The sky was overcast, distorting the panorama of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I stretched my arms high overhead, feeling my hair tickle my lower back. If there were any people around, I didn’t see them through the thick trees. There was a little clearing where the cabin sat, but green firs and white birch trunks crowded in from all sides, making for a peaceful hideaway.
I’ve always loved the winter. Since my boyfriend felt the same, it was an easy choice to opt for a winter vacation instead of suffering a sweltering road trip. Also, the fact that it was the winter season meant that we only had to pay half price.
Standing outside in the bracing cold in a bra and sweatpants was invigorating.
A fog was curled around the distant mountaintops. It circled their swells and pressed against them like a living thing. From my position higher up, I could see the peaks above the fog as it filled the valleys below. Snaking around the trees near the cabin, some of the wispy outrunners of the main body were shifting and pulsing. I was beginning to really feel the cold when I heard the door open behind me.
I smiled as Jake encircled me with his arms, hugging his chest against my shoulders. He pawed my bra for a second, then wrapped a blanket around me.
“It’s really pretty out here.”
I nodded and rubbed his forearms, glad for his warmth.
“What do you want to do today?”
“I was thinking we could make coffee and breakfast, then spend some time in front of the fire,” I said, pressing my ass against him. He pushed back and snuggled me closer.
“That sounds good,” he said.
I was about to turn and lead him inside when an elk pushed through two drooping evergreens. The dusting of January snow rattled off the branches as the massive elk walked into the clearing. He raised a bushy face and looked right at us. The sharp antlers on his head were a lighter brown, matching his flanks. He shook them and snorted at us, black eyes rolling in a face full of shaggy, dark brown hair.
“Wow, I’ve never seen a wild animal this close,” I whispered.
Jake’s arms squeezed a bit harder, as if the sound of my voice surprised him.
“He looks pissed, we should go inside,” Jake said, starting to pull me back.
The elk jerked his head to the side and stamped the ground.
We began to back away slowly. I had only walked to the edge of the patio, which was six feet from the kitchen door. The elk opened its mouth and let out a weird, high-pitched scream. From an animal so large, it seemed utterly out of place. The screeching trumpet wail stopped us both.
I clutched the blanket around my neck and shoulders, wondering why the elk would scream like that. We hadn’t read the wildlife brochures from the visitor’s center. Then the elk spun around and lowered his head.
Silent and sinuous, at least ten big wolves appeared, crouching for a moment. They bared teeth, little puffs of frost smoke clouding their faces. Then they attacked.
The elk slammed his antlers into one of the darting wolves, then kicked back and struck another. The wolf it kicked flew through the air, landing in a broken, whimpering pile. Then the wolves were upon him, and they mercilessly ripped into the elk’s flesh. The largest wolf wrapped its powerful jaws around the elk’s throat, bearing it down. Sharp teeth flashed as their muzzles became red. I’d never seen something like this in person and the violence was shocking. It was like the most disgusting part of a zombie movie, where the zombies begin eating a living person.
The wolves clamored over the mewling animal, shaking their heads from side to side. Jake pulled me back, into the kitchen. I couldn’t stop staring, and as Jake was shutting the door, my eyes locked with the largest wolf’s. His big yellow orbs were intelligent and cruel, and I felt that they read my soul to the base terror that had overcome my body. It smiled, gore dripping from the canine jaws.
Brown wood snapped in front of my eyes and broke the contact.
“What the fuck! I thought they said there might be bears, but not wolves!”
Jake was pacing the kitchen, looking out of the window at the grisly scene in the clearing.
I couldn’t talk, but I thought that wishing for bears when you already had wolves seemed borderline crazy. When Jake crouched down next to me, I realized that I was trembling and shaking. Something visceral had been shocked deep within me, some animal instinct from ages past when humans had been hunted like that elk. I had always thought humans were predators, but now I realized that they could just as easily become prey.
“It’s ok, baby,” Jake said, stroking my hair. “It’s ok, don’t worry. They’ll drag him away and leave us alone soon.”
But they didn’t.
The scratching began again.
I shivered and gripped my walking stick, hugging the length of wood against my stomach. The wolves were out there, in the dark, scratching at the doors. Jake was pacing again. He had freaked out in the afternoon, when we realized that our phones didn’t have service, and the cabin’s phone wasn’t working either. They had told us that the lines went down sometimes in the snow.
The solitude that I had blessed yesterday morning had become a nightmare.
Standing outside in my bra had felt so liberating and powerful. Now, hours later and with no one walking past except the eight bloodstained wolves, I felt anything but powerful.
The overcast had turned to snow in late afternoon, and as the dark side of twilight approached, the skies were heavy with white flakes. The wolves had spent the afternoon dismembering the elk and dragging the pieces to various points around the cabin. We watched them from the windows as they laid down and tore into the meal like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. When they had stripped the bones, the alpha sniffed at the wolf who had been kicked in the fight. Once he set in on him, the others joined, and they’d soon devoured the corpse. I hadn’t seen them find the other one who had been speared by the elk’s antlers, but I assumed that it had suffered the same fate.
