Jimmy tries to understand the bizaar phenomina that have been plagueing him as Halloween approaches.
Walking Wolf Road
By: Brandon Herbert
The next day at school; I arrived early, despite my exhaustion, and dropped by the library. The familiar smell of old paper always seemed to permeate the air, like the very perfume of knowledge to-be-had. I went by the nature section; and picked up the red plastic-bound “Audubon’s Field Guide to North American Birds (Western Edition)” which I checked out and took with me to art class. Fen seemed slightly less withdrawn; though there was still definatly some guards up about him. I told him about what had happened with the bird, but did not mention the strange run-in with Corwin, as per his request.
When Mrs. Ashcroft asked what I was doing with the book, I politely lied to her I was looking for ideas for the project we’d just started, experimenting with India ink. My first attempt had been… horrible to say the least, so she didn’t seem too surprised that I was starting over completely from scratch.
I flipped through the pages, finally coming across the section on the black birds. I passed blackbirds, crows, magpies, and finally stopped. There perched in glossy color on the upper right hand of the page, a large black bird, with a thick, slightly downward curved beak and shiny iridescent feathers.
“That’s it!” I exclaimed, and pointed at the page so Fen could see. “The Common Raven, 21 ½ to 27 inches, yeah the thing was easily two feet tall; page 658…” I flipped back past the colored prints into the text pages with the actual guts of the book. I slowed and then stopped at page 658. Common Raven, (Corvis Corax), the family Corvidae or crows. I startled when, at first glance, I mistook the word ‘Corvis’ for ‘Corwin’. I did a double take, and the real word sat there on the page, but still it raised my hairs a little. “Large, black bird. Thick bill, shaggy ruff at throat…” I turned the page, and continued to read, “A very ‘intelligent’ bird, it seems to apply reasoning in situations entirely new to it. It’s ‘insight’ behavior at least matches that of a dog. It is a general predator and opportunistic feeder, like other members of the crow family, and often feeds at garbage dumps…” The little grayscale map of the U.S. showed that it’s usual range just reached into the area I was living in now, and it even said ‘the foothills of the Rockies’.
Fen drew back a little, and busied himself on his drawing, his hand flecked black from the rebellious droplets of ink. “A Raven huh… Ravens and Wolves have been closely tied both in reality and in mythology since before we invented time. Ravens would often lead wolves to carcasses that they couldn’t open with their beaks; the wolves would open them and eat their fill; then leave the ravens to the rest unmolested. It is a true symbiosis of intelligent predators in the wild, hell, some folks even call them ‘Wolf-Birds’. Ravens and wolves have even been seen playing games with each other. Wolves in captivity grow very excited when they see or hear ravens or crows…” Fen leaned over to me a little, and lowered his voice, “Would I be wrong to say that you probably saw some of the black birds when you’ve met with the Great Wolf Spirit in your dreams?”
“No, in fact, my second dream we were surrounded by them…”
“And you felt excited didn’t you?”
“Yes, I didn’t understand it then, but I do now; the wolf that was awakening inside me recognized them. Hell, yesterday, with the damn thing using me as a taxi, and I still felt a little giddy about it…”
“Animals don’t perceive the world the way people do, they see things we don’t… Perhaps it could somehow perceive your inner wolf; and that piqued its curiosity?” He said.
“Yeah, that makes sense… The strange thing though…” I said, scrunching up my forehead, “Was that I didn’t pick up any scent from it…” Fen stilled for a moment, then went back to work.
“I remember when I was younger; my school took a field trip to a raptor center at a local zoo. I remember the smell, even then, of dusty feathers, and a little bit of that rancid smell all predators and scavengers tend to have…” Fen’s usual silence, seemed loaded; and his hand was moving faster and jerkier than usual; I read his body language.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s not important,” he said a little too sharply.
“C’mon Fen, spill it. This whole thing has had me pretty on edge for the last few days; I don’t like thinking you might know something more about it all than you’re letting on.”
