The Mechanical Beast by Jon Raby
This story began long ago – three years ago for Awlison, one of seven pups – but well before this the story began. It began when there were forests less inhabited by humans, when wildlife had room to run, and hunt, and live. When humans were not encroaching on the wilderness with buildings and toxic run off, and the systematized harvesting of so many homes within the forest. This story should begin before all of these terrible forces of destruction but it will not, instead it will jump right into the middle.
A truck slammed its breaks and from behind the metal grill, a deep, low pitched honk steadily yelled in all directions. The she-wolf could feel its intention was focused at her, she froze not knowing what to do, for a split second all of her being just stopped. What this huge beast was she did not know, but she was aware that it could surely outrun her, and was large enough to kill her quickly if it wanted to, if she could only know where its head was located.
When the honk stopped she came to her senses. The giant beast of a truck was no longer moving, she had not been attacked. She was still alive. Quickly she darted out of the street and back onto the small black rocked ground next to a building. She was unaware of her surroundings as she had never seen things like this before. When first she ventured into this unknown world a few hours earlier somehow her senses had been scrambled. Now she knew not which way was home, something she had never before been at a loss of, and the things she saw seemed to get stranger and stranger. Colored lights, big machines, strange structures, even the animals here wondering in a daze completely unaware of her, and seemingly each other as well as they passed by without a glance. They went inside of structures, which looked to her a cross between a tree and a cave, and came out again a few minutes later with something white in their paws that they put to their mouths again and again.
The sun had not yet risen, but soon it would. Awlison had ventured into this city setting in the middle of the night on the trail of a raccoon. She was hungry and had to feed the puppies in her stomach. She and her mate lived in a section of the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming, where the elevations range from below five thousand feet and jump to over twelve thousand. It is a place where farm land is sunny and within thirty miles snow banks stand six feet high. Awlison was just a wolf though, in fact a sheltered wolf, she had never ventured down to the farm lands to pick off sick calves. She lived high up in one of the ranges and trekked through the snow to her den. Only with puppies in her belly and a sick mate at home, did she dare to travel so far away from home, and to such unknown places. On the trail of the raccoon she knew she was in danger, but the drive for food had pushed her to follow her prey farther than she should have, and when it ducked under a parked car and then scrambled out the other side and up a building, she had already lost her bearings. Slowly she had begun to pull them together and realized where she was, or maybe better to say she realized she had no idea where she was. The smell of a local restaurant smoking meat at two in the morning had encouraged her to push on, and the excitement of this never before seen place had dulled her senses. In those early morning hours she pushed into the city much farther than she should have.
Now she was fully aware of her stupidity. Hiding in darkness against a dumpster on the asphalt of a cafe parking lot, Awlison’s mind ran frantically with fear and need. She needed to get back to the forest, but which way had she come? She was nearly a full day’s run to her den and to her mate. She knew that if she could find her way out of this place and back into the woods, she could make her way home to him, but the hunger she felt was more than just an urge, it was weakness in her muscles.
The first rays of the sun shot down on the road in front of the cafe, only slightly visible to the wolf. A door opened from the rear of the cafe, and a man headed directly at Awlison. She pushed back against the wall with nowhere to go. Her butt tucked under her, and her spine formed a large C shape. She stared intensely at the man as he approached, ready to fight if need be, but again the obliviousness of these animals surprised her. He came within feet of her, threw a garbage bag in the dumpster, turned and headed back to the door he had come from.
A growl rumbled from the wolf’s chest and out of her sharp teeth, “Grrrrrrrrrr.” It ended in the name of her mate, “Rrrr—eg”. She called for him, a longing that traveled over mountains and through the distance that lay between them. And he heard her distress, laying on the floor of their den, he pulled his strength together and tried to stand. He could not though, a dead salmon he had eaten contained parasites that had infected his body, Salmon Poisoning it is called and ninety percent of canines who get it die. Grreg’s body was trying desperately to fight now, but the parasites were winning.
Awlison sat for a while, still lost on what to do, but it was time to go, she could not stay in that parking lot forever. She tiptoed forward out of the dumpster’s shadow, and slowly to the corner of the building. On the street there were a few more people. As the day was beginning more and more people would arrive, but the wolf did not know this. She watched them, meandering along, though no turns lay in their path, always they held something in their paws.
She was able to move behind building for a while, across little parking lots and driveways and under bushes. She found holes in fences to push through, but this was difficult with her wide belly. She came to a brick wall with no way past but to go to the street. Creeping along it, to the end she came to the black asphalt, another car sped past, still some unknown creature to the she-wolf, causing her to pull back. She built herself up for a moment and with an energized fear she jumped into the road, and ran across it. A man watched, surprised to see a wolf in town, and pulled out a phone to call the police. He believed a wolf in town must be crazy and dangerous, so it must be shot. This was only sometimes true, and not in this case.
Once across the street the she-wolf was again able to make her way out of view, but the farther she went the less familiar things became. More buildings, more cars, everything became louder, she heard whistles and machinery from a not too distant factory. It seemed she was going deeper into the town but her senses told her this was the way to go. The truth was that she was close. The town lay in a valley diagonally stretching towards her home. She was on the correct side of the valley and needed only make a hard left to get out of the town and into the woods where her sense of direction would function better, but her current path kept her in the heart of town.
