To Belong

by J. Femmer

Pete secretly thought the hazing was a stupid idea, especially now, when they needed each other more than ever. Hazing should've gone out with hoop skirts and the Model T. But he knew it would be foolish to say so, especially in front of the ones doing the hazing.

Pete had different ideas. He thought they could take a new approach to things, out with the old ways, in with the new. Had he said anything, at best, he would've been laughed at. At worst, beat up and never accepted. And above all, Pete knew he needed to belong, even with this mangy group that now circled him almost menacingly.

The undisputed leader was Argo, a tall blonde with large muscles, obviously Nordic and well over six feet tall. His hair grew long like a mane over his back, making him look more like a lion than a human. "Your final test," Argo began, "will be to run to old Mr. Halwell's farm and steal one of his chickens." The challenge might have seemed lame, but Mr. Halwell had a reputation for shooting anything on sight. His chickens had been getting stolen regularly for years. It was easy pickings, if you were brave enough.

Next in command was Jack, a foot or so shorter than Argo, but no less imposing. His short brown hair stuck out in all directions, and his chest was bare, showing a collection of scars, both old and recent. He'd lost an eye once (no doubt during his own hazing, Pete thought), and while he usually wore an eyepatch to cover it, he'd done without for this night. Pete knew better than to stare, but that one short glimpse had burned the image into his brain: the haphazardly stitched lid, the gaping pink hole within the puckering flesh... It looked more like an ass than an eye. "And don't eat it," Jack said. "I'm hungry." Jack had been known to eat anything. He grinned, the expression making his non-eye pucker up even more, looking like it was about to take a monumental shit.

Pete nodded, and knowing the instructions were over, he began to strip. He felt slightly self-conscious in the act of being the only one taking his clothes off. He was a few years younger and much smaller than the rest of the group, just a kid barely out of high school, really. He hadn't spent much time working on his body, either. Pete's temple had always been his mind.

He was counting on his mind now, as he tossed his clothes--shoes, socks and all--into a small pile beside him. He nodded at Argo, and took off towards Halwell's farm.

The night air was cool on his skin, it zapped him like a million tiny electric currents, which soon faded to nothing as he let himself leave the trappings of humanity behind in favor of a more instinctual state. He ran faster than he thought he could, eating up the distance like a hare being chased by a predator. But Pete knew he was the predator. There was nothing he couldn't do while he felt like this. He could take on anything. He could take on Mr. Halwell and his chickens.

He knew he didn't need a test to prove it to the others. He could run with them, he was better than they thought he was. Not just a geek with his nose in a book. He could be just as good as Jack or even Argo. He wouldn't lose his eye.

He could taste the scent of chicken shit as he got closer to the hen house, that corny smell which isn't really as offensive as it could be. He stopped close enough to see but not to be seen, and crouched, watching. The moon was nearly full, the sky bright enough to see by, and through a window, Pete could spy the chickens all stacked up in rows inside the small wooden shack.

There was a gap under the fence which kept the chickens from straying too far. He would have to move fast but he had a plan. He ran towards the hen house, sneaking in under the fence, belly to the ground. He ran up to the rickety old door, and nudged it, testing how solid it was. It would take no more than a few pulls, wouldn't it? It was a bit difficult to manipulate the handle, the motion shaking the whole shack, waking up the chickens. They began to shuffle around inside, fanning their scent at Pete with their feathered wings. And then the door fell open.

A swarm of chickens spilled out, screaming at the top of their chicken lungs. Pete nearly panicked, the noise would surely wake the farmer up. In a burst of adrenaline energy, he started after the chickens, trying to catch one. All he needed was one chicken.

But he hadn't known chickens could be so fast. He ran one way, and they all ran the other way, flapping their wings and making noise. He tried to anticipate their movements, but they were too random for him to predict. With so many of them, he should be able to catch at least one, right?

His heart beat faster as he heard the front door of the house creak open, the voice of Mr. Halwell yelling out in annoyance. He needed to go and hide, but he was so close to catching a chicken. Just one was all he needed. Just one and he could leap the fence and take it to Jack and he'd belong forever.

Gotcha! he yelled in his mind as he finally managed to capture one of the chickens. Holding the squirming bird securely, he crawled under the fence again and began to run. "You dang mutt!" Mr. Halwell shouted, and shot at Pete, the sound of the rifle echoing in the valley. The force of the shot made Pete's hold on the bird tighten, crushing it to death as he fell to the ground, dead before he landed.

Mr. Halwell, wanting to make sure the thief was dead, approached the inert body, but as he saw it clearly he began to shake, moaning. "Oh God, oh no... I thought it was a wolf..." Hours later when the police were called and had taken him in, he was still repeating that mantra. "I thought it was a wolf... I thought it was a wolf..."

Given the circumstances, police weren't eager to charge him. The boy had been trespassing, and stealing, no less. Mr. Halwell had the right to defend his property, and he was obviously mortified by the act he hadn't meant to commit. For the moment, the farmer was allowed to return home.

But Mr. Halwell found sleep difficult that night. The image of the dead boy plagued his dreams, along with the certainty that he'd seen a wolf. I thought it was a wolf... It was a wolf. It had been a wolf, he was certain of it, but it couldn't have been. He saw the boy he'd killed, lying there with blood all over his back. There had been no wolf.

How it got inside the house no one would ever know, but when Halwell woke up it was on top of him, hot breath stinking of chickens. The wolf had one eye, but it seemed the puckered-up hole that had once housed his left eye was staring at him with more intensity than the eye that was well. It stared at him accusingly. Pete's 'new ways' would never have allowed for this. Sometimes the old ways are best. Mr. Halwell opened his mouth to scream, but by then his throat was a bloody, torn mess of flesh and cartilage. The pain didn't last long, as the one-eyed wolf killed him quickly, and was gone the way he came, a packmate’s death avenged.

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