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A Choice of Darkness - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Shadow of the Wolf

     As the new week and New Year dawned, the man’s eyes, normally sightless and dull, shone with the singular anticipation of a heroin addict clutching two crumpled twenty-dollar bills.  Fourteen days, 336 hours, or 20,160 minutes from his last foray into the darkness, he yearned to explore.  He longed to exchange expectation for the knowledge only visible through the omniscience scarlet eyes of the wolf.

    It hadn’t always been this way.  Once, he had been a boy, as innocent as any other.  But that had changed abruptly when his mother unwittingly welcomed a wolf into their lives.  A carnivorous creature cloaked in human form, it feasted on the unsuspecting.  Adding to its own wickedness, this wolf brought with it an insidious traveling companion, a malevolent darkness.  Hungry as well, it craved more than flesh and blood.  It feasted on innocence and compassion.

    While the wolf destroyed bodies, the darkness consumed souls.

    A young child when first introduced to the wolf and the darkness, he endured four years of torment as the amoral duo fed upon him and his mother.  Then, one night, the darkness, with its mercenary nature, destroyed the wolf and, along with it, his mother.  Left alone, he found himself unprotected and vulnerable to the shadows.

    Wrongly assuming all adults served as carriers of the darkness, he elected to trust no one.  He distanced himself from others, including those willing to provide the support he so desperately needed.  Continuously fleeing forward, he inevitably traveled full-circle.  By destiny or caprice, he caught up with and came face-to-face with that which he most feared.  Yet, instead of peering into the terrifying eyes of an immortal enemy, he saw, not the wolf of his youth, but his own wretched reflection gazing back sadly.

    Confronted by the familiar visage, he accepted his fate.  He embraced the darkness, allowing it to flow over and empower him.  After more than fifteen years, he ended the standoff with the angels of his better nature.  He chose to take up residence in the void once occupied by a loathsome creature.  And in doing so, he shed the skin under which he hid and became the wolf.

    His transformation had occurred six months before on a sultry Texas City night.  Walking to work on that evening in June, he recalled the stink of the ocean brine and chemical cocktail swirling off Galveston Bay.  Few other cues penetrated the heat and humidity knitted into the oppressive blanket covering the area.  Senses parboiled, he ignored the ramshackle houses to his right and the decrepit chain link fence to his left.  The simple act of placing one foot in front of the other demanded all his effort.

    Focused on getting to work and into the air conditioning, he nearly missed the feeble plea for help.  Had he been walking his normal pace, the crunching gravel beneath his feet would have obscured the cry.  Pausing to listen, he discerned a voice riding invisible currents of air from the inky blackness beyond the fence.

    Drawn to the weary melody, he crawled through a break in the dilapidated barrier and awkwardly picked his way past rocks and underbrush.  Eventually, his eyes adjusted to the lack of light away from the street, allowing him to see what lay before him.  There at the base of a small hill near the edge of the derelict quarry, sat a small boy.

    Legs splayed beneath him, the child appeared unable to stand.  No older than ten, he wore grimy black shorts and a stained white undershirt.  Against his chest, he clutched a small furry figure.

    Elated upon discovery, the little boy recreated his misfortune to his distracted rescuer, who stared open-mouthed into the vast darkness.  Transformed into an opaque looking glass, the seemingly infinite void of the pit provided his first glimpse at the beast haunting his dreams.  Examining his own image, he finally understood the message: to see as the wolf of his youth, he must become the wolf.

    Guided by his revelation, he acted without consideration of cost or consequence.  He sought answers that had eluded him since childhood.  When he finished, the boy laid still and quiet.

    Following his impromptu actions, the man, not long ago a boy himself, took stock.  Quickly overwhelmed by the increasing weight of his actions, he panicked.  He scuttled away, kicking and clawing to gain separation from his deeds.  His spastic movements had two results.  First, he found himself at the top of the hill, winded and with holes in the knees of his blue uniform pants.  Second, looking down amongst the rocks and dust, he observed his lunch bag and a small stuffed bunny rabbit, but no boy.

    Peering out into the darkness, he knew what had happened.  It hadn’t been his intent, but the boy’s once supple and growing body now lay distorted, a lifeless husk of decomposing carbon molecules, at the bottom of the pit.  In turn, the man, who looked for answers, found more questions.

    Following this opening act in his journey of self-discovery, he sensed the answers he sought would not be found in the familiar dirt and unwelcome memories of his native Texas.  Acting more on impulse than design, he moved north, settling in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  With four distinct seasons and mountains, it seemed the antithesis of his homeland.  Driven by tortured memories of his past and dreams of a fulfilling future, he left behind his barren existence in search of a fertile garden in which he could exchange his caterpillar reality for butterfly dreams.

    Back in the present following his brief inspection of the past, the man’s desire built as he counted the minutes until nightfall.  Another extended Monday work shift had arrived and with it opportunity.  Camouflaged by the black of night and his uniform of blue, he would move as a wraith among the living and strike again.

    Two weeks removed from his last hunt, his manic mood swings had resolved and his confidence had returned.  Hooked to the well-broken in diesel engine of the shadows, he sensed his destination, a terminal of discovery, nearing.  Gladly providing his well-worn ticket to the conductor, he ignored the price of the ride.  To him, it didn’t matter.  No amount was too great to finally understand the obscenity that was his life.