By Julie Frazier, 14, Licking Heights High School, Pataskala, Ohio
Illustrated by Ryan Mills, 10, Santa Cruz, California
The day was a cold, crisp spring day, a good day for a picnic. And that's exactly what Mike and Julie planned to do. They had lived in this Canadian wilderness for almost ten years, so they knew the best spots.
They lived in a three-room log cabin, fifty miles from the nearest town, Danville. Mike worked for the Canadian Forest Patrol. His job was to keep watch for forest fires and poachers; generally keep the forest in order.
Julie packed a light lunch consisting of four beef jerky sandwiches, a quart of berries, and three pieces of pemmican cake. She knew that once they got out in the woods, they wouldn't want to take time out to eat lunch.
She packed this and a blanket into Mike's backpack. Mike shouldered the pack with a grunt. They were going to picnic in a spot they had nicknamed "the flowerpot." It was a meadow full of beautiful wildflowers surrounded by big boulders. It was about five miles from their cabin.
The hike through the woods was wonderful. They startled a doe as they walked past a small pond. When they reached the meadow, many spring flowers were already in bloom. It was like something from a fairy tale, it was so beautiful.
They spread the blanket out and sat down to eat. They drank the crystal clear water from a stream that bordered the meadow.
As they lay basking in the sun, Julie thought she heard something or someone crying. It stopped and she dismissed it as a trick of the imagination. Five minutes later it came again. She decided to ask Mike if he heard it.
"Mike, do you hear something?"
"I was just about to ask you the same thing. Sounds like someone crying, doesn't it?" replied Mike.
"Yeah. Where's it coming from?" asked Julie.
"Sounds like it's coming from over yonder," answered Mike, pointing to a mass of boulders.
"Well, what are you sitting there for. Go see what it is."
Mike rose with a sigh and ambled toward the sound. As he approached the boulders, the sound grew louder, then stopped. He walked on and soon had to start climbing, for the boulders had turned into a small mountain.
Ten minutes later he stumbled upon a gruesome sight. A large, female timber wolf lay mutilated, almost beyond recognition. Strewn about were parts of her two pups. Mike looked at this scene, his eyes wide with horror. He had just enough time to make it to a clump of weeds before he got sick.
As his head cleared, he suddenly realized that the cry had started again. He was glad for the distraction and once again started off toward the sound. A little way off he found the source: a rock.
He would have sworn up and down that it was that rock. Examining it closer, he saw that there was a small crevice near the base. Looking in, he saw two yellow eyes staring out at him from the darkness.
* * *
It was about an hour past dawn as Lone Wolf sat among his sleeping brother and sister, awaiting the return of his mother. He had awakened to find his mother gone. This was not unusual; she was probably out hunting.
Lone Wolf was the first born of the three little wolves. He was also the biggest and felt like the guardian of the other two when his mother was not there. He took after his father, being strong-boned and muscular. His coat was a fuzzy color but would someday be a coat of pure silver.
His mother came trotting down the path, discernible only to the animal eye. She had a rabbit clutched in her jaws. The pups, now all awake, looked on in hungry anticipation as she made her way toward them. She dropped it in the midst of her brood and walked away.
Lone Wolf watched as the other two shouldered each other as they ate; both wanted the best. He knew he could have easily taken the whole rabbit, but something was bothering him. His mother's behavior was quite unusual. Something must be wrong. He was right.
The she-wolf was anxiously sniffing the air. She started to whine and pace nervously. She gathered her pups together with a warning bark and placed herself to the west of them.
Lone Wolf sniffed at the air. Unlike his mother, he didn't yet have a catalog of what scents belonged to whom. But he did catch an unfamiliar scent, one that he would not forget for the rest of his life. This scent was very strong, so the source was close by. He figured it was some kind of danger, but what? He couldn't even guess. He looked at his mother, who was now crouched ready to spring.
The she-wolf knew exactly who this scent belonged to: the deadly mountain lion. She was prepared to fight, perhaps to the death, to protect her family.
The lion sprang, as though from a cannon, onto her back. She easily shook him off. After that the fight was pretty much one-sided. The she-wolf was no match for a hungry mountain lion. She put up a valiant struggle, one of a desperate mother, but to no avail.
As the other two pups sat frozen in terror, Lone Wolf ran. He ran like he had never run before, ran away from the horror he could not understand. He pulled up short, out of breath, and spotted a crevice in which he could hide. He crawled in, the snarls and screams of the fight still audible.
