Sitting still, stoic, poised and ready, his ice blue eyes glow in the late afternoon light, his fluffy black tail rustles the dry autumn leaves. Standing over him, a rogue tear rolls down my cheek, spills off my quivering lower lip, and kisses the very tip of his nose. His nostrils flex, his ears perk up, and he whips his majestic head to the right. Dirt and leaves kick up from beneath his massive back paws as he bolts into the thick woods. Back when he was a pup, he often ran off, his oversized head and paws almost making him topple, me chasing after him and calling out his name. Now my chest expands as I inhale, ready to call out, the mustiness of freshly disturbed earth in my nostrils. With my hands cupped around my mouth, as my lips form his name, the stark white bandage wrapped around my wrist causes me to pause. I let my arms drop to my side as though they are made of lead. I do not call his name. I only stand there, he sprints further into the trees.
As I turn and walk back to my car, the dead autumn leaves that blanket the lone dirt road leading into this clearing crunch under my boots. The crackling echoes in the quiet. I leave a trail of footprints behind me. I struggle to open the door to the truck but manage it somehow. I lay my forehead on the steering wheel, the leather cool against my skin, and close my eyes. I will never see him again. I dig in my jacket for the keys. The tag dangling from the key ring, the one with his name engraved in bold letters, snags on my pocket zipper and slips out of my hand. My keys land on the floorboard, next to his woolen blanket. There are jet-black hairs nestled in between the fibers. As I reach down to grab my keys, I wince, the stinging pain radiating from my wrist. Stabbing the key into the ignition, crimson just begins to surface on the bandage.
Several months ago, the first time it happened, we were wrestling with his new toy. He lunged at me. His front claws tore my left thigh. The second time, just last week, a growl rumbled from deep in his chest, his upper lips pulled back exposing his sharp teeth, his ears pinned back, his body rigid. A wolf stood before me.
The engine hums, the leaves rustle in the breeze, the crickets sing. Abruptly the melody is disrupted by a piercing howl. Rabbits scurry to the nearest underbrush. I raise the windows and turn on the radio too loud. My knuckles white as I grip the steering wheel. I swallow hard. I force my foot down onto the gas pedal and slowly drive down the narrow path. In the rear-view mirror the shadows from the trees stretch across the now empty clearing. Beyond, the woods are still. The road ahead is barren.