Walking Wolf Road
By: Brandon Herbert
My parents were, of course, quite curious as to how I got all banged and scratched up… I just told them I’d tripped into a bush while we were walking… hey; I’ve done it before…
I sat stiffly in the chair in the art room; pushing my charcoal over the paper with blackened fingers. I winced every time one of the numerous cuts on my hands reopened and the dark dust found its way inside them. Mine was one of the more ambitious works in the room; a piece of paper almost three feet across was taped down on a board so I could stow my oversized project away somewhere safe. The assignment was to draw a self-portrait on one side, an animal on the other, and then something in-between the two. The irony was not lost to Fen and I…
Mrs. Ashcroft was making her rounds through the room, checking on the student’s progress, and she stopped and looked over my shoulder; her faint scent of lavender oils and earth giving her presence away before her voice did.
“Your composition is really superb, Jimmy; but you’re so far behind the other students… Are you sure you can finish this by the due date?” She purred quietly by my head. “You know I can’t give you points for what you wanted to do; only what you have completed…”
“I know, I just… I guess I really underestimated the size and intricacy of what I saw in my head…” I looked down, feeling foolish and deflated as she gave voice to the very issue that had been gnawing at me for the last couple days.
“You know… I don’t usually do this; but if you need to, we can arrange for more time for you to work after school. Would you be interested in that?”
My hopes blossomed, “Yeah I’d be interested! I’ll have to okay it with my parents, but I’m sure they won’t mind!” A grin broke out across my face as I looked up at her.
“Great! Oh, and Fen? You can stay too if you wish…” Fen looked up briefly to nod and smile his thanks before returning to his own work. “You know Jimmy, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by your work since you arrived here; I only wish you could have come sooner. I’ve been meaning to ask you; what are your plans for college?”
The balloon of hope Hindenburged in a ball of flame and death as the accursed subject was once again raised. “I don’t really have any… My GPA isn’t high enough, and besides…” I sighed, “I have no idea what I would want to do…”
She sighed thoughtfully and pulled up a chair by me and sat down. “You know Jimmy, most people think they have to go to college right out of High School; but not all of them are meant to. It may be that you need a little more time to figure out what you want to do; and it’s not dishonorable to do so. In fact, I think it would be more mature to acknowledge the fact that you’re not ready, than to bulldoze your way in with no path or plan; only to drop out and become so mired in student debt that you would be unable to return for years. What are you looking for in a career?”
I sighed and answered, “I want a job that will pay me well enough that I can get by and support my hobbies… What that job’s going to be is way beyond me though.”
“Well, what are your hobbies?”
“Um, well, I play guitar and I draw… and… that’s it really; I don’t have any other talents…”
“May I suggest something?” She asked respectfully, holding my eyes with hers.
“Sure.” I said, waiting for the inevitable ‘responsible career’ bull.
“Why don’t you choose a career that utilizes your talents and allows you to support yourself… with your hobbies?”
“Huh?” What the hell kind of teacher says something like that?
“People always think of the money; they all want as high paying a job as possible.” She said. “It’s sensible; but then they waste their lives and their powers away doing something they hate for the sake of their bills. Now; say you go with some sort of Liberal Arts degree… You could go visual; there’s a good market for talented graphic designers, or for the music aspect; there’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry in audio recording or broadcasting. Now; you won’t make as much money as, say, a lawyer… But I’m sure you would be a lot happier working harder and getting paid less; than to waste those wonderful gifts in a cubicle. You have huge talent and potential; and your creative expression is far outside the box… Remember; the people who fail in those paths are those without true passion or creativity. You obviously possess both; and if you are willing to do the work; I believe you can make it. Just… think about it a while… okay?” She smiled and stood up.
“Okay…” This woman had just contradicted everything my parents and my counselors had been pounding into my head; and worst of all, I was starting to hope that maybe it was just crazy enough to work…
* * * *
I called my mom over lunch break; and she gave me immediate clearance to stay after school. I knew she would; but I didn’t tell her that Fen was staying too, just in case she thought I was lying to her.
After meeting briefly with Loki and Geri after the bell, Fen walked out with them and I made my way back through the bloated hallways to Mrs. Ashcroft’s room. I tried the door, but it didn’t open so I knocked and a few seconds later she opened it and allowed me in.
“Glad to see you made it, you got permission then?”
“Yeah, I already knew I would.”
“Well, it was good of you to ask first; I sure your parents appreciated it.”