A final, piercing scream shattered the air as the mountain lion ended the fight. He went after the two remaining pups which had attracted him in the first place. They were easy prey, and both were gone before they could make a sound. After eating those three, the lion's hunger was satisfied and he didn't notice the absence of Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf sat unmoving for many hours after the last scream was heard. He sat as though made of stone, waiting, calling for the mother that could not come.
In his grief, he did not notice the human peering in at him until some leaves cracked under its feet. When he did see him he did not know what he was looking at. He had never seen this kind of creature before, nor did he recognize its scent. Again he was scared, more so than before because now he had to fend for himself. Loneliness and fright engulfed him as the realizations hit him. He backed up until his back was against the back wall of the crevice and tried to make himself as small as possible.
* * *
Mike took an involuntary step backward when a cry erupted from the crevice.
"Julie!" he yelled. "I found it. Come on up."
Julie got up from the blanket and started off in the direction of Mike's voice. When she reached the site of the killings she almost got sick. She hurried on as Mike called again.
A minute later she came upon Mike down on his hands and knees, looking into a small crack in a rock.
"What are you do... " started Julie. She was interrupted by a short, pitiful howl. "What was that?"
"That was the little fellow in here. I suppose you saw the little sight already. Well, I think he's a pup that escaped."
"What do you think happened?" asked Julie.
"I really didn't stick around to investigate, did you?"
"I don't plan on going back down there either. I thought I'd concentrate on maybe getting this little one out of there. Are you going to help or not?"
"Yes. How are we going to get him out?" asked Julie.
"I'll go down and get the leftovers from lunch," replied Mike.
Julie watched as Mike picked a different route back down to the blanket, then turned back to the wolf. She decided she would try to coax it out until Mike returned. She called and soothed for almost ten minutes and was almost ready to give up, when she noticed that he was slowly inching his way toward her.
Ever so slowly, she reached her hand out to him. As he started toward it, she resisted an urge to jerk it away for fear he might bite it. He was sniffing at it now, his nose not quite touching her hand.
Suddenly the pup jerked away, a fierce look in his eyes. He started to snarl and growl in his babyish way. But Julie didn't think it was so babyish at the moment. What did I do wrong? she wondered as she quickly removed her hand. She watched the pup very closely. It didn't look like he was looking at her but at something beyond her.
It dawned on her as a shadow fell across her shoulders: Mike. He had returned with the leftovers. A sigh of relief escaped Julie as she turned to face him.
"How's it comin'?" asked Mike.
"I almost had him out when you scared him," replied a somewhat disappointed but relieved Julie. She looked back in at the pup. He had moved back, though not as far as before.
"Try these," said Mike as he handed the leftovers to Julie. He then went and sat down on a rock. He watched as Julie once again proceeded to call to the wolf, waving the food temptingly before the opening.
* * *
Lone Wolf shuddered as a loud noise erupted from the creature's throat. Never had he heard such a noise. Soon it was joined by another such creature, presumably its mate. When this creature also made this noise, Lone Wolf let fly a small howl.
He was slightly relieved when the bigger creature left, but it was short-lived. Almost immediately the other one began making that strange noise, obviously at him. Soon curiosity got the better of him and he slowly inched forward, trying to see how this noise was made.
He watched intently as the creature extended its funny-looking paw. He didn't think it would harm him, because if it had wanted to do that, the creature would have already done so. Still he watched. When the paw stopped moving, he moved toward it cautiously. When he got to it, he examined it closely.
He almost had his front paw out the opening when the other creature reappeared. He didn't yet trust this giant creature. He retreated a few steps, snarling and growling. He watched as the smaller creature withdrew its paw and turned around to face the other creature. Lone Wolf listened intently to that strange noise that both were again making but could make nothing of it. He figured that they were somehow communicating, as he had done with his mother.
When the small creature turned back around, it had an object in its paw. It held it at the opening, swinging it slowly back and forth. His sensitive nose picked up the smell of food like a radar. It reminded him of the sharp hunger pains throbbing inside him. He hadn't eaten for some time, since he had not had any of the rabbit that morning.
Quickly he looked to see where the other creature had gone. He found it at a safe distance sitting on a rock. Once again he started toward the opening. He tried to go slow, to be cautious, but both the smell and thought of food was overwhelming. When he had covered half the distance between the creature and himself, he stopped. He sat very still and stared into the creature's soft, blue eyes until the movement of its paw distracted him. It was reaching into the object. When it removed its paw, it had some food.
