Fairwolf trotted across the forest floor, the scent of blood rich in his nostrils. He stopped and listened. The winds tickled the tree leaves. The air smelled wet. It would rain soon. Detecting no threats, he crouched under a steady tree and devoured the young rabbit he held in his jaws.
Finished with his prize, he padded toward the stream. His ears twisted at each new sound. Trips to the stream were dangerous. For him. Fairwolf bore dog’s blood in his veins and the true wolves didn’t like dogs.
Fairwolf’s ears picked up the soft stepping of several paws. More than one wolf approached. Sometimes they waited for him here. He hid. Without the cover of snow his brilliant coat would betray him if he wasn’t careful. He’d learned to hide deep in the brush. Graypaws and the others slipped out from the trees. They nosed the bank. They weren’t here for a drink. They were here to kill. Fairwolf could sense it. He stiffened, holding perfectly still, but Graypaws’ yellow eyes met his through the brush.
Growls unleashed from the other wolves’ throats as they sprung forward. Fairwolf dashed out of his hiding spot, the thick branches entangling him. Graypaws caught him. The other wolves circled in. They would smell his fear. The snarls echoed in his ears and Fairwolf felt teeth in his shoulder. Teeth in his side. He bit at anything he could, but they continued spilling his dog blood on the ground. Fairwolf could think of only one way out. Slinking backward he felt cool water on his paws. He let the stream swallow him.
Graypaws huffed and the other wolves fell back. The stream separated them from men. The other wolves could cross the river, but they wouldn’t. Fear kept them from the dogs. From the men. Fear had kept Fairwolf from crossing too, but the safer woods were no longer home to him.
Graypaws and his posse howled triumphantly as Fairwolf’s dog blood stained the river and he let himself be swept to the other bank. Graypaws gave one last departing glare, and Fairwolf recognized the threat. He could never go back. He pulled himself onto the bank and dashed into unknown territory.
Fairwolf finally stopped running. His coat was near dry; his wounds no longer bleeding. They weren’t deep. He would survive. He had escaped. His worst cut was from the stream. His forepaw had slipped on something deep in the river, something with a bite. He would have to be careful so it would heal. Each step cracked it open.
He rose and tested the air; it was sweet. He nosed the ground, it was traveled mainly by smaller animals, foxes, rabbits and mice. He listened. The babble of a creek drew him closer. The water smelled clean; strong with fish. This would be a good home.
A new sound touched his ears. Fairwolf ventured out toward it cautiously. He peered through the brush and into a strange clearing. A meadow. It smelled of something strong and heavy, something he could not identify. His paws carried him out into the open. He felt his body slink closer to the earth when the cover left him. He stopped startled when the earth changed. The hard substance under his paws was like rock, only flat. He backed up slowly, but the sound brushed his ears again. A soft humming. It drew closer. It sounded fast. Angry. The hair on his back rose and his tail tucked between his legs. The forest was within reach, but Fairwolf had tasted curiosity, and wanted another bite.
The beast approached. It was faster than he’d expected. And larger. Fairwolf dove back into his cover frightened. But the beast flew by. The same heavy scent trailed it. A screeching sound cut through the air. Was the beast hurt? He peered ahead and saw the great creature had stopped. It was coming again! It had seen him. He knew he couldn’t outrun it, so he remained frozen in the brush. The creature stalked him. Its drone was still loud, but not unkind. It stopped. It lingered in front of where Fairwolf sat. He was afraid to move. Slowly the creature regained its speed and ran away.
He ventured again toward the hard meadow. The beast had spotted him and gone. The hard meadow began to quake and a soft hum approached again. Fairwolf darted into the woods.
*** *** ***
“Bill! Stop!” The car came to a screeching halt.
“What in the name of—“
“Did you see it?”
Bill looked back at his deputy’s stark face. He put the car in reverse.
“A little farther.” Drew wouldn’t take his eyes off the road. Bill didn’t hesitate. Didn’t ask questions. When his deputy looked that scared, something was wrong.
“There!” The word came out in a harsh whisper.
Drew pointed into the roadside woods. Bill saw it too. Huge. White. Most assuredly a wolf. His heart all but melted.
“You don’t believe—“
“Shh!” Drew hissed. He watched the creature a few seconds. “Drive.”
Of course he believed. Rock Falls hadn’t seen a white wolf in hundreds of years, since back when it was Angel Falls. Bill swallowed.
