Since that horrible night a year ago, when I killed my sister, I dream a lot about running with wolves. In my heart, I experience the joy of breaking free from human bonds and traveling the shadow land with my pack.
Last night the dream in which I roamed the wilderness with my brothers and sisters, morphed into a nightmare. A silver alpha male trotted so close his breath washed over me like a thick cloud. From out of the dark trees ahead, a cloaked figure emerged. Patches of moonlight slithered through bare limbs and reflected on the barrel of a long rifle cradled in his arms. A murmur of impending death rippled through the pack, but not in time to save us all. He aimed and fired into our midst. Some scattered while others dropped. Howls of pain echoed through the darkness, clogged with the smell of death. I raced over blood-soaked ground, but with only two legs to their four, soon fell behind. Gasping for air and sick at heart, I stumbled over a crumpled form and sank to my knees beside the mortally wounded alpha female. My fingers clutched her thick ruff to meld our spirits. Her gleaming amber eyes gazed at me a moment, but before I could read the message there, she was gone. Lost to another world. From the distance rose a powerful lament. My sister Lara cried out my name; the howl of the alpha male begged me to join them. Bereft, I rose and answered their call.
Why not go with them? I had no one, nothing. My life was empty.
I came to my senses standing naked at the bedroom window, my own wail echoing around me. Jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons cut into the ashen sky, like some giant had slashed at the universe with wicked shears. From far away a forlorn baying pricked at my conscience. For so long my soul had overflowed with guilt. This night it was joined with a desire to roam with the pack. To take the place of the Alpha female and mate with the beautiful silver male. An orgasm struck with such intensity that I doubled over and hugged myself, my voice joining the other night cries. What release, what intense joy. My body trembled and my muscles convulsed in a lonely mating dance.
My sister often spoke of a legend that tells how each woman shelters within her soul the spirit of the wolf. But she alone can sing that spirit into being. At that moment I yearned to disappear into the night, never to be heard from again. Ached to sing my wolf spirit into being. Just as La Loba – Wolf Woman – sings over the bones of the dead wolf and resurrects it, I could then do the same for Lara. No lover can elicit this great feeling of love, for this is women’s labor and a solitary work carried out in the desert of the psyche. But it was only a legend. Wasn’t it?
Coming wide awake, it didn’t take much to figure out the mixed message here. Either I needed a man or I needed a wolf. Or I needed a man who was a wolf. Or I needed to make a decision about Lara and about myself as well. It was time to turn off her life support and stop letting her hang on, half dead, nowhere near alive... cripes.
I went back to bed. I guess running with those wolves wore me out, or maybe it was the orgasms. Whatever, I slept hard and dreamless till the alarm went off.
Over orange juice and toast the next morning, the realism of the eerie dream returned to taunt me. God help me, I felt as if I’d experienced that exquisite feeling of having had the greatest sex in the world. This was the morning after, and I couldn’t resist rubbing my breasts until they tingled.
The telephone jerked me from my erotic fantasy. Staggering to my feet, I dug the instrument from under a cup towel on the counter. Too bleary-eyed to read the caller ID, I punched the button but didn’t get a chance to say hello.
“Hey, Liv, rise and shine. Time to go to work.” It was my best friend Ginni, who I could gladly kill anytime before noon, she was so goddamned cheerful in the morning.
“Yes, oh, holy mistress. Thanks for reminding me.”
“Hey, what’s wrong? You sound... um... funny. Still asleep?”
“Something like that.” I did my best to hold a steady voice. Sharing such a fantasy with Ginni would send the conversation rolling downhill fast.
“Hum. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to digging into the shipment from the Horning Museum.”
“Don’t you know it’s a sin to be so happy before ten o’clock?”
She laughed. “Can’t help it. I’m looking forward to opening up those crates.”
Visions of my nighttime experience slowly faded. “Me, too. Too bad the family had to go out of business, though. I liked old man Horning. He was a hoot, walking around dressed like a mountain man and telling those outlandish stories. Pretending he had moved to Pinedale out of the past and brought with him a stash of gold from a hidden mine.”
“Yeah, well, who’s to say he didn’t? Truth be known, he probably didn’t really die, just returned to his own time.”
