Feeding by Cody L. Stanford

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter

Feeding by Cody L. Stanford

Feeding by Cody L. Stanford

Cody L. Stanford’s self-published (2015) young-adult novel, Feeding, is an edgy coming-of-age story told by a young gay protagonist, Tajo Borrego, in an interesting mix of mad-scientist science fiction and urban romance. The exposition begins in a declarative and confessional hook: “I know what happened to Daray Gillard. I’m sort of responsible for his disappearance.”

Tajo’s tale takes off somewhere in the middle and works its way forward and back to the very beginning with flashback, backstory, foreshadowing and cliffhangers that leave the reader dangling along with the characters. Yet, it is clear that Tajo is a trustworthy narrator who always knows what’s coming. He lets the reader in on a need-to-know basis and it is well-played as it adds excitement and a sense of urgency to the plot. The structure works.

I was intrigued by the conversational narration of this thirteen-year-old protagonist, who slipped in and out of first-person point-of-view, into second, and sometimes rounded to third. Indeed, Stanford has created a very round character in Tajo whose voice is loud and strong and full of teenage edginess and angst. His narrative is so close that it almost seems like he’s sitting across from the reader eating a hotdog and burping soda, oozing with wit and poignancy: “Pop looked at me sadly; probably picturing me in my dance tights and wondering where he went wrong. My father thought that way still, like there was something wrong with him because his son was gay.”

Stanford’s story take places in New York City and the setting creates a dramatic backdrop that is also reminiscent of epic monster movies like King Kong and Godzilla, who hide their giganticness in unlikely places and whose monster plots cleverly use their city settings to spike their stories with an even greater potential for terror and, of course, collateral damage. How does one hide a giant snake in a Queen’s apartment building? Stanford took his time with the setting, slowing down time in thoughtful detail. He describes the Queensborough Bridge:

The girders sloped down toward the upper deck of the bridge. I was riding a roller coaster on the back of a gigantic snake! I looked down to my left. The bridge traffic was still pretty heavy. Cars sizzled past and their colors flashed in the streetlights; white and red and black and silver, mixed in with the yellow darts of cabs. I heard trucks rumbling on the lower deck… Out past the pedestrian walkway, it was a long, long way down to the East River.

Thoughtfulness also extends to the characters. Meet the building custodian. Stanford takes an old cliché and gives it a fresh makeover:

And there he was passed out on the cellar floor next to that big old pile of junk, not far from the boiler and Daray’s den… The super. Everyone called him Vinnie, but his real name was Wienczyslaw Bogucki … Vinnie was fifty bazillian years old, and he started in on the vodka everyday by 10:00 a.m. His white hair looked like a dirty bird’s nest, and you could have made a map of Wrinkletopia out of the lines on his face, not to mention the glow of his boozy-red nose that would make Wrinkletopia look like it had just been nuked.

Tajo is a complex character who loves to dance:

Why do I dance? … Can you imagine what it’s like to be a bird and fly, to break free of gravity and soar up to the clouds? I don’t know a single kid who hasn’t dreamed at least once about flying over the towers of Manhattan, but ballet kids feel like we can actually do it… I love feeling my body move, using all these different muscles that I never knew I had. Aunt Lola took me to see Billy Elliot on Broadway… and when it was over, I was shaking so much I could hardly walk.

Tajo also claims to have no filter and the same is true for some of the other characters, my favorite being his potty-mouthed little sister, Tanna. She is a scene stealer. “Tanna had a dirty mind for a ten-year-old. I think she watched too much TV.” Tanna is also a major player in the story—a switch hitter. You never know if she is friend or foe. She is watchful and shifty. Likewise all of Stanford’s characters are robust and real and sometimes raw. Stanford doesn’t hold back. Some of the scenes are edgy and some are more than a little provocative. Tajo isn’t a perfect character and the things he does—although done for love—make him more appealing because sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Tajo does both. Stanford gets this and that is why Tajo, along with his fabulous supporting cast, is such a terrific teen character, so believable with his old-soul, wise-cracking, kid-cussing ways. Clearly, Stanford gets teenagers and is fluid in their speak.

The epicenter of the story is the relationship between Tajo and Daray, whose character is also full of heartache and whose transformation and its aftereffects eventually divide the boys. Cody L. Stanford’s Feeding is pure allegory as it symbolizes the darker side of love and the dangers hidden within the fragile teenage heart.


Cody L. Stanford lives in Kansas. He attended the University of Missouri at Kansas City and is fascinated by the arts, history, mythology, sexuality, and other elements that shape the forces and foibles of human nature. His stories and novels have been published in Midwest Literary Magazine, Aphelion, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, Storm Moon Press, Etopia Press, Collective Fallout, Blood Quarry, The New Orphic Review, and Toasted Cheese. When not writing, he occasionally spends time working with tigers and other exotic cats at a nearby feline conservation park.

pencilShelley Carpenter is TC’s reviews editor. Email: harpspeed[at]toasted-cheese.com

The Yellow Bike

Cody L. Stanford

Photo Credit: luxomedia

It’s not there anymore.

Think of worn-out pale brown shoeboxes lined up end to end and you’ll see where I left the yellow bike, at our drab little shopping mall in old Boca Raton. In front of the mall doors by the taco place sat a poor little courtyard, with large planters of sand-colored concrete where a kid could rest his butt while hanging out. An awning clung to brown brick walls, propped up by chocolate-painted poles that doubled as bike racks for kids like me. That was the best place to chain my yellow bike, especially the night I went away.

The mall was about to close up. I hitched the yellow bike to one of the narrow poles and double-checked the lock, spooked that it might have surrendered at a bad moment. I was breaking all the rules that night; pushing at imposed limits; baring my flesh for a razor cut that might draw blood.

