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Christmas has lost its magic for twelve-year old Quinn until an eleven-year old little girl becomes a wolf and saves the boy and his family.
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BANDIT CREEK, MONTANA, 1912
Dried leaves crunched beneath twelve-year old Quinn’s weight as he sank to his knees. His throat burned and he swallowed hard, his breath catching in his chest. He would not cry. He wouldn’t! In slow motion, he watched a drop of his crimson blood splatter against the carpet of fallen leaves. Anger and hurt brought unshed tears to his eyes.
The wind gusted amongst the trees, blowing the hair away from his face and forcing him to sit up. Whatever leaves were left on the poplars rustled and the tall spruce groaned and cracked, swaying along in the breeze.
Quinn shook his head and pounded the ground with his fist.
The flood of Bandit Creek a year ago had stolen his hopes, dreams and happiness. Despite the rebuilding of the town, evil thrived in many forms. Countless bodies had never been recovered. Men, women and children, drowned, trapped at the bottom of the lake…Lost Lake as it was now called. A year later, murder, superstition, possession, and mysterious illnesses engulfed the town and survivors of the flood.
Choking back the painful memories, his fingertips traced his father’s name etched in the tombstone. With the back of his hand, he wiped the blood away from his nose and mouth. He could almost hear his Pa’s deep soothing voice. You’re strong, Quinn. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Deep down he hoped his father was right.
Samuel Campton sat silently on his horse Roman while the gelding carefully plodded along the winding trail towards Lost Lake. Fresh snow during the night left a white carpet over the dirt and covered the boughs of the evergreens.
He hated Lost Lake and the unusual feeling he felt every time he checked his trap line near its shoreline. Roman even slowed his already leisurely pace as they neared the water. Samuel touched a spur to the animal’s flank, hurrying him forward along the darkened trail. Ahead beams of light streamed through the canopy of close knit branches.
What broke the eerie silence was a large splash and splutter of water followed by terrified whimpers. Without hesitation, Samuel kicked Roman into a full gallop, dashing toward the noise and the lake. Fifty feet from the edge of the shore, he pulled the horse to a halt and dismounted. He slid his Winchester rifle free from the scabbard. The trees crowded the shore and blocked a clear view of the water. All too soon, he found himself at the edge of the lake staring at the largest wolf he’d ever seen.
An ice chunk floated about twenty-five feet from shore, and clinging to it by its paws was a wolf. Samuel shook his head. It made no sense; the lake hadn’t even frozen over yet.
“Damn!” he cursed. Visibly exhausted, the animal could barely hold its head out of the water. Why didn’t the critter simply swim to shore? But then again, strange happenings and superstition surrounded Lost Lake.
The man hung his head, taking a deep breath before he lifted the rifle and took aim. It would be best not to let the animal suffer. Unexpectedly, the wolf lifted its head and stared directly at him. Its eyes glowed, turning from red to gold and boring straight through to his soul. He got the impression the creature was pleading for salvation and a chance to live. Samuel slowly lowered the gun, and again the animal made an unsuccessful attempt to drag its body out of the water.
“Okay. Okay.” He yelled. “Stay put for a minute.” Unable to believe he was about to help the cursed beast, he spotted a tall dead skinny spruce lying a short distance away. He didn’t know what else to try, but hoped his idea would work.
He lifted the tree into the water. As it tipped toward the wolf, a deep growl resonated from the animal’s throat.
Samuel lost his temper. “Listen pal. I could have shot you, and now you’re growling at me. My gun is still right here if you’d prefer that option.”
The growls ceased, and the tip of the tree landed on the chunk of ice within reach of the wolf’s mouth.
“Okay I’ve done my part now it’s your turn.”
The animal whined.
Samuel groaned with frustration. “Bite the damn thing so I can pull you in,” he instructed forcefully. I can’t believe I’m talking to the stupid animal. The wolf’s eyes turned red and its powerful jaws snapped as it lunged forward, grabbing onto the wood.
He pulled the animal to shore, foot by foot, until its legs touched the rocky bottom beneath the water. The wolf exploded out of the frigid lake like a bullet, knocking Samuel backward off his feet. It stood beside him and shook violently, sending water in all directions.
He stared up at the beast, whose eyes had turned red again. The other abnormality was the paws; larger than any wolf’s feet he’d ever seen, they included an extra toe on each front paw.
The guard hair glittered in the morning light. Down its back was a large gold strip, which stood out against the sleek black coat. The animal would tower over any other wolf.
Samuel stayed very still as the animal leaned forward. His rifle lay far enough away he didn’t stand a chance of reaching it should the wolf decide to get aggressive. Instead of attacking, its long snout sniffed his leg up and down and then just as quickly, it turned in the opposite direction and darted off into the forest.
The trapper sat for a few moments, stunned by the events. Why didn’t he just shoot the beast? Hell, he could have received a healthy chunk of change for the unusual pelt. Enough wasting time. Pushing himself up and off the ground, he dusted the snow and dirt off his legs. After retrieving the rifle, he took one last stare out at the God forsaken Lost Lake. He scanned the water for the large piece of ice, but it was nowhere to be found.
The wind picked up and the ghostly sounds of the lonely forest echoed in his ears. All those people died here, buried under this icy lake in the old town of Bandit Creek. They didn’t even know what hit them when the whole town flooded.
What possessed him to come to this odd place of Bandit Creek? Of course it was the dream of finding more gold and silver. The thought alone solidified his decision to leave Alaska and move south—a warmer climate and a town where riches were waiting to be discovered. When Samuel started the journey he hadn’t expected the town to be wiped out by the flood before he even arrived. The town being gone didn’t matter anymore, not now when he’d planted roots and his trap line was thriving.
He weaved through the trees, making his way back to Roman. The horse held his head high, looking like he would bolt at any moment.
“Easy fella. The wolf is long gone by now,” Samuel reassured his mount.
Roman snorted, shaking his head. The man found himself looking over his shoulder. A shadow flashed between the evergreens. The horse danced sideways, a snort flaring its nostrils.
Samuel took the reins, reached up and patted the horse’s neck.
“Well, if it isn’t careful it’ll end up in one of my traps. I will have truly wasted our time this morn’n.”