Something Wild And Dark
by Drew D. Kramer
For David, who knows that werewolves
are way cooler than vampires
Vic told me that before he noticed me, he noticed my dog. And Vic being Vic, that would make sense. I’m a fool for dogs. I’ve always had a dog. Currently, I have a beautiful black German shepherd named Sophia. Like all my dogs, she was a rescue dog. Why someone would let a beautiful animal like her go stray makes me ask some serious questions about humanity.
Sophia loves to run, padding softly over the open ground, chasing rabbits, stalking squirrel. And since I need the exercise, I like take her out running at every opportunity. Wagging her tail, she jumps up into the back of my jeep as we head out beyond the city, driving hours sometime to find some new rural area. After finding a place ot park, I strip down to shorts and running shoes, and together we’re off. I do my best to keep up with her, all the while trying to keep track of landmarks and what direction we’re headed. Smart dog that she is, she won’t let herself get too far ahead of me.
Generally, we don’t meet anyone on our runs. And we never meet naked men. But on one occasion, we did.
Sophia and I were following a creek upstream, swollen with melting snow from the Spring thaw. The day was beautiful and warm, the warmest day of the year so far. I would leap from rock to rock, taking only to the banks when there was no other way. We came upon a place that looked to me like a good swimming hole, the river dropping with waterfalls, the water a deep blue green. Taking off my shoes and emptying my pockets into them, I jumped in feet first, surfacing with a war whoop from the icy cold. Sophia, wiser than me, barked from safety. I clambered out up through the waterfall, shaking and slapping the cold water off me, and then I saw him, on the bank, not more than thirty feet from me, naked as a jay, smiling at me.
“’Afternoon!” I offered.
Sophia, who generally likes to let strangers know she’s the boss with a lot of barking, simply sat, as though the naked stranger had issued some silent command.
“Hi,” he answered, “Water’s cold, huh?”
“Sure is. I was feeling overheated and decided on a dip. So, is this your property I’m on?”
“Nope. Not mine. You’re still on federal land.”
“Well that’s good to hear. I was worried you were going to shoot me for trespassing.”
He laughed at that. Then without speaking, just stood smiling at me. His gaze was piercing. it made me feel self-conscious, as if I were the naked one.
I made my way, jumping from rock to rock, towards him.
“I’m Gary,” I offered, and held out my hand. He grabbed it and we shook, his grip strong and firm.
“Good to meet you, Gary. I’m Vic.”
Both of us stood there, Sophia sniffing at him, our eyes locked. His dick started to swell and stand at attention, and mine responded by tenting my nylon running shorts, too.
“Are you camping out here? Live around here?” I asked.
He explained that like me, he lived in the city, and was out for a hike. We sat, we talked. I explained what I was doing out there, running with Sophia. He just answered simply that he got out here whenever he could, feeling more at home in the wild than anywhere else. Both of us, it turned out, had been Boy Scouts. He had gone on to work during college with a program that took troubled teenagers out into the wilderness. I told him about my stint as a park ranger, and my current work writing about wildlife conservation.
From time to time, I would look down at his dick, which never got soft. He kept his eyes on me, appraising me, sizing me up.
“I’d like for us to get together sometime,” he said finally, as though he had been debating some issue and had finally come to a decision. “I don’t have pencil or paper so we can swap numbers, and I’m betting you don’t either. So let’s pick a time and place and meet up.”
I told Vic I was definitely up for that.
He told me he owned a store in town, dealing in art and artifacts made by indigenous people from around the world, specializing in tools. The name of the place, Old Ways Are Best, was easy to remember, and I repeated the address to myself several times. I agreed to be there the following Friday when he closed at 7 p.m.
I laughed, and explained myself: “All the time I spend looking for a hot man like you in the city, and we meet out in the wilderness. What are the chances?”
“This area sees a lot of hunters,” he answered, “but not this time of year. And usually different prey.”
Then, abruptly, “Okay, I’ll leave you and Sophia to get back to your run,” and stood up.
I was on my feet, too, “Not without a kiss at least.”
“For now...” Vic kissed his fingertips, then extended them, pressing them to my mouth. He backed up the bank of the creek, smiled, and then in a flash, turned and shot through the dense underbrush, leaving me standing with my mouth hanging open. I started to follow, but then saw that the bushes he had disappeared behind were a tangle of wild blackberries and briars. “Sticker bushes” we called them when I was a kid. Somehow, effortlessly, he had passed through them as though through a curtain, wearing nothing to protect himself.
And, I realized, he was barefoot.
With Sophia panting beside me, I made my way back to the jeep.
The sun was dropping lower, reddening the western sky, lighting up the treetops. As we walked up the creek bed, Sophia would occasionally stop, listening intently, then trot to catch up with me.
Almost to my jeep. My head was full of the naked man. His white teeth, piercing blue eyes, and the hair on him. Hairy men have always made me weak. I was raised by my father’s sister and her husband, Uncle Len. Uncle Len was a pipe fitter, leaving the house at dawn, coming home sweated, shedding his clothes, and jumping in the pool. When I was a little boy, I’d climb up on his lap as he sat on the lounger after his swim, relaxing with a cigar, and I’d curl up against the dense fur on his chest.
Give me a good hairy man anytime.
I wondered if my naked man smoked cigars.
My dick was hard now, like a steel pipe in my shorts. I stopped, standing on a rock with water rushing around me. Sophia searched me with her eyes, and as if she knew what was coming, dropped to her belly.
I dropped my shorts, my erection bobbed in the sunshine. I spit in my hand, and started stroking. Images of Vic dancing in my head.
“Yeah, Vic, yeah... Take me there,” I moaned.
I shot, a long arc, grunting it out.
I turned to Sophia, ready to apologize to her for holding us up, when I heard it. Starting low and almost quiet, growing stronger and louder, building, building to a crescendo: a howl.
A coyote, I guessed. A big one. Not too far away.
Coyotes usually make Sophia nuts, but she rose, gave a few yelps to answer, and wagged her tail, looking into the trees at the bank.
I pulled up my pants and headed for my jeep.
Back in the city, at home, I had dinner with the folks from whom I rented my apartment, Bert and Linda, a couple of self-described “Old Hippies,” growing pot among the foxgloves in the back yard. At least once a week, I got a dinner invitation, and not being much of a cook myself, I was always grateful for the respite from take-out and frozen entrees, even if kinoa and organic yams wouldn’t be my first choice.
After dinner, when Linda was serving her flan, she asked how the latest romp in the woods went. I jumped at the opportunity to tell them about meeting Vic. Linda was always hoping that I’d meet someone “nice” and listened intently to the tales of my hapless romantic quests. Having no children of their own, Linda and Bert were quick to adopt an orphan like me.
“I met a wild man out in a canyon,” I offered.
“Just how wild?” asked Bert.
I described Vic, naked, bursting through the bushes.
Lighting up her after dinner joint, Linda commented, “Gary, I think he sounds like a weirdo.”
I laughed. “I didn’t get that vibe. I don’t think he’s a bad buy.”
“So the two of you can live happily ever after in a lean-to you build yourselves up in the mountains, cooking squirrels you catch over a campfire?” she teased.
“He lives here in town. Runs a store downtown. So he’s somewhat citified. I guess he isn’t always naked. We’re getting together on Friday night.”
“To howl at the moon? Chase cars?” asked Bert, getting into the act.
“Just for dinner.”
And maybe, I thought, spending the night with my back up against Vic’s hairy chest, his arms wrapped around me.
We talked some more, I told them about a piece I was writing, they talked excitedly about their trip to Belize next winter. After it got late, I excused myself and headed down to my apartment.
I spent an hour staring at the screen of my laptop, writing in fits and starts, highlighting and hitting “Delete” when rereading showed my thoughts to be disjointed.
Of course, I was thinking of Vic.
I don’t make a habit of hitting the bars. About once a month, when my blood is up, I’ll give it a go. Tonight, I decided, would be one of those nights. The evening was getting cool, so I wore my leather jacket. Finding a cab on the main street proved easy enough. At the bar, the crowd was light, as I expected for a week night. I ran into a guy I knew slightly and we talked for a bit. No one particularly interested me. But I wasn’t expecting that anyone would.
Vic. I wondered what he was doing tonight. Perhaps sleeping in a lean-to like Linda described. I decided to make another circuit of the bar, before I headed for home. The space was long and narrow, the bar at the front, a pool table in the middle of the space, and at the very back, a dimly lit area that I’d heard called “Desperation Alley.” A couple of younger guys with mohawks played pool, as I ventured back further, the dark at the unlit area of the bar looked very dark as my eyes adjusted to the dim light. I startled when a silhouette snapped into focus, someone was standing in the far back corner. Quickly he moved towards me, almost knocking me out of the way as he pushed past me, leaving in a hurry.
“Yo! Buddy! Easy!” I said, turning to see his back, a plaid shirt and wool watch cap bolting for the door.
I watched the retreating man, and something, some half formed thought, stopped me. Was it just the height and weight, perhaps the smell of the man?
I followed. He was twenty paces ahead of me. He pushed through the door without looking back.
I tried to move casually, so as not to draw attention to myself. What would it look like, two men suddenly rushing out of a bar as though a fire alarm had gone off that only they could hear?
Through the door, and there I was, out on the street. I looked left, I looked right. No one. No one at all.
Could it have been Vic? Too much of a coincidence.
To clear my head, and to make sure I could get to sleep without much trouble, I decided to walk home. The night was clear, cool. A waxing half moon hung overhead. I knew the route well: four blocks west, make a left, six blocks, stop at the all night grocery to grab some apple juice, make a right after the gas station, three more blocks and I was home.
When I came out of the grocery, uncapping my apple juice, I stood a moment, looking up at the moon. Orion was in the sky. Even with the lights of the city, I could make out the constellation of the Hunter. Following the three stars in his belt, I picked out Sirius, gleaming brighter than any other star. When I dropped my eyes from Sirius, the dog star, to the street, out of the corner of my eye, some movement attracted my attention. Snapping my head, I saw nothing. Just a row of parked cars on the otherwise deserted street. I continued my walk home, keeping my ears attuned to any sound behind me. But there was none. My heart was pounding in my chest. I’m a big guy--I’ve heard “intimidating” on more than one occasion. So I wasn’t thinking mugger. But there was something. Someone was behind me there in dark street. I quickly glanced over my shoulder. Nothing. No one. Close to home now. I realized I was walking faster. If there was no one on the street, then there was no one to see me acting like a crazy man. I turned into my street, glancing behind me as I did.
Did I see him? Was that something? In the darkness under an awning, wasn’t there a figure? Crouching? I couldn’t see clearly, but I felt there was something there.
He... It... Whatever, was half a block away. My house was fourth on the right. I sprinted. I took the turn, up the walk, got to the stairs, and took them in four strides. Fumbling for my keys, fishing them out of the pocket, picking out the right one... The instant it was in the lock, I heard it. Starting soft, riding on the breeze, a low howl.
The key turned in the lock. The door opened. I was inside.
Two yards from the door sat Sophia, her tail wagging. Seeing her familiar face, her eyes looking into mine, was suddenly calming.
The howl was the same as I had heard in the woods. Not impossible for a coyote to make it into town. But I’ve never heard of one howling. And coyote don’t stalk people home from bars.
“Vic...?” I asked, directing the question to Sophia. She wagged her tail again. A man who ran around in the woods naked was probably capable of letting out a howl. And following me home? “Weirdo” was Linda’s verdict.
I opened the door. Same cool night air. Same dark streets with pools of light from the streetlights. Sophia was at my feet. It was time for her walk. I grabbed the leash from the hook next to the door, snapped it on, and then paused.
I cleared my throat, took a deep breath...
A yelp from Sophia. I laughed at my own efforts. I listened intently. There was no answer.
That night, in my dreams, I ran, effortlessly, through midnight streets of a strange city. Sophia ran with me, and another dog, another shepherd, only with a dark brown coat, ran beside us. In the dream, my perspective shifted. Now I was close to the ground, at the same level as the two dogs. Then upright again. Then down with the dogs.
During the following week, I worked like hell. I had an article due and I busted my ass putting it to bed so I wouldn’t have it hanging over my head on the weekend. On Friday, I took Sophia for a good long walk and headed downtown to meet up with Vic. Even with the address, I had a hard time finding the store. On a block of clothing and cell phone stores with a latté place on either end. But with an upscale haberdasher at the address I had, I was a little confused. Walking back and forth, I saw that a door to the second floor was marked Old Ways Are Best. I took the stairs up. Through the door on the second floor, I entered Vic’s store. It was much as I imagined, glass shelves, crowded with masks, earthen vessels, spears, pestles and such. Looking around, my eyes hit upon a woman with jet black hair and lipstick a shade of red I haven’t seen on women in a decade or so, both set off by her pale skin. She smiled and said, “You must be Gary.”
I admitted I was.
“Vic’s finishing up. He should be out in a minute. I’m Natalia.”
“Good to meet you, Natalia. Great collection.”
“It really is. We have some amazing stuff here. Vic just got back from Russia. He brought back some great finds from Siberia and Eastern Russia.”
“He gets to go on the field trips and you stay behind and mind the store?” I teased.
“He does most of the acquisition, but I get to go every once in a while. But especially with the camping trips every month, most of my job is watching the homefront.”
“Every month? That’s a lot of camping.”
“Every month, sometimes twice a month, but that’s only once or twice a year.”
“Where does he go?” I asked, intrigued by this new bit of information. All the travel for his store, and yet he manages to go camping?
“New Mexico, Canada, Maine, Wyoming, Idaho. If it’s wild and difficult to get to, he’s probably been there,” she said, laughing.
I browsed the artifacts for sale. Although I’ve never been a collector, everything I saw was fascinating and, in a way, beautiful. And everything had a story. And Natalia seemed to know all the stories.
Lost in the intricate carvings in caribou bone made by Inuits in Greenland, I didn’t hear Vic enter, and his “Think that would look good on your bookshelf?” made me jump.
For an instant, I didn’t recognize him in clothing. Bigger, more imposing, filling up the doorway in which he stood, his gleaming white teeth seeming to light up the room.
Such a hot man, I thought. I had put clean sheets on the bed, and I was hoping we’d end up there.
We hugged, we kissed hello. He was so solid, and his body heat seemed almost feverish. His touch was electric.
We said goodbye to Natalia and headed out. Vic had picked a steakhouse for us for dinner (“You’re not a vegetarian, right?” he asked). We decided to walk, stopping off and picking coffee, going out of our way to walk through a park. I asked him about the camping.
“It’s what I love,” he explained, “Out there in the woods is where I feel the most alive. There’s sort of a club I go with...” He paused, and smiled, “The pack that I run with. We’re all pretty committed to it. I’ll be out there next weekend as a matter of fact. Do you ever take trips like that?”
“Not too much. I’ve spend some time out in the wilderness, researching for articles I’m working on. But I’m pretty much staying with park rangers or folks from universities, and they aren’t exactly roughing it. I really haven’t hiked out with gorp and a sleeping bag since I was in the Scouts. I’d love to go with you guys sometime.”
“Yeah? That’s really good to hear. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Although you’re dating yourself. It’s not gorp anymore, it’s MREs, ‘Meals Ready to Eat.’ Developed for the military.”
Dusk turned to night. The park was grew more and more deserted. We walked hand in hand, slowly. “Let’s take a shortcut,” Vic said, and led me off the path under the trees. I tripped on something. “Oops, sorry,” he apologized, “I should have pointed that tree root out to you.”
“What tree root?” I asked, looking down at the blackness spread out at my feet.
Vic explained he could see well in the dark.
I laughed. “Yeah? Can you see this?” Silently, I exaggeratedly mouthed the words, “You... Me... Fuck.. Soon.”
“You, Me, Fun, Zoo?” He pulled me close, put his arms around me. “What are my lips telling you?”
Vic kissed me, and I melted. Desire swept over me in waves. This man excited me like no other. I couldn’t get close enough to him; I wanted to be a part of him, and to have him be a part of me.
I wanted Vic so bad I it frightened me.
Vic pulled away first.
“Easy, Pup,” he said.
We continued our walk in silence. I tried to make sense of what I was feeling, my heart racing, my all my senses seemed to be focused on Vic, walking beside me.
We emerged from the park onto the street, the restaurant only a few blocks away. My eyes drank him in, and then my face must have registered surprise...
“Something the matter?” asked Vic.
“I... I don’t remember... Your beard... How quick does your hair grow?”
Back at the store, I remembered Vic having what looked like a few days growth on his face. But now, he was sprouting a beard. And he was a hairy man, the hair just about covering his face, going up his cheeks almost to his eye sockets.
Vic laughed. “I could shave ten times a day and not keep up with it.”
