Outlaw Wolves of the Currumpaw Novel Preview
Outlaw Wolves of the Currumpaw Novel Preview
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Evening hung its shadowy cloak over the rich pastures of the Currumpaw Valley. The tall grasses whispered as a gentle breeze blew across them; the river and creeks gurgled quietly, surfaces shimmering as they reflected the light of night’s celestial bodies.
Then a wolf howled and the peace of the evening was shattered. It was a deep, bass sound that sent tremors of instinctual fear down the spines of all who heard it. Within that wild vocalization echoed a proclamation of ownership of the territory, an ownership that was in place long before man arrived and began carving the land into parcels.
Great herds of cattle and sheep stopped their grazing to throw up their heads. Cattle lowed and sheep bleated in alarm. The animals, no more than dark specks against the moonlit pasture, shuffled about restlessly, looking off into the night with ears pricked to catch the slightest sound. Terror shot through them like lightning.
A grizzled old cowboy raised his head, mouth parted as he had been stopped in mid-sentence by the wolf’s howl. His silver-capped tooth reflected a glint of firelight as he smiled grimly. Turning his pale green eyes on the younger cow hands, he got it in mind to tell them a story.
“What was that?” one of them asked. It was the perfect lead-in for the old man.
“Why boy, didn’t you know this land is fraught with demon wolves?”
The question brought snorts of laughter from the others, and the boy who had spoken received a playful cuff on the shoulder.
The fire crackled and popped, sending sparks rising into the sky. After the howl had died away the animals had settled back into their routines; the saddle horses nodded off again, standing hobbled nearby. The barking-howl of coyotes reverberated in the hills but had no effect on the nerves of men or animals for they were commonly heard in the night.
Leaning back against his saddle, the old man clipped a piece of long-stem grass and put it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Though the boys had scoffed at his talk of demon wolves, he noted that their interest remained fixated on him.
Finally one of them broke the silence with a nervous laugh. “Alright old timer, tell us about these so-called demon wolves.”
“Pour me a cup o’ that coffee first,” the elder said, handing his cup over to be filled. Once he had received his drink he leaned back again and held it between his knotted fingers, savoring the warmth. “Now then, some people say he’s a phantom, a demon, spawn of the devil himself, and some say he’s a loup-garou; a werewolf. He’s the King of the Currumpaw. The Mexicans call him Lobo.
“Now, I’m not one to take after fantasies but from experience I can tell ye that there’s something strange about that there wolf and his band. Y’see, Old Lobo’s the size of a cow, smarter’n most men, and seems to have a touch of immortality in his blood for nothin’ can kill him.”
One of the young men scoffed. “Not taken to fantasies, eh?”
The old man grinned around the rim of his mug. “Well many have set out intending to claim the bounty on that clever wolf but no poison or trap has ever brought him to bay. So either he’s immortal or incredibly smart.”
“It’s just a wolf.”
“I tell ye he’s no ordinary wolf! Old Lobo moves silent as a shadow ‘less he wants you to know he’s about. He’s a clever devil, he is. If’n you hear his howl echo through the valley—like we just did—you can bet there’ll be a trail of dead livestock in the mornin’.” In a long gulp he drained the rest of his coffee and set the mug aside. “To your horses, lads, we best check on the herd.”
“Really? You believe those old wives’ tales?”
“I believe ‘em because I’ve seen his handiwork myself.” The old man stood, stretching his old bones.
A bass, abnormally loud howl rose from the northern edge of the valley as if on queue. Though it surely originated from an earthly source, the sound resembled the roar of a mythical beast. Around the fire, the men started up from their reclining positions. Cattle lowed loudly, unnerved by the cry of The King. The herds instinctively moved closer together, unnerved once more.
“He’s on the hunt!” the grizzled man shouted. “To yer horses, lads, and bring yer guns.” Taking his own advice, he threw aside the stem of grass on which he had been chewing and went straight for his horse. The horses were antsy, nervous, sensing the energy running through their masters and the herds. They, too, seemed to know that the howl had portended death.
The cowboys frantically saddled their mounts and set off around their herd. Though the moon was high and full, the herd had settled in the shadow of a tall mesa and the men had to keep their pace in check to avoid injury to their horses. The cattle rolled their eyes in the dark, looking around warily and lowing quite frequently. The noise they made would have covered the advance of a stampede of horses, let alone the silent padding of a pack of wolves.
