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The Wolf

My mom died when I was a baby. No one ever told me she died because of me, but a kid figures something like that out, you know? I didn’t think my dad blamed me. Anyway, I’m getting off track. My point is I only had my dad, and then he was killed. An accident. Not like a baby being born and accidentally destroying its mother, though. A drunk. A stupid drunk teenager. I’m glad he died too, and I don’t just mean that vindictively. I know how it feels, knowing your actions caused someone else to die. I know how it kills you in a different way, slowly. It isn’t just because of my mom. It’s also the wolf.
My dad had this old hunting cabin and a few acres in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, but after my dad died, I had to go there. I packed enough food to last my little dog, Grainley, and me a few weeks. We drove out as far as we could and hiked the last seven miles in, using a map I found in my dad’s desk. We made it to the cabin after nightfall and I collapsed into bed.
Around 5 in the morning, something woke me up. I figured it was Grainley wanting to go out, so I got up. He was sleeping soundly right next to the bed. I was up, though, needing to go out myself, so I headed outside. As I stepped through the doorway, I saw him. The wolf. He was just standing there, staring at me. The door was still open and Grainley came out behind me and starting barking, lunging at the wolf. I freaked out, sure the wolf would kill him. I started screaming like a banshee and ran forward to grab Grainley. By the time I got him in my arms, the wolf was gone. Here’s the crazy part, though. Before he took off, the wolf spoke to me. He said, “I won’t hurt you.”
When I woke up later in the morning, I was sure it was a dream. Then I saw the scratches on my arms from Grainley scrambling to get down and run after the wolf. My precious little dog was yet again sleeping soundly by the bed as if nothing had happened. Had the wolf really spoken to me? I thought maybe I had dreamed that part. I got up to pee and this time I closed the door behind me. And there he was again.
This time I was sure I was the one who would die. That this wolf must be starving or sick, desperate enough to come so close to a human. Desperate enough to attack me. I pulled the banshee act again and starting waving my arms around, trying to scare the wolf away. I could hear Grainley barking inside the cabin and hoped he didn’t break a window trying to get out. The wolf just backed away and I heard it again. “I won’t hurt you.”
I stopped flailing my arms and screaming. I felt like an idiot, but I said, “What?”
“You heard me. I said I won’t hurt you.”
His mouth never moved, but he was right. I heard him.
“How is this possible? Am I going crazy? Are you really here?”
I turned my head to tell Grainley to shut up and when I looked back, the wolf was gone. This confirmed my suspicion that I was going crazy, but I’d take crazy over a talking wolf. It was understandable, after all. My dad had just died, leaving me an orphan at 20. I was emotionally distraught. I could make some sense out of imagining a wolf.
I walked a couple dozen feet from the cabin and squatted to relieve myself, then went back and let Grainley out. Of course, he took off into the woods. I ran inside and pulled on my boots and went after him. I lost sight of him pretty quickly, but continued following the sounds of something moving through the brush. I hoped it was him I was hearing. I kept calling him, too, but Grainley has never responded very well to his name. Maybe it’s because I named him Grainley and he’s really Fido. But I’m getting distracted again. The further the story gets, the more I don’t want to tell it.
Eventually I came to a small clearing filled with bluebells. I felt like I’d been running for hours and I was tired, thirsty, hungry, and annoyed as hell at my dog. I sat in the flowers and rested. I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them, he was there. He was standing in front of me, his face inches from my own. He came closer and started licking my face. I closed my eyes and tried not to move. I had to breathe, though. I let the air out slowly and opened my eyes. He stopped licking me and sat in front of me.
“You’ve grown up,” the wolf said.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I knew your father. I knew you. I’ve been waiting for you.”
I reached my hand out to touch the wolf’s face. He didn’t move. He was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was petting a wolf. Then it dawned on me, what the wolf was saying. This was too weird. I got up and ran as fast as I could back to the cabin, where my little darling of a dog was sleeping soundly next to the bed.
Several days passed and I didn’t see the wolf. I stayed inside the cabin as much as possible, reading the hunting magazines my father had there, imagining his hands holding them, his eyes reading them. I took Grainley outside on a leash. I didn’t allow myself to think about the wolf. There was no wolf.
One night I couldn’t sleep for the light pouring in the windows. It was a full moon. I left Grainley in the cabin and went back to the clearing. Was I sleepwalking? No. I knew what I was doing, and I knew he would be there. The ground was damp, but I sat in the flowers anyway. I closed my eyes and opened them. Still alone. I stood up and looked all around me, but there was nothing.
“Are you there?” I called out.
I heard a rustling behind a tree and turned to it.
“Please come out. I want to talk to you. I won’t run away this time.”
His voice sounded different when it came. Raspy, uncertain.
“I can’t let you see me like this.”
“Please. I promise I won’t run.”
Instead of a wolf, a man stepped out from behind the tree. I almost broke my promise, I was so startled. To think I was more afraid of another human than of a wild animal, but I felt like I knew the wolf. This man was a stranger. And he was naked.