At the restaurant, we were shown to our table and presented with menus.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Vic. His beard, the dense fur on his chest and arms--always my weakness--seemed to leave no skin underneath visible. His eyes were icy blue, and seemed to glow with their own light. He caught me staring, and smiled, his teeth white in the mask of fur.
“What looks good to you?” asked Vic.
I must have betrayed my puzzlement. he followed that with, “On the menu, I mean.”
I picked out a cut of steak.
Over dinner, we started in on the usual first date banter. Vic was full of questions. Where did I grow up (Schuykill County, Pennsylvania), about my parents (deceased when I was five years old), my jobs before my current gig (National Park Ranger, a stint doing research on fluctuations of polar bear birthrates in Alaska), my current job (churning out a steady stream of articles on wildlife conservation for a handful of publications), and why the hell I was single.
Reluctantly--because you’re not supposed to talk about your exes on a date, right?--I told him about Paul. My name for Paul was “Mr. Bunyan.” Paul and I were brought together by the Department of the Interior: he was sent with a crew to rebuild the ranger station in the park where I worked, standing six foot three and weighing close to three hundred pounds, Paul was a mountain of a man. After a week of eyeing each other, things were taken to a different level in the camp shower one morning. I fell, and fell hard, never having met a man who I not only thought was hot as hell, but with whom I enjoyed spending time so much. I left the Park Service for him, moved to Southwest Colorado to be close to him. The year I was with him was one of the best I’ve had, but then he gave me the boot, only saying that it wasn’t working for him. I was heartbroken, and I’ve been pretty gun-shy ever since.
I started in with the questions. Or tried to. Vic asked me how I felt about camping.
“Like I think I told you, I haven’t done much of it. But that’s more a reflection of the fact that I never take a vacation. When I’m doing research for stories, I might be spending a couple of weeks off in the wilderness somewhere. And that’s what I’d be doing if I was on vacation. By way of example, I told him about a three weeks I spent at a wolf refuge on an island off the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Vic stopped me mid-sentence: “You did what? You’ve been there? What was that like?”
I laughed at his seriousness. “It was great. Beautiful, fascinating animals.”
Vic was shooting out the questions rapid fire now. It was an interrogation. How many wolves did you see? How close did you get to them? What did you observe? What do the people there think of the possibility of wider reintroduction?
I told him about a mating pair, Masha and Rocky. Together they had three pups, all of which died. Masha was bereft as a wolf can be. She ran away from Rocky, taking off and not letting him to get within a mile. Rocky would howl for her, but she wouldn’t answer. After I left, I learned that finally, Rocky and Masha reunited.
“Amazing animals. Can you believe behavior like that?”
“I definitely can. Why is it a shock to you that wolves love and grieve?”
“Well, it’s always dicey. You get into trouble when you project human qualities onto animals. Especially wild animals.”
“Heh. You can get into trouble when you project human qualities onto a lot of humans I know, too.”
“Point taken,” I conceded. “I still remember so clearly Rocky’s howls, calling to Masha, pleading, longing...”
I looked at Vic, right in the eye.
“It was you. The other night. You followed me home. You howled...”
Vic gave nothing away. I thought I detected a slight smile on his lips, but under the beard, I couldn’t be sure.
“Howled? Followed you? What are you talking about?”
I lost my nerve.
“Nothing. Just something weird that happened to me the other night.”
“Crazy things happen.”
“Crazy things do,” I agreed.
The check arrived. I reached for my wallet, and Vic said, “No way. I got this.”
I was flattered. Nothing like a handsome man buying me steak dinner. “Sure?” I asked, “You don’t have to...”
“I want to. That way you’ll owe me.”
My dick got hard. I froze, my right hand reaching around to get my wallet.
Vic was visibly pleased by this reaction. I slowly got hold of myself. But not entirely. I didn’t say another word, other than “Thanks” when Vic and I got up from the table, until we were outside. This man stirred up something deep in me, something that I didn’t understand. And when he said something like that, indicating that I was in his cross hairs, it made the blood rush to my head. And other places.
Out on the street, we stood, facing each other, Vic’s warm smile seemed like a klieg light. I giggled nervously, feeling bashful. And then, as if it was planned, we embraced, wrapping our arms around each other, swaying slightly. I melted into him, feeling the warmth of his body, his hot breath on the back of my neck. Time stood still. The two of us had the universe to ourselves for a while.
Although fearful of breaking the spell, I spoke first: “So Vic, do you want to come home with me?”
“Mmmm. I want you on my turf more. That okay with you, Boss?”
“Oh yeah. That works for me.”
“One thing though. You’re spending the night, but we’re not gonna get it on. Not that I wouldn’t like for that to happen, but I want this to go somewhere, and holding off for now... I just think that’s gonna make it better. Up for that?”
“Yes I am, Vic. Yes I am.”
If Vic had asked me to spend a night sleeping in a bathtub full of kitty litter, I would have said the same thing. As long as he’d be in that tub, too.
We took a cab out to Vic’s house, and I called Linda and asked her to take Sophia for a walk. Riding next to Vic, I was quiet. I’d never met a man like Viic before, and certainly no man had ever captivated me the way that Vic did. I had an odd sensation, as though I was leaving something behind.
Vic’s house was modest, a postwar bungalow, thrown up in a week. It was just about empty. In the middle of the living room was a pile of camping equipment. The kitchen counters were clear except for a coffee maker. On the rack next to the sink stood a plate, an upturned glass, a fork and knife, and a sauté pan. Without looking in the refrigerator, I knew it held condiments, beer, and ice cream. Maybe a couple of white boxes from the local chinese takeout.
“Need a beer?” he asked, reading my mind.
“No. Thanks. I’m fine.”
“You sure are,” he said smiling.
Vic’s beard... Thicker still.
He took my hand, and lead me into the bedroom. (A bed, a dresser, boots and a pair of sneakers lined up against the wall, nothing else.)
“So, you saw me naked. Now it’s my turn.”
I sat on the bed, off went the shoes, the socks, I stood up, dropped my jeans, doffed my shirt, and stood naked in front of Vic.
Not smiling, but appraising, his eyes shining, Vic slowly walked around me in a tight circle. My breathing grew heavy. Behind me, I heard the rustle of fabric: Vic was undressing. A pause. What was happening? Out come handcuffs? I held my breath. Like a phantom, Vic brushed past me. Quickly, but with a certain gracefulness, he darted for the light switch, but I caught a quick glimpse of his body, covered in hair. Everywhere. The lights extinguished, I he turned, in silhouette, and pounced, pushing me backwards onto the bed.
Vic was all over me, his heavy body on top of me, pinning me, his mouth covering mine. Vic, growling, his body so warm. Surprised, I realized I was fighting, or trying to. I relaxed. Sensing this, Vic seemed to calm. His mouth moved on my neck. Vic was a biter. He nibbled some on my neck, then kissing, licking, then, with no warning, his teeth chomped down on my deltoid muscle, between my neck and shoulder. I yelped involuntarily. “Vic! Ahhh...”
A growl from Vic. The bite got harder, it really hurt.
He let up.
His brought his face close to mine. “Sorry,” he said, “Couldn’t help myself. You are delicious.”
“But you had dinner!”
He laughed, and said, “And you’re lucky I did.”
Then, tenderly,sweetly, he kissed me on the lips.
Vic rolled off me and skooched up the bed. “C’mon, Baby. Let’s get some sleep.”
I cozied up next to him, spooning, my back to his chest. He wrapped his strong arms around me and I couldn’t suppress a sigh.
Vic fell asleep first. I followed soon after, sinking into deep, dreamless sleep.
Hours later, I awoke. I opened my eyes. The moon had risen, and the soft light was flooding in through the windows. Vic was gone. I sat up, listened, not a sound. I got out of bed and padded into the out to the livingroom. No Vic. Not in the bathroom. I was alone in the house.
I headed back to bed, lying on my side, watching the milky moonlight.
Who was this guy? Leaving a date lying alone in your bed? Who does that? The clock said it was 4:30. Nothing was even open at this hour. Where would he have gone?
I lay awake, trying to figure it all out. I heard the faintest of sounds, a lock clicking in the tumbler. I made slits of my eyes, breathing deeply. I saw Vic silently enter the bedroom, wearing only running shorts. He stood there, looking down at me. Then, silent as a spirit, he shucked his shorts and slipped into bed beside me, wrapping his arms around me. I moaned softly. His body was warm, as always, but damp with sweat. Vic nuzzled my neck, giving one of his little growls, then whispered, barely audible, “I’m right here, pup. I’ve got you. You’re mine now.”
For the second time that night, I drifted off to sleep, wondering what the hell it all meant.
I woke up the next morning to the sensation of someone gently stroking the hair on my chest. The someone, of course, was Vic.
My eyes focused, and I started: Vic was hairier. His arms, emerging from the sleeves of his tshirt, were covered with hair, his beard was full, like it would take me a a week to grow.
“What?” he asked with a grin, “I’m disappointing in the harsh morning light? Coyote ugly?”
I laughed. “Hell no. But.. Damn your hair grows fast. You’re so... hairy.”
“Yeah? You like hairy?”
“I like hairy a lot.”
“Good. I get hairier.”
“No way could you get hairier.”
“Stick around for a week.”
Since Vic had nothing in the house (as I suspected) we headed out for breakfast at a local diner. Over eggs, I decided to set up another date. I proposed we go hiking next weekend. (I wanted more and sooner, but decided I needed to give myself some time to digest some.)
“Nope. I’ll be away. I leave Wednesday for camping. I get back the following Tuesday.”
“Gotcha. How about the following weekend?”
Vic showed me his gleaming white teeth again: “That weekend is reserved all for you. Make no plans. Deal?”
We kissed goodbye, held each other. I walked home.
When I came up the walk, Linda was watering the flowers out front. She cut off the water and asked, “So how was the big date with the weirdo?”
I laughed. “Best date ever. Best guy I’ve ever known.”
“Then sit down on the porch and tell me all about it,” she answered.
And so I did.
“Midnight runs? That follicular situation? Gary honey, he is definitely a weirdo. I’m worried about you.”
“Worried? You don’t need to worry. He didn’t lay a hand on me. He’s the definition of a nice guy.”
“Gary. Too much about this doesn’t add up to anything good.”
“Okay. So he’s a little eccentric. But I’m eccentric, too. Sure, he was naked when we met, but I was running around in the woods with my dog.”
“And the camping. No one goes camping that much. There’s not that much to do when you’re camping. You sleep in a tent, you cook over a fire. It’s all right once in a while, but every month? That’s crazy.”
“Well, if I get an invitation to go camping, I’m gonna jump at it.”
Linda gave me her serious face, place a hand on my arm. “Gary, please. I see that you’re very taken with this guy. And I’m not being dramatic. I’m not being a dramatic queen or whatever you guys say. But listen to me: something about this is off. Please be careful. Please keep your eyes open. Will you do that for me?”
I let her words sink in. I had been trying to not think about things, shutting down my critical faculties.
“I promise to be careful, Linda.”
The conversation with Linda left me jarred. I headed up the stairs and into my apartment. Sophia was there to greet me. As is often the case when I haven’t spent the night alone, she sniffed me voraciously, wagging her tail, getting all the information she could. I headed into the kitchen and got coffee started, then decided that it was a good time for the shower I had skipped the night before. I peeled off my clothes and tossed them into the hamper. In the bathroom, I started the shower going and looked in the mirror.
I saw it first thing: on the muscle between my neck and my shoulder was the mark of where Vic bit me. It was deep, and where his front incisors sank in, there were tiny points of dried blood from where the skin was punctured. I explored it gingerly with the tips of my finger. There would be a bruise.
Once again, Vic had given me a hardon.
On Tuesday, I called Vic, wishing him goodbye. Saying nothing about the mark he’d left on me. There were so many questions I had for the enigmatic Vic. On the phone he seemed preoccupied, explaining that he was looking forward to the following weekend.
And then began the long wait. Waiting and wondering. Wondering and waiting.
On Thursday, I dug through my address book, and found the number for the wolf preserve in Michigan, asking for the woman that I had worked with most closely, Jessie.
“Gary! How goes it? Coming out for another visit? Your article was phenomenal. I told you that already, right?”
“Hey, Jessie. Thanks. You did, but I appreciate you saying it again. Sorry to say I don’t have any trips planned any time soon. I was just calling to... uh... to follow up on something.”
“Our funding? It looks pretty stable through the next fiscal year...”
“Good to hear, but not the funding. I wanted to know what ever happened with Masha and Rocky.”
“Oh. Masha and Rocky. Of course you do,” Jessie laughed.
“Well,” she continued, “Let me bring you up to date. For almost a year, Masha kept Rocky at bay. When he approached, she’d either run away or stand him down. But then, during the winter, we saw them together again, running through the snow. That Spring, Masha whelped a litter. Two pups. Rocky was a devoted father. One of the pups, a female, is still running with Masha and Rocky, the other, a male, has headed off on his own. No pups this past Spring, they seem to have taken a break, but we’re hoping that next year Masha and Rocky will be proud parents again. I just saw them out hunting last week. So yes, they’re together again.”
We talked some more, I asked her about the other people I remembered out there on the island, about how the wolf population was doing, what all they were finding to eat these days, and as soon as courtesy permitted, I got off the phone.
In my mind’s eye, I could see them clearly. Masha, with her silver coat and long nose. Quick, cautious, an excellent hunter. And Rocky, his coat full and bushy and dark. He was one of the most playful wolves on the island. I watched him chase field mice for an hour once. So protective of Masha, and devoted to her. As I told Vic, it’s always a mistake to attribute human characteristics to animals, but even the most hardened evolutionary biologists and animal behavioral scientists used to talk about how much Rocky loved Masha.
Those days when Masha was on her own, he never let her out of his sight. I remember watching him watching her, as he tracked her from a distance and stood guard while she napped, every once in a while giving a long, low mournful howl, then listening intently, looking her way, his face full of anticipation.
Rocky loved Masha. And in the end, his love prevailed over Masha’s grief.
Vic left on Thursday, and he’d be back the following Tuesday night. Friday I moped, doing my best to focus on my work, but ending up spending hours watching six minutes of dozens of different shows on cable. Saturday morning I got inspired. Since camping was hopefully in my future, I might as well break myself back into it. I dug my tent and sleeping bag out of the closet, stopped off and got some Meals Ready to Eat, loaded Sophia into the back of the jeep and headed out of town. I four-wheeled it off the main road and into the woods till I couldn’t go any further, then, with Sophia trotting along side, we headed up the creek I had visited two weeks before. The weather was with us, clear and hot. I was surprised how much ground I covered lugging the tent and the sleeping bag. At the sporting goods store where I bought the MREs they had handy little packs for dogs to wear. Sophia didn’t know how lucky she was that I had passed on that purchase.
When I came to the spot with the swimming hole, we stopped. I found my way into the bushes, and under the trees, a primordial forest, tall trees rising out of a blanket of fern. Turning around, through the trees, I saw the swimming hole. This is where Vic must have stood, watching me strip and dive, clamber out, pant in the sun.
I pitched the tent.
First up: down to business. I cleared some space and set rocks in a circle for a campfire, then gathered some wood. The image I had was sitting that night staring into a campfire, but on reflection, I decided that might not be the best idea. Camping was not permitted here, and a fire at night might draw attention. I took a swim, and the water was as sweet and cool as I remembered it. Sophia and I explored some more, I fixed my tasty MRE and gave my dear dog her dinner just as night fell. I sat listening to the sounds of the forest at night, Sophia at my side. It was perfect contentment, to be sure. The only thing missing was Vic.
The moon rose, just shy of full and beautiful over the ridge at the other side of the creek. Somewhere out in some lonesome place was Vic, looking up at the same moon.
I stood up, and Sophia beside me was on her feet, expecting that we were going somewhere. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the cool, clean night air. Gazing at the moon like a long lost friend. And out it came, tentative at first, then building. The howl surprised me, pretty good for being unrehearsed. And one good howl deserved another. And again. Each howl was different. One mournful, one lusty, one joyful. Sophia wagged her tail with approval.
Off in the distance, a few coyote heard, and I got a chorus in response. This made me laugh like a madman. I howled, they howled, I howled, they howled. The moon rose higher and higher in the night sky.
I turned in, just enough room in the tent for me and Sophia. Warm in my sleeping bag, the crickets, frogs, a hoot owl, now and then the coyote. I was soon asleep.
That night, in my dreams, it was me and Sophia in the creek. And there, up among the trees was Rocky, dark and shaggy, his tongue lolling, his clear blue eyes bright and laughing. He didn’t approach, just followed us. Sophia and I would move up the creek, I’d look up, and there would be Rocky, watching and waiting. Waiting. Waiting till the moment was right. Holding back, waiting.
