And so the end begins.
Yesterday’s 6 inch snowfall was followed by a long shower of ice, which gave way to a second large snowfall today. That combination has rendered the roads unpassable. We are cut off from the world.
Overnight, the eerie quiet was broken by the sound of wolves howling. The snowfall has equalized our two species and it’s only a matter of time before they get more aggressive. From my second floor, I could see them out in the woods. Pacing. Circling.
We received more bad news this morning when there was a knock on our door. I opened it to reveal a snow covered figure with a water bottle in one hand and a shotgun in the other. It was Barry Hermann, our next door neighbor.
“The city has fallen,” he reported, shaking the snow from his fresh beard. “The cell phone network is down, but I have a ham radio and the mayor has declared martial law.”
I handed him a fresh cup of coffee and he continued. “I’ve been hearing gunfire from Windrow One. They have installed road blockades”
Windrow One. Our snobby neighborhood to the west. They have a community pool and won’t let us near it,
“So, what do we do Kevin?”
He looked at me worriedly.
I sat in thought for a moment.
“I’m not sure Barry, but I know one thing – we’re not letting Window One anywhere near Windrow Two. Go build a campfire in your backyard and summon the Neighborhood Watch…”
At that moment, there was a sharp BANG!!! nearby which sent startled birds into flight and shook snow from the treetops. Our neighborhood transformer had just blown, and everything went dark.
The snow continued to fall.
The crackling of embers and glow of the flames was a welcome feeling. The somber faces gathered around the fire told a completely different story.
The group had spent most of the day barricading both entrances to Wendrow Two. Each entrance now had 2 cars parked facing each other, blocking the street. Our neighborhood was nestled in the woods and so it was also easy to cover each car with sticks and branches. Sharp sticks were strewn in the road ahead of the cars. They had been there for hours now, and the relentless snowfall had covered everything in a white wonder.
Danny, a pizza restaurant owner, spoke first.
“Well, the roads are blocked off. Nobody’s getting in here in a vehicle, that’s for sure. We’ll need to post scouts in case someone tries to get to us on foot.”
“Well, THAT’S no problem!” said Griff Masterson – an avid hunter who was rarely seen in anything but camo. He cradled a large hunting rifle over his shoulder. “Anybody come in Windrow Two will be sorry he did”
“How are the Gatherers doing?” I asked.
“We’ve found tons of dry clothes and canned goods,” replied Mary Scanovino, “and have placed them all at the Hendersons house. Their kitchen is big and we can feed all of Wendrow Two if we do it in shifts.”
“Good,” I said. “Keep gathering up anything you can find – the snow shows no signs of stopping. And the Baptists?”
“We’re all at Steve White’s house, praying away,” said Martha Applegate. “Don’t you worry – we can pray our way out of this.”
“In the meantime, best we rely on old Bucky here,” laughed Griff, patting his gun.
The meeting broke up and I headed home. Linda and the kids had a huge fire going in the fireplace. Connor was mad because we were out of Nutella. Logan was tackling Luke, who was trying to play Legos. I went upstairs to peer out of a window. In the near distance, I could hear the occasional howl of a wolf. Everything else was silent.
The snow kept falling.
The pounding, relentless snow continued to fall and was beginning to take its toll on the residents of Wendover Two. Not 2 hours earlier, Artie Johnson’s roof completely collapsed from the weight of the heavy snow – homes in the south are simply not made to withstand that kind of pressure. At Shelia Morton’s house, a falling snowdrift had severed her gas line, which promptly caught fire and damn near burned her house down.
The wolves – always the wolves were howling. They seemed closer now. Braver. I suspected that during the night they might test our defenses.
The sky to the west was a dull orange that rippled and moved with the wind. Wendover One must be dealing with fires as well. The air smelled of smoke. The normal sounds of cars rushing by on the nearby freeway was completely, eerily absent. Instead, I could hear the occasional loud humming of a 4-wheeler.
My neighbor reported in – he had been listening to the ham radio all afternoon and it was not good. Martial law was firmly in place. The mayor and governor were both insisting that people stay in their homes. Rioting and looting had broken out after all the Wal-Marts closed – one report told of the Indian Trail Wal-Mart being overrun by panicked Southerners who took nothing but bread and milk. Police tried to patrol the main streets but kept running off the road into ditches.
A brief meeting of the Neighborhood Watch was held. Our defenses were holding. The north entrance had encountered a car full of young punks out for a joyride and had turned them away. The Baptists were still praying. Dinner was being served at the makeshift hostel. Fireplaces were kept full of fresh wood. Beyond that, all seemed quiet.
