Ghost WolfBy: Michele Hauf
Two gray wolves loped across the fresh-fallen snow within a forest that edged acres of private Minnesota land. The wolves had a standing arrangement to run off their energy in the forest every weekend, a father and son get-together. A half-moon scythed the oddly clear black sky. Not a star dotted the atmosphere. Yet areas where snow had begun to tamp down the still-springy blades of grass twinkled from the cool luminescence.
The younger of the wolves always tromped ahead, challenging the elder to keep up. He was well aware he could never outrace his father, but he liked to goad him. Besides, he’d spotted a red fox and wanted to chase it until its heart gave out.
When an echoing retort shattered the calm night, the younger wolf stopped, ears shifting outward. It was a sound he had learned to fear since he could remember having fear. The sound of death. Whining, he flicked his gaze about, seeking his father. No sign of the old wolf.
Another gunshot sounded.
The wolf dashed into a race toward where he’d heard the sound. At the forest’s edge the animal recognized artificial light from a mortal’s vehicle. He quickened his tracks, his paws barely landing in the slushy snow until he reached the clearing where a man with a rifle approached a fallen wolf.
Snarling, the wolf leaped for the hunter, landing its front paws against his shoulders and toppling him to the wet ground. The rifle landed in slushy snow. The innate compulsion to sink his fangs into flesh and tear out anything he could manage was strong. He could break a human’s bones with but a bite from his powerful jaws. Yet the wolf merely snarled and snapped at the hunter.
The hunter struggled with the wolf, slapping at its maw and crying for mercy. Fear and human urine scented the air. The wolf heard the fallen wolf’s heart-wrenching whines. In pain. Dying?
In that moment of the wolf’s disregard, the hunter managed to scramble out from under his aggressor.
“Damned wolves! Where’s my gun?” Scrambling about in the snow, he gave up looking for the weapon when the wolf’s snarls grew insistent. The hunter ran toward the lighted vehicle. “Wasn’t what I needed. It didn’t shift. God’s blood, this trial will kill me!”
The vehicle’s lights flashed across the tree trunks. Tires peeled through wet snow and soil, skidding until the rubber found traction. The car rumbled off, leaving the clearing tainted with the smell of gasoline and the echoes of the human’s angry voice.
The younger wolf began to shift, its body elongating and forelegs growing into human-shaped arms. Fingers flexed out at the end of hands. Knees, bent upon the ground, sunk into the snow. Within seconds, he’d transformed from his wolf shape back to his human were form.
Beckett Severo scrambled over to the wolf lying in the slushy grass. Crimson stained the snow near the wolf’s back.
“No. No, you can’t die.”
He found the entry wound over the wolf’s heart. He felt the tiny beads of buckshot from the hunter’s shell. One burned his fingertip. He hissed, pulling away. Liquid silver trickled within the bloody wound as if mercury.
The older wolf turned its head toward Beck and looked into his eyes.
“No, Dad, you can’t...”
Beck laid his head upon his father’s body and pushed his fingers through the thick winter fur. He cried out to the night until his lungs ached and the old wolf’s heartbeat struggled to pulse.
* * *
The knock at the front door startled Bella Severo from her slumber in the big cozy armchair before a fading hearth fire. She’d dozed off while waiting for her husband to return home.
Heartbeat racing, she pulled the white chenille shawl around her shoulders and rushed to the door. It was well after midnight. She couldn’t imagine who could be knocking now. Certainly her husband would walk right in. Her vampiric senses didn’t pick up a scent, though she blamed it on the fact that she was still groggy from sleep.
Her husband, Stephan Severo, had left earlier with Beck, her son. The two always went out on weekends together. Severo generally returned early in the morning, while Beck drove to his home at the edge of town, where the woods at the back of his property framed the moon glimmering on a frozen pond. On occasion her son would stay here at the house. She loved being stirred awake in the morning to the smells of pancakes and bacon, made with love by her two favorite guys.
Tonight she’d stayed up because she had a surprise for Severo. He would be thrilled with her news.
As her hand wrapped about the front doorknob, a weird feeling tracked up Bella’s spine. The blood ran from her face and her fingers shook about the glass knob. Heartbeat suddenly stalling, she gasped, clutching her chest with a hand. With the other hand, she flung open the door.