I woke. Some noise in the night? Disoriented at first, not in my own bed. I saw Sophia’s shadowy silhouette, standing rather than lying next to me, framed by the moonlight coming in through the tent flaps.
“What’s up, Lady? Need a walk?”
She turned, looked at me, as if considering whether or not to let me in on a secret, then looked back towards the open door.
Some animal coming too near the tent maybe.
I rolled over, and breathed a sigh. So much I don’t understand lately. And the world once seemed so simple. Not so long ago. Pretty quickly, I was asleep again, and there was Rocky, beside me in the forest, under the light of a full moon, in my dreams.
I woke up with the sunrise. Beside me was Sophia, curled in a big black ball. I stirred, she stirred. Another MRE for me, and some kibble for Sophia. We spent the morning exploring, then hiked back to the jeep.
Back in the city, I felt strangely invigorated and refreshed. The writing came easy, the internet and a few phone calls brought me some gold. The ideas came together, the piece I was writing took shape. By the time I headed out to get a burrito for dinner, I’d completed three days work in one.
After dinner, some television. After a weekend of running around in the woods, I drifted off to sleep after what must have been only fifteen minutes.
Then my eyes were opened. I was suddenly wide awake. On the screen in front of me, an infomercial of some kind. I silenced it with the remote. My heart was beating. I was sweating. Up off the sofa, I made for the door, throwing it open. The cool night air poured in. I stepped outside. There was the moon, rising over the houses across the street, huge and full.
Vic? Where was he? A thousand miles away.
“I can’t get you out of my mind...” I sang softly to myself. A line from a song I barely remembered.
The next two days were all about me being rammy. Lots of walks with Sophia, helping Linda in the garden. Heading out to the bar, which is never a good idea on a Monday and Tuesday night.
Finally, it was Wednesday. The day Vic came back. And he didn’t keep me waiting. Before the ring ceased, I had picked up the phone.
“Have a good weekend?” Vic growled.
I was babbling like a teenager. All about my impromptu camping trip, how well my work went afterwards. I stopped myself from telling Vic about the dream, the dream that I had every night since that night in the tent. But I did have something I couldn’t keep to myself.
“Remember I told you about Rocky and Masha?” I asked.
“Your wolves. Right.”
“Well I have an update. They patched things up. They’re proud parents.”
Vic laughed. “I knew they would. It would just take some time.”
“So how was your weekend?” I asked.
“It was great. Beautiful. We picked a great spot this time. In Idaho. We had a blast.”
“Now who is we?”
“Gary, I’m glad you asked. What are you doing this Saturday?”
“This Saturday? Back to back camping?”
Not camping. Not for another few weeks. This was all about burgers and dogs. A barbecue with a few of Vic’s camping buddies.
Of course I said yes. And even as the words crossed my lips, my knees felt weak. This was big. Like meeting the family. But I recovered quickly. “But what about tonight?”
I came right back: “Tomorrow night?”
There’s nowhere I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather do,” answered Vic, rising to the occasion. “So where are we going and what are we doing?”
My only answer was “Doesn’t matter to me.”
One more night in the No Vic Zone. That night, Rocky didn’t visit me in my dreams.
When we did get together, I had a plan. Vic left the store early, met me for coffee, and we headed to the zoo. Of course, the reptiles, the flamingos, the penguins, the bat house, the polar bears, the monkeys... they were all perfunctory. We headed for the wolves.
Seven of them lulled on the rocks in their enclosure. Vic and I were grinning like kids on Christmas. I was babbling, albeit in a hushed and reverent whisper, everything I knew about wolves. But Vic seemed to know more. “They’re so listless,” he explained, “Because wolves are hardwired in the way they hunt: find the scent, follow the scent, stalk the prey, chase, takedown, kill. If the wolf is interrupted at any point, he has to go back to the beginning. Working dogs are bred so that all the other aspects of the hunting cycle are bred out except for the desired one. Herding dogs hunt and chase, but won’t kill. Hounds find the scent and follow the scent. Guard dogs do the take down. But penned up in there, nothing to hunt, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Not something you should do to a hunter.”
I turned my attention from Vic to the wolves in the enclosure. All of their eyes were riveted on us. Other people gathered around the wolf enclosure were noticing what was going on, too, watching us, trying to figure it out. My mouth, I guess, had yet again dropped open. Calmly, impassively, the wolves regarded us.
No. Not us. Just Vic. They were looking at Vic.
He quietly returned their gaze.
“So... It seems you have a fan club. You know those guys?”
“What do you mean?” Vic responded, without taking his eyes from the wolves, who were still watching him.
“They’re all watching you.”
Vic turned to me, smiling, his blue eyes shining, “I guess they just recognize someone who understands them. Either that, or I’ve stirred some vestigial memory of the hunter-prey thing and they’re thinking I’d be nice to have for lunch.”
I looked from the wolves to Vic, back to the wolves, and back to Vic. Vic’s eyes, the wolves’ eyes... It was uncanny.
Since I met Vic, that day at the creek, I felt as if I knew him, as if I had met him somewhere.
I said out loud, “Rocky...”
Vic regarded me coolly. Then smiled, showing me his teeth. “Let’s go to dinner, pup.”
Tonight was hamburgers. As we ate, Vic firmed up things for the barbecue I had been invited to this coming Saturday. It was at the home of a friend of his named Chet and his partner Tom. Both Chet and Tom were part of the whole camping thing. And two other guys, Mark and Klaus, would be there, too. I bashfully told Vic that I was nervous, that I felt like I was meeting his family.
“And at the risk of making you more nervous,” Vic explained, “that’s pretty much the deal. These guys are important to me. They’re my brothers. Literally. In away, we’re of the same blood. But relax. It’s not going to be an inquisition. Expect it to be welcoming. They’ve all been telling me for years that they hope I find someone who’s good for me.”
“...and you think I’m going to be good for you?”
“I think you are good for me.”
He paused. Then continued: “I know I can be a lot to take. I’m not some guy who works in a bank. I’m pretty unconventional by any standard. And mostly it works well for me. But I’ll let you in on a secret. It gets lonely.”
“I know, I know... This is like... What? Our second date? But... Let’s just say I trust my instincts, and when something good crosses my path, I’ll do whatever I need to do to be a part of it, to make it a part of me. I’m not good at playing it safe.”
“So. Does that mean we get to have sex tonight?”
“I’m hoping that’s a ‘yes’?”
“You’ve got to wait for that, Pup.”
“You’re kidding me.” I did my best not to let my voice betray my disappointment and confusion.
“I’m not. The best things in life are worth waiting for.”
My heart sank. “Can I spend the night?”
“Even though it will test my willpower mightily, you sure can.”
My second night with Vic was markedly different from the first one. We relaxed with beers. Vic told me about his trip to Russia, heading into this primordial forest with some of the russians he met, they got water from a well that’s been in use for thousands of years, and then had shashliki--shish kabob--cooked over an open fire.
When it was time for bed, I asked if I told Vic I didn’t have my toothbrush with me, Vic produced one he had bought just for the occasion. Like an old married couple, we shared a sink as we brushed away. We sat on the bed next to each other, taking off our boots, pants, shirt. Vic didn’t seem to be quite as hairy as I remembered. We got into bed, grinning at each other like kids being bad. We kissed: sweet, passionate, deep, long. Vic wrapped his arms around me, making his little growls. For as long as I could, I stayed awake, listening to his slow breathing.
The next morning, I awoke after dreamless sleep. The sunlight was pouring in through the windows. Apparently there had been no runs in the middle of the night as Vic slept dreamily beside me. When we both were awake, I dawdled, basking in our time together, but Vic finally got me out the door. “You’ve got a dog at home that needs a walk. So I’ll see you tomorrow. You’ve got the address, right?”
That night, Bert was off playing poker, so Linda invited me for dinner. From the way she fired questions like buckshot from the time I came through the door, I wondered if perhaps she had hustled Bert out the door so she could grill me unimpeded. But the truth is, I wanted to talk. Since I met Vic, I’ve felt as if I was floating, up and up, higher and higher above the earth, drawn into some other orbit. But with Linda’s interrogation, I found myself defending Vic. Albeit not very successfully.
“Lonely? He told you he was lonely?”
“He said he was lonely. A lonely guy.”
“And he hands you a ‘poor little lost dog’ line and you fall for it? So, do you see yourself with this guy ten years from now? What happens when he finds out that just because you’ve got a bedmate it doesn’t make the loneliness go away? You can’t go looking outside yourself for what you need to find inside yourself, Gary.”
“So why do people couple up at all?”
“It’s not because of loneliness, my dear. Not if it’s going to go anywhere.”
“Linda,” I hesitated, “I want this to work. I really do. There’s something about this guy...”
“Oh you sweet boy. He’s got you just where he wants you.”
“Stop it! Linda, that’s not fair!”
“Gary, a month ago, you didn’t know him. And from what you’ve told me, you still don’t know him. I don’t understand what all this is about.”
Trying to deflect with humor, I countered, “Well, things move faster with us than they do with you heterosexuals. We love in dog years.”
“Well, let me ask you this. And don’t answer right away. Just what does he want from you?”
What does he want from me?
That shut me up. I concentrated on Linda’s fettuccine carbonara and made small talk, getting out of there as soon as I could.
What does Vic want from me? If he just wanted us to screw, he let that opportunity go by him twice. Did he want a relationship? Move me into his hardly furnished home-sweet-home? Or would he be moving into mine? “Hi honey how was your day? Dinner’s almost ready?” I didn’t see it.
What was it about me that drew Vic? Just how could I make him not lonely?
And what was going on with me?
Linda was right. A month ago, I didn’t know Vic. And now, he was all I thought about. No man I’d ever met had enthralled me this way. My M.O. is usually to lose interest the next morning at the latest, if not half way through dinner.
Sophia crossed the room, and rested her head in my lap, looking up at me.
“So what’s the deal, Girl? Is he a good guy? Or is he a bad guy?”
Sophia didn’t have an answer for me.
On the way to the party, I had stopped and picked up a bottle of wine. I found the place easily, and parked my jeep out in the street. I sat in the car, getting myself psyched up, checking my hair in the mirror. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, behaving like a teenager going to the prom. I took a deep breath and went to join the party.
As instructed, I made my way around the house to the back. I took in the scene pretty quickly: barbecue, picnic table, hot tub. Three guys were in the hot tub, and one of them was Vic. He stood up, revealing that he was once again buck naked.
“And here you are!” he said by way of welcome, clambering out. Introductions were made. In the tub were Mark, who looked like a pirate, with his full auburn beard, and Klaus, with black hair and piercing blue eyes. At the grill were Chet, an enormous man with snow white hair, and Tom, dark and swarthy.
Chet thanked me for the wine. I thanked him for having me.
“Whoa! Who else is coming?” I asked, surveying the piles of chicken and beef that Chet was preparing.
“Just for us,” said Chet. “I cook for these guys when we’re camping. I know how they can eat.”
“When you guys hike out there, you have a pickup truck following you loaded down with provisions?”
“Mostly it’s about living off the land,” Chet offered.
“The house tends to cook the meat rare. I hope that works for you,” said Tom, jumping in.
“Suits me just fine,” I answered, “Anything I can do to help out?”
“Nope. We’ve got it all under control. You can hop in the tub if you like.”
“That sure sounds good to me.”
“Perfect,” said Vic, let’s get you naked.”
Vic pulled me close. Kissing me. I could feel four pair of eyes watching us. He hauled my shirt over my head, tossing it on a pile of tshirts, jeans, and two pair of leather pants. I felt Vic’s hands undoing my belt, the button of my pants, my fly. My pants dropped around my ankles. Slowly I stepped out of my sandals, then out of my pants. Vic took my hand, leading me to the hot tub. I stepped in, then recoiled. The water felt boiling hot. I inhaled sharply, and eased it back in, first one leg, then the other. Mark and Klaus, who hadn’t left the tub, watched me without speaking, their faces impassive, but their eyes hungry.
I definitely was being appraised. Vic followed me, and we took our seats.
“The bikes out front belong to you guys?” I asked.
“Yup. Those babies belong to us,” Mark answered, “Everybody else in the group tends to stick to four wheels. We’re the only fools in this pack who prefer two. You ride?”
“I don’t,” I admitted.
“Kinda what we live for,” offered Klaus.
Klaus was younger than Tom by about fifteen years, a man in his thirties.
“Tom and I met up at Sturgis five years ago. I got an invitation to come camping and we’ve been riding together ever since.”
“Great to hear it still works that way,” I offered.
“It can be a rare thing in the world today, but it definitely still happens,” Mark said.
“Doesn’t it, Vic?” he shot.
Vic looked at me. “That’s my hope and expectation.”
I felt myself blushing.
Doing my best to change the subject quickly, I blurted out the first thing coming into my head: “I didn’t think there were many men as hairy as Vic, but you guys seem to have it going on, too.”
“It took some getting used to, but it sure keeps me warm in cold weather.”
The three of them grinned at me. I surveyed the pelts on each man’s shoulders, running up the neck, disappearing into full beards. The most prodigious beard was Marks reddish-brown foot of fur.
Dinner was ready. I was the last one out of the tub, I watched as Tom, Vic, and Klaus exited. Seeing them naked, one after another, I was struck by how hairy they all were, all over. I seemed to remember Vic as being hairier, almost no skin showing beneath, but it chalked it up to his being dripping wet.
At the picnic table, plates were piled high. It reminded me of a Brazilian charosco restaurant I had enjoyed years ago. But, there were only six of us. The men stood around the table, and as if a secret signal had been sent, Chet seated himself at the head of the table. All eyes turned to Mark, to sat himself at the opposite end. Then Vic took his seat, followed by Tom, then Klaus. I took a seat next to Vic. Again, for a second, no one moved. Then Klaus, in the middle of the table, closest to the food, said, “Chet, what can I set you up with?” Chet stated his preferences. After Chet had his plate, it was Mark’s turn. And so on down the line, in roughly the same order, although Klaus and Tom served themselves almost simultaneously. And then they fixed a plate for me. It was like a bunch of auto mechanics on their coffee break decided to observe the finer points of a Japanese tea ceremony. And they all seemed so serious about it. Even Vic, who usually had a wry half smile on his face for everything that life served up.
The plates, of course, were heaped with as much protein as I usually eat in a week. But the food was delicious. My strategy in these situations--which had served me well in job interviews and the like--was to keep asking questions. People love to talk about themselves, and give them an opportunity, and they’ll forget about learning anything about you.
But these guys might have been trying to cover up a shared past in international espionage. The answers I was getting were monosyllables, nothing more than what I had asked. No elaboration.
So Mark, for how long have you been going on these monthly camping trips?
Are you guys all from the area?
“Canada”? Who’s from “Canada”? Not Toronto or Alberta or Ontario or even British Columbia or New Foundland but all I get is “Canada.”
But then I hit paydirt: So, where’s the best place for camping?
I got a chorus: Canadian Rockies, Northern Utah, South Dakota Badlands, Sonora Desert. Everybody had a favorite, it seemed.
I asked Klaus, who had chimed in with South Dakota, why there.
“Because that was my first trip. It was pretty pretty amazing. I’d done camping before, but nothing like that.”
“What made it so great?”
“You’re coming with us on the next one, right? So in a few weeks you won’t have to ask me that question.”
“And just where is that trip planned for? Where is my favorite place going to be?”
It was Chet who answered: “We’re going to be in Southern New Mexico. Gila National Forest. Very rough country. Unless you’ve been there before, you’re in for a treat. That far from civilization, the sky at night is thick with stars.”
“I haven’t been there. I’ve written about the area. I did a story last year about the reintroduction of the Mexican Red Wolf. It’s controversial. No one is sure if it’s a legitimate breed of wolf, or just a coyote hybrid at this point.”
“They’re wolves,” answered Mark. “They behave like wolves. They pack like wolves. They howl like wolves. They’re not coyote.”
“But the genes tell a different story...”
“Fuck the genes. You hear them howl, you’ll know they’re wolves.”
I opted to take a pass on challenging Mark about the Mexican Red Wolf.
I let them fire away, and told them everything they wanted to know. Childhood, Boy Scouts, Park Ranger, and my writing.
Vic stayed out of it. He sat grinning ear to ear, enjoying the show.
Finally Chet, who had kept quiet, spoke up. “So tell me, Gary. What do you want out of life? Find a guy, settle down, house in the suburbs, European vacation, retire to Arizona or Florida? What drives you?”
I gave that some thinking before I responded.
“I honestly can’t say that’s been my dream. I want the guy, that’s for sure.” (I could feel Vic’s eyes on me.) “And I think the guy is key. If the... the connection is there, then there’s no limits on where two men can go with each other. It just becomes a different world. Living life on our own terms, making up the rules as we go along, adventure, romance, the stuff of legend. That’s what I’m after.”
