Tracks of Solitude
In a forgotten corner of America, tucked away in a quiet, timeless town, lived a man named John. He was a man of solitude, content in his own company, and always yearning for a simple life. When an opportunity arose for him to work as a night guard at the local railroad, he thought it was the perfect job to fulfill his desire for solitude.
The railroad was a place of mystery at night, with its long, winding tracks disappearing into the darkness, and the occasional distant howl of a coyote adding to the eerie atmosphere. John's job was to ensure the safety of the trains and the tracks during those silent hours.
One moonlit night, as John patrolled the rail yard, his flashlight illuminated a lone figure huddled on one of the parked freight cars. At first, he thought it was a trespasser and approached with caution.
"Hey, you there! This is private property," John shouted, hoping to scare the intruder away.
The figure on the freight car trembled, and out stepped a weathered and ragged man, his face lined with the hardships of life on the road. This was no ordinary trespasser; he was a hobo, a traveler of the rails.
The hobo looked at John with a mixture of weariness and curiosity.
"You ain't gonna chase me off, mister. I ain't looking for trouble. Just a warm spot to rest my bones for a while," he said in a voice that carried the weight of countless miles traveled.
Reluctantly, John allowed the hobo to stay for the night, making sure he kept his distance. But as the nights turned into weeks, and weeks into months, an unlikely friendship began to form between the night guard and the hobo, who introduced himself as Old Ben.
Sitting around a small fire one chilly night, they shared stories of their lives. John spoke of the repetitiveness of his job and his longing for solitude, while Old Ben recounted tales of his adventures on the rails, the people he met, and the lessons he learned from a life without a fixed destination.
"You see, John," Old Ben said as he poked the fire with a stick, "life's like a never-ending train ride. You can either fight it, trying to control every twist and turn, or you can embrace the journey, savoring the unexpected stops and detours along the way."
John listened, and for the first time, he began to question his own approach to life. He realized that he had been so focused on his need for solitude that he had missed out on the richness of human connection and the beauty of embracing life's uncertainties.
As the months passed, John's heart softened, and he found himself looking forward to Old Ben's visits. They continued to share stories, dreams, and philosophies under the starry night sky. John learned to appreciate the beauty of spontaneity, and Old Ben found comfort in the steadiness of John's company.
One fateful night, as the wind whispered through the trees and the distant rumble of a freight train echoed through the rail yard, John and Old Ben shared a silent moment of understanding. At that moment, they both realized that life's journey was made more meaningful by the connections they had built, despite their vastly different approaches to it.
And so, in the quietude of that small, forgotten town, a night guard and a hobo became unlikely friends, each enriched by the other's perspective on life, and both finding solace in the friendship they had discovered along the rails.
As time passed, John's friendship with Old Ben continued to grow, and the railroad became a place of warmth and camaraderie rather than solitude. They shared stories, dreams, and philosophies under the starry night sky, and John learned to appreciate the beauty of spontaneity.
One cool autumn evening, as they sat by the flickering fire, Old Ben turned to John with a knowing smile.
"You've learned much, my friend," he said. "But have you ever considered the life of a hobo?"
John gazed into the dancing flames, his thoughts drifting into the possibilities of a life unburdened by schedules and responsibilities. He pondered Old Ben's question deeply, realizing that there was more to life than the routine he had grown so accustomed to.
"I suppose I never really thought about it," John admitted, "but the way you describe it, there's a certain freedom to it, isn't there?"
Old Ben nodded.
"Freedom, my friend, is what makes life worth living. It's not about possessions or routines; it's about the journey, the connections we make, and the experiences we collect along the way."
As the night wore on, John couldn't shake the thought of embracing the hobo's way of life. The allure of the open road and the endless possibilities it held began to heave at his heartstrings.
In the days that followed, John found himself torn between the comfort of his job and the call of adventure. Finally, one crisp morning, he made a decision. He approached Old Ben, who had become his wise mentor and dear friend, and said, "I've decided to join you, to experience life on the rails, and to embrace the journey."