“Um… I wanted to say thank you; for allowing me to work here and… for what you said to me earlier…”
She smiled, subtle lines forming in her tanned cheeks. “It’s not a problem; sometimes people just need more time!”
“Um…I meant about the whole college thing.” I said, thinking she misunderstood my reference.
“I know… Listen; if somebody didn’t go to college right away; what do you think would happen?” She asked leadingly.
“Their parents would probably be disappointed in them, their friends would make fun of them, and they would probably end up never going…”
Her smile faded a little as she closed her eyes and shook her head in a weary sort of way. “That’s what they want you to think; those schools and the culture you’re stuck in now. The schools want your money as soon as possible, and honestly, they don’t really care if you waste it, so long as they get it. So they encourage this… ‘False Destiny’ that leads many young minds to ruin; remember; they’re a business too.” I was honestly shocked by this less-than-shining endorsement of higher education.
“Would you mind if I told you a story?” she asked.
“Not really, go ahead…” I sat on the edge of a nearby desk to listen.
She reclined her office chair, and looked at the ceiling as she gathered her thoughts. “When I graduated high school, many years ago; I was the same as anybody else. I was born into an upper middle class household; and was held to certain expectations by my parents. They forgave my artwork as long as my marks in all my other classes were perfect; and that my career plan kept the orientation they wanted. I began courses in law in the fall of that same year.” She sighed and closed her eyes as she went back through her memories, “I remember, I had initially enrolled in an art class; but my father went ballistic; claiming that he would never pay hundreds of dollars so his daughter could doodle…
“Well, I dropped the class to please him and began attending courses that held no meaning for me other than some vague sense of duty to my family’s reputation. Slowly, over time; my attention dwindled; my grades dropped, and the longer I was free the immediate influence of my father, the more I was able to think for myself, and the more I hated him for not letting me be what I wanted to be, or do what I wanted to do… As soon as they saw my grades at mid-term…” she laughed mirthlessly, “the shit hit the fan…
“They cut my funding, and would not allow me to move back in. I was suddenly homeless, school-less, and having to quickly find a job make my way through the real world; which I can tell you; is a LOT different from the way it seems in high school!” She laughed, “Things that once were the end-all of importance suddenly held no weight; old friends slipped away, and with them; the rose-tinted glasses that teenagers seem to view adulthood with. High School culture is a lie; and very few make it out unmarked.”
She started swiveling her chair back and forth with her legs.
“It took me nearly a decade; slipping in and out of drug-use and alcoholism, jobs came and went with varying frequency; but eventually I found my strength, found my faith, and got myself cleaned up. I had to live off Raman noodles and Chef-Boyardee for six years; and I tell you… it’s neither as fun, nor as funny, as everyone makes it out to be… But still; despite the struggle, I made it through school on my own money; choosing my own courses; and I finally graduated and began my new career as an art instructor; hoping to guide others around the pitfalls I’d encountered in my tumultuous background. You know how the saying goes; ‘those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it’.”
“That actually sounds really similar to the way things are going with my parents right now; they were beside themselves trying to get me to enroll, or choose a career, any career except of course the one I wanted.” I said. “I think they’ve finally realized the futility of it all.”
“Well, you have to ask yourself, and you have to ask them; who are you going to school for? Are you going because of some vague expectation by society? Are you going because you want to? Is it in your best interest to attend college immediately, or should you wait a couple years and get a bit more maturity under your belt. Or are you going because your parents expect you to? My parents sent me to school as their perfect little scion. They were willing to put the family’s financial success and repute over the happiness of their own child. Put your parents on the spot; and make sure both of you know that they aren’t trying to live vicariously through you. If they’re any sort of parent; they’ll encourage your happiness over their own inherited ambition.”
She glanced at her watch, “I’ll need to go soon; and there were some things I needed to tell you. First of all; after 3:30, the halls are closed; and there are supposed to be no students wandering around. Second; the door opens from the inside, but it’s locked; so once you leave the room whether for the bathroom or whatever; you might as well just go home and try not to get caught.”
“Would I still get in trouble, even though you gave me permission to be here?” I asked puzzled.
“Nothing too serious, but I’d recommend just avoiding the whole fuss. I would be reprimanded as a teacher, you would have some mark put on your record, your parents would be called; just a whole wad of dung; its better if you just don’t get caught. Well, I’ll be taking off…”
“Um, one more thing; did you ever make up with your family?”
She sighed wearily and paused from picking up her bag. “Some of them; my sister and my mother got in contact with me a couple years ago… We’ve been trying to heal the rift, they want to try and make it right.”