He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, the opened them, but still wouldn’t look at me; he stayed fixed on his drawing. “A couple years ago, when I first got my driver’s license; I took Loki on a drive up into the mountains over the weekend. She was just a friend back then, she knew what I was, but I hadn’t changed her yet. Well… We were driving back from Denver on this narrow highway in the mountains, and the full moon had just risen; the sky was still violet from sunset, and she was looking at the map to make sure we knew our way in the dark and she saw this little lake just off our road, and suggested we go there…
“We pulled off the road, and at first it looked just like any National Forest campground, there were pull-offs where cars and RV’s and stuff were parked camping. But once we got past, that we were soon in a very dark forest; and something was… very wrong there. I haven’t feared the dark, nor the woods, since I was a very small child, but there was something bad about this place… something didn’t want us there... We were in my mother’s car, with the windows rolled down and the sun roof open ‘cause the night was warm, even after sunset. But as we went, both Loki and I felt compelled to roll up our windows. The trees… seemed to loom over us, growing closer and darker on both sides, leering over the top of the car. I guess I’d just seen too many monster movies and my imagination was running away with me, but… I got this weird mental image of something reaching in and grabbing one of us through the roof; and when I closed even the sun-roof, Loki laughed and told me she’d been just about to ask me to do that. The warm night grew very cool, cooler than it should have just being in proximity to water. Every once in a while we thought we could see things… like… little bits of light or something flitting through the trees to either side of us. We turned off the radio, and just sat in silence until we actually arrived at the lake. We pulled right up to the shore, and got out. We looked around, and there was nothing around us for a ways, a little park office with the lights out was up the shore from us, but pretty far away, a few fake plastic lawn deer by it. The night was absolutely silent, absolutely still aside from the occasional lap or splash of water on the shore. The moon was reflected, perfectly, on the lake surface. I took a couple pictures, and turned around to go back to the car; and there was this cat sitting there… Right in front of the car…” Fen stopped drawing, and looked somewhat uneasy.
“What’s the big deal about a cat?” I asked, starting to plan out my new drawing on the large sheet of paper.
“We have very good hearing, even before she was turned, Loki had ears that almost rivaled mine; we would have heard anything, even a cat walking over the gravel on the shore. Also, like I said there was nothing for quite a ways, we’d only had our backs turned for a few seconds for the pictures, the cat would have had to run full tilt to get where it was; yet it was silent, completely still, and pure white; almost glowing in the moonlight... Loki and I were both a little unsettled, but we walked over to it; and she picked it up and started petting it. It didn’t purr or anything, it just sat there; and stared me directly in the eyes with its pale green ones. Cats don’t make eye contact like that, like most animals it’s taken as a sign of aggression; and they especially don’t like to make eye contact with wolf shifters… I got closer to pet it myself, and that was when I noticed it…
“I told Loki to set it down, and get in the car, and she asked me why.” He looked at me from his drawing for the first time, his eyes sort of big, and the deeper amber they got when he was feeling emotional, “The cat had no scent… Absolutely nothing… I could smell Loki, the hot engine of the car, even a dead fish rotting down the shore… But the cat had absolutely no scent, no dander, no fur, no dust…”
A chill ran down my back and I stopped drawing, my hairs rising.
“We got in the car, and the cat watched us unwaveringly as we backed up and turned around. I checked my rearview and saw it sitting there still just looking at us, bathed in red from my taillights; I glanced down for a second to shift gears, and when I looked up it wasn’t in the mirror; Loki and I both turned around but it wasn’t anywhere around us. I didn’t see it, but Loki swears she saw one of the plastic deer move and turn its head as we were leaving. We tried not to panic as we drove back out, seeing even more of those eerie lights flitting around us, almost like flying snakes of silver tinsel. We didn’t talk for a while after we drove out and got back on the main road. Near as we can figure; the cat was either a ghost, some sort of spirit made corporeal for a while, or it might me associated with the lights; which actually pointed toward some sort of Fey involvement. Either way; both of us were pretty shook up… Hell, it still creeps the shit out of me just remembering it…”
“You’re kidding right?”
“Jimmy, how often do I kid? Honestly?”
“So… the cat was a ghost?”
“That’s the most likely thing I can think of; I mean, assuming we actually experienced what we did… and we both did… It’s strange though, typically ghosts act as they did in life; especially animal spirits. This one, like your Raven; did not…”
“What do you think they were then?”
“I don’t know… Maybe a nature spirit or something that was able to take shape… Anyway, I looked into it a while later; and incident fell within a few days of the spring equinox; the other end of the year from now.”