Lone Wolf cringed as it tossed the food to him. A brief sniff convinced him that it was indeed food; it was gone in one gulp. It tossed another morsel to him. Then another and another. When at last the food was gone, Lone Wolf looked up in surprise; he was but a mere three inches from the creature.
* * *
Julie continued to call to the little wolf, although she saw that he was coming toward her again. Suddenly he stopped; he didn't look like he was coming any closer.
She decided to give him some food because he looked so pitifully hungry. She reached into the bag and grabbed the first thing she touched. It was the leftover beef jerky sandwich. She threw it to the wolf, being careful not to hit him, and watched as he devoured it in one bite.
Next came the last piece of pemmican cake. She broke it into smaller pieces so it would last. She continued feeding him, throwing each piece closer and closer to herself.
She could see the look of surprise on his face when at last all the food was gone and he was close to her. She dared not move lest she scare him, so they just sat there staring at each other.
Finally, the wolf moved just a tiny bit closer. She took this as a sign of friendship. She started to move her hand, in a slow, smooth motion, down toward him. He didn't seem to be afraid, even when her hand was a mere width of a hair away.
She let him make a thorough inspection of her hand before she ever attempted to touch him. When he seemed to be finished, she began to talk soothingly as she moved her hand to his head. She stroked his small, soft head for a minute, then she lengthened her stroke, moving from head to tail and back again.
"Shh. You're all right," cooed Julie as she felt a shudder run through him.
She picked him up carefully, hoping he wouldn't bite her. As she nervously stood, with the little wolf snuggling against her, she felt something touch her shoulder. There may as well have been an explosion judging by the way she jumped, but it was just Mike.
The wolf struggled to get out of her arms. She just held on tight and prayed he wouldn't bite her. He didn't. Finally he calmed down.
"Scare someone, why don't ya!" exclaimed Julie.
"Sorry, man," replied a bewildered Mike. He hadn't exactly snuck up on her. "Good job. I see you got him."
The wolf started snarling and growling at Mike.
"I don't think he likes me that much," said Mike, sounding hurt. "Of course, I'm only the one that found him."
Well, being over six feet, you probably look like a tree to him, and you do have a knack for scaring people, thought Julie. Aloud she said, "Why don't you try petting him some?" She practically put the wolf in Mike's arms.
Mike reached out and gave him a pat. Still the wolf growled. Mike tried again. That seemed to win the wolf over, because he stopped growling.
"See, you just take a while to get used to," said Julie with a grin.
"O.K., now that he's used to me, let's see about getting him home. He's probably still hungry, and it is getting late, you know," said Mike good-naturedly.
"I guess you're right," agreed Julie, still not over the shock that all this was happening to her and that she was holding a real, live wolf.
"Well, let's get going."
With no further ado, they set off toward home, carefully avoiding the grisly sight below them.
* * *
Lone Wolf sat glued to the spot, not knowing what to do. He wondered if it might have more food; he was still quite hungry. He decided to move a little closer to the creature and wait for a reaction. After all, he could always back up into the crevice if it tried to harm him.
He moved ever so slightly forward. The reaction he was waiting for came. The creature began moving its paw toward him, but Lone Wolf stood his ground. He sniffed at the paw, investigating it for the slightest sign of danger.
Then the creature began moving its paw toward the top of his head, but he was satisfied that he was safe. When he felt the feather-like touch of its paw, a sudden calmness settled upon him. He did not feel afraid anymore, and somehow he knew that everything would be all right.
As he felt the creature stroke his whole body, an involuntary shudder ran through him. This evoked a startling response. The creature began making the strange noises he had heard before. Although he didn't understand the meaning of these noises, the tone had a soothing effect on his being.
He did not interfere when it picked him up, and when he was in its arms, against its warm body, the soothing effect was doubled. He felt a sense of security, a feeling he had not felt since before his mother's death, which seemed so long ago. From this moment on, he always thought of this creature as a second mother, to be protected at all costs.
He was alarmed when once again the other creature came near. Not only was it near him, but it was also touching his newly found mother. He struggled to get down on the ground, to get at this daring creature, but his stepmother was very strong and he had to settle for a few warning snarls. This caused more of that noise from the creatures. Lone Wolf wished with all his might that he could comprehend it.
He didn't know what to do when he found himself practically in the bigger creature's paws. He growled again, not knowing what else to do, but that didn't seem to stop these two. To his surprise, the bigger creature touched his head. That caught him completely off guard, and he growled again.
