When Carla Regan finds the notebook at the abandoned ranger's station, she has no idea that the story within was written by a wolf. As the tale unfolds, Carla can't decide whether it is reality or creative fantasy, until she comes face to face with the wolf that penned it.
Carla Regan strode confidently across the deserted ranger's station. Outside, the autumn wind sang a mournful ballad that might have had something to do with summer's end. Carla moved toward the desk and immediately noticed the notebook that had not been there a day earlier. Where it came from, she couldn't imagine. As far as she knew, she was the only person that still came to this place.
She looked around for other signs of intrusion, but there were none. Everything was as she'd left it. It was as if someone had come to Montana, hiked through the Rocky Mountains to this long abandoned shack, dropped off a notebook and left. She picked it up and examined it. It was one of the books that she'd left here. She always kept them handy to make notes that would later become poems. Poems that no one would ever see.
The handwriting on the page was masculine and somewhat erratic as if the author had been in a great hurry. After a moment, she found she could read it, if she concentrated. She picked it up, walked to the wooden counter and hoisted herself onto it. Legs dangling, she opened the book on her lap and began to read.
When I awoke, the world was a pit of pain and the smell of man was still fresh in my snout. I remember trying to crawl, failing dismally and then laying there, waiting to die. If a wolf can't run, if he can't hunt, if he can't defend himself, then death must follow, as surely as daylight follows the dawn.
The heat assailed me mercilessly. Somewhere nearby, the sound of falling water taunted me. I dragged myself a few steps, but that was all. I tried to remember how I had come to this, but found myself unable to recall even the most insignificant detail of my life. It was as if I were born here, already half dead. By dusk, I prayed for Black Wolf to come and tear the soul from my body. Anything that would put an end to my suffering.
The sound of paw pads treading lightly on the ground came to me only vaguely. Perhaps I had drifted off. No human would have perceived that sound, but my injuries had no effect on my ability to hear. Then the wind shifted and I smelled him as well.
I could tell from his scent that he was a pack leader. If I was lucky, he would take pity on me and finish me off. His approach seemed to last forever, until I wondered if I had somehow died in the middle of it. At last, I felt his nose against my side. I closed my eyes, waiting for his powerful jaws to rip at my flesh. It never happened.
The intruder turned and trotted away. Had I been more coherent, I'd have wondered at that. I was so disoriented, that when he returned for the second time, I almost didn't recall him.
He leaned close to my face, until his snout was just inches away. I lay there stricken, waiting to see what he would do. Then he opened his mouth and dribbled water into mine.
My tongue moved instinctively, lapping it up as soon as it hit. The other returned with water many times that night and then kept watch over me, protecting me from predators. This went on for several days, until I was able to eat. Then he brought me food. I found myself wondering why I was worth the effort. Did he know me? Was I of his pack? I waited for him to speak, but he said nothing as he tended me.
Carla stopped reading and lowered herself to the floor. Then she picked up the notebook, walked to the door, and opened it. Outside, the bright sun provided her with little warmth. Above, a peregrine falcon circled, searching for his morning meal. She watched until he was but a black speck in the distance. Only then did she return her attention to the story.
It was obviously written by a man. Wolves can't write. She looked again at the text and wondered what lonely soul had penned it. She had seen wolves often enough, prowling the wild places in search of prey and often it did seem to her as if they were communicating amongst themselves. At the time, she thought it was fancy, but who really knew? Only the wolves. And they weren't talking.
She moved to the side of the doorway and slid down the wall, until she was sitting on the rocky ground. A nearby harvestman spider, startled by her movements, made its way to safety on four pair of gangly legs. She watched it, remembering how scared she had once been of them. She smiled at the thought, then she opened the book and continued reading.
My need to know more burned within me, but I dared not initiate a conversation with a pack leader. Speaking first word was his right.
Finally, on the eve of the third day, just after moonrise, he addressed me. "They call me Infinity."