Old Ben's eyes twinkled with understanding and pride.
"You won't regret it, my friend. The world is a vast and beautiful place, and every mile of track holds a new story waiting to be discovered."
And so, John bid farewell to his post as the night guard at the railroad, leaving behind the solitude he had once cherished. He embarked on a new chapter of his life, following Old Ben's footsteps into the unknown.
As the two friends hopped on a passing freight train, the wind in their hair and the rhythmic clatter of wheels beneath them, John couldn't help but smile. He was no longer bound by routine, and he was ready to embrace the ever-changing journey that lay ahead, just like the hobo he had come to admire and love.
It was hot outside and their car swirled over the road, tires glued to the asphalt. Eddie Vedder’s Society was playing in the background. They watched the last bit of civilisation float by through the window. The thermometer read 31°C, but inside the A/C was on full power. A few small billboards on the side of the road were the last remnants of the society they were leaving behind. Even though the speed limit was 70, our speed was at a comfortable 75.
The inside of the car was silent, except for the indie playlist on Spotify to break some of that silence. Maybe they should have taken two cars, in that case, he could have driven alone. It wasn’t that much difference with the situation now, but at least he could have played his music loud. Even sing along if the song was right.
Nathan looked in his rearview mirror at his friends. Peter was talking to Allison, the girl he was dating at the time. Nathan made it very clear this supposed to be a trip for the four of them. But Peter threatened not to come if he couldn’t bring her along. This happened every time he was dating someone new, which happened every other week. Between girlfriends, he would swipe through Tinder to find his next dream girl.
Right next to them was Melissa, swiping through Instagram as her life depended on it. Which in some way it did. She got fired for the third time in less than a year. Now, she was desperately trying to become the next Instagram influencer. She was trying to spend her last remaining minutes on her phone. Scrolling through that app that was controlling her life.
That’s why Nathan had planned a whole adventure-packed weekend, away from civilisation. As far as that was possible in a small country like Belgium. The nearest town was over ten km away and the nearest road two km. To get to their cabin, they had to leave their car at the park entrance and walk the last few km. Another reason Nathan had told them to pack light for this trip. After all, it was only for one weekend.
They had been planning this trip for months now, all for different reasons. One thing was sure, they all needed a break from their daily life. Disconnect from society, like Sami always used to say. Sami was the one person he thought would keep him sane during this drive. He was sitting right next to him on the passenger's seat. It seemed like he got lost in, what seemed to the rest of them, his untroubled mind. Nathan thought he was in some kind of deep trance, trying to make his mind clear. The soft snoring made it very clear he was only sleeping.
It wouldn’t be long before Mellissa would get cut off from her digital life. Nathan had been taking this road every summer so he knew exactly when this would occur. In a few minutes he would drive past the last gas station they would see for km’s. After that turn, they would all get cut off from civilisation.
In this part of the woods there was barely any cell service, let alone they had wifi. A weekend without internet and social media, that was the whole idea of this trip. They had to rely on old-school fun and games. Nathan even brought a game of Monopoly, well knowing it might end up in another fight. In the end, this trip was all about reconnecting as friends. Re-establish their relationship with nature.
Nathan took his eyes off the road for only one second, long enough to take a look at his friends in the backseat. It was enough to nearly cause a crash. Something was lying in the middle of the road. The moment his eyes returned to the road, he had to quickly manoeuvre the car around it. That caused Melissa to drop her phone underneath his seat. His handling happened so fast, that even Sami bumped his head against the window. Waking him up in the process.
“What the hell Nathan?” Peter said.
He didn’t take the time to answer him immediately. First, he had to make sure to bring the car to a stop at the side of the road. His hands firmly gripped around the steering wheel. He stared in his rearview mirror to see what exactly he avoided crashing into. Something big was lying in the middle of the road. It happened more around these parts that deer ran into cars while crossing the road. It happened to Nathan before, that’s why he was able to react at such speed. This time he was able to avoid a collision, but there was a time he wasn’t so lucky.
