The Red Wolf

This was my final project for a fiction writing course that I’m taking working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Lenoir-Rhyne University. This is my first experience in writing fiction. Had a workshop last night with the rest of the class and the story was really well received. It validated my abilities as a writer and was really awesome.

The Hunter Moon rose early illuminating the autumn meadow with cold light. The herd of deer grazing in the meadow were nervous. The moon brightened their surroundings, but it also created illusions of predators approaching from the woods. Time and time again, one deer would start, her white tail flagging a warning. The deer ran as a group a few hundred yards before stopping, snorting out their anxiety, and dropping their heads to graze. 

The red wolf watched the deer from the thicket. She was in no rush. While she was a proficient hunter with a pack to back her up, the chances of a successful kill were not always in her favor. Especially with prey that was fit and strong. The winter months would offer her more success.

Not far from her side was a smaller canine, not a wolf, but dog with a frilly black and white coat. Barely controlling his excitement, a chocolate-colored smooth coated dog, stood and wagged his tail. A sideways look from the wolf returned him to a prone position. A tri-color dog with a thick coat lay quietly, silently observing the she-wolf waiting for the signal. It came when the wolf’s centuries of instinct told her that it was time. Silently she emerged from the thicket, her eyes glowing in the moonlight. She was a thing of nightmares. A keystone predator.  Before the first deer could snort a warning, she was in the meadow, less than 200 yards from the nearest deer. 

The herd member that the wolf had singled out was grazing by herself, moving that much slower than the rest of the herd with a slight hitch to her step. She’d spent eight summer grazing in this meadow. This would be her last.

The wolf pursued the deer silently. Not so with the rest of the pack who vocalized their excitement at finally being a part of the hunt. While mankind had shaped them into color, form, size, and temperament to suit their needs or desires, their DNA still traced back to the wolf. They understood the need to hunt and kill. Those that were bred for speed kept up with the wolf, others brought up the rear. They brought the strength that would be needed to bring the deer down.

The doe cleared fallen logs, zigging, and zagging between trees and clearing fences with ease. The canines poured under the fences and over the logs like a flood. The wolf kept pace with the doe, remaining within a few feet of her rear legs while the leggy, fine boned dogs stayed close to her flanks and shoulders, occasionally leaping at her, sometimes connecting with their fangs. They were not substantial enough to bring her down, but they kept up the exhausting pace, slowly wearing the deer’s resistance down.

As the deer slowed slightly, the wolf leaped at her hamstrings, latching on with vice-grip jaws streaked with silver. The black and white dog, who had maintained the wolf’s pace the whole time, leaped in tandem. He didn’t quite have the jaw strength that the wolf had, but with their combined effort, they brought the deer down.

The faster dogs jumped in to help keep overpower the deer as the other members of the motley pack entered the clearing where the deer. Death was not quick for the deer. As the life ebbed out of her, the dogs paced the clearing, panting from the chase. They waited their turn. Pack hierarchy had been beat into them by the wolf. While in another life, they may have been resource guarders of rawhide bones and kings of their own couches. Here, the red wolf was queen. She ate first with the black and white dog still at her side. Once the wolf and her partner ate their fill, the other dogs were allowed to join in. As the deer’s blood seeped into the forest floor, the menagerie of canines consumed hunks of raw flesh. 

The dogs were all different except in one respect: they were all male. With their bellies full, they faded back into the woods. It was time for them to return home.

Dawn came early when there was a full moon. One by one, the dogs settled on the front porch of a tiny cabin on the outskirts of the woods. Some curled into sleep, others cleaned the blood off their paws. A few had brought bones back to gnaw on. The red wolf was not with them.

The red-haired woman rose from slumber, slipping on her slippers and scarlet robe. A morning breeze from the open window rippled the curtains. She closed it as she walked by. October brought an early morning chill which would soon give way to summer-like warmth. While her hair was streaked with sliver, she moved with the grace of a young woman. The black and white dog followed closely behind her, silently watching for his next queue. 