As the big creature touched his head once again, he had a few seconds to think. He realized that his stepmother was allowing this to happen. Well, thought Lone Wolf, if these two can be friends, then I can be friends also. With no further thought, he gave in completely.
As the creatures once again began their noises, Lone Wolf wondered what would become of him. He didn't think that these creatures would intentionally harm him, but he decided to be careful anyway.
He watched through tired eyes as the bigger creature led the way down the hillside. He drowsily adjusted to his stepmother's smooth, steady gait as she followed her mate down the hillside. Almost immediately he fell asleep, numbed by grief and totally exhausted.
When Lone Wolf awoke, he was startled by his surroundings. He was in something that resembled a cave, except it was well lighted and warm. Although startled at first, he was soon put to ease by the soft voice of his stepmother. He was lying on something soft and comfortable.
He heard a noise to his left. Upon looking, he saw the big creature almost blocking the entrance, with only a few rays of the fading sunlight entering. Lone Wolf relaxed. He was still so very tired. Slowly, he again drifted into a more peaceful dreamland.
* * *
Julie didn't notice that Lone Wolf was asleep for almost fifteen minutes. She was deep in her own thoughts, wondering how all this had happened and why she was carrying one of the most feared animals of the Canadian wilderness, the timber wolf. She conceded it probably was her curiosity and love of animals.
Mechanically following Mike, she remembered Rags. She had found Rags in the woods on one of her many hikes by her hometown of Whitetail, Montana. The dog had just appeared in front of her, with a broken paw and a shredded ear, along with many scratches. As a girl she had gotten along well with animals and had wanted to give a home to every stray that came along. This one was no different, but she knew that she would not be permitted to keep this one either.
She tried half-heartedly to lose him on her way home, but he stuck with her all the way. She all but begged to keep him, and to her surprise was allowed. She doctored his wounds carefully and he healed perfectly, though with many scars.
Julie was always sort of a loner. She tried to make friends, but she was always considered somewhat of an oddball; she was almost always trying to achieve something in academics in a community where the children, especially the girls, were expected to learn some reading, writing, and arithmetic, then return home to the farm. Consequently, when Rags showed up, he got all her love and affection.
Two years later, when Julie was thirteen, Rags died of worms. She got sick and lost weight; she had lost her only friend. She decided that she wanted to be a veterinarian so she could save animals; there were no veterinarians in or near Whitetail.
As for actually becoming a veterinarian, most people she had mentioned it to, including her family, hadn't seemed to take her seriously. Even so, she had always had this on her horizon as she worked her way through high school. During her senior year in high school, however, she met Mike. He was a senior in college at the time, majoring in forestry.
Once again Julie had found a friend. They spent every free moment together, and when Mike graduated he asked her to marry him. He explained that the Canadian Forest Patrol had offered him a job. He had accepted.
Julie was happy for him, but not for herself. She saw the look of disappointment on his face when she told him she had to think about it. She was faced with a big decision, at a fork in life's long road. Which way should she go?
She talked it over with her mother. Her mother, who was a simple woman that had never taken her seriously about college, advised her to get married and go with Mike. The more she had thought about it, the more she agreed with her mother. The wedding was held one month later, and after a short honeymoon, they moved to Canada. And here she was. She was happy, but she couldn't help wondering what her life would have been like if she had gone on to college.
"Earth to Julie, Earth to Julie. Come in, over."
Her thoughts were interrupted by Mike, who had slowed, letting her catch up.
"Why's it so quiet back here?" asked Mike. "Thought ya got lost for a minute there."
"Just thinkin'," replied Julie, still not out of the daydream.
"What about?" questioned Mike.
"A name for the wolf," replied Julie, not wishing to reveal her thoughts.
"Think of any?"
"Nothing but the usual—Blackie, Spot, Nick, and so on. What about you?"
Mike glanced down at the sleeping wolf. "How about Wolf?"
Julie laughed then stopped. "Wait a minute. I think you've got something there." Julie stopped, with a thoughtful look on her face. "He's alone, right. So what about Lone Wolf?"
Mike silently nodded his head in agreement.
As they started walking again, Julie thought about the new name, about how it sort of reflected on her, but her thoughts got no further; they had reached their cabin.
The sun was almost down, and the mercury was dropping. Although it was spring, it still got mighty cold at night.
