Soft light from the morning sun bathes the crest of a lone grassy knoll. An island amidst a sprawling deciduous forest, Its bed of wild weed and grass color the hill a distinct amber-yellow, contrasting it with the spring greens of newly budding life. Below, a gentle breeze playfully rustles the few leaves that have sprouted and makes the great wooden pillars of the forest creak and groan. Their branches, as stiff as bones, have been slow to wake from winter’s slumber.
The cold season had been long and bitter, relentlessly nipping at what few creatures clung to life, sapping away their fortitude. The trees were saved by their hibernation; and though they are slow to return to their lustrous colors, most of them have escaped death’s frosty fingers. Most animals, however, have not been so lucky.
The breeze blows up the slope to the peak of the hill creating rippling waves in the tall wild grass. It is cool and fresh and brings life and vigor into the lungs of the wolf hidden among the waving blades. He is one of the lucky ones. A survivor. A practiced patience and mastery of the hunt has seen him through to another year, though it had not been easy.
Once an elder and patriarch of his pack, the wolf had been injured early in the winter season. The pack—his family—was forced to leave him behind, or be caught in the cold clutches of a northern winter. An immobile wolf in winter is as good as dead, and there was no reason to force that fate upon the entire pack.
But abandonment had not been a death sentence—as it was for so many lone wolves. Having to rely on his strength, cunning, ability, and no one else, the wolf had regained the vigor and ruthless instincts that had won him his dominance so long ago. Hunting alone meant expending more energy and going longer between meals. It was true, the winter had made the wolf lean—but no less powerful or fierce. In fact, it was as though he had regain three years of his youth. He had once again become a specimen in the prime of his life.
And now, on this hill he waits to prove his predatory prowess again. The pain in his stomach reminds the beast that it has been several days since his last kill. Every fiber of his being is urging him to bound down the slope and slay the doe giving off the intoxicating scent brought to his snout by the wind, but he fights this instinct.
It was not rash decisions driven by urges and emotions that had guided him through the winter months—it was planning and patience. He is downwind and uphill—a more perfect vantage point could not be found—and the wolf is not going to abandon his superior position for a risky chase through the forest. The greening grasses, warm on the sun-bathed knoll, will surely attract the deer in time. The planning has been done. Now all that is needed to make the kill is patience.
Slowly, the deer emerges from the trees and toward the foot of the hill. The wolf is surprised by the size of its prey. From its pheromones—not to mention the lack of antlers—the wolf can tell with certainty that the deer is a female. Yet she appears much larger than any buck the wolf has seen. Perhaps it is a trick from the light? Or maybe the wolf is overestimating the size of the deer? Ravenous hunger and longing for a feast can play tricks on the mind.
Emerging from the safety of the forest the doe is acutely aware of its exposure, but the lure of fresh grass is too great a temptress. The severity of winter had not been lost on the elegant chestnut beast. It bows its head and meekly nibbles at the ground before quickly raising up in alert. It is a ruse.
This is an old maid, wary and experienced from the hardships of life in the forest. In the same way the wolf is trying to lure the deer into the open, the deer is fishing for immature predators unable to wait for the kill—but the wolf knows better. If he had attacked then, the deer would have bolted to the woods with nearly a thirty yard lead. But the wolf is determined. He is not going to lose this kill, no matter how long it takes.
The deer surveys her surroundings once more, until she is assured of her safety. Then, she cautiously lowers her head and begins to eat in earnest. The wolf allows her to graze for several minutes, watching as the doe unconsciously becomes more and more relaxed. He notices his prey’s sinewy muscles—unimaginably juicy—shift and relax throughout the animal’s body. He waits and licks his lips, running his long tongue across finely honed fangs. Suddenly, the hair rises along his spine. The wind is changing directions. With it, a new scent wafts over the knoll. Smoke, perhaps from a distant fire? The world chooses to ignore this—the moment has come.
Remaining low and hidden, he begins to move forward. Like a submarine breaching the surface, he slowly raises his body above the grains, gaining momentum with every silent step. Barreling down the hillside he appears as a kamikaze fighter plummeting into the hull of a battleship. The wolf has done it. Tonight he will feast like the alpha he once was.
The deer is still unaware of the wolf’s charge as he closes in. The predator is sure of its victory even as the doe’s head bolts erect in alert. It is too late now. He has closed within ten feet. The wolf can see the fear in the deer’s eyes. The taste of fresh meat and warm blood is already on his tongue. The sensation of biting through flesh—their bodies slamming, severing vital arteries, snapping through bone—is overwhelming in anticipation. The wolf has acquired a tunnel vision, a kill vision. Nothing will stop him.
He lowers his head below his shoulders and prepares to leap. With a ferocious snarl he unleashes the full strength his hind legs can muster and lifts into the air. His fangs snap down, ripping through the air. There is an immense shock. The two animals collide. He sees blood, and hears desperate whinnying, yet the sweet taste of flesh is lost.
His left foreleg gives out as it touches the ground, and he is sent tumbling onto his side. Amidst the chaos of the fall, he sees the deer reared on its hind legs in fear—something the wolf has never seen a deer do before. He tries to regain his footing and pounce while the prey is still within range, but again his leg fails him, and he slams into the ground, hard. There is a shooting pain emanating from behind his left shoulder, and he is gasping for air. Only now does he realize that his fangs had caught nothing but air—the blood is his own.
He is no longer safe. The wolf is being hunted, but he knows not by what or from where. Tenderly, taking care not to use his left leg, he successfully stands. The animal he had hunted—which he is no longer sure is a deer—has not fled the scene, and is instead coming closer to him while staying on its rear legs. It is a truly massive animal, and the wolf knows he has made a mortal mistake. He backs away, doing his best to muster a menacing snarl through his pain.
But the chestnut goliath rearing before the wolf did not cause the pain in once-predator’s side. It is only when he turns to escape that the wolf sees another figure—a human figure—coming at him from the trees. The two legged beast is holding a long curved stick in his left hand and a shorter straight one notched perpendicularly to the other. The wolf knows not what these are, but instinctually he knows to fear them. As fast as he can, the wolf turns and limps into the forest.
Despite the growing pain, the wolf presses on through the trees. He must find shelter before his ambusher over takes him. Rounding the large trunk of an old oak, he sees a bed of fallen branches in which he could hide. The covering is no more than fifty yards ahead, but the wolf’s vision is blurring and he sees black spots floating haphazardly through his line of sight. He has lost too much blood exerting himself in the escape; his fur is matted and wet with it.
He knows it is the end. The tunnel vision—the kill vision—has returned to him, but this time he is the one that has been killed. With blackness growing all around him, the wolf takes one last look toward his pursuer, but there is no one in sight. Alone in the wood the dethroned alpha collapses. His heart and breathing grow faint, and a calm resignation comes over him. He loses track of time and space, and allows the darkness to consume him.