Children of the Wolf

by Font Bookfarthing

The moment we saw the mutilated body of the cow, we knew that it was the work of the werewolf.

"All right, that's it. Let's get out there and kill that thing," Bill said, neatly avoiding the word werewolf. The others nodded their agreement.

"Thing? You mean the wolf," my dad said, as though he was the only sane one in the group.

"Look, I seen what wolves do to livestock. And this ain't the same. It's worse. And it ain't no human being neither."

My dad held up his hands in defense, "I know. I'm not sayin' I know what's doin' this. I'm just sayin' it ain't no... 'thing'."

"Whatever," Bill said. "Now are you gonna help us kill it or not?"

He paused for just an instant. Then said, "Of course we're helpin'." He turned to me, "Buck, go home and get the shotguns."

I hadn't expected to be part of the hunt, "Me?"

"Move it!"

"All right, Dad. All right," I said. My dad was one of those poeple who could get overly intense on an overly frequent basis. It was always best to just shut up and do what he said.

I dashed home and got our two shotguns, then headed back to meet up with the others. But my dad met me on the road before I reached where everyone else was gathering. "Just curious," I said on seeing him. "But why do we gotta help? I mean we don't got any livestock or anything. And I know you don't think it's a werewolf."

He took one of the guns from me and began loading it. "Oh?"

I stopped for a second, trying to work out whether to say what I was thinking, or to avoid a smack on the head.

He looked at me, sizing me up. "Buck, you're fourteen now, ain't you?"

"Sixteen."

"Even better. Old enough to handle one of these." He thrust the loaded shotgun back into my hands, took the other, and began loading it for himself. "Let's go," he said with a voice of distant black thunder.

I followed him glumly down the road to met up with the others in the rapidly organized hunting party. About twenty feet from them, my dad suddenly stopped and put his hand out to block me from going any further. Staring straight ahead, he said, "Now I don't give a shit what the others tell you... but you are not to shoot until I give you the okay. Got it?"

"But what if I spot...?"

"You are not to shoot!" He moved his face around right in front of mine, glaring into my eyes. "Now if you can't understand what I'm tellin' you, then you can just go straight back to the house right now!"

"No, I... I understand," I told him just to shut him up and to stop him from glaring at me. Inside, of course, I promised myself that if I saw any vague four-legged shadow near me, I'd shoot. There was no way I'd end up like that shredded old cow.

His gaze lingered just long enough for me to wonder if he was reading my mind. So I thought to myself just as loud as I could: My dad's right, and I'll do exactly what he says. He tightened his grip on his gun and smiled, "Good. Now come on."

We met up with the others, local farmers mainly. There were ten of us altogether. We clambered into Ted and Bob's two pickup trucks and made for the hills with some loud whoops to psyche us up for some good, clean country killin'.

It was a fifteen minute drive up into the cold and foggy woods at the base of the Lonewood Mountains where wolves had been spotted before. It was about an hour before sunset, so we still had a little time before dark. We split into three groups of three, with one left to guard the trucks. My dad and I were grouped with Ed who owned the local hardware store. Each armed with our own shotgun (the weapon of choice in rural areas), we moved into the woods, instantly enveloped by the ancient standing people, as the Indians used to call the trees. We were in an entirely different world. And my imagination burst like a fireworks display. Every little sound not made by our own feet was suddenly sinister and suggestive of some great evil lurking nearby. Within moments, I lost all sight of the other groups. These thick trees would make it a hell of a lot harder to find the wolf... or whatever it was.

#

"... the guy got outta the car," Ed was saying. "He walked around to the passenger side and reached for the door handle. And he froze! Dangling from the handle was a bloody hook!"

"Oh, shit!" I said in horror.

And suddenly we heard a snap on the floor of the woods. My stomach turned to lead and I thought I was about to be killed!

We raised our guns, my own shaking rather badly, and we saw... a squirrel scamper off through the underbrush. As soon as my knees stopped quivering and my breathing returned to normal, I turned to Ed, "Thanks a lot."

Ed smiled back, pleased with himself, and continued on.

The sun sank lower and lower, not wanting any part of what was to come. Very soon our enthusiasm began to sink equally low. There were no animal tracks. There were no helpful broken twigs. There was nothing amongst the trees except darkness and more trees.

