Hey, everyone! Can I say that I’m loving Soooz Burke’s weekly photo prompts? They have inspired me to begin several short stories that were in the back of my mind for months (some even years). This week’s prompt spoke to me immediately. Within minutes of seeing it, a new story sprang to mind.
If you don’t know about the prompt, visit Soooz’s blog to learn more. Basically, the challenge is to write a fiction or non-fiction post 750 words or less.
My contribution this week came in just under the limit. I hope you enjoy Lone Wolf.
Jake McLaughlin pulled the brim of his Stetson low on his forehead. Snow began to fall. He needed to check on the cattle before it became too heavy.
Urging Scout into a trot, he set off for the western boundary of the ranch. The livestock had been moved closer to the barns for the winter, but a few cows always tended to stray.
An hour later, Jake reached the remote pasture. It was his favorite place on the Double Diamond—an area where the wide-open range met the foothills. He often came here to be alone during the summer months. During the winter, he volunteered to check this spot, a job the other cowboys didn’t want. They preferred to stay closer to home.
At the crest of a hill, he pulled back on Scout’s reins. The Pinto halted, and Jake sat quietly, marveling at the sheer beauty of the area. Reveling in the silence of the falling snowflakes.
Every day for the past week, a solitary wolf had called out. He felt inexplicably drawn to this wild canine and began calling it Lone Wolf.
Maybe his affinity for the creature was due to the fact he was also a loner. While his bunkmates liked to carouse, play cards, and go into town every chance they got, Jake preferred a place to be alone. Preferably one where he could be in tune with nature.
After a few minutes, he heard what some would describe as a mournful howl. Jake found it comforting. Although he’d never gotten close enough to see the animal, he pictured the gray wolf standing on a rocky crevice, lifting its head as it called out.
He listened until the sound died away. Clouds were breaking to the west, the setting sun bathing the horizon in a golden hue. Satisfied there were no stray cattle in the area, he turned Scout back toward the ranch.
Jake continued his daily trek, always listening for Lone Wolf’s call. One day, there was only silence. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Likely it had moved to another area or joined in with a pack to hunt.
Shaking his head, he started back to the ranch.
He nudged Scout to the area where Lone Wolf always called. As the horse drew closer, Jake heard whimpering. The animal was in trouble.
He dismounted, tied Scout’s reins to a low-hanging limb, then continued on foot. The sound grew louder, and he soon spied the wolf, its paw caught in the clutches of a trap.
Anger coursed through his veins. To Jake, setting traps was cruel and inhumane. Without help, this wolf would die.
He approached with caution. This was no pet dog but a wild animal. He knelt about ten feet away, his voice gentle.
“Hey, there. I’m here to help. Will you let me come close?”
Jake wasn’t sure how he knew the wolf sensed he meant no harm.
“Got yourself in a mess, huh?”
Once he was close enough, Jake saw the wolf’s paw wasn’t hurt. He pried the jaws of the trap apart. Once free, the wolf started to trot away. Stopped. Turned back to Jake as if to say, “Thank you.”
A week later, he was checking the area when a blizzard appeared out of nowhere. One minute there was light snowfall. The next brought howling winds and near white-out conditions.
He’d followed the trail of a stray cow into the foothills. The path in this area was treacherous on a good day, but the snowstorm made it worse. Scout was uncharacteristically skittish.
“Easy, boy. One wrong step and—”
Jake wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. He awoke, cold, alone, and in pain. It was almost dark. He’d freeze to death if he stayed here all night. Scout was nowhere around.
He pulled himself up. Pretty sure he’d broken a rib. He had to find shelter. Protection from the elements.
A gray figure appeared on the path. Lone Wolf turned and trotted back in the direction it came. Stopped every few feet as if to say, “Follow me.”
It wasn’t long until they came to a small cave. Lone Wolf waited for Jake to enter, then followed him inside. The two huddled together to stay warm.
Sunshine awakened Jake the following morning. He would be able to make it home now. The wolf licked his hand, then trotted away.
Lone Wolf had saved his life.