I stayed perfectly still. Ricky was in the other room with the catatonic lady. He was safe for now, but I was here. I didn’t have any witty one-liners, couldn’t think of a single sarcastic thing to say.
I choked out, “Why?”
She brought a finger to her lips and licked it clean, blood still dripping from the rest of her hand. She trailed her tongue against her palm decadently, like it was chocolate. “Humans. So feeble, so soft. Like pigs. Except, far, far more dangerous. Nearly wiped us out.”
Walking past her into the room were the wolves. They bared their teeth at me, growling, their muzzles still red, drying tacky on their fur.
“And silly Mark, always talking about how we need to live in harmony, how the wolves and people can live together… I think I agree with the ranchers on this one, we can’t. Everything wrong with this planet comes from humans. I don’t think that the wolves need to live in peace with the greatest parasite on earth.”
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak. I tried to say something, but I choked on my words and gave a pitiful little moan instead.
“Wolves don’t normally hunt humans. But I figured that I could give them a little push. It was easy. Nobody at the morgue misses a body now and then. A full casket weighs almost as much as an empty one.” She dropped her hand and looked at me, cocking her head like a wolf. “Do you know who sounds just tasty? Your little brother.”
I froze. I counted the wolves in the room. One. Two. Three. Four. Eleanor.
Where was Shelly?
I heard a shrill scream from the other room, a snarl, a click of teeth, then quiet. Absolute silence.
Something like pain rippled through my body, a very fragile piece inside of me breaking into pieces. A low cry started in my throat but my body wouldn’t respond. Ricky. Ricky. Ricky.
Eleanor opened her mouth to say something, but she didn’t get a chance. I picked up the hairspray can and nailed her in the head with it, screaming. I wanted to kill her. I was going to kill her. Ricky. Ricky. Ricky.
I straddled her struggling body and hit her over and over again with the hairspray until it dented and cracked and aerosol squealed out like a scream, making the room smell like lavender and the thick metallic scent of blood. I heard the wolves around me, growling, clicking around on their paws. When the can of hairspray snapped in half I started pounding on her face with my hands. I had lost control. I was feral.
Eleanor laughed, choking on her blood and teeth and busted nose. “And there it is… humanity. Killing another wolf.”
I screamed in rage, her cracked teeth cutting deep into my knuckles and I screamed some more, until I felt a pair of hands grab my shoulders and pull me back.
“LET ME GO!” I howled, clawing at the woman.
“Chrissy?” I heard my name quietly, like white noise, fuzz on the radio. “Chrissy?”
I turned around, ready to kill whoever said my name, I wasn’t finished with her, and saw Ricky. He was fine, perfectly fine, staring at me in terror. He looked so scared.
“Ricky?” I whimpered softly. I felt like I was falling. I wanted to touch him to make sure he was real, but then I saw my hands.
“Jesus,” Alex cursed under his breath, looking at Eleanor. He was required to go check on her, but he didn’t look like he wanted to.
I turned around and saw the wolves watching me, golden eyes tracking me.
I passed out.
When I came to, it was in the hospital. I was alone, until a nurse walked in to check up on me. “Finally awake then, Sleeping Beauty? You were a mess when you came in.”
I asked her what had happened. She whistled under her breath. “You don’t remember? There was that crazy wolf attack at the reserve, you were lucky to survive. They had two casualties, and you’re lucky you weren’t one of them.”
I sat up, panicked, then was hit with a dizzying wave. “Who—”
“Charles Ayala and Eleanor Wilkes.” It was Mart—Mark—standing in the doorway. He didn’t come with flowers. Go figure.
The nurse left the room to go contact my family to tell them I was awake, and Mark filled me in on the rest.
Once they locked up everyone in their cars, thinking it was safer that way, the three of them came back for us. That’s when they saw Shelly coming in for Mrs. Ayala and Ricky. Mark got her with a tranq and knocked her out quick, then was about to leave to find me when they heard what was happening in the other room.
“You… you really did a number on her,” Mark said, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. “It was…”
“Yeah,” I said hollowly. “I thought she… I thought Ricky…”
I fidgeted. “So, am I getting charged with murder or what?”
Mark wasn’t smiling. “The wolves are in rehab, you know. The Board knows about what happened, but they don’t want it going public. So they’re going into ‘wolf rehab’ for a while, to wean them off the taste of people.”
“Cool?” I still wanted to know if I was getting charged, if anything would come of this.
“You know Nicotine patches? How they work? A little bit of nicotine in each little patch to help you when you get cravings, until you don’t need them anymore. Just to wean them off. Just a little bit at a time, until they don’t need it anymore.”
I didn’t see much of Ricky once I got back to college, but now I saw less and less of him every time I visited home. He didn’t tell anyone what actually happened, but at family dinners, I could see him watching me, looking at my hands. He was scared of me. It broke my fucking heart. I stopped going home, except for holidays. Maybe there will come a day when he could look at his big sister and not be scared. But not anytime soon.
I never did visit my friends by the beach. I didn’t do much of anything anymore. I went to a therapist, mandated by my doctor, and he said that I should find something to occupy my time, so I wasn’t so alone. Mark wasn’t at all surprised to see me turn in an application to volunteer. He signed it and handed me a badge he had already made me.
When he gave me the grand tour, he told me that he and Jiwon had set a date for their wedding. It wasn’t an invitation. He looked at my hands and the cuts on my knuckles when we shoveled kibble into the pens, and he scratched at his head, at his face, nervous.
I had never felt so alone before in my life. Until the wolves came back.
The Gray Wolves were brought back to their original pen. I saw Shelly and the rest of them, bounding around, happy to be back home. I couldn’t feel resentful towards them, even now. It wasn’t their damned fault. It was always the fault of people.
Shelly sniffed the air and froze. She whined at the others, who turned and looked at her, then looked at me. They bounded over, taking smaller and smaller steps until they got to the gate, all five of them, staring straight at me, ears laid back, heads down.
“You know,” Alex said, passing by with a steer carcass wrapped in plastic, “the wolves haven’t chosen a new alpha yet. I thought for sure that Shelly would be the one, but Shelly’s never cared about stuff like that.” When he disappeared back into the main entrance, I turned back to the wolves.
I opened up the gate and let myself in. I sat on a tree stump and wept until I felt a cold nose nudge my hands, my face. A petal soft tongue licked away my tears. I buried my fingers into their fur and sank my face into Shelly’s neck. She whined.
The others threw back their heads and howled for the first time since the incident, ringing full and true, resonating, mournful for the loss of life, their alphas, their true home, their place in the world, at the manipulation of their lives and their loss of freedom, their whole existence condensed into this little pen.
I wished I could join them. But I was only human.