The leaves rustled under my boots as we climbed up the hill. I was cold. I was tired. I was bored. I’ll never forget that fateful fall weekend my dad dragged me out hunting. He told me I was ten and it was time I started growing up. Time to start becoming a man.
We had left the house before the sun came up, stopped at a gas station for fuel and “breakfast. My dad insisted that I get coffee with my microwaved sandwich instead of milk. Another right of passage I suppose.
We had been hiking all day and hadn’t seen a single deer. My father scolded me a hundred times that day to stop dragging my feet. The deer could hear it and I was scaring them away.
My dad put his hand out in front of me. I stopped and looked at him for some indication as to why we had stopped. I can’t explain exactly what I felt at that moment. The hairs on my neck stood up. There was a lump in my throat that blocked any words from escaping. My blood seemed to slow as if it had begun to freeze.
My dad slid the rifle off of his shoulder. I followed his gaze. About a hundred yards ahead of us was a huge dog. His gray and black fur were matted with mud and what I could swear was blood.
‘What’s wrong with that dog, Dad?” I whispered. He shouldered his rifle and as if the dog knew what was going to happen next he ran off and disappeared into the woods.
“That isn’t a dog. It’s a wolf.” My dad scanned the woods. “I don’t see any more of them. He must be a lone wolf.” He explained.
“What does that mean?” I asked. “Wolves travel in packs. They hunt together and love as a family. That’s how they survive. Sometimes, One will leave, maybe because he lost a fight, or maybe because he wanted to try things on his own. Either way, life is much more difficult for them alone, they tend to go hungry and get more desperate.”
A cold breeze took me by surprise and I crossed my arms over my chest as if to hug myself. My dad stood again and scanned the treeline. He looked down at me and saw that I was shivering. “Okay, it will be dark soon. We won’t be able to see anything in the dark. Let’s get back to the truck. We’ll come back out tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t catch any deer dad.” I said. “We would have, son… If you could have kept quiet. You can’t half-ass everything in life. When you come out here in nature, you have to learn to act as they do. Every animal here is either prey or predator. And they know their role. The deer are always listening for predators. And the predators are always listening for prey.”
We walked the rest of the way to the truck in silence. It was dark, almost pitch black except for the small patches of moonlight poking through the treeline. I was freezing. I had practiced for the last two hours walking as quietly as I could. All I could hear was my teeth chattering. Even then, I had tried to focus my breathing, positioning my jaw in different ways, even biting my tongue to keep the noise down. I hated disappointing my dad and I was determined that when we came back tomorrow I was going to be quiet and bag the biggest deer he had ever seen.
It was strange, in the darkness as we walked I began to feel that strange feeling again. And this time I knew what it was. The hairs on my neck, the lump in my throat, and the heaviness in my limbs as my blood froze. It was fear. There had to have been some sixth sense long forgotten to alert us to danger. But I knew something hidden out there in the darkness was watching us.
My dad placed his hand in front of me again. I stopped and quietly watched as he used his flashlight into the woods. For a couple of minutes, I didn’t see anything and then I saw them. Two glowing red eyes reflected in the light.
They moved closer and closer and then I could see the beast move fully out of the trees. He was huge. We were about twenty feet away but staring eye to eye.
“Can you see the truck?” My dad asked. It took everything I had to pull my eyes from the beast’s gaze. I did see it. Maybe thirty feet away. “When I hit the alarm we are going to run to the truck, okay. The noise should scare him away.” Then my dad unslung his rifle and chambered a round.
He looked down at me and even in the dim light he must have seen the fear in my face. And somehow I knew that if my dad could see my fear so could the beast that was still creeping toward us.
My dad reached into his pocket and pressed the unlock button on his key fob. The wolf cocked his head sideways toward the truck and then back to us. Then my dad hit the alarm.
The woods erupted with the sound of the truck’s horn blaring in long intervals. “Now!” My dad commanded. I ran as fast as I could toward the truck. Just feet away I grabbed for the door handle and hopped inside. I saw that my dad had taken a less direct route, placing himself between me and the beast.
He was right in front of the truck now and almost around the hood to the driver’s side. He stopped and turned toward the woods. Before he could shoulder his rifle the beast had pounced. The impact hit him square in the chest. There was a loud bang as the rifle discharged into the air. The truck shook and my dad let out a blood-curdling scream as the beast ravaged him.
For what seemed like minutes the truck shook as the attack continued against the front bumper. I listened in helpless horror to my father’s screams and the sound of his clothes tearing.
Today I still couldn’t tell you exactly what happened inside of me. It was as if a switch flipped from prey to predator. I knew that my dad was going to die if I didn’t do something. This beast was killing a member of my pack. I saw the Maglite on the floorboard. My dad had bought it for me for my birthday a month ago in anticipation of this trip. It was at least eighteen inches long and the four “D” Batteries added a nice weight to it.
I stepped out of the truck and slammed the door as hard as I could. The trees seemed to echo back the sound of the door closing even over the screams from my dad. I stomped toward the front of the truck, kicking leaves as I stepped. I hoped the wolf could hear me. I hoped he knew he was prey now.
The screams stopped as I came around the front bumper. My dad was laying there with his hands over his face. The beast had torn through his jacket and flesh. I swear I could see bone through the wounds on his forearms. The beast was still straddling my dad but he had turned his head toward me and so had my dad.
“No, son, get back in the truck now!” He cried. The wolf glanced at him and then back to me as if waiting for me to run away. The second I raised the Maglite, the beast’s eyes grew wide and I brought it down on his head as hard as I could on the center of the wolf’s head. And then again… and again it hit with a sickening thud.
Credit: John Stevenson
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