“What do they want?” Jake asked for the hundredth time. “Do they just want out of the cold?”
“No, Jake. They want to fucking eat us.”
He glared at me, but gripped his walking stick so hard that I saw his knuckles turn white.
Jake had duct-taped kitchen knives to the sticks, making ugly spears out of them. We’d bought them as a joke, not really expecting to do much hiking. Neither of us felt like doing what we had expected to be doing. The scratching never stopped.
“Hey, get away from there!”
Jake was shouting at the kitchen window. I turned to see the bright yellow eyes of the alpha. His huge head was cocked as he watched Jake shaking his spear from the living room. I thought it seemed like a dismissive motion when the big paws fell away from the window and the wolf disappeared back into the night.
I heard some growling outside, coming from the side of the cabin closest to me. There wasn’t a window on that side, just a fireplace in the corner and a long staircase leading up to the balcony overlook. We had a fire going and the popping of logs initially distracted me from the sound.
“Jake, what is that?”
He paused his pacing and listened, cocking his head like the wolf had done.
The lights went out.
Jake’s eyes were huge in the glow of the fire, now the only illumination in the room. A thud and a snapping sound came from outside. Jake frowned.
“Did you see a fuse box or anything like that?”
I shook my head.
“Put another log on the fire. We need some light to find candles or flashlights. They’ve got to have something around here.”
I put another log on. “Jake, there are only ten left.”
“Pieces of firewood,” I said.
“So, where are the others?”
“Oh,” he said. “Oh.”
I remembered seeing those. They were lined up outside on the back patio, under the overhanging balcony. With the wolves.
“Here’s some candles at least,” Jake said, rummaging under the kitchen sink.
“What about our phone flashlights?”
“Oh! Good idea, Emily,” Jake said, walking back to me.
I smiled at his praise, forgetting our situation for a moment. My phone was still at seventy-five percent, and if I dimmed the screen a lot, it would probably last for a while. Plus, I wouldn’t use the flashlight unless I absolutely had to. I put it in my pocket.
Jake lit two of the four big candles, white cylinders the size of mason jars. He came and sat down next to me, lifting the corner of my heavy blanket to slide in. We held hands in the warmth, our free hands keeping hold on the walking sticks. Minutes passed, and as the little flames of the candles jumped and danced, the scratching continued, and Jake’s breathing became slow and regular. I was trying to stay awake, but I didn’t want to get up and disturb him.
The first thing that I noticed when I woke up was that the scratching had stopped.
I shifted against Jake’s bulk and opened my eyes. Standing before the couch, was the big alpha wolf. It was silent, eyes slitted as it stood there, waiting for something. I moved the blanket away from my legs. My right hand was still on the walking stick, and my left was still in Jake’s. The cabin’s front door was ajar, black night and white snow streaming into the living room. I squeezed Jake’s hand, hard.
He woke up slowly, not jerking awake like I had feared. The wolf stood there, like a stuffed animal in a country restaurant. I felt Jake tense and I knew that he was awake and had seen the animal. In the doorway, I saw more wolves stalking outside, looking in on the big leader. The wolf growled low, moving for the first time since I had awoken.
It tensed, dropping a few inches as its weight shifted back onto its hind legs.
Jake’s shout surprised me and I wasn’t ready when he thrust his spear.
The wolf was, and it dodged aside smoothly, fast and fluid. It opened a red-stained mouth and lunged. Jake screamed, thumping the butt of his stick against the wolf’s back. I stabbed at the alpha but his eyes rolled up to me and he moved, his jaws still locked onto Jake’s forearm.
The wolf let go suddenly and leapt up onto Jake’s chest, his teeth champing down on the side of his neck. When it jerked its head back, blood sprayed out in a fan. I screamed and ran for the bedrooms.
The hallway was dark and I sensed the other wolves gliding into the cabin behind me. By feel, I pushed through the door on the left and slammed it shut. I had lost my weapon, but I felt my cell phone in my pocket. As I pulled it out, I heard scratching at the door behind me.
My chest felt like it would explode. I thought that I must be hyperventilating. My index finger trembled as I dragged my thumb up the screen and pressed the little flashlight icon.
The bedroom lit up in a sickly, white glow.
I saw the bed first, then something caught my attention. Over at the window, the blinds were open. I shined my light at the window and bright canine eyes winked back at me. I spun to the other window and saw another wolf, patiently watching.
It was then that I noticed my sobbing was overpowering the scratching at the door. But when my chest hitched to take big gulps of air to continue the involuntary crying, I heard it.
The scratching, and a new, ripping sound.
Something wet, gurgling through the little crack in the door.
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