Wolves At The Door
The wind whistled around the cabin and tapped sleet-ridden fingers on the small, dirty windowpanes. The stocky man sat at a rough-hewn pine table and struggled to see by the yellow glowing oil lamp. The barrel-chested man had a blanket draped over his shoulders and hunched over his writing journal with a short stubby pencil, laboriously penning an account of his adventure turned nightmare.
September 29, 1903
It is the fifth day and there is still no sign of Oliver and Charles. The blizzard started this morning covering the ground with three feet of snow in just over an hour. Now it is sleeting. The wind sounds like harpies from hell taunting me with their shrieks. The constant tatting at the windows unnerves me to the point of screaming my frustration. The loneliness is encompassing. The fear that something terrible has happened to the brothers fosters grave uncertainty on my part. Being fresh, eager, but ignorant of the desolate wilderness of Alaska leaves me feeling helpless as a hatchling. Maybe I am worrying for nothing. The brothers said they would be back when they ‘bagged a moose’. Hopefully tomorrow will see the small one room cabin alight with boisterous bragging from the redheaded McCallan brothers, proudly beaming and laden with fresh meat. I have made a Talley of the canned beans, peaches and meager dried salmon with ominous foreboding.
The man put his pencil down, stood and stretched. Randolph Collins walked the small cabin in two strides to the other side where the camera stood on a tripod. He checked to make sure everything was dry and intact before throwing a canvas cover over it. The San Francisco Chronicle had assigned him the job of reporting on the Gold rush fever running through Fairbanks, Alaska and surrounding areas. He closed the journal, blew out the oil lamp, and threw a couple of pieces of wood into the potbelly stove before settling into the creaking, rope-weaved cot. Twilight of sleep had drowsed his body when the howling jerked him awake.
September 30, 1903
Another day has passed without the company of the brothers. I watched the weak, milky sun skim the southern horizon from east to west and paste its dim light across the crystallized snow. I slept fitfully, for wolves were howling a forlorn song. I would gaze out occasionally and could barely see shadows along the tree line, some sitting, others pacing back and forth, their heads turned toward the cabin. These animals seemed to be waiting for something and were more disconcerting than the blizzard and sleet the day before. I now think that the brothers are not returning and I will be left to fend for myself, a feat I do not relish, for I know nothing of surviving in the wilderness. I went out to the woodpile today to replenish the stack in the cabin and was surprised to once again see the wolves meandering near the tree line. They all became alert and stood, staring at me. Needless to say, I kept my eyes on them also. I shivered, not from cold, but from the strange behavior of the wolves. Why do they stay here?
October 1, 1903
I have resigned myself to the fact that Oliver and Charles McCallan are not returning. It’s three-thirty in the afternoon but the sun has already settled behind the rocky peaks to the west throwing a strange pinkish hue throughout the air and onto the snow. The nights are becoming longer and I finally know what the term “Cabin Fever” means. The walls that should protect me are suffocating and I feel the need to escape. But the wolves are still here and I dare not venture too far out. The have become brazen. This morning while gathering wood, I noticed the paw prints dotting the snow all around the cabin. This is very unsettling. I wish I had become more knowledgeable about the Alaskan wilderness and it’s inhabitants before venturing out on what now seems a foolhardy adventure. I once again took stock of the food supplies lining one wall and tried to decide if there was enough to hold me through the winter. If I am to make a decision to trek to Fairbanks, I must do it soon. The temperatures are already falling below zero at night and I……………….
A soft shuffling upon the cabin porch followed by a muted knock on the door interrupted his writing. He stood and stared, not really comprehending the sound. The sound came again and spurred him to action. He strode quickly to the door with thoughts of finally seeing his friends back from the hunt. He threw the wooden bolt up in gleeful anticipation and slung the door open. His heart sank quickly as he blinked a few times at the sight before him. Momentarily stunned, he stared at the bulky fur-clad figure before him. Only shadowed eyes were visible above the wool scarf wrapped around the face. A fur-gloved hand awkwardly reached up and pulled the hood down away from the head. Long blonde hair cascaded from the entrapment and the figure proceeded to pull the bulky glove off to remove the wooly cloth from around her face. Green sparkling eyes surrounded by a flushed round face and pointy chin gazed up at him expectantly. He recognized her from the other side of the river earlier in the year, panning for gold with her brother. He thought she looked so charming in her corduroy pants rolled up to the calves and red checked flannel shirt that he had taken several pictures of her.
