The trees stood like a teal castle wall, against the dark backdrop of blue-grey mountains to the west. Indeed, the darkness was a fitting setting for Freedom, but with time, I grew confused with the possibility of light. For there were times in my own life, more frequent of late, that I weighed the consequences of being inside or outside the wall, the light. Looking back now, I feel fortunate to have explored these notions with a real, live werewolf. But of course, every damned thing has a cost.
Through our journey these past few years, we cautiously built on our guarded friendship, that is, as much as you can befriend a werewolf. I named him Freedom in our — I should say my — evolving plan of assimilation. Our manageable relationship presented a unique opportunity for Freedom to perhaps weave his uncommon yarn into the elaborate textiles of humankind, permanently, and yes to prove that even a lowly werewolf can benefit from our western embodiment of freedom. Did I eventually think he would choose freedom? Of course! That’s why I named him Freedom. Since he never complained, at least not to me, the name stuck.
I assumed he was young, as he grew fast when fed chicken and deli food. His mostly protein diet was regulated by me and supported in total by my meager income that I earned through a variety of odd jobs. My part-time jobs included the infrequent poetry readings I performed at the local strip malls, although I found this to yield peanuts. Then there were my lawn mowing gigs, from which I earned most of my disposable income, along with my handyman work. Mostly I performed these jobs on weekends, and when not in school. Through budget comparisons, I found while still in my second year of high school, I earned at least as much money as the other testosterone fueled capitalists, and certainly enough to feed a werewolf.
I must say, Freedom exclusively enjoyed protein, unlike his European counterparts, who seemed to prefer a more balanced diet. However, Freedom and I had a mutual fondness for one junk food, in the form of an occasional bowl full of Cheetos. Our only shared agreed junk food though, the occasional bowl full of Cheetos, which seemed to enhance our bonding. He loved licking his paws and my fingers clean — too clean at times. Of recent though, I noticed Freedom had lost weight. I reasoned this was the result of his not having to hunt for his food any longer. Life presents trade-offs on occasion involving choices that, looking back, seem pragmatic at the time, at times not. As part of my own lesson, I would soon conclude that my reasoning had more to do with my lack of honed intuition and polished assumptions than biology.
As I neared the tree line, I squinted into the setting sun. Freedom appeared classically handsome in his shiny sable fur coat, each needle of fur bristling in the late summer breeze, his lacquered wet nose ever elevated into my marinated scent, against the backdrop of the forest. The drift of my approach seemed to burnish his onyx eyes, as I struggled to imagine his smile sincere.
Freedom was always a bit uncomfortable in socializing for more than a cluster of minutes. He would often appear agitated, he paced longer, and with increasing frequency, I noticed him stealing private glances at the forest, especially toward nightfall. Looking back, his inhibition about mingling with my close friends should have been telling. He was all canine with his instinctual, yet embarrassing butt sniffing. Yet when he made extended eye contact with them, he seemed too serious.
You might imagine my excitement the day he accepted my invitation to join Mia, our friends, and me at the Missoula Drive-in Theater re-opening. The vintage Missoula Drive-in, near Interstate 90, had been mostly restored, with a new mega screen, a refurbished snack bar and all-new car speakers.
I was even more excited because the theatre had been running ads in the local media all week, promoting two classic movie features. The first presentation was ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ starring Clint Eastwood. I was concerned this might include a little too much gratuitous violence, especially as Clint Eastwood’s movie roles seemed to be evolving in that direction. So we all agreed on seeing the second feature.
We arrived a few minutes late, as the black and white screening of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ featuring Gregory Peck and the ever so talented Brock Peters began. We could not wait to find a cozy parking spot.
My ragged car slowly undulated over the paved waves, as we sought safe portage for our dark pirate ship of fools. I say that with affection of course. My bud Kevin joined us, along with his lovely date Shirleen. My chatty girlfriend Mia sat close to me. Mia is part Dolly Pardon, and part Maya Angelou, hot and wise.
Looking back, I must say Mia was the only one to advise me — no, to warn me — not to befriend Freedom. Mia, so eco-friendly and green, lectured me about the pitfalls involved in taming something as beautiful and feral as Freedom. She said Freedom should stay in the woods, away from man and his so-called altruistic inclinations. In support of her rationale she once quoted Henry David Thoreau, “That it is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious.” I begrudgingly admitted that I too had experienced some doubt regarding my experiment with Freedom.
Speaking of Freedom, I was almost certain he was a little traumatized on our drive to the theatre. I expect he was trying his hardest not to kick open the trunk lid and savage the moviegoers. Our dates were unaware of our fifth pirate, confined in the hold, where I fancied him exorcizing his greatest fears, and at the same time conjuring up all the Canis lupus totems he could summon, if only for advice.
Halfway through the black and white magnum opus, Mia quizzed me, “Jack, what’s with that scratching sound coming from the direction of the car behind us, and all that moaning?”
“Good question Mia, I’ll check,” I answered.
I turned my head toward the rearview mirror and saw the reflection of Kevin and Shirleen gently snoring in the now ripped vinyl seat. Not to wake them, I slowly opened the door, and stretched out of the car, into near darkness. With the interior light broken, I left the door half open for easy return.
“Hurry Jack, it’s getting interesting,” said Mia in her loudest whisper voice.
In my best drive-in etiquette, I responded, “I will.”
As I half circled to the back of the car, I was startled to see Mia’s iPhone camera flash through the back window. Damn, that’s at least ten selfies tonight, I mumbled to my chest.
