22 Jun The Pack
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"The Pack"Written by MisterNailbrain75
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
My girlfriend, Ruby, and I had been together for about a year before the dreaded question of visiting her parents reared its head. Although she assured me that her folks were relatively laid back and easy going, that did little to settle my nerves. This was my first long term relationship and as such, I had no real experience in meeting with a girl’s family. This, combined with an introverted, awkward nature and the stereotypes of a guy meeting the in-laws for the first time perpetuated by the media in the form of sitcoms, kept me from being optimistic. However, after a series of discussions and coaxing, Ruby was finally able to convince me to visit them later that Autumn.
Her parents lived in a small, rural house a couple of hours outside of Edmonton, Alberta. Turning off the main road, I clutched the steering wheel firmly as the uneven dirt road caused the car to jolt violently. Floating in on the wind through the small crack that we left open in the window, the earthy smell of pine calmed my nerves, if only by a little. To our left, the treeline began to form, growing ever thicker and closer to the road, although never quite reaching across, as though kept at bay by some unseen force. Following the road, we eventually came to a house just opposite the forest, to which my girlfriend informed me belonged to her parents. Nodding, I pulled into the driveway.
The house, while not large, was certainly of a decent size, seeming even larger given the emptiness that surrounded it. The wooden exterior appeared to blend perfectly with its natural surroundings. Hanging from the porch, a wind chime jingled quietly in the breeze. Tentatively, I approached the front door and rapped three times on the brass, wolf-head knocker. Several heartbeats passed before I heard a shuffling from behind the door and a middle-aged woman with red hair answered. Before I could introduce myself, she threw herself at my girlfriend, embracing her tightly in her arms.
“Mum,” my girlfriend said, beaming a smile that always made my heart melt, “This is Callum.”
I offered my hand nervously only to in turn receive a tight hug that nearly drove the air from my lungs. After a few seconds of nearly suffocating, she finally decided to let go and introduce herself as Sarah. Smiling warmly, she ushered us into the living room. The inside of the house was somewhat rustic with bare floorboards and stag antlers decorating several doorways. Making our way into the living room, we found her father watching the game.
“Dad, this is my boyfriend.”
As the man looked over and got out of his chair, I felt shivers run down my spine. If I told you that this guy looked like a stereotypical, Canadian lumberjack, the image that pops into your mind probably wouldn’t be far from the truth. Thick knots of muscle wrapped around his arms while a bush of dark brown beard clung to his face with only a faint hint of grey. When he reached his full height, he easily towered over me. Grunting, he offered a hand to shake. As I shook his hand firmly in mine, I could see his deep hazel eyes scanning me, much like an animal deducing whether a newcomer was a threat or a harmless nuisance. For the most part, I tried to maintain eye contact without seeming weird. Letting go of my hand, the man nodded once before pulling his chair up and returning to his game.
“Don’t mind Jack,” Sarah told me, “He’s always like this. Just take a seat and I’ll get you something to eat.”
I tried to politely decline, but she wasn’t having it. Reluctantly, I went and sat down next to Jack. The next half hour passed by agonizingly slow as not a word was exchanged between us, neither of us sure what to say. Mind you, it could’ve gone worse.
After dinner, we headed off to bed. I cuddled in close to my girlfriend and let the day drift from my mind. Sometime around 2 am, I awoke in need of a drink. Gently, I crawled out from under the covers and walked over to the stairs. As I made my way to the kitchen, a flickering light drew my attention to the front door. Crouching low, I crept over. From behind the corner of the doorway, I saw Jack sat facing the door. His face was barely illuminated by a faint orange glow, presumably a cigarette. Glinting in the dim light, I could make out the long barrel of a rifle resting on his lap.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he asked. I was shocked. There was no way he could have seen me and I made no noise coming down the stairs. Sheepishly, I came out from behind the corner.
“Sorry Sir, I was just getting…”
“Whatever, just get it,” He said dismissively. The entire time, his eyes never left the front door. I followed his gaze for a second but couldn’t make anything out from the window but pitch blackness. Deciding not to push my luck, I went back upstairs without bothering to get a drink.
The following morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon frying downstairs. Groggily, I groaned, clutched my head, and sat up. Rolling over, Ruby propped herself up on one elbow and yawned.
“Morning,” she smiled and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, “Sleep well?”
I briefly toyed with the idea of mentioning my encounter with her father the previous night but ultimately decided against it. I didn’t want to risk scaring her. I just smiled and nodded.
That morning at the breakfast table, I could feel Jack’s icy gaze on me at all times. I looked up at him and smiled awkwardly only to receive a stony look back. Without a single word, Jack got up and left the table.
Puzzled, the rest of us exchanged looks until, equally as suddenly, Jack came back into the room, a rifle slung over his back and another gripped in his left hand. Heavily, he put the scoped weapon down on the table in front of me.
“Get ready,” he said bluntly. My confusion must have been evident as he exhaled loudly, “You’re coming hunting with me, Lad.”