Drew turned to him, some color in his cheeks finally. “What do you suppose it’s here for?”
“It’s a wild animal.” Bill shrugged trying not to let superstition grip him. “Drew. Listen. Until we can say for sure what we saw, don’t go—“
“Bill! They show themselves to people to warn them! You know that! I know that! Honestly Bill the whole town knows it!”
“Legends, Drew.” Bill reminded.
“Legends you can’t get away from! White Wolf Inn. Ghost Wolf Tavern. Blood Brothers Hardware. And the—“ Drew broke off.
“The cemetery?” Bill’s bravery was returning. It didn’t matter what all the legends said. The town wasn’t haunted. There were no white wolves guarding the place; protecting the innocent.
“You don’t believe? That’s just great. Now it’ll come after me.”
“Come after? Andrew, you are a good man, you help people.”
“That’s right. That’s why it sought us out. There’s something wrong in the town. Some heinous crime or else it wouldn’t have warned us. Some crime I don’t want to be the last to find out about.”
Bill pulled the car into the gravel parking lot outside the station. Drew gave him one last look before he hefted himself out of the car and slammed the door.
“Drew.” He called out glumly. But the other man didn’t turn.
Bill rubbed his fingers across the day-long stubble on his chin. Drew had gut feelings about things often. And he was never wrong. Bill believed in following your instinct. It’s what made him a good sheriff, a good protector. It made he and Drew a good team.
He knew what Drew would do. He’d look into the new family that had purchased the little cottage on the creek.
For different reasons Bill had wanted to do a background check on the man who’d bought that place. Well, different but the same; his instinct had nothing to do with a white wolf sighting. It had everything to do with the man’s son; Johnny. Absently Bill fingered his scarred left forearm.
*** *** ***
Fairwolf had stayed near the hard meadow for a time. More of the heavy-scented beasts passed by. None but the first had looked his way. When the rain came the heavy scent grew stronger, as if the meadow itself was a part of the beasts. Yes. They had marked it. It was their domain. As long as he stayed clear of them they would leave him be. They reminded him of the Elder wolf. The Elder wolf had spared his life, but his gaze had warned Fairwolf to run.
He wondered if the other beast had been trying to give him the same warning. But he didn’t feel compelled to run. Not yet anyway.
He wandered back to his new home. The fish creek was near. He followed it for a time, and as the mist settled, new smells enveloped him, calling to his curiosity once more. The scents were new. All but one. Blood.
Across the creek, he pinpointed a splashing sound. On the shore, not far from him, stood a curious creature. Fairwolf smelled. The blood scent came from it. It crouched near the stream. Not an animal Fairwolf could identify. Curious, he stepped closer. The animal stood and looked at him.
Fairwolf froze. Fear encompassed him. The creature stood on two legs. Before it had been hunched on all four, but now it was unmistakable. This was a man. It looked at him and cocked its head in a birdlike manner. Then it got down again. Its front paws didn’t touch the ground though. It stared at him. It cooed. A soft sound. Fairwolf wanted to flee. He also wanted to stay.
He stepped closer and the man reached out. Its paw was bloody. Fairwolf stiffened as the creature reached toward him. He looked into its eyes. Something about this man reminded him of a pup. Fairwolf bristled as it drew closer to him, but waited. The man pup touched him. A strong emotion filled him, something like belonging. He hadn’t expected the man pup’s touch to be soft. He looked into the man pup’s eyes. He smelled scared too.
*** *** ***
Johnny gingerly leaned toward the white dog. It looked lost and dirty and thin. And it was hurt. Like him. He reached for it. It watched him with those careful yellow eyes. So wolf-like. It had been limping.
“You’re hurt?” He said softly. Then he reached in slowly. “It’s okay, we can be friends.” Johnny explained. He held out his hand. The dog sniffed it curiously. Johnny smiled. “Fishing line cuts deep if you aren’t careful.” He said.
The dog tilted his head and then tentatively placed his wounded paw in Johnny’s hand. Holding the dog’s paw in the cup of his hand, he met the dog’s eyes. He was no ordinary dog. He was a smart dog. A caring dog. Then he felt it. The dog lifted his paw and backed away snarling. Johnny looked at his hand. The dog’s blood was sinking into his cut. He could feel it. It pulsed through his veins. It changed him somehow.
“Johnny, quick! Your father is almost home!” He heard his mother’s warning and a cold shiver spread through his skin.
