“What the hell is taking him?!” Cheryl paces back and forth in front of the fireplace, “He should’ve been back hours ago.”
“Chill out, Cher,” Ricky scratches his full, red beard, “you know how Joe is, likes to take his time.”
“Well, he’s sure taking his sweet ass time, isn’t he?” Cheryl puffed and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Why did we bring you on this trip?” Mike enters the living room with hot cocoa and toasted bread. “It’s bad enough Joe’s taking a bit too long to find it,” he continues, “you worrying your head off is not gonna help, so sit down and read a book or something.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Then stop acting like a child,” Mike shakes his head, “the hot cocoa’s ready for whoever wants it.”
Ricky gets up and goes to the kitchen and Mike takes Ricky’s seat, Ricky looks back and chuckles lightly, shakes his head, then goes about pouring himself some cocoa. Mike places his plate of bread on the table, puts his feet up, and sips casually from the cup and lets out a sigh of relief. Cheryl is still pacing back and forth, worrying her head off.
“Seriously, Cher,” Mike says after taking a sip of cocoa, “sit down.”
“I can’t,” she says, “not until I know Joe is safe.”
“What are you, his mother?” Mike says, “he can take care of himself.”
“No, he can’t,” Cheryl says, “he’s practically skin and bones with a babyface, he needs at least three layers of clothes to keep warm in the winter and–”
The door opens and Joe comes in covered in snow. He closes the door behind him and shakes himself off like a dog out of water and bends over–hands on knees–and takes long, deep breaths. Ricky comes out of the kitchen and almost spills the cocoa when Cheryl races by and almost bumps into him to get to Joe. She hugs him when he straightens out and Joe hugs her back awkwardly until she starts squeezing the life out of him.
“You’re crushing me,” Joe says flatly, “get off.”
Cheryl releases Joe and cups his face which is cold to the touch, “what took you so long, Joe? I was worried.”
“Let me settle in and I’ll tell you,” Joe sniffs the air, “the cocoa’s ready. Seems like I’m just in time.”
Cheryl releases Joe’s face and goes to get him cocoa while he takes off his coat and boots and settles in. Joe sits in the chair left of the sofa and soaks in the warmth of the fireplace and when his breathing evens out and his body temperature is at ninety-eight-point-six degrees again, turns to Ricky and Mike.
“It’s a fucking blizzard out there, man. Seriously!” Joe sighs, “I must’ve looked all over Minnesota. Saw nothing but a bunch of Timberwolves and snow-covered trees.”
“What else did you expect in the woods in the middle of winter,” Cheryl walks over to Joe and hands him the cocoa, “careful, it’s hot.”
“Thanks, mom, “Joe rolls his eye, “I’ll make sure to take my cough medicine.”
“That’s not funny, Joe. Seriously, I was worried.”
“I can take care of myself,” he says, “need I remind you I live alone?”
Cheryl sighs, “let’s not do this tonight, please. I’m just glad you’re safe is all.”
“Thanks for the cocoa,” Joe sips and leans back then lets out the same sigh of relief Mike did, “anyway, I mapped out the territory while I was out.” He puts down the cocoa and goes over to his coat and takes a large, folded paper out his pocket and hands it to Mike when he makes his way back to his seat then picks up the cocoa and sips then sighs.
Mike puts down the cocoa then opens the map and looks over it, Cheryl walks behind the sofa and looks over Mike and Ricky’s shoulders while Joe enjoys the silence and warm fireplace, sipping his cocoa like a contented old man.
“Wolfgang’s Cave,” Cheryl says, “how’d you find it?”
“Actually, I knew about that cave for some time,” Joe says, “there was a story about a man trapped in these woods for three months, his name was Wallace Wingham Wolfgang.”
“Some name,” Ricky says.
“Yeah,” Joe agrees and continues, “ole Wally was a wolf biologist who lived in the mid to late sixteenth century. He was always in the woods collecting wolf DNA of any kind, saliva, piss, shit, you know, that kind of thing. Anyway, one day, in a blizzard like this he went into the woods and didn’t come out. There was a search party for him for all of twenty-four hours. Hadn’t been seen since.”
“So,” Mike says, “what does that have to do with the cave?”
“Simple,” Joe answers, “about three years ago another wolf biologist, Dr. Jacob Sampson, came into these very woods and stumbled upon the cave you see there and claimed to find the remains of ole Wally Wolfgang. He called a couple of his anthropology buddies and they examined the bones and ID’d him, so they called it Wolfgang’s Cave from then on.”
“Sounds like someone’s been doing some homework,” Ricky says, “pop quiz: what happened to the skeleton after they ID’d him?”
“Nothing,” Joe answers, “they only found a forearm bone. The rest of his body is either missing or simply decomposed in the ground somewhere.”
Ricky grins and nods in approval, “alright, phase one is complete. Onto phase two, go to the cave and see what’s up.”
“You guys go,” Joe says, “I’ve had enough of that damn blizzard.”
“Too bad,” Mike says, “you’re going and you’re the navigator. Your mapping sucks and none of us can follow it.”
“Fuck you!” Joe grins then laughs.
“I am curious about one thing, though,” Cheryl says, “what did people say happened to Wolfgang after he went missing?”
Joe cocked his head to the left in thought.
A moment later he answers, “Well, sixteenth-century people weren’t all that logical back then, were they? They probably said something like he’d been bitten by wolves and became one of them.”
“You didn’t look into that?” Cheryl asks in disbelief.
Joe yawns, “Why would I?”
“Because it’d be good to know what happened to him,” she answers questioningly, “so that it won’t happen to us.”
“Don’t tell me you believe in werewolves,” Joe yawns again, “I know you’re a worrier but, goddamn, spare us the superstition.”
“You always do this,” she pushes off the sofa and walks over to the chair to take a seat, “you’re always half-assing everything. Never looking into stuff thoroughly enough so we have the complete picture.”
Joe rolls his eyes then yawns a third time, “look, we still have reception out here. If you want to do more research, be my guest.” Joe gets up and walks around the sofa toward his room, “Besides, I’m going to get some sleep since, apparently, I’m navigating the blind musketeers tomorrow.”
“Fuck you!” Ricky pushes Joe playfully when he walks by.
When Joe goes to his room and closes the door Cheryl asks, “You guys believe that story?”
Mike makes a so-so gesture with his hand and Ricky shrugs.
Cheryl scoffs and shakes her head, “I’m gonna follow his lead and turn in too. Goodnight.”
Cheryl makes her way to her room while Mike and Ricky look at the map and try to understand just what the hell Joe was thinking when he drew this shit. They understood that paths often curved but one would think from Joe’s drawing that his hand must’ve been broken, either that or he failed art class in high school.
“You know what she meant by that?” Ricky asks.
“Nope, and I don’t care,” Mike says.
“You gonna turn in?”
“In a minute,” Mike says.
“Alright,” Ricky gets up and walks to his room and closes the door behind him.
Mike sits and contemplates Joe’s map for another thirty minutes before he decides to turn in as well. He puts out the fire then goes straight to his room, not bothering to clean up, as that’s a task for another day, and closes his door behind him.
Tell me what you think in the comments! I read and reply to all of them and welcome feedback for improving my stories, poetry, and insights. Thanks for reading!