Blogoff 2: The Change
Chapter 10. The Change
It was nearly dark. The wolf had been resting in his makeshift den, deep in the heart of Epping Forest. Gnawed bones and discarded antlers littered the surrounding ground. A nearby stream provided a ready supply of water. He had carefully marked all of the surrounding trees with his scent to ward off any intruders.
The wolf had grown in size and intelligence. So he had both the need and the means to dig out the small hollow where he now made his home. It was a safe spot and difficult to find, sheltered by mossy-green rocks and fallen tree trunks from the unpleasant rain and persistent cold. The wolf sat upright, while he used his powerful claws to move away large boulders and stones.
The paws that held the claws had become larger and more dexterous. The due claw was now separated and bending outwards while also growing longer. This allowed the wolf to grasp ahold of the variously-sized rocks and move them with surprising accuracy. With the bare earth exposed, the wolf used his powerful hind legs to dig out enough room for his enlarged shoulders and widened torso.
These could fit comfortably inside while concealing his entire body from sight. Not that any animals were foolish enough to come close to the wolf’s den. He remembered when he had taken the territory from a large brown bear that had likely escaped from a nearby bear-baiting pit.
The large predator was covered in battle scars from dozens of fights with vicious Bulldogs which were starved until they were ravenous. The bear was strong and confident in his ability to defend his territory. As the wolf approached it, the enormous creature reared up on powerful hind legs. The bear must have weighed over five hundred kilograms and was nearly three meters in height. The wolf snarled his challenge and began to circle the large creature wearily. The bear was unimpressed. There was no scaring him off. This confrontation would be to the death.
As he began his assault, the wolf relied on his superior speed to keep the massive animal off balance. He lunged in to strike at the bear’s legs and stomach with claws and teeth, then dodged away as the massive paw descended in answer. The creature roared as the wolf bloodied it, frustrated that it could not strike the wolf in return. The wolf continued to attack until the enraged animal finally surged forward, falling onto all fours. In a burst of speed, the full bulk of the bear slammed into the wolf and sent him sprawling backwards.
The wolf had barely any time to recover before the bear’s claws raked across his back and side. The immense animal was too close to evade, so the wolf rose up his hind legs. This gave his front claws the freedom to sink deep into the bear’s shoulders and neck. The bear rose up to his full height again and the two traded blows back and forth, dealing devastating injuries to each other.
The wolf was outmatched, but he refused to give up. Suddenly, the bear’s left leg buckled as the bloody ruin was no longer able to support the immense weight. The huge animal began to fall. In a burst of urgency, the wolf pushed sideways and narrowly avoiding being crushed beneath it. Seeing his chance, the wolf leapt onto the back of the bear and sunk his teeth into the muscular neck as deeply as possible. Blood poured out, but the wolf had not severed the artery. The bear wasn’t finished yet. Massive shoulders tried to roll the wolf off, as huge claws scored deep gashes in the wolf’s flanks. The bear rose from the ground and began thrashing in every direction in an attempt to throw the wolf off. To allow that would mean death for the wolf and so he clamped down with all his might. He desperately sunk all of his claws into the heavy hide. Gradually, the thrashing beneath him slowed. The bear tried to run but was dazed from blood loss and crashed into the surrounding trees and rocks. Finally, with a groan of anguish, the warrior bear sank to the ground and surrendered to the warm embrace of death.
It had taken many days for the grievous wounds inflicted by the bear to heal. He was unable to hunt and would surely have starved if not for the ready supply of meat that the gigantic carcass provided. Once he was healed, the wolf returned to hunting the smaller deer among the trees. Still tender from his scars, the wolf sometimes sought out easier prey. He was fast becoming an expert at killing the fat Suffolk sheep that lived in the small villages lining the outskirts of the forest.
The trick with the black-faced sheep was to approach the nervous animals slowly from downwind—ideally while they were sleeping. The wolf would leap over any small wooden fences that protected the flock. Then he would rush into the fleecy group while they were still unaware of his presence. It was best to kill a few as quickly as possible and carry one off. That way he could be gone before they set to their incessant bleating. Sometimes, the noises would alert a sheepdog that would rush in and begin barking his challenge to the vastly bigger wolf. The annoying animals
were foolish to test the dominance of the wolf. He would quickly dispatch any dogs with a few swipes of his powerful claws, or by pinning the animal down and ripping out its throat. He had learned a painful lesson to flee, however, whenever the farmers themselves exited their homes. They would frequently brandish a Brunswick percussion rifle or Baker muzzle-loading rifle that the wolf had come to think of as a “fire stick.”
