No longer would the pups remain by the burrow that had hidden them for so long. What has been their shelter, their birthplace and their home for many nights and days had become a place of death and loss.
Start reading from Chapter one
Elha never gave the den a second look. Staring for what seemed an age at the space in the foliage where the rogue wolf had taken her little First, Elha suddenly loped off, heading straight for that space, disappearing into the shadows. A single “yap” was all the pups needed to command them to follow their elfa, their mother-leader. So, the pack trooped off into the forest, Elha in the lead, followed by the ragged band of pups, with Bahr following from the rear, checking any wayward pup that ventured too far from the given path.
Onward they strode, ever moving forward in the direction chosen by Elha and none of the others questioned her purpose, they just followed. This was the direction of travel. They were heading into a chill wind, but a wolf’s coat is thick and warm.
It wasn’t long before they found it. Bahr noticed the faint scent wafting across the trail and went to investigate, growling at the pups not to follow him. He saw it in the undergrowth, discarded as carelessly as its life had been taken. With a loud, short yip, he attracted Elha’s attention and, turning about, she went to join Bahr, the pups following in a ragged troop behind.
First’s broken little body just lay there, his head at an impossible angle to one side, blood caked all over his coat. Bahr stood there sniffing at the ragged thing, nudging it gently with his snout, as if he expected the pup to wake up and join the family in its onward trek. With his great tongue, Bahr lapped away some of the blood to leave the tattered coat shiny and dark like it had been when First was a newborn. Padding over in near silence, Elha stopped and stared at First’s body for a moment before picking him up in her powerful jaws and holding him, limbs and head flopping down to the sides. Blood, and the rest of the pups, just stood there, not sure what to do.
Bahr saw, before his eyes, pictures of scavenging no-wolves, birds and rats picking away at the bones of the tiny body and the thought revolted him. There, where First had been discarded, he began to dig. With all four paws, he scraped and shifted the earth and stones, kicking back the loosened soil into a rough mound behind him. All the while, Elha stood there with the body of First between her jaws, cradling him in silence.
With the work complete, Bahr stood back to allow Elha to place the broken body of their pup, their First, into the ground, nudging his limbs and his head into a position that seemed more comfortable, more dignified. Bahr then kicked the earth back over the place. The forest would keep First safe beneath her, he would not be torn apart by any passing scavenger.
The business done, the family trooped off, heads low, toward their future. The life of a wolf is a series of journeys, the days filled with hunting food, eating food, wolves born from the forest and wolves taken back by the forest. Today was no different and so the family journeyed onward. With one fewer mouth to feed they would continue the struggle to survive.
Elha and Bahr separated, each to scan a different portion of the forest as they journeyed onward, the pups following in a ragged procession that was half leaping, bounding and running, and half stopping and trying to make sense of the myriad of scents, sounds and sights. From time to time one of the pups would detect a scrap of something that might have been food, devouring it before his siblings noticed and staked their own claim. Their sister Blood began to range a little ahead of the rest, naturally taking the role that First had taken before her. Neither she, nor any of the other pups, gave any thought to it, it was as unplanned as much of the life of a wolf was unplanned. There is no artifice about a wolf and particularly not a pup as young as Blood and her brothers and sisters. For the most part, they forgot the incident of First’s killing and the finding of his body. All the same, the memory surfaced from time to time, when they encountered the scents and sounds of other wolves, so that they were more wary than ever before of strangers, and of the forest around them. Ready to keep their distance, take cover when they needed to, and to stay in touch with their elfa and ulfa with the occasional yip or yap, the coded messages of a pack moving forward together for the first time.
Onward trekked the family with Elha in the lead to one side and Bahr in the lead to the other, scanning the scentscape as they progressed, the pups stopping and testing all manner of strange and exciting scents that they picked up on the way. Each member of the pack giving a periodic yip or yap to indicate their position to the others. Each of the adult wolves had a picture before them, merging with the visual picture of the forest ahead, of the scentscape from all around, and the position of each family member. It was like a chart before their eyes, pinpointing where they were, where each wolf and pup was, where the scents of food were coming from along with any sounds and signs of danger.