“Who are you?” I said.
“I won’t hurt you.”
The voice was different, but the words were familiar. It was the wolf.
“What happened to you?” I said.
He came closer. “Every full moon, I change into this. I don’t know why. It has always been this way.”
He was as beautiful a man as he was a wolf. He came into the clearing and I stepped closer to him, put my hands on his chest.
“How did you know my father? What did you mean, you’ve been waiting for me?”
He put his hands on my hips. His voice seemed to be gaining strength. “Your father saved my life. My foot was caught in a trap, and I’d been stuck for days. I was almost dead when he found me in this form, on the night of a full moon. He freed me and brought me back to his cabin, gave me food and water. In the morning I was wolf again, and he nearly shot me. I told him that I wouldn’t hurt him. He was kind and let me go.”
“You said you knew me, too.”
“Your father brought you here the next year. I watched you. You never saw me.”
“You said you’d been waiting for me. What did you mean?”
“Just that I knew you would come back.”
He kissed me then, and to my surprise, I kissed him back.
I woke up the next morning naked in the flowers, my arms wrapped around a wolf. When I turned onto my back and stretched, the wolf stood up and stretched as well, then licked my face. I almost licked him back. I sat up and pushed him away.
His voice rang out in my head, clear and strong. “I am the same as I was last night.”
“You’re a wolf,” I said.
“You still want me.”
I stood up and started putting my clothes back on. “I don’t know what I want. I have to go let Grainley out.”
“You will be back.”
I looked down at him and knew he was right about everything.
I took Grainley for a long walk in the opposite direction of the clearing. I couldn’t believe I had slept with him. I didn’t even know what he was. If my father had saved his life when I was a child, how old was he? He had looked…perfect. As if he were frozen in time. He said it had always been that way. What was he? I thought my father and I had been close, but he had never said anything about saving a wolf-man. I suppose he knew I would have a hard time believing him. I stopped walking at that moment, and Grainley looked up at me.
“Why did my father only bring me here that one year, Grainley? Why not before, and why not after?”
Something was off.
That night, I couldn’t not go to the clearing. And when I got there, I couldn’t not let him lick my face. I didn’t like it. I mean, I liked the licking, a lot. But I felt like there was a magnet inside me, pulling me to the wolf. I still feel it. He must still be alive, and it’s killing me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I pushed him away again.
“Why did my father bring me here? Why did he never bring me back?”
“Your father made poor choices.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What I told you last night, that isn’t exactly what happened. It’s all right, though. Everything is working out the way it should.”
“What do you mean? What really happened?”
The wolf sat back on his haunches and said, “I saved your father’s life. His leg was caught in a trap and he was nearly dead. I had to wait until the full moon to release him and take him back to his cabin. I saved his life, but when he saw me as wolf the next day, he tried to kill me. He was too weak and his shot missed. That was how he would repay me. I could have ripped his throat out, but I told him I would not hurt him if he would bring me something.”
I sat back in horror. I knew what my father was supposed to bring the wolf. What he had brought the wolf.
“Me. He brought me to you.”
“Yes. I had seen your picture in his hand when I found him. He brought you, but then he took you back. Every year he returned and tried to convince me to release him from his promise. I couldn’t do that. I need you. I think I have always needed you.”
“My father is dead. Did you know that?”
“I suspected. I felt something change and knew you would come.”
“Is this because of the promise he made to you? Do I have any choice in this?”
“Do you really want a choice in this? You know this is right.”
He started licking my face again and I felt trapped inside myself as I watched myself removing my clothes. Something was happening to my body. I didn’t recognize it anymore. The wolf was prancing around the clearing like a puppy. It wasn’t right, what was happening to me. I didn’t want to become a wolf. I did want a choice.
“What did you do to me?” I tried to speak, but strangled sounds came out of my throat. He heard me, though, in the same way I heard him.
“You are mine now. Accept it.”
He stood over me, powerful. I lunged at his throat. He was quick and I missed. He snarled and gave me a low warning growl.
I ran. I was so fast and so strong. I heard him behind me and I ran faster. I would not accept this.
I heard him yelp and realized he wasn’t chasing me anymore. I turned and trotted back, following his scent. It was strong. There was blood. His foot was caught in an old trap. I stayed hidden and watched him struggle until the exhaustion of everything that had happened caught up to me.
When I woke up the next morning, I was myself again. He was still a wolf, stuck in a trap. I stepped into sight.
“Save me,” he said.
I left him there. Grainley and I hiked back to my car and we came home. It’s been days. I’m not sure how many, but I know he’s still alive. He’s pulling me to him.
I call a friend and ask her to take Grainley for a couple days. It shouldn’t take that long. I drive back and hike the now familiar route to the cabin. I get my father’s gun and go to the wolf. I can track his scent easily. That’s something new about me. He is weak and says nothing. Maybe he would die in a couple more days, but I will not be like the baby who accidentally kills her mother.

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March 2012
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