In the Service of the Wolf: Part IX

30Aug18

wolf09a

Part I here

The call of the moon and the change that came with it was a private thing for some. For that reason as the sun fell below the tree line the compound looked deserted. For once not even the gate was guarded.

Bare-chested, Garrick stood on the rise above his home and regarded the great mottled face of the silver orb like an old friend. His shirt was folded on top of his boots and now only his denim pants remained in place. Below him the older ones hung back in the shadows. From his vantage point he could see Augusta and Clarice as they now stood naked on the recess of the porch looking up at their husband and master with pride. Their apparent shyness was a show of respect for their man, for only the unmated women stood proud when disrobed; usually anyway. This twilight the younger girls hung back in the shadows giggling, some of them newcomers and not used to the ways of the pack.

Garrick sensed, heard and smelt all this and smiled. There was no lore for this custom. But always the women disrobed before the change. The men, the older ones anyway, shed their clothes with the first surge of pain, stepping seamlessly from one state of being to the next to emerge fully wolf among the pack. He suspected it dated back to the time when women had more clothes to fuss with and treasured them more. He might have laughed again at the insight, but his brain tightened and the sudden tickle behind his eyes became a burn.

Across the valley the fire red sky was laid out before the moon like a blood offering with a thousand trees all bowing at this altar to set the forest off amid a thousand hues of green. All at once each vivid display held a million scents so that the world was a-tang with an endless depth of earthy soul and crisp sweet pine. Under it all Garrick shed his mortal form as easily as he slipped from his pants.

Others too were waiting for the last of the sun to slide below the horizon and the beginning of true dark. Already these had begun the change as they hung back, their baleful golden eyes now on the great grey wolf standing atop of the rise; two dozen pairs of them all unblinking.

Then Garrick called them.

At the first howl the forest fell silent and eager wolves danced in anticipation. People as far away as Pulver stopped in their tracks and shot hasty glances up Main Street before hurrying home. A stranger might have wondered at the early closing of many businesses, but in moments there was none there to ask the reason. Then one by one the pack took up the call and even strangers would not have been abroad. The hunt had begun.

*

The night was as still as death as the lone doe lapped a drink at the water’s edge. One last repast before it slipped into the undergrowth to sleep. But something held it and for reasons it could barely comprehend the great white orb of the full moon unsettled the creature. Lifting its head the doe cocked one ear to listen.

Nearby a fox stirred, but it was nothing to the deer. Nor was the owl, suddenly becalmed mid hunt. Only the hard silver circle above held any dread; the moon and some nameless shadow within the dark.

In the forest a second’s hesitation was death and with a seemingly preternatural sense the baleful cry that ripped through the death black night came as no surprise.

At the sound the stalking she-wolf startled and turned from the deer to face this new threat and when she looked back the doe was gone.

Although no kin to her, the distant call of this pack leader left her strangely longing; promising much and threatening all. Then alpha wolf called again to be answered by a dozen or more of its kind.

The she-wolf shuddered; both desire and fear wracked her. If instinct alone had ruled her she would have fled, but beyond this form she had another, one she could scarce draw upon now. This alter ego held her with a fog of thoughts and mind ideas the wolf mind could not assemble into meaning.

Her blood urged her go, make the forest yours and run. But the wolf voices sang around her and she longed to join their chorus.

*

Garrick was not quite Garrick, not truly. But rather he was a passenger in his own brain observing the hunt but not directing it. True enough he could readily direct instinctive things, but subtle ideas could only be conveyed to his wolf-self by way of blunt suggestion. But the hunt was on and such considerations were lost among pumping blood and the song of the night.

Ahead the deer were running and he sang to his pack as much, unleashing them like a whip towards their collective quarry. In answer they sang in harmony at such times and Garrick embraced it, wishing he could be this way for always.

The youngsters in the leading edge responded to his call and surged forward and all around to flank his position. Thrown wide he could shape them like a great claw ready to seize the prey and bring it down. He howled again.

His alpha female answered to let him know the stragglers were safe; beta males quickly adding their voice.

But there was a strange voice amid the song, one out of tune and Garrick snarled angrily. His jaws snapped in anticipation of the discipline that would follow this breach. Such rouge calls could turn in to challenges if not crushed.

Then this voice called again and Garrick knew it for a stranger. For long seconds his wolf-self had its head and howled with rage and warning. In answer the pack drew near and snarled at every tree and shadow.

‘Danger, heed me,’ Garrick sang at last and sniffed the air.

The song abated amid wild panting and flexed claws.

‘Kill,’ a young blood snarled.

A brief concurring chorus had to be again silenced as Garrick scanned the night.

If a leaf had fallen he would have heard it. He could have smelled the scented breath of a nightingale. The night was razor sharp in his senses.

The lone wolf was not large. As it crested the rocky ridge above the glade where the pack stood alert it glistened silver-white in the moonlight. A she-wolf, Garrick judged; a young one he decided. It was clear that this was no natural wolf, but not of his pack.

Some of the males relaxed. Garrick cursed, ‘fools.’ He would have howled a challenge to the stranger but she beat him to it. A lesser creature would have attacked, but Garrick knew that the she-wolf’s rudeness was born of inexperience not malice.

He answered with his dread most call.