*** *** ***
Fairwolf felt the change. It scared him. The man pup had infiltrated him somehow. Through his blood.
“Keep hidden.” The man pup said. Fairwolf bristled. The words made sense to him. “My father doesn’t like dogs.”
“I’m a wolf.” Fairwolf was startled at the strange thoughts he uttered. The man pup was too for he turned and stared like a frightened deer.
“What is your name? My name is Johnny.” He crept closer. Fairwolf heard one of the beasts from the hard meadow. He backed closer to the woods. “It’s my father.” Johnny said softly. Fairwolf smelled fear.
*** *** ***
Johnny crept out of bed quietly. He dressed in the dark before the dawn. It was Saturday and his father was home, so he had to leave earlier. He took some cheese and bread and lunchmeat and went out back. Fairwolf would meet him there. He had all week. Johnny would go off and play with him in the woods. His father had been suspicious at first of Johnny’s daily excursions, but when he came home with scrapes from climbing trees and bruises from falling on the slick rocks of the creek, Johnny’s father had smiled.
Johnny wished his mother had a friend like Fairwolf to keep her from the dangers of his father. Fairwolf seemed to understand. His pack had abandoned him. Hurt him. He was Johnny’s best friend. But no one could ever know about him, or his father would take him away. Johnny opened the screen door and breathed in the damp morning air. Everything was perfect.
“Where are you going Johnny?”
Johnny dropped the food. “T—to the woods, S—sir.”
“Do you know who stopped by here just the other day?” Johnny’s father leaned casually against the side of the house and Johnny let the screen door slam shut behind him. He wanted to run back in. But he’d learned that running was never a good idea.
“No sir.” Johnny looked at the ground.
“A police officer.”
Johnny’s eyes snapped to his father’s and he wished they hadn’t. Johnny hadn’t done anything suspicious. Nothing. He avoided the police. They brought nothing but trouble…from his father.
“Why do you think the police visited Johnny?”
“I don’t—“ A bruising grip tightened around Johnny’s arms and he felt himself being lifted off the ground. He willed himself to look into his father’s eyes. He couldn’t though. The terror ran through him.
“You did something Johnny. I am your father, and if you disobey me, I will punish you.” He didn’t shout. He never shouted. Johnny opened one eye to look at his father’s face. “Tell me what it was.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Johnny pleaded.
“He wanted to talk to you.” His father was almost whispering. Johnny swallowed. “So it seems you’re lying.”
Johnny tried to recall anything he’d done. He couldn’t even think of any stranger he’d talked to other than the man at the ice cream shop that he’d bumped into and made drop his cone. All he’d said was sorry. Other than that Johnny had stayed clear of everyone!
“He mentioned meeting you at the ice cream shop.” His father taunted. Johnny closed his eyes. “I knew you were lying!” His father shook him.
Johnny’s eyes opened. Growling pierced the morning. No! Johnny turned. “No Fairwolf! Run! Run!”
*** *** ***
Fairwolf didn’t run. He understood. This man was to be feared. He was evil. Fairwolf would not leave Johnny.
He crouched low and let the growl fill his throat. The man stared back at him and Fairwolf tasted his fear in the air. The man slowly lowered the boy and Johnny raced toward Fairwolf. He put his body between the man and the pup. He exposed his teeth.
The man stepped back. Fairwolf could feel Johnny’s shaking fingers in his fur.
“Run.” He urged again.
“No.” Fairwolf replied. The man did not seem to hear him, only Johnny. The man grew braver. His gaze held anger. He turned and grabbed something near the house.
“It’s a wolf!” The man yelled.
“He’s my friend!” Johnny sobbed. “Please, don’t hurt him!”
The man raised the object. It was long, like a tree limb, but the end was flat, its tip pointed. Fairwolf recognized the scent of attack. The man advanced and Johnny ran out in front to stop the blow, but Fairwolf wouldn’t let him.
“John!” The woman came out and ran toward the man to stop him. She shielded the blow. She crumpled to the ground. Fairwolf faced the man again, but Johnny had gone to the woman.
“Look what you’ve made me do!” The man grabbed Johnny and pointed the object at his throat.
Fairwolf had seen enough, it was time to fight. He launched forward, the man buckled under his weight. He sunk his fangs into soft flesh and shook his head. Men were not as formidable as they seemed. The pointed limb smacked his head. Fairwolf released his grip and staggered backward. Then he heard the beast. The beast from Hard Meadow. It was here. Fairwolf snarled again, keeping the man from Johnny and the woman. Maybe this new beast would help him.