I walked over the dark, deserted parking lot and ran across Federal Highway to the grey-blue gas station. Soon a Greyhound bus came tottering along like an unsteady elephant, and in chuffs of diesel smoke swallowed me up to go to Ft. Lauderdale.


I had one simple truth in my life, one thing I was sure of: an emotion pure and lovely as a razor so sharp that nothing could ever grind it dull.

I loved him.

Stefan the meteorite burned into my world in the sunny late summer of 1979. We were both sixteen. We didn’t have cars but we had our bikes, and Boca Raton was still small enough that a boy who flew through his life on a bike owned the entire town. I spotted Stefan at school one day and puppy-dog followed him until he noticed me. I wedged my way into conversations with his friends like I actually fit in. Stefan had long, thick, frizzy blond hair and gentle green eyes, strong legs and shoulders, and a smile cute enough to melt diamonds. Laura was his girlfriend, smart and pretty but plain, with long brown hair and grey eyes. Stefan could have picked any girl he wanted, that he chose Laura proved he was not just some dumb and gorgeous kid who didn’t give a damn.

I was tall and bike-post thin. Florida gave me cover to grow my dark-brown hair very long. My mother hated both my hair and Florida. I hung out with the surfers and the freaks, and no one knew that I liked my hair long because I wanted hair like a girl. I crushed heavily on another boy for the whole summer of 1979, a lithe Italian surfer boy with dark eyes and a cute overbite. For him I was at the beach nearly every day.

Our summer ended with a hurricane. Then I met Stefan.

Normally I was shy, a wallflower without a blossom. But I made friends with Stefan, and told him my name. How hard did I fall for Stefan? I wanted to look cuter, so I cut my hippie-girly hair.

I was a wolfboy tracking down Stefan between classes and after school. On Friday and Saturday nights we met up at the tired shoebox mall on Federal Highway. My eyes were full of stars. Stefan and I ate pizza and drank beer. We wandered around and talked. Sometimes we got high. Our bikes carried us, or we walked. To Stefan it was just a friendship. Me? For the first time in my life, I was an ecstatic little animal with red blood hot in my veins like heady, new wine.

One day I “ran into” Stefan after his metalworking class. He had forged a little pendant, like a charm, one of those peace signs that looked more like a Mercedes emblem. Stefan didn’t want to keep the charm but rather than toss it out, he did the first thing that came to mind: he gave it to me. I was smug over my good timing, certain that Stefan would have given the charm to Laura had he seen her first.

I bet Stefan wished he had given the charm to Laura after it showed up on the leather cord around my neck, next to my tiger shark tooth. I told everybody that Stefan gave it to me. I was so very much in love with him.

I’m surprised it took Stefan so long to figure that out.


The drive from Boca Raton to Ft. Lauderdale took only thirty minutes on I-95, but the bus crawled like an old lady down Federal Highway instead, and made stops. This was annoying. Summer of 1980. I was seventeen years old, but my mother forbade me to use her car to go to Ft. Lauderdale. Hence, the bus. In later months, I took Mom’s car to Ft. Lauderdale without telling her where I had been. But that night burned with honesty and love, and my desperate desire to see Stefan again.

Even so, Stefan was in the dark. I was afraid he might arrange to be out if he knew. I watched shops and restaurants glide past the bus, and I envied the people in their cars down below.

The yellow bike had never pulled an all-nighter at the mall before. It came close once, on a night when Stefan and David and I were taken by some rowdy guys to a party until three a.m., with beer and grass in good supply. I faded into a couch and simply watched Stefan being beautiful. The party guys were too busy with beer and high school girls to notice the lovesick boy who didn’t talk much.

The yellow bike was my first really good bike, a Schwinn ten-speed, mine since I was ten or eleven. Today I live just a couple of blocks from the shop where my mother bought me the bike; its memory is never distant. Yellow is not even close to my favorite color. It was probably chosen for me, a boy who let others delimit and define him, who went along too easily. But it was a hot-looking bike all the same.

Sometimes the bike stayed home. One sunny afternoon at the Boca Mall when I was fourteen, I hunched against the edge of one of those planters outside the taco place. I waited for my mom to pick me up from a movie, probably Star Wars again. A few boys staked out the area behind me with affected maturity beyond their years. One boy’s lean body was clad only in sand-colored corduroy pants. The skin on his torso was nut brown. He glorified in the most incredible long and loose-curled black hair that spread in frizzy radiance like a lion’s mane over his shoulders. He was twelve or thirteen. He stared back at me, but his black-as-coal eyes told me nothing. I had yet to fully accept the way boys had enchanted me since I was eight years old. I was too shy to talk to the black-haired boy with his hawk’s eyes, as if, were those eyes to detect why I couldn’t stop looking at him, he might rip me to pieces.

Alone in my room later, the boy’s image came back to me, and in my dream I talked to him. We both wound up right where I was, together. His eyes were still dangerous, but his breath was soft and his lips were wet, and his naked body felt warm against mine.


David was my other good friend and he attached himself to our adventures, especially those at night. David was in our school’s Drama Club. He was boisterous and funny, and told great stories of which you never knew how much to believe. Like Stefan, David was straight, so he didn’t spark up my jealousy over Stefan the way Laura did. But it turned out that I was vulnerable to the betrayal of another boy, gay or not.

Rock music fueled our lives, but in this day before Walkmans and iPods, the soundtracks of our shared days and nights played mostly in our heads. I liked Yes, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, and was on the cusp of discovering the towering joys of classical music, dramatic and emotional like hard rock. The Yes song “And You and I” became “our” song, even though I don’t think Stefan ever heard it. The entire album Close to the Edge, full of innocence and expectation, played alongside every thought I had about Stefan.

That previous spring I had finally said to myself, “I’m gay.” The stars aligned, and I felt nothing but bliss for days afterward.