The pack joined him and in a moment the forest was stunned beneath the onslaught of the chorus.

Above the cacophony the she-wolf paced back and forth as she looked down with longing and dread at the pack, her senses urging her again to run. Then the alpha called again and she did.

*

The morning light coated the Garrick’s’ study like warm honey and a light breeze lifted papers by the open window, bringing the heavy scent of the forest. Garrick should have been fulfilled, but like so often on the morning after a hunt, it felt like a little death following bad sex. Nor was the anti-climax all he had to contend with this day.

The un-knocked door opened and Sundance entered the room like a cat on the prowl. His long hair fell lose without his usual headband as if he had just come from his bed, his eyes fixing on his pack leader as if the man’s next words would be taken down in stone.

“You saw her?” Garrick said with a shrug.

The old Navajo nodded and took up a warrior stance with legs akimbo and his arms folded.

“Not one of ours,” Garrick said unnecessarily, “Unless she got lost and…”

“No one is expected, and I made some calls, no will be,” Sundance said darkly.

Garrick nodded as if he had expected the answer. “Then I… I am at a loss…” His tone was uncharacteristically hesitant.

Sundance shrugged and grunted, “It happens.”

Garrick looked at him quizzically.

“Sometimes the curse misses a generation or even two. Without guidance…” he shrugged again, “She might not even know what she is.”

“Then where did she come from?” Garrick asked.

The Navajo shrugged again and made a gesture to the forest. “A farm perhaps, she looked young. Maybe she has not long…”

“Maybe,” Garrick closed down the worthless speculation. “My concerns are that she maybe a scout for another pack…”

Sundance shook his head dismissively and the pack leader was inclined to agree.

“Or worse,” he continued, “A lone wolf who could attract the attention of hunters.”

“My thoughts exactly,” the Native American agreed, although he preferred the term Indian. In his day it was more honest and he felt less patronised.

“We need to find her,” Garrick said with a determined edge, “Quietly.”

“My job I think,” Sundance nodded.

“Yes, although stay away from town, if she is there we will need a new approach.”

Sundance had no problem with that, he had long be wary of Pulver.

*

The woman in the beret and dark-rimmed glasses sucked her lips into her mouth to form a frog-pout and then let them go with a pop. Then shoving her hands deep into her coat she started up and down Main Street as the answers would be written in neon or on the Mom & Pop shop signs.

It had been a rough night; her room at the motel had been a mess when she woke. The empty whisky bottles had been the most worrisome, she counted three; way too many. At least her head didn’t trouble her overmuch, but it had taken an age in the shower to wake up.

“Stacy, Stacy, Stacy… where did all the flowers go?” she muttered to herself nonsensically.

Come sundown last night the small town street had cleared quicker butter on a hot knife. There had been fear in the air too. But when she had asked around this morning everyone had looked at her like she was crazy.

Apart from this collective fear Stacy had detected nothing the night before. No blood on the moon, no banshee wails and no one had gone missing. She would check for reports of cattle mutilations of course, but there had been none in this area before, not according to her researches. Maybe it was all local tradition without substance. What was it Alice Eden had said; could Garrick just be a ringer for his grandfather in the photos? She had the local hear-say of course, but no one reliable had said anything substantial.

Stacy checked her watch. The diner hadn’t opened yet and she did the lip suck thing again. Sitting all day with a coffee in front of her was her best lead so far. When no one realised she was listening sometimes people talked. Then there was the lawyer, Alice Eden. Maybe she could be useful in prising open the Stone’s wall of secrecy.

She figured it would be a while before Alice showed a leg and I would be best to catch her at the diner over breakfast. She checked her watch again. What time was it in New York? What the hell.

The pay phone at the back of the diner was out of sight and for the most part out of mind. It had served her well as an office she thought as she dialled the number.

“Pat, Pat WTF…” she said when the grizzly bear on the other end answered, “It’s Stacy, Stacy Dane…”

“Do you know what time it is?” Patrick Coleridge snarled.

“It’s… oh, whoops, you’re behind not ahead aren’t you… sorry,” Stacy winced.

“What is it anyway?” Coleridge asked with a yawn she could not see.

His voice sounded metallic and far away.

“I am out here in Pulver, Montana… I am running down a story on… well the usual, you know…” Stacy paused for a response, she didn’t like to explain these things and anyway one never knew who might be listening.

“You mean vamps?” Coleridge growled.

Stacy knew that the man was a specific kind of crazy. He didn’t believe in vampires.

“Or have you got a hot lead on Big Foot, or some fairies maybe?” There was no hint of scorn in his voice; no doubt he had reserved it for his unseen face.

“No,” she drawled hesitantly, “It is more in your line actually, that’s why I called you.”

“What you got?” Coleridge grunted down the phone.

“That’s just it… I got nothing, not really… I was chasing down a lead on an old geezer called Garrick Stone… just some local rumours and a few photographs, but…” Stacy was beginning to feel she was sounding a bit lame.

“Stone you say…?” was that interest?

“Yeah, some old rancher but…”

“I may have something in the files,” Coleridge said in a more even tone. “I’ll get back to you.”

“Sure, you’ll want my number here…” The phone went dead, “right oh then…” Stacy made with the frog lips and then released them with a quizzical pop.

To be continued



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