The nature enthusiast lay flat against the ground, his clothes carefully camouflaged to blend with the wildlife surrounding him. He stayed perfectly still, barely breathing for fear of giving away his location. This was a fantastic opportunity to see an elusive predator in action, one that could make its way into a journal or magazine if he was lucky.
Though the man was doing his best to remain undetected, he also needed to record his experience with the tools before him, which was a constant and near-silent struggle. His camera was carefully placed before him on a small tripod and his torn notepad sat beside him. In his hands were a chewed pen, and a pair of binoculars held up to his eyes. He’d long since mastered the art of jotting down notes without looking.
A few birds chirped around him, some were bright and beautiful and rare in their own right, but he only had eyes for the creature ahead. Right now his attention was fixed solely on the only wolf he had ever seen in the area before.
It was a well known fact for local and camper alike that a large wolf pack lived a couple hundred miles away, in the canyons beside a green valley, but this forest and the pack were separated by a steep unforgiving mountain that attracted a few thrill seekers every year. Had the wolf survived such a hard trek on foot through the crumbling cliffs to the small woods here? It was unlikely, but the wildlife enthusiast wasn't about to question his great luck. His peers would never believe he had found a large lone wolf alone in a patch of nature that was best of spotting foxes and thrushes, not without his camera anyway.
The wolf was gorgeous. Lanky and smooth and perfectly healthy. His fur was a rough grey leaning on ragged, but his pelt was thick enough to be clearly cared for. He had a firm gait and muscular legs that ended one fearsome paws. His snout was long and a bit blunted with a row of sharp teeth jutting from below. He did so strongly resemble the pack in the canyon, with powerful hind legs for jumping and long claws for climbing the rocky terrain. Perhaps it had been exiled from the pack and had found a hidden pass through the mountains?
At the moment, it appeared to be stalking prey, hunkered low to the ground and taking careful steps. The canyon wolves mainly fed on rabbits and an abundant goat herd in the valley, leaving them with a swift gait and good shepherding skills. If this was a loner from that pack, he wouldn't be used to the noticeably smaller prey in this forest. Mice, voles, and squirrels were the largest prey animals on this side of the mountain, which are difficult for the canyon pack to catch.
The man risked shifting higher, hoping to catch a glimpse of the animal the wolf had chosen for his hunt. The squirrels were very fat in the forest, followed by the glutenous crows, so they were the best bet for an unfamiliar lone wolf.
However, as he finally spotted movement in the bushes, it was neither a squirrel nor a crow that trotted out. The animal was an ash white that didn't blend very well with the dark dirt. It had large grey ears and a small pair of horns on it's head. Its flicking tail was probably what caught the wolf's attention.
The man darted for his camera, clutching his binoculars so tightly to his face he would no doubt leave with red rings over his eyes. Not only was he seeing a lone wolf, but a wild goat as well! There was no way an animal with such plush fur and small hooves could have survived a trek through the mountains, it would have froze or starved to death within a few days. This goat appeared just as healthy as the wolf, rounded with a fluffy white coat and an untroubled strut.
Their combined presence had the wildlife enthusiast swimming in questions. Had something happened in the mountain to allow for greater access? Had a new, safe bridge been created in a rockfall that allowed easy passage? Were people taking these creatures in as pets and releasing them on the wrong side of the mountain? What were these social animals doing out here alone? While a lone wolf wasn't so rare, the man had never seen an adult goat rejected from its herd, their dynamics weren't complicated enough to offend. The man began snapping pictures.
The wolf's tail twitched back and forth in anticipation as it stopped creeping forward and tensed from it’s hiding place along the tall bushes. The goat seemed to sense something amiss, as it lifted it's broad head to give the area a sweeping search. It didn't seem to scent either the wildlife enthusiast or the wolf, even peeking up at the singing birds above their heads curiously.
The man raised his camera along with his head, anticipating the strange, misplaced hunt. If someone were to tell him they had footage of a wolf hunting a goat, he would have immediately assumed that person had been in the gorges and valleys a few hundred miles on. He would have never believed they meant this simple little forest.
With a roar, the wolf pounced. His huge paws were splayed wide to encompass the goat and his teeth glittered in the sunlight.
