The warm March sun had shone all day. Although the air remained frigid in the many shadows, out in the open the surface snow was now melting in its glare. Then, as commonly happens in early spring this far north, when the sun began to set and the shadows to grow longer across the snowy field, the partially melted snow surface froze and soon the entire meadow was covered by a crust of icy snow thick enough in places to support a walking man, thick enough everywhere to support almost any child, and plenty strong enough throughout to support the wolverine.
He ambled across the snow for the far edge of the meadow certain he would not fall through. This was his element. His wide paws were made for this; they were like snowshoes. Snow crust this thick was the same as bare ground to him.
The doe on the other hand did not have an easy time of it. Her hoofs were narrow and often pierced the crust as she stepped across it. When they did, she sank deeply into the underlying snow, and the icy edges scraped against her leg and belly. But she was starving and had left the safety of the forest for some of last year’s grass, visible now along the opposite edge of the white field. The forest clearing was wide and would take a long time to walk around and her belly was far too empty to resist the exposed shortcut.
The wolverine had meant to sleep into the evening darkness before resuming his hunt, but by late afternoon his stomach had ached and prodded and driven sleep away.
The doe was cold and tired and thought only of food.
A small birch grove, white and black fingers in a sea of snow, lay between the two and they had yet to spot each other.
He looks like a large, brown badger as he shuffles along. He’s just short of three feet long and heavy set with short, thick legs. The only sound he makes as he moves across the snow is the shee, shee, shee of long, curved claws slashing crust with each step. His head is close to the ground and his tail drags along behind him partially erasing his track. His eyes, small and yellow and set quite far apart, glance down and forward and now and then to his sides, and his ears, almost hidden in the deep fur, are awake and alert. His nose sniffs for traces of food. He is hungry and bad-tempered.
His sleep was short and shallow. He dreams only of food these days. The night before had been long and fruitless, full of faded spoors. He’d seen nothing, except for the fox that’d slunk away and out of sight, too fast to catch, too wily to outsmart. So he had caught nothing. Exhausted and frustrated by early morning he had burrowed down under the low, snow-laden branches of a spruce. Sleep would not come. The sun rose to shorten all shadows before he finally drifted off.
He was not fond of daylight.
The forest knows one thing about him: He kills well. Clever and tireless, he can track and slay animals many times his size and often does.
Reindeer—the Laps hate him even more than they hate the wolf. Small moose. Even cows and sheep.
The Laps know one more thing about him: He enjoys killing. Where the wolf will only kill for food—which the Lap understands and on some level respects—the wolverine kills not only for food, but also for the sheer joy of it, and will often leave three or four dead reindeer behind, only one partially eaten—a scene more of slaughter than hunt.
Hated by man and feared by the forest the wolverine shuffles across the crust, in a foul mood and intent only on food.
The doe picks her way across the snow, one careful step after another. Then freezes where she stands. Absolutely still. Her effort to remain motionless sends tiny ripples up and down her legs. The danger is upwind. She remains as still as ice for several moments gazing straight ahead while smelling and listening. Her nostrils widen and confirm it: Wolverine. There is no doubt. She knows the scent and she knows to fear it. Now she can hear his claws cut the snow and his tail brush the crust. Then she slowly turns her head to her right and looks. And sees him. A brown shape moving across the snow, just visible from behind the copse of naked birches. She is downwind from him. He has not smelled her, and has yet to see her.
She knows that her only chance is to remain unseen, knows she cannot run on this crusty snow, knows that she will fall through, that she cannot flee. She thinks briefly of turning back, but that, too, would be too much motion, it would draw his attention.
The snow is cold on her legs as she folds them beneath her, and her belly does not welcome the icy crust, but even so she lies down, slowly, silently, hugging the chill, making herself as small as possible. She barely breathes. If he sees her, she dies. This she knows.
