Fiction by Tom Koperwas

“Reaching Out”
             By Tom Koperwas

It was a bit chilly outside the Lupus Zoo Behavioral Sciences Department that night. Staff member Cal Jenkins started the small electric sledge, then stood back and watched as the timber wolf paced anxiously about the humming machine, waiting for its glass teardrop-shaped canopy to open.

“Don’t worry, Woofie,” said Cal reassuringly, a crooked smile tilting the horn-rim glasses perched precariously on the bent nose of his nerdy face. “May and I will be watching you all the time in the Outreach vehicle’s internal camera. And we’ll be talking to you through its speaker, just like we did during your training.”

Fellow B.S.D. staff member May Ju, slim, young, and attractive, chuckled and gave the wolf a gentle pat on her broad head. Woofie jumped eagerly into the vehicle and lay down flat, placing her four-and-a-half inch long paws on the flexible steering and accelerator control pads. The Outreach machine rolled out of the garage and headed down the smooth, broad shoulder of Highway 7.

“You’re doing fine,” said Cal over the vehicle’s speaker. “We’ve successfully trained fish, rats, and dogs to drive, but never a wolf. You're an intelligent and highly independent lot, something I’m sure you're proud of. So I’m betting you’ll enjoy earning your food tonight. Don't forget to come back when you hear the return signal in your collar.”

“If only you could understand the importance of your mission,” interjected May. “Animal-directed technology can expand the perimeters of the traditional zoo. You have the means to reach out to the natural world and integrate it into the zoo’s urban setting. Drive carefully, Woofie.”

The speaker fell silent. High above the slow-moving vehicle, the Milky Way faintly illuminated the night sky. Up ahead lay the dark woods of the wildlife park where the wolf would hunt game. Adjoining it was the tree-covered, tony neighbourhood of Vision Heights.

* * * *

Scarlet Daniel stood at the mansion’s sixth-floor bedroom window and looked down at the dense thickets of trees and the shadowy drive winding through them to the edge of Highway 7. She’d heard the stories of the mugger who wore a wolf mask, the criminal the social media pundits had dubbed The Big Bad Wolf. The night-stalker, with a predilection for violent assault and robbery, always concealed himself amongst the trees in the woods, attacking his victims from the shadows. That’s what the police reports said, and there were 20 acres of trees on the property. Plenty of places to hide...

The tall, svelte socialite turned her face away from the window and walked to her bed. Sitting heavily on the satin duvet, she thought about how tired she was, and how impossible it was to sleep after finding her neighbour Vivian bruised and beaten on the ground next to the gate of her home.

It was late. Time to sleep. Another night of frightening nightmares about The Big Bad Wolf. Swallowing a pair of extended-release Zolpidem tablets, she lay down on the bed. Soon, she was asleep.

* * * *

Scarlet rose from her bed and donned her dark, scarlet-hooded cloak. Ignoring the pajama-clad image of herself in the tall bedroom mirror on the wall, she drifted glassy-eyed down the stairs and entered the shadowy garage. Starting her silver Rolls-Royce Phantom, she drove down the drive to Highway 7. Turning south, she cruised slowly past the gates of her neighbours’ properties. Suddenly, up ahead, she saw a man in a wolf mask dash behind a bush. Pressing the accelerator to the floor, she raced the 5,600 pound machine toward him. The criminal had only a moment to scream before being fatally struck by the Rolls.

Scarlet turned her eyes away from the body and steered the vehicle back onto the highway, driving slowly toward the wildlife park and Lupus City. Up ahead, a sledge shaped vehicle was parked on the highway’s shoulder with its canopy open toward the night sky. Standing next to it was a creature with a face resembling the mugger’s. The Big Bad Wolf had reappeared. Only one thing to do.

Woofie stared wide-eyed as the Rolls crashed full speed into the Outreach vehicle.

Scarlet calmly turned the car around and drove home. Parking the Rolls in the garage, she went up to her bedroom and lay down on the bed. The glazed, glassy-eyed expression slowly faded from her face as she fell asleep, dreaming peacefully for the first time in weeks.

* * * *

“She’s wearing a red riding hood, but she ain’t little,” whispered Sergeant Phillip to Lieutenant Stevens. The lieutenant smiled and turned his large, chiseled face toward the three women sitting in his office.

“Now, let me see if I have this straight, Ms. Daniel,” he grumbled. “You say you woke up this morning with no recollection of having driven your car last night.”

“That’s right, officer,” said Scarlet, gazing nervously at her lawyer, Ms. Gringold, seated on her right.

“Frankly, we find your statement incongruous with the evidence we found in your garage,” he continued. “The front end of your Rolls is extensively damaged and covered with human and animal blood; blood matching that of the purported mugger known as The Big Bad Wolf, whose body we found lying next to the highway, and the body of the wolf from the Lupus Zoo. Furthermore, the external cameras on the zoo’s Outreach vehicle recorded the moment of impact when your vehicle collided with it.”

“My client is not denying that she may have driven the vehicle last night,” interjected Ms. Gringold. “She only said that she has no recollection of having driven it.” 

“But how is that possible?” asked the Lieutenant.

“I believe I can explain that,” said the sharp-eyed woman sitting to the left of Scarlet. “Scarlet came to my office several days ago complaining of insomnia. She was clearly traumatized by the events of late that occurred in her neighbourhood, most particularly the violent mugging of her neighbour. In my capacity as her personal psychiatrist, I prescribed Zolpidem to help alleviate her condition. One of its side effects is parasomnia, a sleep disorder that can involve unusual experiences. It’s possible Ms. Daniel engaged in sleep driving.”

“Sleep driving?” grunted the lieutenant.

“Parts of the brain may be asleep while other parts are awake. She could have driven that car while being asleep. I’m prepared to testify to that possibility in court.”

Ms. Gringold leaned back in her chair and smiled.

* * * *

“It’s awful nice of you to come visit us here at the zoo,” said May Ju. “Cal and I are so glad you were absolved of all responsibility for the death of The Big Bad Wolf and Woofie.”

“I feel terrible for running Woofie over,” cried Scarlet, wiping a tear from her face.

“Please don't,” murmured Cal sympathetically. “We’ve read the court transcripts. The way we understand it, during your sleep drive your subconscious mind was reaching out, forcing you to confront your fear of the human wolf who was terrorizing the neighbourhood. You were simply defending yourself from those overpowering fears when you killed him… and Woofie.”

“You were just as much a victim as Woofie was,” added May.

“You are so kind,” sobbed Scarlet.

“You’re the kind one,” interrupted Cal, “for footing the cost of the zoo’s next Outreach Project and the lifetime care of Woofie’s pup, Jewel. Who knows? Maybe Jewel will be our next Outreach driver.”

Scarlet looked down at the tiny wolf pup chewing on her fingertips and smiled.

“There’s nothing big or bad about you, is there?” she laughed.

 - Thomas Koperwas is a retired teacher living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada who writes short stories of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in: AnotherealmJakob’s Horror BoxLiterally StoriesThe Literary HatchetLiterary VeganismBombfirePulp Modern FlashSavage PlanetsDark Fire Fiction; etc.,

Copyright©2022 by Thomas Koperwas. All Rights Reserved.