Sunday went quietly. The boys called to update Eric and Kate on rabbit and coyote hunts and to see if everything was still quiet. Eric checked the alarms he had set around the house and Kate tried to stay busy with what housework she could muster. After dinner, they sat down and watched a movie before finally heading to bed. Eric was getting antsy. He wasn’t sure if waiting for the attack wasn’t worse than actual battle. He knew it would be ugly, but felt he could handle that. He’d been in combat before. Kate was nervous and when they finally did go to bed, they snuggled close. Kate fell asleep first, while Eric swore he woke up at every tick of the clock.
It was just after four in the morning when there was a clatter by the French doors. Eric had piled empty tin cans up on the inside out of sight of the windows.
“Eric,” Kate whispered.
“I hear them.” He was slowly getting out of bed.
Eric shot her a look that said of course he would.
“The collar!” she whispered.
Eric rolled his eyes, grabbed the collar and dropped it over his shoulders. He really didn’t want to take the damned thing, but she had a point. If this did spill out into the street, she at least deserved the right body to bury if things went wrong.
He grabbed the handgun off the dresser as well. Opening the door slowly, he slid around the corner. Peering down the hall, he didn’t see anything, although his nose told him that there were at least two of them in the house. Luna was beginning to woof and Gretchen was barking in that odd half choked noise she made. Eric moved farther down the hall. Andy’s door was still closed and the paper was still stuck in the frame. No one had come in that way.
He was almost to the kitchen when one of the cats came ripping around the corner all fuzzed out and hissing. Eric could hear other growls as Polo the big Siamese tomcat confronted whatever was in the dining room. Polo wasn’t afraid of dogs, which in this instance might not be a good thing. Eric used the noise as cover to move into the kitchen. Near the stove was the pot rack, which gave him a chance to peek across the rest of the kitchen and into the dining room without being seen. He could see the wolves trying to decide whether to eat the small fuzzy grey cat or just smack it out of the way. Luna and Gretchen were starting to bark louder downstairs. The basement door reverberated with the sound.
Eric knew he could shoot at least one wolf. Question was, could he hit the second one? Either way, he had to give it a chance. They were both still distracted by the myriad of cats in the room. He braced himself on the stove, aimed through the pot rack and squeezed off the first shot. He aimed and fired again before the retort of the first shot had finished ringing in his ears. Waiting a second, and not taking his eyes off of the wolves, he slowly moved forward. Neither wolf moved. From the vantage point of the doorway, he put two more bullets into the heads of the animals laying on the floor.
Kate jumped when the first shots went off. She was out the door with the rifle in her hands at the second set. She moved down the hall like Eric had showed her, looking before stepping out. When she got to the kitchen, she could see the smoke from the gunshots still in the air.
“Eric?” she said softly.
“I’m in the dining room.”
Kate walked around the corner and saw the two dead wolves on the floor with Eric kneeling over them. Fluff, the grey cat was still hissing from the window frame.
“Is it over?”
“No, I think there is still one more…” he stopped suddenly, realizing that Luna and Gretchen were no longer barking. They were whining. “Shit! Kate, get back to the bedroom fast.” He was starting to move towards the basement door.
Kate had almost made it back across the kitchen when the basement door splintered into a million pieces and the biggest wolf she’d ever seen appeared on the landing.
Eric was moving fast, and trying to shift. Kate was in the way, and he refused to fire. He didn’t know if he would make it in time.
Kate saw the wolf head towards them and froze for a second. Realizing that she didn’t have time to aim the rifle, she used it like a club. She brought it up in the path of the charging wolf. The rifle caught it across the bottom of the jaw and upper chest. The wolf spun to the right, taking it away from her and Eric. The impact was enough to jar the rifle out of her hands. The wolf moved back towards them, shaking it’s head. Kate moved towards the hall door, moved through it and slammed it. She braced against it as the wolf hit it hard enough to rattle the teeth in her head.
