I had worked later than I realized and now the building was empty. I had been preparing some documents; I had a large pile of documents to prepare, a pile that seemed insurmountable, but just in the last hour I had been making some headway and in my pleasure at that I had forgotten the time. When I realized how late it was I left the main shed, which was dark, and went to the general lobby, where a green emergency light burned. In the lobby was a large, well-lit bathroom, and I went in. Another woman came in and went into a stall several down from mine, and I peed so loud that I guessed she was impressed by the sound, but when I got out she did not seem impressed. "We're not supposed to be in this bathroom," she said. She pointed to a large sign: THIS IS A MILITARY BATHROOM, DISCOURAGED FROM USE FOR ALL BUT THE MILITARY. When she spoke she sounded annoyed, also as if she wanted to warn me, in case I didn't know.
"I know," I said. "It's annoying, isn't it?"
But she didn't say anything else. She washed her hands and left. She was walking quickly when she went out the door, and when I went outside a minute later, I didn't see her anywhere. It was then that I realized how dark it was. As if blankets had been thrown over the tops of the pines and only a faint light on the grass. I ran through the grass towards my house, which was not far from the complex. I ran fast—I took the old dog path over the double stone walls, and then I took the path as it continued through the blueberry fields, now overgrown with pine seedlings, the little blueberry plant leaves glowing red at the tips. When I looked to my left, I could see a faint light above the hay that stretched toward the horizon and the road. You could run through the fields at night, and make it, but you'd be lucky. I guessed nothing had come yet because of the light that was left. Perhaps it wasn't time. I didn't think I'd been lucky.
I saw my house—I kept running—it was quite dark. The front of the house was gray and its tall windows were quiet. I had a choice of two doors to run to. The front one was closer, but I didn't have the key. I would have to wait until someone from inside let me in. It crossed my mind that if I knocked they might be in another room, one far off, and wouldn't hear me, or would walk slowly, through carelessness, and wouldn't let me in until too late. The side door was farther off, but I had its keys; but that door had three locks, which I knew would take me a long time to open because I knew I would be clumsy. I veered and ran toward the door at the front of the house. The fields beyond the lawn were utterly grey, the sky above them grey as well. Nothing was moving in the grasses. But I knew that at the last moment of my looking, that might change; so I looked toward the house, ran across the yard diagonally, jumped up the two huge granite blocks that served as steps, and knocked. I heard steps come toward the door. The door opened. My sister let me in.
I closed the door behind me and tried to lock it but as the bolt was about to push into its hole an enormous body, like that of a wolf, slammed against the outside of the door and the door opened. Outside the door stood a wolf. I tried to push the door closed again. I pushed hard on the door; the wolf pushed hard on the door; I pushed hard on the door, and even though the wolf was bigger than me, I managed to close the door but not to lock it. Before I could, the wolf pushed hard and the bolt slipped out. My sister stood in the hall and watched. "It's not fair," I said.
My body was pressed against the door. By not fair I meant that I had been inside the house, and everyone knows locks are locks and keep doors closed; but this lock was worn down and its bolt was not as long as it should have been. Also, the door itself was badly made and the door was so narrow that on the side of the hinges a one-inch gap allowed you to see outside. Through the gap I could see the wolf's car in the driveway, so I knew he had driven to the house; he had come with his wife or friend; she was standing next to him. She had long dark hair, curly, and she was strong looking, tall, perhaps 5'10'', and dressed conservatively, in a patterned blouse and suit pants, and her arms were crossed. She would clearly have no patience with us. Meanwhile, I knew I could not hold the door closed long, and the bolt refused to lock. My sister—she was my older sister—stood there and watched me holding the door shut. My younger sister, who is the smallest and youngest of us, had come up behind her and was watching with a kind of detached, off-hand concern. This did not surprise me.
She was used to having things done for her, has been fed and coddled her whole life, and I did not expect her to take action and help; she was not able to, being so young in her mind, though in her body she was at least eighteen. Meanwhile, the door was pushing inward, and to my older sister, who was still watching the door doubtfully, I shouted, "Get a knife! Go to the kitchen and get a knife!"
She stared at the door.
"Get a knife!" I yelled. "Get a knife!"
Finally she acknowledged me by allowing her gaze to sweep across the hallway.
"What kind of knife?" she said.
"A long knife!" I said. Then I changed my mind. If the directions were too specific, my sister would take forever to find the knife. "Any knife!" I said. "Get a knife! A long knife! But most of all, get any knife!"