“And another time when the veil is thin?”
Fen nodded, and we both continued to work in silence. I took the brush, and tried again, to coax out the shapes and shades I desired from it.
Eventually the bell rang, and I spared a quick glance at the vent before I left the room.
* * * *
Aside from the usual; disembodies voices and phantom eyes boring into me from nowhere; the rest of the day passed rather uneventfully. Loki met Fen and I as we left English, and walked with us to pick up our stuff from the Mrs. Ashcroft’s room, we were going to pick up our drawings to work on over the weekend. Loki’s face looked drawn and exhausted, much like mine. I remembered Fen mentioning that Loki had trouble with voices and visions this time of year. Visions… I wonder…
I quickly filled Loki in on what had been happening to me recently, and asked her to tell me more about what sort of visions she saw.
“Well… I don’t know… I’ve seen a couple things that were actually predictions of things that happened later. Sometimes, I dunno, it’s like I just sort of leave my body for a second and experience someone else’s. I just flash out, and see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel, then flash back into myself… God that makes it such a bitch to study…” She chuckled humorlessly, “Sometimes, the things I see don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to them at all; sometimes not even a logical structure. I don’t think I’ve had many prophetic dreams at all and not unusually associated with the veil. If anything, the difficulty sleeping because of the noise is what’s to blame for the weird dreams; it’s hard to sleep at all, much less sleep well!”
I started feeling better, being able to talk to a kindred soul. Our route took us down the hallways that I had run down last night, and I saw the auditorium doors ahead of us, down the hall.
“Did you have any sweet dreams of me?” She asked sweetly, batting her eyelashes at me.
“Unfortunately, no,” I said, mirroring her tone, “Just something about fog, red curtains, and dusty props.”
We were just walking past the Auditorium double-doors, and Loki stopped cold. We stopped and looked back at her; a muscle in Fen’s jaw clenched and he turned and continued on toward the art room. I watched Loki’s eyes widen, and the color drained from her face.
I stepped up and touched her, “Loki, what is it?”
She seemed to startle out of some sort of trance, and then a slight blush of embarrassment showed through the pallor of her cheeks. She looked down, and forced a smile. “Sorry, zoned out for a minute there…” She started walking again, a little faster.
“Loki…” I began.
“Don’t worry about me. I thought I heard… it’s just some bad memories; the kind that give you dreams when you least want them.” We continued walking and turned the corner, each of us silent. I began wondering if her unease was at all linked to Corwin, whom she apparently knew, but frustratingly I couldn’t talk to her about yet... ‘Can’t seem to get through to her’, I remembered him saying…. Finally she threw me into the same corner beside the water fountain that I’d hidden in last night; gripping me tightly and burying her face in my shoulder.
It hurt me too, I could feel her pain as though it were my own; some sort of torturous feeling I couldn’t even quite process. I wrapped my arms around her, wishing I could drain all her pains away; throw it all out and away forever. Something… I knew I could never do for her…
Without realizing I did it, I felt myself pulling the shadows around us. Loki stiffened against me, and whispered into my shirt. “What was that…”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I was doing it.”
“That was you? What did you do?”
“I don’t’ know, I just figured out how to do it yesterday. I just pulled the shadows around us; so people won’t see us.” She lifted her head and looked around; and strangely even though we weren’t particularly covered; no one bothered to stop and stare at the creepy Goth girl and the new guy like they usually did. In fact, no one seemed to notice us at all. I did however, notice with a pang, the small dark spots on my hoodie where Loki’s tears had soaked in. I didn’t mention it however, and she looked up at me, her eyes just a little red, her make up just a little blurred. Something akin to surprise and wonder filled her eyes; I was only too glad that it replaced the sorrow that had recently visited her.
“Come on,” I said softly, “Fen’s waiting…”
Loki shuddered as the spell broke, and we stepped back out into the ebbing flow of students; I only noticed one or two surprised looks, which quickly vanished anyways. It was amazing how readily people wrote off things that didn’t jive with the reality they wanted to live in.
For a moment, just a moment, the voices in our heads were drowned out by real voices, real sounds; and both she and I took a breath and enjoyed it; like a last drowning breath sucked in before the plunge.
It was going to be a long night…