Chet looked me in the eye. I got the feeling that I had passed whatever test it was I was taking.
“My friends,” said Chet, “I’ve got some scotch and cigars I think you’ll all enjoy.”
So there we all were, soaking in the hot tub, enjoying excellent maduros and scotch like none I’ve ever tasted. As we soaked and sweated, things were much more relaxed. The night was cool and so still that the billows of smoke from our cigars hung in the air, slowly ascending.
And then, and then, I went and spoiled it all. “So this camping trip... What do I need to do to get ready for it? Anything I should bring?”
As little as possible. Nothing that you can’t carry on your back over ten miles of rough terrain. Forget the rain gear; chances are nil that we’ll be getting any rain. Be sure to leave room for the common load.
So said the chorus.
“I have a tent. A pretty good one. Should I bring that?”
“You’ll be bunking with me, pup. I’ll bring the tent,” offered Vic.
“Would that be the tent you inherited from Robbie? That should be plenty big.” said Klaus.
With the mention of that name, I felt an unmistakable tension.
Trying to sound as affable as I could, I asked, “Now who’s Robbie? When do I meet Robbie?”
Then Vic again: “You won’t be meeting Robbie.” (Vic shot a glance full of reproach at Klaus. Fleeting, but I caught it.) “Robbie came along on a camping trip three years ago. There was an accident. He fell while climbing. And he didn’t survive.”
I wasn’t expecting that.
It wasn’t news to me that camping in the wilderness was not risk free. But that’s why you don’t do it alone. That’s why you go with people you can rely on, people that you would trust with your life.
I looked to Vic, full of questions.
“Gary, let’s enjoy the night. I’ll fill you in on the details later.”
He leaned in close to me, put his arm around me, the nape of my neck in the crook of his elbow. Whispering in my ear, “It was a terrible thing that happened to Robbie. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I settled back, took a nice sip of my cigar. The moon, a fat crescent, hung overhead.
When the party broke up, it was back to Vic’s. As we climbed into bed, Vic, tenderly, almost in a shy whisper, said, “I’m getting awfully used to climbing into bed with you.”
“I know what you mean,” I answered, “the bed feels empty when you’re not there. Even with Sophia next to me.”
I steeled my nerve. I wasn’t going to let Vic off the hook.
“So who was Robbie? How did he die?”
Vic heaved a sigh. “You’re right,” he began, “I do owe you an explanation.”
He started in.
“Robbie was a good guy. What happened to him was a terrible tragedy. It was his first trip with us. He hadn’t done much in the way of camping before that. We were camping at the edge of a mesa. There was a pretty sharp drop off. The first night, I guess that Robbie wanted to take a walk or something. He wandered off alone. I guess he lost his footing and went over the edge of the mesa. We couldn’t get down to him until the next morning. Some animals had gotten to him. And he got torn up pretty bad in the fall. I stayed behind with him while the other Chet and Tom went to get some help. It took them a day to hike out so I was there for almost two days before the local sheriff got there.”
“Oh damn. That’s awful.”
“”It was really awful.”
I hesitated before continuing.
“So you and Robbie... We’re you guys a couple?”
“We might have been heading in that direction. I was checking him out.”
That was my worst fear. Those were the words I didn’t want to hear.
“Listen pup, going out into the wild is not without risk. Significant risks. Rattlesnakes, cougar, broken bones, flash floods... There are a lot of things that can go wrong. It’s the way the wild works. It’s nothing personal, just about getting enough to eat. But we we look at it as being bad. Evil. It’s not evil. It’s just the Wild. I don’t think Robbie understood that. I hoped he would come to that understanding. I might have been putting a little too much on him.”
“Who was Robbie? How long had you known him?”
“Robbie was Robert Arcadio. He had almost made it into the winter Olympics in downhill skiing. Total snow jock. Great guy. Good spirit. We had dated for a few weeks.”
“So, this deal about us not having sex... Does that have anything to do with Robbie?”
“No. No it doesn’t. I put him through the same ordeal. It’s just a crazy idea I have. That I’ve always had. Sex is primal. It’s not something that we should get used to ordering up over the internet because we feel lonely.”
“And yeah. I’m holding off till we’re out there in the wild. Nobody around for a hundred miles to hear us.”
“Sure you don’t want to see how wild we can get right here at home?”
“I’m sure I’m sure.”
With the impending camping trip, I did manage to see a lot more of Vic. It was with a lot of difficulty that I managed to get any work done at all. As the trip approached, I was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Linda did her best to stir the anxiety. Every chance she got, she told me that it was a Bad Idea.
I had always known her as a sort of free spirit. She and Bert had met “out on the road,” spent most of their lives tooling around in a VW van, growing weed, getting arrested at nuclear power plants. Linda taught third graders at an alternative school and Bert was the only employee of our neighborhood food co-op. They were the only people I had ever met who would talk about “The System” and “The Man.” But I’d never known anything to harsh Linda’s mellow like my camping trip with Vic seemed to be doing. Our conversations made me defensive and combative.
“Linda, it’s just a camping trip. What could go so wrong on a camping trip?” (I hadn’t told her about Robbie.)
“It’s not just a camping trip, and you know it. Vic and his friends are weird. They’re not being honest with you about what they do out there in the woods.”
“That’s even worse. Charlie Manson was big on the desert, too.”
“Linda! Vic is not Charles Manson!”
“Listen. I lived through that. I saw it. I knew those people. For every Charlie Manson who does something bad enough to make the papers there were a hundred of his kind. And there still are.”
“You’ve never met Vic. How can you say something about someone you’ve never met?”
“I don’t need to meet him. I see the change in you. I swear Gary, it’s just like Manson. Because I watched my friend Penny go through it. That’s right. Sweet girl. Intelligent. She was a potter. And then she met Charlie. And everything changed. ‘I can’t, Charlie needs me.’ All she talked about, all she could think about was Charlie.”
“Linda, what are you saying...?”
“Penny was lucky. She wasn’t so blind that she couldn’t see where things were going. She got out before it... before Charlie Manson did what he did. But the experience was devastating for her. It’s like he got inside her, got his roots down deep in her, where she’d never be able to dig them out.
“Listen to me, Gary. You’re a sweet man. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. But ever since that day last month when you came back from your walk with Sophia and met that Vic... That dreamy distracted expression you have. I can say anything to you--we’re selling the house so you have to leave, we’re doubling your rent, your long lost Uncle Joe showed up while you were away and said he was leaving you a million dollars--and it’s like you don’t hear. You’re in some far off place.
“He’s gotten inside you somehow. He’s reeling you in.
“Gary, please, I have a bad feeling about this. Please make some excuse. There’s another camping trip next month. Go on that one.”
I didn’t want to tell Linda that I didn’t think I could wait that long to have sex with Vic.
Except for the stuff about Manson, I couldn’t argue with her. From the moment we met, Vic had conjured something deep within me. She was correct when she said she had never seen me like this before.
I had been crazy about Paul, but we weren’t together and then we were. Every night and every day. With Vic, it was like finding my way through a maze, getting closer and closer to whatever sat at the center, but just when I was sure that it was right around the next corner, there was only more of the maze. Deeper and deeper. At this point, I wasn’t sure that I could find my way back out. I sensed I was closer to the end than to the beginning anyway.
And it wasn’t like I had any choice about turning back. Linda was right about one thing: Vic had gotten inside of me.
What would it be like after Vic really got inside of me? When out there, “in the Wild” as he had put it, the big moment arrives?
What would be the aftermath?
Every time I got together with Vic, my head would be full of questions, objections, challenges. But the moment he opened the door, or turned around to face me, setting his blue eyes that seemed to be focused always midway between my eyes and the back of my head, they would vanish.
Vic had something. Something that I wanted. Something I had wanted my whole life. And something that I couldn’t get anywhere else.
And Vic knew that. He knew that.
I didn’t tell Linda about Robbie, and I also didn’t tell Linda that Natalia was a vampire. I made that discovery one day when I met up with Vic as planned at his second floor store. As usual, Vic was busy in the back, so I passed time talking with Natalia, whom I had grown to like. Pale Natalia, with skin so white it was though she was carved from marble.
I said something to her that made her laugh. And as she opened her mouth wide, I saw her teeth. The canines, of course, long and razor sharp.
She noticed me noticing. Smiled. Cleared her throat with a polite “ahem,” and asked, “So did you just figure it out?”
“Uhhh... That you brush and floss and that Vic offers a really good dental plan?”
“Vic does have a good dental plan,” she agreed, “but what I’m referring to is my being a vampire.”
I had heard of that, or seen it on some tv show.
“I see. Now when you say you’re a vampire... Are you actually hundreds of years old? And aren’t you up a little early? It’s only five p.m. The sun is still up.”
“I’m a lot younger than I look, but a matter of years, not centuries. And the sun wasn’t up when I got here at 5:30 a.m., and I’ll be here until after it goes down at 6:45. Vic exploits me there, making me earn my dental plan.”
“Vic, he knows,” Natalia announced.
The welcoming smile momentarily faded on Vic’s face, and for half a second, I thought I saw it replaced by a look of... what? Anger? Fear?
“That I’m a vampire, I mean.”
“Oh right. You didn’t flash a crucifix at her, did you? I don’t want any ‘hostile work environment’ claims filed against me.”
“I like Natalia too much, even if she is Undead. I have to say, I’ve never met a vampire before, that I know of.”
“You might have. There aren’t many of us around, but we’re around. And new recruits every night it seems. Which I don’t entirely approve of. I was a vampire long before it was cool. But, all those kids have sure made it easier to get blood.”
“I see. So, do you bite necks?”
“I do. But it usually has a lot more to do with matters erotic. My mouth is a cauldron of germs, just like your mouth. Getting blood that way can be dangerous. What syringes take away in terms of intimacy they make up for by encouraging repeat donors. Although sometimes, after a good antiseptic gargle, we do it the old fashioned way.”
“How do you manage to get ‘donors?’ I’m guessing it’s not by sneaking up on them unawares.”
“No, just like the Red Cross, we encourage volunteers to step forward and roll up their sleeves.”
She offered a broad and, I have to admit, beguiling smile,”Would you be interested? It doesn’t hurt. And I’d be very grateful.”
“This one is mine, Natalia, you know that,” Vic chimed in.
“Oh Vic, don’t tell me you’re a vampire...” I began.
“No,” said Natalia, “No, Vic is not a vampire.” And a look passed between them.
“And how about sleeping in the coffin?” I continued.
“I sleep in a bed,” she explained, “Or on a futon in the back room. Coffins are part of the embellishment.”
“What do you mean by ‘embellishment’?”
“People have been drinking blood for thousands of years. The symbolism of it was adopted by Christians in the Eucharist. It’s not a violent thing, although there definitely are erotic elements. And that’s why we’ve always kept it somewhat clandestine. And because of all that secrecy, what people imagined was going on painted a grotesque picture.”
“Sort of like the accusations leveled at the Jews in Europe?” I offered.
“Exactly,” Natalia answered, “We’ve been doing what we’re doing for a long, long time. There’s nothing new about it. But when people don’t understand something, they decide it must be bad, and invent whatever they have to in order to confirm this view. A few hundred years ago, chiropractors and herbalists would be burned as witches. We all get tarred: vampires, witches...” She paused, and looked at me, opening her eyes wide, “Werewolves.”
“Not werewolves! I always liked werewolves!” I protested. “When I was eleven, I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. in ‘The Wolf-Man.’ ‘Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers by night...’ I cried at the end of that movie. I think he reminded me of my dog, who had a bad reputation because he bit a kid who lived down the block. But the kid tormented my dog.”
“I’m starved,” interrupted Vic, “Let’s go get some dinner. How about Mexican?”
On the street, I asked Vic if he had known Natalia was a vampire when he hired her.
“I did. She was pretty upfront about it. There had been some misunderstandings in jobs she had in the past, so she wanted everything to be out in the open from Day One. But she’s been a loyal and trusted employee in the twelve years she’s worked for me. I couldn’t run the store without her.”
“Twelve years? Did she start when she was fourteen years old?”
“Like she said, pup, she’s older than she looks. Apparently drinking the blood of virgins works better than anything Estée Lauder can come up with.”
“And I’m wondering... ‘Are you now, or have you ever been’ a vampire?”
“Me? A vampire? Hell no. The guy vampires I’ve met have always been effete and fey. Not much draw for me there. Why? Do I seem like a vampire to you? I would never wear a cape.”
“No, but that first night we spent together. You bit me. Hard. You drew blood. A little anyway. And it wasn’t exactly my neck, but you were only off by a few inches.”
Vic grinned, and I thought that his teeth could give Natalia’s some competition.
“I just like leaving my mark on a man,” he answered.
The Big Day was both fast approaching and seemed like it would never get here. We had our plane tickets, and all the arrangements had been made for renting vehicles down in New Mexico. Because of the remote location, it would be a long trip. We would fly into Albuquerque, then take a puddle-jumper to Truth Or Consequences, the town named after a game show. We’d spend the night there, then head West. Our destination was Gila National Forest, the area that Geronimo and the Apache once called home. The wilderness area was rough, mountainous terrain. It would be some hard hiking as we made our way in.
The day before we left was a scorcher. I suggested that we head out to where Vic and I first met, taking Sophia. I was thinking mostly of how great that cool mountain stream would feel. Vic was amenable, and so, of course, was Sophia.
To be sure, I had no problem leading us to the spot. Both of us were sweating by the time we made it there, and Sophia was panting happily. Vic and I stripped, and I jumped first into the water. He stayed back, gently coaxing and guiding Sophia in for a dip. There were the three of us, paddling about in the eddies. As Sophia lumbered out and shook herself, tail wagging, I swam over to Vic. I pressed my body against his. The water was cold, his body, as usual, felt warm, almost feverish. Eye to eye, nose to nose, he smiled at me, and I smiled at him. We wrapped our arms around each other and kissed.
I felt the world wash away from me. The city we had left behind that morning, the roads we had taken to get there, my life, my memories, everything blurred and faded. There was only me and Vic, our bodies intertwined in the water. A deep peace and sense of well-being filled my soul. “God I love this man,” I thought, “I want nothing else in the world than to belong to him.”
Still holding each other, we managed a clumsy side stroke over to the rocks we had dove from. We hoisted ourselves out, and lay out in the sunshine, intertwined. I lay my head on the fur of Vic’s chest, listening to his heart beat, feeling, as always, his warmth.
We lay there for a long time. Vic would gently brush the hairs at the nape of my neck, I’d softly caress his thick pelt.
Although fearful of breaking the spell, I spoke first, “Vic, I’m really falling for you. And falling hard. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me scared.” (An image of scolding Linda flashed through my mind.) “I’ve never felt like this before. Ever. And in so many ways, I don’t know anything about you. But from that first day, the more I get from you, the more I want. It’s like you’re in my blood...”
As I said this, I felt Vic give a small intake of breath, hold it, then slowly let it out.
Vic spoke. From my position, I couldn’t see his face, I only heard the deep rumble of his voice, reverberating in his chest.
“I’m scared, too, Gary. I’m scared, too. You’re not just any old guy with a dog. We could go to some amazing places together.”
Vic half sat up, propping himself on his elbows. I repositioned, turning my head to look up into his face.
“I’m going to need for you to trust me, Gary,” he continued, “I know you have questions, and you’re probably going to have some more. Not a lot is going to make sense to you. Love is always a risk. And the greater the risk... Well, just trust me. I want us to have something special. Something pure.”
He paused, his blue eyes burned into me, “Something wild.
“I think you want that, too, that your heart won’t be satisfied with anything less. You have to trust, to be strong... we both do. There’s so much I want to”--he was choosing his words carefully--”give to you. And get from you.
“I think we’re at a big moment. This is the point of no return. There’s a journey ahead for us. If you want to turn back, if you don’t think you can go ahead with this, now would be the time to do that.”
“I.. Vic, I don’t understand. What are you asking from me?”
“I just want to hear a ‘yes.’ I realize you don’t know just what you’re saying ‘yes’ to, but I want to hear a ‘yes.’ If you can’t give me that, then, well... then I don’t know what. It’s about the trust, Gary.”
“Vic,” I said, “Yes.”
With that simple, small word, I watched him transform. He sat up, pulled me to him, covering me with kisses, my lips, my face, my forehead.
“Oh Gary, Gary my love, thank you, thank you...”
Vic was crying, sobbing, “Thank you, thank you, oh my beautiful man, thank you.”
“Oh Vic, yes. Yes! Oh Vic.”
I was sobbing, too, now. Sobbing with surrender. Whatever it was he was asking of me, I wanted to give it to him, to give myself completely to this man I loved, holding nothing back.
“Vic, I would give my life for you. I would give you my life.”
My eyes welled with tears.
Vic rocked me gently, wrapping his arms around me, squeezing me so hard it hurt.
