Hidden in plain sight, they aren’t hiding anymore.
Hunted: Part 3
“Who is out there?” I ask, clutching my brother. His arms curl around my back and his bony fingers press into my spine. It is the first time I have felt his embrace in two years. I used to push him away. He was just the annoying little toddler who followed me around everywhere, but now I never want him to let go.
Uncle Mick ignores my question. His wide eyes are fixed on Jamie.
“Christ,” he whispers. “There he is.”
As my uncle approaches us, the wind picks up outside. He stops abruptly and glances back towards the door. I grip Jamie tightly as I realise that it is not just the sound of the wind howling around the shed. There is something else out there. A sound that I am all too familiar with. Every night, I lie in bed listening to the distant call of wolves, imagining Jamie out there with them; praying that he will be found alive one day.
As the howling intensifies, Jamie’s body stiffens and his eyes brighten. He pulls away from my arms and darts across the floor, slamming his body against the door. His tiny frame bounces off the wood and he whimpers as he lands in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Within seconds, he is up again, running to the door. His legs stretch into a standing position and he frantically scratches at the wood with his fingernails.
Mum’s screams echo through the shed. “Stop him! He’ll get out!”
I jump up and run towards him, pulling his hand away from the door. He turns and stares at me for a moment. Then his mouth opens. It looks as though a smile is forming, but then he bares his teeth—sharp gleaming incisors covered in saliva.
Uncle Mick grabs me by the shoulders, yanking me backwards and we tumble to the floor, hitting the cold, hard concrete. Dad rushes forward and grabs my hand, pulling me to my feet.
“Get your hands off my son!”
“You don’t want him to get bitten do you?”
As I clutch my father’s hand, I stare at Jamie up against the door. “Dad? What happened to him? Why is he like this?”
“The wolves must have looked after him, son. It’s so cold out there that his body must have adapted, even grown fur.”
Uncle Mick throws back his head and laughs. “You’re full of bullshit. Tell the lad the truth.”
Vomit rises up my throat, coating my tongue. I swallow hard, forcing it back down. “Is he a wolf-person?”
I first heard about the ‘wolf people’ from my friends at primary school. Creatures that live in the forest. Part human and part wolf. I believed it all when I was young, but as I grew older, I just thought it was a stupid story made up by adults to stop kids from wandering into the forest.
Dad’s face is pale and he visibly trembles as he looks into my eyes. “No son. Don’t pay any attention to Mick. He has issues.”
Uncle Mick laughs again and jabs his finger into my father’s chest. “I sure do have issues! I seem to remember you paying me a nice sum of money to keep those issues to myself.”
Then the two men fall silent as Jamie throws back his head and squeezes his eyes shut. A shriek rips from his lungs, followed by a howl. It is long and pitiful, as though he is releasing every drop of misery from his tiny body.
“He wants to go,” Uncle Mick says. “We let him out, or I’ll let the wolves in. And that could get messy.”
Mum becomes frantic and grabs my uncle by the arm. “I can’t let him go again. I just got him back.” She turns and screams at Dad. “This is your fault!”
“My fault? Are you bloody serious?”
“You lost him. He was three years old. You should have been watching him.”
Without further warning, Uncle Mick unbolts the door and pushes it open, and Jamie rushes into the darkness.
Releasing my father’s hand, I find myself running after him. Mum’s shrieks echo behind me but I keep going, stumbling through the snow as the icy wind whips my face.
I can’t let my brother disappear again.
There is a patter of canine feet behind me. They are becoming closer, gaining on me.
Paws slam into my back and I fall to the ground. A wolf’s intense blue eyes stare into mine and hot breath wafts over my face.
Bang! A gunshot fires through the night air and the wolf bolts. Now I can see only the falling snow from the black sky.
My father’s face appears above me. He flings his shotgun over his shoulder and scoops me up in his arms.
Dad carries me to back to the house. The warmth of the dwindling fire greets us as the door is flung open and Mum rushes towards us, pulling me from Dad’s arms. I can feel her body trembling as she grips me, sobbing. Moments later, Uncle Mick strides through the door with Jamie in his arms. Blood splatters onto the floor as it drips from my brother’s leg.
“Dad! You shot him!” I scream.
“I was aiming for the wolf. I thought we were going to lose you,” Dad says gently.
Uncle Mick’s hands and clothes are covered in blood. He strolls towards the kitchen sink, rolls up his sleeves and plunges his hands under the running tap. Then, as he turns to face us, I shudder.
His bare arms are covered in dense grey fur.
“I’m not hiding anymore,” he says. “Secret’s out.”
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