THE WOLVES OF ALLAMAKEE
|submitted by Chaz Chestremski|
ALLAMAKEE: The town of Allamakee looks over one of the most beautiful bluffs of Iowa's side of the Mississippi. The verdant hills remind one of the Highlands of Scotland, especially in the morning when the fog rolls in. With a population of slightly more than 5,000, the town does some river trade but is primarily agricultural. A typical day sees its residents exemplifying the work ethic in every walk of life, but according to some this Protestant image is a carefully engineered facade to hide whisperings of midnight cattle maulings, ritualistic deviance, and baying at the moon by residents both human and canine. One man, David Cranston, says he barely escaped the wolves of Allamakee, and almost lost his family.
The Cranstons moved to Allamakee a few years ago with the prospect of raising their five year old daughter, Emily Sue, far from the dangers of the big city.
"After college, Gwynne, my wife, and I wanted to raise a family," recalls Cranston. "My journalism degree led me to a job at one of the 'art' papers in Chicago. Gwynne got a teaching job. Everything was fine, and a couple years later we were blessed with our baby. That was when we decided to move from the city."
On a vacation to Iowa, the Cranstons took a detour that led them to Allamakee. After admiring the town for its autumn glory, the subject of moving to a more "family-oriented" area led Cranston back again the following weekend to inquire about moving. "It was perfect, you couldn't ask for a better place to bring up a kid. The town was small but thriving. Everyone was healthy and tan, the good looks that come from honest work. You never saw happier kids than the ones in Allamakee that Fall. While there were no open teaching jobs for Gwynne, there was an editor's position vacant at the Allamakee Advocate, the local newspaper.
Cranston got the job and brought his family out from Chicago. "For the first couple of years, things couldn't have been better," Cranston said, "Picking up Emily from Kindergarten, bag of groceries in the back seat, long dirt road to the house, creaky porch swing---that was living. But once I'd noticed wolves howling in the woods, everything changed. I knew that wolves were in Iowa, but it seemed like every night there were more of them, and I didn't want Emily to play outside anymore. I built a barbed wire fence around the house when the paper ran a series of articles on cattle maulings in the area. It was clear large animals had been involved."
Despite the livestock losses, local farmers seemed resigned when Cranston questioned them. "All they would say is that's life, nothing you can do about it, you know? This cavalier attitude in the face of danger and lost profits really made me wonder. I wanted to keep digging on this, but our advertisers pressured me to stop. They said it depressed people. They were really unfriendly about it. I felt like I was being threatened."
Emily Sue was having similar problems at school. Other children picked on her, and taunted her with accusations of not being the same as them. Some of them actually picked fights, biting her on the arms and legs, calling her "food." When Cranston complained and threatened to withdraw Emily from class, the administration intimated that all children are cruel and Emily should learn to fight back. "I took her out the next day. I brought Emily here to have a good life, not defend herself from a pack of wild kids." said Cranston.
Gwynne was having similar problems. Not working full time, she had joined the local bridge club and although she had at first thought the other ladies were exactly as you'd expect, she was having doubts about the young, conservative women of the town. She had this to say of her experience with the Allamakee socialites, "Their idea of a light snack was a whole turkey or plate of roast beef. They tore into the food like it was their last meal, and they'd laugh this weird yipping sound anytime anyone cracked a joke. The gossip at the sessions was always the same, I mean, exactly the same. Like it had been rehearsed. More and more they were pressing me about David. One of them, Audrey, actually whispered to me that if he didn't stop looking for trouble, trouble might go looking for him. I've left the club."
One night after work, Cranston noticed a convoy of cars heading up into the fog-shrouded bluffs overlooking the river. He followed safely out of sight and when they finally stopped he recognized most of the town's leaders were present. Kneeling in the bushes Cranston saw something he still does not want to believe.
"It was shadowy, but I know I saw a child brought to the center of this one area of the park. The people formed a circle around the child , and the man at the head of the circle, the Mayor, was doing some sort of incantation, I think. He pulled something out of a bag and held it over the child. I strained to look closer and realized it was a cow's head. A bloody, dripping cow's head. Someone else took the thing from him and the Mayor pulled out a knife. He mumbled something, then slowly pushed it into the child's body. The kid screamed this piercing shriek and I couldn't watch it, anymore. I snuck away and raced home. I got Gwynne and Emily and we left everything else behind. Like a fool, I reported what I saw to the FBI. A year later, they got back to me saying that there was no evidence of foul play, no missing children, and gave me a lecture on wasting tax dollars investigating hoaxes."
Cranston has no wish to pursue the investigation he began, and is living quietly in another state. "The only wolves out at night here are the ones at the pub" says Cranston of his new home. They are enjoying their new lives, but what about Allamakee? No one in the idyllic community would comment, and the bluffs weren't speaking either.
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