Stefan, David, and I pounded pavement when we were short a bike. One day I wound up riding behind Stefan on his bike, and tempered my fear of tumbling off by holding tight to his bare shoulders. Stefan’s beautiful golden hair ruffled like a lion’s mane between my hands.

The three of us did the beer and pizza thing together, and no one gave a damn that we were all too young to drink. David showed us a way to get up to the roof of the mall, where we drank beer and watched shoppers through the domed skylight. David loved to take a piss on that dome, laughing at the oblivious people below. We went to movies, and occasionally Laura came along. At those times David and I tried to lock down our antics. If Stefan and Laura went out alone, David and I attacked the beer and pizza together, and wandered through late-night Boca Raton afterwards. One night we sneaked into the swank Boca Raton Hotel and Club. Another night a police car stopped where two youths talked calmly atop a picnic table at the Palmetto Park Road Pavilion, over the beach. David and I had deftly hidden our beer just before the cop pulled up; he soon left, and we laughed. On other nights David and I screamed dialog from Apocalypse Now at each other at two in the morning, along residential streets. It’s amazing that we never got in trouble for any of this shit.

The three of us saw Apocalypse Now in a theatre with a broken air conditioner, and I called the hot and humid auditorium “genuine southeast Asian jungle effects.” Stefan and I saw Alien together, and I jumped and screamed, and wished, wished, wished I were a girl so Stefan would hold my hand.


The bus lurched into the Greyhound station in Ft. Lauderdale and set me loose. I smelled the pungent aromas of late-night adventure: damp concrete, old oil, diesel fumes. I found a cab and gave the driver the address, a residential motel facing the beach across A1A.

One day between classes, Stefan gave me a letter, hand-written, with a couple of funny sayings to soften the letter’s tone. In the letter, Stefan asked if I could please stop following him around everywhere. See, I was there all the time, between every class and after school, and, well, some of Stefan’s other friends were starting to wonder about me. That I always wore the charm Stefan gave me didn’t help.

I was mortified, panicked, close to tears. After class I ran to Stefan, vulnerable as any girl. Were we still friends? Of course, Stefan said; I just needed to give him some space, that’s all.

I gave it to him. I would have done anything in the world for him.

I still have the letter. I keep it with the ticket stub from the bus trip.


The cab left me at the motel. I heard the rush of ocean across A1A, and watched waning moonlight tremble on the waves. I knew Stefan loved being so close to the beach. I walked past motel doors, checking numbers. Stefan had given me his address over the phone, with an open invitation to come see him. I sent him a letter also, here to his current home. My enthusiasm for him hadn’t waned. I bet my letter to Stefan read much like the one Tatiana sent Eugene Onegin, launched by Tchaikovsky into mad, soaring bursts of ecstasy.

I found Stefan’s door, right next to the pay phone he used to talk to me. I knocked.

Stefan opened the door. I said hello, fearful as a mouse. I hadn’t seen Stefan since March, when he ran away from home. He still looked beautiful, and still carried his body with the casual grace of someone who never let anything bother him, the polar opposite of my worrisome personality. Stefan smiled, glad to see me, even though he was a bit surprised. Laura was with him, and I had visions of spending the night in the bus terminal. The next bus back to Boca didn’t leave until morning, and I hoped Stefan would let me crash on the floor or something. My luck held; Laura was leaving just as I knocked.

I entered a small sitting room with a couch and a chair and a small TV. At one end of the room were a kitchen sink and a little refrigerator. The colors were dark and tired, browns and burgundies, as I recall. Maybe blue? Maybe green? You didn’t even notice the damp Florida smell after you’d lived there a while. A painted cinderblock wall separated the sitting room (front room, living room, such a fancy name for so small a space) from the bedroom. Stefan was tired from his job, a line cook at a restaurant. We traded banal words about people we knew. My main concern was him: was he okay? Were we okay? Stefan assured me—again—that I wasn’t the reason he ran away from home. But I knew my love for him had hastened the events that upended his life.

I apologized to Stefan for the surprise visit. He could have been angry; he could have kicked me out in a rage; he had every right to hate me. Had he done so, he would have destroyed me.

Instead, Stefan said I was welcome to stay and watch TV or sleep on the couch.

I still had Stefan’s friendship. That was what I had traveled to Ft. Lauderdale to find.


November of 1979. I invited Stefan and Laura over for dinner. My Italian mom cooked, and the food was delicious. Stefan’s mom was Italian, too. I barely noticed Laura; I was too smitten with Stefan.

After dinner we watched a movie on TV; or rather, everyone else watched the movie while I watched Stefan with silly-happy love-struck eyes. The movie was dreadful, and I shuddered when the story turned out to involve a youth who commits suicide after a homosexual encounter with a male teacher. Utter, ignorant rubbish, but no one else seemed to notice.

I gave Stefan a gold roach clip for Christmas. Stefan and I spent a sun-drenched Christmas Eve at the beach, drinking beer and laughing on sand as warm as summer. Laura was there, too. I didn’t care. To the beach and back, I hammered the pedals of the yellow bike toward the earth with my furious joy at being in love.

Stefan was gorgeous in the sun, a golden-haired, bronze-skinned beach creature. I called him “Fozzie Bear” because his adorable face reminded me of one of the Muppets.


Stefan disappeared behind the painted cinderblock wall and went to bed. I watched TV, The Conversation, another Coppola movie that I had seen before. I thought about Stefan in the next room and hoped for the impossible, for a call from him to come share his bed. Of course, it didn’t happen. Miracles like that happen only in the movies.

On TV, Gene Hackman played a desolate saxophone amidst the wreckage of his apartment. That felt about right.


One cloudy late winter afternoon, while David and I hung out alone on an old playground in a park, David asked me.

“Yes,” I said, sitting on a creaky old swing. “I’m gay.”

