Canis Lupus

The late autumn gloom filled the night with the musky scent of dried leaves. The evening sky glowed orange as the sun met the horizon. Delia loved this time of day, when the lights in the houses blinked on. She knew all the adults were sitting down to watch the evening news. She pedaled her bike harder dashing for home. Her long brown hair streamed behind her as she picked up speed. Delia was taking a short cut through Mr. Crocket's field. He had recently mowed and she had to dodge the huge round hay bales. If she didn't get home by dark her mother would ground her. Delia was twelve and felt old enough to be out after dark. Yet, that fall, her mother became worried and instated a curfew.

As Delia passed out of Mr. Crocket's field and into the tree line, her tires followed the deep rut carved by many bicyclers before her. The old path wound through the underbrush and emerged at the railroad tracks across the street from her house. The thinning canopy of leaves above partially blocked out the dying light. Delia had to slow down while her eyes adjusted to the darkness. The wind rustled the leaves and spread a fine layer of goose bumps out across her arms and back. She dawdled for only a second to rub them away.

Delia had resumed her hurried pace when she heard a rustling in the brush up ahead fallowed by the sound the breaking twigs. A few seconds later something big and black, the size of a large dog bounded out of the brush across her path and disappeared back into the weeds. Its coat glistened wet and the matted hair stuck up in spiked rows along its back. Delia dropped her bike to the ground and jump clear to keep from hitting the beast. Where the thing had run through the brush there was a small opening. Delia bent down to look through it. She smelled the dark aroma of burning spices. Delia stepped closer to the opening and squinted to see through the murky light. At the other end of four feet of tangled wild rose was a clearing. In it was a dark lump lying spread out over the bear earth. Delia guessed it was one of Mr. Crocket's calves that had run off and been killed by the beast.

Delia was not sure what compelled her, but she dropped down on all fours and started crawling threw the opening in the thicket. The brambles tore her t-shirt and snagged her hair. As the thorns scratched her arms she bit her lip against the stinging pain. When Delia emerged in the clearing she stumbled over something, rolled forward and nearly fell. When she looked down she saw a half-burnt white candle. As she looked around the circular perimeter of the clearing she saw many other candles lining it. They were all half burnt and some of the wicks were still smoldering. The perimeter had also been marked every few feet with white chalk drawings. The drawings weren't so much pictures as symbols with lots of curved lines. They looked like a primitive form of writing. Delia remembered Egyptian hieroglyphs. The scent of molten wax, incense, and warm blood filled the air.

Delia knew the teenagers some times used the woods to neck. She was pretty sure this hadn't been a regular early evening make out session. This reminded her of some cult ritual. Maybe there were voodoo practitioners in their midst and the calf had been a sacrifice. She knew Mr. Crocket would be very mad to know someone was doing this on his land. She was a little scared but she decided to make sure it was a calf before she called Mr. Crocket to tell him about it. It could have just been a deer some hunter had shot and then decided wasn't worth dragging to his truck. She tried only to breathe trough her mouth and stepped closer to the dark mass in the dirt.

As Delia stepped a little closer she was absolutely sure this was no animal. She glimpsed what was definitely a bloody sneaker attached to what once was a leg. Now it was a mass off ripped blue jeans and what looked to Delia like bloody hamburger. But there was something else about the body. It wasn't the right shape. It looked to Delia like a balloon that had lost its air. She stopped in her tracks and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. She looked down and tried not to retch. Beneath her Delia saw the bloody footprints of the dog-thing. Fear lept up in her thought and thretened to force out the vomit she was trying to keep traped there. She ran back through the thicket, hand clamped tightly over her mouth. The briers tore her clothes and skin. Delia knew that dog-thing was still loose in the woods and she didn't want to be its next victim.

She left her bike on the path and ran as fast as she could. When she finally found the railroad tracks Delia stopped for a second to hold her side and try to catch her breath. Home was within sight, but Delia remembered all those horror movies she had seen in which hope was in sight and that was the moment the real scary stuff happened. Her mother opened the door and turned on the front porch light as Delia huff and puff her way across the street and up the walk.

"Where on earth have you been young lady? I've been worried sick about you." As Delia walked into the light at the bottom of the steps her mother gasped. Delia's t-shirt was torn, twigs and leaves clung to her hair and her face and arms were covered with scratches and smeared blood. "Oh, God. Baby, what happened?"

