The Shadow

Silently he waited in the forest. The leaves rustled in the wind. The breeze was not strong but it was enough to carry the scent of possible prey. He had been hunting for three days now with no luck. Game was getting rare in this part of the forest. It hadn’t passed this way for weeks, though today he was feeling lucky.

The forest was quiet. The silenced ran through his mind causing memories of his family to reel through his mind. The pack left weeks ago when the food ran out. He had decided to stay despite his alpha’s warnings. The alpha warned him that he would starve. Yet, this was his home. He should not have to leave.

He shook those memories from his mind. He had to focus on the hunt.

He couldn’t even hear birds in the trees. He figured they must have left as well.

He listened intently to the silence.

He had been staving off hunger by digging up grubs and scavenging carrion. Unfortunately, he was already sick of it.

Soon, he grew tired of waiting. He stood from his hiding place. If game was not going to pass his way, he would have to find it. The foliage cracked as he walked toward the river. He was not worried about alerting anything to his presence, there was nothing to hear him any way. Thoughts of his mother’s training as a young pup were brought to the front of his mind. He had listened intently as she taught him to stalk his prey. He was deliberately disobeying but he did not care. There was no prey to stalk.

He traveled for quite some time until he came near the source of the river. If he was to find prey in this forest, this would be the place to find it. The water was fresher here and the vegetation sweeter.

His stomach ached at this point. He cringed at the thought of another grub and carrion dinner. That was not what he was meant to eat, not today.

He hid in the shrubs down wind of the river. He crouched low and smelled the air. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest. There were rabbits nearby! He could not see them but he knew the smell very well. When he was being weaned off milk his mother brought him many rabbits. The memory was enough to start him salivating. He listened intently. The wind had grown stronger during the course of the day, making it more difficult to pinpoint certain sounds. He stained his ears to listen for any signs of the rabbit.

To his left he heard some rustling that did not flow with the rhythm of the wind. He turned to see a rabbit emerge from the shrubs. His first urge was to go for it, but instinct was more powerful. The rabbit was too close to its home. If he went now he would ruin his chances. He stood his ground.

The rabbit crept cautiously away from the shrubs. Its ears twitched as it sniffed the air. It cocked its head from side to side. Satisfied it started toward the river.

He was thrilled to see the rabbit so careless. It was always easier to catch prey when they were unaware. As he eased out of hiding, he stepped as softly as his fatigued legs would let him. The rabbit was completely unaware of his presence, so creeping up on it was all easier.

As he crept through the brush, he caught wind of an acrid smell. He paused for a moment to decide what this new smell was. It stung his nose as he inhaled, yet it was foreign to him. What ever it was he would deal with it later. For now he had to catch his dinner.

The branches in the trees above cracked. The rabbit’s ears shot up. It was stunned for a moment then ran towards its home.

This was not happening. This was the first live prey he found in days. It was not going to escape. Desperately, he shot out of hiding. He had to catch that rabbit. As he gained on the rabbit, the unthinkable happened. A black shadow swooped from the trees and snatched the rabbit from the earth.

He stumbled as he came to a stop. The scent of the rabbit was now masked by the bitter stench of this shadow. This could not be. He could hear the rabbit scream as it was carried off by the shadow. That was his prey. He tracked and stalked it. He deserved to feast upon it. He was disappointed and angry; the pains in his stomach only made it worse. The memory of his alpha’s warning echoed in his head. He would starve.

He shook that thought from his head. He replaced the thought of starvation with that of vengeance. His meal had been stolen from him. His territory had been trespassed. This shadow had to pay.

The shadow’s stench was strong, though it was easily dispersed by the wind. If he wanted to track it, he had to do it quickly. Tracking something that travels by air is never easy, but the thought of his next meal kept him going. He was focused on taking out this shadow. This was his territory, his prey. This shadow did not belong.

* * *

The stench of the creature was sour and he gagged as he followed the trail. He traveled for several miles deep into the forest. The scent trail grew thinner the farther he went. He stepped up the pace. He could not lose the scent now. He had to keep it fresh. He tried but soon lost the scent entirely. He could not take it. He had to find the shadow. He trudged on in his current direction with hopes that he would pick up the trail again.

The foliage covering the ground soon gave way to stone as he came to the hills. He thought carefully about whether it was worth continuing the hunt. The trail was cold. He was tired and weak.

Hunger. That was what kept him going. The grumbling in his belly kept his determination up.

He traveled into the hills. The terrain was rocky and hurt his feet. But he continued. About halfway up the second hill he caught the scent again. The unpleasant odor was a welcome to his nose. It meant he would find this shadow soon.

He followed the stench to a small cave near the top of the hill. The reek of the shadow and the smell of decay told him that this was the home of the shadow.

A low growl and heavy breathing moaned from the darkness of the cave. He feared to enter the cave, yet he had to enter. This was the only to win. His training came to the front of his mind. His mother had taught him that prey must never have the advantage. If you were to gain victory you must take it out in its weakness. Considering this thing can fly, he had to keep it in the cave. He forced himself into the cave.

He crouched low as he entered the cave. He did not want to alert the shadow to his presence. The element of surprise was the key to this attack.

The darkness soon engulfed him as he crawled deeper into the cave. His eyes quickly adjusted and he could make out the outlines of the rocks. The stench of the shadow was an easy trail to follow in this cave. There was no wind to disperse it.

Soon the tunnel gave way to a larger cavern. He stopped in the opening of the cavern. He could hear the shadow breathing deeply and bones crunching as it ate the rabbit.

That rabbit should have been his.

He leapt from the tunnel into the cavern; it was his stomach that made him perform such a foolish task. Unfortunately, it was too late to change his actions now. He had to act fast. He charged the shadow with teeth bared.

The shadow stood from its meal and turned. As its eyes caught sight of him, it opened its mouth and fire bellowed from its throat.

He whimpered as his face and shoulders were consumed in the blaze; his fur burned to his skin. What was this thing? Nothing he had ever seen could attack like that. Regardless of the injury he was determined to win. He growled and charged the shadow. He leapt toward its throat.

The shadow quickly turned and lashed him with his tail. The blow struck hard against his chest and he lost wind and tumbled to the ground.

The shadow started for the entrance of the cave. It beat its wings as if it would help it flee faster.

He shook the daze off and charged again. This time he landed on the shadow’s back. He sunk his teeth deep into its shoulder.

The shadow screamed and wrenched in pain as he bit harder and clawed at its back. It began to shake violently until he fell off. It ran faster toward the cave entrance.

Once again he charged the shadow. He was determined to finish this now. He knocked the shadow into the ground just as it was nearing the entrance. It crashed into the ground and whipped its body violently.

He jumped onto its back and bit ferociously onto its neck. Blood drained from the wound as the shadow went into convulsions. After a seemingly eternity, the shadow stopped moving.

He bit down hard before relaxing his grip. The blood of the shadow was bitter and did not satisfy his hunger. He had won. The shadow was dead and no longer a threat to his hunt.

He dragged the corpse into the light to get a better look at his foe. It was a very odd looking creature. Its skin resembled that of an alligator yet it was nearly black. It had the wings of a bat and feet that looked like hawk’s feet. It was indeed a strange creature.

He turned away from the shadow and left the cave. The realization of the pain in his face and shoulders now came to him. He did not care. These were now trophies of his victory. He climbed to the top of the hill and looked over the forest below. This was his territory. He was in control now.

He sat on his haunches and lifted his head to the evening sky. He let out a howl of victory. The howl echoed in the hills and fell silent. He listened intently to the distance. Moments later he heard it. It was faint but unmistakable, a howl of confirmation and joy. His family was coming home.

The End