She believed in some weird stuff, but who was I to judge? “Do you suppose he took his gold with him?”
“Could be. In any case, we can sure use some new exhibits. I’m anxious to get them unpacked and on display before the rendezvous.”
I fell silent. My mind flashed back a year. Lara had danced about in a pretty pink dress, so excited about going to the Green River Rendezvous that she had Brian and me laughing and playing her game. This year, I wouldn’t go. I couldn’t. Not without my sister. As for Brian, well, I’d grown used to being without him. The coward.
As if she’d read my mind, Ginni said, “You have to get past this. I’m someone who knows. I’ll pick you up in fifteen. Better be ready.”
“Sure.” I disconnected. She was good at putting in her two-cents worth, then going right on so I never had a chance to react and explain why I couldn’t get past driving my car off a highway, the accident sending my sister plunging through the windshield and into a vegetative state. It was impossible to just snap my fingers and get over such a devastating loss.
And what had last night’s dream meant, anyway? I guess I should’ve expected something about now. The accident had happened the previous year exactly two weeks after the Green River Rendezvous. And Lara and I had so often spoken of running with the wolves, though not literally. She had the book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, and was fascinated by it. Always quoting something, or reading whole pages, in a soft voice. To me it was a game. I could never really buy into the idea of the wild woman archetype, though it was tempting. Obviously, my subconscious liked the idea.
Okay, so that’s probably what the whole crazy night-flick was about. Lara lying up there waiting for me to set her wild spirit free; me convinced I was responsible for her predicament; and let’s face it, not having a man around to take care of my own wild cravings obviously caused the orgasm. Oh, yeah. About Brian. Well, let’s just say he hadn’t handled my guilt trip well, and he lit out to find a jollier mate. Maybe I should find someone before desperation sends me out looking for a wolf to partner up with. Stranger things have happened. Or so they say. Personally, I doubt it, all those dark tales about werewolves notwithstanding. Men are hard enough to understand, without partnering up with one who turns into a killer wolf when the moon is full. Not for me.
I finished my tea and went upstairs to dress for a day at the Mountain Man Museum, where I had worked for five years. Ginni had started eight months ago, and we became fast friends immediately. She was a screwball who meditated and performed impossible snake-like yoga moves. And communed with the other side on occasion. She was also an activist determined to save the earth and its creatures from mankind. Currently, she was involved as a volunteer in the Federal Wildlife Services’ gray wolf restoration program. Led some sort of organization. But I wasn’t interested.
There’s another connection to the dream. When I thought about it, the fantasy hadn’t been so strange after all. But why the part about some two-legged predator killing the wolves?
Ginni drove up the dirt lane, the little MG her brother had restored before he was killed in Iraq, trailing dust and an echoing roar. I sat on the front porch of my cozy little log cabin, breathing in the scent of honeysuckle and trying not to think about anything much except the beautiful Wyoming morning. Ginni covered her grief with a bubbly personality that didn’t quite hide the forlorn sadness that lurked in her chocolate brown eyes. At least she wasn’t responsible for her brother’s death. But she did know about losing a loved one. From the beginning, that had been our connection. Otherwise, we were opposites.
Stuffing my five foot-eight inch hefty frame in the low-slung MG was no mean task. As for Ginni, she fit quite well, since she was barely five feet tall and probably weighed 98 pounds right after she ate a #3 Combo with extra fries at Mickey D’s.
“Good morning,” she sang when I grunted into the seat. Before I could snap the seat belt, she downshifted and fish-tailed a circle back into the lane. At my insistence she’d added seat belts to the Mustang. If I was going to ride with her. Which I had to right now because I damn well wasn’t about to crawl behind the wheel of a car and kill someone else.
We weren’t even out from under the sheltering pines before she began to sing a Bon Jovi tune.
“When you going to put in that CD player?” I hollered over her wailing.
Mouth open for the next sour note, she gave me a dirty look. “Can’t afford it yet.”
“Well, where can I donate to the cause? You sound like a bull moose calling to its mate. ”
“I guess you could do better.”
“No… that’s why I don’t try.”
She hit the chorus with renewed fervor.
