Wolfish Karma

Riding a rusty hand-me-down bicycle, Danny Holt coasted leisurely home from Rosewood Elementary along a wide path of uneven asphalt with his friends Ashton and Eddy. Scantly watching the road, he fixed his attention on the telephone lines drooping above a long stretch of crooked, weathered fences to his right as he pedaled lightly. A homemade slingshot stuck out of his back jeans’ pocket.

“Man, I haven’t seen a pigeon for weeks!” He sighed at the idea of another night of Granny’s vegetable soup. “Where’d they all go?”

“Forget pigeons, Danny,” said Eddy.

Eddy cruised onto the left shoulder, jumped off and, dropping his bike roughly per habit, jogged toward the uninterrupted tree line that formed a natural border across from the fences. A smattering of citrus fruit trees, planted and then abandoned, grew wild among oaks, pines and thick underbrush, its branches heavy with fruit. Ripe and rotting fruit littered the ground like sweet-tart confetti.

“Grab some fruit!” said Eddy, plucking up a tangerine and waving it. “These don’t belong to anybody anyway, so it’s not even stealing. Your grandma can’t say no if it’s free!”

Ashton and Danny stopped their bikes and watched Eddy cram palm sized fruits in his pockets.

“You don’t have to pluck feathers from fruits,” said Eddy, “or cook ’em or make soup out of ’em. You just eat ’em, easy.”

Casting Danny a sympathetic smile, Ashton put down his bike’s kickstand and dismounted to help with the collection. “Did you know you actually can make soup with fruit?”

Eddy snorted. “Not aw.”

“For real.” Kneeling, Ashton carefully filled his faded Batman backpack, which he wore even on weekends, until he could barely close the zipper. “Some cultures have used fruits in recipes for generations.”

Despite best efforts, Eddy’s bulging pockets accepted no more. “You mean like apple sauce?”

Danny frowned. “Or smoothies?”

But Danny wished he could bring home some nice, fat birds. Looking away at the naked power lines, he recalled a comment Granny made before he left for school. That morning he had complained about the scarcity of pigeons; and she confidently cited her favorite legend—the one about the wolf that was the Devil incarnate—and stated nature was sensitive to and hid from the presence of evil. According to her, missing pigeons indicated the Devil has been lured into the area by the scent of someone’s sins, to punish them.

Eddy marched back to his bike and picked up it. “Or you can boil a banana for dinner,” he said, grinning.

Oblivious to his friends’ gagging and giggling over the potentially harrowing result of ‘banana soup’, Danny knit his brows. “Or maybe the devil wolf scared the birds away.”

Ashton and Eddy quieted, and stared.

“You don’t really believe that crap, do you?” cried Eddy, “Grandma’s tell those stories just to scare us into doing whatever they say! For the longest time, Meemaw said the wolf in the woods would get me if I got bad grades, or talked back, or didn’t brush my teeth, or do whatever grownups tell me to do. It’s stupid. I draw comics instead of studying all the time and I’ve never felt demon dog breath on the back of my neck. It’s made-up.”

“My sister believes it,” said Ashton, almost proudly.

Danny’s anxious spell broke and he laughed. “She’s five!”

“Does she believe in ghosts, too?” Eddy straddled his bike. “Actually, ghosts would be freaky. I mean, imagine you’re in your bedroom minding your own business and a see-through person suddenly appears, like ‘BOO!'”

Ashton didn’t miss a beat. “And I’d be like, ‘Hey can you help me with my math homework? I’m stuck on #4. It’s fractions.'”

Danny added, “The ghost would say, ‘What–math?! Oh noooo!’ and POOF! disappear. Need to scare off ghosts? Get math.”

Ashton approved, and he and Danny shared a victorious nod.

“Uuuugh, guuuys!!” Eddy cried at the serene blue sky. “This is exactly why girls don’t talk to us!”

Up ahead, a lusterless brown Oldsmobile crawled around the corner like a shark approaching from behind a teeming reef. Ashton spotted it first. Startled, he slapped both friends on impulse, Danny on the shoulder and Eddy in the face (a total accident, he swears), and upon all seeing the car they three, with their bikes, left a clumsy trail of tangerines as they scrambled to the trees for cover.

They dove into the bushes and huddled in an awkward tangle of bikes, loose and smashed fruit, book bags and each other, and held their breath as the sedan rolled in their direction, laggardly.

Kids at school called the owner of the brown Oldsmobile ‘The Butcher’. They said he was a sociopath. Some said he did drugs all day, robbed banks since he was 12, hurt girls and baby animals. Others said he killed people, chopped up the bodies and scattered parts all over the county. Once Danny and is friends even overheard some teachers talking about how an expensive city lawyer helped free The Butcher, even with tons of evidence against him and a bunch of witnesses. It didn’t make sense. The whole town was pissed, with exception of Danny’s Granny. When she heard the news, she only smiled and said, “Dirty money can’t save bad men from true justice.”

The boys stayed put as the sedan passed by completely and, to their relief, without hesitation.

Danny shifted to lift an elbow from a sticky mess of pulverized tangerines and dirt; while doing so, he noticed a dark shape crouched in the underbrush a few yards away, watching the departing Oldsmobile intently, and caught a brief glimpse of a long black-brown snout as the shape turned and fled, with singular swiftness.

Eddy grabbed Danny’s sleeve, half dragging him. “C’mon!”

Stumbling out of the woods behind Ashton and Eddy, Danny carried his bike to the road at a run, vaulted aboard it and pedaled as hard as he could.

Writing prompt used: Make up a legend about an animal that lives in the woods.

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