Authors: Shawn Underhill
© 2012 by Shawn Underhill
rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons or
animals living or dead is purely coincidental.
No animals were
Cover art by
“Mankind has a
habit of burning the library before reading its books.”
Last Wild Wolves
The Great North
consist of some 26 million acres of sparsely populated forestlands, encompassing
portions of four northeastern U.S. states: New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and
Maine, as well as portions of the Canadian province of Quebec.
before she knew
why, Evie Brooks
The infatuation began soon after her
first steps. Whenever she would run (speed-waddle, really) she found that her
mother would give chase, and by Evie’s reckoning, a roaring good time was had
by all. So she ran. A lot. Forget Pat-a-cake
Peek-a-boo. The games her mother called
were Evie’s favorites. They played
almost every day.
Then came kindergarten.
In a small classroom lined with toys and
stacked mats for taking naps upon, Evie was expected to waste entire mornings
at a desk, stone-still and silent. Her mother had seemed quite sold on the
place, even before they arrived, but needless to say, energetic Evie was far less
When the weather turned hot that year Evie’s
mother stopped bringing her to the place of stillness, and she assumed she had
escaped school’s perils. But after a pleasant summer of relative freedom, that
fall she found herself back in school once more—this time in a larger classroom
within a larger building. It was first grade, they told her. And what that
anchored to a desk.
The first hour of her first day Evie was
sternly reminded on several occasions to remain seated at her desk. Her
compliance took a tremendous effort; though her legs wiggled and her feet
kicked a bit, she survived the torturous morning until recess. The short break
raised her spirits, only to give way to another longer stint at her desk, and a
subsequent drop in spirits. After that, however, she discovered that there was
hope; one class was different from the rest.
It was time for PE.
A different-looking sort of teacher—Evie
thought a happier-seeming fellow who wore a whistle around his neck—propped the
doors open and led a noisy march from the building. Coach McGrath, he
introduced himself as; he proceeded to unzip a large, bulgy nylon bag, poured
its contents onto the grass, and then stood back proudly with his hands on his
Most of her classmates were pleased when
the black and white checker-patterned balls spilled and rolled, but for Evie it
felt like something more, something almost …
: it was first love. She needed no prodding to give chase, no
encouragement to compete. The only problem was getting her settled down for
Call it a fling—she remembered it as a childish
crush—Evie and soccer didn’t last. Middle school was to blame. There she
discovered the world of competitive running: track and cross country, and soccer
got trashed quicker than an old boy band poster. Running became the consuming,
unrivaled love of her young life—although she never could quite explain
, she rarely slowed down long enough
to consider it; she just knew in her bones that it
By sixteen the hurried life was Evie’s
of life, a given. At school she ran
in the halls. At church she rushed in late, clicking in her heels while the old
ladies scowled (the old men never seemed to mind so much; often they smiled at
her, nicely offsetting their wives’ ever-deepening frowns). In her car Evie
tended to speed; within her first few months of driving alone she’d met several
of Alabama’s nicest, warning-only police officers—and one not so nice. She even
ran in her dreams.
Most often Evie’s running dreams were not
of tracks or meets but of a dirt road in the far-off North Woods—the road
dividing the pastures and fields of corn on her grandparents’ farm: her
favorite place in the world. In dreams she visited often, but in reality, circumstances
being as they were—the interference of school and whatnot—her visits were
limited to summer trips and the occasional white Christmas.
These northern dreams were typically soothing
in nature: warm, sunny, idyllic breaks from her daily grind. So imagine her
surprise when one night, without any sort of warning, the world around her went
suddenly pitch dark. Almost as if the sun had been switched off, the road and
corn stalks faded from her view, and Evie found herself jogging along in cold
Her initial reaction was a slowing of
her pace; in confusion she glanced around, more curious than anything. But in
the pitch darkness, that curious confusion very quickly became fear—a creeping sort
of fear sidling up from behind her and nipping at her heels. Her natural
response to that was of course, to run.
Without bothering to look over her
shoulder (she didn’t want to know) she took off as though her life depended on
it. Pushing beyond her comfort zone to the very edge of her well-known limit, she
continued at that pace until her heart could beat no faster, her lungs felt
ready to burst. Her choices soon narrowed to only two: let up or collapse.
And then the strangest thing happened.
Instead of hitting the wall, staggering
and crashing … in a strange moment—right as she
have faltered—just as true panic set in—she felt herself somehow
pushing through the wall
. Next second
she was out other side, unbelievably, leaving her limit far behind. Her strides
seemed to lengthen, her legs coursed with new strength, and her heart rate
settled into the comfortable rhythm of a jog. She could see no clear landmarks
to gauge her speed against, but judging by the air rushing by her she knew that
with far less effort she was actually moving faster.
