I came across a wedding taking place in a clearing deep in the woods under the open grey sky. The white chairs for the guests were set up in a semi-circle. It was late in the year and the ground was covered in crunching snow and dead leaves, and there were colored lights strung up in the bare branches of the trees around the clearing. About a third of the chairs were filled with guests, and the guests were all sitting in groups and clusters, talking amongst themselves and paying no real attention to the bride and the groom and the preacher, who were standing under a tree at one corner of the clearing. Most of the guests weren’t even looking in that direction.
And all the while, the bride, the groom, and the preacher stood in their places saying nothing. The couple just gazed at one another, beaming with sublime joy, and the preacher stared down at the Bible open in his hands, occasionally smoothing his fingers over a passage on the page that he seemed eager to read aloud. They were either waiting for someone or something to arrive so that they could begin the ceremony, or they were simply going to stand there all day as a decorative centerpiece to the general celebration of their matrimony. In fact, some of the guests had already wandered over to the table with the punch bowl and refreshments that was set up in the back behind the chairs, and a band was already playing light, festive music over by the tree line at the other end of the clearing. There was no sense that the guests were waiting for anything. It just looked like this was how they planned to spend the day.
As I wandered through the rows of chairs, I noticed that many of the children of the guests were sniffling and coughing, and some of them even looked pale and feverish. One boy glanced up at me as I passed by, and he pouted as he wiped his nose across his sleeve. I started thinking that it was inconsiderate for the bride and the groom to make everyone bring their sick kids deep out into the cold woods for their wedding. I took a wool cap that the boy was holding in his hands and popped it up onto his head and patted him on the back. The brim of the cap just dropped forward as the boy stared down at his cold empty fingers, balling them into little red fists to keep them warm.
I thought that maybe the thing to do would be to start a fire. I figured that I could get a small group of the guests together, and we could gather sticks and fallen branches from the woods and get a nice size fire going in a back corner of the clearing that wasn’t being used. I looked around at the scattered guests. The largest group was in the middle section of the chairs. They all seemed to be clustered closely around a woman at the middle of the group who was cradling a bundle in her arms. Some strained to lean forward over the backs of the chairs in front of them, while others were turned around with their knees on their seats. They were all smiling and pointing at the bundle.
As I came closer, I saw that it was something wrapped in a coat, and as I leaned in, I saw the furry nose of a small wolf cub peek up from behind a fold of the coat’s hood. I was immediately as enchanted as everyone else was. I brought a finger up and tickled the air a little in front of the cub’s nose. He nipped at it with his sharp teeth, and I snatched my finger back, and everyone laughed. I did it again and snatched it back just in time. He stared up at me from his warm bundle, the sky and the shadows of some of the taller-reaching trees showing in the darker portions of his eye.
Ever so softly, I began to let out a low howl, fainter than the winter wind, trying to entice something in the wolf cub’s newborn spirit. I let the sound of it trail off and fade on the air, and I smiled to see the cub perk up and lift itself up off the woman’s lap. I pursed my lips, preparing to howl again, but the woman gave me a pointed but quiet hiss and told me to stop. “You can’t be doing that. You’ll bring the other wolves.” And I looked around and saw that everyone else was staring at me, stern and serious. Someone at the back of the group slowly shook their head.
But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to stop, or maybe I just didn’t care to heed these admonitions. I threw my head back and let out a loud, piercing howl that rang across the clearing. I caught my breath, and then did it again. And then again. And then yet again. I scanned the faces of the crowd with a grin on my face, but no one else was laughing. Everyone was looking away from me in all directions, towards the edge of the clearing on all sides. The bride and the groom were clinging to to each other, and the preacher was turning to look over his shoulder. The band had stopped playing abruptly. The accordian let out a long whine as it slowly collapsed in the accordian player’s hands. The fiddle player stopped with his bow in mid-stroke. I turned around to see what they were all staring at, and the grin died on my face. There on the edge of the woods all around us stood the wolves, evenly spaced, their eyes narrow and hot and hungry in the raw air.