The farm looked old and dull, but in my thoughts everything, even the quiet farm, was eerie. I had the dream again; the same dream I had every full moon, the only dream I ever had. The gentle eyes of my mother looked down at me. All I could see were the soft, green eyes. I could feel the warmth and fear of my mother, fear that was for me.
“Terry!” called my father. “Breakfast!” He was actually my adoptive father. He found me in the woods and took care of me. He knew that adopting me would be a bad idea. He had no experience whatsoever with raising a child, and the only person who could help him would be his younger brother. He spent weeks searching for my family, but found no one. He could give me up to an orphanage or adopt me himself. I suppose he felt responsible for me, or maybe it was sheer pity, but he took me in and I was brought up living on a farm with him and my uncle, Dude. He is really my Uncle Ben, but “Uncle Ben” makes rice, and Dude was a childhood nickname. I suppose I liked Dude all right, but he was gone so much that I didn’t really get to spend much time with him.
“Coming!” I yelled. I ran hard and fast, I was good at that. Dude says my mother and father were probably great athletes. Besides, today my father was making waffles for breakfast.
* * *
It sat down and pulled the straw out of my tangled hair. I had slept in the barn with the animals again. I felt at peace with them.
My father could tell I had been sleeping there, but I suppose, against his better judgement, he let me be. My father and I did not talk much. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, it’s just that we didn’t “click.” Neither of us was a very good conversationalist, so silence filled the gaps in our relationship. But it wasn’t a comfortable silence. It wasn’t awkward either. There was simply nothing there; no words, no thoughts, no feelings. I had lived twelve years with someone I barely knew. His tired face was that of a stranger that looked different every time I saw it. I did not miss my father when we were apart, and I did not notice when we were together. I was never angry with him, nor was I happy. He was simply there, nameless, my provider, but don’t get me wrong. I was grateful to him. Only sometimes I wondered if his choice to adopt me was a smart one. Did I really belong here? Could things really go on like this?
“Did you finish all of your homework?” my father asked, breaking the silence.
“Yep,” I answered.
“What are you doing in school today?” he continued quietly.
“Hmmm. Do you like your new math class?”
“No, not really.”
We both went back to poking at our waffles. It was a typical breakfast conversation. I thought of saying more; telling him how I despised math class and how I learned more walking home through the peaceful woods, tasting the fresh air, than I ever could at school, but I decided that I would sound silly and thought better of it.
Many long, silent moments passed before the next conversation began.
“I got another one this morning.” This time it was Dude speaking.
My father nodded.
“Two more chickens are gone.”
“Suppose I’ll go down to the market an’ get some more.” He looked tired and distressed.
I knew what they were talking about. I hated it. Our chickens were disappearing. My father decided it was wolves, but we never actually saw them take the chickens. Although with so many wolves running around Stoneland, Wyoming, what else could it have been? I had my own ideas. When I proved that the Hoster boys from next door were taking the chickens, no more innocent wolves would die. I couldn’t be absolutely sure they were taking them, but whenever they came over they snooped around, and day by day their chicken flock seemed to grow larger and ours smaller.
Off in my own world, I stared blankly out the window, but my thoughts on the chickens came to an abrupt halt as a beautiful full-grown wolf stepped into our yard. It was far away from the chickens, but close enough. Even though the wolf wasn’t after them, it was in danger simply by being here. I had to get to it before my father did.
I tore across the yard, each step faster than I could count. As I neared the wolf I did not slow. For my own safety I should have stopped. I did not. I knew the wolf wouldn’t hurt me. I could feel it in a place deeper and more spiritual than my heart, and somehow, somehow, I knew she felt the same.
The part when I actually, physically tackled the wolf was a blur of forgotten memory. All I knew, or rather felt, was me running with the wolf, for the wolf, to a place I knew by heart and yet had never seen. The feel of my legs straining to push my body through the force of the eager wind felt natural, completely natural.
When my heart finally stopped urging me forward with the force of a thousand fists, I found myself at the entrance of a cave. Unsure of what to do next, I glanced over at the wolf. Taking sure and gentle steps, she proceeded inside. I followed, a bit bewildered.
There must have been fifteen . . . no, twenty wolves! The soft gray texture of their fur made me want to reach out and touch them but I kept my distance. They were all peaceful and quiet, so . . . so satisfying for the soul. They were completely at peace, and they looked at me as if I belonged. For once in my life, I felt I did.
My first thought was that I had stumbled on a secret civilization, but that was wrong, all wrong. I hadn’t stumbled, I was led, and I wouldn’t say civilization either. The word civilization makes me think of ancient Egypt, hieroglyphics, and social studies. This was a . . . a family. It was a crazy thought, but somehow it seemed like my family. I shrugged it off.