We sat there for ever. Holding, kissing, one or the other heaving some deep sigh.
I didn’t know--I couldn’t imagine--what I had just signed up for. But I hoped it was something big. Walking through fire, descending into Hell like some Greek hero, some dangerous quest like an Arthurian knight, something to prove my worth, my love.
When the sun sank lower, into the dense foliage of the trees, Vic and I slowly made our way back. Hardly speaking, holding hands. As I drove us back into town, I’d lay my hands on his furry thigh, just where it emerged from his cargo shorts.
That night, for the first time, Vic stayed at my place. I fixed us some dinner, roasting a chicken and tossing a salad. After dinner, Vic helped me do the packing for the trip tomorrow. Compass? No, we’ll have those. I’ll bring toothpaste so you won’t have to. Never a bad idea to bring an extra pair of socks. He liked my little combo salt and pepper shaker that I had had since my days in the Boy Scouts. When he found the small plastic bottle of lube I had put with my toiletries, he flashed me a grin.
We took Sophia for her last walk. The moon had risen. “Almost full,” I observed, “It should be full the second night we’re there, right?”
“The third night,” Vic corrected.
“Beautiful. Although with all the coyotes going at it, we won’t be able to get much sleep.”
“You’re the one who’s bringing the lube,” laughed Vic, “and you’re worried about getting sleep?”
Both of us were restless that night, tossing and turning. I felt like it was Christmas Eve and I was nine. Sure enough, I woke to find Vic standing staring out my window, silhouetted by the milky moonlight.
“You okay?” I asked.
He turned. “Can’t sleep. I’m gonna go out for a walk, burn off some energy. Okay if I take your house key?”
“Sure thing,” I said, “It’s in a dish on the counter in the kitchen.”
I lie there for awhile, thinking about Vic, walking alone through the quiet streets, his eyes, I knew, watching the moon. Finally, I got to sleep, and when I woke up the next morning, Vic was curled up next to me in the tangled sheets.
I nudged him awake, trotted off to the kitchen to make us some breakfast and start the coffee. While Vic walked Sophia, I jumped in the shower and got dressed. I gathered up my gear, said goodbye to Sophia, put her food out on the counter where Linda could find it easily, wrote a quick note to Linda to thank her for looking after my dog while I was away, and left, locking the door behind me. As I came down the stairs outside, Vic behind me, I saw Linda herself, watering the hanging baskets on her front porch. She cut the hose when she saw me, her face a grim mask of concern. I smiled and averted my eyes.
We drove over to Vic’s in his car. He showered and changed, and called a cab to take us to the airport. There, we gathered with the other guys, Chet and Tom, Mark and Klaus. Two other men whom I hadn’t met, Jackson and Ross, were flying into Albuquerque on their own and would meet us there. The travel gods must have been smiling down on us, because we made it through security without a hitch, and our plane took off almost on time.
It was a quick flight to Albuquerque. We found our way to our connecting flight to Truth Or Consequences, and there by the gate were Ross and Jackson. Jackson was a short, sturdy man of about fifty with a gray blond beard. Ross was tall, maybe five or six years older than Jackson. His hair was steel gray and his face, what was visible, was deeply tanned.
I must have been expecting that, like everyone else on the camping trip except for me, this pair had full beards, with thick hair coming out of the collars and sleeves of their shirts.
I wondered if that was some adaptation to spending so much time in the wild--although that made no sense, even to me--or if there was something about being hairy men that compelled them to spend so much time there. Ross and Jackson greeted me warmly and welcomed me “to the pack,” and I forgot this chicken-or-the-egg riddle.
With one exception, an elderly couple, we were the only passengers in the puddle jumper that flew us down to Truth Or Consequences. When all of our gear was accounted for, we picked up a Jeep and a Ford Explorer from the car rental place, and drove to our motel. Dinner was at a small family run place. All of us struggled through our high school spanish reading the menus and ordering, except Vic, who seemed at ease with the language, even chatting with the woman who took our orders.
I was tired as I always tend to be after traveling, so I headed to bed early. Vic and the other men sat around the pool of the motel, smoking cigars. The next morning, we set out for Gila National Forest.
For guys who love camping, they seemed awfully grim and determined. On the drive out, and during the whole time we hiked into the wilderness area, there was hardly any conversation. Onward we hiked, stopping only to gulp water from the canteens, up hill and down. I’m in pretty good shape, but keeping up with these guys had me panting. Since I was bringing up the rear, I had to work so as not to lag behind.
The terrain was high desert, mostly scrub pine and sage. In the clear blue sky overhead, the sun beat down on us. We only slowed down crossing arroyos, and pretty soon I greeted them with glee, and hoped it wouldn’t be too long until the next one. Chet was out front, and seemed to know the way. I never saw him once consult a map.
As we made a fairly steep climb, Vic turned to me and announced, “Almost there!” Rarely have I been so thankful. It turned out that we were making our way up the side of a mesa. At the top, it was flat as a pancake. We crossed it, the pace actually slowing. Some of the guys remarked how nothing had changed since their last time there.
Could this be the same spot? I wondered. Was this where they were camping when Robbie was killed? Why would they come back here?
The question remained unasked.
At the far side of the mesa, the drop-off was considerably steeper. The view, as promised, was spectacular. We all dropped, passed the canteens around one more time. I was told that this mesa had been chosen because of a spring-fed well that the cliff-dwellers who once occupied the site had left behind. Looking off to the left along the rim of the mesa, I could see the furrow where the water made it’s way down. We broke out beef jerky, and set up camp. I was sent with Klaus to gather chaparral and mesquite for firewood. In answer to my question of whether it was legal to build a fire out here, I was told that there was no one near enough to even see our fire.
“Over this way,” said Klaus, and we set off towards a stand of scrub along the edge of the mesa. Klaus led the way, looking over his shoulder from time to time, as if making sure I was following. We walked around the stand of scrub. About five hundred feet beyond was a boulder, half buried. The top of the boulder was somewhat flat. It was about the size of a small car, about four feet in elevation.
“Klaus, look at that. It’s like a mesa on a mesa. I headed over for a closer look and climbed up the side. The high desert terrain off the edge of the mesa stretched out in front of me.
“Damn this is beautiful country.”
“Get down from there,” Klaus grumbled at me, “We need to get wood.”
“You should see the view from here, Klaus, it’s...”
“I’ve seen the view from there, Gary. Let’s get wood.”
Oddly, we returned to the stand of scrub and gathered wood, and headed back to the camp. Because dinner consisted of Meals Ready to Eat, the fire was just for show. We sat in a circle around it. The sunset was spectacular, the western sky turning almost blood red. As the fire died with the day, one by one the stars came out. The moon hung low in the sky, and seemed to be the biggest moon I’d ever seen. Mostly, we all sat in silence. Jackson and Ross sat near each other, but not touching. Tom leaned against Chet, Klaus leaned against Mark, and I rested my head in Vic’s lap.
Around us, everywhere, the coyote were howling to each other. The men started to get restless. Maybe just my imagination, but they seemed to be casting glances and nods to Vic.
Presently, Vic leaned down, kissing me gently on my cheek, his beard tickling me.
“Hey sleepyhead,” he whispered, “you’ve had a long day. We’ve got some business to discuss. Why don’t you turn in, and I’ll be ten steps behind you.”
I didn’t need much prodding. The day’s hike had left me bone tired. In the bright moonlight, I made my way towards Vic’s tent. It crossed my mind briefly that the tent once belonged to the unfortunate Robbie. Once inside, I stripped, and lay down on top of the sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the desert at night, and off in the distance, the quiet murmurs of the men.
It was the howl that woke me up.
It sounded close. Almost right outside the tent. I stretched out a hand, groping for Vic, but didn’t find him. My eyes opened. In the dimness, I could tell I was alone in the tent. I fumbled for my watch. The luminous dial read 2:14.
I unzipped the mosquito netting flap and emerged from the tent. The moon was almost directly overhead. The sky was thick with stars, as only the desert sky can be. I seemed to be alone on the mesa.
Could Vic be spending the night in one of the other tents? I walked around to the opening of the nearest one, Ross and Jackson’s, and looked inside.
Same deal with Chet and Tom. And with Mark and Klaus.
I slowly turned, scanning the mesa and listening intently. No sign of anything.
“Huh,” I said out loud, “Weird. Weird weird weird.”
I headed back to Vic’s tent, and for the second time that night, dropped off to sleep listening to the howling coyotes.
The next morning, Vic was beside me in the sleeping bag when I woke up. The morning air was sweet. Apparently, I was the first one up. The sun was just rising. I wasn’t invited on their midnight hike, but they were all missing out on the sunrise.
Slowly, my fellow campers started to stir. We said our good mornings, and when everyone was awake, Chet laid out the agenda for the day, the work that needed to be done, mostly involving hauling water, and plans for a hike down the Mesa. Apparently, the hike was mandatory. Vic was appointed to stay behind and watch over the camp. I said I’d be happy to stay behind with Vic, not being in the mood for another driven march across rough terrain, but Chet summarily vetoed that. Vic would be staying behind; I’d be going. ‘Nuff said.
When Vic and I went to fetch water, I grumbled a bit about this state of affairs.
“It’s the way of the wild,” said Vic, “Somebody has to be in charge, and on these trips, it’s Chet.”
“Seems pretty undemocratic,” I countered.
“No, not really. If it wasn’t Chet, it would be Mark. Or me. Being the leader just means you have to take care of everybody on the trip, make sure everyone stays safe and all our needs are met. It just feels undemocratic,” he said.
“Would I get all kinds of special privileges if you were in charge?” I teased.
“I’d have to work you harder so nobody would complain about me picking favorites.”
I thought he was joking with me until he followed with, “That’s why our buddy Tom is off digging a latrine.”
When every available vessel was filled with water, we had enough wood to build a cabin, and a four foot deep hole set off by a roll of toilet paper on a stick was ready for business, it was time for the hike. I considered feigning a sprained ankle, but I knew that everyone, Vic included, would see through that immediately, so I resigned myself to the hike.
“I’ll see you when we get back,” I told Vic as we were getting ready to head out.
Vic surprised me by putting his arms around me, hugging me tight. “I’m looking forward to your return,” he said. Then he planted a kiss on me that just about made me weak in the knees.
“I’ll see you then,” I said.
We headed out, following the rim of the mesa, past the stand of brush, past the rock I had noticed scouting with Klaus, and onward. The pace was unhurried, and the mood was upbeat. We stopped frequently, admiring the view, doing our best to figure out what made the various tracks we came across. Ross and Jackson were apparently avid birders, and they pointed out the eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, roadrunners and such that we saw, arguing as birders do about the specifics of breed.
I had to admit I was glad I had gone along. These men were easy to be with. All of them took a profound delight in the wilderness. Klaus spotted a lizard, gave a call, and everyone came running to see. It reminded me of camping trips I had taken with the Scouts, where our armor and distrust of one another natural to boys fell away, distracted as we were by the wonder of the wild. I had to admit it was admirable that these grown men were able to sustain that wonder, and I thought I had a pretty good argument to put to Linda the next time she said that going camping was crazy.
The hours passed, and as our water was getting low, Chet led us back to the mesa that was our temporary home, and back to our camp. Vic was nowhere in sight.
“He’ll probably be back in a bit,” Mark offered.
We relaxed some, sitting and feasting on another round of Meals Ready to Eat. I kept scanning the periphery. Still no sign of Vic.
The sun started to get low in the sky, and it looked like we were in for another beautiful sunset over the mountains.
“Gary,” said Chet, “Vic has a surprise lined up for you. And it’s time to get you ready for it.”
Suddenly, my heart was racing.
“I hate surprises,” I said laughing, “What exactly does he have in mind.”
“C’mon along with us,” Chet answered. They were all on their feet, looking at me.
“Anything I need to bring?” I asked.
(What the hell? Some kind of hazing? A romantic dinner for two so we could celebrate our first fuck?)
“Well, now that you mention it, Vic would probably appreciate it if you stripped.”
Our first fuck. At long last.
Grinning, I unbuttoned my shirt, dropped my shorts, and stepped out of them. I stood before them, naked except for my hiking boots.
“Let’s go then,” I said, tossing my clothes in a pile next to our tent.
The men made a circle around me, and walked me over to the stand of pine. We continued to the rock.
Still no Vic.
As we got closer to the big flat rock, a glint of metal caught my eye. A tent stake, planted at the base, tied off with a length of rope.
I don’t think I even stopped, just slowed a bit when I saw the tent stake and the rope, but as if I had given off some signal, the six of them were on me.
“Guys! Whoa! What the hell...?”
They grabbed me, pushing and pulling me forward. Chet and Klaus took hold of me by the wrists. They dragged me towards the rock. I saw another tent stake, and another length of rope.
“It looks like an altar...” I thought.
I was dragged up to the rock, then two of the others, I think Tom and Mark, grabbed my ankles. They lifted me, struggling and hollering, putting me in position, then lowering me onto the rock.
Sitting out in the sun all day, the sandstone was hot as a griddle. When it touched the bare flesh of my chest and the front of my thighs, I gave a sharp cry.
It didn’t even slow them down. While I was held down by four men, the other two got busy with the ropes. In no time at all, I was tied down securely, barely able to move, spread-eagle across the top of the flat rock.
“Chet! No! Tell them to stop! This is wrong!”
Their ears were deaf to my pleading.
Chet circled me, testing the ropes and knots, avoiding my eyes, saying nothing. Then, satisfied that I was secure, he retreated behind me. Keeping up my yelling, I heard their retreating footsteps. In front of me, I saw the deep red spark of the sun disappear behind some nameless mountain.
This was too much. What the hell were they up to? Linda’s warnings, Robbie’s misfortune, everything Vic had told me washed over me in waves. I could make no sense of any of it. The daylight faded, and the full moon shone brighter as the sky went from deep blue to indigo to black. Somewhere, off in the distance, a lone coyote sent up a howl, almost immediately answered. The chorus of the night had begun.
Somewhere off behind me, although uncomfortably close, I heard another howl. Different though. Not as staccato and yippie as a coyote. Starting low, slowly building, riding out through the night. I remembered, I had heard it before: the howl of a wolf.
Impossible. Not jhere. Although I remembered the Mexican Red Wolf, efforts made to reintroduce them to this area. What were the chances?
But then, that wolf’s howl was answered by another, by two, by three...
It was them... Vic’s friends.
Were they trying to scare me? Was this some kind of hazing? Screw them and their stupid little club. If I had so much as a scratch on me or a cramped muscle, I would be talking to the sheriff first chance I got.
The howling of the “wolves” reached a crescendo, then died down. They sounded good, I had to admit.
What the hell had I gotten myself into? Would I make it out of this? Robbie apparently hadn’t.
How did it happen that Robbie went over the edge of the mesa, down the cliff? In my minds eye, I saw the boy, tied as I am, struggling mightily. A loose tent stake? A knot that failed? (I tried, but it didn’t seem to be the case with my bonds.) Robbie freeing himself, panicking, running away from the sound of the howling, perhaps intending to get below the line of the mesa to escape, losing his footing... Or did he throw himself off the edge, was he that terrified? But of what? What was to come?
“Damn you, Vic! Damn you to hell!”
I realized I was crying, heaving sobs, the tears running down my cheeks.
“Vic... Vic...” I whispered his name, the reality setting in. Whatever I had hoped for in Vic, all that I’d longed for, it was not to be. Instead, this craziness, this lunacy. “What kind of man...?” I heard Linda’s voice in my head.
“You were so fuckin right, Linda.”
My sobbing waned. My anger and hurt cooled. The moon, bright and round and full, was low enough in the sky that I could see it. I breathed deep, staring at the moon, I may have even slept. How many hours had passed? The night air felt cool on my back, a sharp contrast to my front, which still felt the heat of the rock beneath me.
How would this end?
“C’mon, boys,” I whispered to myself, “Don’t keep me waiting. Let’s finish up this goddamn game of yours.”
A sound, a stealthy footfall in the gravel; movement, something half seen... My face turned and it was there, something just below the rim of the mesa, straight in front of me.
Then I heard it, a low growl, a sound I knew.
I saw the head, the arm, another arm, leg... A figure climbed up onto the mesa, the moon at his back, his face in shadow... He was hunched, and the hair, his arms, shoulders, legs, covered with thick hair, another growl...
He came closer, I saw, it was Vic, but the look in his eyes--wild, insane, his mouth open, bearing his teeth. He was naked, every inch of him covered in thick dark hair, his beard full, covering so much of his face, so that only those eyes, shining demonically down at me, were visible, his eyes and his white teeth
At the sound of his name, he sprang, he leapfrogged over me, and then I felt the fur, the weight of his body, he laid on top of me, I felt his breath, heard his growling in my ear...