I wasn’t sure by the straight-forward nature of the remark if he was asking or telling, so I grabbed the rifle firmly in my hands.
“Ever handled a gun, Son?” He asked, watching as I studied the heavy wooden stock and metal scope. Deciding that hundreds of hours logged onto Halo probably wouldn’t count, I told him no. Nodding slowly, he went over how to fire and reload it. Each gun could hold five shots in the magazine and, being bolt action, I had to pull back on the firing mechanism after every shot. He then left the kitchen and told me I had ten minutes to get ready.
My girlfriend was ecstatic. Apparently, I had made such a good impression on her father that he wanted to spend more time with me. I, on the other hand, was somewhat apprehensive as I put on my coat and walking boots. Walking out onto the front step, I found Jack standing there, looking out towards the forest, his eyes scanning the treeline for something I couldn’t quite make out. I cleared my throat, bringing his attention back to the forefront. He glared at me before shaking his head and muttering “come on,” under his breath.
Crossing the road, we made our way into the pine forest. The thick mud clung to our boots, making every step heavy and arduous. The needles clawed at my face. Up ahead, Jack seemed to pick his way through the trees with the preternatural skill of a practiced huntsman, barely making a noise as he made his way through the undergrowth. Every so often, we’d hear a noise, a rustling in the distance or the occasional chirp of a bird. Jack would silently motion for me to stop and crouch and stay silent in the undergrowth. As the day wore on, the cold air began to numb my fingers, making the rifle heavy in my hands.
As daylight began to turn to twilight, I began to wonder if I should ask Jack if we could turn back to the warmth of the house. Our breaths came out in wisps of vapor that danced away into the air and I could feel a chill running along my back, causing my hairs to stand up on end. A damp wetness had begun to snake its way into my boots turning my feet white with the cold.
All of a sudden, Jack signaled me to urgently get down. Not seeing anything at first, I opened my mouth to ask if we could turn back when I saw it. Striding out from between the trees, a buck came into view. Its antlers forming a magnificent mantle atop his angular skull. Taking a deep breath, I raised the weapon and aiming down the scope. The buck twitched its hind leg slightly as though sensing us nearby. My finger rested on the trigger.
Before I could fire, I suddenly felt Jack’s weight pushing down on the barrel of the gun, lowering the weapon. I looked at him and mouthed “What?”
Jack glanced around him, his eyes wider than normal and his movements slow and deliberate. “Listen.” He whispered.
It unnerved to see Jack acting so cautious so I did as I told. Then I realized. There was no sound whatsoever. The birds had grown silently and the rustling if rodents scurrying around the roots of trees had all but ceased. Only the wind made a noise and even then, it seemed strangely subdued along with the rest of the forest.
“They’re coming,” Jack muttered clutching his gun tighter so that his knuckles went white. “We need to go now, lad. Quietly. Quickly!” He then took off through the trees.
Following as fast as I could, I pushed my way through the branches, easily catching up to him. Off in the distance, O heard a solitary howl and instantly understood Jack’s fear as it was instantly followed by several more. All thoughts of stealth were pushed from my mind as instincts kicked in and I started sprinting as fast as I could, breaking branches and trampling briars in my bid to escape. I couldn’t even see Jack a few meters away so focussed was I on running.
I could see them now. Only an occasional glance through the trees or between the bushes but they were there. Large, lupine shapes darted raced alongside us, their size belying their lithe nature. I could feel their eyes on me as they closed in. Increasing my speed, I tried to push the ravenous creatures from my mind and keep running, knowing that for every shape I could see, there were half a dozen that lay hidden amongst the vegetation.
Catching my foot on what must have been an exposed root, I stumbled and crashed, rolling down the slope. The bitter taste of mud and ferns filled my mouth and I yelled in pain as I cracked a rib against a rock before hitting the bottom. I pushed weakly against the mud only to fall weakly back into the dirt. They were close. I could feel their eyes on me. Those beady, hungry eyes. Grunting with pained effort, I reached out and felt my cold fingers clasp around the wooden stock of the hunting rifle.
Rolling onto my back, I watched as one of the creatures stalked out of the undergrowth. It was larger than the other shapes I had seen darting through the trees. Its pelt was coal black with amber eyes that seemed to burn with an inhuman intelligence. Trembling, I brought the gun to bare.
As if understanding the threat, the creature lunged forward. In a panic I fired wide, missing the beast. Acting on reflex, I interposed the stock of the weapon between me and the wolf. I grunted as I felt the weight of the beast on top of me. Snarling in frustration, the wolf’s jaws snapped inches from my neck, held back only by the weapon. Arms shaking, I pressed back fighting for every last inch I could get. I felt the wolf shift its weight, driving its foreclaws into my shoulder, tearing through the soft flesh underneath my shirt. I cried out in pain and bared my teeth as I jerked my head upwards abruptly and was rewarded with a satisfying crunch as hardened bone shattered cartilage. The beast leaped back whining in pain, its muzzle was ruined mess of blood. It looked at me in something which may have passed for anger, bearing its fangs. My fingers fumbled clumsily as I tried to pull back in the firing mechanism.