*** *** ***
“Bill, there’s a call from the Hunter’s house. Shouting and screaming, it sounds like the boy—“
“I’m on it.” Bill snapped angrily.
He’d known the boy was being abused by that man he called father. Drew flew out the door with him barely making it into the passenger’s seat. Bill sped to the cottage and pulled into the drive. He could hear it. Snarls, shrieks and screams. It sounded like a wild animal! Bill and Drew quietly exited the car. Weapons in hand they stalked around the side of the house.
“Don’t hurt him! Please!” The boy flung his arms around the white wolf and Bill froze. Next to him Drew cursed.
“What’s going on here?” Bill asked.
“That wolf attacked me and my wife!” John Hunter said holding his bloodied arm.
“No! My father was going to kill him!” Johnny said. Bill looked back at the boy. There would be no way to save the wolf, not if it attacked a man. Bill looked into the animal’s eyes, regret filled his own. The way the boy clutched his neck he knew that it had tried to save him. Then the wolf looked back at Bill; it nodded once and departed.
“Shoot it!” John Hunter yelled and leapt for Drew’s gun. Drew pointed it at him and he fell back.
“I need to know what happened here.” Bill raced over to Mrs. Hunter and checked her pulse. “She’ll be all right.” He whispered to the sobbing boy and dialed for an ambulance. Johnny had sunk to his knees on the dew covered grass.
“You hit her with the shovel?” Drew said angrily grabbing John Hunter’s collar.
“She got in the way! The wolf was trying to kill me! I was using it to ward off the wolf.”
Johnny remained silent.
*** *** ***
Fairwolf hid in the brush. The man that smelled like the beast from Hard Meadow had warned him. His stare had been the same as the Elder wolf. Fairwolf waited. He would make sure Johnny was safe, always safe.
*** *** ***
When Mrs. Hunter came to, she didn’t talk. Johnny wouldn’t talk. Only Mr. Hunter would talk, and he came off sounding like a valiant man protecting his family from a rabid, white wolf.
“Do I have your permission to kill the wolf on sight?” John Hunter asked as Bill was leaving.
“No!” Johnny opened his mouth. His mother cringed. Bill knew the truth, but he couldn’t reveal it.
“What’s the matter with you Boy? It tried to kill me!” John Hunter’s eyes were cold.
“He was protecting me!” Johnny stood. Bill stared at the shaking boy. He caught the horror in Mrs. Hunter’s eyes. He remembered the day his own courage had come. It was the day he nearly died by his father’s hand. He wouldn’t let that happen to Johnny.
“Son,” Bill started. “I know you love the wolf, but he’s a wild animal. Call us if you see him Mr. Hunter. We’ll take care of it.” He headed out of the house after tipping his hat at Mrs. Hunter.
Outside Drew stared at him.
“There was nothing we could do.” Bill said to his deputy once they entered the car. “But I’m going to circle right back.” Drew breathed a sigh of relief and didn’t bother buckling his seatbelt. They were going to catch this man. Bill hoped it would be in time.
*** *** ***
Fairwolf watched the creature go. He waited in the brush until he heard the woman scream. His muscles propelled him from hiding and in bounds he was across the yard. He heard the loud noise, heard Johnny cry, heard the woman pleading.
The man met him outside, threat on his face. He carried long narrow object. Fairwolf showed his teeth. Johnny and the woman raced out after him. Johnny’s face was covered in blood. Fairwolf lunged. The object cracked into his side and sent him to the ground with a whimper. Johnny screamed. Fairwolf rose; it hurt to shake himself off. But he had to save Johnny. He leaned back again, ready to spring.
“No Father!” Johnny cried.
The man turned and swung the object at Johnny.
The scent of the beast of Hard Meadow filled the air.
Fairwolf launched himself at the man’s arm.
“He’s going to kill him! Help me! My husband is going to kill my son!” The woman screamed.
*** *** ***
Bill licked his ice cream before it could melt all over the squad car. He watched the children playing on the baseball diamond as Drew drove passed them. Then he caught Johnny Hunter walking home, dirt on his shirt, water residue on his jeans, fishing pole in hand, and that amazing white wolf at his side sporting a new collar.
“You were right about the Guardians returning.” Bill admitted.
Drew just smiled. “If anyone deserves a Guardian Angel, it’s that boy.”