Eric had seen Kate club the wolf and was part of the weight that impacted the door as she slammed it shut. He was on top of the other wolf trying to bite it’s neck. The two wolves, one with a dark blue collar, rolled and fought. There were breaking dishes, knocked down pans. The two wolves trashed the kitchen.
Eric slipped in something sticky, and the other wolf broke the hold. It took that moment to run down the stairs and out the basement door which it had broken through earlier. Eric was in fast pursuit. The two started to fight again in the far corner of the back yard where Eric caught up to the other wolf just before it jumped the fence. The snarls and growls were causing lights to flip on in neighboring houses.
Kate had gotten to her feet and headed towards the bedroom to look out the window. She got there just in time to see Eric’s tail sail over the fence in pursuit of the other wolf.
Still shaking, she went to see if Luna and Gretchen were okay. Both were downstairs cowering in the corner of the laundry room. Luna had a cut on her muzzle and Gretchen had bites on her muzzle and front paws. Kate knew she could wait to treat these injuries. She gave them each a dog treat and then headed back upstairs.
Looking at the carcasses in the dining room made her head spin. Neither had shifted back into human form which made things easier. Eric said that they wouldn’t, but she still hadn’t been sure. Now to call the police and Ronny.
Dialing the police had been the easy part. They were actually already on the way. The neighbors had reported the gun shots. James was at the back door before she had time to hang up the phone. He walked in and they met in the kitchen. Kate literally flew right into him. He gave her a quick hug, and asked her what happened. Kate lead him to the dining room and pointed at the dead animals on the floor.
“What the?….” he started to say and then turned back to Kate.
Kate by this time was trying to be calm, and yet not vomit. There was blood seeping everywhere as well as bits of brain on the floor.
“Kate, what happened? Where’s Eric?” James said softly.
“They… they broke through the doors.” She pointed to the remains of the French doors. “Er… Eric heard the noise and grabbed his gun. The cats were howling and hissing and the dogs were barking and…” She stopped, as another sheriff came in the dining room at this point.
“Go check downstairs. Now,” James told his deputy. He had seen the remains of the basement door, and wondered what on earth had come through that door if this was what was in the dining room.
“Then what happened Kate?” he said in a low voice as he moved her back towards the kitchen.
“Eric shot the dogs. They were about to attack him. Then a man came through the basement door with another dog. The dog came for me and I hit it with my rifle. It moved away, and the man attacked Eric. Max ran through the door while I was trying to get out of the way. The door got slammed and then it got quiet. I could hear noise out in the back yard, and saw all of them going over the fence. Eric and Max chasing the man and the dog. Then I went to see where Gretchen and Luna were. When I came back upstairs, I called you.”
“Sir, here’s the gun that probably killed the two dogs in the dining room. It was under the edge of the kitchen counter,” said a deputy who had been checking out the scene.
“Kate, why were the guns out? Did you expect something?” James asked.
“Well, you know the shelter got trashed. It made Eric nervous. So, we were going to go shooting today. He and Zach have been teaching me to shoot. The rifles were by the coat rack and his pistol. I think it was on his night stand. I… I don’t remember.”
“Kate. I’ve called Ronny to come get the dogs. Now, what were the others wearing. I’ve got cops out looking for them.”
“Um…… Max had his collar on. Eric, I think his sweats. I don’t even think he managed shoes. The man was dark… dark clothing I think.” She was shaking more now that the shock of what had happened was seeping in.
“Where are the kids? Kate? Where are the kids and Andy? Zach?”
“They… they all went out to visit Pat yesterday. Zach’s with Anne at her mom’s house.”
“Do you have a number to reach Zach? Kate, concentrate. Is there a number to call?” James said softly, realizing that Kate was a bit shocked. Hell, he’d be shook up by what had happened.
“Um….. 839-2948 I think is the number,” she said at last.
“Okay, I’m going to call Zach for you. Andy is too far away if I’m remembering where the farm Pat works on is located. You need someone here while we find Max and Eric.” He walked to the hall to use the phone.
Eric was glad he knew the local area so well. The other wolf was running blind, and that made Eric’s life easier. He knew that there was a deep arroyo over the next hill, and that was right where they were headed.