As he lopes along, the cold air fills his nostrils again and again. He sifts and smells every nuance and coloring of each noseful, alert for any sign, but there is only snow on the air and the many traces of forest, none of which he can eat. But then there would be nothing out here in the open, so he is not surprised. He is heading for the forest on the other side of the clearing where he hopes to find spoor. He dreams of finding something recent. He dreams of sinking his teeth into something warm and thrashing.
The doe lies very still. Her eyes are fixed on the dark moving shape to her right. He is a fully grown male, she knows this. He is the perfect hunter, she knows this too. But as yet he has not seen her. She is doing all she can to remain unseen.
Two, three soft explosions of wings and a loud screech rupture the silent afternoon as a black grouse bursts into flight from out of copse of birches. Her strong wings pummel the air to find altitude and bad flier that she is she makes a ruckus getting airborne. The wolverine’s head snaps up and in the direction of the noise and he stands motionless for a moment, absorbing. He sees the grouse climb higher, up over the meadow and then high above the forest to his left, still beating the air, still making noise. He knows he will not eat grouse tonight, at least not that grouse. The noise startles him back into the present, away from spoors yet unfound, away from the warm blood of dream. He sweeps the meadow with his eyes as if to gain his bearings before setting out again. That’s when he sees her.
She startles too as the grouse clamors into the air to her right but stays pressed against the snow. She sees the wolverine stop to watch it. His head follows it across the meadow. Then it is gone, though she can still hear its wings beat farther and farther away. The wolverine looks down, then around. Then their eyes meet.
His yellow eyes shine out of his black face at her. Her heart races but she does not move a muscle. They both remain motionless, waiting, looking across the snow at each other.
A hundred yards, if that, separate them.
Had the ground been bare, the doe would have been in no danger. On firm ground, or across grass, the wolverine will never gain on a frightened doe.
Had the midday sun been a little warmer, had the frozen crust been a little thicker, a little stronger, she would have been safe. But this crust is too fresh and too thin and she knows that a sudden spurt will cut through and she’ll be back on her belly in snow, easy wolverine prey. She also knows that the wolverine can move very fast on this surface without sinking. To live she has to move, but moving here is not possible.
The wolverine waits. He doesn't know which way she will head, possibly back into the forest behind her, possibly ahead, or to her left, but you can never tell with deer. They are nervous and fast and hard to predict. He knows, too, that if he moves first he will signal his intent and she will choose whatever angle of escape will gain her the most distance. Seconds count with deer for speed is their friend. They are hard to catch. He knows this.
In all his life he has only killed two deer, while he has failed to kill five others, and of the two he did slay one was by luck—a young doe who had fallen and caught her leg, and one was by skill—a grown buck which he fell upon from a tree, a perfect kill. He could still taste the surprised blood.
The other five had all out-startled, out-sprinted, and in the end out-run him to disappear with the scent of fear and speed trailing, mocking.
He studies her, her tracks, and now notices how she’s sunk through in places and decides that she may well sink through again, especially if she springs suddenly. Her hoofs are small and they are sharp. This is to his advantage. But he also knows that he cannot wait too long, for as the sun sets the air grows colder with every breath, and the colder the air, the firmer the crust will freeze, this he knows from experience. The longer he waits the greater the chance that the crust will hold her, and if it does, he will never catch her. He cannot wait too long; he will have to attack soon.
Still, he waits for her to move first. That’s what he knows to do. Hunger sees food and says: charge. Experience sees failure if he charges too soon and says: wait. Wait for her to make the first move. To signal her intent.
She must flee but cannot flee. Her belly hurts from the cold, now melting the frozen snow beneath her. His yellow eyes hold hers. He grins with amber teeth. It occurs to her that perhaps she should invite them and be done with it. No more freezing. No more hunger.
Then, as if the notion of death startles life into action, she erupts. Her hind legs, strong enough to spring her twice her own height from solid ground, extend and for a split, jubilant second the crust holds as she lifts from the snow. Then her left hind leg breaks the surface and shoots through to the soft snow beneath. Her right hind leg follows almost immediately and she knows she is lost. Her life slows to frame by frame motion, and she is now aware of every detail.
