Uncategorized01 Dec 2008 09:11 am

“Beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful.”

Carl McGowan leaned over the railing and stared down into the pen as the she-wolf strutted back and forth, showing off.  The bitch’s mate hunched down, lowering its tail between its legs, and growled at Carl, who just smiled.

“What’s the matter, Boy?  Jealous?”  His smile faded.  A group of elderly men and women made their way down the path toward the pen, led by a young girl he recognized from his Senior English class, though her name escaped him.  She looked very uncomfortable, dressed in the brown and white polyester zoo uniform.  Carl backed away, trying to blend in with a tree.

“And to the right we see our wolves,” the girl said.  “Wolves are the ancestors of domestic dogs.  They are highly intelligent and their remarkable endurance is legendary.”

She paused a moment as her group peered down at the animals, then continued.

“These are timber wolves, one male and one female.  We call them Bill and Hilary.”

Nobody even cracked a smile but the young girl didn’t seem to care. The group moved away, toward the elephant pen, and Carl stepped from behind the tree.  The male had moved inside but the female sat in the sun, cleaning herself.

“They sure are beautiful animals,” a voice said from his right.  “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

Carl glanced over at the older man approaching, in his blue jeans and work shirt with the zoo’s logo on the breast pocket.  He carried a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other.

Carl smiled.  “How are you, Thomas?”

“Oh, another day and I’m still breathing,” he said, then his voice turned stern.  “You were late today.”

“Yeah, I know,” Carl said and nodded.  “I had to play taxi and drive someone home from school.”

Thomas’s eye brows went up a little.  “A girl?”

“No!” he snapped.  “It was my brother.  Why?”

The old man shrugged.  “I was just wondering when you’re going to find a girlfriend so you don’t have to spend as much time hanging out around here.”

Carl blushed and leaned on the railing again.  His voice dropped to little more than a whisper.  “I’m not here that much.”

Thomas laughed and moved away.  “Carl, you’re here more than I am.  They should put you on the payroll.”

“I tried,” Carl said.  “But I won’t take a job unless it’s working with the wolves.”

“That reminds me,” Thomas announced.  “Miss Sullivan said if I saw you to tell you that the supervisor won’t be in tomorrow morning.  If you want to help feed them, be here by seven.”

“Really?” Carl said, swinging around.  “Outstanding!”

“Whatever you say,” Thomas mumbled and continued his rounds.

Carl turned back to the pen.  The she-wolf was sitting in the corner staring up at him.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered.  “Tomorrow morning.”

The male walked out of the enclosure and looked at its mate, then up at Carl, who sensed, more than he heard its low growl.  Carl growled back.

Carl ran like he’d never run before, panting, the cool wind on his face exhilarating him beyond anything he’d ever known as a human being.  The trees rose up around him, providing the shade, protecting the pack from the outside world.  His four legs pumped a little faster, keeping him in step with the others of his family.  The hunt was on.

His mouth watered when they caught sight of the stray deer.  They dodged around trees, spreading out slightly to get a better angle on their prey.  Carl could feel the rumbling in his stomach as his claws began to itch, anticipating the attack.  He wanted to feel his teeth sinking into the flesh.  The deer’s head popped up.  It sensed them, but it was too late.  Today the pack would feed.


Carl sat up quickly, gripped by vertigo, naked on his bed.  The room was spinning, but eventually slowed.  His focus sharpened.  There was a pounding on his door, followed by his mother’s nervous voice.

“Answer me, Carl!”


“Are you okay in there?”

Carl rolled out of bed and stretched.  “I’m fine.  I must have fallen asleep.”

“Well, get up and come downstairs.  Dinner’s ready.”

“I’ll be right there.”  Carl reached over, pulling back the window shade.  The sun had almost set.  The kid next door was walking his German Shepherd puppy.  Other than that, the street was deserted.  Carl let the shade drop back into place and leaned against the wall as he clung to the last fragments of the fantasy, his mouth still watering.

