Cody L. Stanford
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.
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.
“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.
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