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Leader of the Pack

by Graeme Reynolds

The alpha wolf lifted its head to the full autumn moon and let out a long sorrowful howl. It was answered in turn by the other members of the pack as they converged on the alpha’s position, ready to chase the unwanted visitor from their hunting grounds.

The pack moved silently through the trees, silver grey ghosts among the towering pines, their eyes flat green disks illuminated by the light of the moon.

The alpha moved ahead of the others into a small clearing, to assess the risk presented by the newcomer. The remainder of the pack circled the intruder, outflanking it and cutting off any avenues of escape.

The newcomer was large and strong. A huge black beast with embers for eyes. It stood proud on the raised area of ground, baring its teeth in challenge to the approaching wolf.

The pack leader, however, was clever and experienced. He had faced the challenge before from other males much younger and stronger than he, and had always triumphed. The many scars across his body where fur no longer grew were testament to just how many of these battles he had survived.

He approached the newcomer cautiously. There was something different about its scent, reminiscent of man but entirely wolf at the same time. The scent caused fear to surge in the pack leader’s belly, but it was ruthlessly suppressed. Baring his teeth, he growled a warning at the intruder and began to move in to meet the challenge.

The larger wolf snarled and sprang forward, its great mass and speed overpowering the alpha before he had a chance to avoid its attack and assault the exposed flanks of the challenger. Its teeth closed around the pack leader’s neck, and with a single fluid movement the powerful jaws sliced through fur and flesh and bone. The pack leader fell to the ground dead, and the victorious newcomer raised its head to the sky and howled in triumph.

Slowly the rest of the pack entered the clearing. The new wolf had bested their leader and had taken his place at the head of the pack. Their heads lowered in submission and their ears flat, they approached their new leader.

Accepting their deference, the black wolf sniffed the air, a myriad of scents filling its mind. The warm musky odour of the rest of the pack, the acrid stench of the human settlement below in the valley, the sweet tang of a family of deer, bunched together for warmth and protection against the chill autumn night and the predators lurking in its shadows.

The black male howled at the night, its cry taken up by the other wolves in the pack until the forest was filled with their cries. The new alpha started out of the clearing, with the rest of the pack spreading out into the darkness of the forest, ready for the hunt.

The family of deer consisted of a female and two fawns. They were huddled together in an area where the vegetation was deepest. The pack broke off into small groups when they were still a considerable distance from their prey and formed a loose circle around the deer. Once the pack was in position, they began to advance, their bellies low to the ground, silently moving in for the kill.

The pack was almost upon the deer when a change in the wind brought the scent of the predators to the female. The deer exploded from their hiding place and fled into the forest.

The black wolf launched itself at the female deer, missing the target as it rapidly changed direction. Snarling, the wolf lashed out at one of the fawns as it attempted to follow its mother. The attack opened a gash on the fawn’s hindquarters, the force of the blow sending it off balance. As the fawn struggled to regain its feet, the alpha wolf slammed into it, knocking it to the ground.

The massive predator pinned the struggling deer with its forepaws, and its dripping maw darted down. The deer squealed as the wolf jaws closed around its spine, snapping it like dry wood. The alpha drove its jaws into the dying fawn, tearing out its entrails. The wolf began to feast as the rest of the pack stood at a respectful distance, awaiting their turn at the kill.

Eventually, the night faded and the horizon began to glow with the approaching day. The pack slept.

Something was amiss. One of the females was roused from her sleep by a strange scent in their midst, her nervous growl quickly waking the remainder of the pack.

Their new leader was nowhere to be seen nor smelled, but sleeping in the clearing was a naked human. The pack began to circle the prone man, hackles raised and their mouths pulled back, snarling. They avoided humans ordinarily, but they were many and this was only one. The man woke, wide-eyed, and the delicious scent of fear filled the nostrils of the pack. The human was making loud, frightened noises and began to back away, half crouching, its arms out in front of it as if to form a barrier.

It had confirmed itself as prey.

The first wolf attacked from behind the human, sinking sharp fangs into soft flesh, tearing out the tendon at the back of its leg. The man screamed and fell to one knee. Then the rest of the pack moved in. Quickly, the throat of the human was torn out and the pack began to feast as the human shuddered in its death throes, its life blood gushing over the floor of the forest.

The alpha female sniffed the air. She had no idea where the new pack leader had gone, but she was sure that he would not mind the rest of the pack starting breakfast without him.

Copyright © 2009 by Graeme Reynolds

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