An odd name for a wolf. "I thank you father, for your kindness. It is kindness, isn't it?" I had not intended to question his motives, but the days of silence had ignited a paranoia within me.
I had to wait so long for his answer that I thought I had offended, though there was no sign of it in his voice, when he finally replied. "How did this happen to you?"
"I can't remember."
"Try. It is important."
"Why, father?" It was my second impropriety in a short time, but Infinity did not seem to notice.
"For many decades, there has been a truce between wolves and man. They do not stalk us, and we stay away from their herds. That understanding has been intact for so long, that few of the brotherhood remember a time when it was otherwise.
"Some time ago, during the dark of the moon, I came upon a dead wolf. Man-scent was present at his death sight. I have since found three others, all dead, all carrying the same scent. You are the first to survive such an attack. If you could remember, perhaps we could find this lawbreaker and put an end to the killing."
I dropped my head. I tried to think back an hour, then a day, then to my awakening. I tried to go further, but there was nothing. When my head began to throb, I stopped. "I have lost even my name."
"Then I shall give you one. From this moment on, you are Survivor and part of my clan."
"I am honored."
"Come, I will introduce you to your siblings."
Though I couldn't recall them, the first steps I took as a pup couldn't have been any more difficult than it was to regain my footing that night. I rose shakily and slowly followed Infinity into the darkness.
Carla stopped reading and closed the book. She rose and stretched. Her eyes hurt from having to decipher the almost illegible words. She took a pull from the canteen on her belt and thought about the story.
Whoever had written it was creative. She almost wished that it had been written by a wolf. She had often watched them and longed to know more of their ways. That was, in part, what her poetry was. A desperate urge to understand the natural world and the creatures that moved through it. Man had once been a part of that world. Before there were cities and highways, automobiles and resort areas. Before mankind had removed himself from the animal kingdom.
It was all foolishness to her. Here, on the eastern edge of the Rockies, she had rekindled the kinship between herself and nature. Here, with no walls to confine her, she could be part of a larger family. If only more people could understand.
She walked inside, took the pen and jotted a few words in the back of the notebook. Images that would later make their way into a piece of work that would sit in a desk drawer until she died.
She dozed for a time and was surprised that she'd done so when she awoke. She shook the sleep from her eyes and walked to the door. It was afternoon already. In the distance, dark clouds hovered on the horizon. She smiled, walked to her pack and opened it. She rummaged through it until she located a slice of bread, a few slivers of Swiss cheese and an apple. She would spend the night here and, if she was lucky, there would be a storm. She loved the sound of rain on the wooden roof of the shack, the sound of thunder and the way the lightning illuminated the night sky.
After her brief lunch, she returned to Survivor's story.
I never did fit in with the pack. Most of them resented my intrusion. Perhaps it was because Infinity was so solicitous of my health. He was convinced that sooner or later, I would recall something important. I would have been happy to remember anything at all. I maintained a healthy distance from my siblings most of the time, returning only to hunt with them, thus earning a share of the kill.
Between hunts, I wandered far. It felt so natural to be alone, it occurred to me that I must have had no pack in the first place. Many wolves travel the world by themselves. As I healed, my sojourns took me farther and farther, though I always made my way back after a few days. Most of my siblings would have been happy to be rid of me, but I still owed Infinity a debt and until I paid it, I would continue to return.
Summer soon became autumn and within weeks, the temperature began to drop sharply. The only remnant of my injury was a deceivingly bad limp that made it seem as if I could no longer run down an elk. If the injury did affect my speed, I had no way to know it. I might not have been as fast as I once was, but I was as fast as most of the pack. Only on nights when the temperature approached freezing would the old pain make itself felt. Even at those times, by the next morning, I was back to normal.
There is something magical about autumn. My siblings even seemed to tolerate my presence. I knew that would come to an end as winter approached. When game became harder to find, they would be less willing to share what they had.
