Read The Wild Online

Authors: Whitley Strieber

Tags: #Horror, #Fiction, #General, #New York (N.Y.), #Wolves

The Wild

Praise for Whitley Strieber
Majestic

"
Combining meticulous research, vivid characters, an engrossing mystery and convincing documentation, Strieber has come up with an intriguing, intelligent, exciting novel."


Washington Post

"Engaging as science fiction, unnerving as possible fact . . ."


New York Times Book Review

"A thrilling, frightening, and worthwhile work."


Chicago Tribune

Communion

"
If Whitley Strieber isn't fibbing in his new book Communion .. . then it must be accounted the most important book of the year, of the decade, of the century ..."


The Nation

"Strieber comes through as both sensible and sincere ... His book deserves to be taken seriously."


Boston Herald

Also by Whitley Strieber
available from Tor Books
Catmagic

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
THE WILD
Copyright © 1991 by Wilson & Neff, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. 49 West 24th Street New York, N.Y. 10010
Cover art by TK
ISBN: 0-812-51277-4
First edition: April 1991
Printed in the United States of America
0987654321

Part One
City Life

Life along the vertebrae of the earth,
brown and slow, concentrates in the cracks,
boiling down to harder forms,
skin to stone, finger to claw.
—Robert Duke,
"Silent Transformation" (1987)

Chapter One

C
INDY AND
R
OBERT
D
UKE WERE IN THE FIFTEENTH YEAR
of a good marriage when something unusual happened.

They had a twelve-year-old boy named Kevin Thomas for his paternal grandfather; they had an apartment in New York City; Bob had sold stock, brokered insurance, sold bonds, was now a computer consultant. He had never been much good at making money, but until now he had managed.

Argument was past, anger was past, the sweated skin of Cindy's girlhood was past, and they were really learning one another, growing close in ways so deep that they spent a lot of time infected with secret laughter.

Cindy was heavier than she had been when they used to traverse Manhattan on roller skates, two cheerful Village types, a young poet and his wife. The need for money had ended those days; Bob was a poet now at night only.

Recently Cindy had made a private decision that she would allow herself to widen out a little, to find in the long curves of a bigger body a comfort she had suspected but never dared try.

Bob liked scallops and steak, he liked game and on occasion hunted grouse in the Catskills, where they were members of a hunt club. Cindy cooked the game intricately, her recipes running to Italy and garlic, and much invented, all good, the birds properly brown, the skin crisp and salty, the flesh tender and sweet, and her quail were delicious in steaming piles. They both liked to dig into homemade ice cream with the ice-cream paddle in the middle of the night. Young Kevin had read all of Jack London and Mark Twain. Recently he had turned—or been driven—to Kafka.

Kevin smelled often of oil paint and his art teacher fluttered when speaking about him. Cindy disliked the man, but the school administration loved him. She was tortured with thoughts of kidnapping or more subtle predation, the caress, the boy gladdened by the attention and then the hands against his naked skin, and the parted cracks, the cries, the awful memories for her little son.

She was a heavy sleeper, and did not know how difficult it was for her husband at night. He would read, he would lie looking at her, he would make a deer's soft whistle when the shadows from the street trembled on the bedroom ceiling. Drawing down the sheets, he would see her golden body, and touch the down on her thigh, and listen to her weighty breathing. He loved her, he understood that, to distraction and to the exclusion of all others. Once he knew her, other women had come to seem ciphers.

Now he sat beside her on a bench at the Central Park Zoo while Kevin sketched a tapir. Bob detested zoos; Cindy and Kevin loved them. When he was much younger, Bob had spent time in the wilderness. He had camped and hiked and canoed. The wilderness haunted him. Wolves haunted him. Freedom haunted him.

It was an October Saturday, the third of the month. Cindy held a copy of the
Times
in her hands, twisting it until the ink was smeared. Bob ate the last of Kevin's Cracker Jacks.

"Look at that," she said.

"What?"

"That wolf is watching us."

She was right: it was staring past the children, the men and women, the candy-apple stand, the popcorn vendor, the whole free crowd. From its prison, it was staring not at them, but at him. The wolf was staring straight into the eyes of Bob Duke.

All of his life Bob had been fascinated by wolves. He enjoyed being near them so much that he had tried to track them. Often, he dreamed about them. In his childhood he had fantasized that he was a magic wolf, and could run through the night sky.

He was unsettled by the feeling this poor, imprisoned wolf communicated to him. As he stared back he tore into the Cracker Jacks box. "Why doesn't it look at somebody else?"