The first time he had been hit by one of the small lead balls, he had been feasting on several sheep in an enclosed field. He was gorging himself on their blood and innards, and so had missed the approach of the accursed farmer in the midnight darkness. The burning pain had hit the wolf, almost simultaneously as the flash of fire and terrifying smell of smoke registered to his senses. He had yelped loudly and instantly abandoned his kill to flee for the protection of the trees. Loud bangs had followed him on his flight and another of the terrible balls had grazed his ear as he leaped the final outer fence. The fire-ball had lodged itself deeply in the wolf’s shoulder. Pulling the vile object out with his claws proved even more painful than when it had struck him. He had licked the wound constantly and now knew to be more watchful. Since that day he had avoided man more carefully. Eventually, the lack of game in the forest caused the hunger to return and drove the wolf to enter the villages again.
It was pitch black as the wolf waited along the outskirts of the small village. He would rest here often, completely hidden as he listened to the oblivious men speak to each other. At this hour the men had long since gone to bed, but the danger of their fire-sticks was always present. If he made too much noise they would pour out of their homes like fire ants.
The wolf avoided all areas of light or movement and tested the air carefully before proceeding forward. The farmers had taken to hiding their livestock in the large barns at night. The wolf hated to approach so closely to any of the buildings, but he could almost taste the blood of the animals inside. He would need to do this carefully. He approached the smallest of the buildings that was also the most isolated. The split-level barn smelled strongly of grain. Three of the walls were built from stone. The front wall, however, contained two large doors for a wagon to pass through and was made entirely from wood. That would be his way in.
As he approached, he caught a whiff of the large, four-legged animals that the men called “horses.” It was becoming easier to understand the men when they talked about the animals they labored to feed and protect. Lately, many of those words had begun to make sense to the wolf. It was different than when he interacted with the Master. That was more instinctual, more of the wordless communication between members of the pack. The sounds that the other men formed were difficult to separate and understand, but the wolf was learning.
The barn door was closed and barred by a heavy beam that had taken four men to put in place. Careful not to make a sound, the wolf grasped the mass of wood and lifted it clear. The action caused only soft scraping noises and a dull thump as he dropped the timber on the grassy ground. Then he silently lowered himself to all fours and nosed open the door. The wolf paused to listen. He heard the even breathing of a horse in the corner stall of the barn. He could smell no other creatures inside, save for a few small rats and the ever-present dung insects.
The wolf entered the barn as quietly as possible and padded across the hay-strewn floor. He began to stalk the chestnut-colored stallion that was asleep in the stall. It was a large animal, with powerful hooves and sharp teeth that the wolf had acutely learned to avoid. They were very difficult animals to take down when out in the open. Horses had often eluded him, detecting his scent and running away at a high speed. If he did get close to one it would lash out with tenacious defenses to deliver stunning bruises and deep lacerations—that the wolf remembered all too well. But this horse had nowhere to flee to and no warning of his approach.
The wolf was nearly ready to spring, carefully positioning himself between the stall and the open door of the barn. The nostrils of the horse flared and the white eyes shot open in alarm. He had been discovered. The wolf lunged at the horse with open jaws. The horse moved quickly, spinning and kicking. At the last instant, the wolf was able to twist his body to avoid the kick, but at the cost of slamming head first into the stone wall of the barn. He was dazed momentarily as the horse reared and began stamping and kicking wildly. Shaking his head to clear it, the wolf scrambled, trying to avoid the deadly assault. The hooves slammed into the wolf’s tail and leg. Blinding pain shot through him. Rage filled the wolf. How dare his prey challenge him?
He struck out with knife-like claws to destroy the offending horse leg. Rising to his hind legs, the wolf grappled with the stallion and began pushing it against the side of the stall. The horse screamed and foamed at the mouth as it struggled to escape, but the wolf pinned it stubbornly in place. He ignored the superficial bites and inflicted deeper ones into the exposed flank of the horse. The wooden stall cracked and splintered, giving way under the tremendous weight of the two animals.
With straining muscles, the wolf partially lifted the horse as they fell. He was able to tilt the heavy frame and land on top of the animal with a thunderous crash. The stallion thrashed on the ground desperately trying to rise, but the wolf ignored the injuries he had received and closed his jaws on the carotid artery of his prey. For long minutes, he held the neck of the horse down as it slowly died. His claws opened the warm stomach and chest of the animal, and he released his hold to consume the still beating heart.
The farmers burst in through the door a moment later. The light from their lantern illuminated the damage done to the stall and the blood-spattered carcass of the stallion. They brought their fire-sticks to bear, but there was nothing else in the stall. The wolf had leaped straight upwards and he now clung to the rafters with a large beam supporting the weight of his legs. As the men approached the stall they did not immediately think to look up.
The wolf saw his way out through the trap door to the second loft above. He readied his muscles for the jump. The men finally raised their lights and pointed their weapons upward.
Before he could be exposed, the wolf crashed through the trap door. He raced along the threshing floor and smashed through the loft doors to fall two stories to the ground below. Shots of lead balls rang out just behind him as he made his frantic escape. The wolf sprinted back to the cover of the forest as the alarm was raised throughout the village.
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