| 12 Years Ago |
“James!” I yelled, winded.
Where was my brother?
“I win, James!”
He had challenged me to race him through the woods and to the tiny creek about two miles away from our house.
Of course, I had won. But, he hadn’t been that far behind me...
I shrugged and grabbed my glass bottle of lemonade from my backpack, taking a swig of the sugary liquid—now warm from the sun beating down from between the foliage overhead. As I sipped, I scanned the trees for James’s blonde hair.
“Emma!” My brother’s voice, sounding panicked, sliced through the forest air. “Don’t move.”
I spun around, trying to find my brother.
Instead, was greeted with a large, black wolf.
At 10, I hadn’t seen a wolf up close before, only once during a field trip to the Zoo. However, I knew that there was no way they could ever be this big.
The animal’s head, even couched low to the ground as it was, reached my waist. It’s paws at least the size of my own hands, if not larger. Yellow-gold eyes zeroed in on me, stopping my breath with the look of pure predatory instinct contained within them.
My heart beat frantically in my chest.
The animal growled, the lips of its muzzle curling up in a snarl. I caught a glimpse of it’s deadly incisors, about the same size as one of my fingers.
I stood frozen, rooted in place, though my brain was screaming at me to run.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw James slowly inching towards me, a look of eerie calm on his face.
“It’s alright, Em,” he told me, his eyes never leaving the animal in front of me.
The wolf’s ear twitched in his direction at the sound of his voice, causing my heart to drop to my feet.
Please, don’t go for him. Take me instead, I pleaded with the wolf in my head.
“I won’t let you get hurt.” James was suddenly in front of me, facing the wolf and reaching back to squeeze my hand.
Another growl echoed through the clearing, and even with my limited sight of the wolf with my brother in front of me, I knew what was happening.
The wolf was tensing it’s body, each muscle preparing for a specific movement.
It was going to lunge at us.
James must have realized this as well, because in a split second he had roughly shoved me to the side, right as the huge mass of claws and teeth projected itself in our direction.
I screamed as I hit the ground and scrambled to get back up, but I was cemented in place with fear, my muscles refusing to cooperate. James grunted as he was knocked backwards, the wolf on his chest.
I need to run! I need to get help—call someone!
My brother, at thirteen years old, did not stand a chance against this death machine. He was going to get ripped to pieces while all I could do was sit here and watch.
Then, it’d be me next.
My breathing started to become sporadic. I couldn’t lose my big brother. I screamed at my muscles to listen, to let me get up and do something. But I stayed rooted firmly on my hands and knees, helplessly watching.
A desperate scream tore me from my thoughts.
My eyes widened in horror as I watched James and the wolf roll on the ground. The unmistakable sight of blood was on the grass, staining the vibrant green a dark, slick red.
I broke out of the terrified haze that had been consuming me and I suddenly my fear was replaced with irrational anger. Enraged at the sight taking place in front of me, I clutched clumps of grass in my fist.
This wasn’t fair. We hadn’t done anything to deserve this. We were just kids.
I fumbled around for my glass bottle of lemonade which I had dropped as I hit the ground, my only weapon.
"Stop it!“I found the bottle in the grass behind me and clutched it with white knuckles. My voice projected out weakly. It wasn’t enough to break through the sounds of snarling and cries from James.
I tried to locate a solid target, but the fight was a blur. I couldn’t tell where James started and the wolf ended.
“Quit hurting my brother!” I threw blindly, putting all my weight and fear into the throw.
A snarl tore through the air and suddenly they came apart, the black monster retreating a few feet away from us.
James was on his back. He wasn’t moving.
I tore my eyes off the wolf for half a second to glance at my brother. My stomach instantly churning as I took in the scene before me.
Blood was everywhere—splattered all over his clothes, skin, and grass around him. He had a gash above his right eye that was bleeding profusely, streams of thick, red blood streaking down his face. The worst was his left leg—the shredded skin hung by a thread it seemed. I could see the indentations from massive teeth and the white of his bone peaking through the mess of red.
I swallowed down the bile that was quickly rising in my throat.
Faintly, I could see his chest moving up and down, indicating he was still alive—if just barely.
I had to get him out of here. He needed a hospital as soon as possible.
There was way too much blood.
The sound of weight shifting made me finally tear my eyes away and jump to my feet. The black wolf was six feet away from me, standing defensively, it’s hackles raised.
