Thunder rumbled loudly above, while the occasional strike of lightning seared the cloudy night sky. This powerful force of nature had every creature cowering in their homes; all but one.
A lone wolf ran; his paws pelted the muddy forest floor as his agile mind sought a way out. He weaved hastily through the dense foliage, now reminded of the unrelenting fact he was nearing defeat. The muffled shouts of the hunters grew ever closer. Though his heartbeat remained steady his mind was wearing. He grew tired of running, of fleeing these predators. His focus wavered for a moment at most, just long enough for him to not notice that the forest ended and emerged onto the highway. He had also failed to notice the truck parked on the roadside waiting until it was almost too late; with little time to act the wolf tried darting in another direction but lost his footing and tumbled violently to a stop.
He lay on the ground, his sheer white coat tarnished with mud; barely beginning to depict his ordeal thus far. The lights came closer and blinded him; his panicked heart beating wildly. With an aching pain in his front paw and exhaustion welling up through his body, the wolf admitted defeat. A pursuer shouted to a dark figure beside the truck but his fatigued mind couldn’t make heads or tales of it. As the gunshot sounded through the quiet night he welcomed the darkness as it grew closer. Drawing one final breath; he savoured his last taste of freedom.
Anna woke with a jolt. The sound of the gunshot reverberating through her with such intensity; it was as if it were real. It was only a dream, it was only a dream she chanted in an attempt to calm her racing heart. Flicking on the bedside lamp she scanned her small apartment anxiously for reassurance. Its soft glow barely touched the entire room but thankfully everything was as it should be. A cluster of familiar photos lined the dresser in the far corner, the smiling faces of her mother and friends helped calm her. Taking deep breaths she brought her knees to her chest hugging them tightly and resting her head on top. She’d had this re-occurring dream every night for almost a week and it was taking a toll on her.
“You’re gonna make it, the night can only last for so long”, rang her phone at full volume. “Lift up your eyes and see that the sun is rising”, it continued as she stared at it brutishly vibrating, debating whether to answer or just ignore it. Reluctantly picking it up she answered, “Hello.”
“Morning Anna,” came the familiar voice of George through the phone. George was a local wildlife ranger and a good friend. He had been her first friend when she’d moved here, his easy-going attitude and friendly demeanour had been a welcome change.
“Sorry to have woken you so early but we have a situation down here at Percy’s, he wants you to come in asap.”
Anna shot out of bed and towards the dresser.
“What kind of situation?” She asked rummaging through her clothes until she found a pair of old jeans and a grey hoody. Putting the phone on speaker she threw it onto the bed and raced to get changed whilst he explained.
“We caught a wolf in the local area and it’s not in good shape. I’ll explain the rest when you get here, how long do you think you’ll be?” He pressed.
Her heart dropped; her stomach churned. “I’ll be there in five minutes tops.”
Twirling her mess of black curls expertly into a loose bun she caught her reflection. The dim light accentuated her pale complexion and dark rings underlined her amber coloured eyes but there was no time for make-up.
Slipping into her favourite black converse she took two stairs at a time, dashing outside into the early morning. Thankfully the storm had subsided and now it was only showering lightly. Climbing into her truck she silently prayed that it would start the first time around. With fingers crossed she switched the ignition and the engine roared to life - thank you. Pulling onto the road she drove through the deserted streets of the town. It wasn’t far to the animal clinic but as she pulled in she realised she’d made it there in record time.
Jumping out of the truck she entered the clinic through the front to find George waiting in reception. Wrapped in a large towel he was drenched from head to toe. His uniform clung to him for dear life and as he tried to towel dry his soaked hair it stuck out in all directions. She couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her; he looked ridiculous. He was in his late 50′s but you wouldn’t know it at first glance because his active lifestyle kept him in top shape. The scatter of grey in his hair and the small wrinkles around his eyes and mouth were the only indication of his age.
“Oh hey Anna,” he greeted warmly. “Sorry about the early morning wake up call. I wasn’t gonna disturb you but Percy insisted.”
“It’s fine George, I was awake anyway. What’s the situation?”
Before George give an answer they heard loud crashes and cussing coming from the next room.
“Damn it,” grunted Percy as they entered the emergency room.
“Stupid mutt bit me.”
Anna tried to stifle her grin at his disagreeable nature. Percy wasn’t the most gentle or patient man, she often wondered why he became a vet. He is very skilled at his job but his brutal exterior tended to scare people and the occasional animal.
“How in god’s name did that idiot Toby mess up the tranquilliser dosage?” He raved.
“Don’t be too harsh on him Percy, the boys only in training,” noted George.
Percy just grunted in response.
“You mind telling me why I’m here?” Anna interrupted.
“Take a look for yourself,” Percy said stepping aside giving her a full view.
Laying eyes on the beast Anna felt her breaths shorten and her heart race. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Locked in a small metal cage was a white wolf identical to the one from her dream. Despite the mud, it’s pure white coat was illuminated by the bright fluorescent lights. Her mind was reeling, how was this even possible?
“Beautiful creature isn’t it?” Commented George.
“Indeed, “ She breathed.
Wolves had always fascinated her, their strong sense of loyalty and family mentality are to be admired.
“Yes but we’ve got a job to do,” snapped Percy.
