It’s almost Halloween, my favorite holiday of them all. I recently sent out a wolfy short story to my newsletter subscribers and now I will share it with you. I send out a newsletter once a week, and in every issue I include a story or sneak peek. If you want to get in on this, there’s a button to the right to sign up for my newsletter. In addition to free stories, I announce new releases, cover reveals, and when my books are discounted.
The wolf had good time sense and woke shortly before sunset. Luke had learned to trust the wolf’s instincts. Though he retained much of his human mind during the change, he needed those instincts to move as the wolf’s body required. Giving himself a good shake to rid himself of the last dregs of sleep, Luke padded towards the door, thinking wryly that he would soon have more reason than usual to depend on the instincts of the wolf.
A small group of hunters was on his trail. He’d tried to hide by using a spell he’d purchased from a white witch. Unfortunately, the spell had backfired spectacularly and done nothing more than get Luke stuck in his wolf form. Normally, this wouldn’t be a bother, but he was in the middle of London and the wolf would stick out like a sore thumb. If he wanted to avoid the blasted hunters, he must escape the city and get to the enclave in Scotland. One of the magic folk there would be able to reverse whatever the cheap spell had done, and he’d be hidden from the hunters there as well.
Reaching the front door, Luke struggled with it for some time before giving up on it in disgust. The knob was round and the lock was engaged. No matter how he grasped with his teeth and twisted his head Luke could not budge the blasted thing. His bad luck that he had used that incompetent witch’s spell after he had locked up his shabby little house for the night. The inner wolf wasn’t feeling any better about being trapped than Luke was. Almost before he knew what he was doing, Luke found himself running full tilt at the nearest window and barreling through it mid-leap. Landing in a heap on the porch, Luke took a moment to assess his injuries. The thick pelt of the wolf had protected him from serious injury, but he had scratches on his nose and one ragged but shallow gash down one side. Knowing he could do nothing about his nose, Luke licked at the wound on his side until his saliva stopped the bleeding. Standing, he lifted his nose to scent the wind. It was a completely useless act. All he could smell at the moment was the blood from the scratches on his nose. He hadn’t even begun his journey and he was already handicapped. Until the scratches scabbed over, he would have to try to rely on his sight and hearing alone. To be honest, it would have almost been easier if he’d been blinded. Wolves relied on their powerful sense of smell for most of their information about the world around them.
Well…no use crying over it. I’ll just have to be especially alert until I get out of the city. I’d best try to keep to the less lighted alleys and smaller roads. If no one gets a close look at me, they will simply take me for a scruffy dog.
Luke couldn’t have been more correct. Traveling as fast as was prudent towards the north edge of the city, Luke was occasionally spotted by the odd non-magical person. Some called to him in a friendly fashion while some yelled at him. One old drunk, sitting propped up against an alley wall, threw an empty bottle at his retreating form with enough force to bruise his flank. People were the least of his worries; he was as cautious as he was quick. Even when someone gave chase, Luke quickly outdistanced him and lost him in the shadowy alleys. Soon he ran into a much more difficult adversary.
If his nose had been able to smell more than the blood seeping from his muzzle, Luke might have avoided the dog altogether. A German shepherd, and a stray by the looks of it. It was just Luke’s luck that he ran into a breed that tended to fight much as a wolf did, remaining silent instead of giving itself away by barking a warning like other breeds. Because of the dog’s silence, Luke almost ran into it before a low growl alerted Luke to its presence. Normally any dog, even a shepherd, would leave a wolf alone. Though the animals were related, the wolf was stronger; the ruff of fur around its neck thicker and more protective. The wolf’s jaws were evolved to snap through the legs of deer and elk and had almost three times the bite pressure of the Shepherd. The wolf would be recognized as an alpha predator among most dogs and any with the sense God gave a goat would give him a wide berth. Unfortunately for Luke, he had run directly into the ragged stray’s territory and Luke smelled of blood and injury. The smell excited the dog and made him brave enough to defend his home even from his wilder, stronger cousin.
