The full moon shone brightly through the thick pine trees and ferns of an ancient forest as the woman ran, her panting breath showing in the cold air. Despite the hot tears streaming down her face, she ran as silently as a doe, her soft boots making almost no noise on the leaves. She only paused occasionally behind a bush to listen to her surroundings. The dead, tortured faces of her husband and daughter welled anew in her memory every time she stopped. She had barely escaped with her own life from the attack on her village.
Suddenly, she stopped again in a small clearing and listened for the sounds of her pursuers once more. She could hear men’s voices yelling all around her in the distance. She realized she was surrounded and she would be in full view of her attackers at any moment. Death waited for her, only minutes away. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, grasped the rough bone knife by her side and looked around in wild desperation. Her heart seemed to pound through her chest and then come to a stop as she noticed a new threat – the dark silhouette of a large wolf at the edge of the clearing.
She thought, with despair, that she couldn’t possibly go on with such odds – the men with their spears in the dark and now the danger of being attacked by a wolf. At least she would go down fighting. The women of her tribe were strong. Even if she didn’t live until morning, she would meet her Grandmothers with pride and honor.
To the woman’s surprise, the silhouette of the wolf walked toward her in a casual way, as if there were no one coming from the trees around them to kill her. The woman had an unusual feeling that the wolf had been waiting for her, even expecting her. When she trotted into the moonlight of the clearing, the woman noticed that the wolf was beautiful and large for a female, with dark gray fur and bright orange eyes that shone in the gleaming starlight, and her underbelly bulged with pregnancy. The orange eyes were deep and held captive her own brown ones. They seemed to grow larger and larger until the sound of the pursuing men faded away, time stood still, and all the woman was aware of were those eyes and her own slowing heart, which began to beat in rhythm with the wolf’s.
“What do you wish for, Daughter?” said a deep, silky voice in her head. In surprise, the young woman thought that the wolf was speaking to her through those eyes. She realized with awe that the wolf was not a mortal one, but one of the Spirits.
“I wish to live long enough to avenge my husband and my daughter and defend my clan from these murderous savages. I want to be free!” said the woman, and she stood strong and proud. The wolf stepped to her side.
“You are strong and brave and I will help you if you wish.”
“You would do this? You are alone and with child!” exclaimed the woman. The wolf nudged the woman’s abdomen gently with her great nose.
“I appear to be so only because that is what you are. Alone and with child.”
The new revelation that she was pregnant left the woman momentarily dumbfounded and, for the first time tonight, she felt a glimmer of hope and joy. Her tribe and her husband’s noble blood would continue.
“But, we hunt wolves for fur and compete with them for food. Why would you wish to help me?”
“Even as you use our coats to warm yourselves, do we wolves not, in turn, take your weakest to feed our young? It is balance. But, you can choose to let us become more than just warmth. And we can go on the hunt together. It is part of the Deep Magic.” The wolf rose up on her back legs and placed her front paws on the woman’s shoulders. The woman was surprised to find that she could still stand. The wolf spirit was weightless.
“In exchange for helping you…will you and your sons and daughters honor the Wolf as your companion from now until the end of time?” asked the spirit.
“I will join with you, Noble Mother. I am humbled by your offer,” she replied. A sudden crash from the trees brought the woman out of her trance and she was again aware of the enemy growing closer. The battle cries were now almost to the clearing and her heart returned to its frantic rhythm, only now with the awareness that she must save her unborn child.
“I fear that we are out of time! Their spears are almost upon us!” said the woman, urgently. The wolf dropped down to all fours and her deep growl seemed to make the leaves shake on their branches.
“Let us now fight together, Sister, and may the Tribes never forget the Deep Magic and join with animal spirits. May your sons and daughters forever honor this bond!” The wolf ran to the edge of the tree line, and then, gaining momentum, ran back towards the woman and jumped at her as if to attack.
What the savages saw as they approached their target was a young woman and a wolf merge into one. As the wolf-woman turned to face them, the spirit’s orange eyes stared savagely from out of a human face, and she howled with a supernatural force that shook the leaves in the clearing. With the speed of the Wolf, the woman ran toward her would-be attackers like an animal goddess on the hunt, her long, now dark grey, hair flying behind her. She let out another battle cry as her two legs became four and her bone knife was discarded in favor of claws.