"You're the only poet."

He shot an angry glance at her. He could not help his infirmity. All of his life he had been a poet, unpublished, ignored, but nevertheless on the perfectly valid path of a poet. He hated his own love of poetry. Give him instead a good spreadsheet and some numbers to crunch. He was a bitter man.

There was only one way to describe the look in the eyes of the wolf: horrible.

In this regard it was brother to all the creatures here. Bob could feel the unfocused moaning of the place, the yearning toward a thousand different instinctual freedoms: to run, to hunt, to hide or fly. Love of trees, of animals, of the whole intricate, savage reality of the wild had always sustained Bob. 

As a boy in Texas he had watched the night sky, the racing moon, and dreamed his dreams of the wild.

There was one dream he would never forget. Even though it had happened when he was eleven, it was still vivid in his memory.

In this dream he had been a wolf. He had been awakened in the thick night by an amazing, intoxicating odor. His eyes had snapped open and his whole body had been quivering. The moon had shone down like the eye of some wild god. Waves of fierce pleasure had surged through him, deranging his senses, overwhelming his childish fear of the dark.

He had leaped out of bed, unlatched the screen window with fumbling, desperate fingers, and rushed off into the night. He remembered scuttling across the porch roof beneath his window, then leaping into the moon-silver air. He'd landed as gracefully as an animal on all fours.

Then there were dew-damp leaves slapping his face, and the pulsing, rushing of a beautifully muscled body, his heart breaking with obscure passions of overwhelming power, odors of the night filling his brain, intoxicating him—and then, for the first and only time, he was alive.

It was like leaping and crawling at the same time. The world was transformed by a great magic, the moon spreading its glow everywhere, and he was happy, all the cares of a dull childhood gone, and he was suddenly free in the night and he threw back his head and shook his body and he howled out the piercing joy that filled him blood and bone and soul.

Then he was awake. True, his pajamas were covered with grass stains and there was a dried leaf in his hair. True also, it was seven o'clock in the morning and he had a math quiz to look forward to.

He had gone off to school, smell of paste, math exercise book, the classroom shades drawn against the glory of the morning sun. But forever after, he had wondered if perhaps, for a little while in the dead of the night, he had been a wolf.

It was truly an intoxicating thought, a delicious thought. Man into wolf. Running. Howling. Leaping on the quaking innocent.

But he had never really escaped that classroom he entered on the morning after his magic, and now the caged wolf's eyes mocked him for it. And he thought, You, are you a man who became a wolf, locked in there now?

It was hideous to think that he might be looking at someone who had a name and a past, who had tasted the freedom of the wild only to be locked up like this, a sort of double prisoner.

"Let's get Kevin and go. It's lunchtime."

"We've only been here ten minutes."

The wolf's eyes bored into him. He imagined long, thin claws extending out from the center of those eyes and into the center of his brain, and forming there a molten spot. "The animal's angry," he said.

"I don't blame him. He's in a zoo."

"I hate this place."

"It's only a perfectly ordinary zoo. Anyway, Kevin's in the middle of something exciting. Look at him."

Bob envied and loved his son's ability to draw and paint. But for a child of twelve, why such furies? He made Francis Bacon look cheerful. His son would climb into his lap and they would read together, and Bob would wonder what tormented the boy, who read Kafka's "Hunger Artist" in a solemn, priestly voice, perhaps even in the voice Kafka had heard while he was writing it. Another jumbo jet would roar over the house, and to the west the sky would mutter, another restless night.

Bob was trapped between the staring wolf and his son's obvious excitement. When he moved, he was captured by his wife's cool hand, which squeezed his own. "Relax. It's a sunny day."

"The cages get to me."

"It's
only
a zoo!"

"Oh, come on, Cindy, can't you feel the anger? What about that wolf? You can feel his anger."

"Maybe I'm not sensitive enough for it to matter. After all, I'm not a poet."

How he hated that word. He suspected that it had been invented for the specific purpose of being applied to those whom it would trap. Cindy read his poetry, and now also Kevin. "It's good, Dad. It's real."

Cindy might add: "Couldn't it be a bit less sad? What about the beauties of the world?"

"At Auschwitz Dr. Mengele used to issue what he called 'standing orders.' He and his henchmen would stand on the chests of prisoners until they died."

"That isn't the answer I expected, at least I'll say that for it. What if they lay there looking at the sky, looking past the men destroying them? The sky is made for joy."

"Romantic nonsense."

"It's what I would have done."

"Fatuous. The agony was too great."