“Now I make you mine.”
The words, half whispered and half growled, seemed strange, as if coming from an animal incapable of speech.
“Vic,” I cried, “Please...”
I felt him raise himself up, straddling me, sitting on my ass cheeks, another growl, a sound like a bark, full of furry, then my back exploded in searing pain: Vic dug his fingernails into my shoulders, then raked them down the length of my back. The pain was incredible, I let out a scream, my eyes again welled with tears. ‘I like to leave my mark on a man,’ I remembered him saying.
Screaming and cursing and crying, my back burned. I felt a tickle on my sides... I was bleeding! Vic had drawn blood!
Still straddling me, Vic let out a howl of triumph.
This howl was a signal. Over the rim they came, all of them, naked, covered completely in the same dense hair as Vic. I had spent the day with these men... How the hell? I remembered their long sleeve shirts, long pants, I thought it strange at the time, but still, all of them, so covered in fur. Chet, almost snow white, I identified the others mostly by their size, they gave answering howls, deafening so close to me. Now, I was screaming with abandon, with sheer terror, wordless and frantic.
Then, in a flash, they were all over me, biting, licking, gnawing at my bleeding back...
Were they eating me alive? The pain was magnificent, like nothing I had ever felt before. I was going into shock, starting to black out.
Then Vic--I knew it was Vic--roared, snarling, and it was over. They all moved away, I felt Vic’s weight lifted from me. All was still. Was it over? Had I made it through?
I listened, craning my head, I could see him standing behind me.
“Vic...?” My voice a whimper.
I heard Vic spit, and then jumped as I felt his paw on my asshole.
“No!” I begged, “Vic, No...”
“Oh yes,” his voice was a growl, almost unrecognizable, “Oh yes, this is why I brought you here.”
I felt the head of his dick try my ass.
Again, he leaned over me, put his mouth close to my ear, “And this is what you want.”
He growled, I felt him pushing.
And I gave it to him. I relaxed my muscles, opening up my ass, letting him in.
He took his advantage, slowly going deeper and deeper into me.
I breathed deeply, clenching my fists, “Oh Vic...”
“I know, I know, Gary, what you wanted.”
He worked me slowly, all the way out, all the way in.
“What you want, Gary, making you mine.”
Looking straight ahead, I saw only the moon.
Vic felt enormous in me, his fuck was punishing. He braced himself, putting his hands on my shoulders, torn to shreds, I yelped from the pain.
“Making you mine, what you wanted...”
“The fuck that will change your life, Gary, the One Great Fuck,” punctuating each word with a thrust.
“Yes,” I repeated, louder, “Yes!”
Vic pounded into me.
“Yes! Vic, Yes! I want this Vic! I want this! Yours, Vic, Yours!”
I felt him unload inside me.
A howl, full voiced, ringing in my ears, reverberating through my body. Then Vic was laying on top of me again, his fur soaked with sweat, again his voice in my ear, but now he was crying, as he said, “Oh Gary, oh my Gary, thank you, thank you, thank you...”
He leapt up. The ropes must have been tied with half hitches, he freed me easily. My wrists, I saw, were bloody. Vic saw too, and kissed and licked them, still crying. He hauled me up into his arms, gently touching me. He lead me to the front of the rock, both of us lowered ourselves in sync. Vic put his arm around my shoulders, gently, tenderly, I realized so my back wouldn’t have to touch the rock. For a long time, we just sat there, looking up at the moon getting lower in the sky. Neither of us said a word, and my head was clear of any thoughts. I didn’t understand, but there was nothing to understand.
From time to time, the coyotes would start up. And from time to time, far off in the distance, I heard other howls. Wolves. I’d look at Vic, he’d look at me, give one of his tender smiles, then both of us would go back to looking at the moon.
Behind us, the sun started to come up, slowly the sky became paler. Just as the first birds were heard, Vic turned to me, gently touched my face, kissed me.
Then he started to explain.
“There’s evidence that our kind has existed for at least two thousand years,” he began.
“Your kind of what?”
“Werewolves. We’re werewolves.”
“You mean you think you’re werewolves. Like Natalia thinks she’s a vampire.”
“Not quite. Natalia does things to be a vampire. I just am a werewolf. It’s in my blood.” He paused, “And now it’s in your blood, too.”
“Klaus is the scientist among us. He’s all about explaining it. In terms of virology. A retrovirus, in fact. Inserting itself into your DNA. I’m not much for that. Klaus says that the thing about the moon is impossible, and it’s just in our heads. But that can’t be. It just can’t be. When the moon rises, even if I’m in a cellar, I know it. The exact moment. There’s no reason why that should happen. No reason that science can explain.”
“You fucked me. And when you did, you infected me?”
“Yes I did, Gary. Yes I did. It’s not fatal. Nobody dies from it. Chet was turned when he was in his twenties, and he’s pushing seventy now. But you are going to go through some changes. Your fingernails and toenails will get thicker and harder. You’re never going to need to see a dentist again. The skin on your palms and the soles of your feet will get thicker and tougher. And of course, there’s the hair. But you like hairy guys, right?”
“Vic, this is crazy...”
“No, it’s not crazy, it’s called Hypertrichosis, excessive hair growth over the entire body. But the thing that is crazy is that as the moon waxes, you get hairier and hairier. But as soon as the full moon passes, it slows down. And here’s the other thing. Notice my body hair compared to yours. Yours is basically pubic hair, right? But mine is straight. Straight as an arrow. It’s fur.”
I said nothing.
“But then there’s the other part. What it does to your head. You are going to have such an appetite. And it’s a good thing you’re not a vegetarian, because it’s going to be all about meat. Raw meat, no less. Remember: even though raw chicken is going to start to look really good to you, it’s not good for you. Same goes for pork. Stick to beef. You can have all the cow blood you want. But let’s get back to the moon. Damn, pup! The energy you’re going to have! You just have to run. And hunt. Hunt anything. Oh man. Just wait till your first hunt.”
“Werewolves? You’re a werewolf?”
“And we’re not alone. This is just my pack. We’re all over the world. When I was in Siberia, I found an entire town, like sixty people. Everybody there was hairy. Way out in the middle of the woods. Even during the Soviet era, they mostly were left alone. For hundreds of years, men, women, even the kids. Mostly it’s a guy thing though. Women stand out a lot more. We used to be all over Europe and Asia. Europe is mostly cleared out. Way too much civilization. Still some in Scandinavia. And I’ve found packs in Spain and Iceland. Great bunch of guys in Iceland. You gotta meet them. But when the New World opened up, we came here in droves, moving west with the frontier. If you look at old tin types of the pioneers, you can pick out so many werewolves.”
“And you passed it on to me. Who passed it on to you?”
“Chet did. Chet made me. About ten years ago. I was one of his first actually. After Mark. Chet was made when he was a much younger man, and he freaked out some. Thought he was the only one. Lived in a cabin in the Sierras for a long time. But the guy who made him, Ralph his name is, him and his pack, they tracked him down. Sort of did a werewolf intervention. Mark was down with it from the beginning. Mark’s Mr. Biker Guy. He was already more or less living the life. After Chet made Mark, he got some more confidence. He was pretty careful in approaching me.”
Vic paused again. Another smile. Another kiss.
“But when he told me what was up, I wanted it. I wanted it more than anything.”
“You wanted it? Why?”
“I saw it as a way out. An escape.”
“Let me put it this way. About twenty thousand years ago, dogs and wolves parted ways. They had a common ancestor, and about the time that human beings started living in settlements and developed agriculture, those common ancestors came out of the woods and started caging food off the humans. And the humans realized that those guys would do a lot if they got fed.
“So it’s all about the kibble. Domestication. Get the kibble, wear the collar.
“We live in a society where we’re encouraged to watch television and buy stuff. We’re the dogs. We’re the ones who are domesticated. We live lives without risk, without danger, without heroic struggle.
“And without love. There’s just ‘relationships’ now. Not so long ago, love was a dangerous thing. People would kill for love. You don’t hear much about that these days. And it’s just getting worse.
“We all still have something wild and untamed inside of us. Some very small part. I was always in touch with that. And I wanted more. When Chet laid it all out for me, my question was, ‘So how do we make this happen?’”
“So Chet gave you a choice...”
“And I didn’t give one to you. No I didn’t. I took the risk. I took the risk, Gary. But from the minute I saw you, months ago, I knew you were the only one for me. The balls in your court now. You could have me locked up.
“Or maybe, you want something wild.”
“Vic, I’m scared. I don’t understand any of this.”
“I know you don’t. Just trust. The ride has started. Try to enjoy it.”
We sat for a time, then Vic helped me up. We wandered back to camp. The pack was there to greet me, all smiles and welcomes.
“Let me take a look at that back of yours,” said Klaus.
My back elicited a chorus of “Oooooh!” and “Damn!” and “Beautiful!” from the group. Klaus fetched the first aid kit.
“This is going to hurt,” he said, “Why don’t you hold onto your buddy?”
Vic stepped to. I put my arms around Vic, bracing myself. Vic was all about whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
Klaus going at my back with rubbing alcohol and witch hazel felt like a hive of bees. “Just breathe, make noise, let it out,” Vic advised. And I sure did.
After it was over, I got a white tshirt to wear.
“So, what the fuck was that all about?” I asked, trying to sound as lighthearted and roll-with-the-punches as I could.
“When the time comes,” Mark answered, “You can get a taste of all of our blood, too. But in the meantime, we sure wanted to taste some of your sweet stuff.
“Hope that’s okay with you,” he laughed.
“I think we could all use some sleep,” Chet announced, “It’s back to the usual schedule, boys.”
And so, as the sun came up, we all headed off to our tents.
Together, Vic and I climbed into our tent, and curled up with each other.
“You okay?” Vic asked, “Or as okay as can be expected?”
“It’s a hell of a lot to take in. I don’t feel any different.”
“You won’t right away. Not for a while.”
“Are you sure it took?”
Vic brought his face close to mine, “I sure hope so, Gary.”
“I hope so, too, Vic. I really do.”
Hearing myself say it surprised me.
“I want it wild, Vic. And I want you.”
“Show me how wild you want it, Gary.”
I rolled Vic over on his stomach, I wedged my knees in between his thighs and spread them, “Get that ass up for me, show me that hole. Let’s see if you can take it as good as you can give it.”
“Fuck yeah,” said Vic, “Stick it in me, pup.”
I planted the head of my dick right up against Vic’s ass, just held it there, then I felt him open to me. I slid in deep, burying my shaft all the way. Watching my dick disappear in Vic’s hairy ass was incredible. Like fucking an animal. Pretty quickly, I was going full bore, and Vic was loving it.
He arched his back as I rode him. “Damn, pup! Maybe it is hitting you right away!”
“I’ve been waiting for this a long time, Vic.”
“I’ve been waiting longer, Gar’”
Like a teenager, I was ready within minutes after I started. I grabbed hold of Vic, “Damn, here it comes, Man.”
“Let me have it, pup!”
I exploded in Vic, feeling it in every inch of my body, “Yessss!”
Vic threw back his head, and let out a howl. This time, it didn’t surprise me. I felt my lungs fill, sucking in the cool morning air, and I joined Vic in his howl. I was tentative at first, but just let it come, from deep inside me, letting the sound flow . Vic came to crescendo, then softened, but when he heard me, he let out another. Our howls became one sound, ringing out.
I collapsed on Vic, covering his body with mine. He wriggled out from under me, our arms and legs intertwined.
I couldn’t stop myself, “Vic... Vic, I love you.”
“I love you, Gary. I knew you were the one.”
So we switched positions, spooning. I should have been full of questions, but for the first time since I met Vic, I had the deep down sense that all my questions had been answered.
I slept a deep, dreamless sleep. When I woke up, I was alone in the tent. Outside, I heard voices and activity. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, stretched, felt the smart from opening up some of the wounds on my back. Funny, it felt good though.
I unzipped the tent flaps and crawled out, and was greeted with applause. Everybody was now naked, I noticed, in all their hirsute glory.
The guys gathered around me. Chet stepped forward, saying “Gary, Welcome.” Mark, Jackson, Tom, Ross, and Klaus followed suit, each giving me a warm hug, although careful to keep their arms wrapped around my neck.
“Am I supposed to say something now?” I asked.
“No,” Chet answered, “But you can get to work. We need some water.”
So I pitched in, making runs to the spring.
As we were having dinner, the sun was getting lower in the sky. While we ate, Vic explained to me that after the moon was up, they were all heading out hunting. I was welcome to join, although I wouldn’t have an easy time keeping up. I asked if we could make it another time, offering to stay back and keep the home fires burning.
“Sure thing. Whatever your heart’s desire.”
The light dimmed, and over the mountain ridge rose the moon, slightly less than full. The guys became restless, then agitated, then downright uppity. Unable to sit still, they began circling the fire. Then the grinning and growling started.
I sat fascinated, watching. Truly it was like watching them shed their humanity. They crouched, taking playful swats at each other. Ross and Klaus, circling each other and snarling, soon were going at it. The others clustered round. Ross and Klaus were wrestling, rolling around, only biting each other in a way that wrestlers don’t. There was a grace to them, though, to all of them. My eyes fell on Vic, who was watching me. He grinned, then tossed back his head, and let out a howl. The others froze, then one by one joined the chorus. I realized that I was on my feet, my heart racing. The howling continued. Vic bounded towards me, grabbed me, and the howling ringing in my ears, kissed me. Vic gave another howl, and ran from the fire into the darkness. The others followed. I was left alone.
I put some more wood on the fire, sat down and watched the glowing coals. From time to time, I’d hear a howl off in the distance, and try to figure out who it might be.
I got an idea. I threw some more wood on the fire, and headed beyond the circle of firelight. I walked slowly headed to the rock. Just as I remembered it from the night before, but the stakes and ropes had been collected. I sat down, looking up at the moon.
I heard a howl, and knew that it was Vic.
Hours later, when the wolves returned, I had nodded off. I woke with Vic nuzzling me.
“Vic, welcome back,” I laughed.
Kissing Vic hello, I ran my hands through his fur. It was damp with sweat again. Then I felt not sweat, something sticky. Taking my hands off him, I saw they were smeared with blood.
“Vic? What the hell...?”
“The hunt was good,” he growled. “Deer,” he added by way of explanation.
“You got a deer? You actually got a deer?”
“You, or one of the other wolves?”
“My kill,” answered Vic, all smiles.
“Did you bring me some?”
Vic grabbed my head with both hands like a basketball, then pressed my face against his chest.
I got it. I licked his chest, tentatively at first, then with gusto, tasting his sweat, but something else, something sweet.
When I came up for air, Vic smiled, “Pup,” he announced, “You got blood on your face, your first blood, pup.”
The next night, the hunt was not so successful. “Like I said,” Vic explained, “we peak at the full moon, and then it’s all downhill from there.”
After not enough sleep, we made our way back down to the trail, when we got to where we parked, the clothes went back on. On the drive back, the mood was subdued. Vic and I were in the back seat. Vic fell asleep in my lap. The quick flight to Albuquerque, then the connecting flight back home.
Vic and I were just about inseparable. He all but moved in with me. Almost immediately on our return from New Mexico, we fell into a routine, as though we had been together for years. I would get up with Vic, and make him what I called a “Vic-sized breakfast”: three eggs, steak, toast, a bowl of oatmeal, coffee, and a banana. I’d content myself with a couple of eggs and toast. He’d head off to work the store, and I would walk Sophia, then come back and start in on my own work, getting on the phone or the internet doing research, writing my articles, the usual back and forth with editors. Every other day or so, Linda would knock on my door, I’d make us some tea, and we’d talk.
Linda’s view of Vic seemed to change. I didn’t offer her any details of the camping trip, only saying that we had a great time and the Gila National Forest was worth the trip. In fact, the events of the camping trip were so tinged with unreality, that I had difficulty recounting them even to myself. All I knew was that Vic and I were together, we were crazy in love with each other, and I was very happy. I think Linda saw this, too, and that’s why she had changed her opinion.
At six o’clock, I’d leave off what I was doing, and meet up with Vic at the gym. He had unbelievable energy and stamina, and with him as a partner, my workouts, once desultory, were now the most intense I’d ever known. After the gym, the business at hand was dinner. It was rare that we ate at home. Restaurants a few nights a week, but I soon found out that barbecues at Chet and Tom’s were something of a regular thing. Some nights it was just the four of us, some nights Mark and Klaus were there, too. A few times, we would head out to the farm that Mark and Klaus called home. No hot tub here, but a swimming pool green with algae for an after dinner dip.
One night, I proposed to make dinner for the pack at my place. “Careful,” Vic warned, “You have no idea what you’re getting into.”
“When has that been the case since I’ve known you?” I answered.
