Running with the Wolves
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The gunfire silenced all other sounds in the forest. Drake, smoking rifle in hand, towered over the dying wolf, its jaws still snapping in a rabid thirst for human flesh. He was about to turn back to his comrades when a fierce howling punctured the silence from all directions. “Shit,” Drake muttered under his breath, then nimbly reloaded his rifle. “Form a circle around the children!” he shouted. “Let none through!”
Watching over his shoulder, he saw the group of fellow survivors take their positions, guns clumsily held out in front of them. They would be lucky not to blow their own heads off. If Drake would’ve had his pick, he would’ve taken hunters, police officers, soldiers. They were all dead or tainted though, so he found himself with a housewife, a teacher, a photographer and two young children, one of whom was running a fever. It couldn’t be helped, and besides, they had made it this far. Still, they would be lucky to survive a pack of wolves, especially one hungry enough to brave the heat of a fire.
“Drake,” Mary, the housewife, whispered. Drake pulled himself from his thoughts and saw them, at least a hundred, emerge from the forest. The wolves seemed calm, knowing full well that the humans carried arms, and simply surrounded the camp site. The largest one stepped forward from the pack, facing Drake, casting him an expectant look.
“What do they want?” Mary said. Her hands shook as much as her voice, and Drake feared the revolver she held would go off any minute.
“Lower your guns,” he ordered. His command was met with questioning looks. “Do it!” That had more effect, and as the threat lessened, so did the tension in the wolf pack.
“Drake,” John, the photographer, began, “I don’t really see where this will lead.”
“I do,” Zach, the teacher, said. “They are not out to kill each of us. They smell the taint, don’t they? One of us must have it.”
All of them glanced over at the child with the fever, panic in each and every eye. “Suse?” Zach said. “I need you to be very honest with me, alright?” Suse looked afraid, but nodded. “Did anyone bite you?” Suse almost immediately shook her head, fiercer than necessary.
“Check her,” Drake said. His eyes never left the wolves. All others were regarding the little girl. Zach walked over to her and gently examined every part of her body. No one noticed that Mary’s shaking had increased, nor did they hear the soft growling that had begun to escape her lips. No one noticed but the wolves, and they began to close in on her.
“Clean,” Zach concluded and looked up to see Drake pointing his gun at the middle-aged woman. The wolves were almost upon her, but had stopped once more at the sight of a raised rifle. “Drake?” he said. “What’s going on?”
“It’s her,” Drake said. “The bitch endangered us all.”
“No!” Mary pleaded in a voice that wasn’t hers anymore. Tufts of rugged grey hair had begun to cover all exposed parts of her skin, and her eyes were taking on a yellow glow. “I didn’t know!”
“You didn’t know you’d been bitten?” Drake snapped, and stepped closer. A shot from that distance would leave a bloody mess. “I tell you what, you’re a filthy liar, and it ends now.”
“Don’t!” Zach shouted, looking around for support from John, who stood frozen to the ground, a look of disbelief on his face. “There has to be another way!”
“Zach, she’s lost and you know it!” Drake shouted. “If she stays alive, she will kill all of us. And besides, do you really think we have a choice?” He gestured around him at the wolves, dropping his aim for a moment. It was long enough. With a ferocious roar, Mary lunged herself at Drake, sinking her newly grown fangs into his arm. It was all she could do before the wolves were upon her, ripping her to pieces in a matter of seconds. Zach and John had their guns raised, ready to fire, but it wasn’t needed. The wolves retreated as fast as they had come, and resumed their calm wait. Their work wasn’t done yet.
Flinching from the pain, Drake supported his maimed arm, ripping off a piece of his shirt and wrapping it around the fresh wound. He was muttering under his breath, cursing his own stupidity. John was trying to comfort the children, who were moaning with grief. Zach simply stared at Drake’s arm, grim comprehension dawning on his face.
“Drake,” he started.
“You know what to do,” Drake answered.
“I don’t know…”
Drake looked Zach straight in the eyes. “You do. If you don’t do it, they will.”
“Drake,” Zach started once more. His voice quivered.
Zach hesitated, then raised his gun. His finger hovered over the trigger.
Drake spoke no more. He simply nodded. He was fearless, and willed Zach to be as well.
The gunfire silenced all other sounds in the forest.