Mike opened the door and watched as Julie laid the still sleeping Lone Wolf down gently on the couch.
"I'm gonna go get some wood for the fire," Mike said over his shoulder as he walked out the door.
As Julie sat down beside Lone Wolf, he suddenly opened his eyes. She started to talk softly to him, until she was interrupted by Mike re-entering the cabin. She was glad to see that Lone Wolf was no longer afraid of Mike, for all he did was go back to sleep.
Mike had brought in an armload of wood and soon had a roaring fire going. Julie soon had some supper ready. While they were eating, Lone Wolf woke up again, and Julie fed him. Soon after, Lone Wolf fell asleep again and Mike and Julie, quite exhausted themselves, went to bed.
* * *
Lone Wolf awoke to the delicious aroma of food. He remembered how famished he was. Upon trying, he found that he could not rise; he was still weak.
A tiny whine escaped him, and his stepmother came over with some food. When it was set down beside his head, the aroma seemed to release some kind of reserve energy, and he was able to rise high enough to eat.
As he ate, he could feel the energy that the food supplied surging through his small body. He finished his meal, then sat up and looked around. He saw that the bigger creature was also eating. His stepmother was sitting beside the big creature.
Satisfied that all was well, he lay back down and once again fell asleep. Then the big creature reached down and gently picked him up. He felt a soft paw run up and down his back a few times, then he was set on the floor. The big creature sat beside him.
He watched as his stepmother handed her mate an object he had never seen before. Then the big creature put one end of it under his nose, between his paws. Lone Wolf was puzzled. What was expected of him?
Thinking it might be food, he put it in his mouth. He dropped it quickly, however, when the big creature gave an unexpected yank on the other end. After several more tries, he thought he understood what was wanted. He was expected to try to pull the object from the big creature.
In the following days, Lone Wolf found himself being taught many different but interesting things. He learned that the big creature was called a sound like Mi-ke, the small creature Ju-lie, and he was expected to respond to something like Lo-ne-wo-if.
His favorite thing was a game where Julie would throw a stick and he was taught to bring the stick back to her. He felt he could play that endlessly but was not permitted to do so.
It was mostly Julie that taught him these things, but he understood that he should obey them when given by Mike, also. He also enjoyed his daily hunt with Mike. He learned quickly how to track and catch game. But no matter how successful the hunt, he came running to Julie the minute the opportunity presented itself.
When Mike and Julie awoke the next day, Lone Wolf was still sleeping. However, he soon woke. As she watched Mike pick him up, pet him for a minute, then set him on the floor, she got an idea. She went to a drawer and pulled out an old sock. After tying a knot in the end of it, she gave it to Mike.
Mike gave one end to Lone Wolf. After he understood what was wanted, he gave Mike a run for his money in one of the best games of tugofwar Mike had played in a long time.
Julie decided to teach Lone Wolf a mixture of the things that a dog would learn and what he would learn in the wild. She began immediately and found him to be very smart. Within the first two weeks he was responding to his name, could sit and heel, and would come when she whistled.
The one thing Julie kind of regretted teaching him, though, was "go fetch." Once he learned that, he always wanted to play. It was hard to refuse those big, yellow eyes, but it had to be done for obedience purposes.
Mike suggested taking the wolf on his rounds in the forest. She had agreed, so now Lone Wolf could learn to hunt. He almost always brought her back a rabbit or some other small, unfortunate creature.
A year went by, then another and they were faced with a new problem. Lone Wolf had grown quite big, too big for living in a cabin. He would have to move out to the small barn which already contained eight sled dogs, and a horse named Grunt. So far, he had had little contact with them. How would he react?
She had given thought to building him a separate dog house, or wolf house, as the case may be. As she thought it out, she decided against that idea, because she felt that Lone Wolf should learn to get along with the other animals.
She finally decided to first let him meet the other dogs. They were all fine, strong dogs, supplied by the Canadian Forest Patrol. She picked a crisp, autumn day, not unlike the day on which she and Lone Wolf first met.
She called him to her and set off for the barn. Surprisingly enough, there were no problems. In fact, Lone Wolf hardly acknowledged the others' presence. Mike cut a hole out of the side of the barn and covered it with burlap, so Lone Wolf could come and go as he pleased; from that day forward he stayed outside.
As fall came to an end, it came time for Mike's yearly trip to town to pick up flour, salt, gunpowder and shells, and other necessities. He would be gone about five days. It would take him about five hours to get there.