What Vic meant, it turned out, was the volume of food involved. I settled on roast chicken, and Vic pointed out that I’d probably need four of them. “But it’s only six people!”
“Yeah, but it’s six very hungry people. That’s where barbecue grills come in handy.”
I compromised at three, and sure enough, after seconds and thirds, I brought out the carcasses and we all sat around picking the birds clean.
Always scotch and cigars after dinner, and hours of conversation. Vic or Tom, who were the only among us who had to be at work at a set time most mornings, were usually the ones who broke up the party.
The intimacy that I shared with these men was like nothing I’d ever known. Eschewing furniture, mostly we would sit around on the floor in a tight circle (if there was not hot tub available), propped up against one another. “What do you fear the most?” was a typical conversation starter. Or, “What person in your life have you loved the most and never let them know it?” Listening, talking, touching. Tears were not uncommon in this group. And there was always laughter.
It was about ten days after we got back that the changes started to happen. On the phone with a park ranger discussing condor hatchlings, I found myself scratching myself almost uncontrollably. Every inch of me felt like I was on fire. “I’ll have to call you back,” I said, “I think I’m having an allergic reaction to something.”
When I got off the phone, I headed to the medicine cabinet in search of benadryl. No luck. Off went the tshirt and jeans. I put on a pair of jogging shorts and ran down and knocked on Linda and Bert’s door. Linda was out, and Bert answered. Bert’s search of his medicine cabinet was more successful than mine was. I started slathering myself with the stuff.
“Hives, you think?” I asked him.
“I don’t think so, it doesn’t look like you have a rash. Did you give yourself a body shave recently?”
I saw what he meant. Stubble, on my belly, shoulders, arms, legs, parts of me that had always been hairless.
It dawned on me.
I thanked Bert for the loan of the cream, headed back to my apartment, and called Vic at the store.
“Take some pictures,” Vic advised, “They can be the ‘Before’ shots.”
“This itching... is it going to get worse or better?”
“I don’t remember too much in the way of itching, although I was always a pretty hairy guy. So I’m betting it will get better. Try a hot bath, open up the pores.”
The itching didn’t get better that day, but that night, during dinner, I at least got some sympathy.
“Drove me crazy!” Tom exclaimed, “I hope you don’t have anything going tomorrow morning, because you’re not going to get a lot of sleep tonight.”
Sure enough, getting to sleep that night was a challenge. Vic decided that what the situation called for was some blow-the-roof-off sex--”better than any sleeping pill”--and was happy to accommodate. Afterwards, the sheets tangled and soaked with sweat, I was able to drift off.
But not for long. In the middle of the night, I was suddenly wide awake. I sat bolt upright. Vic, always a light sleeper, woke up and propped himself up on one elbow.
“Let me guess,” he said, “You’re feeling a little hungry, right?”
“I’m starving! Oh my god, I feel like I haven’t eaten in a week.”
Chuckling, Vic lead me out into the kitchen, and got to work emptying the contents of the refrigerator into my mouth.
“I’ll have to have breakfast at the diner,” he said as he cooked up the steaks and the eggs I had on hand to make for him in the morning.
As soon as Vic headed out the door the next morning, I was off to the supermarket. I grabbed a cart and headed right for the meat section at the back. I might as well have been drooling. Foraging through the cuts of beef on plastic trays, I was too busy to notice the guy in the white apron standing next to me until he spoke, “Is there something I can help you with, buddy?”
“I.... having a party, want to grill some steaks.”
“I can assure you, everything here is fresh,” he said.
“I.. uh... I guess they would be, right.”
“So,” he smiled, but with the faintest note of a challenge in his voice, “It’s not necessary for you to sniff the meat.”
I had been.
I laughed, the vision of myself sniffing at steaks like I was selecting avocados.
“I’m sorry, I’ll keep that under control.”
I realized though, that I could tell. Checking the dates of the steaks in my cart against those I had thrown back, I saw that I had gone for the freshest. I stepped back and breathed deeply. Beef. I walked along the meat case a few paces, breathed deeply again. Pork. Further down, Chicken.
My stomach was growling. I grabbed the cart, made for the checkout, and headed home.
Opening up the packaging, the smell was almost overwhelming. The skillet was getting hot on the stove. I threw the biggest one--and the one that smelled the best--in the skillet, listening to the sizzle. One side, the other side. enough. With my hands, I dug in, while getting the other one ready.
What have I been missing all these years? The smell, the taste, even the sound of the steaks was amazing. Like nothing I’d ever known.
Sated, I called Vic. “See you at the gym,” he said.
“More weight! Put twenty-five plates on there!”
Vic didn’t get in much of a workout, except what he got spotting me. We left because we had to. We were due for dinner courtesy of Mark and Klaus.
Mark was indulgent. KIaus was full of explanations: “New connections are firing in the limbic region of your brain--memory, hunger, smell, and sex... it’s not your nose changing, it’s your brain, Gary.”
“Sex, too? What’s that going to be like?”
Mark grabbed me, hot man that he is, pressing his furry chest against mine. “Werewolf sex is the best, Boss. And it gets better and better.”
Vic gave a playful growl, and Klaus seconded that with a growl of his own. Mark let me go, and Vic grabbed me, “Like the man said, it gets better and better.”
The hair continued to grow in, Vic and I were probably eating the equivalent of a steer a week between the two of us, I started to get a sense of what Klaus was talking about regarding the changes in the brain.
Looking back, it started with washing my jeep. It’s something I do rarely. A bucket of suds, a sponge, and twenty minutes later I’d be done. I had never noticed the way the crud built up on my hubcaps before. Couldn’t quite get it all off with the sponge, so there I was with an old toothbrush. I used elbow grease on every square centimeter of the chassis, polished up the chrome, got out the vacuum, and set to work on the inside.
“Yeah! Damn!” I was exclaiming when I saw what Lexol did to the leather upholstery.
“Are you selling it?” asked Linda, coming up behind me.
“No, just feels good to get it clean.”
My work was much the same, throwing myself into every project. And especially the research aspects. Before, I had looked at research as a necessary evil, pretty much knowing beforehand what it was I wanted to say, and finding the facts I needed to make my argument. But I didn’t miss a detail, tracking every possible aspect. Every inquiry raised a dozen more questions, and I pursued them all.
“Amazing,” commented one of my editors, “this is absolutely definitive. You really put in some effort on this piece.”
“The thrill of the hunt,” Vic offered, “you can find it so many places.”
The days sailed by and turned into weeks. Plans were made for the next camping trip. I watched the waxing moon, feeling that something great was coming. Vic and I were restless at night, but instead of running through the streets at four in the morning, we found fucking to be a great outlet. Vic and I both let our beards grow in and the hair on our heads grow long. Lying next to him in bed, my body now matched his, the same dense fur, and the same powerful definition in our muscles.
“I hardly recognize myself,” I said. Our bags were packed, the next morning we’d be flying off to Butte, Montana and then into the depths of Beaverhead National Forest.
“Liking the journey so far?” Vic asked.
“It’s taking some getting used to. I never counted on this. I used to have an idea of who I was, where I thought my life was going, now, I have no idea.”
“You’re making it up as you go along. But that’s all any of us are doing. And guess what, anybody who thinks that’s not the case is fooling himself.”
“I don’t feel like there’s anything I’ve left behind. Should I?”
“There’s definitely some things you’ve left behind. Pretty much for the last time, you’ve sat next to a stranger on the bus and you’ll be able to make a new buddy based on all you find you have in common. And people will sense right away that you’re out there on the margins. Some people will be fascinated by that, a few will be drawn to it and want to get a taste of what you had for dinner, but for the most part, it will be all about fear and suspicion.”
“I’m making up the rules as I go along.”
“Not quite. You’ve got it right in that it’s a big game. People take comfort in that. They know the rules, they can see where they started out, they know where they’re going, they know what the chances are of getting to the end, winning the big prize. But you’re out of the game. And it’s not like there’s some grander game. There is no game. No rules. No prize.”
A thought crossed my mind. A young man, blind with terror, running across a mesa in the dark...
“Vic, what happened to Robbie? Who was Robbie?”
“Robbie chased me,” began Vic. “We were doing renovations at the store. Robbie was the guy we hired to do it. He was a kid, had worked for his father all his life or was out on the ski slopes, and I don’t know that he was all that okay with how he felt about guys. One look at me and he decided I was it. I did nothing to encourage him. But I didn’t have to. He said all the right things, that he wanted something more, that he was sure there had to be a better way of living. Looking back, Robbie was probably really good at telling me just what I wanted to hear. As much as I could, I filled him in on what to expect. Chet thought it was a very bad sign when he missed the flight to Albuquerque. I stayed behind to wait for him to get in.”
Vic turned to me.
“As far as we know, it happened just like I said. The first night, we did our best to keep it low key. He was being the loner. Said he wasn’t hungry and just wandered around. After dinner, I went looking for him. I picked up his scent, followed it. He apparently was hiding out in the brush, watching us all, took a wrong step. Slid all the way down the hill.”
“So he... So he never even...”
“He had no idea what we were all about. I told you no lies about Robbie. He was afraid. And maybe rightfully so. I didn’t want to see it. And that was my mistake. That’s what I have to live with. I wanted him bad, I let that get in the way.”
Vic pulled me close.
“I didn’t want to be alone anymore. Chet has Tom, Mark has Klaus. Ross and Jackson are just buddies, but still. And when a hot boy like Robbie looks up at you with stars in his eyes, that can be a heady brew.”
“The way you worked it with me... the ropes, all that time I spent tied out there, scared out of my wits...”
“No,” Vic smiled, “Not with Robbie. That was just for you.”
“Just for me...” I laughed, “You sonofabitch...” I bit down hard on his bicep.
“Aaaagh! Gary!” The better wrestler, Vic had little trouble pinning me, wrenching my arm behind my back.
“I’ll fess up,” he said, “You looked so damn hot, every muscle in your body straining against the ropes, that beautiful ass of yours up in the air, just waiting for me to claim it. We met as a group before the trip, they asked me how I wanted it to go down. That was my dream scenario. ‘If I could get whatever I want...’ Chet asked me how I’d feel about fifteen years of state time. That’s a lot of moons to miss. But once in your life, you meet a man, and it’s all or nothing. You have to risk everything. Know what I mean?”
“I think I do.”
“Subdued,” he growled, “Exactly what I wanted. Remember the day you got the ticket for letting Sophia run off leash in the park?”
What? No... Wait...
“That was half a year ago...” I started.
“Early morning, you thought you had the place to yourself, you let Sophia run around a bit, chasing squirrels, but that handsome cop saw the whole thing. And so did I.”
“I was watching her, good hunter she is, all casual until she’s within striking distance, then she charges. Beautiful to watch. I heard you call her, and saw you being all aw-shucks with Officer Man.”
“Where were you? I didn’t see you?”
“First, I was having some fun stalking the cop. Wondered what was up when he left his cruiser and headed into the park, then I saw Sophia, then I saw you.
“Nobody saw me,” he grinned.
“It was like five in the morning, the sun had just come up...”
“Saw you head home with your ticket, and I tracked you right to your door.”
“Vic, do you mean...?”
Vic released his hold on me, put his face close to mine.
“The hunt was on,” he said smiling.
“And that day in the woods, when we met...”
“Everything went as planned. But from that first day, Gary, when I saw you in the park, and it just came into my head, you, naked, roped down spread eagle on that rock, the moon rising over that beautiful butt of yours. It had to happen that way.”
I disentangled myself from his arms, looked at him a good long while. Then, I stretched out on the bed, extending my arms and legs to the four corners of the mattress.
“Like this,” I said.
“Just like that,” he said, mounting me, his voice growling in my ear, “Subdued.
“Just like that, only you weren’t so hairy then, were you?”
“No, not so hairy then, that smooth back of yours...” Vic lightly ran his fingernails down the length of my back, “Where’d all of this hair come from, hairy man?”
“I’ve been going through some changes,” I answered, my face in the pillow, as Vic worked his shaft in and out of me.
“Good changes?” he growled?
“Real good changes.”
Bleary-eyed, we met up with the pack at the airport. We slept most of the way on the flight into Butte. I started to feel almost feverish, barely able to contain my excitement. The other men felt it, too. It was all about deep breaths and sudden conspiratorial grins. Finally, loaded into the rented 4x4s, we headed off. It was a long drive on unfamiliar roads. We found a logging road when we were sure we were on Federal land, and headed in as far as we could go.
The area was beautiful, tall trees, granite outcroppings, wild territory. A hike of several hours before Chet decided that this would be the place, a wide clearing in the primordial forest, the ground soft with pine needles. We pitched our tents, and busied ourselves gathering wood and water.
Starving, we had an early dinner, digging into the MREs. “Better food later, but we have to work for it,” Vic offered. After dinner,the light started to fade. Tom and Chet packed all of our provisions away, threw a rope over a tree limb, and hoisted them a good twenty feet off the ground. “Plenty of bears in these woods,” explained Tom.
We gathered around the dying embers in the campfire.
Chet broke the silence: “Gentlemen, tonight we welcome Gary among us, the newest member of the pack.” Warm smiles and murmurs directed to me. “Tonight, for the first time, you’ll hunt with the pack, Gary. When the moon rises, in about two hours, we’ll head out. this may be your first taste of freedom, boy. It’s the freedom that only predators know. We are the masters of the night, the most dangerous thing in these woods. Honor our brothers, the wolves. Their ways are our ways.”
Then we heard the howl, as if on cue. Clear and distinct, pure and beautiful, echoing through the mountains. The cry of the wolf.
The men were immediately on their feet. “Come to welcome you,” Vic whispered to me as we rose.
Chet started first, then Mark, slowly the chorus went up. All of them around me, howling, faces upturned, their hairy forms seeming immense in the firelight.
I took a deep breath, and from deep in me, my own howl exploded, almost unbidden, as though it wasn’t me, but some great force working through me. And the feelings that went with the howl... grief, joy, longing, rage. As though my heart had broken open, and everything I’d felt in my life, and everything I’d been afraid to allow myself to feel, came pouring out. My howl joined the chorus, blending and disappearing into the common music.
And then, silence from us, and listening, listening intently.
Then came the answer.
I’d heard wolves howling before. But never before had the wolf been howling to me. And I understood, I knew what was being communicated. “Here I am, here I am, greetings,” but also, “I’ll stay on my mountain, you stay on yours.”
I grinned at Vic, “I know, I know, pup,” he responded.
Chet alone gave our reply: “Greetings, good hunt.”
Even with all of our eager anticipation, the moon was up before we knew it, shining through the branches of the pine bows overhead. Again, the agitated circling of the fire, but this time, I felt it, too, surging adrenaline, my heart pounding. I was hardly aware of myself, my actions--growling, snarling, barking--I just was. Finally, Chet gave a howl (“Let’s go!”) and we were off. Somewhere, somewhere out there in the woods was the quarry, some creature, heart beating the lifeblood through veins and arteries, some prey.
We moved together, in fits and starts rather than a steady pace. As we went, each of us would pause, inhale sharply, testing the air. I smelled the pine, the rotting wood, now and then the musk of piss, an olfactory symphony. Deeper and deeper we plunged into the woods.
After a time, I noticed that Mark and Klaus had broken away from us, and I saw Jackson and Ross disappear over a ridge. We worked our way down a steep hill, covered with fern, and Vic gave me the signal, the two of us headed south through the valley, while Chet and Tom went off to the north.
Vic was the first to pick up the sent, he gave a bark, I sampled the air. so much, I couldn’t pic it out...
“Deer,” Vic growled, his eyes shining.
He took off through the underbrush, I was right at his heels. The scent grew stronger, I could smell it now, although it felt as though I could see the deer up ahead, not just smell them. Working our way through tall grass, both of us crouched low, we emerged on the bank of a wide, slowly meandering stream. And the scent was no more.
Vic gave a short howl (“Next time, next time”) and we plunged back into the thicket, now running alongside the course of the stream. We went for miles, picking up scents here and there, but nothing strong.
It was just a delight to be out in the woods, hunting with Vic, my senses alive, feeling this deep, exhilarating awareness of the woods at night, under the moon. Now and then we’d here a howl from other members of the pack (“I’m here, I’m here”). Then, piercing the night, echoing off the hills, wild and triumphant.
“It’s Mark,” growled Vic, “A kill.”
A kill, blood. I felt hunger welling up in me. I wanted that.
We continued our trek, Vic taking the lead, then dropping back and letting me be out in front, then Vic again, then me.
Vic somewhere behind me, as I followed a deer path through the underbrush, I came upon a worn path, and then it hit me. Hard. A scent. One that I recognized immediately: it was a man. His sweat, the stink of him, hung in the air, perfume riding on the breeze. It was strong. I gave a yelp to signal Vic, and tore down the path.
