You Better get ready to die, get ready to die! You better get ready to kill, get ready to kill! The Andrew WK tune blasted from the 3/4-ton pickup, which roared down the dirt road. Michael Kramer tilted his beer bottle back, taking another swig of brew. He was headed for some place called
Lycan Reserve, which, he'd heard, was some kind of game reserve.
The red-haired, 23-year-old college dropout wasn't too concerned about liscenses, or whatever. He was an expert at knowing which game wardens he could convince, and which he could simply bully into submission. He especially liked the second kind, the old codgers thinking how nice retirement would be. And they really did want to live to SEE retirement, so they generally backed off, when a sawed-off shotgun was shoved in their faces.
He pulled up to the gatehouse of the reserve, slamming on the brakes, and skidding to a halt. The gatehouse was old, but was clearly still very livable. The entrance didn't have a token bar across the lane, it had an old, sturdy-looking wood gate. The game warden, an old, gray-haired man wearing a warden's uniform and sunglasses, came out. His strides were firm and sure, and he had the look of those game wardens who weren't used to being messed with.
Well, he'd find out what Michael was like.
The old man flashed a Game Warden's badge, revealing his name to be Luke Garron. He looked into Michael's truck.
Come here to hunt, have you? he asked. He didn't sound pleased.
Yeah, come to get me a few trophies, said Mike, grinning.
Heard rumours of some big wolf in here, so I figured I'd head on in, blow him away, and bring him home.
The old warden shook his head.
Well, in that case, you are not welcome here. Only those who have respect for Nature, and who use her children wisely, can hunt here. Also, the wolf you speak of, of all creatures in this forest, will not tolerate being hunted. So, no: You may not come in.
The youngster smirked.
Old-timer, let me ask you a question, he said.
How you gonna keep me out? Seriously?
I can always leave the gate down, said Luke.
And I can always drive through it, said Mike.
And I can always haul you into court and have you thrown in the slammer, growled Luke.
Assuming you can find me, shot back Michael, and put the pedal to the metal. The truck surged forward, smashing through the gate as Luke was caught in the spray of gravel.
The warden dusted himself off, and watched him go.
Oh, I'll find you, young man, he said softly.
I'll find you.
Michael wasn't going to risk sticking his truck in the provided parking lot, only to have it seized on him. He drove the truck through the forest, turning the music off. He grinned, coming to a wide stream that passed through the thick, old forest. He put the truck in park, and shut it off. He got his full-length shotgun out, pulled the keys from his ignition, and stuck them in his pocket.
His ammunition belt was next, along with his backpack, which contained his lunch, beer (for celebration), skinning knife, and other supplies. Once he was ready, he locked his truck doors, and did a careful look around, so he'd remember where he'd parked. Once he was certain of his location, he checked his compass, and headed north.
He was the High Priest of this Cathedral of the Mother, and the Guardian of the place. The wind called to him, and he listened, paying attention to what the breeze told him. There was a new creature here, a heretic of the poisonous cities, who cared nothing for the sanctity of the forest.
He lifted his head, sniffing again, before padding down the hillside, heading towards where this intruder was hiking. He knew the kind, all to well, those who cared not for the value of the Earth, except what they could wrench from Her.
But, worse, this one had come specifically for him, despite being warned before he entered. This one had to be dealt with, and swiftly, lest all humans think they could profane this place.
The wolf bared his teeth. He, and he alone, would be the Priest of this Cathedral, King of this domain. Humans did not have the wisdom to rule this place, as he did. Especially not this one.
He padded off, to bring punishment to this one, as befitted one that harbored the heresies of ignorance and indifference to Nature.
Michael was getting frustrated. This bloody forest was an absolute maze. Didn't anyone ever clear paths through here? He'd heard plenty of birds racketing up a storm, but he ignored them, intent on the hunt. He grinned, as he came across the tracks of what HAD to be a large herd of deer; maybe he'd shoot a few of those when he got the wolf. But other than the noise overhead, and the tracks, there was almost no sign of life.
He pressed on, and then he grinned, harshly, seeing a new set of tracks. Wolf tracks. And they looked fairly fresh. Slowly, he began to follow them, silently rejoicing.
A few minutes later, he was not so silently cursing, as the tracks led him to an offshoot of the stream that was an absolute bog, complete with mosquitos, horse flies, blackflies, and everything else that went chomp in the swamp.
To add to his sorrows, he'd lost the trail. He looked around, grumbling in frustration, then headed towards the stream, so he could remind himself of where he was.
He continued to search for the wolf tracks, and grinned as he found them again.
Okay, you bastard. You're mine.
He was not above being amused by the human's struggles in the wood. The tracks he laid after the bog would lead the man through a maze of bushes, bushes that the wolf had little trouble passing through, but a human -who walked upright - would find fiendishly difficult. And from there, a fast-flowing stream, with his tracks visible on the other side.
All this had a reason, of course. He intended to wear this human out, before commencing his chasticement, so that he would not need to chase the human for long, before administering the inevitable punishment.
