By John Thomas Tuft

The first time was when Jackson was five years old. Lying in the bottom bunk because the top one was too high up, he tried to hide his quivering lip, holding back the river of fear that washed through him at night. The dread of the first footfall on the stairs, the stale smell of beer and cigarettes wafting before the shadow looming in the doorway. The slithering sound the belt made as it was pulled through the loops and the inevitable, ungodly sigh of “Why do you make me do this?” Born addicted to cocaine via his mother’s placenta, Jackson has no recollection of going through detox the first couple of weeks of his life, but his brain does not forget. Ever.

Child Protective Services, a sad requirement in the richest, most developed, most educated, most religious country on the face of the earth, took Jackson from his mother and placed him in foster care. All of this is, of course, beyond the control of a five-year-old. In the darkness, on the bottom bunk, hopeless and helpless, he can only endure the pain. While being ordered, through gritted teeth, “Now, don’t you cry, or you’ll make me keep doing it.” Through the blur of teary eyes, Jackson sees it. There at the foot of the bed, in front of the closet door, an image in white. The magnificent creature is silent, his eyes holding Jackson in their strength. Jackson feels like he is leaving his body, floating above it all, watching the pain of someone else. When it is over, he is back on the bottom bunk. And there, in front of the closet, standing guard for the rest of the night, is the white wolf.

At sixteen, Jackson is on the run. Considered to be broken, socially devalued by what he has experienced, Jackson ran away from the Youth Shelter, figuring life on the streets could not be any worse. Suspicious of anyone claiming to want to help, starving for affection and any sense of worth in the chaos of a culture that worships consumption, he tries to outrun the pain that is entwined around his heart. Its roots are deep and its boundaries clear, providing him a small, dark room in which to declare his freedom. After several nights of dodging drifters and grifters, ankle deep in the soilage of the richest, most developed, most educated, most religious country on the face of the earth, Jackson comes upon a soup kitchen feeding the likes of him.

In front of him in the line is a girl of about fourteen, well along in a pregnancy. She turns to Jackson, pats her swollen belly, and simply says, “I don’t know.” A few minutes later, Jackson sees her doubled over, screaming, blood flowing down her legs. No one pays much attention as he runs to her, scoops her up in his arms and starts running. “Where’s the hospital?” he cries, over and over. No one answers. At the end of the block he stops, looking about frantically. Down the street, underneath a streetlight, there it is. The white wolf waits until it is seen, tosses his head, and heads around the corner. Jackson follows without hesitation, gasping to the girl to hold on. The weight of her pain tears at his heart and he is near sobbing as he turns the corner. It is there waiting, underneath the sign for the hospital. Jackson feels like he is floating, somewhere above his body, watching the girl be carried to help, protected by the white wolf.

Jackson sits alone, celebrating his thirtieth birthday in the balcony of an abandoned church near the downtown part of the city. He tried being married, but it just never felt like a good fit. How do you give what you never received…in the richest, most developed, most educated, most religious nation on the face of the earth? He wonders at the stillness of this space, shuttered with dust and sacred ghosts mixed with scatterings of unanswered prayers. Now is as good a day as any to finally give up. He ties one end of the rope to a bolted down bench, fashions a noose around his neck with the other and climbs onto the railing of the balcony. He already feels like he is floating, watching himself at the end. A movement down below catches his eye.

There, sitting on the communion table is the splendor of the white wolf, his eyes fixed on Jackson. “Why didn’t you protect me?” Jackson asks. “I needed you to be strong, I needed your wisdom. Now it is too late.” The white wolf is silent. “Couldn’t you find me?” Jackson is practically pleading. “Couldn’t you hear me crying?” The white wolf stands and shakes itself in a deliberate fashion. Then he spoke to Jackson, saying, “I can only come to you when you summon me.” And the white wolf jumped down, yawned, and trotted off. Leaving Jackson to decide his fate.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.