As wolves, they gave no thought to the pictures before them, they only continued to scan, to add to the picture of place, of food, of threat, dismissing the irrelevant information and focusing on the things of importance: place, food, threat, pack. The pictures told the whole story, there was no need for additional narrative, no need of the words that fill the minds of the human animal. The wolf survives through strategies led by instinct, with planning limited to the here and now, to this place and the next place, moving from one to the other through pathways that were remembered or new. New pathways were marked or not marked depending on the need to return, the need to claim territory. There was no marking of the place the pack left, for they had no need or desire to return to a place of danger to the pups. They were moving on to a new territory where they would stake their claim. They did not know where this territory was as they headed there, but they would know it when they came upon it.
As Elha scanned and sniffed and tested, she loped onwards and onwards but, increasingly she had another sense, a sense that they were not alone. The feeling was vague, and she couldn’t be sure whether she could hear something or scent something unusual, but it unsettled her. Sensitive to the recent loss, she wasn’t sure if there really was something there or if she was just imagining something that was nothing. Yet wolves are cautious animals that will not dismiss this kind of sense until they were sure about it.
“Wolf,” she growled vaguely. “There is wolf.”
Bahr could see nothing in his scent picture, or his sound picture and he could certainly see nothing with his eyes. Lifting his head and moving his snout around, lowering it to the ground, he found no sign of wolf but did not doubt what Elha had said. He knew from the time of his youth, when he ran with the pack of his elfa and ulfa and his brothers and sisters, that a pack’s senses were more, much more than any individual wolf’s. Even discounting the pups, whose senses were not yet developed enough to contribute to the pack’s picture of place, the senses of the two adult wolves combined and working together, where much, much more than the senses of each of the two wolves alone.
Elha stopped and turned around. Walking back to where the pups ranged, she continued on through them, past them, back along the path they had just followed, a single low growl enough to keep the pups from jumping at her. They were still eager for a taste of the milk whose source was fast diminishing, to supplement the half-digested food that was now their main source of nourishment.
Bahr closed in, nearer to the pups, as a yap from Elha made it clear to him that she was continuing along the path in the direction they had just come from. Listening to her padding off back into the forest where they had come from, Bahr let out a final yip before turning and continuing on the way they had come, this time remaining in front and closer to the pups.
Elha continued to move, more slowly now, snout low to the ground, trying to pick up any trace of wolf or other passer-by, as she moved this way and that, sweeping the undergrowth with her acute senses. Nothing. She continued onward, unsure of the direction but certain of the presence. Where could it be coming from? She gave a series of warning howls and left a copious marking on the ground and over a range of bushes and ferns, to be sure that the message was not lost on any passing stranger.
“Stay away. Do not follow,” the message said “This is my place to command, and my name is Elha, the fierce. Do not disobey!” With a barking howl she turned and galloped back to her family, anxious to keep them all safe in the face of this unknown danger, yet unable to settle. This time, trailing back behind the advancing group of wolves, she had a feeling of being followed but could still pick up no definite trace. Wandering off the path to left and right, she used all her powers of hearing and smell to try to pick up some clear sign of what it was that was bothering her.
Again, Elha bounded off back along the trail in the opposite direction to her family, hoping to catch the culprit unawares. Again, she ranged this way and that to try to detect the scent or sound of wolf or other kind of follower but found none.
The young wolf that had been following the family was wary and kept her distance, laying low each time Elha came galloping back in her direction. She was unsure whether she should come any closer. The bitter wind that blew the scent of wolf towards her, also hid her scent from Elha and whatever companion or companions Elha had. The young wolf could tell there was more than one wolf but could not, at that distance, tell whether there were many, or just not one.
This game of hide and seek continued throughout the day, with Elha, positive that she could tell there was a strange wolf following them, running back to intercept, only to find that she could not hear or scent a thing. Then, just as she was turning away, she picked it up for sure. With a change in the wind direction, she picked up a definite scent of wolf. Tracking left, right and moving back along the trail the family had passed much earlier, Elha stalked the quarry, snout close to the ground. The young wolf lay in thick undergrowth, trying to press her body into the soft earth and roots beneath, trying to make herself invisible.