The booming report of a rifle shot destroyed the silence and the wolf yelped in pain, falling back. Barely a second later, a second shot sent the rest of the pack fleeing. Even through the dying light, I saw Jack slide down the slope and rush over. I hissed through clenched teeth as he hefted me to my feet and draped my left arm around his broad shoulders.
“We don’t have much time!” He told me and started pulling me through the forest. My legs pumped alongside him as we powered through the brush. Two minutes of silence passed and I dared to hope that the pack had given up. Then the howling and baying started again, this time even angrier and more frantic than before and getting closer by the second.
“Pay them no mind Lad,” I heard Jack’s gruff voice in my ear, “Just focus on the path. ” I nodded and moved as fast my legs would allow, taking care not to trip on any hidden snares lurking in the undergrowth. For to do so would allow the pack to catch us and this time, there would be no chance of rescue. All around us, the snarls and barking grew louder but I pushed the sounds from my mind as best I could. We were ahead of them. For now at least.
Bursting out of the forest, we stumbled as quickly as we could towards the light of the house across the road. The asphalt was slick with rain as we raced across, the baying not far now from the treeline. Grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, Jack hurled me through the door before turning and firing another shot into the darkness. He then rapidly darted inside and barred the door, setting the deadbolt.
Undoubtedly drawn by the commotion, Ruby and Sarah came rushing out to meet us, asking what had happened. Jack grabbed Sarah by the shoulders and yelled. “Go lock the back door. Hurry!”
Seeming to understand, Sarah rushed away to the kitchen. Evening from where I lay, I could hear the sound of several heavy duty locks being slid into place as Ruby crouched beside me, trying to look at my wounds. Outside, we could hear the howling growling in volume. Jack drew back the curtains a little and peered outside. They were circling the house.
The lights flickered. Gritting my teeth, I used the gun as a crutch to lift myself up. There was a succession of three light scratches at the door. Both Jack and I raised our guns towards the heavy oaken door. The scratching then stopped but I swear to god, I wished it had continued rather than what was to come which will haunt me for the rest of my days.
The doorknob rattled. Then again, more insistently. Then there came a knocking at the door. Three, slow deliberate knocks followed by a voice that was a low, menacing growl.
“Little pigs, little pigs, let us come in.”
Jack cocked his rifle. “Fuck off before I turn you into a rug for my grandchild to be conceived on, you Beast!”
There was a pause followed by a series of rising and falling growls that made my blood freeze over. Was this thing laughing?
Not a second later the door shook violently as a great weight was thrown against it. The hinges rattled but held firm. Again the door rattled as the wolves hurled themselves at it. Rushing forward, Jack pressed his weight against it. The door shook again, pushing Jack back only for him to shove his weight back against it.
From behind us, I heard Sarah scream as the back door began to buckle. Ruby sprinted off to the kitchen, throwing herself against the back door with her mother. Barely able to move by myself, I shuffled over to the front door and pushed against it with Jack.
The door splintered under the next blow, sending me flying backward. Gasping in pain, I looked up to the sound of Jacks screams. Reaching through the jagged hole in the door, a long, hairy arm was grabbing at him. Curled, claws sank into his chest as the man pulled at the arm uselessly with both hands, his legs kicking against the door.
Hefting the rifle up, I quickly sighted the shape through the hole and pulled the trigger. The howl of pain was drowned out by the sound of the shot. The arm released Jack and attempted to withdraw. Sliding the next bullet into the chamber, I opened up again. This time the yelp was brief. Without waiting to see if they would try again, I fired again.
There was a loud howl that drowned out the commotion. The shaking in the doors stopped as it was followed by several others. Shambling over to the window, I peered out to watch as the remaining shapes began to skulk and lope away from the house. At the edge of the forest, one of them stopped and I swear locked eyes with me before disappearing into its dark abode.
I finally allowed myself to slump back, and as the adrenaline began to wear off, fell into the black void of unconsciousness relatively soon after.
I woke up a few days later in hospital. The doctors informed me that I had broken a rib and taken several nasty cuts to my shoulders and abdomen that had needed stitches.
This moment was interrupted however when Ruby came in and embraced me in her arms so tightly that it was only when I hissed in pain, did she let go. Behind her stood Jack and Sarah, the former wearing a cast about his mid-section. Apparently, they had informed the doctors that both Jack and I had been attacked whilst hunting and that we had had to leg it back to the house. They reasoned it was as close as they could have gotten to the truth without sounding mental.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that since that night, the family had been staying in a hotel and were currently looking to sell the house. Before the doctors ushered them away to allow me time to rest and recover, Jack passed me something. As I lay there in bed, I unwrapped the package. It was a note. The note read as such.
“You’re okay, kid.”
My eyes then flashed and I felt my stomach sink as I realized what the note was wrapped around. It was a wolf’s fang.
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