I’m afraid he’ll have doubts. Reservations. Will be unwilling to talk. It wouldn’t be unlikely, all things considering.
You’ve got to tread lightly, I think while staring at my text message—while waiting for that simple ‘read’ notification to appear. You don’t know what this could mean for either of you.
It could mean everything. Or, it could mean nothing.
Either way, I’m not sure how to approach this, so I do the only thing I can do.
I know he’s at home. Something, but I don’t know what, leads me to believe that he’s in that house, across that street, waiting and wondering what exactly it is he will say.
As the moments pass on—and as the unfortunate seconds stretch into ungodly minutes—I begin to wonder if he’ll ever respond to me.
Come on, I think. Just respond alread—
The ‘read’ notification appears next to my text message.
I inhale. Exhale. Inhale again.
A second later, the chat bubbles appear.
It isn’t long before his message pops up. Okay, he says. Come over.
To his house?
“Where else would he ask you to go, dummy?” I ask, looking up at the window.
I see a flicker of movement appear across the street as the curtain is parted. Jackson is then revealed—and though normally it wouldn’t surprise me to see him looking across the street, today, it fills me with dread.
His curtain shifts. He disappears from view.
By the time I open my front door, he is waiting for me on his porch, and gazing across the street toward me.
Well, I think. Here goes nothing.
I shut the door behind me—and it is here that I realize my whole life is about to be upended, that my whole worldview will soon be shattered. Torn from the world of normalcy, I will soon walk in a land of wolves—of beasts and the men who wish to kill them.
Swallowing, I take a step forward, then let my feet fall to the ground beyond the wooden porch.
It is only when I begin to walk that I realize that Jackson is waiting silently—his arms crossed, his hands braced along his biceps.
As I stop at the side of the road—first to look once, then twice—I briefly consider the idea of turning back and forgetting this whole thing has occurred.
You can’t, I think. Not now. Not after everything that’s happened.
Some would have simply abandoned this mission. Some would have simply turned their backs and walked away. Insanity, they’d have claimed, caused me to see things, smoke inhalation to hallucinate. But me? I’m not that kind of person. Whether it be the roots of my reality or the result of my anxiety, I have to know what’s happened, and what’s going to happen as a result of it.
That is the sole thing that compels me forward—first onto, then across the road.
By the time I come to stand at Jackson’s porch, I find myself trembling with unease.
The one thing the young man can respond with is a, “Hey.”
“Hey,” I reply, struggling to maintain my composure in light of everything I feel.
“How are you doing?”
“Okay,” I say.
“Your chest still hurt?”
“Jackson—“ I start.
He lowers his eyes.
“We… we need to talk,” I say. “About what happened.”
“I know,” he says, then lifts his eyes to look toward the window he’d just been looking out of. “Come with me.”
At first, I’m not sure where he plans on taking me. I believe that we’ll head toward the house. But as he turns and begins to walk alongside it, I find myself frowning, but following.
He’s taking me out back, I think.
But why? Is there something there that must be seen? Silence to be offered? Privacy to be had?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Soon, we are stepping around the house and into Jackson’s backyard—where an old, red metal swing stands sentinel, its two chairs hanging by twin pieces of chain.
I stare at it for several long moments—hoping to glean something, anything, from it.
When it comes time for me to speak, it’s to ask, “Jackson… why are we here?”
“Because the living room doesn’t look out into the backyard,” he replies, turning his head to face me, “and because it’ll be a little more private than if we were on the front porch.”
“Does your dad know about what happened?”
“Know?” Jackson snorts. “He almost disowned me.”
“Because you saved me?”
“Because I revealed myself to you.”
Jackson sighs. “It… was supposed to be kept a secret,” he says, “from everyone… and almost everything. The fact that I revealed myself to you—a plain, everyday person—would be grounds for banishment in some circles, and death in others.”
“You’re not going to be…” I swallow. “Banished. Are you?”
“No.” Jackson laughs. “I’m not. And before you ask: I’m definitely not going to be killed.”
“Then… what?” I ask.
He closes his eyes. Exhales a long breath. Turns his head up to the sky. Then, he opens his eyes, and while gazing up at the fading light of the afternoon sun, says, “The Meadows Wolf Clan is going to convene. And…”
“And… what?” I frown.
“They want you to be there.”
“Me?” I pale. “Why?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” he replies. “But, from what I can gather, it has to do with the fact that you’ve bore witness to one of our people’s powers.”
“Jackson,” I say, taking a step forward so I can better see his face. “Are you… human? Or…”
He smiles. “I’m as human as you are, Oaklynn.”
“Then how can you—“
“Change?” He waits for me to nod before continuing. “My grandmother says it’s a gift passed down from God—or, a god, if you want to be a little more accurate.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She used to tell me a story about the great Mother Wolf—who, at the beginning of time, came to the earth from a world beyond our own and shaped in her image the people that would one day become the Great Wolves. First she gave them flesh, then she gave them blood. Then, soon after, she gave them fur and teeth. This gift, my grandmother says, was meant to protect us from the savagery of the world—because the Great Mother Wolf knew that, one day, we would need to be able to stand on two legs rather than just four.”
“How do you become a wolf?”
“As far as I have always understood: the Mother Wolf shaped which families were given the gift. My grandmother had a saying,” Jackson then offers. “Through the blood of life our people will prosper.”
“So… you’re not like werewolves,” I say.
Jackson shakes his head. “No. At least… I don’t think we are. We’re not permitted to attack people, even in self defense.”
A thought occurs to me shortly thereafter. “Jackson,” I say.
“Yeah?” he replies.
“What kind of family business did you and your father come back to Red Wolf for?”
“I’m not sure I can say,” Jackson offers. “I—“
Jackson’s cell phone begins to ring.
“Who’s calling?” I ask.
“It’s my dad,” he replies, before lifting his eyes to face me. “I’m sorry, Oaklynn. I have to go.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” I reply. “Thank you for telling me this.”
“Just… don’t say anything to anyone,” he says, retreating backward but still facing me as he makes his way around the edge of the house. “I don’t think many people would believe you anyway, but… it’s better people don’t go snooping where they shouldn’t.”
“Yeah,” I reply, then nod and add, “you’re right.”
“See you around, Oaklynn.”
“Yeah,” I say. “See ya.”
Jackson soon disappears from sight.
And though I am left to stand in his backyard, watching the clouds and wondering just what the Mother Wolf must think of me, I begin to think back on my past interactions with Jackson, then start to wonder:
Was his mother’s accident caused by the Wells family?
And if that happens to be the case: is that stuffed wolf in the Wells Hunting and Fishing Supplies store Jackson’s—
I shake my head, then, and begin to make my way back home.
No, I think. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.
But, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Horrible, horrible sense.