It was a wet day but then it was Oregon, it always rained. The hour was late but it hardly mattered to Paul. He’d just finished his shift at the mill and the tavern called to him. He strode down the damp street, his shift at the saw-mill finished for the day. The smell of sawdust comforted him as did the scent of the pine forest around him. He loved it here. He loved the weather, the woods, the people, this was home and he was happy. He smiled at passer-byes and even winked at one woman who smiled demurely back at him.
“Evening Paul” she’d said.
He was thrilled she knew his name. She was a beauty. Blonde hair framed a narrow face and wide eyes. They’d been friends when they were kids. She out grew him but he always felt a familiar stirring when he saw her. As she passed his smile dimmed to a frown at the childhood memory she stirred.
It was late evening then, the two of them alone in the forest, her eyes meeting his and the stinging words, “We too old to play together anymore Paul.”
His step slowed, but the tavern loomed large and a frosty glass of beer called his name. He opened the door and stepped into the warm, welcoming bar. A huge cheer met him as he entered. Paul smiled and spread his arms wide. He sauntered through the throng of well-wishers and stepped up to the bar. The bartender slid a tall frosty glass of Paul’s favorite brew to him. Paul eyed it with greed and offered a faded five dollar bill to the man.
“Oh no, not today Paul, not after what you did.”
Paul nodded his thanks and turned to the other patrons. With a huge smile Paul downed the contents of the tall mug in one fell swoop. The others cheered. Here Paul felt at home. At one with those around him, it was a feeling he’d missed as a child hoping from one foster home to another.
A man stepped forward. “We’re all mighty grateful for getting us those raises.”
“Everyone deserved them Ed.”
There was a cheer and the night rushed onward.
It was late. It was dark. It was raining. Paul staggered down the sidewalk towards his small apartment, his head a haze of too much drink and merriment. Despite this he saw in his mind’s eye, as he staggered down the street, the blonde came to mind. Ella-Jane’s mean spirited words stung his gut and he was thirteen all over again. Fresh anger lit a dying ember inside his heart. He growled low and weaved down a street not his own.
After wandering for what seemed like hours Paul stopped and stood in front of a small cottage. He eyes were down cast, his hands clenched at his side. He’d show her they could still play. He stalked now, the drunkenness nearly forgotten, a dark anger propelling him forward. He barely broke stride as he kicked the door in and ducked his head to enter the small one bedroom home of Ella-Jane. Paul found her in that room, groggy from sleep, eyes wide with fear as he towered over her. With make-up removed she was not as pretty as he remembered, her hair not quite as blonde. He grinned at her. She held the sheets up near her chin. Her lips moved but no sound came from them. Fear gripped her.
With a massive hand Paul yanked Ella-Jane from her bed by her hair and pulled her through the house. She squealed in pain and gripped his wrist trying to ease the pressure.
He didn’t hear her, he only heard, “We’re too old to play anymore Paul.”
He took her through the door. He felt her try to walk but she tripped over her nightgown, she tried to scream but no one heard her. While dragging her around the house they passed a pile of wood. A well-worn long handled axe leaned against the stack. He grabbed it without breaking stride. The forest embraced them. He felt her hair between his fingers and the smooth worn handle of the axe in the other. As he walked he began muttering, “We’re not too old, we’re not too old.” The thick wet forest swallowed them quickly. Ella-Jane screamed but he knew no one could hear her.
Then they stopped.
Paul dropped Ella-Jane. She sobbed, her legs scratched, her hair disheveled and torn. She looked up at the towering beast of a man and muttered, “Why?”
“We’re not too old, we’re not too old” he repeated.
There was a growl a few feet away, a giant of a wolf sauntered from the forest, black fur slick with rain. It was the largest Wolf Ella-Jane had ever seen. She screamed again until her voice broke. She looked up as he towered over her, the axe held in both hands, a grin splitting his features, his eyes narrowed, dark hair plastered to his head.
There was a flash of lightening, Paul stepped forward, axe raised high. It came down with blinding speed with a thick slap in a stump Ella-Jane didn’t even realize she was leaning against. She squealed and tried to get away but slipped in the mud. Paul knelt next to her.
“Don’t worry dearest, I won’t kill you. We’re too old to play.”
“We were kids Paul, I didn’t mean…”
He held a finger to his lips, shook his head.
He stood, turned and marched into the forest once more. The wolf licked his hand as he passed. He stopped and ran a massive hand through the wolf’s fur. Ella-Jane sighed, thought herself safe. Her pulse slowed. She struggled to her feet. She glanced up as Paul disappeared into the forest.
His voice a distant whisper, “She’s all yours Blue”
The wolf, yellow eyes gleaming in the flash of lightning, growled, slobbered and jumped. She screamed but no one heard her.