Back In School and The Wolf On The Wall
Theron was the first in the class to raise his hand, but as usual, it was as if he were invisible. He waved it frantically for recognition. “Kathy,” Mrs. Sweeney said, while pointing at a girl in the
second row who had long blond hair that was curled to perfection and a pale blue dress that complemented her angelic face.
“It’s the dodo bird!”
“That’s right. The dodo is extinct. Now, where did the dodo come from originally?”
“Theron’s house,” Jack Sweeney said. The whole class burst into laughter, everyone except for Theron and Twila.
“Jack that will be enough of that!” Mrs. Sweeney said, scolding her son
Jack who was always trying to get Theron’s goat.
Usually Theron had a snappy reply that made Jack look like he was a half–wit. However, Theron knew that, in a class taught by Jack’s mother, it wasn’t prudent or the place to get the ‘one-up’ on him.
“When did the dodo bird live on the earth?” Mrs. Sweeney questioned. This time she called on Becky Burk, a girl with short brown hair and dimples. She wore one of the two dresses she owned. The once bright yellow material had faded, but was clean and freshly ironed. Theron was kind of sweet on Becky, but he was considered a dork by most of the girls. Becky smoothly gave her answer
“In 1681, they were considered extinct.” She smiled and relaxed in her seat.
“Why are they extinct?” Mrs. Sweeny always had another question to ask.
“Because they taste like chicken!” Jack spouted out. The class laughed. It was the scolding his mother gave him with her eyes that sent tension throughout the classroom.
Theron swung the hall pass that Mrs. Sweeney insisted they carry just to go to the restroom. The pass was a stick that looked as though it could be used to paddle someone’s bottom. Its real purpose was to allow other teachers to know that the child was doing what they were supposed to. Even though he had to go and felt the urgency, he dragged the stick along the wall acting like a waddling dodo bird. “Doo, doo diddle do,” he sang all the way to the bathroom.
It was then that the air shifted or the alignment of molecules migrated into a new pattern and when extraordinary things were launched.
Theron had just come out of the bathroom when he realized that the building was undergoing some kind of change, a transformation. The lunchroom wall was gone. It had disappeared and now opened into a rolling, hilly slope, a grass-covered plain. At the edges, where the worlds came to together, it blended seamlessly. Who was to tell where one world started and the other ended? Theron stood on the threshold, his mouth gaping open and his chin nearly scraping the floor. He was marveling at the color of the sky. His red locks of hair had started twisting and untwisting in spastic movements as if they had intuition. His early warning system was in full operation. The New World was so different. It was brighter in colors and the smells were crisp. Different than anything he had ever seen or smelled. The smell felt like tasty tickles of flavor. They were experienced by more than one of the five senses at the same time.
“What the heck is that?” Theron wondered. A herd of something clattered as hoofs crossed a rocky hillside and then went on to the grassy plain, where they came in to full view. The noise increased in the seconds he stood there as they came closer and then a herd of wild white horses burst through the opening.
Theron dove to the ledge where the coats hung to get out of their way. Hoofs clamored and clanked down the hallway, leaving muddy horse
prints in the path where they had traveled. As soon as they had passed, Theron poked his head out from behind the coats to check out what was happening. The stallion reared on his hind legs, grazing the horn on his head on the tiles of the ceiling. He turned his harem about, wanting to escape from the building that had captured them. It was then that Theron recognized what kind of animals trampled through the school. He gasped. “Unicorns!” he said, both with shock and delight in his voice. He then hugged the wall of the coat rack again while the unicorns bounded past him, and thundered by as he watched through the coats. Then, once more, they were off onto the grassy plain with clumps of grass and mud flying
from their hooves.
“Woo, that was cool!”