Eventually she came to a large field containing sheep, it stretched acres and lay on the corner of the town. Beyond the field she did not see mountains, instead she saw more grassland and then large buildings of a distant city. Awlison could not decipher the buildings as a city, and the green of the grass pulled her to enter the field. From within the house of the property a boy had seen her, his awareness keen due to an interest in his surroundings, far less dulled than that of an adult. When the boy told his father, the man grabbed a rifle and went out to protect his property. In the boy’s heart he was saddened for this mistake in telling his father, he felt something wrong in killing the wolf, but he was young and mutable and listened to his father’s instruction of halting a danger to the herd. The man drew the rifle to his shoulder and looked through the scope, scanning the field tactically in a zigzagging left, right, down; right, left down pattern to cover all the space that lie in front of him. He almost missed her, but then there she was, white fur blurred with gray interspersed throughout her straggly hair, kind of small he thought but still dangerous. He aimed the crosshairs a little in front of her, breathed in deep, and while exhaling steadily, he fired.
The shot rang out across the land, a high pitched sound of a bulled cutting through the air, tore the peacefulness of space. Before Awlison recognized any sound, the dirt in front of her face exploded, some kicked up into her eyes, blinding her, and the concussion smacked hard the inside of her ears. She spun, back the way she had come, running as fast as she could. Another patch of dirt exploded behind her, she shifted her course with each of these blows in a lawless escape. The man’s arm flinging bullets into the chamber, each with four jolts of the bolt action mechanism. He was firing too quickly and in the she-wolf’s instinctual movements she seemed to turn at just the right moments.
She made it off the property and onto the street, running at top speed in a panic past cars and people, the town now alive with the risen sun. They pointed and yelled at her, some in fear, and some in anger. Cars honked, the sound familiar to her now. After what seemed like an eternity she found a long driveway on her right and shot down it. There was an old rickety house at the end. She came up to a wood pile and burrowed her way between a crevice in the stack. This was not a good place to be but her body was weak, and the adrenaline could not carry her further. She hid in there for nearly fifteen minutes before thinking of coming out. Fear had overtaken her, she was transformed into a creature other than herself. Unknown to the wolf time was of great importance. Animal Control was on their way to the area and soon they would come down this driveway.
Looking at the house she smelled something. Chickens, she saw chickens. She crept out towards them, they were loose in the yard, foraging for bugs and worms in ground. When Awlison, the she-wolf, babies in her belly, wild with hunger and exhaustion, was close enough, she charged at a hen, grabbed it by the neck and killed it instantly. The other chickens squawked and ran in all directions calling out to no one and everyone at the same time. Awlison tore into her prey quickly, not taking it back to a safe place to eat, for there was no safe place. She ripped into its chest, blood rushed out of its still beating heart and feather flew in the air. She swallowed the meat without chewing it.
Still on all fours, she looked up and saw a man. He stood staring at her from the steps of the house. She jumped back a short distance, and got into a defensive stance facing him.
But the man did not move.
Her eyes darted left and right and then back to the chaos from where she had come at the end of the driveway.
Then the man spoke. “Alllllrrrriiiighttttt.” he said. Very slowly and softly.
The wolf did not understand his word, but the tone soothed her a little.
He backed up slowly and pulled the screen door open with a hand behind his back. He continued to face her. The door squeaked, but he stayed calm.
Awlison wanted so badly to run, but she rooted herself, waiting for her surroundings to make the first move so she could react.
But the man did not give her reason to react. “You’re oh-kayyy.” He assured her, and stepped slowly backward, one foot now inside his house.
She just watched him, not moving a muscle.
The man barely moved as he turned his head off to the left, and his eyes followed further to the side of his house and beyond. In his mind he told her: this way.
She took her eyes off him and followed his direction.
Eyes on her again, his mind pointed past his house and focused on an image of tall yellow grass, and then a forest in the distance.
Awlison was too relaxed, she tensed again.
But the man exhaled and stepped backward all the way inside the house. “Go–” he said to her loud enough for only him to hear. And he was gone behind shadows.
She stood there not moving, but she could feel him inside of her head, urging her to move to the side of the house. One step at a time she crept to the calling, the chicken still in her mouth. On the side of the building she could see broken down cars and metal scrap. The large beasts lay in wait for her, but they did not move, they were not alive, she could now tell. With courage she walked to them, sporadic head and eye movements still darting in random directions. Behind the bone yard of old machinery was a long field and way off behind it were trees.
The she-wolf just stared for a moment. Letting her senses tell her what to do and if she was safe. In confirmation with the latter she scarfed some more chicken meat down her throat, then leaving most of the carcass on the ground, crept off through tall yellow grass. Then she broke into a run and headed for the forest, and for her den with Grreg inside working hard to win his own battle for survival.
She heard the man again in her head. She felt praise from behind her, as the man stood behind a window watching her run off. “Good girl,” he said, under his breath.