“Are you okay?” Sami asked while he noticed he was bleeding himself.
“That was close,” he answered.
He unbuckled his seat belt and got out of the car. He had to make sure it was a deer that was blocking the way.
“Hey guys, come give me hand!”
Peter turned his head and saw Nathan squatted next to a big hump in the road. He tapped Sami on his shoulder and then walked towards him.
“Is that a deer?” Sami asked.
“Good thing you didn’t hit that. Someone else wasn’t that lucky though.”
Nathan looked at both of them and then pointed to the side of the deer.
“I don’t think a car killed it. See these marks? It looks like another animal killed it.”
“What animal would be able to take down a deer this big?” Sami asked.
“My guess would be a wolf,” Nathan answered without giving it any thought.
There hadn’t been any sighting of a wolf in more than a hundred years in Belgium. It was not until last summer when there was a new sighting. Because it had been so long, it was all over the news. Nathan was the first one to welcome them back to their country. Well-knowing they were here before mankind was. We had invaded their territory and not the other way around. Not everyone agreed with him. As soon as the wolves made clear they were planning to stay, they started to attack the farmer’s livestock. It started with chickens, but over time their prey became larger and larger. Even after they attacked the livestock of Nathan’s farm, he remained a big supporter of the wolf.
“Just help me get it to the side of the road.”
Nathan already had his hands around one of its legs and he was making clear he couldn’t drag it alone. Peter didn’t hesitate and immediately grabbed the other leg. Sami couldn’t handle blood that well, but when he saw them struggling, he finally gave them a hand. Once they made sure no other car could hit it, they got back in their car and continued the last few km. It was the last stretch before their adventure-packed weekend could begin.
They arrived at the cabin around eight in the evening. That way they had plenty of time to get settled. Make themselves comfortable before their weekend began. Nathan had planned it so they could enjoy their evenings playing games. While during the day, they would do adventurous things.
His family cabin had everything they would need. In the shed out back were six bikes and three kayaks. Their family would rent this place to relatives whenever someone wanted to escape city life. Nathan made sure he came here every summer. Most of the time he came alone, but this time he wanted to bring along his friends.
The cabin stood deep inside the forest. Since it was the only cabin around, it consisted mainly of glass. It almost felt like you were still sitting outside, surrounded by the stillness of the woods. Nathan’s parents always dreamt about a log cabin life, but when their farm started to boom, they gave up on the idea. They still kept the cabin for a quick getaway. After periods of hard work, they enjoyed sitting on the porch enjoying the view. The faint smell of woodsmoke made them dream about a life they could have had. The only thing that would make it better was a hot tub. So they built one on the porch. To keep the idea of going back to basic, they made it a wood-fired tub. It may take a little longer, but it was worth it for the satisfaction. And that woodsmoke, that’s what Nathan loved the most. Nothing beats the smell of burning the same wood that made living this way possible. On the rare occasion it snowed in Belgium, he would sometimes come during winter as well. There was something serene about sitting naked in a hot tub when it was -2°C. The whole place would transform into a winter wonderland, engulfed in snow.
When they were finally settled in, Nathan had already put up the Monopoly board on the wooden table. That way they could play while sitting in front of the fireplace. Sami was trying to get the fire started. Nathan kept offering a lighter, but he insisted to make one by hand. After several tries, he finally gave up and accepted the lighter. Mere seconds later, the fire was starting to crack. Sami forgot all about his unsuccessful attempts. The sight of fire was enough to make everything disappear for a while. Before Sami could break into another trance, Melissa tapped him on the shoulder to ask if he was ready to lose. There was always a small discussion about who would take what token. Back when they first started playing, they decided who would take what token. Peter got the dog, Nathan had the car, Sami the hat and Melissa got the thimble. That would leave the shoe for Allison that night.