This year, however, his trip was delayed by a fire. It was not a major fire, but he and many others spent four days extinguishing it. Many animals were either killed or driven from their homes.
As soon as he was sufficiently rested from battling the fire, Mike set out. He rode on the sled pulled by eight sled dogs. He started at about eleven o'clock A.M., when it was twentyfive degrees, but by evening the mercury had dropped to zero. It was snowing rapidly when he reached the small town of Danville.
Julie looked anxiously out the window at the constantly moving white curtain before her. She wondered if Mike had reached the town before the storm had hit. She had no way of knowing if he had or not. What if he was stuck in the snow out in the middle of nowhere? What if . . . "Oh stop it!" she chided herself. She knew perfectly well that Mike could take care of himself. She decided to hit the hay early that night to keep her mind off of Mike and the snowstorm that was raging outside.
Lone Wolf was a bit surprised when Julie called him to her and, without so much as a pat on the head, started toward the small building where he knew that there were other animals. When it was confirmed that this was their destination, he failed to see why.
Once inside, he saw that the animals around him were much like himself, therefore not enough to rouse his curiosity. He looked up at Julie expectantly, trying to see what she wanted of him, but she made no actions, no commands, just walked out looking pleased. He was glad that he had pleased her, but how had he done it?
That night, when he went to the cabin, the door was shut. He sat outside whining and scratching at the door in bewilderment. He sat outside the door for an hour, and when still no one came, he went back to the small building. He finally fell asleep, exhausted.
He awoke to Julie's call. His eyes came to focus upon Mike and Julie standing side by side. As he went to her, all the memories of the night before flooded into his brain. He was treated, however, as though nothing had happened.
After a few days passed, he began to accept living outside. He noticed a slight change in temperature but was not actually cold because of his full coat of fur. He learned how to keep warm at night by watching the other dogs. They just curled up in the hay and put their bushy tails over their sensitive noses.
It was a cold day when Lone Wolf watched Mike drive off into the woods. He started to follow but was called back by Julie. Then she hurried back into the cabin and Lone Wolf went back to the barn to get some sleep.
When he woke up, everything was strangely quiet. He went outside to stretch his legs and found that those mysterious, powdery flakes that fell every few days when it got cold were falling.
Standing there, he heard the crunch of footsteps on the already frozen snow. He scanned the distance between himself and the cabin. There it was, a dark form creeping along the wall of the cabin.
Mike had stayed at the Lambert, a small inn in the middle of town. He called room service and had breakfast in bed; he was still tired from his long ride into town. Later, in the afternoon, he went shopping for a gift for Julie. He always got her one when he came to town. He remembered her mentioning something about moccasins, so he got a fleecelined pair. He also picked up a couple of books for her.
That night he went to the local tavern, Le Capitano. He knew most of the fellows in there. He sat down beside one of his friends, Clay.
"Hey there, Mike," said Clay, glad to see his friend. "Long time no see. How are you?"
"I'm O.K. Well, what's been happening here in town?" asked Mike.
"Well," Clay hesitated a moment, then went on, "well, I hear Big Joe was in town."
Mike stiffened at these words. Clay was speaking of Joe Balwyn, a known poacher that Mike had caught when he and Julie had first moved to Canada. Because of his many offenses, he was given a tenyear jail sentence. Everyone in Danville knew how Joe had vowed to get revenge on Mike, starting with his family.
"Uh, where's he stayin'?"
"I said, 'was in town,' not 'is in town.' He was seen riding out yesterday morning on horseback. Yep, mighty fine horse, too. I'd say you just missed him. "
"Never mind the horse, which way?"
"Which way was he going?" repeated Mike, impatience creeping into his voice.
"About the direction of your place, I think. I can't remember which way you live."
"That way," replied Mike, hurriedly pointing in the direction of his cabin.
"Yeah, that's the way he went."
"Oh, no," exclaimed Mike as he rushed out the door.
"Mike, wait!" Clay called after him, but he was too late.
Mike made a beeline for the general store, praying that it was still open. The store was open and he rushed in, almost knocking Tim Belter, the storekeeper, over.
"Where's the fire?" asked the bewildered Tim.
"Sorry, Tim, but I need some supplies mighty quick. "
"I'm sorry too, Mike. I was just closing."
Lone Wolf moved closer to the shape, thinking it might be Mike. The scent he caught, however, stopped him dead in his tracks. It was similar to Mike's, but not exact. He wondered what he should do; this was the first human that he had encountered besides Julie and Mike.