See, it was that simple. I told my older sister back during Christmas, but no one else knew. I wasn’t a fool; I knew exactly how the hornets would swarm if word got around school that I was gay. I made David promise not to reveal my secret to anyone, not even Stefan. Though I knew, and probably hoped, that David would tell Stefan.

He did.

At first it stayed the same, all of us still friends committed to endless acts of fun. Stefan lived with his mom, and I with mine; we both had older sisters that lived away from home. But Stefan’s mom was religious, and a bad drunk. Nothing much bothered Stefan, but his emotionally unstable mother was the one dark cloud disturbing his sunny life.

Stefan’s mother found out about me, and the heavens thundered down over us.

I could no longer call Stefan, unless I wanted to listen to his mother rant in the background that I was evil, and destined for Hell. I could no longer go into Stefan’s home; I had to wait outside for him while his mother condemned me in righteous platitudes through the walls.

Stefan remained my friend despite what it cost him, and I dared not put my gratitude into words. He knew I loved him; I didn’t have to keep saying it.


The bathroom door was right inside the entryway to Stefan’s motel bedroom. I used it once.

Stefan lay atop the sheets wearing only a pair of shorts or swim trunks. A blue glow from the back window traced the muscles of his gold body. Was he asleep? I think so, but I didn’t linger in case he saw me. Again I felt the fluttering warmth inside, the overwhelming urge to touch Stefan’s body, to feel his hand nest in mine, to kiss him.

Dawn was nearing. I stepped outside and used the pay phone to call a cab, then came back and waited. I wrote Stefan a note to thank him for letting me stay the night. I signed it “Love” with my name. He wouldn’t like that, but it was necessary. We lived far from each other now; I had to say it.

I watched Stefan sleep. I wished for courage to walk in and give him one kiss before leaving, but I wouldn’t surrender the respect that kept me from it. Not because there was anything wrong with my love for him, but because he didn’t share that love.

Outside, the sky was still dark. I smelled salt and dead things in the nearby surf. A squeal of brakes heralded my cab’s arrival.


March of 1980. My birthday fell on a Friday. My dream was to spend that evening with Stefan at the mall, and he assured me we would. Laura had to work. I didn’t want David along; I knew he was spending time with Stefan without me. It didn’t matter that David wasn’t gay. Stefan was my guy, and I was very jealous.

I floated through my birthday like a giddy girl, anticipating the night and Stefan’s promise. Just the usual beer and pizza, just him and me alone, and you and I in paradise for one beautiful night.

Everything precious can shatter. That night, Stefan and David went out together, to Ft. Lauderdale, and left me behind.

They call it “heartbreak” because saying that it feels like someone tore the fucking thing apart takes too long.

At first I didn’t know; I only knew I couldn’t find Stefan. I rode the yellow bike everywhere, fast and desperate, fueled by love and burgeoning hints of betrayal. I dared call Stefan’s home, and faced his mother’s righteous wrath. David’s parents finally told me what happened. In my chest I felt the muscle tear, like gristle ripped from steak. I spent the evening in tears. I hated David beyond measure, and I was furious with Stefan. But I could never, ever hate him.

Two days it took me to reach David over the phone. I was ready to scream it out with him for encouraging Stefan to join his betrayal. But my anger deflated; I had no choice. While I skipped in the clouds that Friday, everything came apart at Stefan’s home between him and his mother, and that night he needed a release with another guy who wasn’t in love with him. David didn’t actually use those words, but I knew, one more revelation to me about the mysterious behavior of guys. The muscle tore further; didn’t Stefan see how much I cared?

Stefan’s mother had stopped answering the phone, so I asked David. “Where is Stefan now?”

“He ran away,” David said. “He’s staying with his sister in Ft. Lauderdale.”


Stefan moved to the beachfront motel as soon as he got a job. For a time he didn’t keep in touch with Laura, and one day she phoned me in despair, seeking advice and consolation. She worried that Stefan didn’t love her anymore. I tried to help, but I’m terrible at giving advice. Not to mention that I was stunned by her words and the very fact of her call. Laura didn’t know. She didn’t know. I was her greatest, most vicious rival, and she had absolutely no idea.


Sunlight seeped into the sky over the rolling bus while it passed the same shops and perhaps the same cars as before. Back in Boca, I crossed the empty mall parking lot with muted sneaker-steps in the quiet morning. The yellow bike was still there. Both of us had survived the night.

It’s not there anymore. The sad little shoebox mall and the grey-blue gas station have been replaced by Mizner Park, giddy with shops and offices and sunny, happy people. I sold the yellow bike to somebody’s kid when Mom and I moved back to Kansas City. That hurt, too, losing both the bike and Florida together.

Until then, David and I still went to the mall for beer and pizza on Friday nights. I was like a girl that way: a guy filled me with wrath, and then I forgave him. But vicious whispers hissed around me like swamp fire. On a Friday night, David and I walked out of the mall past several jocks and their girlfriends. One of the girls knew, and ignited the fire. After words were exchanged, I watched the jocks step off the curb as one, coming to get us. David defused the bullies’ fists before either of us got beat up.

I saw Stefan two or three more times, and sometimes David was along. But that night never came again, the bike ride and bus trip like a lifeline to the boy I loved. Stefan remained my friend until killing distance came between us. Your best friends, your truest friends; they understand. A part of them sticks to the ripped muscle, always.

The little charm Stefan gave me? I still have that, too.

The torn muscle stopped bleeding for a little while. I wheeled the yellow bike into the apartment while Mom left for work. I crawled into bed and clutched the pillow, and pretended that Stefan and I held each other close while I fell asleep.


