Tony had, in the beginning, been a very serious child, quiet and given overmuch to thinking quietly in the corner. He was not inclined to play outside with the other children. As a matter of fact, as a young boy, he did not seem to have any friends, which worried his parents greatly (or his mother, at least). Little boys should have lots of friends.

Perhaps his parents were the reason for his aloofness. Gregory Webster was an awkward parent at best, brusque and impatient and snappish at worst. It was clear that Tony was afraid of his father to some degree, though he worshipped his mother. Linda was patient with it, half-hopeful that Tony and Gregory would get along someday. But she was not about to hold her breath. Surely in an environment like this any child would become silent and awkward.

Tony mystified his teachers. True, he was a model student; he did all his homework, never spoke out of turn, and was a careful listener. He was too perfect, that was the problem. How could a grade-schooler not be rambunctious and hyperactive and talkative? Why didn't he ever ask questions? But queerest of all was how literal Tony was. When his teachers read stories out loud to the class, Tony was always the one who asked questions such as, "But how can bears talk?" and "Why didn't he simply run away?" But after several patient explanations, most of which contained some version of "It's only a story, dear; it's pretend" Tony ceased to ask. Perhaps he'd made up his mind that all stories were stupid.

That was partway through first grade.

When Tony began fourth grade, a new teacher arrived at the school, a pretty young woman they called Miss White. Being new, she was not acquainted with Tony's eccentricities. But she took a liking to the Webster child, decided that he was simply shy, and privately decided to draw him out of his shell. She thought it was a shame his teacher, an older and more tired-looking woman named Mrs. Evans, had not made any attempts to do so. However, she could not find him on the playground, and finally she asked the other teachers what it was that Tony did at recess.

The other teachers were baffled. Once upon a time they may have wondered where he went at break time, but they no longer concerned themselves with it. Tony never fell off the monkey bars or came to them with scrapes and bruises from races or wrestling, and he never got into fights with his friends (who were apparently nonexistent, in any case). Offended, Miss White conducted a search for him herself.

She found Tony sitting underneath a eucalyptus tree at the very edge of the playground, near the field. He was reading a book. Miss White was surprised; she had heard enough to infer that Tony loathed reading and thought the fanciful stories were silly. But no, here he was, reading a book. It was much too easy for him, however, a picture book for young children, where all the words were very short and the longer ones were easy to sound out. This one was about a teddy bear who ran away from home.

"Hello, Tony," said Miss White, sitting down next to him.

"'lo," Tony mumbled.

Such a dear, shy little boy. Miss White smiled at him, hoping to receive a smile in return. She was disappointed, but unfazed. "Do you like your book?"

"Yes," Tony muttered, barely audible.

"Is it yours?"

"No."

"Who's is it?"

"My sister's."

Tony did not seem much disposed to conversation, but Miss White tried again. "How old is your sister?"

"Four."

"Can she read yet?"

"No. I read it to her."

Well, Tony had departed from monosyllabic replies, at least. "Do you like reading?"

"Yeah."

At last, they were getting somewhere! As far as Miss White knew, Tony showed no interest in anything.

"What kind of books do you like, Tony?" Miss White asked. When Tony looked baffled at the question, she explained, "I mean, do you like books about spaceships? Dinosaurs? Animals?"

Tony appeared to be considering the question deeply, as if it were a matter of life and death. "I like books about animals," he said at last, looking quite serious.

Miss White smiled brightly. "Well, what's your favorite animal?"

There was a pause. "Wolves." But the way Tony said it, it was as if he were confessing a great secret.

"Wolves? Well, let's see if I've got some books with wolves in it for you."

To her surprise, Tony shook his head. "I don't like books with wolves. They always make wolves the bad guy." When Miss White seemed lost for something to say, Tony added quickly, "Wolves aren't bad."

"Well, of course not," Miss White was hasty to agree.

"Then why do people think they're bad?" Tony persisted.

"Well, I don't know," Miss White replied honestly. "Maybe you could find out."

Later, Miss White dug through her books and procured White Fang for Tony. He blazed through it in one weekend and seemed to like it, though he contended with the opening chapters of the book, in which a large pack of wolves attack and eat a pack of musher's dogs and one of the mushers as well.

"Wolves don't eat people," Tony said.

"Well, they were hungry--" Miss White tried to explain.

"Wolves wouldn't eat people even if they were really hungry," Tony maintained, and would not be dissuaded. Miss White was privately amazed by Tony's reading skill; his classmates were still stuck on the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. The boys were, anyway; the girls read The Babysitter's Club books by Ann M. Martin. But besides reading books that were considered appropriate for his age, such as the Julie's Wolves trilogy, Tony also read The Call of the Wild and Never Cry Wolf, as well as non-fiction books such as The Wolves of Denali. He seemed particularly impressed by books about people who lived with wolves and the stories of "wild children," raised by wolf packs.

And that was how they began their friendship. Well, Miss White thought of it as friendship. It's doubtful that Tony ever considered it more than a convenient alliance.

Later that year, Tony approached Miss White for something other than a book. In his hand he held a thick sheaf of papers, already three-hole punched. She could see a simple line illustration of a dragon on the first sheet, studiously colored dark green.

"Miss White, are werewolves bad?" Tony asked.

Miss White was surprised by the question. "Well, Tony, werewolves don't exist--"

Something flickered behind the boy's eyes. "Are they bad, though." The sentence had a downward slant to it; it was not a question.

"Well--yes, I suppose they are," Miss White said lamely. "I mean, they eat people, don't they?"

"Wolves don't eat people," Tony reminded her, and then he went away, in that mysterious manner of small children who seem to be able to vanish and reappear at will.

For reasons unknown to Miss White, Tony never spoke to her again.



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