This isn’t the
first time Anna’s seen her. After all, a
white wolf emerging from the brush in the middle of summer stands out like a
sore thumb. The first time Anna had seen
the wolf she’d snapped a twig underfoot and scared her off. Now she’s more careful, low to the ground and
camera at the ready.
magnificent specimen. Even at this
distance Anna notes how she seems larger than the average adult wolf— and okay,
Anna is aware of just how big wolves are; standing on their hindquarters they
tower over her— and the white fur looks thicker and more plush particularly
around the head and neck, reminding Anna of a lion’s mane.
The wolf stands
majestically atop a flat rock beside the running water, looking so much like a
forest aristocrat that Anna snaps a few shots to immortalize her
appearance. She freezes when the wolf sniffs the air and looks in her direction. Anna zooms in to capture one more detail: ice
For a moment Anna
worries the creature will bolt again, and holds her breath. It’s crazy, but it feels like the wolf has
locked gazes with her. After a tense
moment, the wolf blinks one eye and squints slightly.
Anna breathes. The squinting she
recognizes as feline behavior, expressing contentment and a feeling of safety. The blinking one eye could just mean the wolf
has something in her eye, but the slow and deliberate way she’d closed that eye
doesn’t leave room for doubt in Anna’s mind.
The wolf had winked at her.
It’s a few more
days into her research trip when Anna encounters her white wolf again, this
time up close and personal. (She’s not
entirely sure why she refers to it as ‘her’ wolf.)
At dusk she
approaches the same flat rock by the river and kneels down to refill her water
canteen. It’s at that point she hears
the low rumble of a growl some distance away and her heart jumps. Looking over her shoulder Anna finds herself
staring into the gleaming eyes of a massive reddish-brown wolf. This one appears even bigger than the white
one from before, with a prominent ruff at its cheeks like a
tiger’s sideburns, its mane-like fur bristling and long fangs bared, but not in
the typical threatening display Anna is familiar with.
It reminds Anna
of the grin worn by serial killers on crime shows; predatory and malicious; the
kind of smile that dares one to try running away. Slowly Anna reaches for the knife strapped to
her boot. She’d rather not use it, but
if it will scare the animal off…
The hairs on
the back of her neck stand up when she catches the unmistakable glow of eyes in
the shadowy brush flanking the red-brown wolf, which Anna realizes is almost definitely the alpha. One knife won’t do any good against a whole
pack. The alpha’s grin widens and
Anna could swear she could hear it make a noise like a chuckle.
options, Anna decides on what might be the stupidest decision of her life; she
bolts into motion and breaks into a full sprint. She can hear the alpha running behind her,
but it doesn’t seem to want to run her down just yet, almost like it wants to
enjoy the chase. Immediately Anna begins
kicking herself— Stand your ground
against a wolf pack, she berates herself, wolves hunt by chasing down their prey.
Even in the
dimming light, Anna notices a familiar shape in her peripheral. Running perpendicular her in the treeline is
a pure white mass—
The white wolf—!
The break in
concentration is enough for Anna to miss the approaching tree root until she’s
already tripped over it and falls face first into the sandy riverside. Anna scrambles onto her back and throws
herself backwards when the red-brown alpha lunges, snapping its jaws at her. It doesn’t pursue but stalks around Anna in a
circle. There’s an unmistakable swagger
in its movement; ‘I’ve got you right
where I want you,’ it almost seems to say.
Anna slips the knife out of its sheath.
mock-lunges again, but Anna tightens her grip and swings the knife. The blade connects and the beast flinches
with a shocked yelp. A trickle of blood
streams down the diagonal slash on its face. This time when
fangs are bared at her, its face turns into something ugly and monstrous, like
a demon from a nightmare.
Anna pushes herself
further back while the alpha closes in, defiantly aiming the tip of her knife
at it. She’s certain now that this thing
is no normal wolf; there’s something too human and cruel in its character to be
a wild wolf.
snarls and makes to pounce, but a roar thunders in Anna’s ears and suddenly her white
wolf launches at the alpha with such a fury that Anna drops her knife in shock. The surrounding pack erupts in a fit of
excitement at the new development like a crowd of teenagers encircling a
The two great
wolves fall into a violent tangle, snapping and roaring at each other
furiously. The alpha lunges but the
white wolf swipes her paw, catching the knife wound in her claws. That stops the fight as instantly as it
started. The white wolf flares her coat
challenging the alpha and kicks the dirt, ready to charge again.
wolf stares its opponent down in outrage, and somehow manages to look even
more hideous. The white wolf looks
over her shoulder at Anna and jerks her head to the side as if to say, ‘Get out of here!’
think twice and jumps to her feet, ignoring the growing burn in her
muscles. Some in the pack start after
her only for the white wolf to crash into them, forcing Anna to push her body
harder and faster. The sun having set
and the sky gone deep bluish-purple with evening, Anna races back to her camp,
leaving the sounds of rage and pain behind.
night, Anna’s fitful attempts at sleep are interrupted by approaching footfalls
outside her tent. Still shaken from earlier,
she just burrows herself deeper into the sleeping bag. The footfalls stop outside the tent and Anna
catches the sound of something being placed on the ground. A few more steps, a pause, and then the
footfalls continue, receding into the distance.
It takes a
moment for Anna to calm her nerves enough to grab her flashlight and unzip the
tent. She blinks in surprise to see the
water canteen and knife she’d left behind at the river. Anna takes them in hand, noting the weight of
her full canteen; she’d barely begun filling it when the red-brown wolf