I raked my eyes over it’s giant form. It, too, was injured, it’s ear torn and it’s fur wet with blood.
A sick feeling made my stomach roll as I realized the blood more than likely wasn’t his.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins and I stood straighter, it’s eyes still boring into mine.
Gold—they were definitely gold.
I took a step forward, eyes locked with the monster. I remembered learning about wolves during my trip to the Zoo with my class last year. Alone—they were deadly, but could be manageable. In a pack? Grown men didn’t stand a sliver of a chance without weapons, needless to say two un-armed children.
Sweat rolled down my back as I wondered if his pack would soon materialize out of the trees and attack, just as this wolf had seemed to do.
Behind me, James cried out in pain, breaking the deafening silence which had settled in the clearing.
I watched as an ear twitched on the massive canine head in front of me. I fought everything in me not to turn around and go to my brother.
We remained locked in a heated stare—the wolf and I—for what seemed like several minutes. Neither daring to take eyes off the other. Every second that ticked on made me more and more anxious that we were wasting time—that it’s pack was on the way to finish us.
My legs began to tremble as the shock of the situation started to take root in my mind. We had just been attacked, by an apex predator. My brother was laying a few feet away with a broken leg and several other injuries.
I was, perhaps, our only chance at survival.
"Get out of here!” I screamed as loudly as I could, putting all my frustration and terror into those four words.
There was a slight twitch in the wolf’s dark features, but it held fast.
"GO!" I screamed again, throwing my arm out towards the tree line.
The wolf didn’t move a muscle, seemingly unfazed by my outbursts.
Tears began flowing down my cheeks as I realized it wasn’t working. I had no plan; no way of getting this monster away from us. I wouldn’t be able to protect us. I was failing us, even after James had offered up his life to protect mine.
“Please,” I sobbed. “Just go.”
The wolf began to shift it’s weight slightly, looking as if it were favoring it’s front right paw, and it’s gaze wavered from my own for half a second before it snarled.
The sound caught me off guard. I sobbed loudly as fear caught in my throat.
A second later, the wolf bolted back into the dense foliage to my left. Just as quickly as it had come.
I stared into the trees for a few seconds, looking for a patch of black or a glimpse of those teeth that tore into my brother. Was it going to stalk us from the shadows, waiting for another opening?
But still, I didn’t see anything.
I stood in shock for a few seconds, not quite believing that it had fled, just like that.
"Emma,” a voice, so filled with agony that it took me a second to realize it was James’s, whimpered.
I immediately spun around and ran over to where he was laying. The ground was slick with blood and I almost slid into him—falling onto my knees next to his side.
“Are you—” he tried to sit up. “Are you alright?” Blood was dripping down the right side of his face, forcing him to keep his right eye closed, but that didn’t stop me from seeing the look of pure concern in his features. Concern for me, when he was the one injured.
“James, don’t move. You’re hurt.” I took a deep breath to still the quiver in my voice. “I’m fine, I promise. You saved me—you saved my life.”
I clutched his hand, blood and grass smearing across my palm. I could feel him shaking as the shock settled in. His face contorted into agony.
“Can you hang on for a little while longer? I’m going to figure this out. I--I’ll find help. Just give me a few seconds, I can fix this. You’re going to be fine,” my voice fell to a whisper. I hadn’t realized I was crying again until the tears landed on James’s T-shirt, creating more dark blotches on the fabric.
He nodded, closing his eyes. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to look at the extraordinary pain nestled within them.
Taking my jacket off, I assessed his leg. Pretend this is just one of those gory, gross video games James likes to play with his friends, the ones that Mom and Dad don’t know about, I told myself.
Despite my promises to him, I didn’t know where to start or how to help. My mind was running in overdrive, racking my memories for any sort of information that could be useful. I read a lot of books, I had to know something that would help us.
“I’m going to try and tie this around your thigh, J. It’s going to hurt.” I gently slid the jacket under his broken leg and, blocking-out the sound of his cries, used the sleeves to tie a knot above the injury, as tight as my small body would allow. I had no idea if it would even help, but I had to try to stop the bleeding.
My mind whirred as I frantically thought of what to do next. I was ten, I didn’t have a cell phone yet, so I couldn’t just call for help.
How was I supposed to get us home? What could I do? How were we going to get out of the woods?
It was only a few short miles back to the house, I could run it in no time. But if the wolf came back... James would be a sitting duck.
I screwed my eyes shut as my mind landed on the only option.
I would have to drag him.