Old Lobo’s howl reverberated through the valley again. Louder. Closer. Some of the men became jittery, afraid of the infamous wolf and his pack roaming in the darkness. There was no record of Lobo ever attacking a human – indeed, he and his pack were known to take flight at the sight of man – however, in the dark, with shadows jumping about, it was easy to imagine that demons prowled the land in the shape of wolves. The stirring of grass might foretell a lunge; the clattering of pebbles on a ledge an impending ambush.
One of the younger men, gripping his horse’s reins tightly, suddenly pulled his mount up. The nearby pounding of hooves had caught his attention: the sound of cattle stampeding. The thunderous sound was accented by the occasional snapping of teeth and a bark or a growl. Steeling his courage, the man directed his horse toward the sounds. His free hand rested on the stock of his rifle.
His path led him to a depression in the valley. At the base of the bowl stood a closely packed herd of cattle, their heads turned outward in a defensive maneuver. Bred selectively for generations by man, they had lost the majority of their natural defenses: they were more sedate, weaker, and lacked the wicked fighting horns of their ancestors. To the wolves, who once hunted wild elk and bison, the cattle were easy pickings. The frightened lowing of the cattle would not bring help soon enough.
The young man urged his horse nearer to the edge of the vale, careful to remain unseen. Below, surrounding the herd of cattle was a pack of wolves. The young man, so new to the range, had never seen the infamous pack of outlaw wolves and yet they were unmistakable. The pack numbered five wolves, one significantly larger than the others. The killers stalked around the cattle, watching their prey with glowing eyes.
The man held his breath as he looked down on the scene. In his awe and fear he forgot his responsibility to act, to save the herd.
The old villain wolf, the largest, sat apart from his fellows, perched atop a knoll. His grizzled, blackish-grey and white coat was silvered by the moonlight and his golden-green eyes gleamed. Four other wolves kept the herd in place, circling them with a dangerous glint in their eyes. A young heifer at the center of the herd was wounded, her flank bleeding freely. Clearly, it was her that the wolves were after.
A dun-coated wolf leapt at the herd, teeth bared. The cattle jumped away but the intended victim was not jostled to the outer edge of the group. The attacking wolf returned to the ring of bristling fur and glinting fangs.
The wolves growled in frustration. A black wolf, almost invisible in the night, tried in vain to break the cattle apart. The remaining three rushed in together but were unsuccessful.
A ferocious snarling growl issued from the large wolf atop the knoll. Lobo stood up, the action slow and deliberate. The glowing eyes of his fellows turned to him, expectant. They backed away from the cattle, peasants giving way to their King.
The King Wolf rushed toward the herd, emitting his fierce vocalization as he ran. His stride was so enormous that he covered the distance in a few bounds. In an instant he fell upon the first cow, barreling into it, snapping and clawing.
White eyed and bellowing in terror, the cattle broke their defensive line and scattered in all directions.
Lobo continued his bullying rush until he was amidst the cattle. He paused for only a split second to locate the injured heifer. Twenty-five yards separated the players in the life-and-death struggle. They locked eyes for a moment.
The King bore down on her in seconds. The heifer called desperately to her herd; the sound hitched as Lobo latched onto the underside of her neck. He dug his claws into the ground, pulling back with his considerable might.
The cowboy watched in awe as the heifer flipped over, bellowing in terror and then crashing to the ground with such force that the wolf was flung clear of the scene. The impact of her body striking the ground seemed to reverberate through the land itself, up through his horse’s hooves and into the cowboy’s body.
Lobo recovered his feet easily. He shook the dirt from his scruff, snorted, and watched as his pack fell on the cow, killing her in moments. There was a strange expression on Old Lobo’s face; it was a wry look, as if he were asking his pack, “Why did you waste so much time? Why could one of you not have done that at once?”
Suddenly regaining his senses, the young man shouted and urged his horse down the slope. Lobo and his pack raised their heads, their muzzles dripping with blood. As soon as they saw the approaching danger they ran off. The wolves crested the far ridge and vanished like the phantoms they were reputed to be.
The man dismounted and immediately began to rummage in his saddlebags. He had heard a rumor about the pack’s unique habit of eating only animals they had killed themselves. That rumor had floated through his mind as he saw the freshly killed heifer, which led to a new idea. Finally his hand found its prize: a bottle of strychnine.
He approached the steaming carcass and cast several glances at the far ridge to ensure the wolves were not watching. Deftly, he poisoned the meat in three places, taking care not to touch it with his hands. After returning the bottle to his saddlebags he mounted and rode away, confident that in the morning the wolves would be dead and he could collect the bounty on their leader’s head.