.o0(I swear this damned wolf is toying with me,) thought Michael, as he was reduced to crawling on hands and knees through the thick underbrush. The bushes were too thick for him to walk upright, and too close to turn around. It had SEEMED a short crawl, when he got to some bushes that grew very close together. So he'd gone down on hands and knees to crawl through— and found that the bushes hid the entrance to a small cave.
The entrance had been nearly invisible, so he'd been taken completely by surprise when he'd fallen through. Unable to break his fall, he was knocked unconcious when he landed.
When he woke up, he'd been unable to get out, so he'd had to crawl through the cave, and now was crawling through the bushes. The wolf tracks were still there, almost mocking him now. His face was scratched by the branches, and his hands and knees were aching.
It was with a curse of relief that he finally found his way out of the bushes. He groaned, standing to his full height.
Oh, bloody hell, he groaned. He went to check his watch, but noticed it had somehow come off in the bushes.
Oh, great, he snarled, leaning against the tree. His stomach told him that it was long past lunch, so he took off his backpack, and sat down to eat.
He watched, baring his teeth, as the human fouled the stream with his garbage, much of which had been so twisted by technology that the Mother could no longer reclaim it.
His plan was working well: The young man was tired and irritated, and was not thinking properly. It had taken him a long time to crawl through the bushes, and he'd lain unconsious for some time in that cave. It would soon be dark, and then the wolf would strike.
Mike finished his meal, and tossed the rest of the garbage in the stream. He'd eaten slowly, taking advantage of his chance to rest. But when he looked around, and saw where the sun was, he was taken completely by surprise.
Holy HELL, it's late he exclaimed. He grabbed his shotgun, and started heading out. After several strides, he stopped, realizing he'd forgotten his backpack.
Cursing a bit, he went back to where he'd eaten lunch. There was still some garbage strewn around, but his backpack was nowheres in sight. He swore, looking around. Then he saw the wolf tracks again. And the grass beside it was flattened, as if something heavy was being dragged. He followed the tracks carefully, slowed by having to look for them a few times. As he followed the tracks, he smelled something familiar: the bog he'd gone through that morning. On the shore was one strap, torn free. From the churned mud, it appeared that the rest of his backpack was at the bottom of the scummy water.
And all around were the footprints of a wolf.
He watched the human, grimly satisfied. The human was beginning to understand that he was dealing with far more than a simple ambulatory pelt.
Mike stood by the bog's edge for some time. For the first time he was thinking of what was really going on here. He remembered thinking that the wolf was toying with him while he was crawling through the underbrush. The old warden's words echoed in his mind: "The wolf you speak of, of all creatures in this forest, will not tolerate being hunted."
He shook his head, trying to get rid of the thoughts in his mind, but still the doubts nagged at his mind. He could imagine the wolf simply heading for the bog, and even going into that tunnel made by the underbrush. But dumping the backpack was clearly deliberate.
Now what to do?
He watched the human, and waited for him to decide what to do next. If the human decided to return to his truck, the wolf would allow him to depart. If not, then he would have no mercy.
Mike's doubt slowly gave way to anger.
Damned wolf... he growled.
Goddamned wolf... He made sure his shotgun was loaded, and set out again.
This means war. You hear me? This! Means! WAR!
So the human wanted war, did he? Very well. The Guardian of the Forest was all to willing to accept. For he was on familiar ground, and the human was lost, and without direction. He lifted his head, and gave an angry howl, accepting the human's challenge.
Mike was having trouble tracking in the darkness, when he heard the howl. He grinned to himself, and headed towards where the sound had come from. The forest here was denser, with more deadfalls and underbrush. Again he heard the howl, and he changed his direction slightly. He was going to get that damned wolf, if it was the last thing he ever did.
Suddenly, he saw something grey moving, that looked like a canine. He raised his shotgun and fired, but was greeted by the clatter of buckshot as it hit what turned out to be a boulder, with the shadows of branches moving across it.
He blinked and swore, then turned to the left as he heard the howl again, tantalizingly close. He reloaded his shotgun and headed towards the howl, ignoring the niggling thought that the wolf could be calling him.
He howled one last time, and watched the young man come up the hill, shotgun at the ready. He moved, causing the bushes to rustle, and flattened his ears at the blast of the shotgun. Then, as the man reloaded, he struck.
Mike snarled as he missed a second time, and started reloading his shotgun, when he heard the soft gallop of paws. He looked up, then screamed as the massive canine launched itself at him. He brought his shotgun up to block, only to have the huge wolf slam into his chest and knock him over. The last thing he felt was his head striking a rock in the ground.
A long howl lifted up into the forest air, a hymn of triumph to the Mother. Then the wolf began to feast.
Luke Garron leaned back in his chair, the window open to catch the morning breeze, a half-eaten corpse laying on his floor. He'd dragged it from the woods, not far from where the truck had been.
I know one city slicker who found a hell of a way to lose weight, he said ironically, then looked at the remains of the would-be hunter.
You understand now, don't you? Not that it will do you an ounce of good.
He looked out the window with a wolfish smile, his eyes glittering gold in the sunlight.