The work Sam had performed inside the closet just a few minutes before had been meant to provide an escape. She had used the axe to chop away the floorboards, and when she retreated into the closet and shut the door, her knees rested on the cold earth a foot below the floor of the cabin. She held the grenade in one hand, then grabbed up the axe and thrust her legs to one side. She curled her body and laid down on one side, then positioned herself so she was on her back and began wriggling, forcing her way under the remaining floor through cobwebs, rocks and weeds, readjusting when her shotgun got caught up on some unseen obstacle. Just a short distance away from her feet and a few inches above, she heard the closet door come apart.
Within seconds she came to a board that skirted the crawlspace at the outer edge of the cabin. She scooted so that she was sideways to the board and swung her arm awkwardly, using the axe to strike at the wood. Back at the hole in the closet floor, a clawed hand reached down and began swiping, missing her left arm by inches.
After a few swings, she succeeded in knocking the board loose. Now she scooted her way out, rolled over onto he knees and set down the axe. With her left hand she reached up and pulled the pin from the grenade; the spoon flew aside as she tossed the device into the crawlspace.
Five seconds. That was how long she had to get clear before the mixture of TNT and silver buckshot decimated everything within a nearly fifty-foot radius.
Sam left the axe. She gained her feet, unslung her shotgun and ran up the hazy moonlit path that led away from the rear of the cabin, counting in her head…
The earth-rattling explosion nearly knocked her off her feet.
Looking back, the cabin was just a dark, smoking mass in the shifting fog.
Her ankle throbbed, her right hand was a dense knot of pain, and at this point, Sam had no idea whether or not she had managed to kill all of the wolves… worse, she had no way of knowing for sure whether or not she had killed Kronin. Something deep in her gut, some gnawing intuition, insisted that she had not; that he was still out here somewhere…
And then she heard them: sounds in the woods to either side. Rustlings, soft growls… not nearly as many noises as before but they were still there. How many were left? It was so hard to tell.
She thought back to the day, years ago, that she had hiked through here with her father; they had found the cabin, and further up the path they had found an entrance to an old salt mine. It hadn’t been far. If she could just hold out a while longer…
Sam wasn’t sure how many rounds the shotgun had left. Maybe just a couple. She felt the holsters of her shoulder rig and froze, cursing. One of the handguns had come loose when she wormed through the crawlspace. She had started with four handguns, now she was down to—
There was a rushing sound just off the path to her right; something crashing through the brush. Fast. Sam pivoted and triggered the shotgun as a large mass leapt from wall of fog. Her shot hit the beast, though it still slammed into her, knocking her flat.
The shotgun blast had only wounded it. Teeth snapped inches from her face; slaver dripped onto her cheek. For a precious half second she held the throat of the wolf away with her forearm as she drew a handgun and put the barrel to the side of the beast’s head. She pulled the trigger and bits of skull and brain blew out the opposite side. The monster’s jaws slackened; its body stiffened then went limp as its primal gaze fell blank.
But there were more noises; more beasts, and Sam was still pinned beneath this one. Suddenly claws and teeth were all around her. She drew a second handgun and began firing wildly; desperately. Powerful jaws locked onto the muzzle of the gun in her right hand and tore it from her grip, flinging it off into the mist. Sam swung her left hand over and blasted two bullets through the beast’s head.
The monsters dropped away, and beneath the ringing in her ears, there was silence.
Two. There had been two more and she had killed them. Was that all though, or were there more?
Then, as Sam pushed the first beast’s weight off of her, she heard it again: howling. From somewhere back by the cabin. She heard also her father’s voice:
You have to run, sweetheart. You have to get to safety.
Sam got to her feet but the shotgun was still beneath the dead hound. There was no time to move the beast off of the weapon; the chance that she would be attacked while distracted was too great.
Suddenly there were more crashing sounds in the forest. Sam was down to two semi-automatic handguns now. She drew the Desert Eagle and stumbled back along the path, noises following her as unseen pursuers kept pace from the clouded timber.
After a few seconds, Sam looked over her shoulder and saw it—a gaping hole in the solid rock face of the mountain at the end of the trail.
The mine entrance.
Sam continued backing up as thrashing sounds from the forest erupted to her left. She pointed the Desert Eagle in that direction even as she heard movement on her right. Firing both weapons to either side, continuing her retreat to the entrance tunnel, Sam felt that she had almost made it to safety when the gun in her right hand, a Sig Sauer, ran out of ammo. The beast on that side emerged; Sam swung the Desert Eagle over and put a bullet straight through the center of its chest. Behind her, the second beast broke through the white haze and Sam blasted it with the Eagle before slipping back into the shelter of the mine shaft.
The wolf fell before the entrance, its lifeblood draining onto the dirt. Sam squinted to get a better look at it; it wasn’t Kronin.
Then she heard the slightest movement, inches away in the pitch-black of the earthen tunnel. She spun and raised the Desert Eagle only to have it ripped from her hands by slashing claws. Stumbling back out onto the road, desperately trying to pull a reload magazine from her pocket, Sam caught her heels on the freshly-killed hound and fell back over the beast and onto her ass.
A massive black wolf with streaks of gray stepped into the argent light, its golden firefly eyes gleaming sharply.
Kronin. It had to be.
Was she imagining it, or was there the slightest hint of intelligence behind those eyes? And the expression it wore as Sam fumbled for the magazine, the way its flews raised up to reveal the gleaming teeth…
Made it look as if the beast was smiling.