Time passed. I stood and watched, just watched, for maybe an hour or two. Slowly, the blue sky faded into black. When the first star appeared in the sky I knew it was time to leave. They knew it too. Before I could leave, the wolf that led me here showed me some objects on a rock. The arrowheads and old carved rocks were gifts, from them to me. I accepted gratefully, wishing I had something to offer in return. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to give it. The wolf had left. She had left me to make it home by myself. Somehow I did.
The next few days were a blur. I had been devoted to proving the Hoster boys guilty. I had recently found out that their father had trusted them with the farm while their mother was sick in the hospital near town. He spent all his time there. I told my dad, but he said I needed more information.
One night while I was hard at work on my case, I heard the sound of a gunshot. This gunshot, though, was not over by the chicken coop. It was right here by the house. I heard it again. Then I ran, lying to myself, saying I didn’t know what it was, but I did.
In one second flat I was there. I dropped onto my knees, landing hard. No, I thought, this is a dream. It has to be. The body of the wolf was sprawled out on the ground in silent pain. She had been shot twice in the leg and was losing blood fast. I could feel the eyes of my father burning into me, waiting to see what I would do next, but I didn’t care. Her head turned and she looked at me. She was dying and I felt the fear in her eyes. It was so familiar. Those eyes, they were so eerie. My dream, it was my dream; the same green eyes, the same warmth, the same fear. This couldn’t be true. The eyes in my dream belonged to my mother, and this wolf couldn’t be . . . or could it? There were so many questions, too many questions. This wolf was dying! The eyes closed.
I placed my hands over her heart, and with every ounce of strength in my body I strained to push life back into her. It was silly, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was so completely helpless. There was one more thing to try. I had to get her home.
I ran to the barn. My sled, where was it? There it was. The rope was more tangled than ever, but speed was with me and I succeeded. I lifted her limp body onto the sled, grabbed the rope, and ran. When I reached the cave I saw the whole pack waiting as if they already knew what had happened. I lifted her off of the sled and watched them clean her wounds. Then I left. I was totally and completely scared, more than ever now.
I took my time getting home. I wasn’t eager to see my father. Each breath I took stung my chest and for the first time that night I felt the cold wind bite my face. But even so, the hurt inside of me was greater than the hurt on the outside.
When I did reach home I didn’t talk, eat, or even get ready for bed. I simply lay down in the darkness of my room with my pain and silence and went to sleep.
When my eyes opened I lay still for a second adjusting to the glow in the room. I had slept for a few hours, but I had been awakened by something. I thought it was the moonlight streaming in through the open window, but as I walked over to close it and pull the shade I felt something turn in my stomach. Maybe it wasn’t the light that woke me up. I smelled the air and sensed that something out there wasn’t right. My eyes scanned the yard. Everything was normal but over by the chicken coop I saw a small dark figure crouched in the tiny chicken door between the fenced-in outdoor area and the coop building. I sometimes crawled through there in feeble attempts to frighten the chickens.
I ran fast and noisily down the stairs and out the door. Behind me I could hear my dad and Dude beginning to stir. When I got outside I moved slowly and quietly toward the figure. When I reached it I saw that the figure was actually a chubby little boy. “Hey!” I yelled.
“Help, help! I’m stuck!” he cried. And he was stuck. His upper body was inside the coop and his lower body was outside, wriggling madly to set himself free. Luckily, I had been in his position before and knew what to do. The chicken doors were tall and narrow so my first instruction was:
“Turn your body sideways.”
“Now, lift your hands above your head and slide out backwards.”
The boy followed my instructions and, having sprung himself loose, he grinned at his freedom. That triumphant grin soon faded though, as I grasped his arm. I was bigger and stronger than the boy and a fight would have been pointless. Besides, my father and Dude had emerged from the house and were headed toward us.
I turned the boy so that the moon could cast a soft glow on his pained face. Even in the dim light I recognized him immediately. The boy—the figure—was none other than Dennis, the younger and chubbier of the Hoster boys. He was ten years old, a few years younger than me. He knew he had been caught and tears filled his eyes in shameful defeat. By that time my father and Dude had caught up to me. I handed him over to them without a word and headed up toward the house, but before I turned I caught a glimpse of the guilty expression on my father’s face. He had been wrong. They had all been wrong.
I continued on through the damp night, filled with feelings unfelt and words unspoken. I did not look back, but I could hear the painful wailing of Dennis Hoster and the deep rumbling of my father’s accusing voice. Once again I lay down in my dark room and slept. Only this time I awoke on my own, and did not fall back asleep. I wrote a note to my father saying I had found my mother and would be going to live with her. I could explain better in writing than I ever could come close to in person. I even told him I loved him and I would miss him. That very night (or rather, morning) I left.
I walked slowly. I wasn’t rushed. When I reached the cave I realized how scared I really was. I said one last goodbye to the place I had grown up in. Then, I turned to greet my family, and in the center of them, my mother. She was healthy, but with one less leg. I looked down at my own hands, and watched them change slowly back to their original form. I watched the claws and the fur grow. I was one of them again. We were us again, together. I was finally at peace.