Tears streaked her dirty, battered face. Delia wiped at her dark green eyes with the back of her hand. The child that still resided in her maturing body showed itself in her baby-fat checks. Delia looked up at her mother and called her a name she had been trying not to use recently, --"Mommy". She walked up the steps and buried her face in her mother's shoulder. Pam held tight to her baby. After Delia had calmed down, she told her mother to call the police. Pam begged Delia to tell her what had happened but Delia insisted that she couldn't tell it more then once so she would tell everything when the police got there.

Pam stood behind the couch with her arms folded across her chest and waited to see what her daughter had to say. The worry covering Pam's fine-boned face looked grusom to Delia. She knew that after the divorce her mother's world had revolved around her. She worked long hours at the plant to make sure Delia had everything she needed. Delia's greatest fear was that she would let her Mom down after all she had done for her.

Their small town had two men on the Law Enforcement payroll. Deputy Clark had just come on duty for the night shift when the call had come over his car radio. He had rushed over to the Sparks residence for an unexplained emergency. He sat in the armchair across from Delia with a stern look on his elderly face and his notepad and pen ready. "All right young lady," Clark said in a stern athoratative voice, "what is it you feel you need to tell me?" The deputy cocked one bushy gray eyebrow and waited.

"I was coming home through Mr. Crocket's property when I was in the woods over there on the other side of the tracks I... Well, I saw a big black dog-like thing. No, first I heard a lot of ruckus in the woods like twigs breaking and ..." Delia fought to find just the right words but she didn't know where to start.

"You mean to tell me you got me out here this late because you saw a dog?"

"No. Well, yes, I mean I saw the dog-thing but then there was the dead person." That caught the Deputy's attention. Delia recalled as much of the scene as she could remember. The deputy wrote as fast as he could taking down everything. He had to ask Delia to stop or slow down ever so often so he could catch up. Then Deputy Clark went to his car and called in the state police unit because they had a forensics department. He explained that he didn't want to disturb the scene. Then he called Animal Control. They would know what to do about the dog. Finally, he called Mr. Crocket to warn him about the "mad dog" loose on his property. They spent the next few minutes in an awkard silence while they waited for everyone to get there. When they did Delia led the way to the clearing. She was scared and held tight to her mother's hand for support.

Flashlight and spot light beams swung across the path. Delia saw her bike laying where she had left it. The path she had broken through the brush as she ran away made it easy to get to the clearing. But once they got there things were different. The body was gone. The dirt in the center of the clearing had been scrapped clean. The dog's foot prints and the spot where the body had been were just bare earth. The candles were gone and the markings had been smudged but you could still see the chalk dust. Delia was hysterical. She insisted to the officers there had been a body, there had been blood. In spite of her best efforts the atmosphere of support she had experienced on recounting her tale the first time was gone.

As Deputy Clark started to escorted them home, Mr. Crocket came walking up the path from the opposite direction holding a double barralled shot gun. He was quite a sight in the plad flannel pajama pants and his camaflodged cap with the earflaps dangalling. His chest was bare and he started scratching his impressive pontch just as he reached the ladys. "You the youngster started all this trouble?" Delia had her hand over he mouth trying not to laugh. All she could do was nod. Mr. Crocket spat tobacco juice just an inch from her sneaker and wiped his mouth with his free hand. "You know better then to be on my land don't ya?" He didn't wait for a reply. "It's posted. I think you all better get outta here in case that animals still loss."

Deputy Clark started to say something as Mr. Crocket turned his back and started into the clearing but he stopped and faced Pam. He told her that they would no doubt be back in touch with them in the morning. Then he reminded Delia that falsely reporting a crime was no laughing matter. If she had anything to tell him it would be best if she did it then. Delia insisted that she had told the truth, but by the next morning even her mother was skeptical. "Honey, are you sure there was a body there? I mean we could see someone had been there but they might not have been dead."

"No, Mom I'm telling the truth. Just wait, the police will find the body and then everyone will know I'm telling the truth." Delia finished her toast and set out for school. She couldn't ride her bike. The police had kept it where it was. They said it might be evidence. Delia was still hopeful that they would find out what had really happened. Once she got to Mark Davis Middle School she found out news of the investigation had spread fast. Her friend Tommy and some of the other kids were teasing her about being afraid of dogs. They barked at her and she ran off to the bathroom to hide.