It was all fun, right until the moment everyone started to work against Peter. They knew he couldn’t stand losing, so they were trying to bankrupt him to trigger a reaction out of him. For some reason, he always seemed to end up in jail, so when his dog flew back behind bars for the fifth time, he had enough. He slammed his fists on the table in anger, hoping it would mess up the board set. Unfortunately for him, the table was solid wood and none of the other tokens moved even a little. This seemed to anger him even more and out of frustration he picked up the entire board and threw it upside down. The tokens flew high in the air, scattering all over the rug. Sami’s car almost flew right into the fire, but at this point, he wouldn’t even care. He would be so fascinated by the fire that he would watch it melt until it was completely cauterised by the flames.
“I’m done! I'm going to bed!”
The rest of the gang started laughing. They all knew this would happen and it was exactly what they were going for. But maybe Peter had a good idea about going to bed. Nathan had planned a whole day for them the next day and it might be better if they were all well-rested.
Peter and Allison were still lying in bed, enjoying the few hours they had as lovers. Sami was outside cutting wood while Nathan and Melissa were preparing breakfast. Nathan had offered her to help him, to keep her mind busy. She started the day restless. She was walking around the cabin with her phone in hand, looking for some kind of signal. Now her mind drifted between beating the eggs and frying bacon. Everything in the cabin was meant for manual labour, so Nathan had to grind their coffee by hand. Back home everything was automatic so it took him some time, and small blisters, to grind enough beans.
“So what do you have planned for us?”
Peter walked into the kitchen in his boxers. He was the only one that wasn’t completely dressed yet. No one dared asked the question they all had in mind, the mere sight of him standing in his underwear said enough.
“Allison is in the shower, she’ll be right out. So Nathan, what’s the plan for today?”
“You’re gonna love it,” he said, “I thought we first start with a tour around the neighbourhood. We could take the bikes to make it a bit more adventurous. And after that, I thought we could take the kayak’s out and head down the river. What do you think?”
“Sounds good to me,” Allison said, drying off her hair.
“I’m gonna hop in the shower and we’re good to go.”
“Nobody is leaving before breakfast, I’ve put too much work into it.”
Everyone else started laughing, making Allison even angrier.
“It’s not that hard to make bacon and eggs you know,” Sami laughed, while he started scooping up his plate.
After breakfast, they all went to the shed out in the back. Nathan’s parents had told them there should be six bikes, but they couldn’t tell in what state they would be. It’s been a while since anyone used them. When they saw that almost every tire was flat, Mellisa suggested hiking around instead. That way they could see even more, even spot some of the wildlife Nathan always talked about. It wasn’t that uncommon to see wild deer or even boars in this part of the woods.
Nathan knew about a path that led along old train tracks. They were used during the war but neglected afterwards. There were plans to re-use them, but since this place was so remote, no one bothered. Nature took back control and it gave some kind of eerie vibe around the place.
Walking alongside the tracks made Sami think of the movie Stand by Me. He started to fantasise about finding a dead body of their own. He wondered how the rest of the group would react and what their plan would be. Sami loved movies. He always seemed to imagine himself in the same kind of scenarios every time he went somewhere. If they had to take a boat to this place, you could be sure he was thinking about it getting shot by enemy forces.
Near the end of the tracks, Peter stopped.
“Did you guys hear that?”
“I could swear I heard some kind of animal nearby. It kinda sounded like a dog or something.”
“We’re all alone here Peter, no way it could be a dog.”
“Maybe we’re not alone,” Allison said, “somehow I sense like someone is watching us.”
Her skin tingled and everyone started listening with great intensity. They could hear the wind rustling through the treetops and the birds chirping.
Suddenly Sami started making a steady increasing chugging sound. Imitating a train coming their way.
“Not funny Sami!”