The prey animal bleated in surprise, but it was too late and canine carnivore slammed into it. The man frowned, spotting problems in the attack immediately. The wolf's claws were spread too far apart to connect with the goat, not even touching his prey as he knocked it to the ground with his legs and chest. His jaw didn’t close either, not even making an attempt to wrap itself around the goat's neck for suffocation. For all intents and purposes, the wolf had only managed to make the goat lose its balance!
Was this why it was forced out of the canyons, was this wolf defective? He might have to report someone for illegally keeping a pet wolf, but he hadn’t the slightest clue how it could stay so healthy away from an indulgent owner without a lick of reintroduction skills. What wolf was unable to take down a single, unsuspecting goat?
The wolf moved away from the fallen goat, circling it like a shepherd dog, not a nip or a pin in sight. He didn't even try to make another move, had he given up? The goat, unharmed by what should have been a killing blow, climbed back to its feet to sniff at the wolf fearlessly. Were they both defective? Had they been moved by someone living in these woods to be domesticated?
The goat bleated again, walking right up to its natural enemy to butt its head against the wolf's shoulder. Even the goat’s defense was pitiful and its horns remained un bloodied. Instead of attacking a clear and ridiculously easy neck, the wolf woofed softly and rubbed the top of his head over the goat's back. Was the defected wolf scenting the goat like a pack-mate? The man's jaw dropped at the absolute impossibility before him. Numbly, he took a few more photos.
Licking at the goat's ear, the wolf backed away to crouch low again, his tongue lolling lazily out the side of his mouth. The goat copied the stance to the best of its ability, bleating loudly in the wolf’s face. It appeared completely unafraid, watching the carnivore adjust his crouch for greater accuracy. Was something poisoning the animals in a stream nearby? The man had never, in all his years of observing wildlife, seen anything as odd as this.
The wolf pounced again, yipping like a friendly dog as he barreled into the smaller animal with a noticeable amount of restraint. The goat tried lunging as well, pressing the side of it's head against the wolf's hind leg and its own horns never grazed a single hair on its predator. The man was writing down everything furiously, his eyes never straying from the scene. Had he fallen asleep or where these animals playing? This wolf was treating the goat like pack, and the goat seemed to reciprocate!
The animals broke apart for a moment, straightening themselves out. The goat trotted happily over to the wolf and began nibbling at his fur, snuffling through the pelt familiarly. The wolf seemed to enjoy the attention, shifting to return the favor, grooming the goat's short coat quickly.
The man realized he hadn’t breathed in a while and began sucking in air. What had happened in the few short weeks he hadn't been in the woods? Was someone messing with him? Were these animals still owned by unlicensed tamers? A runaway circus act?
There was no way animals like these could remain healthy with such unintended relations between them. In the few cases of predator and prey bonded, it was always a matter of time before they either starved to death or broke apart. Partners like these were never natural, perhaps they had both been traumatized by the loss of their respective groups and began obsessing with one another? But that still wouldn't explain their health and behavior.
Finished with their quick grooming, the two separated. The goat ducked back down to take another mouthful of grass into its mouth and the wolf began to stalk something further away. Proof they could both function without one another, the wolf didn't hover and the goat didn't follow. That was an anomaly within an anomaly. The obsessive pair often met their end through their desperation for company, not taking enough time for themselves or are unable to function properly for their harsh environments.
An alarmed squeak and a quick snap tore through the air, silencing the singing birds. The man tensed, searching the tall grass for the carnivore's lanky form with his camera. Having caught something so soon into the hunt meant this wolf was a decent hunter. If so, he would be invaluable to a pack, so why was he alone? His dam and sire had to have met somewhere in order for the bizarre creature to have been created, but where and why wasn't he there now? He had to have met the goat after being exiled in order for the unnatural obsession to form.
The wolf came prancing back to the goat, the pink of blood mixed with saliva dripping from his jowls. Completely unrepentant, the wolf nuzzled at his incorrect pack-mate, unknowingly smearing the mixture into the light fur. The goat, against every instinct prey had ever possessed, turned toward the bloodied predator and began cleaning around the wolf's mouth. The man shivered, unnerved by the sight of the goat nibbling blood from the wolf's jaws.
While the goat didn't do a very good job of grooming the wolf, being a relatively unclean animal, it seemed satisfied and pulled away once more. It sniffed the air cautiously, though it had to be difficult sniffing out danger with the stench of wolf surrounding the goat.
Then, both animals turned to the man's direction simultaneously, peering over the grass to where he lay in the dirt.
