Aug. 2nd, 2012

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The cold metal cemetery gates clicked and squeaked like the gears of a massive clock when Koda pushed through them. Damp leaves squelched as his bare feet pressed them into the mud. A wind from the lake brought the scents it had caught as it traversed the city and dropped them into the graveyard like liquids through a sieve. He smelled the thinnest first, exhaust and pavement, and then fried foods and rainwater, and brick, almost as an afterthought. Tires splashing through puddles, the gate swinging with the wind on its hinges, the trees whispering; and above him, the sky, occluded by the moon, bright and overbearing, washing out the stars but throwing the black clouds below into sharp relief. Had he a thesaurus he may very well have sat down right there to compose a scene. He didn’t, though.

He liked the word “occluded.” Saying it aloud made him feel like he’d unlocked some secret of the universe. Occluded. “Hidden” was so passé, after all. Nobody would occlude something on their own merit, but everybody has something to hide. To occlude something was to take it beyond hidden, to bring it to a place where most people wouldn’t even look, to the veiled heart of language that churned silently and efficiently beneath its banal, useful skin. Nobody at school would understand it, either, which just made it better. Koda had gotten over how he had no real friends, and how everyone his age seemed to treat him like he was carrying a social Ebola virus. When he talked, other kids looked at him like he was crazy, and when they talked it was never to him, even if he was their subject, as he felt he often was.

“I think you may be too sensitive, honey,” his mom said when he had mentioned feeling left out over dinner. They were eating leftover gumbo, which tasted like warm flavored water. She had the dark lines under her eyes that meant she wasn’t really paying attention to him right at that moment. She sighed, a sigh that resembled a sob, except she wasn’t crying. “Everyone doesn’t hate you. A first day at a new job is always hard, but everyone makes mistakes. They’ll open up eventually.” He remembered then that she had just taken work as a part-time assistant at a department store. That was probably why she was tired. Koda decided to drop it that night, and he spent the next two weeks vigorously ignoring everybody around him.

He didn’t really care much for anybody. He knew this and embraced it as part of his character. Maybe “misanthrope” was a good adjective to add to his collection. He also liked, and used, “nomadic.”

The gravel road ran a winding path from the back gate through which he had entered to the front, but Koda followed it only for a while before leaving it for a secluded grove of trees overlooking flat copper nameplates. He couldn’t see them in the dark but the metal was almost shockingly cold, and he quickly sidestepped back to the narrow strip of grass between them. His destination was a large flat rock that had only been partially sculpted before being set, the occupant of the grave below having opted for a more naturalistic style for his body’s permanent residence. As he clambered atop the stone slab he felt the cold void in the coffin below, and above that, the spiny interior of the rock itself. He sat down and crossed his legs, and closed his eyes.

He had read about meditation after watching a movie in which an old Chinese man was able to discover the world by closing his eyes and humming. In the movie the man lived alone in a hut in the middle of the woods. At one point he was surrounded by a pack of wolves, and instead of running, he held his ground and locked eyes with the leader wolf, who snarled and snapped but eventually lowered his head in submission. His student, the plucky Westerner, asked how he had done it, and the man replied that by becoming one with the world, all animals recognized him as their brother.

A handsome Native American face flashed through Koda’s mind, superimposed over the scene. It was familiar but half-remembered, like Koda thought he would look in many years. He blinked it away.

In the graveyard, a small animal watched him from the shadow of a tree. Koda realized his eyes were open and closed them again, humming and imagining he was reaching deep into the earth with a third hand, becoming one with everything. His perception slid like a tendril through the dirt, clacked against the insect carapaces and felt them wiggle. He brushed through the grass, feeling it whisper as he passed, and over the gravestones, tiptoeing like an ant so as not to wake their occupants. He reached out to the animal, sliding across its paws.

It recoiled.

The surprise was enough to shock Koda from his trance. He snapped back to his body on the rock. Everything was sharp and dull again.

