By Doug Linger

 John Maines looked sadly into the room again. The computer, now slightly obsolete, was in one corner, next to a small bookshelf. Both had remained untouched for a year except for his wife's dusting. In the other corner was the ham radio, Zach's main hobby, equally preserved.

Posters of his son's two favorite topics-wildlife and heavy metal-mixed incongruously on the wall. Zach was a veritable encyclopedia on either subject.


The bed was made; the clothes neatly hung in the closet. Mary had kept the room far cleaner than Zach ever had-a thought that would lift him from his depression whenever it came. Then the inevitable addition arrived: When he was alive.

His smile immediately disappeared. Zach had been killed a year ago when the steering had failed on the truck he had been driving, causing a nasty crash.

John's grief had been bad enough. The guilt he felt, though, was absolutely terrible. The truck had had sloppy steering for a while, and just before the crash it had gotten pretty bad. If he had taken the damned thing to the shop when Mary had told him to, his son would still be alive.

John blamed himself, and it was eating him from the inside out. He rarely did anything anymore except to go to work and come back. In neither place did he talk much anymore. And what it was doing to his marriage...

"John! John! Come here, quick!"

John immediately ran for the stairs. His wife was not one to rush things. If she said it was urgent, it was.

A few seconds later, he was next to Mary in the family room, looking at a scene he never would have believed if someone had told him of it. Bowzer, the pet dog, was sitting quietly at the large glass doors, looking out. But it was what he was looking at that was so incredible.

There was a wolf outside.

Right outside. If the door was opened, they could touch it without leaving the house. It was just sitting there, looking at the dog looking at him through a pane of glass.

"Holy crap..." John whispered. They lived in suburbia, not a rural area. There were woods bordering their backyard, but the nearest forest was nowhere nearby.

"Bowzer's not barking," Mary pointed out, her voice a whisper as well. "He barks whenever another dog comes within 30 feet of him. But he's not, now."

It took John a moment to realize she was correct. It made the scene feel even more surreal.

The wolf turned his head and looked at the pair of humans. John saw a hint its eyes. Then it opened it mouth and began to bark.

The sounds immediately sounded odd to John. He looked at his wife, and saw a worried expression on her face as well. The barking was wrong. No, wait. Not wrong. Unnatural. And then it clicked.

"Oh my God."

He'd not heard that sequence for a year. Before that, he had heard it often. John raced upstairs, to the room he had left only a minute earlier. He strode quickly to the bookshelf, and looked the titles over as fast as he could. "Whereisit, whereisit, dammit, whereisAHA!" He pulled the book from the shelf and ran back downstairs.

"What is going on?" Mary asked, the entire episode making her nervous.

"Morse code," John said succinctly. He opened the ham radio book to the table of Morse code symbols and quickly checked them. "K2GU was Zach's ID." It checked.

"What are you saying?"

John ignored the question and walked over to the door. Bowzer gave him a quick look and whine, then resumed observing the wolf. The wolf had stopped barking when he approached.

John sat cross-legged next to his dog. "Zach? That you?" Its tail wagged and it opened its mouth in what could only be described as a canine grin.

John couldn't help it. He broke down. "I'm sorry. Oh God I'm so sorry. It was my fault..."

There was another series of barks. John jerked back to life and looked in the book. His tears were still coming, if slower; the task of translating took his mind off his grief and guilt. "No, I'm not wrong," he said forcefully, looking up from the book. "If I'd taken it into the shop..."

More barking interrupted anything he would have added to that. "'Not guilty'," John said out loud when he had translated.

"He always did like Perry Mason," his wife chuckled, wiping her eyes.

John hesitated. Then he reached up and pulled the door open. The wolf...Zach...didn't run. John removed his hand from the door and reached out. After a moment, Mary joined him in rubbing their son's fur. After a few seconds of this, it retreated a few steps and resumed the rhythmic barking.

"'Don't worry. Be happy,'" John told his wife as he translated. Zach nodded his lupine head once. Then he turned and trotted towards the woods.

"Wait!" John cried as he stood and ran a few steps after his son. He saw Zach stop, hesitate, then turn and walk back to them. "Please. Don't leave."

Zach tilted his head to the side, the question too obvious to ask.

"I don't want you to leave. If you leave, you'll be..." John swallowed; he had to concentrate to keep from breaking up again. "...gone."

Zach responded with another series of barks, his longest. Then he licked his father's hand, and trotted off.

"What'd he say?" Mary asked him.

John looked up from the book in his hands in time to see the wolf, at the edge of the woods, look back at him. Then it was gone.

"What'd he say?" Mary repeated, a little more urgently.

John tore his eyes from the spot Zach had entered the woods. He looked at her, really looked, for the first time in a year. He saw the eyes, wet from her own tears. But there was something else. There was a deep concern for him that he had noticed for a year now but never really seen until now.

"Uh. 'Don't grieve. Live. I'm not dead. I'm free.'"

Mary blinked. "Oh," she said, softly.

John pulled her into a close hug. "C'mon. Let's go inside. Let's talk." Mary just nodded. John entered the house with his wife, and closed the door.

And began to heal.

Copyright 1997 by Doug Linger. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first. Thank you


Back to Stories