1. My fellow traveler calls me from Indiana to report on her visit there.
She tells me she discovered — looked in the window but didn’t have the courage to actually go in — a 7-Eleven with an attached diner, with tables and chairs and waitresses and a menu.
She suspects this is a relatively new phenomenon. We agree it’s an ominous sign of the times. She tells me to be on the lookout for 7-Eleven diners when I hit the road in a few days on my way southward for an eight-day stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
2. Later that night she calls to tell me that she’s sitting in her motel room watching “Frankenstein” on cable TV.
3. She returns from Indiana the day before I’m off to Virginia. At dinner, I do my impression of Frankenstein’s monster when he encounters the kindly blind man in his rustic cottage. You’ll recall that the lonely old man, who doesn’t realize that his surprise guest is a monster, gives his new friend a bowl of soup. a drink and a smoke. The monster, not used to human kindness, responds with happy grunts and heartfelt exclamations.
I do a damned good imitation of the monster’s “Smoke! Good!” and “Friend!” — right down to thumping my foot just like the monster does when the blind man plays a merry tune on his fiddle.
But I am humbled by the response, blown out of the water by a perfect imitation of the look on the Bride of Frankenstein’s face when she gets her first look at her green-complexioned beau.
4) Next night, I’m in Virginia, sitting on the front porch of my writing studio in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No 7-Eleven diners in sight. It’s dark. It’s quiet, except for a distant highway’s hum.
I hear a high, lonesome howl and high-pitched yipping bark. A coyote.
Another coyote answers — and another, and another, and another. I’m starting to wonder where these coyotes might be. I hear a rustle in the hedgerow. I decide it’s getting a little chilly out. I go inside, lock the door, and Google “coyotes” and “Virginia.”
5. I find a National Geographic article which reports that coyotes have become prevalent and pervasive throughout the United States.
AND…Some coyotes discovered in VIRGINIA have been determined to be hybrids of coyotes and WOLVES. That pack howling over the ridge may be half-wolf, half-coyote — and bigger and more aggressive than ordinary coyotes.
6. I, of course, get my phone, bravely step outside my doorway, and call New Jersey so she can hear the coyotes too. But the howling stops, so we say goodnight.
7. I linger in the doorway. I think of another Universal Pictures classic: “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney. As that movie begins, we read from an ancient book which describes the curse of the wolf man: Even a man who is pure in heart/and says his prayers by night/may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/and the autumn moon is bright.
I look up. The moon is just a half-moon. Thank God!
I look at the sparkling stars, my lucky stars, which we can see, coyotes and me, as we crane our necks and gaze up into the dark but star-specked Virginia sky.