Whatever the animal was, it was still there, just over his right shoulder. He hadn’t scared it off. Maybe it was a reflex, and the creature hadn’t consciously reacted to him. He took a deep breath and let it out, then gently grasped within himself. He tentatively reached out again, surprised, elated and scared that he had actually managed to achieve nirvana or whatever; his heart beat insistently against his sternum, his hairs stood on end. This time he moved specifically towards the animal, which he sensed through the ground was crouched behind a tree. It peered around the thick trunk. Koda’s perception brushed across its left foreleg.

It reacted again, this time raising the leg and shifting in mild agitation. After a moment it scratched at the spot with its tongue.

It was a wolf. Actually, it was a very weird wolf. As it moved over the soil, Koda, in his mind, felt its paws pressing down, felt how the digits of the forepaws pressed almost unnaturally into the soft soil, and how they tried to curl just before they came up. Now almost directly behind him, the wolf peeked around another tree to stare at him. Koda reached for the wolf’s current tree and felt one of its deformed forepaws gripping—gripping?—the trunk. He didn’t want to scare it off again so this time he confined himself to the bark.

Keeping a faint psychic hold on the earth around the wolf—just enough to tell whether or not it moved, really—he said, “You can come over here if you want. I won’t bite.”

Nothing happened. Koda stretched and then resituated himself so he was facing the tree behind which the wolf had now withdrawn its head. He waited for some sort of reaction, but his interloper was apparently content to remain, for the moment, out of sight.

Koda felt a twinge of doubt. Perhaps the wolf was simply a beast, and his entreaty was to it nothing more than a confusing series of animal noises? But no, it still didn’t make sense that it would be here, nor that it would act so distantly curious. It was almost childlike, he thought. He called to it again, to exactly the same effect.

Well then, he thought, and, after waiting for a moment but seeing no signs of movement, closed his eyes. As long as it stayed over there, he didn’t mind its presence. If it decided to attack him he’d know long before it reached him. He tried to resume but his heart was beating too fast and his palms were sweaty.

A while passed in silence, and Koda had given up expecting anything to happen, when the wolf finally crept from the shadow of the tree. It took two steps towards the rock and then stopped.

It said, “Go away.”

Koda, who had been wholly unprepared for this turn—a wolf that speaks? What is one to make of such a thing?—said, with barely-concealed annoyance, “I was here first.”

“Go away,” the wolf repeated. It bared its fangs for emphasis. Koda could see them in the reflected moonlight.

“I was here first,” he said again. Couldn’t the thing understand that? He had been coming to this graveyard for weeks. What right did this dog have to tell him what to do?

“Go away.”

“You go away.”

The wolf reacted as though he had been slapped, but it was delayed by almost a full second, as though it took that long for the words to resonate in its brain. Probably that was exactly the case, Koda thought ungraciously. The sight of the beast flinching away from nothing was comical, and exaggerated when it began scratching submissively at the ground before it.

“Sorry.”

Koda berated himself silently. Now the wolf was backtracking, tail down and head low, but staring straight at him with bright gold eyes. He felt a sudden inexplicable kinship with the thing. After all, he hadn’t really been trying to scare it off. “Wait. Don’t go. You don’t have to leave.”

The wolf paused.

“I’ve never seen a wolf like you before,” Koda continued coaxingly. Which was true enough, for he had not, not even in pictures of wolves. “Why don’t you come over here?” He put his hand on the rock beside him.

The wolf watched him intently, and Koda could almost feel its breath even as it stood so far away. “I won’t do that,” said the wolf. “You see, I’m a wolf.”

Koda frowned. “So?”

“So wolves aren’t domesticated. I won’t come when called, probably. And even if I did, there’s no guarantee that I won’t bite you. I might be hungry. I’m dangerous. Grrrr,” it growled for emphasis.

“You don’t look dangerous.”

“That’s what you’d like to think, isn’t it? I just look like a big husky until you get real close, when it becomes obvious that I’m something just a little different, a little more.” It scratched around at the ground. “What are you doing?”

“I’m meditating,” Koda said. Of course a wolf wouldn’t know what that meant, he thought, but didn’t say. “It’s just kind of like thinking a lot about something, and relaxing. And learning. I think it’s a lot of fun.” He hesitated. “Would you like to meditate with me?”