I still maintained a comfortable distance for a good part of the time. Unlike most wolves, I spent much of my time near the edge of the mountains. Wolves like the plains, where they can easily run down prey, but for some reason, the foothills called to me. It was during one such excursion that Infinity tracked me down. I turned to greet him and lowered my head to show proper respect.
"There's been another murder."
I looked up. "One of us?"
"No. A large female. Torn apart just like the others."
And he was silent. I didn't have to wonder why he was here. "You think that a visit to the scene might jar my memory."
He didn't reply. He didn't have to. Infinity turned and set off at a trot. I followed immediately behind. It took a long time to get there, but not long enough for me, for as we approached my apprehension grew.
There was something familiar about the area. I must have passed through here at some point, though I couldn't recall when. Infinity led me to the body and stood silently, waiting for my reaction. I stared at her for a long time. "It doesn't make sense."
"What do you mean?"
"This is not how man kills." I gestured with my snout to her mutilated body. "Men kill with long metal sticks from a great distance. No man did this."
"Yet clearly, man-scent is present."
I could not disagree. I spent much longer than I cared to studying the sight before turning and walking away. Infinity watched, intently. It was so important to him that I remember. I felt as if I had let him down.
He made no attempt to follow me as I wound my way deeper into the mountains. Why couldn't I remember? Again and again, I pictured the mutilated body of the she-wolf. There was something almost familiar about it, but I didn't see how it was possible. As I climbed, the colder air calmed me, but the death scene still stirred something deep within.
I found a cliff and looked out from its heights across the miles of wilderness that extended far beyond our territory. My memory was as elusive as the shadow seen from the corner of your eye, that vanishes as soon as you turn.
I spent much of the next weeks on my own, only occasionally returning to the pack. I no longer hunted with them. Indeed, I ate very little. There was something about the attack on the she-wolf that I should have known, and not knowing was killing me. Sometimes, I would travel for days, with no recollection of where I'd been.
Then one day, while I was exploring the hills, I found yet another victim. This was a young male that, like the others, had been torn apart. I forced myself to examine him, though I wanted to run as far and as fast as possible. The man-scent was the same as before. One man was doing this. I thought that there was something almost familiar about the smell and then it came to me.
The look of fear and the smell of blood as I wrapped my jaws around his throat. His feeble struggles that were no match for my own strength and experience. He didn't last long. Not nearly as long as the she-wolf.
I stood there for a long time, stunned by the revelation. And the longer I stood, the more I remembered. My near fatal wounds were given to me by a large male, defending himself against my vicious assault. The man-scent permeated me, because it was mine.
I hadn't been born a wolf. I was born in Chicago and only a chance encounter with a werewolf had brought me to this. The funny thing was, I hadn't even wanted to go on that camping trip. It was wonderfully ironic. You never hear about werewolves in the United States or Canada. All of the tales originate in Europe. Nor do any of those legendary lycanthropes live long enough to illuminate the audience as to the nature of the disease as it progresses.
After the attack, I was rushed to a nearby hospital and treated for rabies and tetanus. Wolf attacks were uncommon, but not unheard of. A few of my friends even made jokes about watching me during the next full moon and I laughed with them. I was released the next day.
The next time the moon was full, I experienced the change for the first time. It terrified me almost out of my mind. I was certainly insane for a time, until I learned to deal with it. I kept moving, so that others wouldn't learn my secret, but it didn't end there.
After several years, the time spent as a wolf increased. Within a decade, I was in wolf form more than half the time. By the end of the second decade, I only turned into a man during the dark of the moon. Soon, perhaps, I would remain a wolf permanently.
Unfortunately, the change does something to you. It tears at your mind and your soul. It distorts and corrupts. At times, it becomes so painful, you block it out. So it was with me. I didn't want to hurt anyone or anything else, nor did I want to die. There seemed to be no solution.
Slowly, sadly, I turned from that place, leaving behind my latest victim. I remember now, for all the good it does me. If there had been some answer, I'd have found it long ago.