“What about your father?” I asked
“My mother divorced him the year after he disowned me. As far as they know; he’s still puttering around somewhere, spewing his self-righteous rage on other poor innocents.”
“Well, have you ever thought of finding him and trying to make up?”
“No…” she said coldly. “After he abandoned me, I found another Father, one who will never abandon me; and I don’t need him. I’ve forgiven him already. You see, because of his nonsensical rage, I was forced to grow up quickly, forced to grow stronger, and I found my faith in the darkness; but still… I just… don’t ever want to see him again…” She looked at me, “And I don’t need to either; I gave myself closure long ago.” She smiled, though not quite as sunny as before; “Well… I’ll see you tomorrow; remember, avoid the janitor and it’ll all be fine!” Her shoes clicked on the cement floor as she slipped out of the room and the door clicked shut behind her.
I was just getting my board set up when there was a knock at the door; a little apprehensively I walked over and peeked out, expecting to see one of the faculty there to kick my ass metaphorically. Instead, Fen brushed past me without even a word of greeting.
“Well… Hi! Come on in!” I muttered annoyed. I closed the door behind him and returned to my desk. “You know it seems sort of underhanded that you waited ‘till Mrs. Ashcroft left before you came in… I know she gave you permission; but it still seems sort of rude…”
“Meh, she gave me permission last year too. Remember she said she ‘usually’ doesn’t do it, not ‘this is the first time’.” He snapped.
“Jesus H. Christ Fen, what crawled up your ass and died?”
“Nothing, it’s none of your business…” he muttered.
“Well, you’re snapping at me for it; so either it is my business, or you stop fucking taking it out on me!”
He paused a moment then muttered an apology.
I sighed and tried to relax the muscles in my shoulders that had tensed up. I opened my supplies box and selected a fresh piece of charcoal, “So, do you want to tell me what has you so wound up?”
“No…” he said simply, but without malice.
“Okay.” I didn’t push him, I didn’t need to. We worked in silence a few minutes; the echoing of footsteps and talking that leaked through the door slowly dwindled in number and frequency and then stopped almost completely, and all that could be heard was the scritch scritch and occasional squeak of charcoal on paper.
“Have you ever heard of the Manitou before?” Fen asked softly, surprising me.
“The Manitou…” he repeated, almost all traces of his earlier surliness had passed from him. I thought briefly of voicing my thoughts, but thought better of it.
“Isn’t that one of the suburbs in Colorado Springs?”
Fen laughed, “Well, sorta; that’s Manitou Springs. It’s not the Manitou I’m referring to though…”
“Oh, sorry…” I blushed a little with embarrassment.
“Don’t worry about it; I just wanted to know if you’ve ever heard of it… Apparently it’s an Algonquin word that means ‘Great Spirit’. Some people claim it means ‘Spirit Monster’, but regardless it is generally used to label a manifestation of some form of power that’s difficult to comprehend. I was online earlier with some spare time in Math class, and I found a web article that linked the Manitou with werewolves. I read a little further and found out that Manitou is actually just the spirit inside all things living and non. It’s similar to the asian concept of Chi, or the western concept of the Soul, except sometimes it will appear on its own in some conjured form. It just got me thinking… obviously not in the literal sense that the writer of that article intended; but indeed potentially related… What if part of what those people were trying to describe with the word was trying to explain how a person’s Manitou or spirit could manifest, as say; an animal? Manitous represent the connection to all other things in life; which is fitting since it seems to be part of the role of a therian to walk between the worlds of nature and man; to intercede between the two. At least as near as we can figure anyway…”
“What do you mean by the ‘role of a therian’?” I asked, looking up at him briefly.
“Why we’re here, why we are the way we are. Why those Wyrd Sisters wound our thread thus so that we are fated to forever walk between the worlds; never belonging fully in either. Never able to become fully animal, but denied full humanity as well; forever belonging to both, and yet neither at the same time, a freak even among freaks… Firmly locked in flesh, and yet too powerful spiritually to be content in imprisonment. Torn between the warm stroke of the sun, and the cool waves of moonlight… Only in those others like ourselves can we find even a moment’s brief reprieve from utter isolation, and yet even that is so often denied us…” His tone grew sour and a cloud flitted through his eyes; but he quickly covered whatever it was.
