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The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn

We didn’t break camp; the tents were left standing in the park. The students were mobilized, eating granola bars and drinking juice pouches as we marched toward the cemetery. I told them not to call out Cole’s name as that would make him hide from us, but occasionally a student would yell for him, or howl like a wolf, or get excited and point out a red-tailed hawk—“Buteo jamaicensis!”—and Pat would snap at them to be quiet.

We marched past headstones dating back to the 1830s, the inscriptions worn by time and weather. We circled Mirror Lake and past the Birge Memorial, a massive monument with 12 Doric columns with the president of the old Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company buried beneath the marble.

I kept my eyes on the rough ridge on the other side of the lake, periodically raising my binoculars and scanning the tree line for movement, spotting nothing but a doe on the move, doing her best to avoid the young bucks during rutting season. My hands shook as I held the binoculars.

We fanned into a line of students and chaperones as we ascended the hill, the ground getting steeper, rockier with each step. My plan was to march to the stream maintaining that line, trapping Cole between us and the water’s edge. As we moved forward, I looked for some sign that he had been there—a discarded wrapper, an apple core, some piece of his old life he was trying to leave behind. Then I found myself looking for some sign of The Wolf Boy–a smoldering campfire, the gutted remains of a small animal, remnants of shed clothing. I saw none of these things, and a dizzying fear touched me deep to the marrow that maybe both boys were really gone.

Then we heard the scream.

Raw. Primal. Like a howl. The sound froze us. Pat’s eyes locked on mine, growing wider as the shriek continued. She mouthed Cole’s name, somehow recognizing it as her son’s wail. It sounded like he was in agony.

When the screaming stopped, we moved toward where we thought the sound had come. Then the wailing began again, the throat-ripping sound guiding us. We stumbled over rocks and roots, our feet slipping on loose stones and dirt, as we headed toward the fading cry.

We found Cole at the base of a rocky embankment on his knees, his arms wrapped around himself, his upper body rocking. He was kneeling three feet from The Wolf Boy. Pat slid down to him and threw her arms around his shoulders, trying to turn her son away from the corpse.

It didn’t take a biologist or a coroner or even a science teacher to see that Jason had been dead a long time. The elements and animals had left too much evidence to dispute that. Later we’d learn from the paper that he had died soon after his disappearance, that he had lost his footing, toppled down the hill, and struck his ginger-haired head on a rock, killing him instantly. Authorities speculated that he had evaded them until the search had been called off. There’d been no campfires, no living off the land, no months of survival on his own.

There’d been no Wolf Boy.

There’d only been Jason Wolf, an 11-year-old boy who’d grow no older.

Cole had stopped howling as Pat held him and now sobbed and moaned in his mother’s arms. The cemetery had grown very still. The children were all silent, too stunned to even cry, and even the birds—Buteo jamaicensis, Dendroica petechia, Agelaius phoenicus—stopped calling to each other from the limbs above. The only sound I heard was my own breathing and a humming in my ear as if someone was holding a tuning fork close to my head. Some of the chaperones tried to push the students back, telling them to wait at the bottom of the hill, to not look at Jason, or what was left of him. I didn’t do that. I let my kids look. I let them get close, letting them see a real horror story, and hoped I was teaching them something.

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