“I’ll give you five dollars if you’ll turn down the volume. You’re about to bust my eardrums.”
She cut off the song with laughter. “Not bust, dear, that’s something you have on your chest. It’s burst. Burst your eardrums. Would you say there goes a big bursted lady?”
“Oh, God, how do you do it this early in the morning? I can’t even see yet, let alone sing bad and tell worse jokes.”
“Hey, what makes you think I can see? I can tell jokes without sight. I can sing, too.”
“That is debatable.”
She see-sawed back and forth on the dirt road that led to the highway to Pinedale.
In no mood for her shenanigans, I screeched, grabbed the dash and hung on. Once she got on the blacktop, she behaved herself, knowing my fear of having a wreck. We were both quiet for a short while, thank goodness.
She broke the silence on a serious note. “Hey, girl, it’s not like I mind giving you a ride or anything, but when are you gonna climb back behind the wheel? It’s time to face your fears and get on with it.”
“You’re so understanding.” I sounded like a grumpy old woman, but didn’t care.
“Hey, I refuse to be an enabler. You need a good kick in the butt. If I wasn’t your friend, I wouldn’t care. But I am, and I do.”
“You’re right, I know. I’ve tried. I get in a car and start it, roll slowly away from the house, but I just can’t get past the end of the lane. Everything flies apart. My hands shake till I can’t hold the wheel, and my leg hops all around from accelerator to brake. I’d be a death machine on the highway.”
Immediately, what I’d said shot straight through to my heart. I was a death machine. I’d already killed. It wasn’t easy to face, and I couldn’t say it aloud. But damn, I’d come close to it this time. I glanced at her to see if she’d noticed.
Ginni had the window open and her curly copper hair blew in all directions so she looked like a gorgeous Medusa. Her fingers tapped the wheel in rhythm to the song in her head. I really cared for her, and that scared me, too. She was the type something bad could happen to and I was damned fed up with losing people I loved.
Using the gears to slow down and speed up, she maneuvered through a curve, and, to my relief, changed the subject. “Guess what happened last night?” She didn’t sound happy anymore.
“Someone shot a wolf and left its body outside Wyoming Game & Fish.”
She might as well have hit me with a board and struck me speechless. Someone killing wolves was right out of my nightmare.
Without noticing my reaction, Ginni went on. “I can’t imagine the mentality that spurs that kind of behavior.”
Swallowing a huge knot in my throat, I managed to squawk, “Ranchers believe the wolves kill their calves and sheep.”
“That’s a crock of bull. Gray wolves live on wildlife and rarely if ever take down domesticated animals unless they’ve been conditioned to it. And there’s research being done that suggests wolves that are killing livestock can unlearn their behavior.”
I’d heard the speech before, and read some as well on the rancher’s side of the issue. The Wolf Restoration Program in Wyoming as well as in Montana and Idaho was a hot topic. I didn’t know who was right; didn’t really care all that much. I sure didn’t want to argue with Ginni, a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the Wildlife Service program to restore wolves to the wilds. What bothered me at the moment was the connection to my nightmare.
Still, I had to ask if they knew who killed the wolf.
She stuck her arm out and up to signal a right turn into the entrance to the museum. Turn signals for the MG were on the same list as a CD player.
“Tom says the year-old pup was shot three times, but they’ll have to do a necropsy to retrieve the bullets. And that could take weeks. Did you know that Arizona has a $45,000 reward out for someone who’s slaying wolves out there?”
Tom Hammer was an agent with Wyoming Game & Fish, who looked a bit like Tom Cruise, only taller with a smaller nose. Ginni was carrying a gigantic crush on him. He, of course, wasn’t aware of it.
A necropsy is to dead animals what an autopsy is to dead people. She’d complained before that it often seemed to take forever to get results after shipping the carcass off to the lab in Oregon. I didn’t know about the Arizona reward, but she didn’t give me time to say so. Hard to keep up with Ginni’s conversational jumps sometimes, much less respond properly. Anyway, I tried.
“If it’s that important out West, why don’t they get on it more here? Seems like I remember someone shot a whole bunch of wolves here a year or so ago. What happened to that guy?”