Theron had just stepped out from the security of the coat rack to watch the unicorns as they ran off into the distance, when the floor began to quiver under his feet, inviting the rest of the school to do the same. The school shook with the fury of an earthquake and the entrance to the grassy plain popped like a bubble and faded away. The wall was a wall again and the hall was littered with purple clay and grass from the unicorns’ hooves, leaving neither hide nor hair of the animals. They had left just the tracks, remnants that shadowed their existence.
Doors on every classroom opened and teachers’ heads poked into the hall where only one person stood: Theron. All Theron could say when Mrs. Sweeney, followed by the twenty three members of his class, arrived was, “Man, the janitor is going to be mad!”
For reasons unknown to Theron, Mr. Roper, the principal, and Mrs. Sweeney wanted to attribute the whole mess to Theron.
“But I didn’t do it!” he pleaded. However, it seemed, someone had to pay. Who else stood in the hall alone with the biggest single mess that the principal had ever seen?
Twila knew Theron’s story was true. She had fought with her locks of red hair during the stampede, trying not to let them bring attention to her. She knew her brother had gone through the twisty turnies with his red hair. Besides, not even Theron could make a mess that big in so short a time, she thought. Not a person except Twila would listen to Theron when he told them how the mess was made.
“I’m not kidding. It was a herd of unicorns that ran through here!” At first they marveled at his imagination and then they laughed at him.
“You’re just crazy,” Jack said.
After school Theron’s punishment was to write one hundred times on the chalkboard, “Boys make messes, not unicorns. I will keep the hall clean. Theron.” Jack was delighted with Theron’s punishment.
“Theron Salter, you’re such a loser,” Jack said. As he passed him, he bounced his shoulder off Theron’s shoulder, making him scribble on the chalkboard. Theron just shrugged it off. This kind of thing was always happening with Jack, so he went on writing.
“What’s the matter? You chicken!...Bock, bock.” Jack was taunting him, hoping he would come after him and then he could tell his mother how Theron started it and he would be in more trouble.
Becky Burk walked past, holding a book against her chest with both arms. She smiled at Theron.
“I believe you, Theron.” she said, then walked out the door to go home. He liked that she thought he was telling the truth, but all he could think of was how someday Jack Sweeny would “get his.” However, Theron had been in this position before with Jack. It seemed to be just a repeat of a week ago when Theron was accused of throwing food at Jack in the cafeteria. Mrs. Sweeney always took Jack’s side on everything, so Theron had decided not to let it happen. He was in control of his own mind and his own body. He had learned that from the experience with the snowman and the swamp creature. His Dad had taught him that God had sent all of us to earth to learn how to make choices.
“We all have the right to choose,” he said. “Choosing either right or wrong is up to each of us. God called it free agency.” Theron had thought this was kind of like when a baseball player’s contract was done and he could choose to stay with the team or join another team. Theron was exercising his free agency not to let Jack get his goat. Mrs. Sweeney came back into the room,
“Jackie, it’s time to go home.” Theron liked it when she called him
“Girl’s name.” was all Theron said. Jack glared at him.
“Let’s go home, Theron,” she said. “Time to go.” That meant freedom for Theron. Freedom from the bondage of the chalkboard and, since the
janitor hadn’t wanted Theron’s help cleaning up the hall he was free for the rest of the day. Theron plucked his coat from the rack, slipped it on and met his sister, who had waited at the door. Twila had always been there whenever Theron faced any challenge. It was big sister to the rescue. She was his left hand, as he was her right. She was three minutes older and a head taller, but they were partners. Whatever had happened to one was happening to both of them. As they walked toward home Twila pushed her brother for the skinny or the details on the incident in the hallway.
“What were they like?” she said, meaning what were unicorns like, having never seen one herself.
“They were kind of like Dad’s horses, a bit bigger than his mustang mare ‘Peanuts’.”
“Were they white? That’s the way I imagined them.”
“They are white, but kind of blue, too. Oh yeah, they have kind of a spiny, twisty–looking horn on their heads. That’s how I knew they were unicorns.”