Elha was sure now and, as she picked up a definite direction, ears pointed forward, she had the aural confirmation she needed and leapt forward at a gallop, taking great bounds in the direction her hearing took her. Startled, the young wolf began to back away, her head low to the ground, paws extended in supplication, hoping to escape the wrath of the fearsome wolf now heading directly for her.
With a piercing, shrieking roar, Elha shot forward like an arrow and, seeing the young wolf before her for the first time made a great leap. The young wolf closed her eyes and bowed her head awaiting the inevitable bone crushing bite. Elha landed on her front paws directly in front of the young wolf and, drawing in her hind legs, compressed her whole body with massive tension like a coiled spring and then leapt over the young wolf and at the second wolf lying not far behind. The young wolf, after a moment’s hesitation looked up, wondering why those jaws had not found their target.
Elha, ignoring the young wolf, locked onto her target, a much older male wolf skulking in the shadows, awaiting a moment to pounce on the young female, then only a few paces away. As Elha fell upon her victim, the other wolf fell back, rolling with the full force of the attack, two or three times before finding his feet. Elha had, by then, released her grip upon the other wolf’s upper shoulder, to herself roll and find her feet.
The other wolf, regaining his feet, found himself facing the full wrath of Elha’s vicious jaws. It was the rogue wolf that had killed Elha’s precious First, that now stood before her. Without a moment’s hesitation, Elha leapt again at her foe, locking her fangs around his throat, again throwing him back and rolling him over, this time tearing a piece out of the flesh of his neck. Retaliating, the rogue wolf tried to take a slice of flesh from Elha’s departing flank but caught only a portion of fur between his teeth. Elha regained her balance and her footing and, turning on herself, pressed forward again, locking her great jaws around the neck of her adversary, this time not letting go but pulling and shaking and tearing and ripping a great mouthful of flesh, breaking through veins, arteries, and windpipe, causing devastating injuries and ripping the life out of the stricken animal, blood gushing and wind croaking from the space opening up in his throat.
Within moments the unfortunate creature’s life had left him and sunk, red and flowing, into the forest floor, a final gasp emitting from the great gap left in his neck. Making sure of her kill, Elha again sunk her great, fearsome fangs into the rogue wolf’s neck, clamping down and down and down until, with a snap, the vertebrae separated, and it was done. A final shake of the ragged remains of what had once been a powerful and fearsome wolf, and Elha released her grip on warm flesh and, stepping back, surveyed the bloody tatters.
Stepping away, panting, head bowed, sweating from her great lolling tongue, foam and sputum spraying all around her on the forest floor, Elha recovered herself, red mist receding to leave a hazy picture of all the green and brown flora before her. Only then did she realize the other wolf, the young wolf, was still there, watching in awe at the magnificent but horrifying display of lupine strength, as this beautiful killer stood over her victim. As if to seal her victory Elha, without looking behind, shat upon the head of the still corpse beneath her hind legs, marking her name, the name of the unassailable beast that had destroyed the wolf that dared to take one of Elha’s own.
Without looking back, Elha strode forward towards the young wolf, noticing for the first time the creature’s almost white coat, flecked with gray. As Elha approached the young wolf, now standing transfixed, the young wolf lowered her head to the ground, both paws extended, eyes fixed on the grass and leaves beneath her.
“Spare me mother, I mean no harm,” the white wolf whined.
Elha walked straight past before stopping, turning her head back.
“You may go now, little one. You are safe.”
The young white wolf remained, as if fixed to the forest floor, rooted to the ground, shaking from the experience of the kill she had just witnessed.
With a final snort, Elha pressed on without looking back at the scene of devastation she left behind. Exhausted from the physical and emotional energy she had discharged in the short-lived fight, Elha loped carelessly forward, ignoring the faint padding sound from behind as the white wolf started to follow in Elha’s pawsteps.
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Thanks for reading. What do you think?
Run with the Pack was published by Park Langley Editions in 2022. I will continue to post each chapter in turn here, as long as there is interest from readers. Please comment and/or like if you wish to read the next chapter.
I am also planning to publish some bonus chapters. I am working on some ideas, but would be delighted if any of my readers wanted to share any of theirs. If you can think of a new adventure for Elha, Bahr and their pups, please make your suggestion in the comments below. Any ideas I use will be credited.
Thanks for continuing to read Run with the Pack.
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About the Creator
Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.