The savages fled in terror. They returned to their homeland, where the tales they told became campfire legends of demon people who could turn into animals. For a long time afterwards the Tribes lived in peace, free of enemies. The woman’s tribe became the Wolf Clan and honored the animal spirits for generations after.
Lois awoke feeling energetic, like the wolf woman in her dream. Again. That was the third time this month. Weren’t recurring dreams supposed to tell you something? It took a minute to shake off the residual tingling wolf-ish sensation in her skin and realize that it was Saturday. She yawned and looked out the window, thinking about what she wanted to do. Maybe she would go grocery shopping. There was always that gym she could try. She intended to go. It was always on her to-do list, but somehow she just never seemed to make it. Maybe today she would.
Lois got out of bed, slid into her slippers and went into the kitchen. It was eight o’clock and the energy Lois had from chasing painted tribesmen in her dream was fading away fast, like the stars hours before. What she would give to keep even half of a quarter of that power surge she woke up with. She turned on the small kitchen TV and started her coffee to the sound of a news story about an unusual number of bat infestations in the city. Lois scoffed, reached into the refrigerator for the milk, and muttered, “Okay…” to herself. Why didn’t the news ever seem to show anything that actually counted as newsworthy? Wasn’t there a crime somewhere or a crooked politician they could interview?
She took the cereal from the top shelf of the pantry. Raisin Bran was her daughter’s favorite. Lois sighed heavily, shaking off the urge to call Amy. Eight in the morning was too early to call. Amy was probably either in class or sleeping off the night before. Besides, Amy wouldn’t want to talk. The conversation would just be filled with awkward reports about what was going on in each others’ lives and it would be ripe with uncomfortable, accusatory silences. If they tried to talk about anything real, they would yell until one hung up on the other. But, it had been months. The urge won.
Lois picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello?” asked a young woman asked sleepily on the other end.
“Hey, it’s me,” said Lois. She paced and bit her nails through the awkward silence that followed.
“Hi,” said the other voice, suddenly stony.
“How are you?” Lois ventured.
“Fine,” countered Amy.
“I just thought I’d call. How’s school going?”
“Okay, well, maybe I can drive up one day for dinner?” Lois offered. Another awkward silence.
“Well, we haven’t seen each other or spoken in forever, Amelia Sloane, and I want to see you. You’re my daughter and I want to see you. Why shouldn’t I?” Lois said, defensively.
“I’m just so busy, you know. With classes,” Amy said.
“You never want to me to visit. I think you might be hiding something” said Lois.
“Really, Mom? Why is everything the worst possible thing with you, huh?” Amy’s voice was rising. “I’m just busy!”
“Because you never want to talk, that’s why!” Lois said, her own voice getting louder.
“Maybe because you’re bitter. You don’t like me and you don’t approve of anything I do. So why now? I don’t want to see you because all you’re going to do is point out all my faults, make bitter excuses about your life, and then tell me I’m just like my dead-beat father. So, let’s get it over with right now, and then you won’t have to waste the gas money just to tell me in person!”
Lois’ temper rose to match her daughter’s, “You can’t just try to do this, can you? I’m the only one trying here! But you get uncomfortable, and you just run away. Your father -”
“– See?” Amy yelled, “This is what I mean! It’s my fault and I’m just like my dad. See ya, Mother.”
Lois hated herself. Her gut was boiling with the familiar anger and despair she felt after every phone call with her daughter. She wiped tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and reached into the cabinet for a coffee cup. Lois didn’t understand why her relationship with Amy was that bad. She’d never hurt her daughter or left her. Her father had already covered that. Lois, on the other hand, had given her everything she ever needed…worked three jobs, even! She was the only one Amy had ever needed to count on. They never needed anybody else. They were a team…her and Amy against the world.
And then… it was different. Lois couldn’t put her finger on it, but when teenage rebellion came, they hit a slope and just kept sliding. In no time at all, it wasn’t her and Amy against the world anymore. It was just Lois against the world. And Amy had joined the world.
The morning’s phone call ruined Lois’ positive outlook for the day, so she dropped the gym idea (for the millionth time) and did what she always did when she felt depressed. She alternated the next several hours between bad television and sleep. Another Saturday gone. The next morning, there would always be St. Francis de Sales.
