Jackie heard them howling at night, a primeval chorus that sent shivers down her spine. Echoes bounced off hills and trees so that she seemed to be surrounded by hungry predators. It shredded her nerves. Why was it, again, that she’d come to a cabin in the woods?
It was temporary, her stay in this little cabin at the edge of a national forest. A sympathetic friend had offered it as refuge from the rough break-up Jackie was experiencing. Lord knows, she needed to get away; her ex was not taking it well. So she sublet her apartment in the city and moved into the cabin with her dog, Lola. She’d commune with nature. Calm down. Get her head straight.
She hadn’t bargained on wild life.
“Wolves were reintroduced into the area a couple of years ago and their numbers have been growing,” her friend said. “Don’t worry, they’re shy of humans. They want nothing to do with you. Better not let Lola go out alone, though.”
The little cabin crouched in a small clearing. There was a rough track to the road, but no yard – just towering ridge-pole pines that released their fragrance in the sunshine, but crowded in menacingly at night. In her search for sanctuary, Jackie had moved to a perfect plot for predators. Lola, small, ancient and deaf as the proverbial post, seemed unaware that nearby animals would consider her a mere McNugget. But Jackie knew, and it added to her feeling of foreboding
Hoping knowledge would bring power, she read up on her enemies. She learned wolves live in packs led by an alpha male and female, the only pair that produces pups. Nocturnal hunters, their howling is a lupine party line, a means of keeping the group connected when they range for miles in search of food.
They know more about you than you do about them, she’d read in one memorable passage. You won’t see them, but they’re watching. They know your habits and your schedule.
It was a creepy thought. Lying in bed at night, she listened to the wolves’ call and response, nature’s fugue. Secure in the silence of her world, Lola snored beside her, but Jackie had trouble sleeping.
One morning there were paw tracks in the snow around the cabin. Large prints at the sliding glass door indicated a sizable creature had stood looking in. Lola sniffed at the spoor in deep concentration, hackles raised.
Jackie kept Lola on a short leash when they went outside. She found an old golf club in the cabin, and carried it with the vague idea it could be used as a weapon. It never occurred to her to be afraid of the most dangerous predator of all. Man.
She sat bolt upright, instantly awake and afraid. The digital clock read three fourteen. She’d heard something.
“Who’s there?” She’d meant to shout but it came out a squeak.
Silence. What answer did she expect, after all? She heard the floorboard to the right of the fireplace creak, and felt a cold wash of night air – the sliding glass door was open. Had she forgotten to lock it? Fear paralyzed her. She knew she had to mount some kind of defense, but she couldn’t force her limbs to move, couldn’t take a deep breath.
Suddenly, Lola roused, awakened by who knew what – Jackie’s trembling? An unfamiliar scent in the air? The old dog lifted her nose and howled. Jackie had never heard such a sound issuing from her pet. Little Lola, fan of sofa pillows and peanut butter, loosed a wail as savage as anything her wild cousins could produce. From just outside came an answering chorus.
The untamed cries were galvanizing, stirring a wildness in Jackie she didn’t know she possessed. She felt a rush of adrenaline and with it, found her courage. Switching on the bedside lamp, she grabbed her golf club and jumped out of bed.
“Get out of here!” She beat a tattoo on the log walls. “Get out! Get out! I’ve got a weapon and I’ll use it!”
The howling, yelling and drumming worked; the intruder ran. She heard an engine turn over and saw tail lights retreating as a car bounced away on the track. Stumbling in her haste, she locked the door and hit the outside light switch. Its illumination was reflected in a semi-circle of glowing yellow eyes. Before she could react, the wolves melted silently back into the trees.
When the howling began again, she answered with howls of her own in a fierce celebration of bravery and triumph. The song of her pack.