“Aren’t you going to ask me in, Mr. Collins?”
He tried to speak and his throat squeaked over his vocal chords from disuse. He coughed to free his voice.
“Of course.” He threw the door wider and looked upon the moonlit snow over her shoulder. “I’m not usually an unmannerly buffoon.”
She brushed past his shoulder and proceeded to remove the many layers of clothing. He saw the snowshoes on the landing but did not notice a trail in the snow leading up to the cabin. Also the wolves were missing from their usual hangout. He closed the door slowly, not able to put this fact into any kind of coherency. He delighted in the fact that another human had visited him.
He watched as she draped the heavy furs over a crude wooden chair.
“Would you like some coffee? It’s still fairly fresh.”
She situated herself in front of the potbelly stove, rubbed her hands together and held them out palm first for warmth. She smiled and nodded. Randolph rummaged on a shelf and found a tin cup, blew the dust out and wrapped a cloth around the handle of the coffee pot. He poured, handed her the cup that she gratefully accepted with both hands. She was dressed in the same corduroy pants and red checked flannel shirt that appears in his dozen or so pictures of her. Heavy brown furry boots laced up to her knees hid her calves from him this time.
He replenished his own cup that sat on the table and replaced the pot on top of the potbelly stove.
“Please sit, miss…uh.” He just realized he had forgotten her name.
She smiled, producing a small dimple beside her perfectly heart shaped cherry lips, and sat. “Abigail Lucent, but everyone calls me Abby.”
He sat opposite her and took a sip of coffee to give his fast beating heart a second to calm down. She cocked her head slightly and watched the man across from her. His stocky body and black beard blending into shaggy, shoulder length black hair gave the appearance of a mountain man rather than a journalist.
She sat her cup down, still cupping it with two hands.
“You’re probably wondering why I am here.”
He didn’t know how to answer that. A small inkling of thought that she had just come to visit him diminished. He couldn’t imagine anyone braving the harsh weather just to make a social call. Another thought seized him.
“Is everything all right? Nothing’s happened to your brother, has it?”
She shook her head. “No, Adam is fine. He didn’t want me to come, but I felt you being a newcomer and all, you needed to know that the McCallan brothers are safe and sound at our cabin. Well, safe anyway, not so sound. Oliver broke his ankle and I’m afraid Charles lost three fingers to frostbite.” She saw the journalist’s eyes widen and his face paled. “But they are going to be fine. They will stay at our cabin until they are well enough to travel.”
He let out the breath he was holding. “Thank God.”
A long, lonely howl suddenly rode the wind and seemed to break through the very walls. Soon a cacophony of yips and howls pierced the cracks of the cabin. Abigail raised her head and listened with calm intensity.
“Do you like wolves, Mr. Collins?”
The sound frayed his nerves. “I haven’t really thought about if I like them or not.” The howling seemed to be right outside the door. “I have heard stories about how dangerous they can be.”
“You are afraid.” She stated matter-of-factly.
He became distracted by the sudden cessation of the howling. He rose and walked to the door, but not before noticing the strange small smile quirking around Abby’s lips. Uneasiness crept through his stomach. He wiped the condensation from the window and looked out upon the diamond studded moonlit snow. He looked left, then right. No sign of the wolves. The soft swishing sound behind him vaguely registered in his mind as he opened the door to get a better look. A scratching, clicking sound upon the wooden floor forced him to turn back around. He got a good look at the blonde furred wolf with the glowing green eyes and bared canine teeth before it jumped on the table knocking the oil lamp over. Blackness engulfed everything and in stark survival terror, Randolph reached for the gun over the door. The agonizing heat of claws ripping down his back and hot fetid breath against his throat drove a bloodcurdling scream from his lips. The wolf snarled and growled before sinking its sharp canine teeth into the journalist’s throat.
Howling once again sliced through the night but the little cabin in the snow-duned clearing was dark and lifeless.