While she was in the stall trying to think what to do next Delia heard Sandra Shaw, the most popular girl in the eighth grade talking to her clique as they applied make-up in the mirror. "Yah, Danny ran off last night. Dad thinks he went up to Maryland to stay with our uncle." Delia peeked through the crack in the door of the stall and saw Sandra looking at her reflection with admiration as she explained about her brother.

"Why'd he leave?" asked bimbo number two.

"Probably, cause Dad found those magic books of his. He really freaked out and told Danny he was going to hell for being a Satanist. Dad was going to make him start going to Catholic school."

"Shit, Danny was a Satanist," observed the third Britany-wanta-be.

"No, just a new age hippie type. Anyway, now that he's gone maybe I can get his room." The three girls finished applying their midmorning layer of beauty and walked out into the hall. Delia's eyes lit up. She thought she finally had a real clue for the police to go on. She knew for a fact that the scene in the clearing had something to do with magic. If Danny and his friends were practicing magic out there that would be a clue.

By lunch Delia was ready to call the police and inform them of what she had heard. She was waiting in line for the payphone when vice Principal Norton's voice came over the intercom summoning her to the office. Delia entered the office and was pointed towards Mr. Norton's door. Sitting in Mr. Norton's leather desk chair was Deputy Clark. "Young lady, I need to take you to the station for some questioning." He told her that her mother would meet them there. Delia was scared but she couldn't wait to tell them about her latest discovery.

They sat in silence in the police car on the way to the small crowded station. Delia decided to wait to tell him about Sandra because she knew he had to write it all down and he couldn't do that while he was driving. When they got to the station Deputy Clark took her into the interrogation room and left her there to waiting for her mother. Delia didn't know what was going on. She sat in a straight backed wooden chair on one side of a wooden table. She was reminded of cop shows on TV where they slammed the acussed head against the table to make them talk. She wondered if that really happened. The walls were gray and the overhead light was just a little too bright. Delia was intimidated by the dismally stark surroundings. There was a window in the door so she could see Deputy Clark standing on the other side of the hallway.

She drummed her finger on the table, twirled and chewed on her hair. Delia twined her tennis shoes around the legs of the chair, and pulled at her faded black t-shirt. It was one of her favorites. Delia was excited to tell them her news and hoped they had found the dog. She was picking at the unraveling knee of her jeans when the officer brought her Mom in. She didn't say a word. Pam sat down in a chair against the wall and looked very annoyed. She clutched her purse in her lap like it was trying to get away. The wrinkle in her forehead was showing. Delia always knew she was in real trouble when her mom got that wrinkle.

"We have found no evidence that there was any violence in Joe Crocket's woods. After a thorough search of the area all that turned up were signs of trespassing, which you, Ms. Cline, admit to yourself. We found another path to the clearing from the one you took. But there are rumors that the local teenagers use those woods on a regular basis." Deputy Clark looked from Delia to her mother and then back to Delia. "We brought you here today, Ms. Cline, because it is a crime to report false information to the police. We diverted a good deal of manpower to investigate your claim. Seeing as you have no record of other incidents we are willing to let you off with a warning this time . But any further incidents would cause us to have to turn you over to Juvenile court. Do you understand?" Delia's mother looked like she was about to explode. She had puffed out her chest to twice its usual size.

"There will be no further incidents. Will there Delia?" Her mother gave her the look of death and Delia could only nod her head in agreement. Pam took Delia by the arm and led her out of the station. Delia kept her head down trying not to meet her mother's searing gaze. Once they had sat down in the car and the doors were shut her mother lashed into a loud and angry tirade about Delia's, "escalating negative behavior." She assured her daughter that if she wanted attention all she need do was ask for it. She didn't have to make up ghastly stories. Pam told Delia how the other ladies at the plant had been so worried about her when they had heard the gossip and how she had to go and explain all this. She even gave her the old standard, "What will the neighbors think?"