The dog lunged at Luke even as he became aware of it. Letting the wolf’s instincts take over, Luke leaped cleanly over the dog barreling towards him. Twisting mid-leap, Luke made an immediate counterattack, his sharp incisors raking over the dog’s flank. He was rewarded by a gush of blood and the rich taste of it sent his wolf senses into high gear. Luke may have smelt of injury, but he was still strong and quick. Spinning to face him, the dog paused, weight braced on stiff, slightly splayed forelegs. Its hackles were raised and it growled, deep and loud as it bared its teeth at the wolf. Returning the growl, Luke added just a touch of wild howl to the sound, which seemed to drive the dog to distraction. Hurtling abruptly towards Luke, the dog got a lucky grip on Luke’ throat and bit down savagely. Though his thick fur protected him from the dog’s teeth, Luke was nevertheless in trouble. The vise-like grip was cutting off his air. Throwing himself backward, the wolf rolled, breaking the dog’s hold by pushing hard with all four legs. Landing with a thump on his back, the dog had no time to regain his feet before the faster wolf was upon him.
Growling, Luke clamped his own muzzle over the smaller dog’s throat, holding it firmly against the ground with his greater weight. When Luke bore down on his grip and gave the dog’s throat a small shake—threatening to break its neck—the dog whined in submission. The bloodlust that held the wolf was almost too strong; the temptation to kill the dog who attacked him was great. Using every scrap of his human compassion, Luke, at last, was able to withdraw from the dog. Backing away, he eyed the dog warily as it scrambled to its feet. The dog had endured enough, apparently. As it gained its feet, it gave Luke one distrustful look before it dashed away down the alley.
Making his own dash the other direction, Luke ran for some time before pausing to get his breath. Despite the fact that his breath wheezed through his bruised throat, he wanted to ensure that he was out of the dog’s territory before he paused to rest and take stock of his situation. Seeking out the darkest, most dismal alley he could find, Luke hid amidst a pile of dilapidated garbage cans and assessed his position. The fight with the dog had slowed him down; it was near dawn. He was exhausted, the cut on his side from the window stung, his hip throbbed from the drunk’s thrown bottle, and his abused throat ached with each breath. His best guess was that he still had many kilometers to travel before he reached the outskirts of the city. There was nothing for it.
Knowing that he would never escape the city before dawn, Luke resigned himself to rest where he was throughout the daylight hours until nightfall. No matter how he wished to hurry, he knew that he mustn’t risk traveling in the light of day. London was a huge city and full of odd sights, but the sight of a wolf running down the streets in broad daylight would be too strange to escape notice. The hunters on his trail would have their ears perked for any rumors of a wolf running through the streets of London. With a weary sigh, Luke curled up as best he could on the cold pavement behind the cans and went to sleep.
His ears woke him sometime before sunset. Though the night had not yet arrived, the alley Luke inhabited was already dark, quiet, and abandoned, aside from the scurrying sound which had awakened him. Lifting his head slowly, Luke was pleased that his sense of smell was returning. The wounds on his muzzle had, at last, scabbed over and the smell of blood was far less invading. Pricking his ears at what he now smelled, his stomach gave a low rumble of hunger. Rats were not a wolf’s chosen prey; they preferred larger animals. However, Luke was too smart to let such an easy meal go unmolested. Gods knew that he needed to waste as little of his nights in hunting as possible if he wished to get to the enclave with all speed. Rising slowly to his feet, Luke slunk silently out from amongst the dustbins.
Though wolves preferred larger prey, they knew the mouse pounce as well as their smaller fox cousins did. Spotting his first victim, Luke leaped with his front legs stiff and closely held together. Coming down hard on the rat, both his front paws found their mark and snapped the small creature’s spine. It was a matter of seconds before the first rat was devoured and Luke continued flushing out its fellows. By the time full dark had descended, Luke had a full stomach and was impatient to get moving. His hip was still sore, and the scratch down his side was tight and painful, but his throat was much improved. With his sense of smell more or less intact, Luke traveled out of London with no further difficulty.
