After the wolf cub slipped from his mother into the den with his brothers and sisters, he hunched down in terror as he lay on the cold ground, his legs not yet working. His eyes, still closed, felt heavy with the placental fluid that had mixed with the dirt that surrounded the pups. The cub froze until he felt something rubbing against him hard enough to roll him over right into the wall of the den. The cub stayed against the wall as much as he could while his vision and hearing developed, only joining the other cubs and his mother when he needed to eat, about four times a day.
At six weeks old, the cub was able to walk and had full use of his senses. It was around this same time that his mother’s milk dried up, causing the young wolf to begin to explore outside the den. In order to eat, other members of the pack would regurgitate their food for the cubs. He had a hard time switching over from the milk to the semi-solid food. His brothers and sisters appeared to have no problem with the transition.
“Look at him! He’s gagging again,” one of his sisters said, giving him a hard time as she lapped up the partially digested deer.
“You’re no wolf, fancy paws!” his older brother chimed in. Even though they’d only been born a few moments apart, the five cubs used birth order to try and establish dominance within their small sibling group.
“It just tastes funny today.”
“You say it tastes funny every day. I think it’s great.”
The young cub tried to continue to defend himself. “This is ridiculous! I’m ready for a fresh kill. Why do I have to eat this pre-chewed crap? Check out my teeth!”
“Right, you’re going to kill something, fancy paws?” his oldest brother taunted, ending the conversation. The young wolf looked at his older brother with hatred and returned to the den attempting to seek comfort from his mother.
“What’s wrong? Did you eat too fast?”
“I’m not hungry. When can I hunt?”
“You know you’re not ready for that. Now get back out there and eat what they’ve brought you. I can see your ribs poking out.”
The young wolf growled in frustration.
“I don’t want to hear it, now go,” she barked.
The young cub was aggravated as he exited the den. He hung back until his siblings were done eating and it was time for them to go out into the woods to learn their territory. A senior member of the pack guided them down to the river. The wolf cub caught a glimpse of himself in the water. His reflection felt wrong. The dark brown coat that covered his body appeared dingy. The cub slunk back, away from the water, so he wouldn’t have to look at himself.
By six months old, the cubs spent their mornings learning to hunt. They were taught to pick up a scent and follow it. The young cub enjoyed the hunting process and often caught scents before his siblings. His abilities began to impress some of the older members. He also was able to step so lightly that he was virtually undetectable when he was approaching his prey. One of the main lessons was to make your first attack count so the kill wouldn’t escape. The young wolf was able to forget about his coat while he was hunting. When he made the initial attack, he always went right for the throat to immobilize his prey. He was supposed to take the animal down, then his siblings would jump in to help him finish the kill, but often he had executed his first strike so efficiently that his siblings weren’t necessary. As he excelled over the next few months, his siblings quit teasing him as much. It was then that he was given more freedom to roam about.
One day, while exploring on his own, the wolf cub went beyond the pack’s territory. A bit outside, where he had been warned not to go, was a clearing. There was a large path between the trees where the dirt was pounded down between the surrounding woods. The cub walked on this path, following it further until he came upon a house. He tentatively approached it, sniffing for any danger, and picked up the scent of a human. The scent was definitely female; no male scent could be detected. He had been warned of all humans, but specifically, it was the males that he had been taught to be wary of. Having only detected a single female, the wolf decided to continue forward to the side of the house.
He jumped up, planting his front paws on the windowsill. Peering in, standing on his hind legs, he saw a human, a female getting dressed. The wolf was amazed at how she could change her coat so easily. What should have been her paws functioned in such a way that she could grasp things, having complete control of every item she touched. The cub pawed at his stomach. Not only could he not grip anything, he also couldn’t find anywhere his coat was split so that he could remove his fur.
This woman he was watching had a few different coats she could choose from. One of them was the color of the trees, a couple of the others looked like the flowers that grew under the trees. The cub wanted to be able to change his coat like the human did. Surely, he would feel better if he were able to take advantage of the colors nature provided. Other than when he was hunting, the wolf was overly concerned with his external appearance not matching what he thought he should look like. Once the woman had seemed to settle on her choice, she went into another room and the cub could no longer see her.
