The boys ran for dear life, moving as fast as they could on the marshy ground, tripping and stumbling over shrubs and roots, but the beasts were gaining on them. Butch held on to the briefcase, and Andrew had the box of daggers tucked in his backpack.
“Told you something was in there!” shouted Steven. “We never should’ve come here.”
“Too late for that now!” Andrew gripped the good luck charm that Berta gave him, but had little faith in it at the moment.
After running for what felt like forever, the howling dwindled down a bit, until they no longer heard the strange sounding beasts. Perhaps the wolves stopped chasing them? Believing they were safe for the moment, the boys slowed down, panting and gasping for air.
“Wonder why they stopped chasing us,” said Steven, after catching his breath.
“I don’t know,” Andrew whispered, peering into the darkness behind them. “Maybe they just wanted us away from the cave.” Or maybe the charm is working after all, he thought. Of course it’s working! They stopped chasing us. We’re safe!
“I don’t care what they wanted,” Shane said, “as long as they’re done chasing us.”
“How do you know they’re done!” snapped Butch. “Maybe they’re baiting us for some reason!” He grabbed Andrew's shoulder, and yelled in his face. “Harper, get us out of here — NOW!”
“Okay,” said Andrew, “follow me.” Andrew led the way and they headed back toward the campsite, but when they reached the bridge they’d crossed earlier, they found themselves in another frightening predicament...
It was hard to see from where they were standing, but when they got a little closer, the boys noticed a tall, humanoid figure, illuminated by moonlight, standing on the bridge. They stood wide-eyed and motionless, not knowing what to do. To avoid attracting its attention, Andrew lowered his flashlight, and told the others to do the same.
It was a large creature, covered in black fur, with the body of a man, the head of a wolf, and red glowing eyes. Long sharp claws protruded from its hands and feet, and its long, bushy tail, almost touched the ground.
When the creature noticed the boys, it let out a hideous howl, louder than any they’d heard all night. It crouched down, placed its hands on the ground and started to creep towards them...snarling and revealing its sharp fangs. As it got closer, Andrew could see the hackles on its back, rising up like little swords. So much for the good luck charm!
The creature stood up again and continued to howl, when suddenly a pack of strange looking wolves appeared at its side, much larger than ordinary wolves. They had shaggy manes, and blood-red eyes, just like their apparent master who stood over them. But unlike him, they walked on all fours. After seeing them, Andrew realized his hunch was correct: they were not typical wolves!
“I guess Matthew Bruce wasn’t fibbing after all!” said Steven, reminding Andrew once again about Matt’s story.
“I guess not,” agreed Andrew, his heart pounding. “We’re really in a pickle now…”
“No kidding!” Shane chimed in, slowly backing away. “So now what?”
“Yeah, Harper, now what? ” Butch shoved him, as though it was his fault.
“Ummm...I think we better run!” Andrew turned to his left, jumped off the trail, and the others followed. They plowed their way through weeds and bushes, with no particular plan or direction. It was all about survival now.
They scrambled through the brush until they were out of breath and could go no further. Then they sought shelter in a cluster of tall bushes, wheezing and gasping for air. Andrew told everyone to turn off their flashlights again. Then it became silent again, no more howls or barking. They wondered if the wolves had stopped chasing them.
“I think they’re toying with us,” said Butch, gasping for air. “They could’ve easily caught us by now if they wanted to!”
And then they heard them again, as though Butch had jinxed them. The wolves crept up on them and started to growl.
“This isn’t good,” whispered Steven, shivering and panting, sweat dripping down his face. They could hear the creatures moving in the undergrowth.
“How many are there?” Shane whispered back. “Can you guys see anything?”
Andrew squinted his eyes, relying on the moonlight. “It’s hard to tell. Seven or eight I think.” He gazed some more. “But I don’t see the man-beast with them, or whatever that thing is.”
The wolves moved closer and the boys had to make a move. They jumped up, turned their flashlights on, and bolted out of there, running as fast as they could—until Shane tripped over a fallen tree.
The wolves, now fixated on Shane, slowed down and circled around him. It was only when he started to scream that Andrew and Steven realized what was going on. They stopped running and turned around to help him, but Butch got in their way.
“What are you dorks doing?” he panicked. “Get me out of here!”
“Shane’s in trouble!” shouted Andrew. “We can’t just leave him back there.”
Butch put down the briefcase and grabbed Andrew by his neck. “Listen you little trooper-geek, if you don’t get me out of here right now, I’ll give you a whooping you’ll never forget.”
Andrew didn’t understand why Butch would abandon Shane like that. They were supposed to be best buddies, partners in crime. So much for loyalty among thieves! But there was no time to think about that now. Shane was in danger, and Andrew had to act fast.
“Let him go!” shouted Steven. “Let him go now...or else!” He clenched his hands into fists and raised them up.
Butch shoved Andrew aside, then grabbed Steven.
“What did you say, fatty?”
“I said leave him alone!” Steven chested up to Butch and Andrew’s jaw dropped. Since when did Steven Jacob's become a tough guy?
“Butch...lay off him!” demanded Andrew. “We’re going back to help Shane whether you like it or not!”
“It’s okay Andrew, I got this.” Steven kept his eyes on Butch. “I’ll take care of this big jerk once and for all! Hurry up and go help Shane.”
And before Andrew knew it, Steven and Butch were in a scuffle. They rolled around in the brush, throwing punches and pushing one another, until they rolled off the side of a nearby cliff they hadn’t seen. Andrew ran to the edge, shining his flashlight downward, but the boys were nowhere in sight.
“Steven!” he shouted. “Steven, where are you?” But there was no answer. He continued to shout, shining his flashlight down below. “Butch Johnson! If you hurt my buddy, you’ll regret it!” He paced back and forth, continuing his search, but still no sign of them. “Don’t worry, Steven! I Promise I’ll come back for you!” And then it occurred to him that shouting wasn’t a good idea... especially when you’re being hunted by a man-beast and his demon-wolves!
With no other choice, Andrew ran to Shane’s aid and found him in the distance, frightened and surrounded by demon- wolves, trying to fight them off with a stick.
After some quick thinking, he climbed up a nearby tree, stood on a thick branch, and started to yell—anything to distract the creatures from Shane. And it worked.
The beasts backed off Shane for a moment, and slunk toward Andrew. They lunged up at him, snapping and growling, trying to sink their fangs into his flesh. And as luck would have it, the branch he stood on began to crack.
His heart raced. He was trapped. He knew he was about to be dinner for the demon pack and there was nothing he could do. The good luck charm certainly wasn’t doing its job! He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing it was all just a bad dream. But when he opened them, the wolves were still there, snarling and growling, waiting for him to fall.
The branch cracked again, and his legs dropped lower. He wrapped his arms around the tree, hugging it as hard as he could, while sharp claws tore at his boots. And although his movement was limited, and he really didn’t think it would help, he leaned his head back, and managed to grip the charm again.
“Some help you are!” he shouted at the charm, as though it could hear him. “Do something already!” In a fit of rage and anger, he started to shake it...and then the strangest thing happened: in spite of the howling and growling below, he heard a melodious sound coming from the charm. He shook it again, and the sweet-sounding melodies continued.
And that was only the beginning of the strange events that were about to take place. The little golden ball, enclosed within the filigree cage, began to glow, emitting small beams of light through its tiny openings. And though he wasn’t sure why, he felt safe for a moment, as if something or someone was coming to his rescue.
It seemed like wishful thinking at first, until he noticed a bright light appear in the sky, hovering above the trees, shining through the forest canopy...