“The shamans of the world… they know more than anyone else what it is like... They are also walkers between worlds, between the spirit and the flesh. Their purpose, their role, is to heal. It is to journey into the Lowerworld and bring back energies and spirits to heal and make the world whole and good again. Therians often end up following a shamanic or partly shamanic path because it allows them to find some purpose; whether it is the right purpose or not, none can tell. Also too, I’m sure there are a fair amount of shamans who didn’t develop as shifters until after progressing a fair ways as a shaman and finally opening up to their spirit animal. This makes it quite logical when you realize that most shifters have Native American heritage. Native Americans, and some other indiginous peoples, like Australian aborigonees, have a much higher likelyhood of developing shamanic or therianthropic traits because in their very blood, they aren’t quite so removed from the traditional practices that strengthened their bond with the spiritual realm.” My hairs stood on end when he mentioned this, I kept my mouth shut though and let him continue on his lecture, it seemed to be his way of relieving stress.
I found myself quite helplessly thinking back to the biological father who knocked up my teenage mother and then disappeared into the woods. Was he like me? Did a great fire-eyed wolf dwell within him? With a barely supressed wave of rage, I told myself that it didn’t matter, and I would never know anyway. He didn’t want me, he didn’t want to know anything about me; he had disappeared off the planet and I would never find him… Never meet him… Never punch him in the fucking face for what he did to us, and what he put us through… My charcoal squeaked against the paper just before it snapped and shot across the room. Fen paused momentarily and looked at me as I reached into the box for another piece, my fingers dark and grubby, and like him I quickly burried any betraying emotion that might have shown in my eyes. He continued after a moment anyway, his fingers caressing the paper with the charcoal, and I had to fight not to let myself be mesmirized by the dance of his hands over the paper, seemingly disconnected of his will.
“I guess it always comes back to the eternal question of ‘Why?’… Why are we caught between worlds? Why are we fated to posess the essence of an animal, in the body of a human being? What are we supposed to do with this gift, or curse as it may be? What’s the point of it all…?”
“You going all existential on me Fen?” I joked to keep him out of the inevitable funk that always follows the contemplation of one’s place in the universe.
He sighed and shook his head, “No, just… I wish I had more answers than questions for once…”
“Well, if that ever happened, wouldn’t you not be driven to learn anymore? I don’t think that would be better than knowing everything. When you know all there is to know, there’s no point in going on… and then you get all fussy… and then your packmates beat you up… and you don’t really want us all to gang up on you do ya Fen?
“Do you really think all three of you can take me…?”
I finally succeeded in wrestling a small laugh from him. “I guess what I’m trying to say is stop occupying yourself with questions that have no real point, some things like ‘what is the meaning of life’ are never supposed to be answered, so focus on what really matters to you personally and the people directly around you. ‘Kay?”
He nodded and started working again silently.
“So this ‘Manitou’ thing, you said it can sometimes go and do things without the body? Is that how you ended up in my dream the other night?”
“Hah! No, that’s something completely different; what the Manitou sounds like is actually more like a phantom shift.
“Phantom shifting, or bilocation shifting, is where a therian astrally projects the energy body of their animal and it manifests in full or partial reality. The shifter’s body stays in trance wherever they were, while the animal form goes out into the world… This is actually the most common shift in folklore, not the physical shift that most people believe. They have court cases in France and Germany about people who lay as if in sleep, while a wolf went out and killed lifestock, and then they had explicit memories of the event. There are stories from all over Europe about somebody shooting a wolf, which suddenly disappeared, and then the next day a dead body would be discovered with a wound in the same place, though they did not leave their bed… The shamans experience something very similar when they enter their trance, they can shapeshift freely into whichever form they wish, and send themselves into the spirit world, the only difference really is that the Lowerworld is a relatively safe place compared to, say, midieval europe where wolves were shot on sight…”
“Wow, that’s a cheerful thought…”
“Isn’t it though? On that same token, modern day Texas is probably at the top of the ‘Do Not Shapeshift Here’ list; every Dick, Jane, and Granny has a nine mil or a 12 guage hidden in their back pocket… it gives me nightmares just thinking about it.”
I shuddered, “Yeah, I hear you there…”
“It’s strange though, ‘cause on the same line as the Manitous, there are very real and very physical werewolf and shapeshifter phenomina all thruout the First Nations. Pretty much every tribe has some shapeshifter folklore. Many of them have some aspect of shapeshifting as a cornerstone of their mythology, sometimes even their very Creation myths… Also, there is often the presence of some sort of Trickster spirit, almost every pantheon posesses one, and they are almost always shapeshifters. Loki was the Norse god, the doer of good and the doer of evil; here in the southwest tribes, Coyote was the embodyment of this trickster spirit, in the northwest it was often Raven who filled the role, while also often being the chief agent of Creation… In some nations the spirit was known simply as Trickster, and while usually in the form of a man, he could turn into any form he wished, be it an old woman, or a tree stump.
