Would you choose the wilds of Alaska?
Within a few strokes, she realized the flames were a lot worse now and the winds were playing weird games. It was as if they didn’t know which direction to head for. Praying they didn’t decide to come her way, she rowed harder.
Now she could see the bank which was only separated from the brush and forest by a few feet. Here the smell had gotten much worse, and the fire’s heat had ramped up. Smoke began drifting her way and made her eyes water. She shouldn’t get so close. She knew that.
What if a spark landed on her wooden boat? And just as the thought struck, the wind began scattering embers everywhere nearby. A few landed too close for comfort. As she shifted to turn around, she saw the saddest image, and it broke her heart.
A large wolf-like animal whose fur looked scorched leapt from the woods, basically seeming to emerge from the flames. She carried a hanging pup in her mouth. Leaping into the water, she shoved her offspring away and then swum in a circle as if to return to the burning hell she’d come from.
Jesus, she was going back. “No.” Demi screamed but between the wind and the roaring of the flames, she didn’t think the mother heard her. Except the wolf stopped and looked her way. Just for a second their eyes met. Demi heard her howl, as if it was a plea for help.
Then the large beast leapt out of the water and returned the way she’d come, back into the inferno. Only one thing could have persuaded her to do such a foolish thing. She must have had more pups to save. Not seeing anything but flames now, Demi searched for the pup left behind.
She knew she had to save the baby. Hadn’t it been what the mother animal had asked her for… begged her for?
Terrified to get near the little bastard, nevertheless, Demi rowed closer and then leapt into the water to gather the soaked survivor close enough to throw it in the boat. Except, it wasn’t what the puppy had in mind.
Frantic to go after it’s mom, it tried to swim to shore but seemed confused as to what direction. Instead, it swam in circles.
Reaching out to grab it’s body, she felt sharp teeth rake over her hand, drawing blood for sure. Keeping her face away from the snapping jaws, she tried pulling the tail so she could bring it to the boat and throw it in but again, it sensed danger and attacked.
Exhausted, anger grabbed her in its clutches, and she took out her temper on the fighter. Saddened because she knew the female wolf wouldn’t be returning and fearing the pup would drown, she finally yelled out. “Stop it, you little bastard. I’m just trying to help you.” She screamed at the wide-eyed, terrorized creature and whether it sensed her meaning or it just lost strength, it lay limp, floating as if it didn’t care if it lived or died.
Pissed now, knowing there was no way she’d let it give up, she pulled the slack body under her arm and swam to the boat floating seven or more feet away. Once there, she flung the puppy over the side and with the last of her strength, heaved her own body in next to it.
All her fear had disappeared, taken over by a fatigue so deep, she wondered if she could even open her eyes. Her eyelids felt too heavy to lift. Her arm hurt like the dickens and her hands and arms stung like hell from bites that the little shit had inflicted.
Knowing she had to move, to get them back to her side of the river where things still seemed relatively sane, she began to paddle. Slowly, feeling every muscle in her body throbbing, she kept her eyes on the horizon. After what seemed to take hours, she pushed herself until she could step out and tie the boat back to the tree that Whit had designated for that reason.
Collapsing, she crawled to the side of the boat to see the puppy still lay on its side as if it were injured. Cautiously, she reached out to touch, and though feeble, its head struck like a snake and the razor-like teeth bit her again.
“Why you little bastard! I outta throw you back into that fucking water and drown you myself.”
Once she’d let out her rage, she started to bawl. Howling in a way that she saw the mother wolf do, as if she could share her fear and sorrow with its spirit. Finally, letting her head drop into arms crossed over her knees, she had the wicked idea that maybe she should just walk away. Leave the little terror to fend for itself.
When she lifted her head and turned to look at the monster in question, she saw huge green eyes surrounded by the ugliest face she’d ever seen. Whoever said wolves were gorgeous canine specimens were nuts. This mottled bundle of fur was ugly, which seemed perfectly acceptable since it’s appearance matched it’s rotten disposition.
“Stop staring at me as if your situation is my fault you little fucker. I’m the good Samaritan here. You’d be at the bottom of the river without me, so how about you show me a little respect.”
Slowly unwinding, the pup arched it’s neck and tried to stand. As if too weak, the hind legs slumped, and the body followed. After a few more tries, all the while staring at her as if daring her to help, it managed to stand.
