Erik Wahlstrom

Noon has come and gone. The sun hangs low and hot. The world is made of premium gasoline fumes and lawnmower clippings, and the air is heavy with sweat and tired breath. I'm bored, sitting in my bedroom (playing Playstation or napping or lying flat on my back and staring up through the off-white ceiling.) I'm fifteen.
Micah is fourteen. Maybe he's sitting on the porch drinking lemonade. Maybe he's watching the heat and the grass and the sky and feeling absolutely nothing in particular. Clouds of insects pass slowly through the lawn like little dust devils. Robins hop across the ground, snapping at worms in vicious spasms. A jogger appears and nods politely. Tree branches bend and wave slightly in a light breeze. The jogger picks up his pace and is gone, disappeared around the bend and vanished forever. A bee drops down from the sky and drunkenly bobs in the air like a fat, hairy buoy on the surface of a lake.
The maid lets them out. This will be explained soon, and the thought will move through my mind and vanish in an instant. She's absentminded, leaves the door open a crack. It's a big door, mostly glass but framed elegantly by bits of wood and metal. She leaves it open a crack, and they escape. I don't see them, but Micah does. They explode through the door, burst from that towering gray box of a building into the ocean of rippling green grass and blue skies. They're only puppies, and they must be joyful, buzzing with that unique brand of enthusiasm and idiocy known only to dogs and children. Micah must be laughing, at the very least smiling, as they roll and tumble over themselves towards freedom. Maybe he calls me to come look. Maybe he doesn't see the wolves.
They fall from the castle -- that huge, gated mass of stone arches and lion statues that stands at the end of Purple Martin Lane -- in a swarm of white fur and sinew and teeth. They move with all the grace and purpose of machines, undeterred by the frail shock of the invisible fence. The puppies are afraid now, and they scatter, try to run. But they're soft and weak and built for people, so the wolves close quickly, in long meaningful strides. One of the small dogs falls behind, and I hear Micah screaming in panic and horror. Eli! Eli! They're killing it.
I run quickly. A million thoughts race through my brain and are instantly silenced. My feet don't hit the ground as I fly down the spiral staircase, around the corner, out the door. They hit the hot, sticky wood of the patio with a low note and I stand there, panting, with my hands on my hips like an idiot teen aged superman. What is it, I ask. What's killing what? And Micah just points. It hangs there, limply, like a bundle of pink and white rags. The wolves growl. The wolves fight. The wolves toss the bundle through the air, shaking and twisting happily.
Micah mouths something and is pale with nausea. His voice is gone and his hands are lost to him in the shaking. He tries to speak again and is unsuccessful, but I understand. We have to do something, Eli. We have to do something. I don't know how my hands find it, fumbling in the dark, electrical haze of adrenaline and panic, but they do. They close around its handle, and it feels cool and heavy and real. I swing it up above my shoulder and, as I wade valiantly out into that ocean of green grass and hungry predators, the bat is alive and filled with untapped violence. Stop it! I yell, and the wolves refuse to comply. Stop it!
They swing their blue eyes around and let them fall and rest on me. They anchor themselves firmly in the earth, draw pink lips back to reveal long ivory daggers, and let out low, angry growls. Stop it, I say. And the wolves will not. They advance, challenging me, daring me to steal what they're rightfully taken. For a moment, I'm overcome with fear. My knees are weak, my throat closes tightly, and I can feel the wet salt crawling across my forehead. I should turn around and run, should escape while I have the chance. Before I get hurt. Before I do something stupid. Instead I swing.
The bat hits heavily and my stomach knots itself up in sickness and satisfaction. The world is slow motion as I feel the dog bend around the impact of the wood, hear its scream stunted by the oxygen evacuating its lungs. It drops the bundle of rags and stumbles backwards in a half-limp, shaking, trying to regain its balance. The monsters regroup and they're afraid. I wave the weapon through the air like some ridiculous Conan the Barbarian. The wolves whimper and scatter, back through the flaccid electrical jolt of the invisible fence, back to that towering beige castle.
I drop the bat. Before me, a dog lays bleeding in the perfectly manicured grass. Its chest heaves with the slow, shallow breaths of a dying animal. Micah is suddenly beside me and his tall, thin frame blots out the sun and casts a shadow over me and the shivering mess of fur and blood. He doesn't say anything, just kneels down next to the dog and leans in close. It tries to growl or bark, but instead resigns itself to twitching lamely.
Micah? I ask, but he doesn't respond. Micah? He says nothing, but instead reaches down with two uncertain hands and scoops up the ragged, shivering bundle. He holds it to his chest, rocks it gently, and starts off across the sea. I slide up to his side and walk with him, trying with my quick short jolting steps, to keep pace with his gracefully long and purposeful strides.
And as we set off through the lawn and toward the street, I take one last glance back. The wolves are gone now, licking wounds and whimpering gently, but now there's something new. An old woman stands motionlessly silhouetted against the castle. She doesn't call to us. Doesn't move to check on her guard dogs or their prey or the traumatized teenager at my side. She stands there, silently watching and judging us. I've never seen her before and I realize, as she vanishes into her fortress of granite counter tops and plasma tvs, that I'll probably never see her again. And she's gone. And I'm right.
Micah's gone too. Far ahead now, across the street and nearing the house, surrounded by the barking and crying and mournful dancing of the other puppies. I double my pace and half-run, half-walk to catch him. He clears the front steps of the house in one stride and is at the door. I stumble up to his side, ring the door bell, and look over at my brother, sick with sadness and fear.
A woman answers the door, old and overweight with skin so white you can almost she through her, and her face swells up with regret at the sight of her mangled pet. Micah mumbles something about guard dogs and points at the castle and look away as he hands her his delivery. Her arms shake as she accepts it. They must've got out, Micah says. They must've got out.
She thanks us and we stand in awkward silence before I say you're welcome, and she nods and closes the door as we stand there in the summer heat, surrounded by miles of barbecues and pick up football games. I start to speak, but realize I don't have anything to say, so we both walk silently back across the yard to our own giant home. A plane flies overhead, low and loud, cracking open the wide blue sky with a thin line of new white clouds.
Micah will try to check on the dog. Every day this week, he'll trek across the green ocean of waving grass and knock at those giant doors, and every day, he'll find no answer. And then, losing hope, he'll answer our ringing doorbell to find a gift basket and thank you card, sent via the internet from people who live a hundred feet away from us.
Micah, in his youth and grief, will erect a small grave site behind our home and as he stands before it crying under gathering clouds, I'll walk out to join him and put a hand around his shoulder. He'll hug me and say thanks, and the sky will open up and pour.