Her left leg sinks farther and farther into the thick layer of soft snow, and the sharp edge of the crusts tears it as it sinks. Her right leg sinks into snow too but then it strikes something solid, a rock, maybe a log. Her hoof meets resistance and catapults her up and into motion. Her left leg, now on its way up, rips against the crust again and she feels the pain as she shoots forward. But she is up and she is free and she moving. She lands forelegs extended and the crust holds as she bends them and shoots forward again for the forest ahead.
His hunger and his experience still argue when he sees her move. She leaps then slips through the snow and then leaps again. He sees but does not immediately register, the argument distracts him.
Perhaps it is only a second or only a part of a second, but with deer that can mean a step or two, and a deer’s step or two can make all the difference: by the time he takes it in she is up to speed and heading for the forest. Then he too bursts into action, but so violently that his right hind paw skids on the crust and now he is down on his side, rolling over from the effort. He growls, furious, finds the right side up and sets out after her. His eyes flash from the strain and snow sprays from his claws. The doe is already half way across the meadow and he knows he must charge his hardest not to lose her. He is not slow, on this surface he can almost match her speed, but only almost, he needs the crust to trap her again if he’s going to catch her. He hopes and hopes and charges even faster.
Her leg is cut and hurts. Still, it holds her, she can run on it and that is all that matters. The pain is nothing compared to amber teeth. She does not look back. Her goal, her only thought is the forest ahead with its trees, its cover, and its solid ground. Her front legs reach for more snow, her hind legs catapult her, she flies now.
Then there are only ten more leaps to the forest’s edge, then nine. Her left hind leg is numbing but carries her still. It still obeys her. Seven, six. Then the crust, thinner here, ruptures as her front legs land and pierce it. She falls forward scraping them against the sharp edge and tumbles once, and again.
He sees her racing for the forest. He has no doubt about where she is heading. And now there is only the chase. He is rage fed by hunger and adrenaline. He moves as fast as he ever has. Long, leaping strides, his claws rip the crust into small clouds of icicle and like a little locomotive he comes. Then he sees her down, and he stretches even farther, running harder still, closing in on her and he can almost taste warm blood, see frantic eyes staring out at nothing in death while he drinks. She is still down and he knows he will finally eat.
She rolls again and then lies still. Immediately, she scrambles to find her legs, to find them purchase but for a second or two only kicks snow around. Then she comes right side up again, but facing the wrong way. She sees him coming for hear and closing fast. She turns, the forest is only a few leaps away but she dares not dash lest she breaks the crust again. Instead the trots gently and quickly for the edge.
She can now hear his claws tear the surface, closer with each ripping. But there is the edge and now she carefully leaps off the crust and onto the mossy forest floor. The crust did crumble and gave some way but did not rupture. She lands upright, feet firmly planted, and now she can finally run.
She casts one glance behind her, to see him now reach the edge as well. To see him leap off of the crust and land in a cloud of moss and dusty snow. To see his eyes as he shoots forward. They are fixed on her. She turns her head and finds direction among the trees.
As he leaps onto the forest floor he sees her turn to watch him. Then there is only the white stump of her tail and the desperation of slender legs as she disappears among the trees.
He may no longer see her, but the air is filled with her scent and her fear, his favorite spoors. He latches onto it and lunges after her. He knows that she is faster than he is among the trees and that she is increasing the distance between them. But her scent is strong and she will tire. This he knows. And he also knows that he never will. Not with food in his nostrils and rage in his blood.
And her scent remains strong as he runs, runs, runs.
After a while he slows to listen, but he cannot hear her. He stops and listens again, harder. Then hears the progress of hooves far up ahead, a little to his left, and he sets off again, the lingering scent still as clear as any trail.