The attack came at midnight.
I had put the family to bed in the study by the warm fire and left our Beagle Leia to watch over them. Leia had been amazing in the past few days. Whenever one of us went outside, Leia went with us, racing ahead as if scouting the territory. Right now, she lay near the study window, near a sleeping Luke and quietly watching the front yard.
I went upstairs to keep watch over our expansive, wooded backyard. It was freezing up in Lukes room but I had plenty of blankets for warmth. The snow, amazingly, continued to fall, and all of the familiar objects in my yard – the deck chairs, the grill, the bench out by our campfire pit – were all nothing more than lumps of white. Even at midnight, the ground reflected light everywhere and I could see very clearly far into the woods. It was absolutely beautiful, if not a little eerie.
I sipped cold coffee for a while and watched the yard. Something began to nag at me. Something was out of place but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I began running through a mental checklist. Fire? Check. Canned goods? Check? Weapons (kitchen knives tied to brooms)? Check. I looked out over the yard as I did this. There wasn’t a single track to be found, not even a….
Wolves. The wolves had stopped howling.
It was silent. It was end of the world silent. The most disconcerting silence I had ever experienced. The endless snowfall felt oppressive, as if Mother Nature meant to smother us all, and yet, the silence. I felt as if I could lose myself in that silence. Go mad.
The gunshot was so loud, so abrupt, that I jumped back and fell down, spilling my coffee all over the floor. Lying there, I heard shouting off to my left, then the loud, angry howl of a wolf. Then another wolf joined the chorus. Then another. More shouting. Growling. Screaming.
When the second gunshot went off, I lept to my feet and ran downstairs. The kids had heard it and were sitting up, rubbing their eyes, and looking confused. My wife, who could sleep through a tornado, lay snoring on the floor. Leia was completely alert and pacing the room.
“Kids, stay here. Wake your Mom up and tell her I’m headed outside to see whats goin..”
Howling. Cries of inhuman pain. A man swearing. I grabbed a homemade spear and headed out the back door, Leia in tow. Most of Wendrow Two was over to my left and I tried to cut across a few back yards. The snow was so deep that I could barely move forward.
Fortunately, Leia was very light and she could dance on top of the snow. She ran far ahead of me as I struggled.
It was all over when I finally arrived 4 houses away from mine. I found Griff Masterson face down in the snow which had become very, very red. His shotgun lay a few feet from him. The ground around him was beaten down with footprints and animal prints. He had put up a fight. A trail of red snow led off into the woods.
I raced to Griff’s side and turned him over. He was breathing and awake.
“Griff! What happened? What can I do?”
Griff was weak. “Wolves,” he said, “lots of them”
His eyes were wide open, almost bulging. “Kevin, they stalked me. They attacked me as a unit. Haven’t seen that since the war…” he began coughing, and as he did, dark, thick blood spattered onto his neck and chin.
He now looked afraid. “Kevin, they were…intelligent…<cough>..
By now, several other Wendrow Two residents had arrived. Danny was armed and was looking nervously in the direction of the trail of blood. Nancy rushed to Griff’s side, cradling his head in her lap.
Griff let out a long, choking sound, then lay still.
I stared at Griff, realizing what had just happened. I had barely known…
“Kevin,” Danny said. “Look”
My heart sunk as I looked out into the woods and saw the dozens of gleaming eyes staring back at me.
“Danny. Nancy. Run,” I whispered.
The air was ripe with fear.
“Run,” I whispered again, not taking my eyes off of the woods. “Run now.”
An eternity passed. I was literally frozen with fear. My mind raced. The shotgun wasn’t very far from my reach. I had dropped my spear when I knelt down to assist Griff. Running was pointless – the snow was deep and I wouldn’t make it 20 yards before they tore me apart.
Think, Kevin. Think.
The eyes in the forest began to move. There were dozens of them. I realized that something very strange was happening as I watched them move closer – they were very slowly, very deliberately fanning out, as if they were a trained platoon ordered to surround the enemy.
As they closed in on us, all my horrified brain could think of was how large they were. They were HUGE. Pure muscle underneath white, grey, and black coats of snow covered fur. Large, white teeth on display in a permanent snarl. Claws.
But their eyes were worst of all. They were a dull yellow, but they gleamed with an unnatural alertness – an intelligence. These wolves were thinking. These wolves were devils in the flesh.
They were within 20 yards now. I slowly stood up and dared a quick look behind me. The patio door of the house we were behind was covered in a huge snow drift. No way we were getting in that house. The snow was too deep in any direction and continued its relentless onslaught from the muted sky. We wouldn’t be able to run away from these beasts.