“Often too, this trickster changeling spirit was deeply involved with wolves in some way. Raven has always been connected with wolves by the northwest indians, and after Raven made the world and the mountains, he made Wolf to be the teacher of the human beings he made, but there is also a story among some of the great plains tribes about the creation, where in the beginning, Wolf was Coyote’s older brother, and always protected him, but one day Coyote angered the First people, and through incidence Wolf was killed by them instead. Coyote forever mourned his brother’s death, but Wolf returned from the dead and went to rule the afterlife of that tribe folklore, just like Osirus of the Egyption pantheon. There is also the story of Trickster, who’s best friend and nephew was a handsome young wolf. The wolf hunted for him and brought Trickster food every day, and Trickster had to do nothing. Then one day, his wolf didn’t return, and he worried and going out to find him, found out the the Manidogs, a kind of serpentine water spirit, had grabbed him and drowned him because he helped Trickster. In revenge, Trickster took several different shapes in order to kill the elders of the Manidogs, and avenge his wolf… However, his heart was forever broken and Trickster still cries for his lost wolf, and according to legend… on clear cold nights, other wolves will hear him crying, and will cry with him…”
I had stopped drawing a while ago, and just stared at Fen’s face while he spoke, visualizing the woods I remembered from Idaho in a different age, where the wilderness was vast and unbroken by roads and developments and all the other filth of humanity. The sky was clear, the water was pure, and the spirits were a very realy part of life for a people who would eventually continue in my own blood… I gazed freely at Fen’s face, and just absorbed all he said like a sponge, my heart beating quickly and my drawing forgotten.
“But…” he continued, “while those stories are often full of hope, there are also those on the other side of the coin. There are the Skinwalkers of the Navajo… and the Wendigo of the Great Lakes… While the Wendigo is never really described as a werewolf, it’s at least very similar; it is known as the great cannibal spirit of the storm… In order to be a cannibal, it must be of the same species, but the descriptions of it as a massive hairy creature, sound very much like the wolf man of repute, especially because of the implication of it being at least partially human. Also, found in these same areas, were effigy or burial mounds built by the native peoples; in a variety of shapes. Some just as basic as a losenge, others in the forms of recognisible animals, but within the roster of the most common forms, were shapes that looked man-like, but with either some sort of horns… or wolfish ears coming from the head… Here…” he grabbed a scrap piece of paper and doodled quickly on it, “This is sort of what it looked like from the aerial photograph I saw online… This is also in the same region that experiences such a vast wealth of other phenoma like the Beast of Bray road, the Michigan Dogman, and a sort of Bigfoot type creature.”
“Oh, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask you… Um, what do you think is up with the whole Bigfoot thing? I mean… couldn’t it be possible that the supposed werewolf sightings were actually just trying to describe a Bigfoot? I mean, Europe has no primates other than humans right? They wouldn’t know how else to describe it…”
“I’ve thought about this myself, and really, the only logical conclusion I can make is that they both exist. There are sightings of each that bear specific criteria that rules them out from being the other. And they continue today… while pondering this, have you asked yourself how many of the supposed ‘Bigfoot’ sightings, are actually some sort of manwolf? Back in the middle ages, they didn’t know primates, so they might have made a connection with the common knowlage of werewolves instead; so admittedly some of the sightings could have potentially been Sasquatch instead. But then, think now in our modern culture, one in three or so people believe in Bigfoot, so if they see a large bipedal hairy form, that’s the label that their minds automatically put on it, especially since ‘there’s no such thing as Werewolves’? How many of the modern Bigfoot sightings could have actually been a manwolf instead? But the witness could not make out the details that would have indicated anything other than the tried and true ‘big hairy beast’ that automatically becomes a Bigfoot…”
“Yeah, you’ve got a point there…” We both went back to work, and this time I didn’t prod him back into conversation. My mind was still flying over deep green evergreen woods, soaring over the rolling hills of the Idaho in my mind’s eye, untouched and pristine… and knowing that this was the land of my ancesters… And also, realizing with perplexity how familiar it looked… especially that great greenish blue lake, with the tall spires of rock on one side of the shore…