If you had seen Twila and Theron from a distance, you would have noticed that their red hair stood at attention, each twins pointing toward the other twin as they walked home, still discussing their newest mystery.
A mystery of a different sort was why Twila was taller than all the boys her age. Most of the time she enjoyed the advantage that gave her, but it wasn’t what she wanted. She had found that she would rather admire the boys than fight them, especially Rex Twinkle.
“Twila, Rex likes you,” Allie Jackson said. “He told you he liked me?”
“No, but I saw him staring at you while we were eating lunch.” The girls giggled. Twila was excited to hear that Rex might be sweet on her. Sweet on someone was the way her daddy, George, described a crush or being twitter–pated. All through the day in class, Twila watched Rex. She would smile and duck her head whenever he happened to look her way. Her shyness showed like a beacon on top of the highest tower, although she tried to be unnoticed.
“He’s watching you.” Allie said, and then giggled as Rex looked right at her. Rex was kind of like Theron, a head shorter than most of the girls, but he was so handsome, the most popular boy in school, unlike Theron
who was considered a dork. George would say, “A dork was someone who farted in the bathtub and would bite at the bubbles on the way up.”
Twila was the envy of all the girls who thought that Rex might like her. The romance between Twila and Rex was one where they never talked, never looked at each other, and never held hands, but everyone knew that they were in love. When Rex came near, she would duck her head and blush. Theron was always teasing his sister. First it was, “Rex and Twila sitting in a tree, k–i-s-s–i–n–g.” You know how the rest of that rhyme goes. Then it was the thought of the name Twila Twinkle. Theron really liked that thought. He would say,”its Twila Twinkle, the newest star in the sky,” or “Here comes the wood fairy, Twila Twinkle and her baby Tinkle Twinkle.” Then something so bizarre happened. Theron and Rex become best of friends.
“This is too strange,” Twila thought when she first heard that they were best friends. She felt a little jealous. She had always been Theron’s best friend. “But it would be okay that Rex was, too,” she thought.
Rex had been coming to the Salter house to hang out in the tree house and to help build the fort on the hill, but Theron had not wanted Twila to be a part of those things anymore.
“Rex is coming over. We’re going to work on the train set,” Theron told his mother. Twila had listened in on the conversation.
“Rex is coming over,” she said to herself, holding both hands over her mouth, muffling her own words. A flurry of outfits landed on the bed. “Is my hair okay, Mom?”
“Just as cute as a bug.” “Bugs are not cute Mom.” “You’re just fine, honey.”
Cold and calculated, she entered the room where the boys were setting up an HO train set. Theron saw through the whole thing. “Theron, Mom wants you,” Twila said while walking down the staircase like she was Scarlet O’hara in “Gone With The Wind.”
“Oh, hi Rex. I didn’t see you.” She stumbled and fell three steps before catching herself with the handrail.
“What a train wreck,” Theron said under his breath. Theron ran upstairs to see what it was that Adeline wanted him for, leaving them alone in the same room for the first time. “We don’t like dumb girls,” Theron said
as he passed her on the steps. His face bore a scowl, his freckles connected by the red in his face.
“Twila, is Theron down there?” Adeline yelled. “No, Mom, he came upstairs.”
“Would you to go out to find him?” Twila blushed as she came up the stairs.
“Sure Mom.” She bounced as she walked a step ahead of Rex. They pushed the door open, exiting to the backyard. The Winter Tree was standing in the center of the yard with its lower limbs drawn close so as not to expose his inner trunk, hiding something as Rex and Twila passed under him. Passing by without noticing anything unusual, Twila said, “Let’s check the tree house. We can see all over from there.”
The day was warmer than most of the winter days, but this year had been very different. Theron had climbed into the Winter Tree and peered out from behind a blind that the tree had made for him with his branches. He watched as Rex and Twila climbed into the tree house in the neighboring yard atop the wash bank. The old cottonwood tree was the foundation of the tree house that Martin had started and now Theron was finishing. The Winter Tree’s branches unfolded as Theron slipped down from the tree and followed the unwary combo in his stealthy manner.
