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Night of the Wolf

The night air began to bite. Clem Hanson shivered and wished that he had brought an extra coat along with him this night. Come to think of it, it might have been a good idea to bring along his old service revolver also. Idiot, he thought to himself. Too late now. The dim glow of his lantern barely illuminated the rough path in front of him. The moonlight that had helped guide him through the open fields to the edge of the farm had vanished quickly as he entered the thick forest. After walking on for a bit listening to his feet crunch softly through the pine needles he realized he was out of earshot of the rest of the search party. They had fanned out to cover more ground and had disappeared into the gloom as fast as he had. He no longer heard shouts and talking now. He kept moving in the same general direction through the forest for some time. Occasional beams of moonlight managed to find their way to the forest floor through the thick canopy high above him. They helped him to see better; though it was becoming difficult to see very far in any direction as a cool foggy mist began to form and settle amongst the foliage. Clem stopped. An uneasy feeling crept over him as he suddenly realized that he was not exactly sure where he was. He looked back along the path that he had come. Nothing looked familiar, and the woods seemed to have closed in around him.

As any one who’s ever been lost in the woods can tell you, there is a high moment of panic when a person realizes that he’s lost. A rush of adrenaline. The body’s normal reaction is a strong urge to run quickly in the opposite direction to get back to a place of safety and security, or at least familiarity. Clem had felt this urge before, and fought it now; knowing it would pass and knowing that calm level headed thinking would always get you back on track. Rushing around in a blind panic never helped, and usually got you more lost than you were before. So he sat down on a nearby fallen log to calm down and get his bearings. He took out his pipe, struck a match and lit it. The fragrant smoke mingled with the fog and disappeared. The fog, he noted, was becoming thicker and would thus make it harder to find his way back toward the farm. He no longer wished to be out this night and his warm cabin seemed miles away.

Now calmed and refreshed, he got up and began walking toward what began to look like a clearing ahead of him. The trail had become wet and soggy here and his boots make a little squishy sound as he stepped. He soon realized that the open area was not a clearing but a pond with a swampy area near this end. Strange, he thought. I’ve been in and out of these woods many times and have never seen this. Then he noticed a small wood footbridge across the wettest area of the swamp. He found it was in reasonable repair. Someone must live close by or the bridge would have no reason to be there. He followed the bridge to its end and found that he was almost stopped dead by the thick foliage at the opposite end. His thoughts of a nice welcoming cabin on the other side of the swamp quickly evaporated. He seemed to be at a dead end. Strange, a pond he’d never seen with a bridge leading to nowhere……

He stared into the murky depths of the brackish water below him. His own face stared back at him in reflection, unblinking. He stood this way for several minutes, leaning on the handrail, listening to the wind blowing gently through the reeds. Well, he thought, if I don’t know where I’m going, I can probably find where I’ve already been. It was time to find his way out of this place and get back home. Then his reflected features began to slowly distort as the water began to ripple. He felt the bridge shudder slightly. Clem turned toward the direction he had come from. The sight before him was almost enough to make him lose his bowels. A huge wolf stood before him. Larger than anything he’d ever seen or heard of. The moonlight lit up its silvery fur. Its snarling mouth showed long teeth that glistened with saliva. Clem stood there starring for a few moments dumbfounded and unable to move. Then incredibly the beast stood up on its two hind legs and roared. A sound that chilled him to his very core. The last thing that Clem ever saw was the Beast’s claw flying toward his face with astonishing speed. Then blackness…………………………