Church was the only thing Lois still really looked forward to. It certainly wasn’t her boring, less than fufilling cubicle job at the phone company. She loved singing in the choir at St. Francis. The way the sound carried, bouncing and echoing majestically off the marble soothed her. It was her meditation. The sound of her voice in harmony with others took her away from her memories and she could forget she was Lois for a couple of hours. She wasn’t even Catholic, but she never told anyone because she was afraid to be kicked out of the choir. She still attended every week because her need for peace outweighed her fear of rejection.
“For every beast of the forest is mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is mine.” Old Father Palmer’s melodious Irish lilt reverberated across the vast marble nave of St. Francis. He continued, “This idea, from Psalms 50:10-11, for the folks who want to look it up, reminds us that God is the Great Mover and all things cannot operate apart from the will of God.”
Lois blinked at the pulpit in surprise. She had been lost in thought, unaware of the priest’s magnificent voice, until she had the uncanny impression he was talking only to her. She looked into his stern eyes as they fell directly on her and she felt the little hairs on the back of her neck as his eyes seemed to deepen. Her face felt as hot as if she’d been caught passing notes in class. Movement grabbed her attention and as she saw Ramona coming down the aisle on her right, Father Palmer’s voice receded back to its normal state. She waved at her friend, quickly forgetting the creepy moment. Lois shifted her belongings for her choir partner to sit down.
Ramona Charles was a very stylish woman. Lois thought of her as a kind of New Age hippie that forgot she left her twenties behind several years ago. Ramona was easy with kids and adults alike and was the sort of person you could hang out with over wine at home in your pj’s, watching Rainbow Brite cartoons with nostalgia. She had a great sense of humor and a cheery disposition that reminded Lois of the “sidekick best friend” role in romantic comedies. She generally seemed to have no faults at all and never said anything bad about anyone, that Lois could remember. Lois wished she could afford to be that relaxed. She probably never had a bad day her entire life, Lois thought. Ramona tossed her long, brown perfectly wavy hair and moved her homemade, woven purse off her shoulder so she could sit.
“Sermon running behind again? This new one loves to hear himself lecture. Ain’t that just like a monkey with a capital M?”, whispered Ramona as Lois took her seat. Lois nodded in amusement. She bypassed the monkey comment. Her singing buddy always had a strange way of seeing the world. “I like it when he talks, though. He has a nice voice…guess that’s necessary in his line of work, too”, Ramona noted, generously. Lois smiled and shook her head. Ramona just couldn’t stop herself from seeing every glass as half full! And probably with some kind of algae juice or free range coffee, or whatever it is that hippies drink. The priest at the pulpit was very passionate about what he was saying, and as Lois shifted around, pulling her own not-so-perfect mud brown hair out of her eyes and shimmying out of her purse and sweater to get comfortable, she suddenly found the priest looking directly at her again.
“As Romans 8:21 says, ‘Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Therefore, my friends, let us remember that all of God’s creation deserves the love of the Lord and the compassion of humans. For if they travel together, their fate must also be together in the Lord. In Revelation 5:8 the Bible says that “all creatures recognize Jesus as the savior of the world and praise God right along with redeemed men.”
Lois got a sudden unexplainable chill. She turned to Ramona because she found she couldn’t look at the priest. But, Ramona was staring at him, hanging on his every word as if she could personally attest to his statement. Only a bucket of movie popcorn would have completed the picture.
“Oh, my god. That is so beautiful!” whispered Ramona, “What’s the matter, Lois?”
“Nothing. It’s just that he’s been looking directly at me and it’s making me uncomfortable. It’s almost like he is talking to me as if I’m the only one in here.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it, sweetie. You know how it is with priests. It’s a Monkey authority thing!”
“Why do you always call him a monkey?” asked Lois.
“Because he is a typical Monkey…chatterbox!” was the reply. Ramona said it as if Lois had asked a question with an obvious answer like what color the sky was. Lois chose to drop the subject.
“Ramona, he’s the priest. That’s sort of his job. It’s almost over, anyway,” she said, ” So, how’s the booth coming?” Ramona sold her hand-woven goods both online and at a market out at the river, at Glendower Lodge.
“Oh, thanks for asking! You’re so sweet. It’s going great…this is the season for the warm and comfy, isn’t it? So everyone’s buying! My looms are smokin’ right now! Reminds me…” she said. She pulled out a package. “I have something for you. I woke up this morning and my very first though was that you might want one soon.”