I slowly inserted the key and opened the trunk lid in a slow and deliberate motion. Then, I peered into the cave-like trunk, at what seemed a full set of teeth, including four long, glinting canines. I carefully attached my dog Spike’s worn leash to Freedom. He did not seem too concerned, but I noticed him trembling slightly. Once I had him secured, I coaxed him from the trunk, and led him up to the galvanized metal speaker pole, hooking his leash around it with a tight knot. Everything was pitch black, except for the intermittent dimmed black and white strobes that bounced off the movie screen. I quietly asked Freedom if he was ok and if he needed water, or maybe a coke? I could only see his white eyeballs, the size of two small chicken eggs, they didn’t move. I took that as a “No.”
After tying up Freedom, I slowly fitted myself back into the driver’s seat, the door creaked shut like bats. It was then that I noticed Mia sleeping heavily, her iPhone fat with selfies in her lap. She breathed ever so quietly, with half her face flat against the night tinted glass. Settling back in, I concentrated on all the action unfolding on the screen.
After some time, I squinted toward the car next to us, reasoning someone was getting jiggy, especially with all the deep moans and whimpers sifting through the late summer air. Then, the noise distraction grew stronger, much more guttural. It was then that I fixed on Freedom, his head was cocked in my direction. It looked like he was ringing his front paws together in rhythm while resting on his backside and thick coiled tail. Fluidly, though nervously, he moved the bulk of his weight from one haunch to the other haunch, whimpering. I contemplated he was a little ADHD, and that maybe the movie’s strobe lights were triggering him somehow, over-stimulating his brain synapses.
As the husky sound rose in his throat, it slowly changed in tone, turning into a hampered low growl. I eyed Freedom once again as he gnashed his teeth, just like the territorial baboons do on the National Geographic Channel before a skirmish breaks out.
Firmly I said “Freedom, shush; the best part is coming up! You might like it. Just be patient for a little while longer — the movie is almost over.”
Freedom seemed to understand, and attempted in his own way to settle down and chill. I snuck a peek on occasion, and it seemed our chat was successful, as he was following the plot arc just fine. Everything was going smoothly.
Not so fast! When Tom Robinson was wrongly convicted of raping Mayell Ewell, Freedom’s fur on the back of his neck seemed to glisten like iridescent needles in the light of the rising moon. This was accompanied by more tethered moaning and growling.
“Good boy Freedom,” I said, in a voice of habit I often used to praise Spike.
With that, he slowly seemed to settle down, even as Tom was carted off in handcuffs to prison. Somehow I concluded Freedom must have been confident that Atticus Finch would get him out on appeal. Happily, I mused, Freedom was learning what justice, and yes, what real freedom was all about. I felt confident that he was observing what could be the best of societal intentions, at least concerning what we often see at first glance. I remained optimistic that my ambition to positively influence Freedom had not been in vain, at least up until the big screen action changed.
Dramatically, Tom Robinson is shot to death, while attempting to escape confinement, seeking his rightful freedom. That is when all hell broke loose at the vintage Missoula Drive-in Theater.
Just as Tom took his last breath, Freedom begin to howl in earnest. He directed his deep bellow at the ogling moon initially and then turned his howling directly at me, like somehow I had betrayed him. My eardrums vibrated with the pounding sound waves of his deep forest voice. I looked into his large undomesticated eyes, and it was apparent Freedom wanted nothing to do with humankind ever, unless on the menu. For the first time that I can recall he flashed an “I’m so sorry” look over his handsome, furry face.
Freedom then thrashed about, instantly tearing in half his leather leash, and then he turned and ran toward the concession stand in a full gallop. I became convinced that his excitement did not involve an interest in ordering a hot toddy at the food court or using the restroom.
Although I could not see him, I could hear his claws scratch and click against the pavement, up and down the undulations, in the direction of the food court, at the top of the hill. Fearful of what might occur I bailed out of my car and raced after him toward the bright lights.
“Have you seen my dog? Have you seen my dog? He was headed this way!” I shouted to anyone who would listen.
The team members at the food court froze in place as if Verizon had cut off their Smartphone service. I didn’t wait for them to answer, because it was apparent by the look in their crazed eyes that they might never speak again. In a hot minute I heard someone next to me yell “He went that a-way!” It’s only then that I saw a silhouetted finger pointing toward the freeway. The voice added, “I thought he was a werewolf at first until I realized he must be your new school mascot.” I forced a death row smile on my face and ran toward the terrible sounds.
In what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the freeway. In the now bright light of the full moon, and car lights, I could see the bleeding of my arms from running through the brush and brambles leading to the interstate. The traffic was stopped in all lanes and backed up for what appeared to be miles. The night began to pulse, with the ubiquitous dizzy blue and red flashing lights, the ebb and flow of color washing over everything. I could barely breathe, and felt the sensation of drowning. It was then I heard a loud, shrill sound like someone blowing a back-to-work whistle in my head. I then heard a howl, skidding tires, and a recognizable thud.
Dazed, I made my way up to the edge of the concrete where the slow lane begins. I asked the patrol officer what in the hell happened, and he said, “Look, that is exactly what happens when someone brings a werewolf into society. It’s like mixing thirty-weight oil, and apple vinegar with crushed ice.” Following his vaguely understandable metaphor, he pointed his sausage-sized finger toward all the traffic lanes. “Look, now there’s fur and bone spread cleanly across my highway!”
It was not until I became a man that I learned to forgive myself for attempting to tame Freedom.
BIO: Dan has a MS Degree in Education from UC, Sacramento, Calif. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new book of flash fiction, Second Stories.
Recent Credits: Adelaide, Better Than Starbuck’s, Cabinet of Heed, Cleaver, Confluence, Ekphrastic Review, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Frogmore, Foxglove, Gravel, High Shelf Press, New Flash Fiction Review, Peaking Cat, Rabid Oak, Riggwelter,Rigorous, Spelk, Tulpa, and White Wall Review.