The grass felt good under his paws; Luke noted much of his tension lifting as he left the roads to travel across country when he slipped into Hertfordshire. Reminding himself that he must still be wary, Luke had to turn aside often from his north-northwest heading to circle around a multitude of small towns. When the sun rose, Luke secluded himself in a dense thicket to sleep away the daylight. Having pushed himself hard during the night–along with the easy meal of rats—by the time Luke ended the second day of his journey he had made it to the outskirts of Bedfordshire. Pleased by his progress, Luke slid into sleep with hope in his heart.
The setting of the sun found Luke awake and rested but not at ease. His hip and throat were well but the shallow scratch along his side hurt worse than ever. Luke’s nose told him that the seemingly harmless scratch was infected and he spent a good hour licking it clean as best he could. It was frustrating that he might grow dangerously sick from a scratch that he would normally be able to heal with ease. Wishing that things were different would get him nowhere; Luke put the wound out of his mind and resumed his trek.
Bedfordshire made for easy travel. The odd small town was easily avoided and the farmland simple to navigate. Halfway through the night, Luke gave into his rumbling stomach and stealthily approached a farmyard. His journey that night had flushed no prey and he felt the speed of an easy meal outweighed the danger of getting closer to the farm. Soon he spotted just what he hoped to find; a chicken coop lay on the outskirts of the farm buildings. Smelling the traces of a dog on the air, Luke hoped that he could get in and out with his meal before the dog became aware of his presence. For once luck was with him, he never saw hide nor hair of the farm dog and he got into the coop with little trouble. The coop may have been made with the intention of keeping predators out, but the simple latch on the coop door gave Luke no problem at all. In fact, after he had killed two of the dozing hens and carried them outside, Luke carefully re-latched the door of the pen so that the farmers would not have to chase chickens the following day. They may end up a bit puzzled as to how two of their birds had gone missing, but at least they would have no further trouble on his account. Dragging the chickens far from the farm, Luke’s teeth made short work of them before he resumed his journey.
The ache in his side slowed Luke down that night, as did his detour to the chicken coop. When dawn approached and Luke hid in a small copse to await the night, he had barely gotten through Bedfordshire. Nightfall found Luke rising to sore, travel-weary feet and the ache in his side had grown worse. Shocked that he had slept past sunset, he nevertheless spent the time necessary to carefully lick his infected side clean before he started that days trek. After all, speed would not help him should he become too ill to go on. Resting a moment, Luke considered his route.
Blasted scratch! It’s nothing but a blasted scratch! I can’t die from one minor injury, can I? I’d give anything to see the enclave healers right now; they’d have me fixed up in no time. I’ll never see any of them…if I don’t get a move on. But which way now?
Luke knew very well that the enclave lay straight as the crow flies on the north-northwest path he had traveled since leaving London. However, if he headed directly North from his current position he could travel through Lincolnshire. Covered in woods and fens, Lincolnshire would be easy traveling for the wolf and he ought to be able to flush some prey without taking any more risks at farms. It would add length to his journey, and he would have to circle west around York when he got there, but Luke decided in this case the safer route was worth the extra time. Quandary at an end, Luke gave a very human nod of his head and turned due north.
Once again Luke was blessed by an uneventful evening’s travel. Though his side continued to pain him, he was lucky enough to flush a brown hare while trotting through a copse. The hare was large and more than enough to keep a wolf going for another day. Despite the ease of his travel, Luke was shocked to see how much his infected side slowed him down. When he woke on the fifth evening of his journey, Luke could tell the infected scratch was making him ill. Midway through Lincolnshire, he was not yet halfway to the enclave and already his pace was slowing. Knowing that turning back to London would do him no good, Luke determined to make it to the enclave if he had to crawl. As he doggedly walked onward, the nights began to run together in his weary and fevered mind. Many hours he walked forward as if in a trance, only the wolf’s instincts kept him away from human settlements and pointed toward the magical village he sought. It was fifteen days from the start of his trek before Luke entered the southernmost reaches of the forest that surrounded the enclave. Almost to the crawling point, Luke was distressed that he had come so very far yet was lacking the strength to manage the last bit. Lying down on that fifteenth morning, he fell into an exhausted sleep. One more rest and he’d reach the healers in the morning.