“Oh, I don’t want to buy anything, Ramona…” Lois said, awkwardly.
“Like I would try to sell something to you in a church! I know full well you wouldn’t buy one for yourself, even if it only cost a dollar. I tried every sales trick I know on you for months after we met. You’re a hard sell. No, honey… I’m giving it to you.”
“Um…really? I was your first thought this morning?” Lois mumbled sarcastically. She would have sworn Ramona’s nights were way more romantic than her own. Lois pulled open the string on the brown paper packaging, and marveled at the craftsmanship of her own new brightly colored, loom-woven, oversized travel bag. It was true craftsmanship, even if the colors were a bit loud and the bag was too big for her tastes. She did like the charm on the zipper. It was like a pewter coin with a wolf on it. Her friend was definitely talented with a loom, even if she had the style sense of a circus clown.
“Thanks, Ramona! It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but why would I need a bag soon? You know I don’t ever go anywhere.” It was true. The last time Lois passed the boundaries of the city was long before Amy was born, when her own mother went with her to the Grand Canyon. That was over twenty years ago. Lois didn’t even think she owned luggage anymore.
“Well, ya never know, do ya? Maybe you’ll come visit out at the Glendower Market one weekend and have enough purchases to fill up that bag!” she said with a wink, “I don’t know why I thought of you this morning, I just trust where the water takes me!” Another one of Ramona’s cryptic statements. Lois just shrugged and shook her head. She put her new bag away. Choir was starting.
The silver moon hung in the heavens in a blanket of clouds. The cool wind rustled her grey fur as she wove a path through the deep forest. She turned her black nose to the moon to discern a scent. The scent of fear and worry. The scent of Magic and Spirit. And of urgency. The other wolves turned to her expectantly. They could sense it, too. The time had come.
The ringing phone jolted Lois out of her dream. She looked at the clock by her bed. Who would be calling her at three A.M.? She felt around the bed for her phone in a sleepy haze and then gave the caller a half-audible mumble.
“Mom?” the voice on the other end said. Amy’s voice was hard to hear for the static, almost as if she was out of range. Lois was as awake as if someone had poured ice cold water down her back. Her stomach twisted.
“Amy?” she asked, “What’s wrong? Speak up, I can barely hear you.”
“Mom, I’m so scared. I’m sorry. I just don’t know who else to call!” Amy was crying in whispers, frightened, into the phone. The phone static was getting worse and Amy was breaking up.
“Honey, I can hardly understand what you’re saying… hang up with me and call the police, whatever it is! Are you in your dorm?” Lois was straining hard to hear.
“I can’t, Mom! I don’t know where I am…It’s so dark. So cold. Some kind of cave, I think. My phone’s almost dead and there’s almost no signal! Where am I supposed to tell the police to go?”
Lois tried to be the voice of reason. She yelled into the phone in a typical human futile attempt to be understood over the static.
“Okay. Honey, I don’t know where you are either. Amy? Are you there?”
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Mom, but I’m so scared and I want to come home! Can I come home?” Amy stopped as she was wracked with sobs.
“Amy, honey…it’s okay! It’s okay! Try to find something…anything that will tell me where you are!” Lois yelled, and then she realized that Amy couldn’t hear her and was talking out of hope and desperation that her mother could at least hear her.
I just needed to call someone and I’m sorry. And the last person I was with was Cissie’s…oh, my God. Mom!” Amy’s voice had changed from static whispering to static screaming, “Mommy!” The screaming receded and the phone made a loud noise. Had Amy dropped it?
“Amy! Oh, my God, Amelia! Who? Who is Cissie? Cissie’s what? Who’s there now? I’m coming for you!” Lois yelled at her phone, in hopes her daughter could still hear. But, the phone was silent. What was happening to Amy? Where was she? Lois paced her bedroom, unable to think. Her brain refused to process what just happened. How could she help? She didn’t know Amy’s habits, her friends, or her usual haunts. Why had Amy called her instead of a friend that was likely to know where she was?
Lois left the police station fuming, still panicking. After endless recounting of events and paperwork, she was left with only promises to investigate and an instruction to go home and call if she thought of anything. Her rational mind knew the police couldn’t work faster than that and it wasn’t their fault she didn’t know anything about her own daughter besides her phone number and school name, and the name Cissie. Lois wasn’t even sure what Amy’s major was. But she wasn’t feeling very rational.