"Damn you, Bob, your ego's always in the way. That's the reason your poems don't get published, you're too proud of them, and it shows."

He threw his head back and stared into the sky. He imagined the feet on his chest, the boots slowly collapsing his ribs, the click of the man's lighter mesmerizing him, the glow of his cigarette against the pearl-blue evening of Auschwitz.

He stared up into the belly of a passing airliner, whose roar mingled with voices and the smack of eating mouths, and the cries of the animals.

Inevitably, he looked back at the wolf.

It had never stopped watching him. He decided that there is no such thing as a human being who is not terrified of the wild. His wife's body touched him. Her hand still lay in his. Their love was so profound that there was nothing to be said about it. Anything could transpire between them, any anger, any hate, any outrage, and it would not matter to this love, which was like blood, like breath, more a part of the body than of the mind. Sometimes he knelt before her at night, and she drew him down into her cavern. Once she had said, "You cannot survive without me. I have become myth for you."

The ecstasy of love is what transmits human feelings. Without it children cannot be truly human. If Adam and Eve had not fallen in love after their first child, humanity would have ended with them, for Abel like his brother would have been a beast.

"Don't keep tilting your head back like that. You look like you're having a seizure of some kind."

"I want to look at the sky."

"The pigeons are aiming for your mouth."

"You hope. But the statistics are on my side."

"Come on, sit like an adult. I don't want people to think I'm married to an overgrown child."

"You are."

"You're going to hurt your neck."

"Pain is good for me. Pain means something."

Cindy muttered a reply. What was it? Fatuous? He hadn't heard, but he didn't care, either, because he saw clouds. Another jet passed, and beneath the clouds it was so small. He imagined the people and the books up there, the copies of
Time
and
Newsweek
in the laps of the travelers, and their unimaginable dreams. He visualized the stewardesses stowing the empty food trays, the pilots reading off vectors, pulling and pushing levers, wheels, buttons, and the fire in the engines, the white fire of JP-6 waiting there to fulfill its dream, the dream of all jet fuel, which is to bum its creators.

He would have to go down to Atlanta bright and early Monday morning, a guest of Apple Computer, to attend a two-day session about the Macintosh Office. Wonderful, crazy, impossible computer, the Mac. All the people from Apple would be smiling, everything calm and rich in the Westin Hotel, and at night, in their dark rooms, they would all be lying awake worrying about their jobs.

He did not want to fly to Atlanta. He did not want to attend the conference with the despairing computer salesmen. He did not want to lie in an oversize bed in the Westin, wishing he was home in Cindy's arms, listening to
A Sea Symphony
while the stars passed and the pacing in the apartment upstairs went on and on.

I'm a selfish man, he said in his mind. A brat.

He sat up straight, surprised.

What was happening to him?

If only there was some way to tell her how he was suffering, surely she would have compassion —she would fill with compassion—and let them go out into the streets, go to a movie, to a restaurant, home, anywhere but this damned zoo.

The wolf was still staring at him. Its ears were pricked forward, adding to the impression of almost supernatural concentration.

Wolf, or man-wolf?

It blinked its eyes as the sun emerged. The animal within Bob reacted: he felt a slow, intimate movement beneath his flesh. He recalled his wolf dream with the kind of insight that brings sudden and intense clarity. Raising a boy, loving a wife, writing poetry, selling, advising, flying, eating, waiting, he had driven himself insane. A wolf in the belly was not the fantasy of a sane man. Should he go into analysis? Expensive, and also the only psychiatrist he knew was Monica Goldman, who was Cindy's dearest friend and the only woman he had ever desired to distraction, but for Cindy herself.

At the Esopus Hunt Club one night Monica and Steve had come in, she flushed with pride at the pheasants she had taken, her gun on her arm, her birds at her waist, dangling and beautiful, her color high, her eyes sparkling. He had kissed her cheek, there had been wine and Steve's bobbing bald head in the light of the kerosene lantern, the group of them with the enormous old club build-ing to themselves but for the Brickmans from California, the deaf, smiling, ancient Brickmans, and he had thought of Monica in the night. Over the course of the evening he had contrived a plan that would enable him to accomplish his object without shame, or so he imagined. He had rehearsed the words, the gestures, the casual laughter if his suggestion failed. "It's cold. Why don't we bunk up together, all four of us?"

A short silence. Steve's pate reddened. Monica crossed her legs, put her chin in her hand. He could practically hear the phrases of her profession wallowing about in her mind: penile insecurity, death wish, sublimation.

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