She watched this maneuver, feeling a strange admiration for the determination the little fellow showed. But when he had fully risen, it used the rest of its strength to bark at her and that effort made it collapse once again. Sighing, she shook her head and lowered it once again. Jesus, I wish Whit were here. He’d know what to do with you because I sure as shit don’t.
One thing she did know was that the nuisance still in the boat was a baby. And a baby couldn’t survive out here alone, especially with the dangers surrounding them now. The fire had forced all kinds of wildlife to take shelter where they had. In the distance, she made out the form of more than one bear. Furry creatures were swimming across the water and who knew what might be spying on her with the thought of attacking.
Nerves at pitch high, she lifted her head and stared out towards the fire. As if reaching the water had made a difference, the rioting flames seemed to have shifted. Probably the wind dying down helped. Shivers caught her attention, and she suddenly felt the cold deep in her bones. Still sitting in her wet clothes, her dripping long hair draped around her body, the persistent trembling warned her about finding shelter.
Once again she checked to see if she should stay by the river, or if it would be safer at the cabin. Taking Whit’s instructions to heart, she had gone onto the river when she’d seen the nearby flames. But now, certain of the wind changing directions and knowing that where earlier there’d been a wall of flames, now only scorched, blackened trees and billowing smoke filled the view, she made her decision.
She would stay by the rowboat but not on the water. Hauling the craft up and onto shore took forever and remembering how simple it always seemed to Glen or Whit made her realize how weak she’d become. Of course, having the extra weight of the pup didn’t help, and he sure as hell didn’t like her being near the boat or moving it.
Taking care not to get too close to those teeth again, she found the stash of things Whit had left for her and pulled off her soaking garments to change into the dry sweatpants and shirt Whit had stored there.
Thankful for the slight modicum of daylight, she stumbled to her truck and got her old hoodie. Approaching the boat where the pup lay still, the puddles around him making him look even more pathetic, she enclosed her hands in the gloves she found and then very slowly leaned over and threw the hoodie around the pup.
Scooping the wriggling struggler in her arms, thankful that his weight, though heavy, wasn’t impossible to move, she shifted him onto the blanket she’d prepared on the dry side of the boat. Doubting he could escape over the higher sides because of his size, she relaxed.
Finally, feeling like she had some control over the situation, she took out the flashlight and made herself comfortable on the ground next to the boat. Looking over at Blue, tempted to take refuge in the truck, she didn’t know how she could have the wolf inside with her and not get completely mauled to death by those viciously sharp teeth.
And she couldn’t leave the son of a bitch imprisoned in the boat where any animal might see it and decide dinner was served. Knowing Blue would be her last resort if any of the wildlife got too close, she let the thought fade for now. Hunger pangs suddenly grabbed hold, and she dug out some of the food to fill her empty belly.
What made her look into the whelp’s wicked green eyes, she’d never know. Maybe she heard the whimper he’d made or maybe she just felt the responsibility to share. Who knows, but dividing her sandwich wasn’t a decision she’d come to purposely. It had been pure instinct.
A baby had to eat.
“There now, don’t attack me. I’m doing my best to take care of you.”
The pup stared from her to her food, it’s message clear. One more bite while those weird eyes dug holes into her body, and she threw the rest to the waiting jaws. Taking a drink from her water bottle instead, she watched as the food was devoured.
Using the bottom of the plastic container where she’d stored the sandwiches, she filled it with river water and placed it as close as she dared to the mutt. Hearing the warning growls, she quickly snatched back her hands.
“Shut it, Asshole.” Cussing at the little bastard made her feel better.
Something in her surroundings caught her attention. Feeling eyes on her, she used her flashlight to make a circle and what she saw froze her blood. Christ, there were critters everywhere. Snarls close by almost made her piss her pants.
Rising slowly to her feet, she knew she had to get to Blue. The ten feet between her and the truck would be like walking ten miles, but she’d go real slow and keep the flashlight in her hands.
As she rose, in her peripheral vision, she saw the pup trying desperately to climb over the high sides of the boat, as if it too sensed the danger. Christ, she couldn’t just leave the little fucker there. Taking her blanket, she laid down the flashlight and threw the material over the angry beast. Then she scooped him into her arms.