Cody L. Stanford‘s publishing credits include “The Hot Bolt Kids” at Aphelion, “Wolf Dreams” at Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, “Freedom,” “Flying Fox” and “Gryphonwind” at The Piker Press, “White Fire” at Gypsy Shadow Publishing, “Alexandra’s Cat” and “Reedman” in The New Orphic Review, “But a Toy” in The Circle, “Blindsight Eclipse” in The Rejected Quarterly, and “The Magician” in Eyes magazine. Upcoming stories include “The New Boy’s Kiss” in Collective Fallout. Email: gryphontiger[at]gmail.com

Wolf Dreams

Cody L. Stanford

Wolves play fight
Photo Credit: Zechariah Judy

I couldn’t decide whether it was best to run away from home and go live with wolves, or just get it over with and kill myself. But that all changed when I fell in love with Garrett.

And then I started finding wolf fur in my bed.

Suicide had its drawbacks, so I was in favor of running away. I had saved my allowance for over a year to buy a bus ticket and for cash to live on while I looked for wolves and figured out how to live with them. It never occurred to me that the wolves might not want me. Weren’t wolves supposed to take care of lost, homeless boys? And when I dreamed about them, the wolves always welcomed me, and made me part of their pack right away. It’s like they knew I was one of them.

Wolves live in Minnesota and Wyoming. On maps it looked like Minnesota had more people, so I chose Wyoming. I wanted to get far away from everybody, but I had never been to Wyoming. It’s not as if one of my alcoholic ‘rents would ever take me someplace fun or nice. Or beautiful.

I have long, thick, dirty-blond hair that covers my eyes a lot. When my mom gets drunk and really into hating me, she threatens to chop off my hair. I look younger than fifteen. Garrett looks his age with long, almost-black hair and brown eyes. Brown eyes like stained cherry wood. It was those eyes that got me on the day about a month after school began, when I first noticed Garrett. Our school was large, but I couldn’t figure how I’d never seen him before. He seemed pretty aloof. Great, I thought; he’ll never pay attention to a twerp like me.


“René Raquet,” I told Garrett.

We sat on the edge of a wooden footbridge over the creek at the far end of my neighborhood. The houses ended behind us. In front of us was about thirty yards of woods and brush, and then there was a golf course. When I was little my friends and I used to hide in the brush, and we screamed when the fat old men tried to putt. Garrett and I dangled our legs over the side of the bridge, and leaned our arms on the crossbeam of the railing. We were about fifteen feet above the creek. Water trickled out of the steel pipe under the bridge—that round, corrugated kind of pipe, like a tunnel. I hid in that tunnel whenever I wanted to get high.

“René,” Garrett said. “I like it.”

Long hair hides red faces; that’s why I have it.

“My name’s Garrett Byron,” he said. He was fifteen, too.

I’d been in love with another boy over the summer. His name was Joey, and he had lots of brown-blond curls, pouty blue eyes, and a cute overbite. But it was hopeless. Joey liked girls, and he even told me fag jokes while I laughed awkwardly in front of his friends. I guess they couldn’t tell about me. By the time school began, I decided that Joey was too stupid for me to be crying out my eyeballs over him every night.

Look at the other kids in school. Some of them don’t care, but a lot of them do. Look at the news, with crazy-eyed idiots and their protest signs. I wouldn’t dare tell my mom, not that she probably hadn’t already figured out that her sports-hating son who likes to draw and read books never talks about crushes on girls for a reason. Look at me, scared to look up in the hallways at school in case I saw Trent. Or in case he saw me first.


It all started with wolfboys.

I like the word: the sound of it, the look of it. “Wolfboy.” It makes my heart beat faster for a moment, and then little goosebumps start to pepper my skin.

I first read about wolfboys in The Jungle Book. Then I saw a picture of one on the Internet, the kid in that French movie, The Wild Child. I was enraptured. The kid in the movie had long, ink-black hair. I love long hair on boys. I was about ten when I saw that picture. For the longest time I thought about that boy every night when I fell asleep. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to be him.

It was just another step before I fell in love with wolves. I read books about them and drew pictures of them, and pretended that just maybe the truth was that I really had been raised by wolves. I would have been very little not to remember any of it now. And someone stupid who thought he was helping out “rescued” me from the wolves, and forced me into the human world. I liked to pretend that my dad was scared of me because I was a wolfboy, and I might turn vicious, and tear him apart for spanking me. And that Dad left my mom because he was afraid of me. It felt better than the real reason, which was just that both of my parents were a coupla drunks who got tired of fighting each other all the time.

I had to have wolf blood in me. There couldn’t be any other reason for the dreams, nearly every night, about wolves. Sometimes in the dreams I was naked and wild, and the wolves gathered around me and took care of me.

But sometimes I had four legs and fur, and I was one of them, and we all ran together in a wonderful and loving pack.


Garrett wasn’t stupid, like everybody else. While we sat on the bridge, I told him about wolves and how much I loved them. He didn’t laugh.

“I like that,” Garrett said. “The way you love wolves and all.”

“I like to draw,” I said. “I’m pretty good at wolves. I’ll show you some of them sometime?”

“Yeah, okay,” Garrett said.

The sun setting behind us felt warm on our backs. I noticed that my right knee had drifted over and touched Garrett’s left knee. I held my breath. We both wore jeans— mine blue, his black—but I felt the warmth of his skin against mine. I hoped Garrett might notice. I was afraid he’d notice.

“Um,” I said, “what do you wanna be?”

“Musician,” Garrett said.

That was okay. I mean, I loved music, too. Didn’t everyone? But every boy in school wanted to play rock guitar, and they formed their own bands and had fantasies of fame. Trouble was, most of their bands sounded like cats in heat using leaf blowers to cool off.

I couldn’t help it; I had a half-snark in my voice when I said to Garrett, “Good luck.”

“No, not guitar,” Garrett said, knowing exactly what I had been thinking. “I play the flute. In the band.”

It was such an unexpected detail coming from him, all emo in his black clothes and black hair, that before I could stop myself, I laughed a little.

Garrett was up and off the bridge, walking away, before I could even get to my feet.