Since it was getting dark, the wolf figured he’d better get back to his own territory. He was eager to share the news of his discovery. But who could he tell? The wolf realized that his brothers and sisters were so concerned with learning how to hunt that they probably wouldn’t be excited. They all seemed content in their coats, so content that they would brag to each other about their markings or the thickness of their fur.
That night, while he watched his siblings chase their tails, he curled up with his ideas of being able to coordinate colors and soon he knew that he would get his chance. As he drifted off to sleep he kept imagining what it would be like to slip covers onto his back paws, stand upright in a new coat and strut around being anyone other than himself.
The next morning he broke off from the pack during their hunt and returned to the house to try and catch the human changing her coat again. He snuck timidly up to the house and placed his front paws on the windowsill to get a glimpse. The human was already dressed when he arrived. With his snout pressed against the window, he watched the woman gather her things and leave the house. He crouched down, out of sight, as the woman exited the door and walked down the path before she disappeared into the forest. The wolf wondered if she often left like this. The only way to know would be to track her movements.
After several weeks of watching her, the wolf found out that she only went out a few times a week. Since he’d followed her, he knew that she would only be gone a short while to gather firewood or berries. While he was tracking her, he decided he would sneak in one day when she went out and try on one of her different coats. He knew he would have to be quick about it, but he couldn’t stand it any longer and decided that the next time he saw her leave, he would do just that.
The wolf, now over a year old, went to the woman’s house and waited outside the window. He watched her change with ease and pick up her basket, which signaled that she was headed out to forage for food. He hid in the bushes and watched her close the door and head down the path. Once she was out of sight, he made his way around the corner to the front door. He reared up, pawing the handle. It wouldn’t open. The cub wished his front paws worked more like the human’s. After several attempts, he figured out how to push the handle down with his left paw so that the door would release. Once it was cracked, he used his snout to push it open and entered the human’s dwelling. As he walked toward the back, he couldn’t help but notice how roomy the inside of the house was. There was so much more space than he had in the wolf den. He had thought that it had looked large from the outside, but being inside the house, the wolf was amazed that one human woman had so much space to herself. In the weeks he’d been tracking her, the wolf had never picked up another human’s scent. Even if the human was to return early and ruin his plan, he knew that he’d be able to easily outmaneuver her and escape.
Once the wolf had inspected every room, he made his way to the back where he usually watched the woman. At the open closet in the back room, the wolf cub sat in amazement. There were the few coats he had seen her wear, hanging from what looked like a branch fashioned into a pole of sorts. On the top shelf, there were two caps that he’d seen the human put on her head occasionally if she had gone out on a cool day. He got closer and noticed one pair of covers for her paws. They were wooden and flat. The woman was wearing the other softer pair. In all the time he’d watched her, she had never worn these paw covers. He slipped his hind paws into the covers and reared back, trying to stretch his body upwards. They were too long for his paws, and when he tried to take a step, he stumbled forward, returning to all fours. He removed his paws from the covers and then used his nose to push them back to where he had found them. The cub grabbed the bottom of the coat that was the same color as the trees with his teeth. He pulled at the coat with the muscles in his neck, gently, so as to not rip the garment. The coat slipped from its hanger. He nosed the human’s extra coat open and slid in, putting his front two legs through the arm holes. It was as if he had a second skin, a new coat. The young wolf cub didn’t have to be himself anymore. With his newfound assurance, he left the house wearing his new frock. He had only intended to try on the human’s coat, but now that it covered his dingy fur, the wolf knew he had to keep it.
As he was strutting back to his territory, the wolf realized that he probably shouldn’t return to his pack wearing his new coat. The other wolves might not be so receptive, especially because he’d never mentioned the notion of changing his fur to any of the others in the pack during their hunting expeditions. Specifically, his mother might turn him away, as she already seemed distant with him when compared to his brothers and sisters. His hunting abilities had gained her attention, but his self-imposed isolation made it hard for them to connect.
