as a special introduction to the world of Wolf Boy, here’s an excerpt of the novel for you to sample followed by several images of our artwork. Enjoy!
|The phone call informing them of Francis’s death came while Stephen was watching a Godzilla movie on TV and his sister was twirling her baton about ten feet away from him and his mother was in the kitchen making a carrot cake and his father was putzing around in the den, trying to think of something to do.
It was the second Saturday in January, 1993, a day Stephen’s father would later describe as “unusually beautiful,” but in truth it was a rather typical winter day for southern Illinois, where it would snow for a while, let up, and start snowing again. The sun did pop out here and there, causing the snow in their yard and on the tree branches to glitter, but despite the occasional blast of sunshine the temperature stayed quite chilly, high around fifteen degrees.
If that monstrous day held any beauty, perhaps it was when the family gathered for breakfast, Francis still alive and with them, talking and eating and gesturing and making plans, as the Harrelsons, five then not four, spent their last moments of innocence—at least for Stephen and his sister, who knew almost nothing of death and its apparent lifelong sting.
Breakfast began when Stephen appeared in the dining room, stretched the last molecules of sleep out of his bones, and took his seat next to Crispy, his sister, and across from Francis, his brother. His parents, Helen and Gene, were seated at opposite ends of the table like children who couldn’t get along.
Stephen was in the habit of complimenting his mother on her cooking skills, just to see the smile that would bloom on her face, so the first words he said that morning were, “Something sure smells good.”
“It’s my new strawberry lip gloss,” Crispy said.
“Not you,” he said. “You smell like a donkey.”
“Dad!” she complained.
“Enough,” Gene said.
Stephen spooned a small portion of scrambled eggs onto his plate from an iron skillet. Helen stood up and poured Minute Maid pulp-free orange juice into four glasses and a Tom and Jerry commemorative jelly jar (for Crispy) and distributed the juice around the table. Francis, who often had problems with congestion in the morning, held a paper napkin to his mouth and made sounds like an engine that wouldn’t turn over, trying to clear his raw throat. Crispy started humming the song “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. She bopped her head and danced in her chair, pretending that she was at least a few years older than ten. Sugar-loving Gene slopped blackberry jam on wheat toast that he had already buttered.
Gene was normally a grump in the morning, so it was smart not to say anything that he might take as an invitation to respond with grunts or with words made mean through exaggerated inflection, such as saying “oh, happy day!” to Helen needing the car. But Francis didn’t always play it safe.
“I think it’s going to be a good conference,” he said, while chopping at his eggs with a spoon. “Dr. Albertson from Berkeley is the keynote lecturer. He’s probably the top mycology guy in the country, though Dr. Fisher at Yale might disagree.” Later that day, Francis and his fiancée, Jasmine, were driving to Chicago to attend the annual Midwest Mycology Conference at the Sheraton. Francis was one of five undergraduates selected to present a paper to fellow students.
Gene was glaring at the slow-drip coffeemaker, encouraging it to speed up. “Sounds like a barrel of laughs,” he said in Francis’s direction. Stephen grimaced and momentarily lost his appetite. Why was his father the kind of person you had to put up with instead of a great man?
“Drive carefully,” Helen said, reaching for the saltshaker. “Arty’s predicting occasional flurries for most of the day.” Arty was Arthur Gifford, the Channel 7 meteorologist for the past nineteen years. He was a handsome man with a firm chin and a healthy Nordic glow, and he was Helen’s imaginary lover. Helen required a rich fantasy life. Gene stopped paying attention to her sometime during the Iran-Contra hearings.
“I’ll probably let Jasmine drive so I can prepare for my presentation,” Francis said. “I’m going to be talking about fairy rings—you know, those mushrooms that pop up in our yard every spring. Fascinating little buggers. People once thought the rings were formed by dragons setting their butts on the ground.”
Crispy giggled at the word butts and spat out a piece of egg. Stephen offered his sister a grossed-out look, then glanced at his brother and watched him sip his orange juice. While he never told Francis this, he believed that his brother was lucky to be so beautiful. Francis had long eyelashes, thin blond hair, and pale blue eyes, the watered-down blue of dyed Easter eggs. His appearance was that of something delicate and unprotected, in the rabbit and kitten class, and should someone or something ever attack Francis his only hope would be to outrun him, her, or it, which he likely could do. When Stephen and his brother used to run together through the neighborhood, Francis training for his high school cross-country meets, it was usually a dead heat or close to it, though Stephen often suspected that his brother would let up at the end so they’d finish neck and neck.
“So what are your plans for today, deadhead?” Francis asked Stephen. “Probe that girlfriend of yours?”
“Mind your language,” Gene said, protecting Princess Crispy from the foul words that men sometimes speak.
“We’ll probably go sledding later, if she’s not grounded again,” Stephen said.
“I’m going, too,” Crispy said.
“I figured that already,” said Stephen, sticking a finger into his mouth and pretending to gag himself.
What didn’t happen next: the earth didn’t rumble, and the house wasn’t suddenly bathed in a purplish, heavenly light. No angels descended, the sun didn’t weep, and a flaming golden chariot piloted by Apollo failed to appear at the front door. Even though Francis’s life was winding down, none of them heard the ticking clock. So they all just sat there, eating their eggs and drinking their juice, when they should have been smothering Francis with kisses and telling him a thousand sweet things.
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Wolf Boy is Trademark and Copyright 2006 Evan Kuhlman. All illustrations are Copyright 2006 Brendon and Brian Fraim. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Shaye Areheart Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.