Carl backed away and the growling intensified. The male wolf lunged at him but the she-wolf jumped between them, knocking her mate to the side. Carl jerked himself back, yowling as he whacked his head on the cage door. The door slid down with a crash and Tammy grabbed the pin off the floor to lock it down.
“What the hell were you doing?”
Carl looked into the cage. The she-wolf stood inside, looking out at them, while the male paced back and forth in front of her, still growling. Carl looked back at Tammy. His mouth opened but as usual, words eluded him. His breathing was erratic and tears flowed down over his cheeks.
“Hey,” Tammy said. “Hey now, come on. It’s okay. No real harm done.” She stepped forward and Carl stepped back.
“I’m sorry,” Carl managed but he was looking into the cage. He turned and bolted out the door. When he reached the front gate, Thomas was just letting himself in, saving Carl the trouble of having to climb over. He ran past Thomas, in fact almost ran right into him, without even slowing down.
“What the… Hey, Carl! What’s the matter?”
Carl didn’t answer. He ran past his car, out of the parking lot and was three blocks away before he finally stopped and collapsed against a tree, sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” he cried. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
_ _ _
In one last desperate attempt at escape, the deer bolted between two trees. Carl lunged from the side, taking the animal off its feet, then ripped and tore in a frenzy. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth and he swallowed it down, trying to abate the vicious hunger…
“What?” Carl jerked his head up, wincing at the pain in his neck. The coppery taste still lingered in his mouth. Where the hell was he? Richard and one of his friends, Billy something or other, stood over him.
“Jesus!” Richard yelled. “Where the hell have you been? You weren’t in school. Mom’s going crazy. Why’s your car’s parked at the zoo?”
“Where else would it be?” Billy commented with a smile. Carl barely heard him.
“Come on, Carl, let’s go home,” Richard said but Carl ignored him, looking around. Something was really wrong. The sun was low and to his left. But that was west. What time was it? He scrambled to his feet, using the tree to pull himself up. He walked away, pulling back the sleeve of his jacket to get a look at his watch.
“Your car’s the other way,” Richard called.
Billy ran to catch up. “Come on, Wolf Man. Why don’t you go home and pick up your car? Say hello to the family.”
Carl’s hand snatched out and caught the younger boy by the throat. Billy gasped as he was slammed against the side of a parked van and Carl suddenly found himself lost in the woods, the deer trapped and pressed against a large boulder and Carl staring into its frightened little eyes. He had an unbearable urge to rip out its throat with his teeth.
“What are you doing?” Richard screamed, pulling Carl off. Billy rubbed his throat then lunged at Carl, but Richard managed to stay between them.
“Let me go! I’ll bash his god damned head in!”
Carl stumbled back then turned and ran, relieved when they didn’t follow. The wind was in his face and he started to calm down. There was only one safe haven for him.
_ _ _
Carl sat at the edge of the woods, surrounded by dark shadows and staring across the access road at the back gate of the zoo. The night was deathly silent as Carl waited for Clarence, the night security guard. Clarence always started his rounds on the hour. They lasted exactly thirty minutes and ended at the back gate right about…
“Now,” Carl whispered and Clarence walked by, shining his light out at the road for a moment before heading back to the security shack near the front gate.
“Like clockwork,” Carl whispered, taking off his sneakers and socks and tossing them aside. He got up and walked across the road. The fence had wide chain-links and was easy to scale even in bare feet.
Without the cover of the woods, the full moon cast an eerie illumination over the zoo grounds and Carl himself as he walked slowly along the concrete paths to the wolf pen. He lifted his tee shirt over his head and dropped it to the ground. Leaning against the railing, he undid his belt and shucked off his pants, then his underwear. He stood there naked, eyes closed, feeling the light breeze caress his bare skin. Finally he opened his eyes and looked around. The back entrance to the pen would be locked. His only choice was to go over.
The male slept in the far corner of the pen while the female watched Carl hang from the railing and let himself drop down. They stared at each other for a moment, Carl’s head cocked slightly to the side and her’s impersonating the gesture. She didn’t make a sound, didn’t move toward him. Carl dropped to his knees and fell onto his hands. He crawled toward her, his entire body shivering with anticipation.
“No one understands,” he whispered to her. “I can’t wait any longer.”