Melissa punched him on the shoulder, but couldn’t resist a slight grin. Allison still felt uneasy, the feeling of someone watching them was still there. Slowly she turned around, expecting her eyes to connect with another hiker or even a dog for that matter. Nothing was there. Nothing but the knowing of something was out there, watching them. Then she heard it, the same soft growling her boyfriend had heard earlier.
“Can we go back now?” she asked the rest of the group.
The rest of them still didn’t hear anything, but they could tell she was feeling anxious. It could have been the setting of an abandoned railroad track and the dense forest that spooked her. Still, they decided to head back to the cabin. The hike took longer than Nathan expected and kayaking down the river would have to wait until the next day. They traced back their steps along the track and headed back to the cabin. All the while, Allison was sure she could hear footsteps following their every track.
The whole gang sat around the fire, watching the embers dance away. Before heading back in, Peter had started a fire to heat the hot tub. His idea of spending the night was to relax with his new girlfriend. What better way to get to know each other even better than sitting half-naked in a hot tub. Peter even suggested doing it naked. But Allison felt uncomfortable doing that in front of his friends. Even though they would stay inside the rest of the night, at least that’s what they promised Peter. They had plenty of other games and now that the sore loser wasn’t playing, they might finish a game for once. The smell of burning wood was now everywhere. The woodsmoke of the fireplace met with the smoke from outside. Soon they would mingle and their origins would be something entirely new.
Allison gently submerged her foot in the water. Making sure the temperature was right before she got in. Peter was already in there, splashing some of the water at Allison.
“The temperature is fine, just get in.”
He even stretched out his hand to help her get in. At first, they sat opposite from each other, but Peter wanted to be close to her. He wanted to touch her, kiss her, even some other things if the rest of the gang wasn’t looking. He moved closer and closer, trying to disrupt the water all at once. Until their bodies finally touched. It didn’t take long before his hand was on her leg. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what he was trying to do. He kept moving his hand up and down, trying to get her in the mood. His head was resting on her shoulders, occasionally lifted to kiss her neck. Allison’s gaze was moving between Peter and the cabin. This was the only time Peter wished it didn’t exist out of all that glass. They could see Nathan and the rest playing some kind of game, but they were too far to see which one. If they could see them, that would mean they could see her and Peter, which made her feel uncomfortable. She wanted Peter just as much as he wanted her. Seeing their friends on the other side of that enormous glass window made her cautious.
“C’mon, no one’s looking. Trust me.” Peter said.
Again he brought his lips to her neck and this time she let her guard down. It did seem like their friends were too busy with their game to notice what was going on outside. She started moving her hand between his legs and her lips sought the company of his.
Peter’s breathing quickened, but Allison suddenly stopped and her head tilted upwards. She felt a strange, cold feeling coming over her, even though it was hot outside. Peter didn’t feel anything, his was mind was still wondering why she stopped.
“Do you hear that?”
“Hear what? There’s nothing out here.”
“Exactly, where are all the birds and the insects?”
In a forest like this, there should be sounds like that all the time. That’s one of the things they liked when they first arrived at the cabin. Birds were singing, insects buzzing around without a worry in the world. Yet all those sounds have died and complete silence crept over the trees.
Allison got goosebumps when she heard it first. It was faint and still far away, but the second time it was louder and more menacing. A low growl. She grew up around dogs, so it was a sound she was quite familiar with. But this growl was different, she felt it more than she heard it and it was coming closer. In the distance, a twig snapped and she looked at Peter. Yet he didn’t look worried and his hands kept running up her leg.
“Peter stop it! There’s something out there!”
She was scanning the area, trying to find the source where the sound came from. All she could see was the peaceful forest. It was hard to tell where it came from, but she knew it was close.
Peter saw her shivering and then he noticed the goosebumps on her arms. He didn’t know it was because she was cold or out of fear. He tried playing it cool, telling her he would protect her from the angry troll that roamed these woods. He tried holding back his laughter, unsuccessful.
“Screw this! I’m going back inside.”