She looks back again and can no longer see him. Not that she can see very far through the trees, but far enough to know that she is widening the gap between them. And so she runs. Over moss, over stones, over carpets of last year’s pines. She slows to listen and can still hear him even over her own heart beat and movement. He does not run silently nor has he slowed down. He has her scent. She knows that. She sets off again.
Then he notices blood. First the scent of it, then the first dark drop, fresh on gray moss. Then again, another drop, fresh on stone. She is bleeding. Not hard, no, but bleeding nonetheless. And there again, two drops, three, of dark red on a patch of snow. The smell fills his nostrils and re-charges him as he tunnels after her through the trees. Elation comes with memory. Wounds. He has pursued wounded prey before, and always with success. They tire. They always tire. She will tire too. No matter how fast she is, if she is wounded she will tire. All he must do is keep her scent in his nostrils. And he will never lose a scent this fresh, never.
Of blood, of fear.
Her leg is numbing. And it is bleeding now. Warm blood leaving her, and with it her strength. Little by little. Still she runs. She is deep in the forest now and can no longer hear him. She slows again to listen. Still there is no sound of him. Then she stops altogether, to make sure. First she hears nothing but her own heart and laboring lungs. But then she finds the soft pummeling of strong paws from where she’s come. Not slowing at all. She must keep running and does.
All he knows is her scent. And her blood, which now leaves little invitations every few steps. And he has found his pace now. He can run like this for days. This he knows. And she cannot. This he knows too.
She reaches the top of a snowy hill, stops and looks back. She sees her track through the snow leading up to where she stands. Her heart pounds loudly and her lungs burn. She gasps for air. Her leg still bleeds and the snow is turning pink where she stands. But there is no wolverine. Not yet.
She has a good view of the long slope from her vantage point. Only her own track. She listens intently. No sound of him. She wonders briefly, but with not much hope, if she has lost him.
The violent answer appears as a dark shape at the foot of the long slope where it now looks up at her without stopping. She has no choice but to keep running.
Then he sees her again. Rounding the edge of trees and looking up a long incline of shallow snow, he sees her standing at the top, looking back at him. She startles back into flight and is gone. His first impulse is to run faster, to spurt, but he checks himself. Not now when he’s found his rhythm. He will not tire if he maintains this pound, pound, pound pace, steady now, bearable now, and she will tire before he will. Of this he is certain. He reaches the top of the hill and the pink little stain in the snow. She is still bleeding, a little more even. Her track is very clear and he knows he will eat soon.
Seeing him again finds overlooked energy. She races down the far side of the hill and back in among the trees. Over moss, stones, fallen branches and patches of snow. She runs. It is what she does best.
Her only intention: Outrun.
She still runs, but begins to realize that she is not outrunning. Not in any meaningful way. And while she knows that the wolverine does not tire easily she can feel her own strength fading a little with each step, with each drop of blood lost. Then she knows: there will be no outrunning him. Still she runs for it is all she knows to do. Through patches of last year’s blueberries. Through islands of moss. Across man-made trails. Under overhanging branches. Over low boulders and fallen trees she runs. Across small clearings. Back in among denser trees. She stops now and then to find air and to listen for him. And she always hears him coming for her. Sometimes as the rustling of branches, sometimes as the cracking of twigs, sometimes as the soft, rhythmic landing of wolverine paws, but always coming for her. And he is coming closer. He is untiring. She is off again.
Now there is only the rhythm. He fills with it, he is it. Climb the air with forelegs, extend hind legs. Land the forelegs softly. Bring hind legs in and down, find the ground. Climb the air with forelegs, extend hind legs. Land the forelegs softly. Bring hind legs in and down, find the ground. Climb the air with forelegs. Branches, rocks, moss, snow, bark, cones, stones, all flow past and around him. Climb the air with forelegs.
Then she hears another sound and stops, bewildered. It comes from up ahead. All she can think of is wolverine. Is there another one? Are there many? She makes an effort to hear above the rush of blood in her ears and the pain in her lungs. She can make out the timbre of voices. Then she hears laughter. These are human sounds.