He stared into her dark eyes, the grin slowly creeping across his face, his breath hitching in his throat. She was right there. He could smell her. He wanted her.
The she-wolf let out a quiet whine as he crawled behind her, but she didn’t move. Scratching the fur of her hind quarters, he leaned over her, rubbing his face against the back of her neck. He inched himself a little closer, his insides bubbling like a melting pot. He was solid, full of hunger and passion, his want giving way to need. The others, his brother, his parents, even Tammy, they wouldn’t understand. He needed her more than ever. He moved closer still, but even as they barely touched, he stopped.
The growl came from the corner and Carl backed away from the she-wolf. She moved to the side, not interfering as she had that morning. A second growl joined in chorus, this one from within Carl himself. He met the beast’s gaze and saw the fire within.
They moved closer to each other, each baring their teeth and growling loudly as they squared off. The male wolf hunched down. Carl copied the gesture as best he could but his oddly shaped human legs hindered him. His mouth began to water as his heart raced. With a loud howl from each, they lunged across the pen at each other.
_ _ _
The police cruiser idled on the concrete path just outside the wolf pen, it’s blue lights mixing with the reds from the ambulance and creating a collection of colored shadows. Tammy ran toward the pen, half-asleep, fearing the worst as she climbed down a ladder into the pen. A group of policemen stood in a circle, surrounding something She pushed her way through.
She knelt down and examined the wolf, its fur matted with what seemed like gallons of blood, it’s head turned at an impossible angle.
“Its neck is broken,” she said.
“That’s what we figured,” a large man in plain clothes said.
She stood up quickly. “Who’s in charge here?”
“I am,” the same man told her, as he produced an ID. “I’m Detective Quinn.”
“Who did this to my wolf?”
“We’re not sure yet. But don’t worry, we’ll get him. He couldn’t have gone very far in his condition.”
Quinn pointed at the dead animal. “There’s a lot of blood here, but the wolf doesn’t appear to be bleeding.”
Tammy leaned down to confirm what he said. “Human blood?”
“We think so,” Detective Quinn said. “Whoever did this is a hurtin’ puppy.”
She looked at him, stunned and even he cringed at what he had just said.
“Sorry, bad choice of words.”
Another officer climbed down the ladder and approached quickly. “No sign of anyone, but we did find some clothes; underwear, pants, and T-Shirt. Socks and sneakers were at the edge of woods across the access road out back.”
“More blood?” Quinn asked.
The officer nodded. “But we lost the trail after it went into the woods.”
Tammy looked back and forth around the pen, walked over and looked into the inner cage. “Where’s the other one?”
Quinn shrugged. “The other what?”
“The other wolf.” She walked over and lifted the dead animal’s hind leg. “The female. Where’s the female?”
“Sweet Jesus,” Quinn snapped. He turned back to the other officer. “I want Animal Control here now. Tell them we have a wild wolf, possibly wounded, on the loose in the city or surrounding woods.”
_ _ _
Carl managed to open his eyes. He could barely see the sky through the thick growth of trees but he could feel her licking one of the wounds on his leg. He wished he had the strength to move his head and look down at her. She stopped, moving to where he could see her, and he smiled.
“We’re free,” he said softly, trying to ignore the pain in his stomach. “We can finally run together.”
She licked a deep scratch on the side of his face. This time he didn’t feel it.
“It is time for you to run free,” the wolf whispered.
Carl coughed and blood trickled out of the corners of his mouth. There were sounds all around him, and even as a mysterious fog began to cloud his vision, he saw the others of the pack emerge from behind the trees; hundreds of them, maybe thousands. His true family had come for him, as he always knew they would.
Carl sat up, then climbed to his feet and looked down at the bloody body behind him, the body he’d been trapped in all these years.
“You are free,” she said and though her mouth never moved, he had her eyes, locked with his, and he could see her soul.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Carl said. “I will be alone.”
“You will never be alone,” she said and turned to walk away.
The others began to break up, running off into the woods. Carl watched the she-wolf walk away for only a moment, then moved quickly, one step, then another, before his legs collapsed and narrowed. He fell onto all fours, fur erupting from his skin, hands to paws, and he watched his own snout elongating before his eyes.
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. They had come for him, as he knew they would, and he would run with them as he waited for the day when he would once again be reunited with his one true love. And they would run free together, forever.
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