Allison pushed Peter’s hand off of her leg and got out of the hot tub without even drying herself off. She kept looking at the forest as she wrapped a towel around her body and made her way back to the cabin. Peter wondered what that was all about. He was sure nothing was out there.
That’s when he finally noticed all the usual noises of the forest had come to a halt. It almost seemed as if they all stopped making noise to remain invisible. Another twig snapped and Peter heard a long and mournful howl. Peter tried to imagine what made that sound. It made him feel uncomfortable and he decided to join the rest inside, where he would feel safe. His hands looked for a towel, but Allison had taken both towels with her.
There it was again, but this time it sounded wilder. And closer. Peter turned his head over the edge, looking if he could find another towel. Another twig broke and Peter froze. A pair of yellow eyes was staring straight at him. Every instinct in his body told him to get away. A shadow emerged from the bushes and a clear silhouette of a gray fierce wolf was standing right in front of Peter. Its ears flat, teeth exposed. Another rumbling growl ripped from its throat. There was foam around the edges of its mouth, dripping on the ground. Peter had seen Cujo before and he knew this wolf could be potentially rabid. He had to watch his every move trying not to spook it. Every move he made could be life-threatening at this point. He slowly turned his head to see if his friends had heard it too, but they were still preoccupied with their game. They were all laughing and he couldn’t even see Allison. Before he could even turn his head back around, and think about his next move, there was a loud splash.
Something had jumped in there with him and now he found himself struggling to get out. He was halfway out of the tub when something grabbed his leg. Its teeth sank in and Peter could hear his flesh tearing apart. He screamed for help, emptying the last bit of air that was in his lungs. He tried holding on to the edge of the tub, while the rest of his body was being dragged underwater. All he could do now was hope it was loud enough for his friends to hear.
Nathan heard Peter screaming outside. Allison came back inside a few minutes earlier, running straight to their room. She looked scared and was trembling all over. At first, Nathan thought she was cold and they had a fight or something. But now that he heard Peter scream, he knew something was wrong. The second time he heard Peter scream, the rest of the gang seemed to have heard it too. They jumped up and looked at each other.
“Was that Peter?” Melissa asked.
“I think so, but I can’t see him anywhere.”
Sami was looking outside, trying to find Peter. He was nowhere to be seen. Sami dropped his bottle of beer out of shock. Seeing Sami look out the window in horror, Nathan ran towards him. What got him so spooked?
There wasn’t any sign of Peter outside. The water in the hot tub was quiet, but when they ran outside, they saw it coloured crimson red. Nathan looked around and started calling Peter’s name. He looked around and then he noticed a small trail of blood leading out of the tub. He ran to the other side and saw the trail getting bigger and bigger, leading back into the dense forest.
Allison saw the group standing next to the hot tub. She wanted to go to Peter and tell him she overreacted. She knew there was nothing to be scared of. It was the forest after all. There aren’t any dangerous animals in Belgium. She joined the group outside, trying to find Peter. But all she could see was a group reeling from the shock what had happened and a hot tub filled with red water. No Peter though! Allison got stunned by the sight of the trail leading to the woods and fell to her knees.
“I…I told him something was out there,” she sobbed, “but he wouldn’t listen.”
She cried out his name and started running towards the trees. Sami rushed over to her to stop her. She cried out his name once more.
Sami used his hand to cover her mouth.
“Sssh! We don’t know what’s out there. It might still be around.”
They all looked around to see if they could spot anything, but it was too dark to see. Nathan ran back inside and looked for a flashlight. In a cabin like this, that used a generator for powers, was bound to have a few lying around. It didn’t take him long before he was able to find two. There should be more, but for now, this would do the trick. Without knowing what was out there, it wouldn’t be smart to go looking for him in the darkness of these woods. Nathan turned on the flashlights and gave one to Melissa. Sami was still trying to calm down Allison. She almost broke free and it took all of Sami’s might to hold her down. He didn’t expect her to be this strong, but it was the adrenaline that was taking over her body.