Patches of snow and ice made for uneven footing. The wolf missed his step and rolled down the steep sandy embankment. Eric slid down carefully and launched himself on top of the other wolf. The impact sent them both rolling. Teeth snapping, claws gouging, they rolled and fought in the sandy pitted bottom of the arroyo. The wolf closed its jaws on Eric’s fore paw and bit down hard. Eric gasped and then bit down hard on the edge of the other wolf’s jaw and ear. His bottom canine slid along the jawbone and his upper canine followed across the ear and then punctured the eye. The wolf howled in pain and let go of Eric’s fore paw. He whipped up trying to break the hold. Eric held on and tightened his bite. The upper jaw bone began to crack with the pressure. The wolf started scratching at Eric’s belly with his back legs. The pain of the rakes across his belly almost caused Eric to open his mouth. However, he realized that if he did, it would be his throat exposed. Grimly he held on.
Kate sat on a stool in the kitchen. Her house was over run with deputies, cops and suddenly Zach was standing in front of her.
“Mom! Are you okay? Where’s Eric?”
“I’m alright Eric and Max went after the others,” she said softly.
“Eric and Max?” Zach said, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Yes. They went over the fence chasing the others.” She was hoping that he would understand and that no one else would. In more than one discussion, she and Eric hadn’t figured out how to have Eric and Max in the same room. She wasn’t sure she could think right now anyway. Zach might be their only chance of working this out. He and Eric might think of a way. Meanwhile, she was scared to even think about what was happening with Eric.
Zach gave his mom a hug. “I’ll go looking for them now. I know where Max usually runs. I’ll find them.” He went looking for the sheriff. Anne had finally gotten in the kitchen and was hugging Kate as Zach went out.
“James, has there been any sign of Eric or Max?” Zach asked.
“No. Two dogs were seen running across the school play ground, and that might have been them, but no men.”
“I’m going to go looking. Mom is all kinds of upset, and I can’t just sit here.”
“Alright. You might have better luck than us anyway. Luna bit one of my deputies earlier and he’s known her since she was a pup. Who knows how Max would react. You’ve only had him a couple of years isn’t it?”
“Yeah, he came to us about a year ago. Great dog, but a little wild at times.”
“Do you want some help?”
“No. I’ve got my cell phone and will call if there’s a problem.”
“Okay. Good luck Zach.” James watched Zach lope out the door in sweats and a teeshirt. He was shaking his head at these boys that ran around in cold weather and no coats. His own son was the same way.
Zach hopped into Anne’s little ford and headed out to highway 39. He had an idea of where Eric might have headed, but wasn’t sure. About two miles down the road was a huge arroyo. He parked the car off on the shoulder and started looking for tracks. He headed south for about fifteen minutes and found no sign. Turning around, he headed back the way he came and up the arroyo.
Eric was getting tired. The other wolf was still trying to stop him from closing his jaws. Back paws scrabbling as they could and raking Eric when they made contact. Eric was doing his best to put his own front paws on the throat when they both rolled. Eric’s hold broke and the other wolf scrabbled up to attempt an attack. One eye socket was a bloody hole and the jaw on that side didn’t work right. Eric had broken it.
The wolf charged and impacted on Eric’s right shoulder. Teeth scraped across fur and the wolf had his foreleg. Eric tried to bite down on the exposed neck and shoulders when the wolf changed tactics and went for Eric’s own throat. Eric felt the teeth start to tighten on his throat and scrabbled his own back legs hard against the chest of the other wolf. He got a paw in the way of the other wolf’s jaws and pushed as hard as he could.
Zach could hear the fight before he saw them. Blood was everywhere on the sand. He hoped that there was only the two of them. Zach had the baseball bat from the car as he hadn’t dared grab one of the rifles. He approached the wolves at a run, not knowing which was which.
The wolf had gotten his teeth caught in the collar Eric was wearing. It had stopped the wolf from crushing Eric’s windpipe. It gave Eric an advantage and he moved back from the jaws as best he could, shoving with his feet and trying to bite all at the same time.