“Garrett,” I called after him. “I didn’t mean it! I just… it just… slipped out…”

He didn’t look at me when he hollered back, “Yeah, it’s too fucking gay, right?”

Aw god, aw god; oh no… aw, shit.


Mom was into her booze early that evening, and she let me know quite plainly once again how my existence was a drain on her life, and that I was worthless and selfish and uncaring, and on and on and on. I went to bed and cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I kicked the mattress and beat up the pillow. My sinuses swelled up so much, it felt like someone poured concrete into my head.

My mom? The hell with my mom. I was crying about Garrett. And I knew it was serious because crying about Joey never made my head feel like a bowling ball.


When I arrived at school the next morning, I spied big-guy Trent stalking around like he was looking for someone to beat up, and my twerpy little butt would do just fine. So I hid. In a stall. In the girls’ bathroom.

Garrett and I didn’t have any classes together, so I had to dig up the courage to go hunt him down between classes and make things right. It took me until fourth period before I finally felt brave enough, and when class ended I ran to the hallway outside his next class. With so much at stake, I felt like I was running to my own execution.

That was about right. Garrett saw me coming, turned around, and walked the other way. I called after him. He didn’t look back.

I hid in the girls’ bathroom again and cried for a half-hour, another one of those red-eyed, snot-dripping, bricked-up sinuses sort of things. How could I have been so stupid as to hurt him like that? I wondered if wolves ever cried. I wondered if they ever fell in love.

In my mind I saw Garrett and me together, standing amidst our friends the wolves on a hillside in Wyoming, all mountains and trees and blue-heaven skies, pretty as a movie scene. All I knew about Wyoming were pictures where everything was perfect, alone with Garrett far away from drunk parents and sub-intelligent bullies who beat kids up for being too smart and wrecking the curve, away from morons like you see on the news screaming that gays are sinful abominations and all that crap. I hate those kinds of people. And that hate dried my tears, and gave me back the courage to run after Garrett when he walked home that afternoon.

I stopped running right beside Garrett with a clomp-clomp-clomp from my sneakers. It was that time in autumn where you start to notice the dirt and gravel in the gutters because it’s wet all the time. I walked next to Garrett and tried to get him to talk. He wouldn’t answer me at first, but I kept pestering him.

“I didn’t mean to laugh,” I said to him. “I only… I don’t know you very well yet. It’s just that… the flute thing? It didn’t seem like you at first and I thought maybe you were joking and all, and…” Don’t cry, René; don’t cry. “I’m really sorry.”

Garrett finally talked. “I started playing the flute when I was ten. I still sneak the flute case out of the house when there’s band practice because my dad calls me a sissy when he sees it. ‘A real man’d play something made of brass, like his balls!’ Dad thinks that’s really funny.”

It was funny, not what he said but the way Garrett said it, with stupid, super-tough machismo. I went from trying not to cry to trying not to laugh again.

Garrett sort of half-looked at me and said, “Bet you think it’s funny trying to picture me in a band uniform.”

“Um… a bit.”

“Dad hates it. Says I look like a depressed nutcracker. He hates that I’m emo but he hates the band uniform, too. He wanted some brass-balled linebacker for a son and he got me instead.”

“I’m… sorry,” I said.

“I’m not what you think. I’m not what anyone thinks.”

Garrett’s tone was still offended, so I wasn’t sure if we were okay. My voice wavered, like I was gonna cry again. “Can we… be friends?” I said. “I mean, like… start over again?”

Garrett was just a little taller than me, but he seemed thirty miles up when he looked at my face. I swung my hair out of my eyes.

“Y’know,” Garrett said, “the worst part was, when you laughed at me? I thought you were one of them.”

“One of who?”

“Everybody. Stupid people.” Garrett was quiet for a few moments, and then he said, “There’s band practice tomorrow, after school. On the football field. Come watch if you wanna.” Garrett broke into a run and left me standing alone on the sidewalk.

I’d never been so happy in my entire life.


It turned out that Garrett liked the same indie rock that I did, even some of the same bands. So it was kinda funny seeing him march with the other kids while he played his flute and tried to be so obedient and orderly about the whole thing.

The afternoon was grey and cold, and my friend Craig had followed me out to the football field to check out “the new boyfriend.” Craig wasn’t gay but he knew I was. I had told him over the summer, when I had my crush on Joey. Craig was cute, with lots of red hair and blue eyes. We sat in the bleachers like a couple of leftover summer flowers with fuzzy tops, and watched band practice.

“He’s cute,” Craig said.

I blushed, and dropped hair over my smile. “Thanks.”

“You still plan to run away now that you’re in love all over again?”

I shrugged and said, “I dunno. Why d’ya think it’s love?”

“Has to be. You said ‘yes’ about running away when you were crushing on that Joey kid.”

I blushed again. “Yeah…”

“How’s your mom?”


The band director was trying to get the kids to march in a new formation. It wasn’t hard to spot Garrett. He was the only one dressed all in black.

Craig chuckled. “Emo kid in the marching band. Sounds like a song.”

“He likes band. I like that he likes it. And he hates when you laugh about it.”

“It’s funny. He needs to lighten up a bit. The two of you sad sacks together oughta be a lot of fun on dates.”

“Shut up. I think he’s just… I dunno. Lonely. Like me.”

“Think he’s gay?”

I shrugged again.

“Flute’s a good sign,” Craig said.

What could I say? Yeah, it was a sissy stereotype, but I’d been thinking the same damned thing.


That night I dreamed about wolves again, in Wyoming under the moon. The air was freezing but it didn’t bother me. I ran with the wolves, very fast, and never got tired. Garrett was waiting for me, leaning against a tree like he owned the forest. He stepped in front of me and grabbed hold of me, and he kissed me. I wished that dream had never ended.