Nathan shone his light to the edge of the woods. The beams of light illuminated the trail of blood and it made him shiver. The thought of Peter dying in those woods was getting real. He knew there was nothing he could do right now. Not without putting his life, or the lives of his friends, in jeopardy. He let the light pass every inch of every tree, hoping there was something that could give them a clue.
“What’s that?” Allison asked, “Go back.”
Allison shone her light to the same spot that Nathan had just covered. It shocked both of them what they saw. A reflection of two yellow eyes glared back at them. First, it was one pair, but when Allison dropped her flashlight out of shock, more of them appeared. A few moments later, twelve eyes were staring at the group and one of them started to get closer. The leaves trembled as the animal scurried through them.
Holding the flashlight in one hand, and his phone in the other, he shone the light straight at it. He knew there wasn’t any service, but at this moment he was acting on pure muscle memory. He wanted to call for help, yet he knew he couldn’t. The animal crept closer and by now Nathan could tell it was a half-starved, bloodied wolf. When the light hit its fangs, he could see some flesh hanging from the edge of its mouth. He knew it must be from Peter.
Soon the group found themselves surrounded by a whole pack of hungry wolves. More and more of them emerged from the bushes. Their golden eyes widened and ears flat. The alpha let out a wild growl and it approached even closer. Without making sudden movements, Nathan gestured the others to go back inside. Slowly. The wolf fixated on Nathan and didn’t seem to pay attention to the others. When they finally made it back inside, Nathan started backing up. He didn’t want to turn his back on a pack of hungry wolves. Melissa was holding the door open and told Nathan to come inside. The sound of her voice caused the wolf to charge forward, ready to attack Nathan.
Nathan barely made it inside and the wolf’s nose slammed right into the glass door. For a moment they thought the glass might break, but it was strong enough to withhold a storm. It was built so it could withstand a tree crashing into it. Knowing this, made them feel safe inside, but the pack of wolves were surrounding the cabin. There was no way out without crossing their path. A few of them let out mournful howls. Either to state they had to wait a little longer for their supper or to attract others. Nathan hoped it was neither one of those and he assumed it was a sound of defeat. He felt superior and started laughing at the alpha that was still right outside the glass door. His enthusiasm soon faded when he looked closer. He saw the thick, white foam dripping over the pieces of flesh that used to belong to Peter.
He backed up, without taking his eyes off the alpha, and joined the rest of the group in front of the fire.
Allison seemed to have calmed down, but she was weeping in short bursts. The realisation that she would never see Peter again had hit her hard. Melissa switched places with Sami. He knew that Melissa would do a better job in comforting her. He thought Nathan could use him to come up with a plan. They had to decide what their next move would be. They couldn’t stay here. First, they had to make sure they survived the night. While a pack of starving wolves surrounded their cabin.
“So now what?” Sami asked Nathan.
“I don’t know, but wolves are nocturnal. I guess we have to ride it out and wait for them to get sick of us.”
Nathan was trying to sound tough, but his voice trembled when he said that. They decided they would both keep watch, while they let the women rest. When it came to running, they might need all their strength. Meanwhile, Nathan and Sami switched turns in keeping watch, hoping the pack would soon give up.
The alpha stayed right in front of the door, keeping his golden eyes fixated on Nathan. It was as if it could only see him and not the others. It even crossed his mind he would let the others leave out the back door when morning came. Hoping the wolves considered him as their prey. That seemed impossible though, the pack circled the cabin. Almost as if they were alternating their rounds as well.
Each time they growled, their body shook backwards. They were using all their force to let them know they were still out there. Waiting for them to come outside so they could rip them to shreds.
Morning came and the bright sunshine poured through the huge glass window, wrapping them in a warm blanket of light. Nathan was still sitting in front of the door. Even he couldn’t keep his eyes open during the night and had fallen asleep.
Sami walked over to him and placed his hands on his shoulder.
“Wake up Nathan.”