“Yep, a fellow named Sharpe. That was before I came to work at the museum. Tom went after him in the mountains and finally caught him. He was fined, lost his ranch and went to jail for a whole year. That’s a big fat deal. A year. He’s probably out by now. He tracked down the whole pack and slaughtered them, said they’d killed his full-blood Arabian stallion. Probably wild dogs or a mountain lion that did it. The service allows for legal destruction of wolves that kill domestic animals, but he didn’t have proof, much less see it happen. And he didn’t go about it the legal way. The service takes depredation by wolves seriously and usually deals with it promptly. He couldn’t wait.”
I shivered, again thinking of my dream. Someone shooting at my pack in the dead of night. This was some scary shit. Was I going nuts, or what?
Ginni whipped the low-slung MG into a parking space near the back employee entrance. I pried my way out and caught up with her, shoes crunching on the graveled walk. Fishing the key out of my bag, I let us into the dim interior of the museum. The aroma of the past carried me away from the present and its terrible memories. In my mind mountain men roamed the passageways amidst the exhibits of great grizzly and buffalo, mountain goats and wild cats. My foolish imagination often had me joining them in conversation to escape the sorrows of my own life.
We went from room to room, opening blinds and turning on lights in the display cases before depositing our things in the small employee room. I unlocked the front door while Ginni counted out cash into the register.
Downstairs the items from the Horning Museum were waiting for us. As soon as our boss Dean arrived to man the front desk, we’d get to work unpacking, classifying and searching out nooks and crannies to display the contents.
Ginni glanced up from counting. “You go on downstairs and start; I’ll wait for Dean. Want me to bring you something to drink when I come down? That’s bound to be dusty work.”
“Yeah, an iced tea would be great.” The morning was already getting hot. Air conditioning in the MG meant running the top down.
She nodded and I tripped down the stairs, eager to get to work. Opening new arrivals was oftentimes more thrilling than Christmas. Working at the museum put me in touch with the spirits of people out of the past, those who had actually used the items on display. It was a bit like living with them. Their presence seemed so real that I often talked to them.
At the bottom of the stairs I rounded the rail, deep in thought. Something whispered at my back and I turned, half-expecting to see a ghostly intruder come for a visit. Someone or something shifted through the dark passage to the storage room. The hair lifted on the back of my neck. Ghosts didn’t bother me, but real visitors sneaking about where they didn’t belong did.
“Who is that?” The words came out in a weak croak. No one should be here. I prayed it was a mischievous ghost finally ready to reveal herself to me. Lord knows, I spoke with them often enough. Can’t say I’ve ever had a reply or a visit before, but you never could tell.
A breeze hit me full in the face and a door snicked closed quietly as if someone were indeed sneaking around. Well, I’d soon take care of that. Ghosts didn’t need to open and shut doors. Human intruders were worse than a visit from spirits.
Wondering how this one got in, I hurried after the figure. At the door I paused, then straightened my shoulders, turned the knob and shoved it open. A tall man dressed in buckskins stood in the dim light from the shuttered windows. He shifted into the shadows before I could make out more.
Someone coming early to the rendezvous. But how did he get in and downstairs ahead of me?
“Hello? You shouldn’t be down here. This is private.”
“Hello, Olivia. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Oh, brother. An actor with a voice like Mel Gibson. “Who are you and how did you get in here? Wait a minute, you know my name. Is this a joke? In any case, you need to leave.”
He stepped forward so I could get a good look at him. He was over six feet tall and had long, ebony hair. Whoa, Road Warrior. I’d seen all those early Gibson flicks. The buckskins kind of let out old Mel and the road warrior. The outfit was intricately beaded around the neckline and he wore knee-high moccasins.
“I am Wolf Shadow of the tribe you call the Cheyenne. The Beautiful People.”
This was really too much, and for a minute I couldn’t reply. Finally, I choked out a couple words. “Uh… okay.”
“Do not be afraid.”
Afraid? I was only mildly terrified, but more because of the dream and his appearance put together than of him. I cleared my throat. This guy had to be from the Rendezvous. “You ... uh, you look the part. The beadwork is exquisite. Who did that for you?”
“The wife of my brother.”