Even though he was getting closer to becoming a full-grown wolf, he knew that nothing he did would make her understand. He knew that she had hoped that one of her young would rise to the alpha male position and it was obvious that his disinterest in socializing with his siblings mixed with his general disdain for leadership knocked him out of the running. He was always on his own, longing for independence, but at the same time, he still wanted his mother’s approval. It was possible that one of his sisters might be sympathetic to his secret ways, but they were so eager to breed with an alpha male that their brother’s happiness was none of their concern.
The wolf cub dug a hole in the ground and buried his new coat just on the outskirts of their territory. He could collect her things and hide them here, keeping everything hidden from the pack. Since it was farther than their normal hunting grounds, the wolf cub felt his newfound treasure could stay hidden, especially since there were traces of the human’s scent on the coat and he knew that the other wolves in his pack took the scent of humans seriously. The wolf knew that if his pack picked up the scent of a human, they’d be on high alert and keep a closer watch on each other for a few days. As an extra precaution, the wolf found some moose feces and rolled in it, trying to spread it in a direction away from his hiding spot so if the other members of the pack were hunting, they’d be more inclined to go in the direction of the moose scent.
Occasionally, the wolf returned to the woman’s home and waited for her to leave. On the days she left, he entered and picked out another article of clothing that he could take to his hiding place. He even took the paw covers that didn’t quite fit because he couldn’t resist his fascination. The wolf thought that maybe, with practice, he could learn to keep them on his back paws, possibly even walk upright one day.
After the pack had returned and fed on the day’s kill together, they all drifted to sleep, except for the one wolf, who snuck off, dug up his collection of coats and paw covers and enjoyed his evenings parading around in all the things he had managed to accumulate. The wolf began putting on shows for himself by changing coats and strutting around, fantasizing about being a human. Every night he enjoyed his time alone as he let the smooth fabric flow in the wind, grazing his dingy fur. He liked to imagine that his fur had been removed and there was no barrier between his skin and the fabric. He imagined himself walking upright while the paw covers stayed in place.
Then, one night, in his eager attempt to sneak away, the wolf stepped on a twig and the sound of it snapping disturbed the others in the pack. The wolf froze and waited for the other wolves to settle and resume their sleep. Once he was convinced that the others had drifted back off to their dreams of chasing down moose or deer and mauling them to their death, he slipped off into the woods headed for the comfort of his newest addition, a long coat that was the color of the blood he spilled during his hunting.
The wolf sensed that something was off, but couldn’t tell what it was. He thought about staying in the den but didn’t sense any immediate danger and continued on to his hiding place. Once he got there, he started to dig up the newest addition, unearthing it quickly. Just as the wolf cub was about to slip his front paws into the holes, he heard his mother growling behind him. “What is going on here?”
The wolf cub crouched down in fear, his newest coat only halfway on. The cub searched his mind for any excuse that would be believable, but nothing would come, “Mother, I…”
“Have you killed a human?”
“No, I just, I just took this from a house at the edge of our territory,” the wolf whimpered.
“We’ve all warned you that humans are dangerous. What would you have done if they had returned? You haven’t even learned how to defend yourself.”
“But they didn’t. I waited to make sure that the woman was gone before I took it.”
“So you just entered a house and took that?” The mother stood there in the moonlight waiting for an explanation as she pointed her nose at the garment covering her son’s fur.
“Yes, I wanted it. I like the way it looks, it just… it just feels right.”
“Feels right? Son, we have coats of fur. Those things are only for humans that can’t keep themselves protected from the weather. Wolves have no business wearing human things.”
“But I like them.”
“Like them? Are there more?” With her question, the mother began digging around the area. She exposed several articles of women’s clothing. Then she dug up the paw covers.
“Please, mother stop!” the wolf cub howled. “Not my paw covers!”
After a long silence, the mother finally spoke. “You give me your word that you will never do this again and come back right now to the den and we can put this behind us. None of the others have to know.”
“But my coats!”
“No son of mine will ever go around looking like a human.”
“Or what Mother?”
“Or you stay here and never return to the pack.”
The young wolf stretched his front paws in front of him and put his head to the ground leaving his back haunches raised. He whimpered slightly before deciding. “Fine, I’ll be on my own.”
“How will you take care of yourself? You need the pack for protection!”
