“The Wolf” a short story

“The Wolf” by Sean Boyd

It had and hadn’t been a nice day.  The May weather had shown all its glory and treachery in an on-again-off-again display of a month’s worth of meteorological changes in one dawn to dusk expanse.  It was as if the sun, in a bout of shyness, was playing infantile peek-a-boo with the hungry recipients of its refulgence. For a time it had rained lightly.  Then the rain was disrupted by the sun painting the sky in colors as delicious and smooth as ice cream, only to change again into a maelstrom of liquid marble drops bouncing merrily off the ground.  I had advantaged myself of a break in the spring pelting to try and scurry across the campus to my dorm where I could shirk the ravage of nature’s outcry and, by locking myself inside, exact my only choice for revenge.  I was unsuccessful and arrived in the arched entryway of the gothic structure soaked to the bone.  

A few lightning strikes blazed through the dusk sky silhouetting the spires and parapets in a freeze frame of brilliance. The magnificent buildings of the campus had witnessed the birth of reason and hearkened to the murky climes of occult and supernatural studies before so much of the construction of the great mystery had been revealed.  The shiny, modern fabrics of the current styles and the revealing, tight fitting forms of present day garb looked out of place in this snapshot of a time period gone by.  It would have been consistent with the setting to witness some Hunchback, Rasputin, or metal clad form on horseback dismount, enter the foyer and shuffle or clunk ascendancy of the grand central stair.

As I dripped the worn hallways en-route to my room, I thought of the many souls who had called these chambers home over the millennium.  Some of the professors and deans seem to have been here since the gasping end of the dark ages that signaled the retreat of superstition and the onslaught of Descartes’ army.  No fountain of youth had these men discovered, rather some potent elixir that allowed them to age beyond comprehension until furls and wrinkles became crags and barrows.  Though it was a thoroughly modern and scientific school, the administration saw fit to employ characters who could convey the archaic teachings under the guise of elucidating the development of rational human discourse.  Some of the mentors of the modern sciences scoffed at the inclusion of reasoned-away philosophies and schools of thought, decrying the varied curriculum as a waste of time, money, and the brains of the student body.  These complaints echoed through the halls and offices of lower ranking university officials, but such arguments were never uttered in the suites of the policymakers since the raison-d’etre of the university attracted many students from the world’s elite.

I was finishing my sophomore year and, as required, had taken a course load mainly of electives one could consider either old-world or antiquated knowledge.  I was looking forward to embarking on a program of study that would include more current and therefore, presumably, more useful information.  Also, as exists on most campuses, there was a tenable separation of upper and lower classes at whose limen I now stood.  I am not sure how it was insinuated, but the isolation was so distinct that none of my peers could claim to have had any more than the most cursory conversations with any upper-classpersons.  There was an apparent scheduling element, as well as housing and classes being segregated, but I could sense there was more and felt the juniors and seniors must be willing conspirators in this segregated practice.  I was excited to pass this invisible barrier and enter into a new stratum of academic society.

With final exams over, many of the students had already headed home.  This left the campus largely empty.  As I packed my belongings, I wondered which of the upper-class dorms I would enter.  One was modern and housed students of the scientific fields and the other was an old stone building with a tile roof and leaded glass windows that housed students of art, literature, philosophy, and religion.  Since the school didn’t require choosing a major before junior year I was still undeclared and, honestly, undecided.  I did feel a longing for the old building as it was purported to hold many mysteries and contain secret halls.  Also, since it resembled the lower-class dorm it would seem familiar.

Most of the students had a clear inclination. The majority opted for the applied, thus applicable, sciences, and a small minority, entranced by two years of classic and occult philosophy, chose to learn more of the subtler arts. This left a few of us teetering on the fence, as if it were a bucking bronco, afraid to fall either way and clinging to the choice.  It was the preference of the officials that one decide on an area of study before leaving for summer, and though it was not mandatory, I kept postponing my departure, hoping for an epiphany.  For epiphanies were plentiful.

