Texas prairie, 1889. The wolf came in the darkness.
Henry Hanson woke at an unholy hour to an unholy din in the yard outside. He sat up, blearily wiping the sleep from his eyes with one hand. There was creak as he shifted in the bed, a thud as his feet hit the floor. Barefoot, he shuffled over the wood boards, muttering imprecations under his breath. He groped blindly along the wall until his fingers closed around the stock of the 30/30 Winchester that hung there. Then he opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.
The full moon cast a sheeny whiteness on three shapes furiously intertwined with one another. Teeth flashed, throats snarled, tongues lolled. Animal cries of anger and of pain rose from the chaotic struggle. Henry recognized his two hounds, fighting side by side against a third, larger creature. A second later he realized what that creature was.
He whipped the gun to his shoulder, pointing it at the sky. The barrel spat orange and blue fire. An explosion ripped a jagged hole in the night air and the fight in the yard ended abruptly as it began, the combatants scattering in different directions.
Henry pumped the lever of the Winchester and raised the gun again. This time, he levelled the barrel at a streak of gray running away through the fields on his left. He fired. The wolf swerved in its path, seemed to stagger. Then it was gone, melting away into the surrounding darkness. Henry lowered his weapon and stared after it. "Blasted animal," he muttered. One of the hounds whimpered. He stooped to scratch its ears. Then he turned and reentered the house and closed the door and replaced the gun in its bracket on the wall and crawled back into bed.
The following morning, Henry rose and got dressed and ate breakfast and saddled his horse. He slid the Winchester into the saddle holster, donned his hat, and set off through the eastern fields of his property, leaving the hounds tethered to the front porch. They whined as they watched him go. In the far east, the sun peered over the horizon, its blazing razor edge casting a pale hue over the land.
Less than a quarter mile from the house, Henry spotted crimson among the golden prairie grass. Blood. The wolf's blood, no doubt. Henry's shot had been true. He rode on, pleased with himself.
The blood trail continued for several miles, winding this way and that but always eastward. Henry followed it patiently, even though it was slow going. Sometimes the trail would veer sharply off in an unexpected direction or disappear altogether for a short distance, and he would have to dismount and look around until he found it again.
Over an hour and half had passed now. The sun was fully risen, bright and yellow, in the first stages of its trek through the heavens. Henry kept riding, both eyes fixed intently on the red trail that snaked on and on through the grass. Then, as his horse topped a small rise in the terrain, he came to abrupt stop. Icy needles pricked up and down his spine.
There, not five feet away, and partially concealed by the grass, lay a man. He was naked - not a stitch of clothing on him - and he didn't move. Just lay there, facedown in the dust. He was dead. Henry was sure of it. He slid out of the saddle and walked toward the body, all other thoughts driven from his mind. He crouched, pushing his hat farther back on his head, his eyes taking in the scene.
There was blood, lots of it, all around where the man lay. The strong coppery scent filled Henry's nostrils. He stifled a gag. Gingerly, he gripped the man's arm and turned him over. His heartbeat quickened.
Just under the lower left rib was a hole about the size of a dime. It was bloody and black and clotted with dirt and bits of grass, but the nature of it was plain enough. It was a gunshot wound – the type of wound that a round from a 30/30 Winchester rifle might make.
And the sun watched...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (IN HIS OWN WORDS)