Delia was good and chastised by the time her mother dropped her back off at school. She went straight to fifth period and sat in her desk at the back of the class. She didn't hear a word Mr. Horsting said about the Louisiana Purchase. She didn't notice when Tommy started shooting spit wads at her. Delia's young mind was trying to comprehend her situation. She was so sure of what she had seen. Yet, everyone thought she was lying and she had no real proof. Unless she could prove that the body she saw was Danny Shaw. But then again maybe it wasn't. Delia realized that all this had done was get her in trouble at home and picked on at school. Her head told her to leave it alone and forget about it. But her instincts told her to prove to them all that she was not a liar.

A few more days passed and Delia went through the motions. She was grounded until further notice, which was a bummer, but otherwise life went back to normal. The kids at school found someone else to pick on and she was feeling ok. That weekend the town was having the annual Fall Festival. Delia's mom was working the booth for the Democratic Lady's club and she took Delia to sit with her. It was sweet torture to be so close to that much fun and be unable to enjoy it. Delia was sure her mother had carefully calculated this move to drive home the punishment.

About midday Delia had to use the bathroom so her mother let her go to the other end of the fair ground where the port-o-johns were. Delia was on her way back when she spied Jeremiah White, Kathie Dyer and Rob Beaver standing out behind a line of booths. She knew these had been Danny Shaw's friends and she made her way around the edge of the tent closest to them. Jeremiah was the ringleader and the king outcast. He wore all black and wide-legged baggy pants that from a distance made it look like he was wearing a dress. He dyed his long, stringy hair black and wore lots of chains. He was addressing Kathie, "What are we going to do now? His Dad knows he's not in Maryland. What if he reports him missing?"

These kids were all three years older then Delia. This gave them a bit more mystery then even their strange clothes and odd behavior. Kathie was a tall pale red head, who had taken to dying strands of her hair purple. She wore all black as well and a spiked dog collar around her neck. She took a long drag off her cigarette and blew the smoke in Rob's face. "What do we have to worry about? They already said that kid was full of shit. They're not looking into it. Just quit bitching and get a life." Delia's memory flashed back to the dark clearing. She realized this wasn't over.

Rob coughed and said in a and slow, wobbly voice, "Man, what are we goin to do bout Danny? We can't just leave him like this." Rob was the lest Goth of his pals. He wore baggy jeans and a black t-shirt, which was the extent of his self-expression. It was obvious to Delia that he would be the best candidate for her to talk to. He seemed to feel real remorse about what had happened.

"Delia what are you doing?" Her mother had come looking for her. Pam grabbed her daughter's hand and dragged her back to the booth they were supposed to be manning. Delia went back to the Democratic Lady's booth sure that she had to prove to her mother that she was not a juvenile delinquent. As she spent the rest of the day handing out brochures, free nail files and political fans Delia went over the available options. She could tell the police what she'd heard, she could investigate on her own, or she could just leave things as they were. Delia had never been one to shy away from a challenge and she did feel Danny had some right to justice. She finally made up her mind to at lest expose the murder if not solve the mystery.

On Monday Delia inconspicuously asked around and found out which locker was Danny's. She then went to the school secretary and told her she had forgotten her locker combination and when the secretary asked for her locker number she gave her Danny's. Delia waited until after school that day to try opening the locker. She didn't want anyone seeing her and after school the only people around were the band geeks and the janitors. Delia tried the combination the secretary had given her and on the second try the locker opened. She was relieved to see no one had come by to clean out the contents.

It seemed sad to Delia that Danny's father and sister weren't more worried about him. It had been almost a week and no one had reported him missing. She had heard that his mom was dead and his dad was a drunk but no one talked about it much because his father was still the best lawyer in town. Delia guessed he had enough money and clout to cover up the neglect of his children.

Delia started going through the contents of the locker. It held textbooks, loose sheets of paper and a couple old jackets. But on the top shelf she found a tattered blue notebook with some of the drawings she had seen in the woods on the cover. Under it was a leather bound copy of "Shamans, Medicine Men and Shape Shifting" by Alexander Flint. Delia opened the front cover and read the copyright date as 1917. Delia slipped them into her backpack and closed the locker.

