Wolf of Ilex
by Micah Castle
Chris walked ahead of Sean into the woods beyond the park. Acorn shells littered the ground, crunching underfoot. Chris’s bruised legs were growing sore, but he ignored the throbbing coming from his shins.
“How far is it?” Sean shouted from behind. Perspiration coated his pink splotchy skin.
“This money better be close, Pissy-Chrissy or I’ll beat your arms, too. ”
Chris flinched just remembering being held down after school, in the baseball fields
dugout, Sean sitting on his stomach and whipping his shins with a stick. Chris cried for him to stop, but he only laughed and continued until Chris’s shins bled. Then, Sean left him, Chris holding his knees to his chest, lying on his side, weeping into the dirt.
The worst part wasn’t the beating, not knowing what provoked Sean was. He hadn’t
spoken to him since elementary school, and they weren’t in the same classes, except for lunch. It bothered him more and more until he had gone searching for an answer. Maybe he looked at him wrong? Maybe he said something to him and forgot? Maybe there wasn’t anything he did, but there was something inherently wrong with himself? He searched through psychology books at the school and public library, and scoured the used bookstore downtown for answers, not understanding much of it.
In the far back of the shop, he found a thick, tattered book—
“Hey, Pissy!” Sean shoved Chris. “Don’t slow down. I want my money before it gets
Chris stumbled forward, nearly tripping on a fallen branch, but righted himself. He
adjusted his glasses. “Sorry,” he said, “we’re almost there.”
He swallowed the saliva gathering in his mouth. “Do you know about the spirit that lives in the woods, Sean?”
“No, why would I care about that?”
He ignored him, continued. “There’s a spirit that lives here. The book I read called it the
Wolf of Ilex.” Chris glanced at the trees, black streaks running across their boles, as though a silhouetted pack of wolves raced across them. “It appears differently, depending if it believes you’re a threat or not.”
“Okay, and? You better not be telling me this so you can scare me.” Sean spat. “Or I’ll
use one of these branches to whip you again.”
Chris held back the fear that shot up from his knotted stomach, and shook his head. Stay calm. The clearing up ahead was close. Almost there. “No, just thought that you might want to know.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t. Where the hell is the money?”
Chris pointed ahead. “Up there, in that clearing.”
The nearer they became; the more wolves silhouetted the boles. Soon they were almost entirely dark, save for pinpoints of lightened bark, in the shape of pointed eyes.
Chris reached the clearing. A black Labrador retriever sat in the center, its mouth open,
tongue lolling. Its winter green and fall yellow eyes watched Chris walk up to it. Its tail swished in the grass. They weren’t strangers, after all. He had come before with the book, whispered the ancient words into the swaying trees, the drifting leaves, and once finished, spilled his blood.
Then, it appeared.
“What’s that stupid dog doing here?” Sean said.
As Chris went to scratch its head, Sean grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. “I’m done playing games, where’s the damn money, Pissy?”
Sean’s grip weakened, stepping back. A large, dark golden wolf stood on all fours where the dog once sat. Roots slithered from the dirt and curled around its paws dug deep into the earth.
Snarling lips revealed frothing onyx fangs. Golden hair bristled, and within, a faint red-orange glowed.
“Extinguo,” Chris recited.
The black streaks on the trees rattled. Acorns and twigs fell from the canopies, tumbling across the grass. Sean whipped around, wide-eyed, mouth agape, searching for what caused the noise. Sweat soaked his shirt.
"What’s that?” he said. “What’s going on, Chris?”
Chris remained silent, only watching as black wolves tore from the surrounding boles.
Their fur made from dark bark, paws and legs crafted from intertwining, weaving oaken wood; eyes from charred acorns and mouths brimming with jagged branches.
They were one form, traveling into the air, twisting under the evening sky, pouring upon Sean like a storm. Chris quickly shut his eyes. He had summoned them, said the strange words, gave his blood, yet he didn’t want to— couldn’t watch. As Sean’s screams erupted, Chris squeezed his eyelids even tighter and clenched his teeth. The crunching of bones and tearing of flesh, overlapping, layer after layer, creating a horrible cacophony of sound that rose to an overwhelming crescendo. Even when Chris covered his ears, he could still hear the wolves’ smacking their lips, hear blood splashing the ground and trees, hear their jaws snap as they fought for the last morsel. It was as though the noises were inside his head.
The wolves gave a powerful, jarring howl in unison, echoing over the forest, then there
was silence. Chris waited a moment, two, and opened one eye. Nothing remained, not even a speck of blood or a sliver of Sean’s clothing. He opened his other eye. It was like the black wolves or Sean hadn’t even existed.
Something barked and he jumped, turning to find the black Labrador with its tongue out.
He ran his sleeve under his runny nose, and adjusted his glasses. Chris laughed, smiled, patted the dog’s head, and whispered into its floppy ear: “Thank you.” The dog licked his face and with a nod of its head, indicated it was time for him to leave.
Their pact had been fulfilled. The deal done.
Chris cautiously patted the dog once more, then started home. It was night now. He
nearly slipped on the freshly fallen acorns, but he managed to get out of the woods without much issue. As he followed the sodium street lamps through the park, a wolf howled in the distance.
“Thank you,” he whispered again.
Micah Castle is a weird fiction and horror writer. His stories have appeared in various magazines, websites, and anthologies, and has three collections currently out.
While away from the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his wife, aimlessly spending hours hiking through the woods, playing with his animals, and can typically be found reading a book somewhere in his Pennsylvania home.
Read his newest published story, "It's Not Only Outside" in The Dark Frontier.
Purchase his newest collection of short stories, The Abyss Beyond the Reflection!