In the morning I found grey fur in my bed. We have a cat, but she’s orange. And this wasn’t some random shedding, the fur was in clumps, like it fell off an animal. The two clumps of fur were grey all together, but when you pulled the individual strands apart they were each almost white more than grey, with little tips of black. A few strands had a little brown on them, too; almost gold, like toffee.

I studied the fur for so long I was almost late for school. I had no idea how the fur got into my bed, but I had no doubt what kind it was.

It was wolf fur.


I saw a real wolf pelt once, in a museum. I got permission to touch it. The fur was so soft and deep that it felt like my hands were swallowed up in water. The fur on that pelt was just like what I found in my bed that morning.

Touching the wolf pelt felt nice, but it made me mad to think that someone had probably killed that wolf out of hate and fear and ignorance. What they did to wolves, they also did to little queers like me.


Friday night came, and with it the promise that the rest of the world would leave me alone for a couple of days. After dark, Garrett and I smoked a joint in the tunnel under the bridge, and then we went over to the little strip mall for pizza. Afterwards we walked around together through the neighborhoods. Sometimes we took shortcuts over fences and in drainage ditches. The families were all hiding in their houses—scared of wolves, perhaps. Garrett and I didn’t really talk about much of anything, just stuff like movies and books and music and video games. The night was chilly, and I wondered if Garrett noticed that I was walking really close beside him. I wanted him to put his arm around me.

I told Garrett I wanted to run away from home.

“Yeah,” he said, “sometimes I do, too.”

“I saved up money,” I said. “I’m gonna go live with wolves. In Wyoming.”

“Better take a heavy coat.”

Yeah, I knew my plan was kind of stupid. I mean, uh-huh, living out in the wilderness with a bunch of wolves like I was a real wolfboy. How long before I starved or froze to death, right?

“Dad once tried to teach me how to hunt,” Garrett said, “when I was little. I know some stuff. So take me with you, ‘kay?”

I laughed, and then turned totally red in the face. “Sorry. I mean, you hunting. I can’t picture it.”

“You don’t want to. I threw up when Dad gutted a deer in front of me.”

I laughed again, and I knew it was okay. “If you ran away, where would you go?”

Garrett shrugged. “Dunno. Someplace where they don’t care if you play the flute and like other boys.”

I was so wrapped up in thinking that my own runaway plans were stupid that I almost missed what Garrett said. Then his words hit me, and I looked at him with one wide eye from under my long hair.

Garrett was sort of watching me out of the corner of his eye, between strands of his own long hair that swayed back and forth while he walked. He was waiting for another laugh from me, some sort of insult or mockery. He was waiting for me to call him a fag.

This time I didn’t screw it up.

“Yeah,” I said. “Me, too.”

“You too what?”

I shrugged, and sort of bounced from one foot to the other nervously, and then stuffed my hands in my jacket pockets. “Like boys.”

Garrett said nothing, and we kept on walking. I wrestled with finding a way to tell him how I felt about him. Maybe he just wanted to be friends. Maybe he wouldn’t care if I ran away and left him behind. A wolf would know what to do. A wolf would know what to say.

Just as I finally decided that I was really, truly going to tell Garrett right then and at that very moment, damn it, what I really felt about him… he put his right arm around my shoulders.

“Cold night,” he said.

I could hardly breathe. I slipped my left hand out of my pocket, slid it under his jacket, and put my arm around his waist. Then our hips touched, our steps got out of synch, and we stumbled a bit. We both laughed a little, because neither one of us would let go of the other.

We got our steps to work together and for a little while, the rest of the world simply vanished.


Dreams of wolves and dreams of Garrett, running through night and cold and snow, and we had no clothes on. But we weren’t cold because after a few minutes Garrett and I turned into wolves, and we ran ran ran through deep snow and up mountains with ease. The rest of the wolf pack ran along around us, and we all howled in the wind.

In the morning, I found more wolf fur in my bed. Some of it was stuck in my hair. I wondered if it was some kind of prank, but Mom was the only other person in the house, and she was always too deep in sleeping it off to play stupid jokes. I gathered up the fur and put it in a drawer of my desk.



Craig had a big mouth.

I confided in him that I had a crush on Joey, okay. This was back during the summer and now summer was over, and Joey was back with his crowd of friends that I never really fit in with, and I was in love with Garrett. But Craig had to go shoot off his mouth to Joey, “Hey Joey, didja know René Raquet has the hots for you?” Well, no, he didn’t know before, but thanks anyway, Craig, because Joey and Trent jumped my ass on the way home that afternoon and beat me up.

I was supposed to go over to Garrett’s house and do homework with him, but instead I ran home and hid in my room, and cried.

After an hour or so, someone knocked on my bedroom door. I figured it was Mom, and I hollered at her to go away.

“It’s me.” Garrett’s voice. “Your mom let me in.”

I barely blubbered out, “Okay,” before I buried my face in the pillow again.

Garrett opened the door. “Your cell stop working?”

I raised my head just enough to say, “I turned it off!”

“Yeah, I figured.” Garrett came in, closed the door behind him, and sat down on the bed beside me. “Let me see.”

I raised my face to him. I thought I’d feel ashamed being all beat up and weepy, but for some reason I didn’t. I saw Garrett’s eyes and I felt, I dunno. Better.

“Wow,” Garrett said. “Some shiner.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shoulda called and told you I wasn’t coming over.”


“Trent and… goddamn Joey. They called me a pussy and a… faggot.”

Garrett didn’t say anything; he just wrapped his arms around me and held me.

I stopped crying.

After a few minutes I said, “You wanna see something?”

Garrett nodded, so I crawled over my bed to my desk and got out some of the wolf fur. I crawled back to Garrett, handed him the fur, and told him about my wolf dreams.

“And I’m in ’em,” Garrett said.

I nodded.