Once, long ago, when I was a boy, walking home from school with a group of playmates. Scott, the bully in the neighborhood, gathered up some chestnuts from a tree in a yard we passed. He bided his time, and then threw one, hard, at the back of the head of a younger boy. The boy screamed and turned, his hand at the back of his neck where the burred chestnut had hit him, drawing blood with its spines. Scott laughed, “Fuckin pussy,” and threw another. The younger boy scrambled, cowering behind a hedge. Scott toyed with him, “Okay, I’ll stop,” then throwing another chestnut when the boy’s head popped out.
“Scott, c’mon, quit it,” I said, “cut it out. Scott!”
And then, as they say, I saw red. Rage overtook me. I flew at Scott, tackling him, pummeling his face, totally out of control. It took three other boys to pull me off Scott, and if they hadn’t, I don’t doubt I could have killed him.
That’s the way it was when the smell of the man hit my nostrils. I was off at a gallop. Dimly, I saw ahead of me a figure moving quickly down the path, in front of him bobbed the illuminated circle of a flashlight. I let out a howl: “Mine!” The figure started to run, and I quickened my pace. Now, there was something else in his scent: terror. He knew I was behind him, he knew that he was prey.
I lost sight of the running figure, only fifty feet ahead of me or so on the path. I slowed. I was by now drunk with the smell of him, and the thought of the sweet red blood coursing through his veins; I could almost hear the pulsing of the blood in the arteries in his neck. And I wanted to taste that blood, fill my mouth with it. The brush on either side of the path created a sort of tunnel. But the man was nowhere to be seen. I slowed now, listening intently, sniffing the air: stronger, stronger, stronger, then weak. Off to my right, behind the wall of brush, I heard the faintest of sounds, it was a whimper, a prayer. Stealthily, I retraced my steps. Down low, I saw where the brush parted. Squatting down on my haunches, I gave a growl, then dove through head first. Beyond was a small clearing, I landed on my feet. I was blinded suddenly by his flashlight, clicked on. But in the half-second before, I saw him, backed up against the massive trunk of a tree, his face a mask of fear, in one hand, the flashlight, in the other, the glint of metal, a knife. My breath was heaving, growls were in my throat.
When his light clicked on, flashing on me, the man screamed, “Holy Christ...!”
I couldn’t see him with the light in my eyes, but I knew where he was, keeping my eyes locked on where I knew his eyes were, I moved slowly forward. He had the knife, but he was paralyzed with fear, close enough, and his throat would be in my jaws before he could use it to do any damage. He was mine.
Like a fullback, Vic hit me from the side, bellowing as he tackled me, sending me sprawling on the ground, Vic on top of me. My fury now was directed at Vic, clawing, growling. Peripherally, I was aware of the man scrambling to his feet, dashing headlong through the night woods. But now, it was Vic’s blood I wanted.
Vic clocked me, first with a right cross, then following it with a left. This stunned me, and Vic took his advantage: he threw his weight on top of me, pinning me down, my throat was in his mouth.
Quiet, motionless except for our labored breathing, the two of us lay there.
I spoke first, “Vic... I didn’t... I couldn’t stop myself...”
Vic released his grip, backed off, but still sitting on my chest, keeping me pinned.
“Vic... I’m sorry...”
He grinned at me, “Bad werewolf!” he scolded.
I was more shaken up than Vic was. I was deeply shaken.
“I couldn’t stop myself, I would have killed that man if you hadn’t...”
“I know, I know. I wanted a taste of him, too. But you can’t, Gary, you can’t. Hard as it is, you have to hold back. Hard as it is.”
My jaw ached, I touched it, it was tender. “You really hit me hard.”
“I don’t think I broke it. You seem to be able to talk.”
I was tasting blood, my own.
“Okay now?” Vic asked, “Ready to head back? I think that’s enough hunting for one night.”
“Vic,” I said, and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling, “I totally had him. He was mine.”
“I know you did, pup. And complicated as that would have made everything, I have to admit I’m proud of you.”
Vic helped me up, we stood there, catching our breath, arms linked. A deep breath, and I gave a howl, low and mournful, “Next time, next time.”
We made our way back to camp, talking some.
“What the hell came over me? Vic, I was out of my mind.”
“Exactly. Out of your mind. Good to get out of your head once in a while, just be in your body, feeling what you can do.”
“But I could have killed that man!”
“People get killed, Gary. You could have been killed yourself. It’s the wild part of you. It’s new. You’ll learn it, but you’ve got to explore it. You’ve got to let it out. You’ve got to hunt, know what you can take, know what to let go by.”
“But I could have taken him,” I protested.
“I know you, pup, then and there. But people would come after you. Men don’t take kindly to the killing of one of their own. That’s why wolves were driven from this country. The population here in Montana is only a few hundred. Something like that, finding a man mauled by wolves in the woods, and there would probably be a bounty.”
“But he’s going to tell people. Vic, what have I done?”
“He got a good look at you. Enough to know that you weren’t a wolf. And he was scared shitless. He might not tell anyone, just chalk it all up to experience. Or maybe there will be another Sasquatch story going into circulation. Mark once was spotted and made the local papers in Nevada as Sasquatch. We called him that for awhile. Burned him up when we did.”
“Vic, nothing like that has ever happened to me before.”
“I know it hasn’t, pup. Your wild side is coming out. Nothing to be afraid of, you’ve just got to learn it, control it, or it will control you. And that way destruction lies.”
Back at camp, there was a feast. Mark had brought down a big buck.
“This is completely illegal, right?” I asked as I dug in.
“Gray area of the law,” said Chet. Hunting with guns or bow-hunting is illegal. Same with trapping. You need a permit. But the Powers That Be never contemplated hunting with bare hands. But we’ll bury the evidence tomorrow, just to make sure.”
Prompted by Vic, I told my story. Start to finish.
“Did you get a look at him?” asked Ross
I did my best to describe him, more my sense of him. Maybe thirty years old, boots, jeans, tshirt. Clean-shaven.
There was speculation on what the hell he was doing out here in the middle of the night.
“A lot of people cultivate marijuana on Federal land. He might have been checking on his crop.”
“Maybe a fire watcher. We saw a watch tower over on the east slope.”
“Park ranger maybe.”
Park ranger. I had been a park ranger.
“And he had a knife,” asked Chet, “And you were still gonna take him down?”
“Best I could tell he did.”
“You’ve got heart, Gary.” Chet said approvingly.
Chet reached into his pack, drew out a Bowie knife, the blade shining. “A knife like this you think?”
“Sure could be,” I answered.
“Then I think,” Chet said, “You’ve earned what you almost got. A taste of Man Blood.”
I froze. “Chet...”
“Oh yeah. Vic, I think it’s only right that you have the honor.”
Vic stepped forward, approached Gary. All around the circle, the venison was forgotten for the moment. Everyone watched Vic and Chet, eyes shining in the night.
Chet took the knife, the point pressing into Vic’s chest, directly over Vic’s heart. Vic and Chet had their eyes locked. “Deep breath,” Chet ordered. Vic complied. So fast it was almost invisible, Chet slashed with the point of the night across Vic’s chest. Vic barely flinched.
But immediately I smelled it: Blood. Vic’s blood. The whole pack, myself included, rose and stood. Chet crooked his finger at me. “C’mon and take a taste.”
I approached. Through the fur on Vic’s chest, I saw the blood flowing from the gash, little streams outlining Vic’s pecs and abs. Again, my pulse raced, the smell was intoxicating. A grin and a nod from Vic, and I was lapping at the blood, hot and salty-sweet in my mouth.
Vic purred in my ear, “I’ve created a monster!”
“And thanks for that, “ I said, looking up at him.
Starting with Chet, each of the men took a taste of Vic, and then Klaus got busy with alcohol wipes and such. Chet commented that he’d gone deeper than intended. We all returned to skeletonizing the buck.
Later, curled around each other in our tent, I told Vic, “I had this image: me sucking the marrow out of that man’s bones. Where the hell did that come from?”
“I bet that marrow would be sweet,” Vic answered.
“Not the most helpful avenue to explore, y’think?” I asked.
“Like I said, pup, you’re a good man. A very good man. There’s something wild growing inside you, something wild and dark. I’ll be right by you every step of the way.”
The next night, Vic and I exhausted ourselves chasing jackrabbits, but dinner was only MREs all around. “We ate too much, got fat and slow,” Mark observed. And we had no luck the final night either.
At the airport in Butte, we said goodbye to Ross and Jackson, and in no time at all we were heading up the walk. Linda was coming out the door with Sophia, taking her for a walk. Seeing us, Sophia bounded down the stairs and up the walk. Vic and I dropped to our knees for some heavy-duty face licking.
Linda followed, “I’m sorry, she got away from me! Bad dog! Bad girl!”
“No harm, no foul,” I said, “She sure is excited to see us.”
Linda regarded me thoughtfully: “I guess she knows what you’ve been up to.”
I asked Vic if he would take our luggage into the house, telling him I wanted to take a walk with Linda and Sophia. Vic nodded knowingly. Linda and I set off.
“Linda, you and Bert are the only family I have,” I began, “For better or worse, I guess” added for levity. “I want you to understand what’s going on.”
“You mean about the werewolf thing.”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“That’s it, right?” she said, “Vic’s a werewolf, and now you’re one, too.”
“Bert figured it out first. That first night we met Vic. Way back when, we knew a couple of guys in Oakland. They were in a band,” she laughed at the recollection, “’Moon Fever’ or something. They opened for Jefferson Airplane once. We didn’t take them seriously really. Everybody had their own little trip back then. Hippies, Yippies, Heads, Communists, Panthers... A couple of werewolves didn’t even stand out in the crowd. I had forgotten all about them, but Bert remembered. I was the one that realized that those camping trips were timed with the full moon.”
I was speechless.
“So,” Linda asked, “How is it? Y’having fun?”
All I could do was laugh. Laugh and laugh. Doubled over, till tears streamed down my cheeks. Linda laughed, too. Sophia just looked at both of us, wagging her tail.
Finally managing to compose myself, I said, “Linda, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That could ever happen to me.”
“You howl at the moon and all?” she asked.
“I sure do.”
In the weeks that followed, Vic sold his house and moved in. Chet thought he might know of the two werewolves that Bert and Linda had met (“Now they were crazy,” he recalled).
On the night of the next full moon, with the pack in the Canadian Rockies, Vic and I brought down a deer. It was over fast. “Like you’ve been doing it all your life, huh?” Vic joked.
We took the trip to Iceland, meeting up with the pack that Vic had found. And as Vic claimed, they were good guys. Pall was the leader of the pack, joined by Siggi, Gunar, and Olaf. And they had a she-wolf. Kolbrun, or Kolla, stood 6’3”, and every inch of her was covered in downy golden fur. They spent their full moons at a cabin on a glacier lake outside of a small remote town. Right there on the property, they had volcanic hot springs. (What is it about werewolves and hot tubs? Vic says it’s because our body temperature is a few degrees hotter.) In lieu of hunting, these werewolves at vast quantities of fish, sat in the hot tub, and drank enough vodka to fill a swimming pool. Under the full moon, we’d dash from the hot springs and dive into a hole chopped in the ice on the lake. Palli, Gunar, and Kolla spoke excellent english, and Siggi and Olaf spoke enough to get by. But mostly we communicated with howling and growling, especially after all that vodka. Vic and I gave up trying to figure out how the coupling went. My guess was Palli and Gunar, Olaf and Siggi. But when Vic came across Olaf putting it to Gunar and both of them being all sweet and nuzzling the next day, we reconsidered. Kolla, it turned out, was Gunar’s sister. (It took us a while to figure this out due to the different last names, Gudmundsson and Asdissdottir respectively.) When Kolla learned what her brother was up to, she wanted in. She had a boyfriend, and hoped that he’d be coming up to the cabin sometime soon. “I told him if he wants to be with me, he has to get fucked by a few men I know, and he’s just about ready to have that step,” she explained.
I made the arrangements for us to spend time on at the wolf preserve Isle Royal, staying at the ranger station, tracking the wolves during the winter. At the south end of the island, after days of tracking, we found Masha and Rocky, still packing with their now full-grown offspring, Deirdre. When we got close enough for a visual, they had just taken down a moose calf. I was amazed at how close they let us get.
“C’mon,” Vic whispered.
Following his lead, we retreated to about a hundred yards away. Vic gave a howl.
“Vic, no!” The wolves on Isle Royale were elusive, keeping clear of human contact. With food at stake, it was a toss up whether they’d flee or fight.
Out came Rocky, followed by Masha and Deirdre.
“Down,” Vic told me. Both of us dropped to our knees.
Masha came forward, Rocky and Deirdre held back. Masha came within ten feet of us. Calmly, she regarded us, passing her gaze from me to Vic and back to me.
“You see,” said Vic, “You’re not the man you were when you were before.”
Indeed I wasn’t.
Making eye contact with Rocky, I gave a yelp. His ears went up, his eyes turned bright.
He gave a short howl.
I answered with my own, “Chase me, chase me,” and scrambled off a few paces, and went down flat. Rocky followed, baring his teeth at me. I gave him a growl and a whine, and laid down on my back. Rocky approached, sniffed me, and lolled his tongue.
He wanted to play, of course.
With his jaws and paws, I was tentative about what I had gotten myself into, but pretty quickly, Rocky and I were play fighting like puppies. Vic, Masha, and Deirdre sat together, Vic scratching Deirdre's ears.
When Rocky would get to rough, I would get all submissive, dropping and showing him my throat. He’d back off, whining at me to get up again. He drew blood a couple of times, and that thrilled me. The wounds were superficial, but I hoped they’d leave a scar. “Yeah,” I’d be able to say, “I was fighting with a wolf.”
After a while, we retreated. Rocky and his pack went back to the calf. Back at the ranger station, we reported that Rocky, Masha, and Deirdre, the “South Island Pack Number Two” had taken down a moose calf.
“So that’s my story,” I said. I lit my second cigar of the evening, regarding the boy carefully.
“My story runs along the same lines, but it’s not as interesting. And Gary’s the writer,” Vic offered. He tells it better.”
“How are you enjoying that cigar, Ryan?” I asked.
“It’s good,” he answered, “I could get used to this. Absolutely.”
We met Ryan the night that Vic took me out on our first anniversary. He had planned out the whole day. First, we went out to the creek with Sophia, then a good steak dinner. At the restaurant, I figured it out. Our anniversary, revisiting where we met, our first date. “And one more stop,” said Vic. We went to the Ramrod. (Vic had long since fessed up to following me home that night.)
That night at the Ramrod, Ryan walked right up to us and introduced himself. He was a stunner, with tight muscular build and a ready smile. “Damn, you guys are hairy,” he offered, betraying his fascination. Ryan was easy to talk to, working as a framer while took acting classes and went to auditions, hoping for his big break. He proposed a threesome.
“You have no idea what you’d be in for, buddy,” Vic responded.
Ryan came back with, “If it means getting with you guys, I’m up for anything.”
We explained it was our anniversary, and it wasn’t what we were looking for. Ryan was undeterred: “So can we hang out?”
We both pretty taken with Ryan. And so hang out we did. He held his own with a barbecue at Chet’s, and went riding with Mark and Tom a few times.
“Whaddya think?” Vic asked me as we sat around a fire, off camping in Arizona.
“Yeah, about our boy Ryan.”
“I bet he tastes good,” I answered, “And fucking that boy would sure be sweet.”
Vic proposed we drop some hints, then invite him camping. Chet and the other members of the pack were enthusiastic. Chet announced that he wasn’t sure how many more times he would be joining us. Mark and Tom had turned a few of their riding buddies and they had a strong preference for riding trips instead of flying. Ross and Jackson talked about starting a pack of their own closer to home. Chet and Vic had had a long talk one night: “You’ve got what it takes to carry on these traditions. You’re a natural leader, Vic. An Alpha. You need to build a pack of your own.
“He’d sure be a good start.”
“But like I said, I don’t like surprises. We’re gonna lay it all out to Ryan. See what the boy wants out of life.”
And so the three of us soaked in Chet’s hot tub. Ryan was new to cigars, but seemed to be taking to them.
“In two weeks, we’re going to go camping,” Vic said, “Down in New Mexico at Gila. And if you’d like to come along, you’d be welcome to join us.”
“Are you up for that, Ryan?” I chimed in.
“You don’t have to answer right away,” Vic said.
Ryan enjoyed his cigar and had another taste of scotch.
“This is everything I want,” he said, “Do I need my own tent?”
Vic and I covered Ryan in kisses, hugging the boy. The others, Chet, Klaus, Mark, and Tom, were waiting inside, letting us have the hot tub to ourselves while “The Discussion” went down.
“Best we let them know it’s safe to come join us,” Vic said.
He smiled at me, drew a breath, I was right there with him. In unison, we let out a howl.
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