“Come on,” Mama was saying after another suspicious sound had caught her ears. She was careful to disguise the fear in her voice.
Her pup knew something was wrong. “Mama?” she said, pushing closer to the wolf as they walked. It was the only word she’d learned, and she used it when she was scared and needed Mama’s comforting presence. “Mama.”
“Be quiet, baby.”
The whole pack stopped, and so did Mama and her pup. Everyone was looking around, eyes boring through thick flurries of snow and into the surrounding woods.
Several minutes passed of silence except for the wind whooshing past their sensitive ears, then the gunshots rang out.
Wolves fell here and there, sometimes two at once. Mama could see them now. They were standing amid the trees, bundled in thick, heavy coats while she and the other wolves were out in the open, exposed to the hunters with only their camouflaging white fur working to their advantage. She picked her pup up in her mouth and bolted into the woods.
Gunshots aimed at her friends and family had begun to fade, but those aimed at her were earsplitting. She worked low-hanging branches and exposed tree roots into her route to hinder the hunter following her, but nothing slowed the hunter down.
A bullet narrowly missed her right hind leg, throwing snow onto her as she veered left and increased her speed. She passed another low-hanging branch, then another exposed tree root. Maybe they’d earn her more time, but no. The bullets were still coming, one hitting the snow by her left side, another flying over her head. She was about to lose hope when she saw the cave.
She curved around a cluster of trees and descended the slope toward the darkened cave. When she was inside, she ventured into its depths as far as she dared until she was in complete darkness and waited.
She heard the peaceful whisper of the breeze and the quick crunching of snow under thick snow boots, then saw him. He stopped just yards from the cave opening, his gun pointed as he looked around. He hadn’t noticed the cave, but it was only a matter of time.
Mama held her breath for what felt like hours, waiting for the hunter to come into the cave and end her and her baby’s life. No, not her baby’s life. The hunter can kill me, Mama thought, but not my baby.
To her relief, the hunter moved on, disappearing to her left, but she continued to hold her breath because that was when she heard the crunch of a rock echo from somewhere deep within the cave, followed by a heavy footstep, then another and another until the beast was there, staring down at her and roaring in her face. She turned away from the bear and darted out the cave, her pup still dangling from her teeth.
She went straight, knowing to her left was a hunter, to her right were more hunters, and behind her was a raging bear, but was still in trouble because the bear’s roar had attracted the hunter’s attention.
She knew there was nowhere left to hide, and the hunter had her in his sights. A bullet hit the tree she had just rounded; another skinned her side. She leaped over a fallen tree, hoping to evade the bloodthirsty bullets cascading around her, but miscalculated the jump and tripped over the tree, sending her pup flying.
She picked herself up and hurried over to her pup, lowering her head toward her as she considered picking her back up and running with her again, but the hunter was too close. He’d kill them both if she carried her with her. Her pup would be safest where she was, she decided, as long as she stayed hidden.
The pup poked her head out of the snow just as the hunter had passed. “Mama!” she called, watching in horror as Mama ran for her life. She picked herself up and watched as Mama and the hunter disappeared over the horizon, then there was a lone gunshot.