Nathan’s eyes opened and he leapt to his feet. His head moved from left to right, scouring the area outside.
“Where are they? I can’t see them anymore.”
There was no sign of the wolves outside and Sami said he must have been right before.
“Maybe they did only hunt at night. They left us as soon as you fell asleep,” he told Nathan, “the important part is that they’re gone for now.”
Nathan couldn’t argue with that. After all, he couldn’t see any trace of them anymore. But in the corner of his eye, he could still see the dried up trail of blood. Deep down, he could still sense the alpha. He was still out there, waiting for him to come out.
They couldn’t stay here for much longer. They had rented the cabin for the weekend. Starting from Monday, other people would occupy this place. They had to warn them, tell them there was a pack of hungry wolves roaming these woods. They wouldn’t be safe here. Nathan and the rest agreed to stay a few more hours to make sure the wolves were gone.
The hours passed by slowly and they couldn’t stop thinking about Peter. Sami felt bad they had to leave his body behind, wherever it was. How were they supposed to tell the authorities what happened without proof? How were they even going to tell his family they didn’t even have the body of their only son?
During those hours, Allison had told them exactly what happened to them last night. How they started fooling around and how she had heard a noise coming from the woods. She told them Peter didn’t believe her and was making fun of her. After she came back inside, she had no idea the source of that noise had taken Peter. She kept asking herself what would have happened if she had stayed in the tub with him. Would they have still attacked him? Or would they have attacked them both? Allison couldn’t think about it anymore and started crying again.
She did love Peter. If only she knew Peter wasn’t a one-woman kind of man, but they didn’t want to break that illusion for her. Instead, Nathan looked around the cabin for something that could calm her down. They had a medicine cabinet that was stocked up on everything they could encounter in the woods.
I bet they didn’t think about an attack by vicious wolves, Nathan thought to himself. He was rummaging through the cabinet. At least he did find some sedatives in there.
When Allison had finally calmed down a little, Nathan wanted to go outside for a bit. He wanted to be sure the wolves were gone. They still had to hike a few km’s back to their car and the last thing he wanted was getting ambushed. If that happened, they were done for. They had to make sure they got out of there, so they could warn others. Tell the authorities there are wolves around here, even if it meant they would kill them to keep people safe.
Nathan was a supporter of wolves coming back to this country. But after what happened to Peter, he didn’t know what to think anymore. He thought about the foam that was coming out of their mouths. He stuck it inside his head they must be rabid. That way he could justify their faith in his mind.
Nathan carefully opened the door and stepped outside. His nerves were shot. He walked around the deck, trying not to look at the hot tub. There wasn’t any trace of the wolves. Nathan looked at the forest and closed his eyes. This would be his final test. He heard the close sounds of chirping birds, buzzing insects and croaking frogs. The forest had come back to life. The wolves had gone away and he was confident they could make it back to their car.
After a very tense hike, they finally reached their car at the park entrance. They didn’t let their guard down the entire time. With each sound they heard, they stopped their movement and looked around. Making sure it was a harmless animal. By doing this, they doubled the time it took to get to their car. It was already starting to get dark outside. They wanted to make sure they were back at their car before the sun went completely under.
Now they were safely inside, protected by two tons of steel. No way in hell a wolf could break in there. Nathan checked his cellphone, looking for a signal. He knew he still had to drive back to that gas station to get a signal, but it couldn’t hurt to check already. He wanted to call the authorities as soon as possible.
Nathan turned on the ignition and brought movement to their car. He could finally release all that tension that was hanging over his shoulders. Nathan looked in his rearview mirror and saw Melissa and Allison falling asleep. Sami was sitting right next to him and this time he would stay awake. Nathan looked one last time at the park entrance in his mirror. He could swear a pair of yellow eyes was staring at him from out the bushes. He turned their car on the main road and as soon as their headlights faded away, so did the pair of golden eyes. In the distant, Nathan could hear a single, wild howl. Right before he heard the sound of shattering glass.