Hunted: Part 1
Dad flings open the cupboard door and grabs the gun, dropping two bullets into the barrel.
“Come on Toby,” he says. “Let’s go hunting.”
I am curled up beside the fire with my homework spread around me. The heat from the flames warms my back as the snow continues to fall outside. Even algebra is more appealing than going out there.
“I need to do my homework,” I reply.
“It can wait. We’ll only be a couple of hours.”
Mum glances up from her book and sighs, but says nothing. There was a time when she would have made a fuss and told Dad it was far too dangerous. She used to cry and beg us not to go. I guess she knows there’s no point in arguing anymore. Once Dad has it in his head that we are going, that’s it.
I gather my homework into a pile and trudge to the door, pulling on my boots and outdoor gear. As I wave goodbye to Mum, she forces a smile, before dropping her eyes back down to her book.
The icy wind whips around us as we walk through the valley towards the forest. Dad strolls ahead and I follow, placing my feet in his snowy footsteps. The winter sun has barely risen above the horizon all day and the drop in temperature indicates that it won’t be long before nightfall. The snow is heavy, coating my back in a thick white blanket.
Dad stops abruptly and glances back towards me.
“Stop. Stay still. Did you see that?” he whispers.
I shake my head and squint at the trees ahead of us. There is a flash of movement. A dark shape moves swiftly between the trees.
With chattering teeth, I stand as still as I can, while Dad kneels on the snow with his gun pointing towards the forest.
I wish he didn’t make me come every time. Ever since we lost Jamie, he has been obsessed with wolf-hunting. He tells me that he will kill every last one of them. I don’t understand how that’s going to make things better. It’s not going to bring back my brother.
Shuddering, I look up, watching the startled birds rise to the sky.
“Got him!” Dad says with a grin.
There, on the edge of the forest, a wolf lays on its side. Its body twitches as crimson blood trickles from its hind leg, soaking into the pristine snow. As we make our way towards the animal, I bite my lip, forcing back the tears.
I rip off my glove and gently place my hand on the wolf’s head. With a whimper, two piercing blue eyes stare back into mine.
“He’s still alive,” I say.
“He won’t be for much longer,” Dad says, raising the shotgun to his shoulder. “That damn bullet must have just skimmed past his leg.”
My hands are stiff from the bitter air as I run my fingers over the velvety ears. The animal trembles and its eyes dart to my father, and then back to me. If that wolf could talk, I would swear he was pleading with me to help.
“Out the way Toby!” Dad yells. “He’ll have your hand off if you’re not careful.”
A howl echoes from the forest and as I glance up towards the naked branches, another dark shape materialises between the trees.
“Here we go again,” Dad says, flicking the gun towards the shape.
Another howl—but this time it is different. As it trails off, it is more like that of a human scream. I rush away from the wolf, back to my father’s side, clutching his coat as we watch and wait, feeling his body shake beside mine.
And then he takes aim.
“Stop!” I shout.
Dad lowers his gun and grasps my hand—his warm gloved fingers squeezing mine. The creature is just visible as it scampers along the edge of the forest. A body covered in thick grey fur— yet child-like in its form and moving rapidly on hands and feet towards the injured wolf.
“What is that?” I whisper.
“I don’t know,” Dad says with a trembling voice.
The creature is just metres in front of us, yet seems oblivious to our presence as it wraps its arms around the wolf. It throws back its head and howls; tears falling from its eyes into the blood-soaked snow.
Then it stops, turning its head towards us. Its spine hunches as its bright blue eyes meet mine, sending a shiver through my body.
I know those eyes.
“It’s Jamie!” I scream. “He’s turned into a wolf!”
“Don’t be so ridiculous,” Dad says. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
“It’s him!” I scream. “We can’t just leave him!”
Without a word, my father yanks my arm, pulling me away. As I glance back through the hazy white of falling snow, I can just make out the two figures huddling together. The howling has now turned to sobs; the unmistakable sobs of a small child.
Image Title: Shutterstock