BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
Jo went over her gear once more, making sure she had everything she needed: ropes, chloroform, nets, flashlight, knives...and 20 cc. of tranquilizer. She sipped her cold coffee and then loaded her pack with two canisters of tear gas.
Matt studied her, acting concerned but amused at the same time. “Are you sure you need all that stuff?”
“Better safe than sorry.”
“Do you have to go tonight?”
“Matt, I did my research. And Seth--”
“Ah, Seth, the cute sheriff.”
Jo laughed and brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Don’t tell me you’re still jealous. Anyway, Seth just wanted us to be ready. The animal is vicious.”
“That’s the part of your job I don’t like.”
“But I do.” Jo came over and kissed him on the forehead. “Not everyone likes a desk job.”
“Hey.” He pinched her on the ass.
She slapped his hand and smiled. “I gotta go.”
With her backpack strapped to her shoulder, she headed out the door.
“Jo,” Matt called.
She looked back and saw the seriousness in his green eyes.
“Do you have that special serum I gave you?”
“Yup, Doc. The syringes are good to go.”
“Okay. Better safe than sorry, right?”
She smiled at him and disappeared out the door.
Seth Collins was down at the riverbank when Jo pulled her Jeep up next to his patrol car. Seth waved at her, and she went down to join him.
“Good evening, Ms. Cain.”
“What’s up?” she asked.
“There was a report of disturbance earlier this afternoon.”
“But you said--”
“Yeah, I know, better safe than sorry, right?” He grinned. He pointed the flashlight at the muddy patch next to his feet. “You see these tracks? What do you think?”
Jo crouched down and took a close look. About two dozens of footprints in the mud, forming a few haphazard circles. She imagined there were possibly more, already washed away by the tide.
“These belong to the same animal. An animal,” Jo said. “But not the animal.”
“And you’re saying?” Seth sounded somewhat disappointed.
“These are wolf prints all right, but we’re not looking for a wolf, are we?”
“I don’t know,” Jo said. “I’m just telling you what I think.” She stood and surveyed the ground around them. “A wolf was here this afternoon, and it seemed to be distraught, lost. See these circles? Seems like it’s been pacing and circling, panicked about something.”
Jo stared at the river and sighed. “This is just crazy.”
“Looking for it.”
“I’m just following your expert opinions.”
“I know what I said. It’s just so, you know, X-Files.”
Seth laughed. “Jo, in my line of work, I’ve seen many strange, bizarre things. But, I have to admit--”
She shook her head. “I don’t think we’re going to find whatever it is here.”
“Okay. Sorry to have asked you out,” he said, a deliberate pause, “here.”
Jo smiled. She didn’t mind a little flirtation with her tall, dark and handsome ex-boyfriend, even though her heart belonged to Matt now.
“I’m going back to the pound,” she said. “If anything comes up, call me or look me up.”
Seth winked at her. “You bet. You’ll be the first to know.”
On her way back, up the dirt road, Jo kept thinking about the animal. The eyes she saw that night.
That night. She’d thought perhaps an animal had gotten loose at the pound. She didn’t remember exactly what had happened, only that the stench had been nauseating when she entered the building: animal feces mixed with blood and guts, the same revolting slaughterhouse stench she'd grown up with.
Then something had knocked her over, and in a blink, she saw those piercing pale yellow eyes in a corner staring back at her. She heard the snarls, so close and urgent. Everything after that had been a blank wall until she woke up in a hospital bed, bandages all over her body. Her boyfriend, the burly Dr. Matt Campbell had stood by her side, his eyes tender, concerned and guilty-looking. Matt told her he’d gone to the pound to look for her when she hadn’t come home for dinner. He'd seen something escape through the broken backdoor.
The pound was a shambles as if a tornado had whipped through it. Two Labs and a German Shepherd had been killed that night. Ripped to pieces, actually, their guts spilled all over the place.
Seth Collins told her a wolf must have entered the premises, and she was lucky to be alive. She knew she wasn’t lucky. Matt must have saved her life by frightening the animal, somehow. When Seth showed her the photographs of the scene, she knew something wasn’t right. No wolf could have done it. And the prints...
Ridiculous. She'd laughed at the absurdity of the idea.
She arrived at the pound and parked the Jeep near the entrance. The sky was dark, and the air smelled like rain. The full moon threatened to break out from the heavy clouds. She had an uneasy feeling about this place, yet something compelled her to come here. She checked her gear again. Better safe than sorry. That had become her favorite motto.
Jo took a photo from her pocket and studied the prints again. The claw marks looked like those of a wolf’s, no doubt, but the paws were simply too large. Too long. The same shape of a human foot. And only the back paws, never the front.
The animal walked upright.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Snippet (A Bunch of Stories)
Now for something different, here's a sample from my short stories collection, A Bunch of Stories: