The Wolf Boy
by Howard Reeves
You couldn’t tell by looking at him now that Clint Truelove spent the first fourteen years of his life living in the wild. They said he was left in the woods as a baby and nurtured by a pack of wolves, or maybe coyotes. He was an oddity and the subject of intensive study. He was on the news, he was even written up in Science & Nature magazine. Doctors from major universities examined him under every microscope imaginable. They checked his bone structure and his digestive system. They scanned his entire body and looked at his blood work.
Once they decided that the Wolf Boy (as the newspapers had dubbed him) was otherwise a physical human being, he was sent off to a special school to learn basic social etiquette — speaking instead of yelping, practicing good hygiene, and generally cohabitating with other humans. Most of the other students would gawk at him and try to ignore the fact that occasionally he looked upon them as prey. Ms. Delacroix, Clint’s attractive teacher, was the only one able to hold his rapt attention. It was she who named him Clint — after Clint Eastwood, her favorite actor. She thought that Clint the Wolf Boy had the same flinty look in his eyes.
Emily Wiggins was officially the first person to actually see the Wolf Boy when she stepped outside to get the morning paper. She called Coweta County animal control thinking a bear was trying to break into her house. She was shocked when the officers dragged a snarling mud-covered naked boy from under her front porch, and crammed him into a cage designed to hold no larger an animal than a pit bull.
The discovery of the Wolf Boy had nearly everyone comparing this historic event to that of Romulus and Remus, tweaking the myth here and there for the benefit of the media who had ascended upon the small town of Mount Yonah. Theories abounded, from the Wolf Boy being snatched as a baby and left in the wilderness by a crazed, childless woman, to having been beamed down by an extraterrestrial spaceship that, it was reasoned, caused the last surviving mill in town to close for good leaving much of the populace wondering if they’d ever find work again. Even the initial spike in tourism that followed this amazing discovery was of little economic comfort.
The Wolf Boy was soon adopted by Theron Truelove, president of the local bank, and his wife Elizabeth, who had no children of their own. They desperately tried to keep him out of the spotlight and away from the paparazzi and TV trucks. All they wanted was for Clint to be a normal boy.
This would prove to be of no small challenge, and there were times when the Trueloves nearly gave up. It took enormous patience and many long hours of coaxing just to get their son to sleep in a bed instead of on the mat by the front door. For awhile they invited other boys to come over. But they’d just crowd around the TV and play video games, while Clint slinked off to a dark corner alone and growled.
Still, his adoptive parents persisted in making a comfortable home for him. Little by little they began to wean him from raw meat and wild berries. They taught him how to use the toilet and to take a shower. Gradually he warmed to their efforts. He remained close to the kitchen whenever Mrs. Truelove cooked a roast or fried some chicken, and she’d always place a sample on a plate for him to taste. He quickly learned to use utensils, and he even enjoyed picking out his own clothes.
It wasn’t long before Clint appeared to be as normal as any other teenager in Mount Yonah. He’d cleaned up pretty well since he was found hiding under Mrs. Wiggins’ porch. Now he regularly wore deodorant and slicked his hair back with mousse. While he didn’t talk much, he understood everything that was said to him. Still, he had a tendency to growl whenever he was provoked, and most folks tried to stay on the good side of him especially during a full moon.
Having suitably adapted to his human side, Clint was enrolled in Mount Yonah High School where he became more than just an object of curiosity. Girls were mysteriously drawn to him. Some said it was his animal magnetism, others claimed it was the allure of nature. The boys, on the other hand, learned early on that if they wanted a date with any of the girls, they’d better hang close to the Wolf Boy.
They begrudgingly included him in their activities, taking him along wherever they went. They tolerated him even though he beat them at bowling with his quick reflexes and keen eye. And they watched, stunned, as he ravenously devoured most of the hot wings they ordered. But it was Clint who thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie. It reminded him of endless nights running with the pack, foraging for food and howling at the moon.
The most exceptional thing about Clint was his incredible speed. Each morning he’d race to school, beating the number three school bus every time. He could run a mile in two minutes, forty seconds — faster than anyone on the high school track team. Hank Melman, the team’s coach, was the first to discover Clint’s natural ability when he witnessed the boy race across the road in front of the school and shove Cheri Britton, the head cheerleader, out of the path of a speeding truck.
It was at that very moment that Coach Melman knew exactly how the impoverished town of Mount Yonah might recover from its sad decline. They would promote Clint Truelove, the Wolf Boy. The world was about to discover the fastest runner in the entire state of Georgia — maybe the whole country.
The following day, the coach met privately with the mayor and the city council. He hoped that the council members would consider appropriating the funds to train Clint for the Olympics. He assured them that it would be a great boost for the local economy if the Wolf Boy would make the U.S. team.
“The boy is phenomenally fast,” said the coach. “The publicity itself would be enough to turn this town around.”
“That may be true, coach,” Mayor Hipple said, scratching his chin, “but we can’t afford to pay a trainer. Hell, we can barely afford to pay the dogcatcher.”
The council members nodded in agreement.
“If you want to provide the town with a fiscal kick in the butt,” the mayor continued, “you’ll have to train him yourself.” He leaned across the table and looked Melman straight in the eye. “You think you can handle it, coach?”
Coach Melman ran his tongue across his lips. “Yeah, I can do it,” he said with confidence. “I’ll put him on the track team. We’ll have the state championship in the bag,” he added, with a broad smile.
The next morning, the coach took Clint out onto the high school track. “I’ve been watching you, son,” he said. “You know, you’ve got a special talent. You could be the best runner in Coweta County—hell, in the whole damn state.”
Clint listened closely as he looked deep into the coach’s eyes.
“You’ve just got to do what I say, okay?” the coach added, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulder.
Clint nodded, sensing he had nothing to fear.
“You’ve got a lot of potential,” the coach assured him. “You’re gonna be the best runner ever.”
From that day on, Clint moved in with Coach Melman. Every morning at six o’clock, the two of them would trot out to the high school track where the coach taught Clint how to prepare himself mentally and physically for a race, and how to focus on winning. But Melman’s real strategy to win the coveted state championship was to exploit Clint’s natural ability to run like the Wolf Boy he was.
Word quickly spread about the fastest runner at Mount Yonah High School. More and more people began to show up for track meets to watch the Wolf Boy beat out the rival high schools. Mary Gower, who ran the concession stand behind the bleachers, had to have her husband Earl run to Kroger to buy four more cases of hot dogs just to keep up with the demand. The entire police department — including five officers and the dispatcher— were called in to direct the flood of traffic. The local Chevron station ran out of gas and had to close early.
Thanks to the remarkable draw of the Wolf Boy, businesses began to flourish. Theron Truelove even broke ground for a new branch of the bank. He said he always believed the town would make a comeback. And, for the first time in two years, the people of Mount Yonah began to see their way out of a long depression.
The more races Clint won, the more he became a celebrity. TV satellite trucks, parked around the athletic field, reported on the amazing Wolf Boy as he won race after race in record time. The local radio station devoted an entire hour each week to the Wolf Boy’s track activities, interviewing Coach Melman, Clint’s teachers, and anyone else who wanted to talk about the boy’s extraordinary talent. Offers from universities around the country began to pour in. Free tuition and a private dorm room with access to VIP dining. Once again the Wolf Boy was back in the news.
Yet the more he was thrust into the limelight, the more Clint began to feel isolated from his friends. He missed the times when they could just hang out together. Now he was controlled by the Mount Yonah High School athletic department. Every moment was carefully planned.
Coach Melman made sure that Clint practiced his sprints for hours each day. And like an obedient canine at his master’s feet, the boy followed the coach’s orders. He was fed supper at precisely six-thirty. He showered at eight and was in bed asleep by nine. Then, up again at five in the morning for his six o’clock training on the field. The more he practiced, the more he began to understand the human drive to compete, and win. Still, the constant discipline made him feel like a caged animal.
On the morning of the state championship track meet, the Mount Yonah High School marching band led a parade through town. The Wolf Boy rode in the back seat of a shiny new convertible, along with Mayor Hipple and Coach Melman. Buckets of colorful confetti rained down on them as the car passed by the cheering crowd. The parade ended at City Hall, its columns draped in red, white and blue banners. People were gathered in the street as the mayor stepped up to the podium.
“It is truly an honor to present the keys to the City of Mount Yonah to the person who has saved our town from deep despair,” the mayor proclaimed. “Our hero… Clint Truelove, the Wolf Boy!” The crowd cheered wildly.
The mayor introduced Pastor Hank Lucas who approached the podium.
“We are here to honor Clint, whose God-given talents have lifted the lives of all of us.” Pastor Lucas raised his hands in the air. “Praise, God! Thank you, Jesus!”
“Thank you, Wolf Boy,” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Yes,” Pastor Lucas responded. “Thank you, Wolf Boy!”
The people began to chant, “Thank you, Wolf Boy! Thank you, Wolf Boy!” their voices swelling like an avalanche, echoing throughout the town square.
Clint had never before experienced such emotion. It made him feel anxious, the muscles in his body tensed. The hair on the back of his neck bristled as he looked for an escape. While the people of Mount Yonah danced in the street, whipping themselves into a frenzy, the Wolf Boy quietly slipped away.
The moment Coach Melman realized that Clint had disappeared he knew exactly where to find him. Quickly, he got into his car and drove straight to the high school. He walked to the center of the athletic field and looked around the perimeter. There at the far end of the track stood the Wolf Boy looking pensively toward the mountains.
The coach walked slowly to where Clint was standing. He put a hand gently on the boy’s shoulder. “C’mon, Clint, this is your home now,” he said softly. “We’re all counting on you.”
Clint’s body began to shake. “Can’t do it,” he said, “can’t.”
The coach smiled. “Sure you can, Clint. All you have to do is what you do naturally. Running’s in your blood. You can do it, boy, I know you can.”
Clint’s dark eyes scanned the ridge of the mountains. “I dunno,” he murmured.
“I know how you feel, Clint,” said the coach. “You still remember what it was like to be free, don’t you, with nobody tellin’ you what to do.” Melman took a long breath. “You’re special, boy,” he said. You’re gonna be famous. You’re gonna be a star.”
Clint searched the coach’s face. “Just want to be me,” he said softly.
The stands were packed that afternoon as hundreds of people poured into town to watch the Great Race, as it was known throughout the state. It was Mount Yonah versus Casper High, the state champions for the past eight years. They were arch rivals, bitter enemies, and the crowd was out for blood. The fans roared as Mount Yonah’s team jogged from the locker room to the track for the start of the race. Among the VIP seats were three Olympic officials who had come to evaluate the Wolf Boy, hoping to sign up a truly great contender.
The two high school track teams got into position for the 1600 meter race. The starter raised his pistol and fired. The runners took off in a cloud of dust, but Clint shot past them all as if they were standing still. Halfway through the first lap Clint caught his stride, stretching his whole body with every sprint as if he were chasing a prey. The crowd went wild. “Wolf Boy! Wolf Boy!” they shouted.
In the broadcast booth, Joe LeBaron, the local sportscaster, was on his feet shouting into the microphone. “The Wolf Boy has already taken a huge lead in this race! He’s heading around the third lap with no other runner in sight!”
An endless roar thundered from the crowd as Clint kept up a steady pace. He rounded the track for the fourth and final lap, his eyes focused on the finish line ahead, just as Coach Melman had trained him.
Then, the most unthinkable happened. The Wolf Boy suddenly stopped just a few feet from the finish line. The crowd sucked in a collective gasp as he stood perfectly still, his head cocked, listening to the wind blowing down from the mountains and the rustling of far-off pines.
A hush hung over the stands like a threatening storm cloud as the Casper runners were now a short lap closer to the finish line. The people in the crowd grew restless. Some began to boo loudly.
“What is it, Clint?” shouted Coach Melman.
But Clint didn’t hear the coach. Nor did he hear the spectators with their moans of disappointment and shouts of disdain. The only thing his finely-tuned ears heard was a distant familiar cry — a call of freedom.
Then, like a sudden bolt of lightning, Clint took off across the field like a wild animal on the run. He leaped across the cyclone fence that surrounded the track as if he had wings. The angry shouting of the crowd quickly faded as he raced through a forest of soaring pines and tall oak trees, thrashing his way through the thicket along the highway, north to Sautee.
By the time the sun began to set, the Wolf Boy had reached the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where he stopped to rest beside a rushing stream. He leaned his face down to the water’s edge and lapped up the cool, clear liquid with his tongue, savoring the pure taste of nature’s blessing.
In the woods, across the stream, a grey she-wolf watched him intently. The Wolf Boy looked up and let out a low bark of recognition. It was good to be home again.
Howard Reeves is a freelance writer with a background in music, advertising, corporate communications and screenwriting. His short stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Black Lantern Publishing, Notes Magazine and People of Few Words anthology. His collection of stories, Road to Caledonia and Other Stories, is available on Amazon Kindle. Howard lives near Atlanta with his wife, Cheryl. Read his story Road to Caledonia in Deep South here.