The door was locked. As Bill opened the window
to let in the cool mountain
air, a mournful howl drifted into the room. The big man shook his shaggy head
and turned to his thin, elderly uncle sitting in the easy chair in front of the
"Why do we hafta keep the door locked, Jim?"
A mischievous mountain breeze lifted the white
wisps across the older
man's scalp and made them gently sway across his pink scalp. Jim shifted in his
chair but said nothing.
see here, Jim, we don't got nothin’
much left to eat.'Cause you’re feelin' poorly, we ain't been out checkin' your
traps, and we ain't done any huntin' for days. But we still gotta eat, don't
we? Me and the hound’re okay. I don’t wanna leave the house without you, 'specially
after all those scary stories you're always tellin' me, but I'll take ol' Poke
along, 'cause I'm sure he's gettin' mighty hungry, just like me. Only thing in
the icebox is a little dried-up ol' rabbit meat, and that ain't gonna hold him
for long. So I best go out and find us somethin’ for supper. Okay, Jim?”
He wagged his finger at his silent companion and
went on. “I know you tole
me I always gotta be back inside before the sun goes down, and I will, but we got
no dinner, and there's still a couple hours daylight left.” Putting on his
heavy jacket, he reached for the rifle standing at the side of the closed door.
“Wait.” The lone word wafted across
the room. His big hand on the door handle, the younger man turned, then walked
over to Jim. He knelt down to better hear the thin voice that was barely more
than a whisper.
“I know you don’t like it much up
here in the mountains, Billy. You were
only a little boy when your parents...” The old man's voice died, and a
coughing fit sending his listener running to bring him a glass of water. He
drank, then the papery words went on. “When they died. You were my sister's
boy, such a little boy then. You didn't understand why I took you from town to
come live here in this old cabin. I tried to tell you why, but I had to stop
when you started having those awful nightmares. I think sometimes you still
The old man stopped to take more water as his
nephew put his rifle back
against the wall, removed his jacket, and sat down on the floor at his uncle's
feet. “You're a grown man now, Billy, and you think the things I told you are crazy
old-people thoughts, and that the people you see when you go get supplies in
town are your friends, but they're not. They're waiting, just like they waited
for your parents. They worry that you'll believe me, and that someday you'll
leave here and tell others. They--”
Another coughing spasm took Jim, and he sank back
in the chair too
exhausted to continue. When the old man opened his eyes and sat up straighter,
his nephew spoke.
“Lemme talk a bit now, Jim. You rest up
a while and drink your water. You ain't
the only one with crazy ideas. What I always say about the mountains prob'ly
sounds as crazy to you as your stories do to me, but it's not. Sometimes they
move all around when I'm outside the house. You can’t see ‘em move, and you
don’t feel ‘em move, but I can. You tole me they can’t catch me and make me
flatter'n a pancake, 'cause I can run so fast, so I
don’t worry about that no more. But I still
don’t like ‘em.” His look of
concern eased as Poke joined him at Jim's feet.
“Just like you don't like when I forget
to take that ol' silver stick with
us when we go huntin'. You say that keeps us safe from the bad people, but
we ain't never used it. Ever.” His thick
brown brows drew together in
Jim drank more of his water and leaned forward.
“Doesn't matter. Long as
you have it with you, you'll be okay. Make sure you take it before you go out
“Okay, okay. Lemme get goin' before it gets
any later!” Jumping to his
feet, startling Poke, he hurried to their little bedroom, opened the closet
door, and drew down from the top shelf the old, tarnished cane.
Bill put his jacket back on, took the old cane
and his rifle, and he and
Poke went out the door. In his eagerness to be gone, he was already well into
the surrounding brush as Jim walked slowly to the door, locked it, and returned
to his chair.
Dry twigs and dead leaves crunched under the man's
heavy boots. He stopped
briefly and fingered the winter-bare branches of some bushes. “Hey, look, Poke.
Remember that time we picked lots and lots of berries off these here bushes,
and Jim made us a pie? There ain’t not a one left. Nothin' till spring.”