“It’s time to morph into a bush or something like Morph Man would,” Theron thought, frustrated that he couldn’t turn into a bush. Morph Man was his comic book hero. In fact he carried issue six, “Morph Man Meets Megawatt,” with him at all times. It was a crinkled worn–down copy that his big brother Martin had given him before he left to serve in the armed forces. First, Theron hid in the ditch behind some brush thinking, “I’m morphed to brush,” and then behind a big cottonwood tree, becoming a tree in his mind.
Rex and Twila surveyed the countryside, not seeing Theron anywhere. “Where would he go?’
“My brother is strange that way sometimes.”
From the tree house they went on to the wash. Theron could hear them talking and laughing about something. He wished he could hear what they were saying.
“If I were able to morph, I would become a listening device,” he thought. He simply was not close enough to hear more than a laugh.
They passed the edge of Busher’s Pond with Theron sneaking ever closer to hear the conversation. He had deduced that they were on their way to the black fort. This had become a cool game to Theron, spying on his two best friends. Twila was doing her thing, that girl thing. You know, when they talk their hands dancing through the air like they added expression to the words spewing from their mouths. She was looking over her shoulder, making those stupid smiles.
“What a geek.” Theron would have been disgusted, but he had decided this was fun. At the right moment, he would hide and then jump out when they reached his hiding spot. Theron wasn’t even breathing hard after running up the hill and dodging Rex and Twila, hiding and then running, then hiding again so as not to be found out. He was sitting in the spot waiting where he knew they would pass under him. Their voices were still distant. He could no longer see them, yet he knew that he would have to just wait quietly. Then he would jump out and scare the life out of them. He could no longer hear them talking, but there were footsteps making rocks clatter, with some rolling down the hill. Theron crouched behind the bush, holding his breath and readying himself to leap into action and cause Twila to pee her pants.
The footsteps were nearing. The moment had arrived. Theron leaped off a rock over the bush into the air, screaming like a banshee. But the surprise was his and not his friends’.
The travelers walking the path were large and hairy. Shock rested on their faces and terror was etched on the face of the leaping boy. Theron darted left. The Big–Foots leaped over a stand of rocks and went left. As Theron ran down the hill, he stumbled over rocks, plopping through a bubble that he had not noticed. Somehow, he had entered the boundary of some other world and now he was back where he had come from. Theron rolled to a stop at the feet of Twila and Rex.
“Theron, where did you come from?” Theron had no reply. His red hair had matted itself flat to his head. Twila held her hand over her red hair, twisting it like she was playing with it. She had felt the same activity as her brother had, covering their secret the best she could.
“Theron, sometimes you are a weirdo,” Rex said, laughing at Theron’s appearance behind them. Twila and Rex helped him up, dusted him off and they began the walk back to the house.
“So you really can morph, but when do you turn back to a normal boy?” Twila had to tease him because she could. Twila was just a friend to Rex after that and it was all back to normal with Twila and Theron.
Smoke rose from the yard barbecue where Adeline was preparing dinner, one of her fabulous barbecues. George had built the barbecue from native rocks. It had taken him all last summer. The table was set on the patio and spring had swept in, along with the first onslaught of mosquitoes. It was the bugs that sent Theron into the house early. He hated them, but they loved the taste of him. Twila rested on the back step where the sun had warmed the concrete all day. George and Adeline sat back in the lawn chairs holding hands. Theron would say that was gross, but he was glad his folks loved each other and were not afraid to show their affection. At home it was okay, just not in front of his friends or in public. Theron had gotten himself ready for bed. Tonight he was extra tired, the new warmer spring air he had supposed.