“Stop fighting me, you son of a bitch. Christ, I’ll drop you. Stop it.” Screaming at him for snarling and biting, she suddenly realized he weighed a lot more now than he seemed to weigh in the water. Kicking the flashlight in front of her so she could bend to pick it up made her stumble as did the wriggling monster in her arms.
At the last minute, she fell against the truck. Ripping open the door, she threw her bundle inside and thought to crawl into the back instead, but the sounds and scent of a large animal nearby made her change her mind. Shoving the blanketed mass out of her way, she pushed herself in and slammed the door seconds before a snarling face appeared in her window.
Christ, that was close. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, thank you.”
Holding her head in her hands, she didn’t see the attack coming from inside the truck. Only when she felt the bite on her arm did it dawn on her that the wolf pup had found its way from out of its material prison.
She’d never know if it was her bellows of rage that made it back off or her waving finger in its face, but for some strange reason it listened to her command. “No. No more.”
Before she could do anything about their situation, other wildlife beasts were surrounding her truck. Feeling very threatened, she made out huge black shapes of bears and what looked to be a family of deer. Smaller animals like beavers and rabbits seemed to be running from the danger too. Birds in the trees were also making a hell of a racket.
Having to find new homes, after escaping the burned-out shell where they used to live didn’t sit well with any of the fleeing critters.
Staying quiet, afraid to move, Demi finally took the time to really survey her surroundings. What she saw made her heart smile for the first time that day. The earlier flames were completely gone. Only the remnant smoke and blackened trees could be seen.
Very slowly, she looked over at her companion who was frantically licking it’s paw. Could it have been singed in the fire? Too scared to check, she very slowly reached for the key still hanging from the ignition.
When she started the truck, she thought the animal would go crazy. But the bear’s face in the window had grabbed its attention and somehow, it seemed to sense the danger they were in and kept it’s cool. Steering Blue to the cottage, needing to get away from the danger they were surrounded by, she pulled up as close to the porch as possible.
Now what the hell was she to do? Probably, she could get out of the truck and inside without being attacked. She’d sure as shit give it her best effort, but should she leave the little bastard in the truck?
Looking its way, she spoke with an intensity she hoped he might understand. “You gotta come with me. I can’t just leave you here. Bears have been known to break vehicle windows to get at food.”
With it’s back shoved against the passenger door, the pup stared at her. Hackles up, its snarling making its teeth quite obvious.
“You can’t argue now. You have to come with me, or you’ll die. It’s as simple as that. You wanna die? I don’t really care actually. I hate dogs and you sure as shit haven’t given me reason to change my mind.”
She started to slowly open her truck door so it would be ready when she made her break. In the distance, she could see a black shape approaching and it was only a matter of minutes before they could be in dire trouble.
She tried to grab the blanket to use it again as a way to gather the pup’s body, but the wolf seized it in its teeth and pulled back and forth as though they were in a tug of war.
Shaking it’s head viciously from side to side, snarling all the while, it refused to let her have her way. Frustrated beyond her limits, she threw the thing at him and snarled back. “Fine you little bastard. Stay here and get eaten. I’m going inside where I have a gun. Then I’m going to come back and shoot you right between those stupid green eyes of yours.”
She jumped out of the vehicle, closing the door behind her. Before she took two steps, a howling noise erupted. “Son of a bitch.” She opened the door again and the pup leapt right at her. Without thinking, she jumped back, and it landed at her feet, the air knocked from its body.
Sensing the coming danger, she picked the baby up by the back of its neck where she’d seen the mother wolf holding it, and with the wriggler hanging from her hand, she pretty much dragged it to the door and threw it inside. Letting it go, she quickly slammed the door and locked it tight.
Sliding down to the floor, having no more strength to stay upright, she let her head fall back against the wooden barrier and began to cry.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the pup try to stand and fall over. Had she hurt it by literally throwing it inside or had it been injured when it tried to leap from the truck seat?
She didn’t have the energy to check, nor did she have the desire to get bitten again. Looking down on her hands, she saw the swelling from the multitude of bite marks and knew the throbbing in her arms and neck were probably from the same thing. God, she hoped it didn’t have rabies.
Sensing it staring her way, she took her time to see him as best she could in the small amount of light from the kitchen. Making out his green shining flares, she decided the ugly thing didn’t look sick just mean-tempered. From the little she knew about rabies; there would be foaming at the mouth.
Sighing, wiping her tears away, she closed her eyes.
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