INTO THE VOID by Paul Robert Mullen
There is a wolf that visits at dusk.
It’s larger than a regular wolf. Muddy coat, laboured breath, piercing eyes—almost certainly male. He never comes closer than ten metres from the gate. He has a measured, lurching gait, and sturdy, hulking shoulders. I don’t know why he comes alone—I always thought wolves were pack animals. I first saw him when I was twelve years old during the coldest winter holiday this century, when pavements were like ice rinks, and the streets looked like Narnia.
I’m twenty-five now.
I live in a small, very private community, and my cul-de-sac winds through colossal hundred-year-old oaks, reaching for one another across streets, down to a small creek leading into the wilderness. The neighbours keep themselves to themselves, and aside from the cockerel on the farm nearby, the area is largely still and hushed.
Nothing ever happens here anymore.
Only rumours about events of the past, in the woods, stir up memories best forgotten. The kids that went missing on the road leading out towards the moors, beside the old railway lines. The one boy that found his way home and told stories of the massive hairy man that took them. It’s usually outsiders passing through that want to talk about that. The families of those kids are all dead now, bar one sister, who must be in her nineties and is rarely seen. She’s never said a single word about what might have happened to her brother, and his friends, that terrible day. Four of them in total. Three disappeared, one survivor. The survivor long gone from Briddle—the stories and explanations of what happened that auspicious day gone with him.
People get themselves drunk on myths and legends. We are a species fascinated by mysteries, and gore, and the unexplained. Maybe that includes me. Not a day goes by where I don’t look beyond that wolf, or out into the dense pines with wonder; tree soldiers stood resolute, ushering you into the void of possibilities. Briddle is a village with stories to tell, but nobody left to tell them. The shadows cast across the land at dusk hold whatever truths you dare to imagine.
I can see the pale-yellow eyes of the wolf through the stained-glass window when I’m doing my afternoon reading, and we often gaze at one another until daylight fades and the moon looms large. I don’t know how long this goes on for. Time seems to evaporate when our eyes meet. Sometimes I move out onto the porch with my book and steaming-hot coffee, though he never seems fazed. He barely moves, other than to swat the flies away. I was frightened when I first saw him years ago, but my fears have long since diminished. It’s the other things, behind him, in those obscure, shaded woods, that set the heart racing.
Wind chimes rattle in early evening breezes, and mosquitoes start stalking flesh daring to bare itself. When the sun goes down the wolf retreats back into the outline of the woods with the sort of deliberate calm that makes me anxious. I don’t know if I’m worried for him, or worried because of him. He doesn’t come every day; probably three or four times a week. I haven’t told anyone about the wolf, other than you. I’ve never felt vulnerable, so I don’t feel it necessary to worry anyone. Plus, who would believe me? This isn’t a place where stories go down well.
It’s been nearly three weeks since I’ve seen him now.
I find myself waiting—always late afternoon—hoping that I’ll see those gallant shoulders emerging from the brush, rising and falling like two mountains in an earthquake. The hypnotic trickle of the creek numbs with the stillness of the day. I don’t exactly know what I’m waiting for, though I think about it often. Maybe I’m waiting because life feels empty without routine. Maybe I’m waiting because I feel a bond with this creature, or because closure—letting go—is a hard thing to bear. Maybe I’m waiting to check whatever might be out there hasn’t taken him too.
Maybe I’m waiting because that’s all we ever do.