I am writing this under the dark of the moon, in my man form. I suppose I thought that telling the story would lead me to some solution. I should have known better.
I must go now. Dawn is almost upon me and I will soon become a wolf again. If only I could stay that way. When the change finally leaves me, so will the madness and my soul will no longer be the tortured thing that it is. If someone finds and reads this, pray for me. I do not know what happens to the souls of wolves when they die or even if mine will go with them. And pray for the souls of my victims. They deserved more from life than death at the hands of a maniac.
That was all there was. Carla put down the book and stared without seeing. Was it possible? She closed the book and put it away. Perhaps, she would read it again later, and try to find something in it that would convince her one way or another. Out here, all alone, it was almost possible to believe in the tale that, like her poetry, was never meant to be read.
She emerged from the shack in time to see the sun sink over the mountains to the west. The dark clouds seemed no closer than they had earlier. It did not look as if the storm would hit after all. Nevertheless, she would stay the night and make her way back in the morning.
She ate what was left of the bread and cheese, and saved an assortment of fruit for breakfast. She stayed up late into the night, thinking of Survivor and his predicament. Was there some solution? She thought about it for a long time, until she eventually drifted off.
It was cold, but that wasn't what woke her. She lay very still, listening to the numerous night sounds. Then it came again, and she sat up slowly. Yellow eyes peered at her from across the shack. She didn't move. She barely dared breathe. She could almost make out the rest of the shape against the slightly darker backdrop. She could smell his musky odor. She let out a breath slowly and tried to rise without startling it.
The wolf made no move toward her. He was content to watch. She walked slowly to her pack, pulled a lantern and lit it. Then she turned to regard the intruder.
"You're Survivor aren't you? It wasn't a story, was it?"
The wolf said nothing. She wondered if he could understand her in his current form. She knew she should have been frightened, but wasn't. "I will find a solution to your problem. I promise."
She looked at him, feeling within her a sorrow deeper than she had ever felt before. This was no monster, but a creature that had had a terrible disease thrust upon it. And there was nothing anyone could do.
For a few moments, they regarded each other. Then, without warning, the wolf leapt at her, teeth bared. She moved out of its way only just in time, but he turned and came at her.
Carla panicked. She had no gun, and only a small knife that was still tucked away in a pocket of her backpack. Nor did she have any silver bullets. The wolf sailed into her and knocked her over backwards. She struck the counter, but as she fell, she managed to bring the lantern down hard upon the wolf's head.
She tried to roll away, but found herself pinned. The wolf gnashed his teeth, only inches from her face, before he realized that his fur had caught fire. He turned then, trying desperately to nip at the flames that now rose from the back of his neck. He tore from the shack and ran into the night, screaming in a voice that was not completely that of a wolf.
Shaken, Carla made her way to her feet and followed him outside. It was not difficult for her to follow his movement, an ember in the darkness. He ran for a time, until finally he fell on his side. The flames kept burning for a long time after.
Carla made her way slowly, painfully toward the funeral pyre. By the time she got there, the corpse was almost unrecognizable, though she could tell it wasn't a wolf's body at which she stared, but a man's. She watched until the flames died down, choking on the stench of burning flesh, but still unable to remove herself from the spectacle. She had promised him a solution, but had never envisioned one so bleak.
She turned away and returned to the abandoned ranger's stations and her notebook. Her left shoulder throbbed painfully. She touched it gingerly with her right hand. It came away wet. She stared at her bloody fingers for a time, before she realized the implications of the wound. She opened the notebook and added the following words to Survivor's tale.
Survivor died this night, when I set him aflame in self defense. His misery is finally at an end. May he find peace in the Hereafter.
Like my other work, I have little hope that anyone will ever read this, but if you do, pray for me. Survivor's tale of woe is at an end, but my own is only beginning.
Carla Regan closed the book and tried to calculate how long she had until the next full moon.