Guilt. Endless guilt. Guilt that she didn’t do more as a mother. And fear. Fear that she would never see her daughter again, and that it would be all her own fault. The anguish ripped at Lois’ soul like claws through flesh, so sharp that her stomach hurt. Unable to go home and told not to go to the dorm until the police had searched for evidence, she found herself on the steps of the one place she found comforting.
St. Francis de Sales. Why was she there? She made it into the back end of the pews before the empty church, devoid of the usual comforting sounds of the choir and congregation, made her feel lonelier than ever. She decided to go. This was stupid. She needed to go home and do as the police told her and try not to worry. They knew what they were doing. It was their job. She turned back towards the massive doors to the outside world.
“Lois Sloane, isn’t it?” a familiar Irish accent asked from behind. Lois turned back around quickly.
“Sorry, Father Palmer. I was just leaving,” she said quickly and turned to go.
“Why should ya be sorry?” the old priest asked with concern, walking toward her as fast as his cane would let him. The pain was evident to him through her tear stained face and strained, trembling voice. “Come, Lois, sit down with me a while!” He put his arm around her and led her to the nearest pew. “Now what could be troublin’ ya?”
“My daughter, Amy. She’s away at college, but she called me last night, in trouble. Something happened to her while we were on the phone and I don’t know where she is. She’s missing! Father, she could be hurt. She was scared and alone. The police are supposed to be getting back to me. I can’t go to work, or home. I’m so restless. I don’t actually know why I came here…so embarrassing,” Lois sobbed.
“Oh, now there, Lass,” said the priest. “It’ll be workin’ out at the end, you’ll see. And ya came to the right place. Firstly, there’s no better comfort in a crisis than our Lord God. Nothin’ embarrassing about comin’ to a church for help, is there? And secondly, this is a place ya always come to get away from it all, eh? Although, I am surprised to see ya outside o’ choir practice and on a Monday mornin’. You only come to church for the singin’.” She looked at him in shock.
“Yes, dearie. I know ya’ not Catholic,” he said with a chuckle and patted her knee.
“But, you never kicked me out?” Lois asked, wiping her nose.
“Why would anyone who calls themselves a servant of the Light do anythin’ o’ the sort? All are welcome in the house of God,” he said. “Any man or woman claimin’ to be of God kicks ya out, and ya better be runnin’ right quick anyways!”
“Father, what do I do? I mean, it’s great to have a talk, but it doesn’t help Amy. I can’t just sit and wait.”
“And ya shouldn’t wait. My advice is this: go find her. Start somewhere. Start with what ya do know. You know where she lays her head at night?” Lois nodded. Not really, but she was too embarrassed to admit to another person that she didn’t know where her daughter’s bed was.
“Good, then that’s a start, isn’t it? Get your friends and start lookin’. You’ll never know what you may find, the people and the circumstances the Light will bring into your life, the lessons you will learn. You also don’t know how much your friends will rally ’round ya.”
“I have no real friends,” she said disconsolately. “I’m alone and I’m so scared. And I gave up on God ages ago.”
“And ya should be scared. But, ya never learn anythin’ by hidin’ from the world. Go ‘n face it, lass. God only sends help if you accept help, and he isn’t givin’ up on you. God only patiently waits for you to decide and then to act. Remember, that tired old sayin’…God helps those who help themselves? The police only know her as another missing girl. But, to you, she’s everything. You are all that girl has in the world. And know one will care about finding her the way you will. Go get her back. And I’ll be givin’ ya step one. Find Ramona Charles.”
“Why?” Lois asked, surprised he didn’t say step one was to pray.
“Why? Lois Sloane, ya don’t know the friends ya got right in front of ya! That Fish might be sellin’ her wares on the weekends, but every other day, she’s a social worker. She’ll be helpin’ ya, surely. She’ll know what you’ll be needin’ in your heart and she’ll know who to be askin’ for help! I stand by what I said. You don’t know the friends ya have and the friends you’ll be findin’, if you only open up.”
Fish? Lois wondered on her way out if that was an Irish way of talking. And if Ramona would be amused that the “monkey” thought of her as a fish…