Disappointment flitted across his face as the late afternoon wind blew across
the back of his bare neck.
He continued pushing through the scraggly trees.
Jim's traps held only one
dead rabbit. Even Poke looked unimpressed. Suddenly his ears perked up. “It’s startin'
to get kinda dark, Poke. Are you smellin' a nice big buck, boy? If not, maybe we
should go back.”
A faint howl floated toward them. “Maybe
it’s a wolf. Is that what you're
listenin' to, Poke? Jim said sometimes there are real bad wolves, and
they got to be killed with silver. Yep, that's
what he says—kill all the
bad things with silver.” He stopped and turned as the howl came again, this
time a bit closer.
“That sure sounds mean. Let's go home now,
Poke.” He looked down, seeking
reassurance, but the hound was no longer at his side.
returned, now from a nearby
ridge; it seemed to issue from several throats. Then it stopped, and the cold
gray-purple light of oncoming dusk illuminated only scattered patches of snow dotting
the silent landscape.
a large tree and headed
for it. Picking up a thick branch lying nearby, he planted his back against the
tree’s broad trunk. Scanning his surroundings in the fast-fading light, he
could now see a dozen dark shapes moving slowly down the ridge.
wolves, Poke. But how can I tell
if they’re the real bad ones?” The sound of his own voice comforted him, and he
continued addressing the no longer present hound.
look at that big one in front
of the others. This one’s bigger’n you, Poke. And his eyes is all yellow, not
nice brown like yours. ”
of desperation crept into his
deep voice. “I don’ like these guys, Poke. Now they’re sittin’ down in a half a
circle in back of the big one, all quiet and lookin’ at us real mean-like. This'd
be a real good time for you to come back, Poke. And bring lots of your friends.”
at the walking stick that
he'd leaned against the trunk. “Well, let's see what this ol' stick does.” He
picked it up, held it straight out in front of him, and lunged toward the pack
leader, who had crept toward
him while he turned to get the cane. It snarled
but quickly retreated a
few feet, then sat down and again regarded him with unblinking yellow eyes.
know, that big fella reminds me
a bit of Mr. Holder at the liquor store. He got real big eyes that don't ever
blink much, either.” Holding his
big branch at the ready, he leaned against his
tree and faced the big wolf
and his followers in the semicircle behind him. Then he started gathering all
the twigs and branches within reach. “OK, I got some wood, so I can make a
fire,” he told the still-absent Poke happily. “That’ll keep them guys away.”
Then his shoulders drooped. “But I don’t got no matches.”
In the fast-fading light, the wolves sat, unmoving,
their yellow eyes fixed
on the man and his small pile of unlit brush.
“Hey, Jim. I got me this kinda crazy idea.
Let's see if I'm as good as you
say. You tole me I'm faster than the mountains, so let's find out if I can beat
these guys. So wish me well now, 'cause I’m makin' a break for it.”
With that, he sprang straight at the head wolf,
swinging his branch and
the cane wildly and roaring whatever gibberish came into his head as loud as he
could. Startled, the animal jumped aside, and the big man turned and headed for
home through the almost-dark woods.
Behind him, the brief moment of surprised silence
ended as the pack took
up the chase. Bill reached the house, hammered on the door, and heard his
uncle's chair being pushed back as the old man got up. Jim was able to open the
locked door, let his nephew in, and slam it shut just as the lead wolf hurled
itself against the stout wood.
listen to them, Jim! Ain't
they mad their dinner got away! Honest, though, them critters were so close I
figured they'd get me before you got here. Well, they ain't never gonna break that
to thank his uncle, who
had returned to his easy chair. But his pleasure and relief vanished as he
looked past his uncle's head. The window was open. Claws scraped the outside
wall. Two paws were already visible on the sill…
Terry Riccardi is a philatelist,
free-lance editor and inveterate reader. When not creating dark tales, she can
be found trying to bowl a perfect game, collecting stamps, and searching for
lost jigsaw puzzle pieces. She hopes to be a world-famous author when she grows