They are done lumbering for the day. The farmer and his helper hurry down the trail to beat the oncoming dark, heading for their car, and then for home. For dinner, hot coffee, perhaps a grog. It has been a good day. They walk one ahead of the other, bantering back and forth. Small talk and jokes. Laughs.
She remains still, breathing hard to feed her heart. Humans confuse her. They are friend and foe both. With their fire sticks they kill easier and more often than wolverines. Than wolves. Than any animal she knows. She has seen what the fire sticks do, how the strongest buck is thrown over and to the ground lighter than a leaf to bleed to death if not dead on landing.
But other times, when the snow has fallen so deeply that food cannot be found, they have placed sheaves of oat by the forest edge for her to eat. She has learned to watch for fire sticks. If they don’t carry them, they are friends. If they do, there is only running.
There is a path ahead. Human tracks. She runs slowly and as quietly as she can toward the approaching voices, a few paces off the path, sure to remain hidden. She needs to know, friend of foe.
Suddenly he stops. Voices. He thinks he hears voices. He stands very still and listens very hard. There, again. He remains motionless, listening only for that sound. And again, voices, and a laugh. These are men. He moves off to his left, he wants nothing to do with men.
Then he spots the path. Trodden today. He inspects, sniffs. By boots, by humans. He hears the voices more clearly now. They are coming his way.
She stands hidden by trees as they walk into view. First, a tall man with long legs. Dark boots strike the snowy path with small crashes. He has a stick flung over his shoulder. It does not look like a fire stick, but she is not certain. Behind him comes a smaller man, rounder, taking quicker, shorter steps to keep up. Not so noisy. He too carries a stick. They fear nothing, they make so much noise. They pass her and she looks hard at their backs and sees they are not carrying fires ticks but cutting sticks. These men do not mean to kill her. She remains still for several more breaths, searching for the strength to run, trying to choose direction. She is no longer sure where the wolverine is, nor where she should go.
She sees the men vanish down the path, still talking, laughing. She follows. They mean her no harm. Softly, and out of sight, she catches up with them and runs ahead, keeping the path to her left. After a while she stops again, surveys the path and the forest beyond, trying to decide on direction. That’s when she sees him, on the other side of the path. Two yellow eyes looking back intent on the approaching men. He has not seen her yet, she is sure of that. But now she is also sure that there is no outrunning him.
They come into view and he feels uncomfortable. Another laugh. They approach his hiding place and instinctively he backs away. He does not want to be seen. If they carry fires ticks they can kill him from away, this he knows. And looking through the low branches he can see that they do. Sticks slung over their shoulders. He backs farther away. He needs to growl but dares not.
She watches his yellow eyes. They do not watch her, have not seen her, but watch only the men. As they approach his hiding place she sees him back away, into the trees, and she knows: he too fears them. He backs farther into the trees and she knows: he fears them more than she does.
As soon as they vanish down the path to his left he hurries out from his cover. He knows she cannot be far away and takes in the air to find her scent again. The air is filled with man. With their sweat, pungent, repulsive, with their clothes, thick with tobacco, their boots, covered with oil. They are all he smells. He tries to ignore these scents, tries to find the doe, her trace, her fear. He walks up the path nose to the ground. The mansmells sting his nose and crowd out all other scents. He cannot find her. She has not stepped here. He stops again, this time to listen. He hears nothing but the fading noise of man boots. He crosses the path and there it is, finally, her scent. She is not far. And there’s her spoor. Head to the ground he sets out after her.
She has just been here. He can see many drops of her blood in one place, dark on the snow in the fading light. And still warm. He looks up, sees her spoor veering for the path. He follows her. Slowly now, one drop of blood at a time. Still he cannot see her. He realizes: she is following the men. He soon hears their voices again, and their arrogant feet on hard snow. Closer, he hears a branch move, snow shifts and falls. It is the doe, he’s sure of it.