The Dean of Housing held the position responsible for helping move the decision along.  He lived in a small cottage at the end of campus where the woods began, and had nothing to do with administration.  Except for this time of year he spent all his time in his garden of strange varietals and collecting specimens from the ponds, woods, and meadows.  His abode was named Cat-hole Cottage due to his feline attributes and his quiet, cat-like prowling, pouncing, and balancing whilst on his collecting forays.  These forays mostly occurred at night and often times one would hear him singing or whistling to himself.  In the last few days many of the undecided were caught unawares by The Cat and in the course of a private conversation had made their choice. As I was one of the few students left on campus I was expecting a visit, but was caught quite off-guard when I arrived at my room and found him sitting in my chair, petting a very large wolf.  I had never seen this magnificent beast before, and, though I love dogs, felt ill at ease in the presence of an animal of such wild and solitary repute.

I was invited to sit, and as he smoked his pipe of aromatic tobacco the room filled with its sweet odor. I felt light-headed listening to the heady lecture he gave about the choice before me.  The attentive eyes of the wolf were filled with intense energy and I found I could not avoid looking deeply into them.  The dean spoke on, unnoticing of the thick, smoky air, or the strangeness of a wild beast in a student dorm.  After some immeasurable amount of time he stopped speaking.  Oblivious to my not having understood a word, he stood up and said, “So, you’ll watch her then?”  I nodded my head in agreement, unclear of what I was consenting to until he walked out leaving me alone with the wolf.

My first thoughts were for my safety, but after consoling myself by thinking a school official would not leave me alone with a dangerous animal, I wondered what I might offer my guest.  Realizing I had only candy bars, I dug a bowl out of my packed belongings, filled it with water and offered it to the wolf.  After polishing off the bowl, and a second, she gave me a look of appreciation, let out a stretch and stared at me with an open mouth.  Though the large teeth were daunting, I was confident I detected a bit of a smile in the corners of her mouth, and the wagging tail confirmed her disposition.  Then she crouched down on her front legs, let out a friendly growl and made a few quick lateral moves.  After a few side lunges she made a false charge and then rushed by me, giving me a knock with her head. I turned around to face her and she repeated similar motions and I realized I was being invited to play with a wolf who easily weighed as much as I.

I gathered my courage and dove forward, grabbing handfuls of her hair and tumbled us into a merry mass of confused limbs and torsos.  She responded by playfully nipping at me and throwing her weight into the fray.  We tumbled, rolled, and fell over each other, always conscious of not hurting one another. We joined and broke as we charged and challenged in a plethora of tactical scenarios.  We wrestled for nearly an hour until we had exhausted ourselves and fell into a pile on the floor and lay panting.  I was glad my stuff was packed, as our roughhousing had tossed the room into a fairly disheveled state.

I found myself talking about the choice before me, my developing world concept, and the hopes and dreams I held for myself and all of humanity.  I started to feel some lightening of mood as I looked into the face of the wolf, whose expression clearly indicated an understanding of my words.  Whenever I would get heavy she would nuzzle me or lick my face.  I could feel the love and compassion of this animal and responded in kind by scratching her ears and under her chin.  I felt an oncoming weariness, brought on by the smoke filled air, our wrestling match, and the perceived weight of my choice that left me feeling numb and disconnected from my body. Sensing this disconnect, as if waiting for a cue, the next lick was not a lick, but a bite.  I felt a strange feeling of letting go—that whatever happens is for the best—as she took her second bite.  The feeling of the wolf’s compassion and my lack of concern increased as I felt and heard the crushing of bone and tearing of flesh that served as an orchestration for this carnal event.  Somehow I knew this was not a death but a birth, a beginning not an end, as the wolf devoured the last of my physical body.  My likeness gone, I felt my spirit move through the body of the wolf and blend with its spirit.

I awoke in the morning and the mellifluous rays of glorious sunbeams poured over me and filled the room with a glow so viscous one could swim through it.  I remembered my waking dream of being born, in complete form, from the breast of a wolf.  Looking around I wondered how the furniture had gotten knocked about and as I looked towards the mirror and caught my reflection I realized I had made my choice.