Freezing, the enthusiast wondered if they could spot the glint of the binoculars and ducked down. He didn't want to see if the defective wolf would attack a human as well, he would no doubt be vicious in his crazed state. Could they smell him? The man held his breath again, pocketing his notebook and pen and bagged his tripod. Freeing up his hands wouldn't do much good, but it made him feel a bit better.
The birds had yet to resume their singing, and the man wasn't sure of the significance.
After counting to fifty twice, the enthusiast dared lift himself to peek over the grass once more. He used his own eyes, not wanting to be seen with the metallic binoculars. He spotted the unlikely pair easily, but they were closer than before. The goat was snuffling along the ground and the wolf zig-zagged through the trees and grass slowly, ears perked. Were they searching for him?
Now fully aware of the danger he could be in, the man decided to call it a day and stuffed his binoculars into his bag. Turning off the camera and carefully tucking it into the worn bag as well, he turned to check on the two once more. They had come even closer now, the man could hear the short chuffs of the wolf sniffing through the wildlife and the goat's hooves against the leaves and dried grass.
It was definitely time to retreat, and the man snatched a whistle from the pocket of his bag. Pressing it to his lips, he inhaled sharply to blow into it as hard as he could. He had used the simple tool before, against a curious fox and a couple of rabid raccoons, and it never failed to disappoint.
The piercing noise sent the two jumping away, as he surged from the grass. The flock of small birds inhabiting the tree took off in a flurry of wings and feathers, alarms shooting through the wilderness. While the man didn't want to scare the two out of the forest and away from his camera, he certainly didn't want them to get too close and risk disease or a mauling. Waving his free arm in a ridiculous manner, he was gratified when the wolf spun around and bolted, the goat right behind him. It seemed they weren't defective enough not to fear the unknown.
Sighing in relief, he watched as they disappeared into the thicker parts of the forest. He wondered if they slept together in a den or picked warm spots to sleep in the field, another question to be answered next time. Hoisting his bag over his shoulder and pocketing the whistle, the wildlife enthusiast began his trek back to the town. He couldn't wait to tell his friends about the insanity of that day, or to look over the footage he'd captured.
If he played his cards right, the evidence he’d compiled might just make it into the local news too. Either way, he had quite the weekend ahead of him.
"What was that thing from earlier?" Mei asked quietly, staring wide-eyed out into the night. While the fear had long since left the goat, confusion and apprehension was still hovering around his head. What had chased them away? It had smelled so strange, almost smoky and sick. The creature hadn't attacked them, but made an awful bird-like sound to ward them off. Was it a defense mechanism? Mei found himself jealous of its effectiveness.
"Maybe a moose, I heard they lived around the mountains." Gabu suggested, nibbling on a squirrel he had stored away earlier. Mei had long since gotten used to the death his friend caused, and barely noticed the smell. Almost starving to death in the mountains had eased any trouble he felt over choice in cuisine.
"Moose sound like that?" Mei murmured incredulously, having heard his own tales of the huge beasts an entire wolf pack had trouble taking down. Wolves were crazy, Mei decided, the creature had been terrifying.
Gabu shrugged, not very concerned with the details. Finishing off the squirrel, he walked to the back of the cave. He wasn't sure how he found it, his memories were a bit of a blur after the avalanche, but he was grateful for the discovery. It provided great cover from the weather and was placed far enough away from other animals to be safe and reliable in a way he’d secretly thought was only available in the canyons.
"We should just avoid the meadows for a while, maybe it will go away." Gabu hoped, not liking a threat in their haven. He flopped onto the ground, pressing his warm fur against the cool wall of the shallow scoop of a cave.
Sighing softly, he looked over at Mei, who was still sitting at the mouth of the den. He would have to get craftier to surprise Mei, pouncing to initiate a game was always good fun. However, without the easy access the meadow gave him, Gabu knew he would be surprising the goat less and less.
As if sensing his gaze, Mei shook himself from his worries and trot over to where Gabu lay. He curled beside his larger friend, taking in a deep breath of his scent to soothe himself. Comforted, the goat shut his eyes and swiftly fell to sleep.
Gabu wrapped himself around his sole packmate and set off to sleep as well. The sound of crickets chirping outside seemed like a lullaby to the wolf, letting him forget all about the crazy moose and its bizarre whistling. Some animals were just senseless, completely unnatural. Huffing, he closed his eyes and drifted off to join Mei in his soft snoring.
With any luck, they would never see another moose again.