Season of the Wolf - Maria Vale
In the forest stark and grim live unspeakable things.
My mother had never been one for bedtime stories. Never one for articulating much at all. Mostly she cleaned her tiny house—I never thought of it as mine or ours—with the fierceness of a woman who knew civilization danced on a razor’s edge and a single misfolded towel or an undusted mote was enough to send it toppling.
To hold that eventuality at bay, she worked. Constantly. Touching up the bright-white paint. Washing the blue and purple floral linens. Tearing away the spiky fragrant bushes around the edges, chopping down the single shade tree in the yard. She gave it to a neighbor with a fireplace for nothing, a moment of largesse that made him trust our odd family even less.
Then she lay down rough green grass that came in rolls like toilet paper and was not to be walked on.
During the day, the house smelled pleasantly of cinnamon or chocolate and less pleasantly of ammonia.
There was a blue, onion-patterned curtain that shielded the window above the kitchen sink. It was always closed, except on laundry days, when the window opened onto a range of mountains, faraway and tree-covered.
Sometimes my mother would forget that the curtain wasn’t there. Then the faucet ran and the food burned until my father came home and turned everything off and put the curtain back on its brass rod and pulled his wife away from the window.
Those were the evenings when she told me, her only child, stories, cautionary tales about people who wandered into the woods, losing their way, their lives, their souls.
They all started the same way.
“In the forest dark and grim live unspeakable things.”
One Christmas, when I was still very young—six, maybe seven?—I heard a noise downstairs in the kitchen. Convinced it was Santa eating the brownies my mother had made, I crept down the steps. I did not find Santa noshing on rich squares of chocolate and walnuts. Instead, I found my mother staring empty-eyed through the kitchen window toward the snow-dusted forests, bloody butcher paper on the counter.
Gnawing absently on raw beef tongue.
In the forest dark and grim live unspeakable things.
In our stories, the forests were deathless. In our stories, they spread in endless protective waves across the land. In our stories, they could be hewed by disease or fire or woodman’s ax, but each hewing left enough of the old forests to seed new ones.
In our stories, though, the old forests were not churned into a sea of mud and sawdust, herringboned by tread marks with iridescent puddles that smell sick-sweet, like venom.
This is not our land. Our land is beyond the gap between two mountains. There, a tree cracks, a beaver slaps its tail against water, and a loon gives out a long, haunting call.
Where are you?
Its mate calls back.
Our land is where my wolves wait for my own call. I try to clear the heartache in my throat then throw back my head and howl.
Where are you?
It starts out that way, though by the end of that long breath, it is simply Are you?
And from across the vastness of Homelands, the Great North call back.
We are, they answer, each voice reassuring me that all are safe and accounted for.
There are humans howling in a white windowless bus, who are not safe.
Tiberius slams the door on the injured would-be hunters, then bangs twice on the roof to signal Thea that she’s good to go.
“Watch your tail,” Thea says as Elijah Sorensson, the Alpha of the 9th Echelon of the Great North Pack, pulls his tail in and drops his muzzle on the shoulder of his human mate. She reaches across to pull the passenger door closed.
Victor, who had been our Deemer, our thinker about pack law, did not want to let this human who knew our secrets live. I knew he was angry that I refused to kill her, but not angry enough to stand by while human hunters decimated our pack.
Well, now you’re dead, Victor, a noseless dog wandering hungry and alone forever, and Thea Villalobos, the Goddess of the City of Wolves, is smuggling those humans back into Canada.
When the Pack finally falls silent, one last solitary call floats down from Westdæl. It is hesitant, questioning, asking the hills and valleys of Homelands to help her make sense of her new life. It is nowhere near as loud or as certain as the wolf Varya once was, but then the Gray is no longer Varya.
For three days out of