Her notion is simple: stay close to those he fears. She steps with care to avoid noisy stones, dry sticks, low branches. She means to follow beside them, to keep them in sight. She finds it hard not to run knowing he is close behind, perhaps close enough to see her.
He moves, silently now that the men are so near. Her scent fills his nose; the constant drops of dark blood stoke his hunger. He hears her clearly now, stepping by the side of the path only a long rush ahead of him. He is about to charge, wants to charge, she is so close, but hesitates. The men. They will see him, and they will kill him if they do. He checks himself, fear as yet stronger than hunger, and head down he follows.
She confuses him. She should fear them too, still she follows. They carry fire sticks but she doesn’t seem afraid. Doesn’t she know? They kill both his kind and hers. It does not make sense to him. He follows her and tries to know.
Darkness is falling hard now and it is increasingly difficult for her to find silent purchase for her hoofs. Once she almost stumbled. Another once she stepped on a dry twig which cracked, quite loudly. The men, of course, are too noisy to hear her, but it’s not them she worries about.
Now she can hear him. The wolverine is very close. She is still bleeding and her legs are growing heavy. She cannot feel her wounded leg at all. She does not see well in the dark. She knows that he does, though, and he is close behind her.
The darkness, his ally, is almost complete now. He steals closer, knowing that soon he will not be seen by the men, even should he charge.
Soon. He follows her following them. He hears her stumble. He hears them talk. And now he sees her up ahead. White tail through the branches. Very soon now. So close that his mouth waters in anticipation, and he has to swallow. Only a quick rush away now. Then he almost charges, but checks himself again at the last moment. The men are too close. They may still see. A little darker and they will grow blind to him. A little darker.
Suddenly the forest springs to light. As if in muted daylight. He sees her clearly, and only two steps to her left, the men. He looks around him, confused, then remembers the moon. It is near full and has found clear sky between clouds. He sees her look back over her shoulder and find him. Her eyes are wide and staring. She shudders but does not run. He sees the men and their fire sticks and knows he cannot charge her here. He wonders if she too knows.
She can hardly keep up. The men walk fast and on the path and they have long, unhurt legs. The ground she moves over is uneven and the darkness is almost complete. Suddenly there is half-day again and as she looks around in surprise she realizes it is the moon, large and radiant out now from behind the clouds. She sees the men clearly again and sees again where she is going. Behind her she senses, then, turning her head, sees too, the wolverine. Yellow eyes in that moving shadow, watching her watching him.
They are at the edge of the forest now. The men will have left their machines there. When they reach them, they will climb into them and start that great noise that moves them away. He has seen them before, these loud machines with little moons that shine ahead as they roar away from him, small red moons receding. Then there will be no more men. Only he and his hunger and his prey.
He can wait a little while longer for he knows he will eat tonight. He is already sinking his teeth into warm meat, he already feels the sweet blood in his mouth, in his throat. He swallows the thick liquid and feels alive. He feels again the wonder of his own strength, biting down to where his jaws almost meet and nothing she can do will shake him off. He sees the delicious terror in her eyes when she knows she will die. It is the kill, and it is the sweetest feeling. All he needs to do now is follow, not too closely. All he needs to do now is see the men go off in their machines and then chase her down. She is tired, he knows, she is weak. She is his.
She sees the edge of the forest ahead. Beyond lie snowy fields, nearly blue now in the moonlight. The path opens up into a small winter road, and there, by the edge of the road stands their machine, dark and silent. The men step out into the unobstructed half day. She reaches the edge, too, then hesitates. He is close behind. The men have almost reached their machine. Her instinct is to not be seen by them. But they do not carry fire sticks, they are friends, and then she hears him only a few steps behind her and she has no other choice.
He sees her stop by the forest edge. Wary about their fire sticks, he thinks. He moves closer. He sees only one machine. He knows it can carry them both. All he has to do is to wait for the big roar to come and then go, then he kills. Then she steps out into the open and follows the men. He does not quite believe what he sees, watches hard and tries again to know.