She hesitated. She seemed to be thinking about getting a knife. I attributed her reluctance to a desire to minimize losses. She did not want anyone to be taken, but she knew that if they took anyone, it would be me. My sister was gifted with foresight. But only in the short term, and only concerning the ones she loved. She did not want me to die, but she might have steeled herself to the inevitable, because she probably knew that if they took me, they would leave and not come back. Also, she no doubt felt something for the wolves, which I felt myself; they were only doing what they must, and perhaps regretted the necessity—you could not blame them for doing what they had to do. Finally, my sister could hardly help but recognize that it was my fault they were there, through my oversight, my carelessness, through my failure to notice that everyone around me at work had left while one by one the light bulbs went out; my sister was disappointed in me, even annoyed. Thus, everyone was determined; my sister to be neutral but helpful while acknowledging circumstance, they to accomplish their mission, me to save myself.
The pressure against my hands was very great. I peered out the crack, which seemed to grow wider as I peered through it. The wolf was standing, pushing the door with one long smooth arm, and he had turned into a man. His friend was a woman; her hair was shoulder length, curly and dark as before, and she had a set, angry look on her face. The man was handsome; he was tall and thin, his face and arms almost hairless, a nice brown color. He was muscular, but not overly so, and had a bit of a baby face, chubby cheeks and a long, straight nose; nonetheless, he was pushing with great determination and was still the wolf he'd been before, hungry and much stronger than me. As I realized this the door pushed in.
"Too late," my sister said. "Too late to get the knife."
The wolf was pushing his way through the door. To stop him, I grabbed a broomstick and pushed back at him with the butt end, but he slipped around the broomstick and stepped into the house and just as I felt despair, my older sister pushed herself at him and the force of her leap carried them both out the door. In that instant, she seemed lost.
The wolf's friend, who was standing in the grass nearby, watched with her arms crossed. My oldest sister struggled to push the wolf off the step. My younger sister, still inside the house, covered her mouth.
I was shocked that my sister had run outside for me. She had traded her own life for mine. I vowed not to let that be. Even with my cowardliness and my selfishness, which were very great, I could not let the wolf take her life. But perhaps my sister, with her foresight, had known her life would not be lost; because to my surprise, rather than leaving with her, the wolf was still trying to get inside the house. When I realized this, I pushed him away from the door with the broom handle. I seemed to be somewhat successful in doing this. However, the broom handle was now in between my sister and the door, barring her re-entry to the house, and the wolf's friend was beginning to look at her speculatively.
I stepped outside and with a great shove of the broom handle, pushed the wolf off the step. My sister ran inside. I ran inside and shut the door. I locked the door. The door did not lock.
"It's locked!" I said. "It counts as locked!"
"All right," the wolf said. "It counts as locked."
I could see him standing outside the door with his arms crossed. He became a wolf, then a lion, then gave up and became a man. "But open the door for a second," he said. "We just want to ask you something."
I did not answer.
"Do it," my older sister said. "It's polite."
I opened the door.
The wolf's friend stood on the top step. Her black hair curled down over her patterned blouse. The wolf waited on the bottom step. "I just want to know," the friend said. "Can we have your phone number so we can leave you a message?"
I hesitated. I did not want to give them my phone number. Mostly because I knew what the message would say—I want to eat you—and I did not want to receive such a message.
"We just want to leave you a message," the wolf's friend said.
"Just give them your number," my sister said. "It's just a message."
After having jumped out the door on my behalf, she seemed exhausted and ready to go to bed.
The wolf's friend took a piece of paper and a pen from her pocket.
"Here," she said. "Use this."
At first, I intended to write my real phone number and even sign my name. I knew it would be courteous to do so. And that moreover, if I wrote a false number, they would be angry when they discovered it was false and would be more determined when they came back. I wrote a false number. I could not bear to write my own. And I did not sign my name. Even if I was out of sight, I felt, my name would focus their attention on me, would make them think of me instead of other people.
The woman with the dark hair took the false number. She seemed satisfied. I felt a surge of victory. I felt like a person who knows how to manipulate the success of her own life.
Later that night, with the door locked and most of the shades drawn, we all went to bed. My older sister and my younger sister went to bed upstairs, where their beds were, and I slept downstairs, in the living room, where mine had been set. When this arrangement began, I can't recall, but for some time I have slept in the living room by myself. I have the feeling this is the way my sisters want it and I understand that want; and anyway, on the first floor I can watch the windows best.
Before my sister went to bed, I told her about a dream I'd had the previous night. I was feeling lonely and hoped, by telling her about my dream, to convince her to stay downstairs with me for a while. But after she had listened to the tale of my dream—one in which I lived alone, performed a boring job, and led a desolate life—she said, "Your dreams are not that interesting. In other circumstances, they might be, but here we deal every day with matters of life and death." I knew she was right. I let her go to bed. I sat in the living room by myself. The windows were dark, the room lit by one dim lamp, and as the wind struck the house, the gray curtains blew back and forth.