He decided to move in a little closer. When he was about ten feet from the creature, he realized that it was moving toward the opening of the building in which his mistress was. He must warn her of this intruder's presence.
He gave the meanest, loudest snarl he could muster and lunged at the form. There was the sound of tearing cloth as his teeth sank into and pulled at the man's heavy coat. He felt pain in his side as the creature struck him.
A born fighter, Lone Wolf would not give up. His second lunge brought a small cry of pain from the creature. Lone Wolf was pushed violently backwards. He saw a familiar flash of fire, then pain as a bullet rocketed into his side. One brief moment of consciousness, then he lay in a jumbled heap, silent and still.
Julie awoke with a start. She lay unmoving, trying to figure out what had awakened her. Then she heard a snarling. Something is wrong, she thought, all signs of sleep gone.
Even as she thought this, she heard the shot. The snarls and all other noise ceased. Oh my God, Lone Wolf! she thought frantically. Quickly, she got dressed. Mike had the only gun they owned with him, so she grabbed a vase and walked to the door.
Everything was quiet; she wondered if she was dreaming. She slowly opened the door and stepped outside to look around when she heard a sound behind her. She spun around, but was not quick enough. A hand clasped over her mouth with an iron grip. Instinctively, she bit down hard on the hand and at the same time brought the vase down on her assailant's head with all her strength. She heard a grunt of pain and the hand dropped away.
She ran as fast as she could into the woods. On and on she ran, paying no mind to the tree branches and briars tearing at both her clothes and flesh. She heard footsteps and heavy breathing behind her.
Just as she reached a clearing in the forest, she heard a gunshot for the second time that night. She felt a searing pain in her back and she fell, unconscious.
Mike quickly convinced Tim that he did indeed need those supplies this minute.
"I can get you everything but the gunpowder," said Tim, when Mike handed him the list.
"Why can't you get me the powder?" asked Mike, unpleasant visions of Big Joe running through his head. "I've only got about two ounces left and I need it."
"I been out for almost two days, now. Shipment never came through. Reminds me, I gotta call 'em 'bout that."
"Well, just give me the rest of it, and please hurry."
Mike got everything together, hurriedly loaded the sled, hitched up the dogs, and was about to set off, when a handful of men came riding up on horses. As they came closer, Mike saw that Clay was in the lead.
Listen, Mike. I got these guys together and we are going to go back to your place with you and make sure everything is all right," said Clay.
"O.K., let's just get going," replied Mike.
They set off at about one A.M., guided by moonlight only. It seemed like an eternity to Mike, but they reached their destination in a record time of four hours, only to find it deserted.
Mike was to the open doorway before the others even had a chance to dismount. He dashed inside in a vain search for the missing Julie.
"Julie, where are you?" he yelled, then listened as it echoed through the empty cabin.
When he returned back outside, he saw that the other men had dismounted and were spreading out in search of clues. Something by his foot caught his eye. He bent and found the shattered pieces of a vase. Frantically, he circled the cabin. He stopped only to examine the footprints and blood he found on the snow. He decided the blood was around six or seven hours old.
He followed the footprints back to the cabin door, where he could just make out a trail in the predawn light. He called to the rest of the men, and when they were all about him, he proceeded to tell them his plans.
"Robert, I would greatly appreciate it if you would kindly stay here with the cabin in case anything happens here. I would like to borrow your horse and any ammunition you can spare. Is that all right with you?"
"Yes," replied Robert, slightly disappointed.
"The rest of you, along with myself, will follow this trail that I have discovered. They left Robert behind, and within five minutes they came upon the crumpled form of Julie. In one leap Mike was by her side, feeling for a pulse. He found one, and as he looked up in relief, he noticed that Lone Wolf was sitting close by.
"Dave, c'mere quick. Help me get her up onto a horse. She's alive!"
Quickly, they lifted Julie up onto John's horse, then Dave and John began the long ride back to town. Only Mike and Clay remained. Mike went over and examined Lone Wolf. He looked like he was in bad shape, but he insisted on following when
Mike and Clay started on the trail left by Big Joe.
They traveled almost half of the day and still found no sign of Big Joe. Mike pushed on, possessed with the thought of catching up with Big Joe. Finally, around four o'clock that afternoon, the smell of smoke reached them. They tied the horses and began the search on foot. They were soon rewarded; through a small growth of bushes, they could see the huge frame of Big Joe working on a small fire.
