly but a third wolf fell on each of them as they started to tire and they took their last breath five minutes after they were ambushed. 

                Louis now stood alone, bleeding and snorting with rage as he no longer had the quickness to catch up with a wolf in battle.

                “You have slowed down, Ambassador,” One-eye said.  He stated it as fact and not as an insult.  One-eye had splattered patterns of blood on his muzzle from nipping at Louis. 

                “Finish it,” Louis said.  “Your pack is doomed in any case.”

                “Perhaps you’re right, perhaps not,” One-eye said to Louis.  “Let’s eat,” he sang with glee to the pack.  A wolf grabbed each of Louis’s legs and they pulled him off balance.  He ended up on his side, rolls of fat hanging over the large rocks scattered on the ground.  One-eye ripped at Louis’s jugular and the pack yelped in excitement as they lapped up the thick blood.

                When the meal was over, and night fell hours later, One-eye made his way to the rock he had sat on when he met Sabean.  One-eye howled, as if the world had magically righted itself.


Craig S. Nelson is the former CEO of Sonoma-based Nelson, the North Bay's largest staffing firm. Before assuming that role, he spent seven years as an attorney in the Criminal Division of the California Department of Justice.