Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky
Full Moon, 1993
A coyote howls and the hair of the back of my neck stands up. My grandparent’s cabin creaks in the wind. I’m spending the night with them like I always do on weekends when my mom is in town tending bar.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s a wolf,” Grandma says, dusting flour off her hands. “But Kentucky hasn’t seen wolves in over a hundred years.”
“I’ve seen a wolf.” The moment I say it, I wish I hadn’t although I can’t understand the twisting in my gut. All I know is that huge silver wolf—the one I’ve come to think of as mine, the one I often feel watching me—doesn’t want to be talked about.
My uncle snorts.
My grandfather looks at me sharply. “Where’d you see a wolf, boy?”
Now I really wish I hadn’t said anything. I shake my head. “Nowhere.”
My grandfather gets up from his chair, brows down. “Don’t lie. You said you saw a wolf. Was it big and gray?”
I swallow and nod.
“Somethin’ unnatural about it? Somethin’ strange? Like it was too big for a wolf?
Again, I nod.
A howl sounds again, this time closer. My grandfather picks up his shotgun from behind the door. My two uncles get up and do the same.
“Harold, no,” my grandmother cries.
My grandfather ignores her and opens the door to our cabin, stepping outside into the moonlight. “It’s time we take these woods back,” he says, rough determination in the set of his shoulders.
I scramble up to follow them, picking up the BB gun he’s already taught me how to use and following them out. Grandpa always lets me go with him—I’m pretty much his shadow when I’m at his place, so I’m surprised when he turns and holds up a hand.
“No. You can’t come this time, Charlie. Get in the house and protect your grandma.”
My shoulders draw back at the directive protect your grandma, and I run back inside to sit by the window with the BB gun across my lap.
I don’t know how much time passes before I hear a shot not far from the cabin. I leap to my feet and run to the back door, the direction it came from, throwing open the door.
“Charlie, don’t come out here,” my grandfather warns in a low voice. He’s twenty feet away, standing with his back to me. My uncles stand beside him, blocking my view of whatever they’re looking at on the ground. There’s something in his voice that frightens me—like he’s afraid. But that doesn’t make sense, he’s never afraid.
“Did you get it, Grandpa?”
“Yeah, I got somethin’ all right.” Again, he sounds strange. “You get in the house and tell your grandma to call Devon.” Devon is Grandpa’s brother who lives on the property next door. I relay the message and position myself in the open door. Grandma crowds up behind me, but there’s nothing to see. Grandpa’s already dragging something away from the cabin through the woods. I start to go out, but Grandma catches my shoulder.
“If your grandpa told you to stay in the house, you need to stay put.”
I reluctantly let her lead me back inside and shut the door. She turns the television on for me, but I have no interest. I stay at the windows, watching Grandpa and my uncles moving about, talking. I slide the window open to listen.
“It was a wolf. The big gray one—the one Callie saw when she was a teen,” my grandpa says.
Callie’s my mom. I have a daddy, but he doesn’t come around much. He comes by on my birthday, brings me gifts, but she won’t let him come in, never lets him take me anywhere. She seems afraid of him although I’ve never seen any reason for it.
“Well he ain’t a wolf now, Harold,” Devon says. There’s doubt dripping in his words like he doesn’t believe what my Grandpa saw. “You know who that is, don’t you?”
Who, not what.
A chill runs through me. Did my grandpa kill a man?
Will he go to jail?
“Go get the shovels,” my grandpa says to my uncles. “We’ll have to bury it out here on the property.”
“Come away from there, Charlie.” My grandma slams the window shut. “It’s long past your bedtime. Go brush your teeth.” I hear fear in her voice, too, which is why I don’t argue. I put the gun up and go to bed.
It will take years for me to realize my father’s disappearance from my life coincided with that night.