by Geniene Preston (Robin Woodward suggestion on the first sentence)
The wolf howled and turned to look at the pack. She was the leader. The oldest and weakest.
Anushka was revered by the pack but with the ice melting in the northern arctic, they would soon be forced to move to where the humans congregated. White with blue eyes, she was always able to hunt skillfully as she melted into the surrounding snow, her enemy unaware of her presence.
As the years passed and global warming caused the snow to melt, the pack grew smaller. Their hunting grounds diminished with time. Food grew scarce. Reindeer and buffalo, once abundant, was now in short supply.
She stood at the end of the ridge and searched below for signs of life. The one lone puppy howled into the moonlight as if looking for a sign. The females in the pack looked to her for a response. The two younger males wanted to fight her for leadership. So far she had held them at bay. It wouldn’t be long now till her weakness became apparent.
Her head swung backwards to stare them down. Her blue eyes shining in the moonlight. The pack looked at her for guidance. She turned to look back into the distance and a plume of smoke, caught in the glimmer of the snow. A human. One or more. Food. Catch or be caught.
With a flicker of her head, her shimmering white coat glistening with freshly fallen snow, she started down from the vantage point. There were 7 in the pack including the puppy who was already showing signs of wanting to hunt. With grey smudge between his ears and running down towards his black nose, Anushka was proud that he was hers. The male was grey but the dominant genes were white. The pup would hunt and one day take over being a leader.
They ran swiftly into the night, towards the smoke. Quiet but swift. As they got closer, they fell into a single file, metres apart. Crouching as they shuffled closer. They stopped and waited for Anushka to give them the signal to attack. She crept closer. There was clearing ahead.
Around the fire was two small eskimo children. A girl and a boy. Hunched between them was an elderly woman. They shivered with the cold as the small fire was hardly enough to warm them. Anushka could sense the pack was ready to launch an attack. They were hungry. So was she.
The humans were defenceless. Attack and they could eat within minutes. The pack would outrun them if they tried to get away. Anushka was now uncertain. Turn and the pack could turn against her. Attack and these humans would die for simply keeping warm.
Her dilemma grew as she stared at the group around the fire. The old woman rose, as if sensing the wolf. She turned and looked directly at Anushka. For a moment, they stared at each other. The old woman then moved away from the children towards the trees. She turned again as if to signal that Anushka should follow her and leave the children alone.
With only a moments hesitation, Anushka chose to follow the old woman and the pack followed. Still glancing back at the fire, but centuries old instinct kept them following their leader. Still crouching and waiting for the right moment, Anushka didn’t take her eyes off her prey.
The old woman shuffled down towards a stream that ran alongside the trees. Her wrapping was old and torn. She turned to face the pack. The fire flickered in the distance casting an eerie glow through the trees.
Suddenly the puppy, now bored with waiting, rushed to the front, knocking a small tree. Snow fell everywhere and the silence was broken as he yelped in surprise. The old woman never stood a chance as the pack descended on her, in turns, feasting and howling.
Anushka turned back towards the fire. The children, hearing the commotion, shivered in fright, each behind a tree. They could not climb the tree as they were too small. That would keep them safe. Looking back at the pack, they were too busy with their prey to notice her absence.
The girl reached out her hand, as if he were a pet. The boy tried to warn her off. They trembled with fear. Anushka came beside them and moved her nose under the boys feet. He was confused. The girl realised what was happening and gestured to the boy to stand on her back and reach up onto the low branch of the tree. He did and launched himself onto the branch. The girl was smaller so the boy reached down and helped her up.
They were safe. For now. The pack had now realised their leader was not among them. They left a trail of blood as they crept closer to the fire. The children were quiet. They didn’t make a sound. The pack were suspicious. They sensed something wasn’t right.
The puppy looked up and began to scratch on the tree, trying to climb. He could smell their fear. The pack gathered around the base of the tree, trying to jump and reach a foot or hand. Anushka stood back and watched. Soon the pack tired of the game and went back to their prey. She was hungry but she could wait. Her offspring must eat and keep up his strength or he wouldn’t be able to keep up.
It was time to take her leave. Time to find a place to die. To let her soul leave for happy hunting grounds. Beyond the clouds. She turned to take her leave and the puppy, as if knowing that she was going to leave, looked up from the prey, and in a silent look, said goodbye.
Without looking back, she turned and walked away.