With a steaming mug of coffee in her hand and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, the woman left the warmth of the fire and went out to greet the day. The pack of dogs were waiting on her appearance. They stretched, tails wagging and heads down, greeting her one by one. She met them silently, giving each individual attention before heading to the barn. There, three goats were waiting with full udders. She readied her milking equipment before sitting down to milk each goat.

After a silent command from the woman, the Border Collie moved the three goats out to the side pasture to join the four others. Like deer themselves, the goats moved into the forest, browsing on brush as they moved along.

After stopping to feed the ducks, the woman returned to the house with a bucket of milk and still warm eggs. 

This was the woman’s daily morning routine which she usually went about in silence. Today was different. The influence of the moon was strong, and the woman felt urges that she usually kept at bay. It was a need that like hunger had to be fulfilled. As with the dogs that surrounded her home, her senses were strong. She knew a man was walking in the woods less than a mile from her home. This was not uncommon. Hikers, hunters, and photographers would frequently visit these woods. Normally she ignored their presence, but today was different. 

The woman’s silver-streaked hair was misleading. Her delicate skin was smooth and wrinkle free. She was ethereally beautiful. Her thick hair hung past her waist and set off her golden eyes. As the sun rose to its highest point in the horizon, she laced up a pair of hiking boots, and with the Border Collie by her side, headed into the woods in search of the man she knew was still there. 

Standing in the thicket, she observed him. He was alone, but she already knew that. Her eyes met those of the Border Collie before he trotted out of the undergrowth to greet the man, white-tipped flag of a tail wagging. The man lowered his camera and offered a hand to the dog who licked it.

“Where’d you come from,” he asked the dog. 

The woman slid out of the forest where she’d been standing, in clear sight of the man, but his senses weren’t as keen as hers. 

“Oh, you scared me,” he said with a nervous laugh when he saw her. “Is this your dog? Are you out here by yourself?”

“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” she said as she walked toward him. “These woods aren’t safe this time of year.”

            Her golden eyes locked with his. Was it an invitation or a challenge? The man took it as an invitation and moved closer to her. The hackles on the Border Collie’s back rose, but he remained silent at the woman’s side.

            “Oh, what’s there to be afraid of out here,” he asked the woman who was a good 100 pounds lighter than his bulky frame. “You should be the one afraid. You never know who you might meet out here in the woods.”

            His eyes raked over her body, mentally undressing her. She hardly noticed his lust and stood her ground as he walked closer to her.

They were always so easy, these men who thought they had all the power. Her beauty dazzled them such that they never saw what was coming. The deer knew to run from danger. They could sense what she was, but not these men. They were accustomed to being the predator, but not in these woods.

A wolf’s length away she leaped, changing into the red wolf in mid-air. The man screamed and tried to run backwards, but he wasn’t quick enough to avoid her. A deer put up more of a fight. The last thing the man saw was his reflection in the wolf’s golden eyes as she sunk her canines into his neck, stopping all vocalization. It was over quickly.

The moon rose through the trees, illuminating the wolf and the dogs lying in the clearing. Some played, others lay quietly with their muzzles on paws. The wolf stared at the body of the blond-colored dog lying before her. He seemed dead, but the wolf was patient. She knew better. When the moon shone directly overhead, the yellow dog raised his blocky head and looked around. He met the glaze of the wolf and then lowered his head in submission. The order of the pack would be maintained, as it had since the she-wolf first walked these woods and started gathering her pack. She rose and trotted into the underbrush, the Border Collie at her side with the remaining dogs, including the newest member, following at her heel. 

In time, search parties would invade the woods. Missing posters would be hung in town, but the man would never be found. All traces of his walk through the woods would be erased in the morning. The woman was clever and like the wolf, a survivor. Who would suspect that a frail woman would be a killer?