I was going to die.
The world around me was in very sharp focus and moving in slow motion. One thing about preternatural fear – time stood still. I was completely in the moment. I could feel the snow hitting my face. Could hear the groaning of the branches in the trees high above me. Smell the smoke in the air. Watch the yellow eyes watching me.
The first, and largest, creature emerged from the final tree between us and moved into the clearing, moving straight towards me. It was not in a hurry. Why would it be?
Behind it, the others began to emerge. On the left side, then far right side, then far left side, then close behind the first. They were so spread out that I had to swivel my neck to see them all.
Dozens of them.
I had one chance left. Griff’s shotgun. I would have to dive to get it, but I had no choice.
As if knowing what I was about to to, the wolf leader stopped dead in its tracks. The others, seeing this, stopped as well. The huge white wolf stared at me, and I stared back. We came to an understanding in that moment.
I turned and dove to my left towards Griff’s gun. Before I had even fully turned, the wolves sprang into action. They had very little distance to cover and I had not a moment to spare. I hit the ground. Grasped the gun in my hand.
Movement. Movement everywhere. Snow falling…panting…snow kicking up in the air…the crunching of snow…growling…gray and black and tan and white blurs of motion that heralded my doom.
In the instant before they reached me I realized that Griff had not been able to fire his last shot. The gun was loaded and cocked. I was going to take at least one of the bastards with me. I rolled over, raised the gun….
…and was slammed hard by a furry bolt of lightning from my right. She hit me so hard that my gun swung wide right as I squeezed the trigger and lost my balance.
I hit the ground hard. The crack of the gun firing was so loud – so sudden – so horrifying, that for a second I lost all sense of time and movement. For a moment, I was insane. I was watching the scene as if from above, looking down. I saw myself, sprawled on the ground on my side. I saw the circle of giant wolves around me. But I saw one thing above all else. One thing that didn’t make the slightest amount of sense.
I saw my dog Leia, who had just hit me with enough force to knock me down, STANDING over me. On two legs. Not wobbly legs or begging legs. She was standing there just as if she had never walked on four legs.
As my brain struggled to comprehend this, Leia turned and faced the giant white wolf.
“Leave him be, Charard,” she said.
I was obviously dreaming. This simply wasn’t possible. Oh man, were my kids going to laugh at me when I told them this story.
The white wolf considered Leia, who stood before him on two legs.
“This man has done nothing to you, Charard,” Leia said. “He has a wife and family, just as we do. Leave him be.”
There was silence for several moments, then the great white wolf reared up on his hind legs as well. He had to be over six feet tall. Like Leia, there was no hint of unstable movement with him. He simply walked on two legs. He towered over Leia and glared down at her with his dull, yellow eyes.
“Do you speak for this man, Chinook?” Charard growled.
Leia – Chinook – nodded her head.
Behind and around Charard, all of the wolves began to rear up on their legs as well. From the snowy ground where I lay, it seemed they towered miles above me.
My brain tried to sputter back into first gear. Leia? What the….Leia? My total pain in the ass dog who chewed up my Fitbit and crapped on the carpet and barked at everything and everyone and who wouldn’t come back in once she was in the yard…Leia? Chinook?….
“Very well,” Charard said in a gravelly voice. His massive head turned to face mine.
“Human!” he barked. “You must leave this place. Take your family with you. Your time is over. It is Foretold. But I will not be the one who ends you. Make your own way.”
And with that, he turned to his brothers.
“Let’s go,” he commanded.
The wolves withdrew back into the forest, some on two legs and some on four. Within a few minutes, they were but whispers of a dream.
“I must go with them,” Chinook said to me.
In the four minutes that I had laid on the ground while this all happened, I had been half covered with snow. The snow seemed even more relentless than before, as if it had a purpose.
“I don’t…understand,” I managed to finally say. I sat, then slowly stood. I was already sore where Chinook had hit me.
On her hind legs, Chinook was still under three feet tall. Her huge ears were pulled back as if protecting her neck from the cold. She stared up at me.
“I cannot protect you anymore. I must go with my brothers,” she said. “Charard was very serious. You must take the family and go far away from here. Go as far south as you can. There is much danger. The snow will not stop. Other beasts have awakened. Now go.”
She turned, plopped back down on four legs, and ran off towards her new family. She did not look back.
I watched her go. Watched her melt into the forest amongst the snow and the trees. I would not see her again.
Slowly, I plodded through the wind and the rising tide of the snow toward what used to be home. I had bad news to give. Preparations to make.
The snow fell.
Our time was over.