“You’re pretty well prepared for the Rendezvous. Are you sure there were Cheyenne present at any of the Mountain Man Rendezvous?”
“I did not come for this thing you speak of. I came for you. Our brother sent me. I am of the Wolf Soldier Clan.”
A shudder rippled all the way down my back. I’ve never seen a ghost, and when I do he has to look like this? His high cheekbones and sculpted jawline stretched the copper-toned skin to a smooth finish. Wide-set ebony eyes regarded me as if he knew my innermost thoughts. Knew of my dream of the previous night. What in the hell was going on here?
Caught up by my thoughts and his gaze, I was temporarily struck mute. Warm sweet oil flowed over my skin in a lover’s caress. A flash of his long, graceful fingers trailing along the quivering flesh of my belly, my breasts. Breath caught in my throat and I took a step toward him before coming to my senses.
I shook my head hard enough to loosen strands of hair from their clip.
My reply sounded weak. “I don’t have a brother.” But he’d said “our” brother. What could that mean?
“Yes, you do. We do. Study the wolves; you will understand. Call when you need our help and I will come.” He shifted and blurred around the edges so I could see through him in places.
“Hey, cut that out. I’m not impressed.” Foolishly, I reached out toward him, not wanting him to leave. I needed answers and sensed he had them. I needed him to.
He backed up and faded through the wall, an outstretched hand being the last to go.
“Okay, now I’m impressed.”
On trembling knees, I backed from the room into the passageway, never taking my eyes off the spot where the tall, beautiful Cheyenne had been only moments earlier.
Once out of there, I shut the door, whirled and fled to the stairs and scrambled up, feet scarcely touching any of the treads. Maybe I screamed, I’m not sure. All I could hear was a roaring in my ears and a terrible thought going round and round in my brain. I had gone crazy. Hallucinations were the first sign, weren’t they? And he couldn’t be real, could he? Of course not. People didn’t go around moving through walls, appearing out of nowhere.
Evidently I had screamed, because Ginni came running, eyes wide. “What is it? My God, what happened?”
Panting hard, I stood before her, fingers spread over my chest. But I couldn’t utter a sound.
“Okay. Five words. First word. How many syllables?” she said.
“I... this is... no... time to joke.”
“Uh huh. Why the screaming and yelling? I thought a banshee had been turned loose. Not that I’d be surprised. We’ve got everything else in here.”
“No... uh, listen. I saw... I saw a man.”
“Well, that’s not so bad.”
“No kidding.” I sucked in a few breaths, determined to get my story out, but doing that with Ginni wasn’t exactly easy.
“Why didn’t you bring him upstairs with you? I don’t see any reason to scream unless he ... he didn’t, did he?” She turned me around, checked out my clothing. “You look all together.”
“Dammit, Ginni. He was there and then he wasn’t. He just backed out of the room, right through the wall.
She studied me for a long moment. “Now, honey. You been taking Ambien again? I told you it’d turn you into a zombie. Hallucinations and all.”
“Stop it. I’m not on drugs and I’m not hallucinating.” At least I hoped I wasn’t. “He called me by name, said he’d been sent to help me. I think it’s about Lara and the accident and everything.” The everything I couldn’t even tell her.
“Aw, honey. Don’t go there. Hey, let’s go down and see if he’s come back. I’d like to see this guy; straighten him out.” She pulled at my arm and started down the steps, obviously trying to humor me.
“You go. I’ll wait here, thank you very much.” I pulled from her grasp and she started down, then turned and gazed up at me, all the teasing gone from her demeanor. “You’re serious, aren’t you? I thought you were messing with me cause I’m into Ouija boards and séances and the like... you know...” She shrugged.
“I’m not messing with you. He was dressed in buckskins and had long, shiny black hair and he talked to me, said his name was Wolf Shadow... oh, God, Ginni, what do you suppose this is all about? Am I going crazy?”
I couldn’t tell her how close I’d come to going with him without question.
“Don’t be silly. You couldn’t make anything like this up. It’s about not sleeping enough, that’s all. It’s about spending all your spare time sitting at Lara’s bedside like you could wish her back. You’re dwelling on your own guilt too much, honey. You’ve got to get hold of yourself. See a grief counselor or something. This has gone on too long.”