"Werewolves are tricky sons of bitches," Ed said. "I don't think we have much chance of finding him if he won't wanna be found."

"If it's a werewolf," I asked, "And the moon ain't out yet, how come we're not looking for a human?"

"Buck," my dad said, irritation steaming out his ears.

"Now hold on. Your boy's got a point there. The truth of the matter is that most folks don't wanna believe in the werewolf. The other guys are telling themselves we're only out here to look for some unnamed 'thing.' They say they don't know what it is. But deep down, they all know what it really is."

"So how come you're the only one willin' to admit it's a werewolf?" I asked.

He stopped. He looked around to make sure there were not eavesdroppers lurking in the thickening fog. He leaned over, peering into my face, "'Cause I seen it."

My dad halted. "Ed! Knock off the bullshit! There's no werewolf! Okay? It's just a wolf. A regular, plain, everyday, stupid, fucking wolf! There's nothin' supernatural about attacking sheep. It's not like their blood was drained or anything."

Ed gave my dad a quizzical look. "If their blood was drained out, then we'd be lookin' for a vampire, not a werewolf."

"But we're not lookin' for a werewolf," my dad called out into the sky. "Just a regular, plain..."

"...everyday, stupid, fucking wolf," I finished for him, smiling. He, of course, did not return the smile.

"Whatever you're capable of dealing with... you stick to it," Ed said condescendingly.

My dad rolled his eyes in exasperation, moving off into the woods. Ed and I shrugged at each other in mutual resignation and followed deeper into the dark trees.

Soon the skies, depressed with the absence of the sun, grew black. We were running out of time. And I found myself wondering whether or not it was going to be a full moon. Then I caught myself. There weren't any werewolves, I told myself without a hell of a lot of conviction.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that Ed was right. No one used the word werewolf... but no one had ever been in this much of a panic about a regular wolf before.

Then we heard it! The soft footsteps of an animal. We all strained to look at each other in the dark, silently confirming that we had each heard it.

No one moved. No one breathed. And the animal continued walking through the underbrush. As it continued on, we could hear it breathing. Whatever it was, it was rasping much quick than a human being. It was panting! It was some kind of dog!

Ed held up four fingers and whispered very quietly, "Four feet."

"We must be down-wind of it," I offered.

"We have to take it now. Before it gets away."

"We'll split up," Dad whispered. "Buck, you take left. Ed, you're right."

"I know I'm right," he smiled as he moved off silently.

"Dad, which way are you goin'?"

"I'll go straight in."

I stopped, concerned. It was just for a second, but it was apparently long enough to make my dad think I was nervous. "Go on, Buck. You'll be all right."

"Be careful, Dad." I watched him move silently into the dark woods. And within seconds, I had lost sight of him. Both he and Ed had been swallowed up into the thick night air.

Before I moved off to the left, I looked up. Just starting to edge its way into the sky was the moon. It was large and glowing. And it was full.

I moved as silently as I could. I couldn't hear the creature's footsteps anymore, but I knew it was out there. Out there in its home territory... unlike the rest of us. And the shot gun in my hands failed to give me much reassurance. It takes a whole split second to fire the thing. I mean, suppose I was attacked from behind? Shit! I gotta stop thinking like that, I told myself.

I took a couple of steps forward. But I couldn't get that thought of being attacked from behind out of my head. But what if it was behind me now? What if it could see me turning around, and then attacked before I could shoot? I slowly turned my head, reasoning that maybe the werewolf wouldn't be able to tell I was turning if it were only my head. I half turned my body as well, and was now looking in the direction I had come. And all I could see were shadows. I peered into the darkness to try and make out a shape. But I could make nothing out except for vague shapes of trees.

It then occurred to me that I was now facing away from the direction in which the werewolf had gone. Was it watching me now? I slowly turned my head back around to face the front. And all I saw were shadows within shadows in the ever-darkening woods. All I was accomplishing was getting myself good and scared for no reason.

I relaxed.

I jumped out of my own body before my mind could register what I was that had startled me! It was a shotgun blast! Somebody had fired their gun!