Garrett just looked at me. He didn’t say anything. He probably thought I was crazy, that I was making it all up like some little kid. One of our neighbors had a Malamute. I bet Garrett thought I might have kyped some fur out of the dog’s brush to try to impress him with my stupid wolf dreams.

“Here.” Garrett handed the fur back to me, and then reached into one of the pockets of his black jeans. What he pulled out, he put into my hand.

Wolf fur.

“The dreams started right after I met you,” Garrett said. “Wolves and wind and snow. And you. The night you laughed at me, I, uh… I cried. And then I was so happy when you showed up in my dream. We ran with the wolves, and then we became wolves, both of us. Just like in your dreams.”

“That’s weird,” I said.

“It’s beautiful.”

I looked at the wolf fur in both of my hands. Garrett’s was exactly like mine.

My voice was a whisper. “What do you think it means?”

Garrett shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe it means we’re destined for each other or something.”

We both laughed. I think he meant what he said. And then I was sure he meant it because he put his arms around me again and he kissed me, oh god, right on the lips, just kind of soft and barely touching, and I slid my arms around him and we just sat there finding different ways to fit our mouths together while we giggled like a couple of girls.

I felt worn out and warm, and my heart pounded. I laid my face against Garrett’s chest and I said, “Not gonna lose you. Not gonna let them take you from me.”

I don’t know how much time passed while we sat close like that with our arms around each other.

Finally, Garrett kissed the top of my head and said, “Put some ice on that eye. I have to go see somebody.”


The thing about Trent was, he was a jock wannabe. That meant he wanted to hang out with the jocks and be popular with the girls and all without doing the hard work of, you know, actually playing football and stuff. The jocks hated him. Plus, Garrett had helped a jock in one of his classes with some homework, so the jocks actually kinda liked Garrett even though he was emo and weird. The jocks probably realized that Garrett wasn’t after their girlfriends and wasn’t stupid enough to make a pass at any of them. So, Garrett called in a favor.

The next day, the jocks took care of it.

I kinda felt bad for cute little Joey when I saw his black eye, but man, seeing Trent with a shiner and crutch-wobbling on his injured ankle sure felt good.

That should have ended it, but it didn’t.


The wolf dreams grew more intense. One morning I actually pulled wolf fur off my skin, like I was shedding. It had grown on me during the night. I was kind of scared until Garrett told me the same thing happened to him.

I went over to Garrett’s house a couple of times to hang out and do homework and stuff. His mom seemed to like me. But then his dad figured me out and realized his son really was a fag, and I got banned. Garrett showed up at school the next day with a shiner of his own.

The hallway was jammed with kids between classes when I first saw Garrett and his eye. I ran up to him, and touched his cheek under the bruise.

“Trent?” I said.

Garrett shook his head. “Dad.”

Everyone saw us. Everyone watched how I touched Garrett’s face. Now, everyone knew.

So then another bunch of jocks who really didn’t like little fairy boys decided to get revenge for Trent and Joey. Word of their plans sparked down the school gossip wires like an overload. Garrett and I took a different route home from school that afternoon.

We went to my room. Mom wasn’t home from work yet.

“It’s time,” Garrett said. “Get your stuff together, no more than you can easily carry. And your warmest coat. And all the money you can get your hands on.”

I got my stuff and a few of my drawings and my iPod, along with my runaway savings. Garrett and I slinked out of the house like thieves.

Garrett got his stuff, including his flute, and then we went to an ATM. He had swiped one of his dad’s credit cards that morning, and we used it to get a bunch of cash.

Garrett shoved the bills into separate pockets, and gave me some, too. “The price of one black eye, Dad,” he said. He dropped the credit card on the sidewalk.

I pulled on his arm. “But won’t we need that for—”

“Can’t use it again,” Garrett said. “They’ll find us that way.” He took my cell phone and his, and threw both of them down a runoff drain.

We huddled down in the bus terminal overnight. In the morning we got on a bus to Wyoming.


We found wolves.

Garrett and I live just outside of Yellowstone, on the northeast edge of the park. Wolves live in the hills and mountains here, a couple of pretty large packs. There’s a park ranger in a big yellow SUV who comes out and watches the wolves with binoculars. Back in the woods Garrett and I found an old cabin that no one had used for ages. We scrounged up enough weathered lumber to patch up the gaps in the walls. The place has an ancient iron stove for heat. We found an old bed that Garrett and I share at night. If we have questions about how to do things, we hike over to the library in a nearby town and check the Internet. We’ve hardly touched the money we brought along. We kill our own food, and gutting the animals doesn’t make either one of us throw up any more. Garrett knows how to set traps, and he’s teaching himself to bow-hunt. But sometimes we don’t even need those tools.

At night Garrett plays his flute, and the wolves come.

The first night it happened, Garrett put down his flute and we went out to see the wolves. They circled us, curious about their new neighbors. The wolves sniffed our bodies, and we knelt to let them rub their muzzles in our faces. You have to get used to little nips from them. Their teeth are sharp. Their eyes glow at night. They can hear you blink your eyes.

Garrett and I no longer dream about being wolves.

We’re surviving the winter just fine.

Because when it gets really cold, we change.

On that first night, we ran with the wolves. Like in our dreams, we stripped naked to follow them. The longer Garrett and I ran, the better we felt, the warmer we felt. When I looked down, running, and saw that I had four big paws and grey fur, I looked over at Garrett. He was a wolf, too. And when we lifted our muzzles and howled, the pack howled with us.

The little librarian lady smiles at us when we enter her domain. If she only knew.

Cody L. Stanford‘s publishing credits include the short stories “The Magician” in Eyes magazine, “Alexandra’s Cat” and “Reedman” in The New Orphic Review, “Blindsight Eclipse” in The Rejected Quarterly, and “But a Toy” in The Circle. His volunteer work caring for tigers at a nearby feline conservation park sharpens his wits for the savage world of publishing. Email: gryphontiger[at]gmail.com