Zach was close enough at this point to strike one of the wolves, but wasn’t sure which one was Eric. Then he saw the glint of blue in the dark fur of one wolf.
Eric! Zach swung the bat at the hind quarters of the other wolf. The impact rocked him back and sent the wolf flying.
Eric looked up, saw a human shape in silhouette. He realized that the human had attacked the other wolf who was whimpering and dragging his hind leg. Eric turned to the other wolf and dived for it’s throat. They struggled, but this time the other wolf couldn’t use his hind legs to shove Eric away. Eric rolled his shoulders and let his weight help shred the flesh between his jaws. The other wolf struggled and then died as Eric bit through the throat, ripping the jugular and tearing the windpipe. He spat out the bloody mouthful of fur and then collapsed next to the body. He watched the human come towards him, and wondered if the human would kill him next.
Zach approached the wolf quietly. He put down the bat and held out his hand and spoke softly. “Eric… it’s me. Zach. Come on Eric. It’s Zach. Come on.”
The wolf rolled his head, trying to make sense of the human. He raised his head and sniffed. The human smelled familiar. He tried to stand up and almost made it. He fell over again and the human was there cradling his head. Licking the hand, he tasted someone he remembered. Zach. This was Zach. Oh gods he hurt.
Zach held the wolf’s head in his lap. There were bites, blood and gouges all over the place. With his other hand, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the number James had given him.
“Hey James. This is Zach. I found Max and the other wolf. No sign of Eric or anyone else. Max is hurt. Yeah, I’m gonna stay here until you show up. Highway 39 about two miles out there is that big arroyo. You’ll see Anne’s car. Take the north side and I’m about a mile up. You’ll see the blood long before you see me. No, it isn’t mine. Max and the other wolf fought it out. Yeah. See ya soon.”
Zach then dialed another number. “Hey Dr. Fremont, this is Zach. Max got hurt. Can I bring him down to you? Sure. Be there in an hour or so.” Zach put the phone back in his pocket and started talking to Eric again.
“Hey Eric. Can you hear me?”
The wolf didn’t respond.
Zach shook his paws a bit. “Eric, if you understand me, wag your tail. Come on. The police are coming, and I got to get you to Dr. Fremont. Come on. Wag your tail dammit!”
The wolf tried to understand Zach. He understood ‘wag your tail’ and did as best he could. He just wanted to go to sleep.
Zach kept shaking Eric. “Come on! You have to be Max. Remember Max? You’re Max. Wag your tail for me.”
The wolf tried and this time his tail wagged enough that Zach hugged him. The wolf yelped.
“Sorry Max. Didn’t mean to hurt you. Gods, Mom’d kill me if you die.”
The wolf perked up at what the human said that time. Mom…. that was the smell on the human’s clothes. His mate. The wolf remembered his mate and wagged his tail.
“Good Max! Hang on Max!”
The highway at mile marker 2 became a parking lot of emergency vehicles. Lights flashing and men moving to direct whatever traffic might head down the road as well as starting to move out in search patterns. Ronny and James were running down the arroyo Zach had mentioned on the phone. The blood on the ground lead them to where Zach sat with Max in his arms. Ronny reached the two first.
“Damn!” was all Ronny could say. He looked at Max and then at the wolf. “Damn!”
“Hey Ronny, we gotta get Max to Dr. Fremont,” Zach said, trying to stand up. The wolf whined. Zach put Max down so that he could stand up.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll help you carry him,” Ronny said and took off his coat to help make a sling to carry Max.
James was looking at the dead wolf. “That is one mess of a dog. Hope Max will be okay.”
“So do I James. Have they found Eric yet?” Zach asked, desperately trying to think of how they’d get Eric/Max home safe.
“No. Your mom is some kinda worried. Get Max to the vet and then come help. We’re going to extend the search up and down this arroyo in case they came the same way as these two dogs.”
“Sounds good. Gotta run. I’ll call your cell.” Zach and Ronny moved as fast as they could towards Anne’s car.