Chapter Six: Cry Wolf
Tuesday, February 19th, 3 a.m.
Dan Morgan drove north toward his father’s cabin. He was going faster than ideal, but escaping from Tuscaloosa, given an awkward public engagement, a terrible murder, Beau Belvin’s politics, and Franklin Jones’s babbling, became hugely attractive.
That last Sunday night with Laura had been especially troubling. Although if he wanted to, Dan could tell himself that it had all been just fine. She had come over to his condo, as usual, spent the night, as usual, had sex with him, as usual, and then he drove her back to The Heights, which wasn’t quite so usual.
But they didn’t talk much. For the most part they avoided each other, as being engaged cast them in new roles in which neither knew quite how to behave. Before they went to bed, Laura had grown impatient with Dan, as if she wanted him to take charge, when all he wanted to do was shrink into a corner where they could both meditate silently together.
Later that night the sex was all right, because sex could be its own world. But then afterward they lay beside each other like two strangers.
Then came that terrible Monday — with its literal — not metaphorical — murders and insanities.
So after a long day at the Freeling, Dan hopped into his car and drove off to seek the refuge of his father’s cabin. By then it was nearly three a.m. and Dan was only five miles from his father’s old farmhouse. The mist was still swirling around his car and the sky had become more bizarre, while the temperature had dropped more than twenty degrees to below freezing.
At the same time, Dan heard the unseasonable rumblings of thunder in the distance. He thought of his father’s experiments with weather and its movement through time, and wondered if the two might have been connected. His father’s meteorological experiments were so far outside the norm that the elder Morgan had never published the full results, maintaining only their theoretical possibilities.
With another flash of lightning, Dan remembered Snoop, the Sman deer that came from nowhere into his father’s meteorological chamber and bounded into their living room as if it had fully expected to become the family pet. The Sman were an extinct species that had lived in Thailand until the middle of the twentieth century.
But Snoop was clearly not extinct.
The creature had thrived in the local woods, with their fairyland of waterfalls and caverns. After about eight years, Snoop just stopped coming by the house. Apparently the Sman had moved on into the forest and most likely died at a venerable old age.
Dan raced up the swirling road with its views lost in blue-and-gray shadows rearranged at whim by occasional moonbeams striking out from between the clouds.
All of a sudden a jagged spear of lightning raced downward and a thunderbolt sounded.
It seemed impossible! It wasn’t even warm. And yet the entire woods lit up.
Dan’s jaw tensed, and with that he felt a pain in his teeth as if something had happened at once to his sinuses and his bones. Suddenly he was driving through a layer of darkness as unexpected as the lightning had been just moments before. A darkness so palpable it was as if the night had become a liquid ocean.
Dan hummed something reassuringly familiar, even if it were more than a month past being seasonal. “God rest Ye merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay! …” As soon as he finished the line with “joy,” thunder and the lightning struck again, while at the same time large, soft flakes of snow began to obscure his vision in an abstract curtain of white.
Dan swerved into the middle of the road just in time to miss a boulder that had suddenly appeared. It was a huge, opaque gray-brown rock shaped something like an inverted acorn. He slammed on his brakes and skidded forward into more lightning. More thunder.
The road was turning in a way he didn’t remember.
And then he saw those eyes staring at him.
Wide, yellow eyes.
He wondered if it were just a big dog. Maybe a husky.
But when it opened its jaw to expose an array of teeth that were species-defining — he knew what it was.
It was a wolf.
A wolf standing there in the road like sentry in front of his car.
And it wasn’t a Southern red wolf, either.
It was a gray wolf so large that Dan knew that it couldn’t be native to Alabama or maybe to any place else in the twenty-first century. It was a lumbering European wolf belonging to those ancient forests that once spread across the steppes.
As the swirling snowflakes moved around it like fairies dancing in the night, Dan had the oddest impression that it was waiting to speak to him!
The cautious part of Dan Morgan didn’t want to hear what it had to say.
The larger part of him was curious. And that part of him wanted to stop the car, get out, sit down beside the creature, and listen to whatever it was the wolf so obviously had on its mind.
In the face of all of this, he made a quick decision to swerve away from the wolf and take his chances with the side of the road that dropped off precipitously into an uninhabited wooded valley. The wolf stood in the middle of the road like a guard protecting the entrance to another world, while he, Dan Morgan, all but shut his eyes and buried his head in dread of what was about to happen.
He felt the car slam forward into a boulder that suddenly shot up in front of him — this one bigger than the first. A rock so large that it became a wall of opacity far denser than the night. The car hit it with a force well in excess of what he had prepared for.
There was a hissing sound and for an instant Dan could swear he saw a fire. A fire from long ago. He heard voices and a strange name, not his own, calling out to him. A vowel-laden sound from another language. And yet it was suddenly familiar, like an old lullaby coming back to him from another life.
He could hear voices talking and singing.
Then he saw a pair of rainbows through a pair of identical lightning flashes. And a pair of white horses. It was as if there were two worlds conjoined and he could see both of them coming together at the seams where they met. It was, he felt, a vision that mortal eyes were not meant to witness.
Wondering now if he were going blind, Dan looked for the wolf, expecting it to have vanished, or at least moved off the road.
But there it was! It hadn’t budged at all. Its eyes had never left him.
He saw it move one paw forward in his direction as if to invite him to a future face-to-face encounter. He would have looked forward to a conversation with the exotic creature. One that would have likely held the answer to a cosmic secret.
What a pity, then, to die with this intriguing mystery still unanswered.