The Wolf at the End of the World (excerpt)
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD
An urban fantasy novel
by Douglas Smith
© Douglas Smith 2013. All rights reserved.
PART I: "Draw to You the Wolf and Boy"
"Of old, men were placed here on Earth by the Powers in this wise: they were pitied and befriended by every kind of thing, by as many things as are seen, and by things that are invisible. They dreamt of every kind of thing. Even the animals taught them things. That is why the old-time people had Manitou power."
—Louis Moosomin, Cree, blind from childhood
Chapter 1: Mary
Everything had gone wrong, and now Mary Two Rivers was running away. Away from the dam site, away from the damage they'd done, stumbling through the bush in the dark, trying to keep up with Jimmy White Creek and ahead of the security guards. And the dogs. She could hear dogs barking now.
What had she been thinking? Why had she gone along with Jimmy and the rest of them? She was an A-student. She was going to university in the fall. She had plans, plans to get off the Rez. Plans that didn't include jail.
Hanging a banner over the dam protesting the loss of Ojibwa land was one thing, but then somebody had poured gasoline on one of the construction vehicles and lit it on fire. And she'd let herself be part of it.
Just because Jimmy had a cute smile and cuter butt—a butt that was getting farther and farther ahead of her as she struggled to keep up. She was a bookworm, not an athlete, and the ground was starting to rise. Jimmy was heading for the west ridge overlooking the still inoperative dam site and its reservoir lake. She didn't know where the other kids had gone. Everyone had scattered when the guards had appeared, and she'd followed Jimmy. Or tried to.
"Jimmy!" she cried in a desperate whisper. "Wait up!" She didn't know these woods anymore. If she lost him, she doubted she'd get far before the guards caught her.
Jimmy stopped on the hill ahead of her, chest heaving, breath hanging misty in the chill October air. The moonlight caught his pale, sweating face, and in that moment, she wondered how she'd ever thought he was handsome. "Mary, you gotta keep up," he panted, his voice breaking. "There's a path through the trees on top of the ridge. We'll lose them in there and cut back to the Rez." He started up the slope again, not waiting for her.
Forcing her trembling legs to move, she kept climbing. Jimmy disappeared over the top. Half a minute later, she scrambled up the last few yards. She looked around. Jimmy was nowhere in sight.
The tall Jack pines stood closer here, the undergrowth thick between them, their high tops touching, blocking off the cold light from the waxing half moon. Whatever path Jimmy had taken was invisible, hidden by darkness.
She was alone and lost.
She sank down to the ground, shaking. She was going to be caught. She was going to jail. What were her parents going to say? Their dream was for her to get a degree, to beat the odds of being born on the Rez. Their dream...
She swore softly to herself. Her dream, too. She stood up, her anger conquering her fear. They would not catch her. Sucking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly to calm herself as she looked back down the hill she'd just climbed.
The dam and its dark captured lake lay in the distance below. Five burly figures were climbing the bottom of the hill. But worse, ahead of the guards, two grey shadows leapt over the rocks and brush of the slope. The dogs would reach her in less than a minute.
Turning back to the forest, she listened for any sound of Jimmy running ahead. There. Had that been a branch snapping deep in the woods? She moved in the direction of the noise, tripping over unseen rocks and roots. One patch of darkness loomed blacker than the rest. She stepped closer. It seemed to be an opening through the trees. Praying for this to be the path that Jimmy had taken, she plunged ahead.
As she moved into the forest, her eyes slowly adjusted to the deeper darkness under the trees, aided by the occasional sliver of moonlight slicing through the canopy of branches above. This was definitely a path. She paused a moment, straining to hear any sound of pursuit. The dogs were still barking, but they didn't sound any closer.
The barking stopped. In the sudden silence, she heard the yip of a fox. She shuddered involuntarily, remembering a saying of her misoomish, her grandfather. "Bad luck," he'd told her as a child. "You hear a fox bark in the night, that's bad luck." But then the dogs took up their call again, and she allowed herself a small thrill of hope. The barking was fainter now. The dogs, and presumably the men with them, were moving away from her. They hadn't found this path.
She was going to get away. The tension gripping her vanished, and her shaking legs gave way. She collapsed onto the soft cushion of pine needles that covered the ground. Sweat soaking her t-shirt under her parka, she hugged her knees to her chest, shivering from the chill and the adrenaline still in her.
Now that the immediate danger was gone, another thought came to her. Just last week, a worker had been killed at the dam site. Animal attack, they were saying. Because his body had been partially eaten, she recalled with a shudder.
Suddenly, huddled on the forest floor in the dark, she didn't feel quite as safe as she had a moment before. She wanted nothing more than to be home in her own bed, to hear her parents in the next room, talking or arguing, she didn't care which, just so long as she was out of this nightmare. With that image filling her heart, she stood and started along the path once more, still praying to catch Jimmy, to have him lead her out of these woods, to lead her home.
A brightness grew ahead. A few seconds later, she stepped into a clearing lit in cold luminescence by the half moon above. A rocky outcrop rose ahead and to her left as well. She turned to her right. Her heart fell.
She stood at the top of the ridge. Below, the ground sloped away sharply, the pines thinning halfway down the slope then disappearing completely where the forest had been cleared near the bottom. The slope ended at the road leading onto the top of the dam. Beyond the dam, the black surface of the lake rippled like some great beast shuddering itself awake in the night.
She'd been running the wrong way, back towards the dam.
With a sudden sick feeling, she realized what she should have figured out earlier. The dogs would have followed a scent. They hadn't followed her, so they must have been on Jimmy's trail, which meant that Jimmy had taken another path, not the one that had led her here.
She'd taken the wrong path.
She looked wildly around the clearing, searching for some alternative to retracing her steps. The slope below led right back to the dam and the scene of the crime, so that route was out. The dark lake caught her attention again, recalling childhood memories of her grandfather's stories, the ones about the evil spirits that lived in deep water.
She turned her back on the lake and those memories. Enough. Time to go home. She considered the rock walls. The one facing the entrance to the path was almost sheer and rose too high for her even to think of trying to scale it. The wall facing the lake was less steep and offered some handholds for climbing.
It looked about twenty feet high. She examined its face for the best route, finally selecting a path that would bring her up beside a large boulder that perched by itself at the top of the wall.
Or maybe it was a bush, since she saw something move on it, like branches shifting in the wind. Just then, a cloud scuttled across the night sky, swallowing the moon. As the clearing fell dark, she shivered at a sudden strange thought—that the shape had resembled something crouched there, and what she'd seen moving were actually long locks of hair.
Another gust brought a smell down to her, thick and heavy—the smell of mushrooms and rotting wood and wet moss. Bitter, and yet so sickly sweet that she thought she would vomit.
The cloud hiding the moon moved on. Pale moonlight shone down again, cold and cruel, and Mary finally saw what crouched above her, waiting.
# end of excerpt #
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