“Jakub looks back at the wolf and shrugs. “I don’t know. It shouldn’t be here. The last wolf in Britain was killed in 1680.” “Well, this one’s hungry,” I say. I take a can of dog food from my bag and pull the ring to open it. I don’t have a bowl, so I rip a spare page from my pad of paper and tip the meaty chunks out. I wrap it up and throw the whole thing to the wolf.”
Extract from Run Wild
by Gill Lewis
Published by Barrington Stoke
The wolf is still at the old gasworks.
Somehow I thought he might have gone away or that maybe we had made him up in our heads. But he’s still there, lying on the pile of sacks. He must have got up at some point, because the bread crusts Connor threw for him have gone. I look over at Jakub. His eyes are wide, wide open.
“It’s a wolf,” Jakub whispers as if he can’t believe it. “A real wolf.”
The wolf watches us too. He lifts up his nose and sniffs the air. Then he turns away and licks his lips.
“I told you,” says Asha. “He wants to eat us.”
Jakub shakes his head. “No,” he says. “He’s scared. If he looks away and licks his lips, it means he sees you as the top wolf.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
Jakub nods. “It’s wolf language.”
Jakub opens his book for me to see, and I look at pictures of wolves, some with tails and heads tucked low and others standing with their tails right up. Some of the wolves are snarling at each other and showing their teeth. “Ugh, I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with a wolf,” I say.
Jakub closes the book. “Wolves don’t want to fight with each other. It’s not worth the risk. That’s why they use body language to sort out who’s top wolf. They don’t eat people either. That’s just in fairy tales.”
“If you know so much about wolves,” says Asha, “then what’s this one doing here?”
Jakub looks back at the wolf and shrugs. “I don’t know. It shouldn’t be here. The last wolf in Britain was killed in 1680.”
“Well, this one’s hungry,” I say. I take a can of dog food from my bag and pull the ring to open it. I don’t have a bowl, so I rip a spare page from my pad of paper and tip the meaty chunks out. I wrap it up and throw the whole thing to the wolf.
He scrabbles to his feet and limps towards the food.
“He’s hurt his foot,” says Asha.
The wolf doesn’t put his front right paw on the ground. He sniffs at the food, then rips the paper with his teeth. He eats the meat in big greedy gulps. When he’s finished, he turns and limps out of the warehouse. We follow him at a distance and watch him make his way slowly down to the river, where he laps at the water. His ears twitch forward and back, listening. Then we watch as he goes back into the warehouse and settles into the pile of sacks. He spins around and around before he flumps down with his head on his paws and turns to watch us again.
“We can’t do any more for him at the moment,” I say. “Best give him some space.”
Asha nods. “C’mon, let’s try out that ramp.”
I grab my board and turn to Connor and Jakub. “Don’t go near the wolf or you can’t come back.”
“Can we explore?” says Connor.
I nod. “Don’t go near the river, OK?”
I watch them walk out into the wasteland. Then I turn back around to see Asha already at the top of the ramp ready to fly down. She pushes off and picks up speed, twisting between bricks and rubble.
“That was so cool,” she says, a massive grin on her face. “C’mon. I’ll race you.”
We build obstacles and make mini ramps from old boards balanced on bricks, and we don’t even notice the time pass until Connor and Jakub come running in. At first I think something’s wrong. Connor is doubled over. He’s shaking and there are tears running down his face. It’s only when I get close I see he’s laughing.
Jakub is holding something in his cupped hands. “We found a farting beetle!” he shouts.
Connor explodes into laughter again.
Asha rolls her eyes. “What’ve you got?”
Connor tries to speak between gulping air. “When Jakub tried to pick it up, it actually farted and I’m not even joking. It stinks!”
Jakub opens his hands and we see a small beetle with bright-green metallic wings and a red body. It moves so quickly that Jakub has to let it scuttle from hand to hand.
“Don’t let it go,” says Connor. He puts his hand into his school bag and pulls out the notebook where he keeps all his drawings and notes about dinosaurs. He starts to draw the beetle. “We have to find out what it is,” he says.
I watch Connor draw the beetle next to his picture of a dinosaur feeding in a swamp.
Asha pulls out her phone. “It’s got to have a name.” She speaks out loud as she taps into Google on her phone. “Green farting beetle in London.”
“You’ll never find it,” I say.
Her eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “It is here. It’s actually here. It’s called a Streaked bombardier beetle. It says it squirts acid and makes a farting sound. It’s meant to be really, really rare.”
“We found loads of others,” says Connor. “D’you want to see?”
We leave our skateboards and follow Jakub and Connor outside to a pile of rubble. Jakub pulls up a stone, and about ten little green beetles scuttle away to find shelter under other rocks. Then he and Connor turn over other stones to look for more bugs.
Asha sits down in the shade of a bush. “It’s so hot,” she says. She slips off her shoes and socks, digs her toes into the dirt and stares at them. “When did we last do this?”
I look across at her. “Do what?” I ask.
“Go barefoot,” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Years ago maybe. It was probably in your garden.”
Asha grins. “Do it. Do it now.”
I kick off my shoes and pull off my socks. I press my feet against the ground and feel the warmth through my skin.
It feels good to touch the earth.
Asha sighs. “Just think, there was a day when we ran barefoot for the last time together and we didn’t even know.”
“Well, it’s not today,” I say. I stand up and grin. “Race you!”
Asha laughs and runs after me. The stones spike against my feet, but I don’t stop until Asha catches hold of me and pulls me down. We lie in the long grass and catch our breath.
It feels like we’re five years old again.
Asha picks the white puffball of a dandelion and holds it in front of me. “Blow and make a wish,” she says.
I smile. Last time we did this, I think I wished I could ride on a unicorn. Wishes were easy back then. Now what do I wish for? To be more popular? To be clever? For Dad to find a job? To be a happy family like we were before? I don’t know. I blow and watch the dandelion seeds drift up and away.
Asha closes her eyes. “I could sleep here all day.”
I lie next to her and stare up at the sky. It’s a pale hazy blue, criss-crossed by aeroplane vapour trails. It’s quiet too. The drone of traffic and hum of city life seem so far, far away.
I feel my body sink against the small stones and soft grass. I dig my fingers deep into the earth, and it’s as if everything is draining out of me. I lie still and listen to the lap of small waves from a riverboat and the pop of seed heads bursting in the heat.
Everything is quiet.
Everything is still.
For the first time in a long while I feel I can breathe.
I watch a heron flap above us, its wing beats slow and lazy. It’s a huge bird, filling up the sky. It flies down to the river, its wings outstretched and its legs ready to land. It vanishes somewhere into the reeds in the old dock. As we lie still, the wasteland comes to life around us. A flock of small birds flurry down to a wide puddle. Butterflies dance in shafts of sunlight, and small bees buzz from flower to flower. Three cormorants fly low, heading up the river. I prop myself up on my elbows and just watch. The more I look, the more I see.
It’s not a wasteland.
It’s a lost world.
A hidden wilderness.
Connor must be thinking the same, because he folds his arms around his knees and says, “It’s like the Land That Time Forgot.”
I smile because it’s one of Connor’s favourite old movies, where explorers find a hidden world full of dinosaurs.
“We’ll have to give it a name,” says Asha. “It belongs to us now.”
“It belongs to the wolf,” says Jakub. “We’ll call it Wolf Land.”
Run Wild by Gill Lewis is out now published by Barrington Stoke and priced £6.99
“I’ve spent time in my career developing simple methods to observe soil and to learn from it. When I …