by J Dan Francis
Eli was tired and hurt badly. The snow was still falling; two inches on the ground already and no sign of it letting up. He still could not see the truck from where he was, and the trail was fast disappearing under the blanket of snow. He was not even sure if he was facing in the right direction. He was becoming a bit disoriented and felt feverish from his wounds. Chills were beginning to overtake him, and It was getting late. Eli figured it must be seven, eight o’clock. He did not want to spend the night in those woods, that was for sure.
He looked up at the fallen trees across the trail and then turned in the opposite direction. He had his bearing. He grabbed the red spruce, and with the aid of the walking stick began to make his way slowly; hopefully in the direction of the truck, each step reminding him he was not the strong, invincible Running-back he once was.
Eli looked around for a marker; anything to show him where he was exactly. But in the settling darkness, it was impossible to spot one. All the trees looked the same. He looked up ahead and marked a spot that he figured was safe for him to get to. There were three large boulders clumped together he remembered passing on his way up. And if he figured right, they should be about a hundred yards ahead. He kept walking in the direction he was sure was the right way to go, stopping only for a moment to look and listen for any sign of the wolves. It was too eerily quiet.
Suddenly, he heard a noise, a rustling in the brush near where he was walking. There was a light thumping and the muffled sound of fresh snow crunching. The wolves must be near he feared. No matter where he looked, he could see nothing.
“The wolves,” he whispered to himself.
Eli was on heightened alert, scared and shaking, holding the walking stick over his head ready to pounce if the wolves came out and attacked. From the brush, in a blur, something came running out alright. Eli yelled and started to swing the walking stick wildly at the intruder then suddenly pulled back, realizing it was only a rabbit. His heart was racing and pounding. He nervously laughed as the rabbit hopped off through the snow-covered brush. It was just as scared as Eli. Relieved but shaking, Eli continued his hobbled trek toward the three boulders, even more determined, and to get to his truck. He pushed the pain far from his mind and gathered up all his strength, steadily moving faster than before. When he cleared a slight hill, he could see the barely visible outline of the boulders and went even quicker, dragging the red spruce as best he could, pushing himself through the pain.
Eli was coming upon the big rocks when suddenly, he was violently and viciously pounced from behind and knocked to the ground. He never heard it coming. Three wolves were all over him like sharks in a feeding frenzy; barking and growling and clawing at Eli’s coat shredding it and biting him on his back and his legs. One of the wolves clamped onto his head like a vice. He could feel teeth on bone as the wolf gnawed on Eli's skull like it was a steak bone. Eli yelled out in pain. The pressure was unbearable. He was in a lousy position to fight back; lying on his stomach. If he were to turn over, his most vulnerable and vital organs would be exposed, and death would be a sure thing. The wolf released its grip and began running in circles, barking and growling, getting the other two wolves worked up like he was cheering them on to go in and finish Eli off. Eli looked up at the three boulders ahead as the wolves continued their assault. It was his only chance, he crawled frantically, like a soldier crawling through mud under barbed wire with bullets whizzing overhead. The big rocks were less than twenty feet away. A short distance, yes. But dragging two wolves along and a third one barking down on him like some psychotic drill sergeant made it seem like miles to go.
There was an opening between the two boulders which leaned against one another at the top, creating an A-frame entrance. Eli could see that the wolves would not be able to pounce from above. That third boulder sat directly behind, leaning against the other two. It was like a small cave. The opening was big enough for Eli’s to fit through. It would be safe there. He could wait it out huddled in those rocks in hopes the wolves would give up their pursuit, or that a Ranger might come by. But Eli knew that was a slim to nothing chance. He would rather freeze to death than leave this life with the thought of being the main entree on a wolf’s dinner menu.
He still had the walking stick in his hand and gripped it in a way to swing it behind him. Just then, the wolf that had been going in circles barking out orders clamped down on Eli’s head again; this time, even harder. Eli swung back, hitting the wolf as hard as he could. The blows did not seem to faze the wolf. The other wolves used Eli's leg and buttocks as a chew-toy. The pain was excruciating. Eli was exhausted and about to give up. But he thought of Joey and Kik. Who would take care of them? There had been enough loss and grief for them these last couple of years. Again, Eli became a praying man.
“If you’ve never heard me before God, then hear me now. A little help is all I ask?” he cried out.
Eli remembered the pointed edge he made at the other end of the stick. He turned the walking stick around with the business end facing behind, and with all his might, thrust it back, hitting something soft and meaty. There was a yelp, and a cry as the wolf released his vice-like jaws from Eli's head. The wolf ran off, howling with pain. Another wolf released Eli’s leg and ran off chasing the injured wolf. Eli quickly turned on his side, raised the walking stick up, and again with all his might, thrust it into the neck of the wolf that had been feasting on his backside. That wolf too cried out in terror. Eli pulled the walking stick out of the beast, making it screech even louder and without hesitation thrust it again into the wolf’s ribcage. The wolf yelped and screeched again. It backed off turning to run, getting only a few yards before collapsing in a writhing heap. Eli stared with a sadistic satisfaction at the mortally wounded wolf lying there, heaving, and gasping for air till it took its last breath with a long sigh. The wilf was dead. Eli looked at the blood on the walking stick and began to cry again, but suddenly stopped. He wiped his eyes and his nose with the sleeve of his coat and scrambled through the little entrance into the safety of the boulders.