Mom put the plate down on the table.  “Nice and rare.  Just the way you like it.”

Carl looked down at the steak, drooling blood and juices that pooled around a steaming pile of mashed potatoes.  He thought of the dream and leaned over, placing his face close to the meat, inhaling deeply.  He managed to reach for his fork and knife with shaky hands instead of giving in to his first impulse to rip the meat apart with his teeth.

Dad sat on his right, reading the paper.  His younger brother, Richard, sat across from Carl, smothering his own steak under a blanket of ketchup.

Richard looked up with a sly smile.  “How was the zoo today, Carl?  Pick up any wild animals while you were there?”

Mom slapped him lightly in the back of the head as she passed.  “Leave your brother alone, Richard.”

She sat between them as Carl stared down at his plate, not saying anything.

“But, Ma, he embarrasses me,” Richard said.

There was a rustle of newspaper as dad peered over the top.

“Well he does!” he cried.

The newspaper dropped all the way into dad’s lap.  “Don’t push it any further, Richard.”

“He stands there for hours staring down at a couple of wolves.  The kids in school all call him the damn Wolf Man!”

The loud slap brought Carl’s attention away from his food.  His brother rubbed the side of his face, mom’s hand hovering above him, as if ready to strike again.

“What did you do that for?”

“Your brother likes to spend his time at the zoo!  He likes the wolves.  What’s the big deal.”  She relaxed her hand.


“If your so-called friends aren’t able to understand that, it’s their problem, not Carl’s!”


“Not another word!”

Richard shut up; Dad went back to reading his paper; and Carl looked back down at his plate, smiling.  He ate slowly, savoring every bite of the beef, its texture and rareness.  But in his mind’s eye, it was the finest deer he’d ever sank his teeth into.

The parking lot was virtually empty when Carl pulled in early the next morning, two hours before the zoo opened.  Tammy Sullivan was waiting by the open gate.

She smiled and looked at her watch.  “Right on time.”

Carl looked at his own watch and shrugged.  Tammy let him pass and locked the gate behind them.

“I really appreciate you letting me do this,” Carl said.  “I know you can get in trouble.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tammy told him.  “I know how much you like the wolves.”

Tammy had started taking care of the wolves about three months ago.  Unlike the last keeper, she understood his love for them.  Though she never said it in so many words, he knew that she understood his passion, maybe even shared it.  Carl wished he could talk to her about it but could never find the words.

As they walked past the wolf pen, Carl glanced down and saw both wolves outside.  The she-wolf looked up and their eyes met for a moment.  Carl smiled and looked away.  The male didn’t seem to notice the exchange.  Carl and Tammy rounded the corner of the pen and walked down a hill to the back.

Carl took a deep breath as he walked in through the back door.  Their scent was everywhere; her scent.  She walked into the structure and Carl watched her through the bars of her cage.  Tammy went into the next room, mumbling something about getting the food and she’d be right back but Carl wasn’t really paying attention.  He walked to the cage door.

“Hi, there” he said quietly.  She came to the door to meet him and he held his hand to the bars, allowing her to sniff him.  Carl’s heart sped up.

“So close,” he whispered.  “Outstanding.”  He lowered his face for her inspection.  She sniffed him then suddenly licked his nose.  Carl sighed and reached down to pull the cotter pin out of the latch.  He slid the cage door up and leaned in, supporting it on his back.  She lay down in front of him and allowed herself to be stroked.  For a moment, Carl lost track of everything around him but the she-wolf suddenly jumped up and moved away from him.

“Oh my God,” Tammy cried, though Carl barely heard her.  His attention had locked onto another sound, low and resounding coming from his right.  The male wolf stood, hunched down near the entrance, its growl rumbling like an idling truck.

“Carl,” Tammy said.  She was somewhere behind and to his left.  “Back out of the cage very slowly.”

continued in two weeks


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