I ran! I had no idea what lay ahead of me in the darkness, but I just ran for the sound, hoping that my dad was all right!

"I got it!" I heard someone shout. It was Ed.

I ran in the direction of his shout. My adrenalin was really pumping. I felt the thrill of the hunt!

And then I came upon my dad. He was standing at the foot of a clearing, panting. "Where is he?" he asked me.

"I dunno," I said, catching my breath.

We stood there panting, peering into the darkness.

"Psst!" We looked to the left and just barely saw Ed. He was at the other end of the clearing, crouched over, trying to see something in the trees near him.

We moved over to join him.

Then he tensed. He had spotted it. "Gotcha...!" he whispered. He raised his shotgun...

I heard the blast right next to me and couldn't immediately work out why that was. My

dad had raised his own gun and fired first. But there's no way he could've seen the werewolf. And then I noticed... it wasn't the werewolf he had shot. It was Ed!

"Oh, my God!" I shouted, running over to see how bad Ed had been hit.

I stood over his lifeless body. He was dead. Properly dead too, with most of his head blown off. For some reason, my first thoughts were concern over who was going to run the hardware store if Ed was dead. Then my dad stepped up next to me.

"What the hell did you do that for!?" But he ignored me. He went straight over to the injured wolf. The wolf was cowering against a tree trunk, his hind leg damp with blood. "Dad!?" I hollered in desperation as he seemed more concerned about an injured wolf than for a man whom he had just shot in the head.

He whirled around to face me and stuck his finger in my face, "Buck! You just keep quiet! Got it!?"

"Dad...?"

"Quiet!"

I nodded, not knowing what else to do.

He reached out for the wolf, who then struggled up to his shaky legs and limped over to him. And then the animal just curled up right at my dad's feet like a small puppy. "Y'okay, boy? Come on. You'll be all right."

Distant shouts floated through the trees. The others were nearby.

My dad patted the wolf one more time, then rose to face me. "Buck. Now I don't have time to explain how important this is, but I want you to go and distract the others."

I had a thousand questions, and not the slightest clue how to phrase any of them. Instead I settled for an expression of complete confusion.

"Now!" my dad shouted. "I'll circle around and try to sneak this wolf back to one of the trucks and then back to town."

Only one question came to mind at that point, "Are you crazy!?"

In the next instant, he grabbed my shoulders and shot an intense glare into my eyes, "Now you help me to save this animal!"

"It's just a wolf!" I shouted right back at my dad, perhaps for the first time in my life.

And to my surprise, a loud tone of voice seemed to soften him. Either that or I was finally communicating with him on his own level. He patted my shoulder gently, "Buck, we're kinda short on time right now, and I can't explain things to you as much as I'd like. But this wolf's life means as much to me as yours does. And you and I are going to save him. Can I count on you for your help, son?"

I found my frustration easing, "I just want to know what's going on, dad."

"I'll explain it all once the three of us get home. Okay?" I nodded. "Now see if you can get everyone's attention away from here."

"Okay. I'll see you at home." I was about to run off, but suddenly had to give my dad a hug. I really did love that big guy, and I had never been certain about it until just then.

He smiled and returned the hug. "It'll be all right. Now go." He bent back down to the injured wolf. He stroked it gently behind the ears.

I ran off in the direction of the others, and found them quickly. "This way!" I shouted, and led them off away from my dad and the wolf. There were only three of them in this group. The others were still out in the woods.

"Where are the others, Buck?" they wanted to know. But I just shook my head and pointed off into the trees, running faster with the others dutifully following behind.

I led them on for several minutes, and just as I was running out of breath, we heard another gun shot. It was back by our trucks. Dad! I suddenly found new strength in my legs as I turned and ran blindly, once again leading the others.

We got back to the trucks to find Joe in a face-off with my dad. The wolf was cowering on the ground behind his legs. "He's got the wolf!" Joe shouted.

"It's not the same wolf!" my dad shouted to everyone. "This one's okay!"

"And just how in hell did you reason that one out?"

"Just trust me on this one, boys. Now this animal needs medical help. And I intend to see to it that he gets it."

The others all formed a barricade between my dad and the trucks. And I found myself moving over to my dad's side, where we both remained there in a stand-off with the others.