It was a dream, she understood in a
dreamy sort of way; only a dream. But very quickly it had become the best running
dream she’d ever had; the rate was almost frightening—at least double her
typical best. It felt real in her limbs and her lungs; it even smelled real. So
holding her course to what felt like straight, she let go of all concern, fear
became nothing; the love of speed possessed her entirely. The sensation was freedom
in motion—pure freedom without consequence—and she lived only for that feeling,
that moment, the exhilaration of cool air swelling her lungs, the sheer thrill
of moving tirelessly fast.
She was under the shadows of trees, she
realized next, not pitch darkness; her eyes were adjusting. Overhead she
noticed twinkles of light teasing between the dark outlines of branches, while
before her she saw the dark smoothness of a well-worn trail. Soon she felt the
terrain shifting beneath her feet—which seemed oddly to be bare yet did not
hurt—and realized that not only was she moving forward at this incredible pace,
she was also climbing.
Ahead she noticed light. The trees about
her began to thin, and the soft forest floor gave way to firm ledge. On she ran
until she broke from the shadows into an open space beneath an endless ceiling
of night sky. On a bluff of smooth stone she halted, scanning her surroundings
in all directions.
She was alone in a world of wild
silence; only small night sounds met her ears. The light of a half-moon glowing
in a sea of stars showed a steep drop in one direction. Below the bluff the
tops of innumerable trees stretched on for miles and miles. Across this ocean
of tree tops she could see the crawling shadows of stray puffy clouds passing
under the moon’s light. And far beyond, a range of tall mountains reached into
the sky, their sharp peaks carving a rough line against steely white stars on
Memories suddenly caught up with her. Evie
knew this place. Because she’d never seen it under starlight, it had taken her
a moment to recognize, but she knew the place well. It meant family, comfort,
home—her second home. The dark run had not taken her away from her
grandparents’ property, only to a different corner of it; from this spot she’d
watched a hundred summer sunsets. Her chest warmed with the recognition, and
for a while she stood solemnly basking in her surroundings.
But, as with most good dreams, this
dream didn’t last. Just as she’d really started to appreciate it, she felt it
all slipping away.
In the stillness something startled her,
cutting the silence and jolting her from the warmth of recognition; that
something was a voice. In the dark it seemed to come from everywhere at once,
chilling her like an icy wind. And then in a terrible second the darkness began
to pale, the mountains and trees faded, the night sky went white; daylight
flooded her eyes. That quickly it was over. Against her protests she felt
herself hauled back into the waking world, plucked from that magical spot by
the icy whispering of her name.
Far to the north, many miles removed
from Evie and her strange dream, a great pack of wolves gathered on that very ledge.
Known as Moon Rock, it was the granite peak of Oak Hill. Shining like an island
of reflected light amid miles of dark forest,
the stony knoll had long served
as their secret meeting hall: the cathedral under the stars of the Great North
News was in the air that night, the excitement
of which swept through the pack as they answered the meeting call and streamed
in from all directions. Some thirty strong, the riotous assembly closed round
their magnificent leader, bowing in reverence as he stood head high, eyes
glowing green fire, his white coat shimmering ghostly silver under the pale
light. And when most all were present in that sacred spot, their whines and
yips of spirited greetings erupted into a many-noted song of celebration—a chorus
of howls sung in beautiful accord—in honor of their leader, and of their newest
Evie felt ready to explode.
Shutting off her bedroom light with a
smack, she stomped to bed by the glow of her phone. Once in bed she shut the
phone off and let it fall to the carpeted floor. It was Friday night, and he’d
ditched her. His idea to go out, and he’d ditched her. Fifteen minutes before
he was supposed to pick her up, and the
I wasted my summer on him, she realized.
No, not all. But enough. I missed August. The important part. Going up north
with Papa Joe, Grammy Evelyn, and all the cousins, aunts and uncles. I missed
all those good times, all that homemade food. Sunsets over the mountains. Breathing
that delicious air. Running in that air. Grooming the horses and riding the
four-wheelers. Picking buckets of blueberries and eating apples straight from
the trees. Everything gone. Wasted on a zit that couldn’t beat me at a video
game, never mind a real sport.
Evie rolled over and faced her bedroom
window. It was barely dark outside, she was still dressed to go out, but all
she wanted was the escape of sleep, to blink her eyes and have it be morning,
to have this feeling behind her.
When it came to friends and family Evie
was as sweet as a summer day was long. A nearly equal and opposing portion of
her, though, was as fiery as her red hair—a trait she had always assumed to be
her southern upbringings.
To cry would have been a relief, to scream would have
been almost fun, but right then she found she could do neither. She’d never
felt quite like this before. Even her fancy Stay-Cool pillow seemed to be
burning against her cheek.