He was particularly cranky this morning; being woken at three in the morning can do that to a man.
“Right,” She said focusing. “What do you need me to do?”
“From what I can tell it’s an adolescent male that’s suffering from starvation, mild ligament damage and possibly a gunshot wound but I cannot get close enough without it snapping at me. I need you to work your magic and put it to sleep.” He instructed bluntly.
Placing a ready syringe in her hand he gestured towards the wolf.
As if aware of the situation the wolf’s body went rigid, his hackles went up and ears back. Baring his teeth a deep, threatening growl ripped through his throat.
“Could you both please wait in the other room? The less threatened he feels the easier this will be,” She explained.
Whilst the others evacuated the emergency room she took a deep breath slowing her heart rate and calming her aura. She had found this technique highly effective not only for the animals but also herself. Approaching the cage his growls intensified but she showed no fear, he was simply trying to intimidate her. Keeping her gaze low she avoided eye contact if he felt like she was challenging him there would be no chance of getting close.
Now right up against the cage, she couldn’t believe the size of him. Despite his dangerously lean waist and muscle, his frame was larger than most wolves she’d ever dealt with.
“I’m not going to hurt you, you’re safe here,” She reassured him quietly.
His growls started to subside. Glancing up at him through her lashes Anna could feel him watching her with a distrustful glare. Reaching through the cage she injected the anaesthetic but he made no move to stop or attack her.
It only took a couple of minutes for the drug to take effect. As he lay down lethargically she noticed a shimmer of silver buried in his chest hair. Double checking he was out cold she opened the cage to investigate. Running her fingers down his chest they came across something hard and cold. Pulling it from his fur she found it was a silver pendant attached to a long chain around his neck. Carefully she pulled it over his head, on closer inspection the pendant was round and roughly the size of a quarter. One side was a crescent moon shape made of solid silver, the other was filled with intricate filigree and housed five small diamonds; it held a unique beauty. Why would he have something like this?
“Is it done?” Percy called impatiently.
“Yeah...” She fumbled to conceal the necklace as Percy burst into the room ready for action; managing to slip it into her Jean pocket at the last second.
Bringing the truck around to the roller door Anna backed it inside the clinic, the fully caged tray was the only place big enough to comfortably hold the wolf. She helped George transfer him to the truck whilst Percy sterilised the equipment. Climbing inside the tray she wrapped the wolf in several warm blankets before taking a seat beside him.
“So how did you find this guy?” She asked stroking the sleeping beast whilst she still had the chance.
“Well...” George started. Grabbing a chair he sat across from her and continued, “Jeff from over at the Chandler farm rang me about a wolf sighting on the property. He’d been lurking around the poultry pen and Jeff fired some warning shots when he got too close. Turns out he actually hit this guy, the blind old bat wasn’t wearing his glasses.”
“From what we can tell he hasn’t eaten in weeks, I’m not surprised he was after an easy meal.”
“As soon as we got there it took off towards the woodlands; Toby and I pursued until we hit the highway. Poor thing must have panicked because when we caught up he was laying in the mud beside the road.
“Hmm...” She hummed in acknowledgement. Her mind had drifted back to the nightmare. If she changed the hunters’ to park rangers the story played out exactly the same, the only difference being that the wolf didn’t die. How could it have been real though, it was just a dream?
George’s heavy sigh brought her back to reality.
“So what are we going to do with this guy? We can’t release him and there’s not room here for him.”
“I can ask my old colleagues at the zoo in Billings if they’ll take him,” Anna offered.
Checking the time her phone read 6:07 a.m. “I might do that now actually. Why don’t you guys go home and get some rest?”
Both men looked exhausted. “I’ll stay and keep an eye on him.”
“Sounds good to me,” Percy grumbled grabbing his keys. “I’ll be back at ten.”
“See you, Anna,” George smiled as he followed Percy out.
Stroking the sleeping wolf one last time she climbed out and secured the cages lock.
Heading into the reception area she slumped into the awaiting office chair and dialled the familiar number. As it rang she felt a surge of panic, what if she couldn’t convince them to help?
“Zoo Montana, this is Craig,” answered a cheery voice.
“What’s up Craig? It’s Anna Hunt.”
“Hmm... That’s weird,” he paused in thought for a moment. “I used to know an Anna but she is dead to me.”
“Ha ha very funny Craig, still dramatic as ever,” She jeered.
“Dramatic! I am never,” he gasped indignantly before bursting into fits of laughter.
Cracking a smile at his antics she felt a pang of sadness in her chest; she missed him. They had been best friends since college but when she moved away a year and a half ago they’d drifted apart. Partly because she was busy with work but mostly because he reminded her of the reason she left.
“If you are quite down I have a favour to ask.”
His laughter died instantly, “if it’s a dead body count me out.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, if I’d killed someone it would be you,” She messed with him.
“You are probably right. What can I do for you then?”
“I have an injured wolf here and was hoping the zoo had room for him until he recuperates?”
“Should be fine, I’ll just check with Neville hold on a second.”
Waiting anxiously she hummed along to the hold music until he picked up the receiver again.
“He’s okay with it but...”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” She praised.
“Ah, there is a slight catch though. You are responsible for its care. We’re a little short staffed at the moment,” he informed her.
“Oh... I guess I’m coming to visit then.”