I noticed a light out of the corner of my eyes. It was the moon. It was higher in the sky now. And then the wolf howled. My dad looked around nervously. He started to perspire. He started to sway, and then doubled over, coughing loudly. He fell to his knees, dropping his shot gun.

"Dad? What is it?"

"Buck, get away from him!" the others shouted at me.

I put my hand on my dad's shoulder as he began moaning loudly. And then he looked up at me, teeth clenched as he continued to moan. And then he howled!

I stepped back, not knowing what the hell to make of this spectacle as my father and the wolf howled up into the air.

"Get away, Buck!" he shouted to me as he gasped for breath between howls. "Get back!"

"Dad, what is it!?" I wanted to know. But I felt the others pulling me away. We stood there in a group watching as my father's face distorted and grew long. The hair on his arms grew darker and longer. His hands and feet turned into paws. My father was the werewolf!

Within a minute, the transformation was complete, and there were two wolves in front of our party. The wolf that was my father made sure that he stood between the injured wolf and our hunting party. He growled at us and bared his fangs. And as I looked at the two of them I noticed the similarity not present in most wolves. Most prominent of all was the similarity in their eyes.

And then my father suddenly leapt into the air, grabbing at Bill's neck. Bill and my father dropped to the ground, Bill screaming and kicking, while my father growled with a growl as deep as the deepest, darkest cave.

By this time, the rest of the group had shown up. They hadn't seen the transformation. They didn't know they were seeing my father tearing Bill to pieces. Before I even knew what they were doing, they instantly shoved me aside and opened fire!

My father twisted and dropped down into the mud like a sack of grain.

"Stop!" I shouted. "Stop it!" And I ran over to his fallen body and knelt down in the mud next to him, afraid to touch him at first. He was dead. I reached out and gently stroked his fur, damp with blood. I just sat there. I didn't know what to do or even what to think. My hand reached out and gently raked a couple of twigs out of his coat.

My eyes rose slowly and met those of the wolf we had tried to save. He looked at me, wondering if he would be next. His eyes... they were the same blue as my father's. And then I understood. No matter what my father was or had become, he was still my father. And now it was up to me to finish what he'd failed to do. I had to save this wolf. I had to honor my father's last wish.

I looked cautiously at the others. No one spoke. Only the wind and the crickets could be heard. I rose slowly to my feet. The four-legged body of my father lay there in the mud, pathetic and undignified. How could his life have come to such a miserable end?

The others had by now been told what had happened. Hank, the fat-headed farmer was the first to think of a plan. "Let's finish it," he said. He raised his gun to shoot the wolf. I slapped his weapon up, both barrels releasing into the sky.

"No!" I shouted.

"Get outta the way, Buck!" he shouted, elbowing me aside.

Before he could raise his gun again, I grabbed it out of his hands. He made a grab for it, but I tossed it aside. The next thing I knew, his fist was arching around for my chin. I ducked and landed a swift kick to his knee, and he dropped to the ground, clutching his wound.

I looked at the others, standing there, not knowing what to do. "Can someone help me get this wolf to town?"

"Buck..." one of them began in a condescending tone.

"This animal," I said, walking over to the injured creature, pointing at it, "is obviously not the werewolf, is it?" I paused, working up the energy to actually say this next thought out loud, "My father... was the werewolf. Or didn't you notice? And I think we should save this wolf here. It's not the one that's been attacking the sheep. Now it's been injured, and we have to help!"

They stood there with the bleeding corpse of my father laying before me on the ground, and the other wolf cowering behind me. Maybe they had had enough killing for one night. And maybe they also figured I had lost my mind just then. And maybe they felt slightly guilty for shooting my father... no matter what he looked like. But whatever the reason, they helped me take the wolf back to town. We got his leg tended to, and took him to spend the night with me, sleeping by the foot of the fireplace as I slumbered uneasily in the big chair.

No one else ever found out that I had seen or even knew about the murder of Ed. But I can't really blame my father. I'd expect any parent to do the same for their child.

My mother had died several years ago, and now my father had joined her. And until that night, I had thought myself to be an only child. But now my half brother and I live in that house together. He's the only family I have left.