They reach their engine without looking back. She is perhaps five steps away when it roars into life and their suns come on. The dark grows thick around her as the road lights up yellow and bright. Then she hears the wolverine burst out of the forest behind her and she moves into the bright light of the machine.
The two men open up a big mouth on the back of their engine and toss their sticks into it. He sees the sticks clearly for the first time. They are not fire sticks. They are cutting stick. He hears them swallowed by the machine with two small thuds. The men close its mouth with a louder thud and step into the engine and wake it up. It roars alive and the moons flash out onto the road. He is still by the edge when he suddenly knows what the doe means to do, and with fear of fire sticks gone he grows single-minded. In a little cloud of snow, he bursts out after the doe.
At first she sees nothing. The small suns are too bright. Then she can make out the front of the engine, big, metal. She knows what she must do and drops to the ground.
The men look at each other in surprise. The driver opens the door to investigate. He steps around to the front of the car but has not yet reached the deer when out of the forest another animal arrives, a darker, smaller animal. It stops within a few feet of the injured deer and looks up at him, his eyes brightly yellow in the headlights. It’s a wolverine, looking up at him, or at least in his direction, and not moving. He has never seen a wolverine this close before, or this brave. Or this hungry, he reflects. He looks down at the doe and then understands. He moves toward her when the wolverine moves too, bares his teeth and issues a low, purring growl to signal his intent.
The wolverine feels naked and vulnerable in the light. It is brighter than he has ever known at night. And there lies the doe, one small leap away, looking at him. He cannot tell if she is as hurt as she appears. He hears metal squeak. One of the men steps out of the engine. He hears feet on snow above the now softer moan of the machine. He looks up to find the man but at first sees nothing but yellow light. He cannot find the man. Then the man steps into the edge of the light and he sees his large, dark frame. He looks for a fire stick and sees none. He sees both hands and they are empty. The man moves toward the deer and means to steal his kill. This he cannot not allow. He takes one slow step toward the man, then another. He growls deeply, bares his teeth, then tenses his hind legs in preparation for the lunge.
The other man is at first too stunned at what he sees to act right away. Then he sees the wolverine turn toward his friend and curl back its lips baring long teeth. He knows it means to attack. He also knows that it can, if desperate, kill a human. Now he acts. He quickly bends back and snatches up the shot gun they keep in the back seat for grouse and small game. Knowing he only has a second or two before the wolverine charges he rips open his door and fires an air-shot, hoping the sound will scare him off.
The shot rings out, exploding over the engine hum and echoes back once, then again from the forest. At first nothing happens, nothing moves. The deer, suddenly wide-eyed and desperate tries to get up on her legs to run but they are like spent and awkward poles now and she slips and falls back onto the snowy road. The wolverine shrieks, it’s a growl and a curse and a gasp all in one and he turns and vanishes into the darkness.
The driver falls back against the car in relief. He knows he was looking at death or at serious injury. His friend rushes after the wolverine to see if he can get a shot at him, but can see nothing in the darkness of forest.
He walks back to the car and leans the rifle against the front tire. He bends down by the deer who stares up at him with big, terrified eyes. He sees that she’s bleeding and gathers her gently from the ground and carries her into the car. She shivers in his arms but her efforts to wriggle free are not wholehearted. He places her on the back seat and pads a blanket around her. He retrieves the shotgun and places it on the floor, then sits down and closes his door. The driver sits down behind the wheel and closes his door. Heat starts to fill the car, he puts it in gear and drives off.
The warmth begins to seep through her shock and exhaustion. She is filled by a strange, moving comfort and lets go.
Two yellow eyes follow the car as it drives off. The two red tail lights move up and down with the unevenness of the winter road. Farther and farther away, then gone. He hears the engine for another little while, then it too is gone. There is only silence now. And moonlight. Stars are out too, competing. He is very hungry and very tired.
Her scent lingers.
He turns back for the forest and ambles into that darkness.