That night after dinner she sat down at her desk flicked on the desk lamp and opened the notebook. Inside were several pages of notes. They weren't all from the book she had found. It looked like Danny had done a lot of research into shape shifting. On one page he described finding his Totem animal. He spoke of a black wolf popping up in his dreams and fantasies. Delia thought for a second and then flipped back to the cover. There had been drawn in black ink a small wolf, it's head tilted back as if it were howling at the moon. Delia felt she was starting to get it. Maybe, Danny and his gang had tried to have some kind of ritual with a real wolf and things had gotten out of control. Maybe the wolf had mangled Danny. But Delia couldn't figure out where they would have gotten a wolf. She was on the edge of really figuring things out when her mom yelled it was time for bed. Delia hid the books under her mattress and went to sleep.

The next day at school she searched for Rob during lunch. He was out on the track with the other ninth graders smoking. Delia knew she couldn't go up to him in a crowd. She waited until the bell rang and stopped him as the others were going in. She showed him the books. "How the fuck did you get that? You snooping little shit. We know shit, you know. We could make your life hell." Delia told him every thing, what she had seen in the woods and what she had heard Sandra and his friends say. She explained that if he wasn't straight with her she had enough to at least get the police back on the case, which she wasn't sure was true but she was giving her best bluff.

"Listen kid, we got in over our heads. I mean I don't think any of us thought it would work except Danny. You saw the books. He was really into it. But we never guessed what would happen. I mean with all the blood and stuff. It was a horrible mess to clean up."

"Hey, You kids get to class," called Mr. Hodges the gym teacher. He was bringing the fifth period gym class out onto the track. Before Delia could blink Rob was gone. She went back to fifth period and accepted the detention slip for her fourth tardy.

When the last bell rang Delia was headed out the double doors to the parking lot, Kathie Dyer caught her by the arm and pulled her over to the side of the building. Rob and Jeremiah were there too. Jeremiah grabbed her book bag and spilled its contents out onto the ground. Rob grabbed Danny's books. Delia cried, "Hey, what are you doing?" She pulled her arm loose of Kathie's grasp.

"We're relieving you of stolen property. We wouldn't want you getting in any more trouble with the cops. You better lay off this now before you get in to deep." Jeremiah threw her empty book bag back at her, turned his back on her and started walking away. Kathie flicked her cigarette butt towards Delia and fallowed him cackling her most wicked laugh. Rob fell in behind with Danny's books clutched to his chest.

"I know what you did and I'm gonna prove it," Delia bellowed after them. With a sigh of defeat she sat down on the gravel and started packing her stuff back into her book bag.

That night as she stirred her peas to make it look like she had eaten some of them her mother flicked on the small TV that sat on the bar between the kitchen and the dinning room. Pam had left the table and was starting the dishes with her back to the TV. Delia heard the beginning of the six o'clock news. A second anchor man broke in with breaking news, "We have just learned that there was a wild timber wolf found in the town of Autumn in Willow County. A twist to the story is that while the wolf was in transport to a wildlife facility activists freed the animal and left a teenage boy in the cage as a protest. The boy was only clothed in a bloody wolf pelt." Delia jumped up and ran over to the TV to turn it up but by then the man had finished, "Now in other news".

Pam turned around drying her hands on the dishtowel. "Did that say what I think it said?" All Delia could do was nod. Pam picked up the phone, "Well, I think we all owe you an apology, Honey. There may not have been a murder but you were right about the animal." Pam called the police and gave them a stern talking to for not informing her of the situation. Delia waited expectantly. After Pam got off the phone she told Delia what the secretary had told her. The wolf was caught near Mr. Crocket's farm. Some hunters had spotted it. Delia asked about the boy in the cage. Pam said she didn't see why that mattered and dropped the subject. It seemed to Delia that Pam was just happy the whole thing was over.

Delia had to find out if that boy was Danny. She looked up the Shaw's number in the phone book and dialed. Sandra answered and when Delia asked for Danny. "Listen he's still at the police station and if you're with the media my Dad..." Delia hung up. She had found out all she needed to know. Danny was alive and unharmed. Whatever went on in the woods that night Delia was sure that there was no murder. Her twelve-year-old mind couldn't comprehend the enormity of her discovery. But gradually she understood that the wolf hadn't eaten Danny. Danny had become the wolf. The grown-ups surely wouldn't believe her if she tried to prove it to them. She decided to keep her knowledge of that night to herself at lest for the time being.

All text and images copyright ©2004-2007, Aimee Nance. All rights reserved.