Going into Theron’s room was like a trip to the baseball hall of fame. His room was lined with baseball posters and his Arrow of Light from the cub scouts hung over a drawing he had done of a horse. His favorite things rested on his dresser, things he found, like that old French coin with the lady half rubbed away from being in someone’s pocket perhaps. Coins from strange places sat alongside his real treasure: his prized possession, a Don Drysdale rookie card. Theron would say that he was the best left–hander the Los Angeles Dodgers ever had. The only other item on the dresser top was a photo of his older brother Martin in his Army dress uniform.
The twins were similar, but definitely not the same. Gender, of course, gave them some distinct differences. Twila’s room was lined with fuzzy and furry stuffed animals. She loved them all, but mostly the ones that had been given to her by Martin, her big brother. Her favorite she had named Martintee. The rest of her bedroom had dolls, a shelf full of books and the same photo of Martin that Theron had on top of his dresser. So some things were the same.
Theron folded back the bedding and turned off the lights, leaving the door slightly ajar. Theron knelt by his bed and offered his private prayers. He rested in his bed listening to the others coming into the house. Drowsy, heavy eyelids closed and he faded into the world beyond the waking time. The room became darkened. It was not so much as blackness. It was more
the feeling of something bad contained in an inky gray cloud. Theron’s red hair spastically thumped against his pillow, waking him. Startled by the action of his hair, his eyes opened to see what was going on. Now his hair was fluttering like a squid being chased by a hungry whale. As his eyes cleared, the light in his room was growing dimmer.
“What’s going on?” It was only a few seconds after his red hair had awakened him. He settled back to rest. His hair lay still in silence. “What’s that on the wall?” It looked like a crayon scribble at first, until he saw that it was moving across the wall. He supposed that it was a group of spiders. Nervously, he watched as it grew large. The lines defined themselves and become a sketch, then a shape. Fear grew inside his chest. The shape became an image of a dog of some sort. Scared, but intrigued, he watched it moving on the wall.
The lines on the wall had become more of a shape. Bulging on the wall was a face, now recognizable as a wolf.
“It’s a wolf,” he uttered under his breath, feeling his impending doom. The wolf was moving ever closer to the open door. With terror in his heart Theron realized that the figure, now half of a wolf on the wall, soon would be alive and loose in his room. The wolf on the wall was trying to reach the door to close it. Inside Theron was sure that if the wolf closed the door before he himself could reach it, the wolf would surely devour him in a gruesome way.
“Theron!” Twila screamed bounding from her bed, her red hair twisting away in a warning to go to Theron’s aid. In a race for his life, Theron rose from his bed and, with all his agility and strength, he dove for the open door, sliding half of his body in the opening. At the same moment, the wolf on the wall reached the door, budding into a gruesome face of teeth and terror. Theron wiggled and scrambled to get out of the room, his legs still in the opening of the doorway. Twila reached her brother, “Are you okay?” Both George and Adeline followed her. George swung the door aside, revealing an empty room. With the wolf ’s attempt on the boy thwarted, he leaped from the wall, as a fully formed wolf. The wolf turned toward the spot where it had first appeared, changed its shape in a darkened shadow into a half wolf–half man, and turned his head only for a moment to glare at Theron where he lay in the doorway. Then the wolf was sucked into the wall and disappeared.
Theron had not had time to scream, only to act. He stood in the hall, shaking, while Twila held him, cradled in her arms.
“What was it?” she asked.
“It’s a wolf, a wolf on the wall.” The wolf on the wall meant nothing to Theron, but the vision still hung in his mind.
“The red hair warned me,” Theron said.
“Mine warned me, too.” She had experienced her brother’s terror, just as she had experienced other moments in his life, sometimes thinking it was her own encounter and not noticing he was involved. The opposite had occurred once with Theron, feeling Twila’s cut on her hand when she herself had not felt it. Together they have sensed something more was about to happen, but at the moment, it was distant and in the future.
Theron pulled the blankets from his bed and slept on the floor of Twila’s room, as they had done for years when they were scared. Tonight they were scared and it would be a long night.