They were about to surprise him when a tremendous growl shattered the air. A mass of fur shot out of the bushes, heading straight for Big Joe. Big Joe went sprawling as Lone Wolf collided into him. He grunted in pain as one hundred fifty pounds of wolf was suddenly upon him, clawing, scratching, biting.
"Lone Wolf, heel!"
The woods fell silent and the words hung in the air like frost on a tree. Six pairs of eyes watched silently as the wolf hesitated, then backed off and sat down. Mike was to Big Joe's side instantly, jerking him to his feet. Big Joe swung his massive fist at Mike's head but was too slow; Mike evaded it easily.
Mike brought his knee up into Big Joe's stomach, then gave him a hard punch in the nose. He was going after him again when Clay stepped between them, giving Mike time to think straight.
"Why don't ya just kill me here and now, like a man?" Big Joe asked in a taunting tone, taking advantage of Mike's loss of temper.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? Well, I'm gonna make you think about everything you've done while you're sitting in jail for the next fifty years," replied Mike, undaunted.
Mike then proceeded to tie Big Joe's hands together and get him up on a horse, while Clay made sure that the fire was put out completely. Mike looked at Lone Wolf, who had been sitting quietly about ten feet away. He was barely recognizable, with his side a mess from the gunshot and the rest of his body caked with snow and blood, but he followed when Mike and Clay started off toward home, with their captive in tow.
When Julie regained consciousness, she found herself face down in a bed piled with blankets. She began to rise but was stopped by numerous tubes and a pain in the middle of her back. It all came flooding back then: the man, the chase, the shot.
She heard a door open and shut, then footsteps. She heard the sounds of a chair being dragged across the floor, then someone sitting in it.
"Julie, are you awake?" said a soft, recognizable voice. "It's me, Mike."
"Yeah, I'm awake," she mumbled.
"How do you feel?"
"Pretty good as long as I don't move. What's wrong with me?"
"Well, you probably remember getting shot. The bullet entered your back just below your right shoulder blade. Doctor says you should be out of here in about a week. You've been unconscious for almost two days now."
"What about Lone Wolf? I heard him growling and that was what woke me up, but then I heard a shot and . . ." Julie's voice trailed off.
"Yeh, about Lone Wolf. He's at home, but he's not, um, doing too well. He did get shot, then he must've followed you, because he was there with you when we found you, then he followed us when we went searching for, uh, for your assailant. Anyway, I put an old Indian salve on his wound, but he's having a hard time; I don't expect him to make it.
Mike looked the cabin over for the fifteenth time that day. He wanted everything to be just right; Julie was coming home. It had been exactly ten days since Julie had gotten hurt.
He went over to the corner where Lone Wolf lay. He saw the look of expectation in Lone Wolf's pain filled eyes when he knelt beside him, but once again the wolf was disappointed; it was still not Julie. The wolf was having a hard time breathing. He hadn't eaten in ten days; he was extremely weak. Mike had no explanation as to why he was even still alive.
He left the wolf and walked to the window, searching the horizon for the small frame of the doctor's sled. It had been decided that the doctor would bring her out, just in case anything happened to go wrong on the long ride out. There was still no sign of them.
Mike stayed at the window, looking out at the beautiful day. He stood there for fifteen minutes, until finally he saw the doctor and his wife coming. He hurriedly threw his coat on and ran out to meet them.
"Hi, there. How are you, Mike?" asked Dr. Blake.
"Just fine, just fine, and you?"
"I'm fine and so's Julie. I can't stay, so I'll just give you the instructions and be on my way. She's off medication, but she should take it easy for a while. I want to see her in about two weeks. That's about it."
"Will do. Thanks a lot, Doe, and we'll be seein' ye," replied Mike as he and the doctor helped Julie to her feet.
Mike and Julie watched until he was out of sight, one Wolf made a feeble attempt to rise, but fell back, with both sides heaving with the effort. Julie reached her hand out to him and was greeted by a warm tongue.
Lone Wolf lay in the corner of the cabin he had been raised in. He was in great pain. He could not eat. He was only aware of one thing: his mistress was gone. Where, he did not know, but he did know that someday she would be back. He was determined to stay alive to see her.
When, finally, the day came that the one by his side was not Mike but Julie, he was overjoyed. But he knew that his end was near. He looked up at his mistress who was bathed in soft sunlight, watched as she reached her hand out to him, and said his final goodbye with his tongue.