“Then you do think I’m hallucinating... that it’s about Lara?” I could still scarcely utter her name, and when I did, I burst out bawling like a baby. Feeling totally helpless and unable to stop.
“Indirectly, yes, I do.” She came back up the few steps and put her arms around me. “Let’s wait up here until Dean arrives, then we’ll go down together and unpack those things. That’ll cheer you up. You always enjoy wading around through old, crackly papers, books and smelly clothing.”
She was right, I did. “But how come when you talk to the departed, it’s okay, and when I—”
“That’s different and you know it.”
Actually, seeing the apparition, or whatever the hell it was, had probably been the result of lack of sleep, or the nightmare, or both. I know the spirits of the long dead linger around places like the museum, where they feel comfortable. They come and go, visit their lost lives, then move on. But I never expected one to actually contact me. Certainly not one so gorgeous. After I’d sat in on a few unsuccessful séances with Ginni, I’d given up on an actual face to face with the departed.
Before we could discuss my sighting further, or go downstairs to investigate, Dean came lumbering in. Now he’s an enigma. A man with two PhDs who has traveled the world digging up artifacts and spent time teaching on the college level, and he settles on running this museum in the back end of nowhere. Well, I don’t really mean that, because I wouldn’t live anywhere else, except Dean’s been in all the famous cities of the world, old and new. He must’ve seen some place he liked more than Pinedale, Wyoming.
“Good morning, ladies.”
Besides being the typical professorial type, he dressed and acted like one. Hearing the greeting, you’d expect him to doff an imaginary hat, but he only shuffled toward the employees room to deposit his ever present umbrella – like it rains that much in Wyoming – his sack lunch and the corduroy jacket with elbow patches he wore year round.
“Going downstairs to unpack the Horning exhibits,” Ginni said when he returned.
He nodded and stopped to align some books in their racks. “You run across the lost gold, be sure to let me know,” he said, aiming a wink at me.
Before I could reply, Ginni grabbed my arm and dragged me down into the deepest recesses of the building. No doubt that was a funny sight, little Ginni dragging a reluctant bigger me toward the staircase when I’d rather have done most anything but go down there and face my fantasy lover. For in those moments, that’s what he’d become. Someone to flee with, someone to take me to his world where my worries would disappear.
Chances are I could’ve resisted Ginni’s grip enough to escape, but just the idea of acting so silly embarrassed me. Especially in front of Dean.
So down we went, into the gloom.
“Where did you see this... this ghost?”
I pointed down the hall. She marched off toward the closed door like she might be twice her size, ready to take on anything, man or beast. And she probably is big enough, considering all the classes she takes in martial arts, some of which I can’t pronounce or spell. I prefer hiking and biking, but haven’t done much lately other than visit my sister Lara. Ginni says that’s for sissies, but she’ll walk and ride bikes if I’ll punch bags and kick other people in the butt. I haven’t yet taken her up on it.
Feeling more and more foolish, I trailed along behind her down the dark hallway, not sure whether I wanted the Cheyenne to appear or not. It would be fun to see Ginni’s reaction. Her and her Ouija board and all the big talk about communing with the spirits.
At the closed storage closet, she shoved open the door and flicked on the light. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” She glanced back over her shoulder at me with an expression that made me want to smack her. “Nope. No one here.”
“I told you, he left.”
“Yeah. Through the wall, you said.”
I shrugged. “Well, that’s what he did.”
The moment she turned full away from the room, I glanced over her shoulder. Against the backdrop of paneling, two golden eyes glistened in the shadows, then were gone. My yelp came too late for Ginni to see what I saw.
She put an arm around my shoulder. “You know, this isn’t fair. I work like crazy to get even one spirit to talk to me and you run into one without even trying.”
“No. It was nothing. It’s okay. I’m jumpy, is all. It was nothing. I swear, nothing.”
No way in hell was I going to get her started on this. Next thing you know, she’d have me holding hands at a candlelit table, moaning and beseeching the spirits to appear and commune with her. No, I’d handle this myself. After all, the man – or ghost or whatever he was – had made no attempt to harm me. Not yet, anyway.