“Eh,” said the wolf.

“Well fine,” said Koda, a bit hurt. “It’s better if you do it alone, anyway. There’s less interference from other people’s chakra.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” the wolf said smugly.

“Whatever. I’m meditating. It’s rude to interrupt.”

“You want to talk to me, so you might as well talk while I’m here. Who knows when I’ll decide to traipse off because I smelled something interesting or found a smaller, less troublesome animal to hunt?”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Koda lied. He closed his eyes and hummed, but the Native American man appeared again on the back of his eyelids. The man’s long braided hair hung over his shoulder, and there was a smile on his wrinkled, almond-colored face. Koda opened his eyes. “You know what my Dad called me?”

“What?”

“He called me Little Lone Wolf. It’s appropriate,” Koda explained, trying to affect an air of nonchalance, “because his name, his real name, was Wolf Brother.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes.” He shifted uneasily, suddenly aware of the cold stone beneath him once again.

“Well it was probably a wolf that killed him,” said the wolf more nonchalantly.

Koda bristled. “No. His name was Wolf Brother, didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you,” the wolf yawned. “Any man who’s pretentious enough to think that he’s brother to wolves deserves to be eaten by wolves.”

“That’s not what his name means!”

“Yes it is. Maybe your affection is occluding his fault. And anyway, I’m a real wolf, not some fake wolf.”

“What are you doing here?” Koda asked, glad to be off the subject of his father, who he was almost certain had actually been named Brother Wolf, though he couldn’t say that now.

“I’m a lone wolf. My pack ostracized me for seeing things they don’t see. They don’t see the value in the things I caught, they were always too small, or too thin, or too something-that-isn’t-a-feast. I’m a good hunter, but they don’t think so. They only want to eat, to facilitate eating. So they got mad and I said I would leave, that I’d be better off on my own anyhow. So I left. You know what? It sucks, being a lone wolf. You should stop aspiring to be me.” The wolf peered keenly at him.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Koda informed it icily.

“I know you’re not a wolf.”

“I don’t even want to be a wolf.”

“You’re childish, child. What are you, nine years old?” A lolling yawn stifled with a furry paw. “Anyway, it’s good that you’re not a wolf. Wolves are sociable animals, very family-oriented. Do you have any friends? If you did, would you be here? So you have no friends, and your family is broken. And you think that braid on your head is a real tail? You would make a terrible wolf.”

The wolf moved casually towards him as it spoke, and Koda felt the first real thrill of fear creeping in at the edge of his body. What if this wolf really was wild? Would it try to eat him if it got too close? He didn’t think he could outrun it. Pretending calm he didn’t feel, he straightened up and stared unblinking at the approaching animal. A deep grounding breath, then reach out to touch it, entwine minds, convince it to slow down, stop, to see that the boy on the rock was Little Lone Wolf, a brother. We are the same, disaffected, alone, symbolic. We are family.

The wolf paused. It said, “There is something wrong with your face. Are you constipated? I don’t understand. Maybe you shouldn’t be eating solid foods yet. Knowing how to shit is an important biological function.”

“Whatever!” Koda picked up a small pebble lying beside the grave and hurled it at the wolf. It missed. “Go away.”

“You go away.”

“I was here first.”

“I have more teeth than you,” said the wolf, and it showed him.

Koda made a noise of annoyance and turned away, resituating himself so now the tall skyscrapers rose like dotted spikes out of the trees before him. He closed his eyes and tried to resume meditation, clenching and relaxing his fingers, trying to steady his breathing and keep his eyes dry at the same time. Even when he heard it approach to within arm’s reach, so close he could smell its meaty breath, he resolutely looked at nothing. But there was no deep drawing bite or rending of flesh. Minutes passed in silence, and when Koda finally peeked through one eyelid he saw the wolf, head resting on its forepaws, which were up on the rock, still facing him. Except now, its eyes were closed, too, and a faint rumbling hum thrummed from its chest.

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Brake

December 2012

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