“You know I’m the best hunter in the group. My kills are accurate, precise, my senses are sharp. I’ll be fine.”
“This is not up for discussion. You will leave all this,” she used her snout to make a circle pointing to everything the young wolf had acquired, “and return with me tonight.”
“I won’t leave them.”
“Son, you have to choose, your pack or human things.”
The young wolf rose up and held his head high. He stared directly into his
mothers eyes, signaling his refusal to back down.
“Choose!” she barked louder than the wolf had ever heard her bark before.
“Never enter our territory again.” With that, the mother turned and disappeared. The young wolf howled. Even though he wasn’t close with his pack, he didn’t want to be separated from them. He lay down and that night, for the first time, the wolf cub slept outside of his territory.
The next day the young wolf went back to the house. This time he was angry and didn’t feel like waiting for the woman to leave. He needed something new to make him feel better and he wasn’t willing to wait for it. He jumped up and opened the door on the first try with his paw. He had mastered the angle at which to push in order to release the latch.
He nosed the door open and made his way to the closet in the back room where the human’s coats were kept. He found the woman sitting on her bed putting on a second skin. The wolf was jealous that her hands allowed her to stretch the skins over her legs with such ease. He knew that had he tried to put them on, his nails would have ripped right through them and even if he managed to get a paw in, they would rip if he attempted to pull them up with his teeth.
The woman broke the wolf out of his fascination when she screamed and jumped on top of her bed. The wolf snarled at her. All he wanted was for her to leave the house, but she stayed on the bed, screaming. The room filled with the scent of her fear, reminding him of the animals he had hunted in the woods. He got more and more angry and then when he couldn’t control his instincts anymore, he lunged at the woman. Before realizing what he had done, he had ripped the woman’s throat out as if she was a deer he was killing for his pack.
The wolf backed off the fallen woman and licked his lips. He hadn’t realized how sweet human flesh was. He approached the woman again to take another bite, tearing through her tendons with his teeth. As he ate, it occurred to him that with the woman gone, he could live here, in this house with the closet space. It was outside of his old territory and with the shelter, he should be safe from any neighboring packs that he might have trouble with if he went in search of a new den. It all made sense to the wolf as he continued to eat the woman. Once he was full, he dragged her carcass over to the corner to save the rest for later.
Then, the wolf left the house, closing the door behind him as he walked to the place where he had stored all his clothing. He removed each article and returned it to the house where he now would be living. Once he’d returned everything to its proper location, even placing the paw covers back in the bottom of the closet, he roamed about from room to room. He liked it there, inside and alone. The wolf cub spent the next several days there, devouring the woman’s carcass. He had started at her throat and ate the meat on her face first. As he worked his way down her body, past her shoulders and around her ribs, the wolf savored each new part of the woman. When he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he continued his exploration of the garments. The woman only had a few coats and the wolf wondered about her skins. He’d never seen the skins before, and since they had been destroyed during his attack, he buried them outside the house. He even managed to learn to take a couple of steps with the covers on his back paws while he balanced on his hind legs.
Once he sucked the last of the marrow from the woman’s bones, he had grown bored with the clothing the woman had. He knew that it was time to venture out for more. The wolf no longer considered himself a true wolf and was grateful he had left the pack. He began to go out in the daytime in an attempt to hunt down another woman and kill her, not only for her meat, but also for all the beautiful coats she could change into. Each kill had the potential to provide not only a few meals, but also new additions to the wolf’s collection. In doing this, he stayed on the outside of the path, following it a couple miles. The wolf was very careful, trying to cover his tracks and stay hidden so that he could track the next human he saw.
The wolf picked up a female scent coming towards him. He waited and when the scent grew stronger, the wolf saw a young female wearing a cap the color of fresh blood walking along a path. As she walked closer, the wolf realized that he had never seen a cap that beautiful and he knew that he had to have it.
Kacee Belcher owns a cemetery plot in Venice, FL but would rather be cremated and have her ashes tossed during a hurricane party somewhere near Miami. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Florida International University and has been previously published at BORDERLANDS: Texas Poetry Review, Sagebrush Review, and Voices de la Luna. Even though her publications have primarily been poetry, Kacee writes in all the genres.