“What could have happened?” Alex said gruffly, his voice thick. “How? They wouldn’t turn on their alphas like this, never, they loved Lila and Champ.”
Mart knelt to the ground, surveying the scene. He touched Lila’s fur reverently, and then pulled his hand back like he was burned. His eyes narrowed. “They didn’t do this. Look at this.” Jiwon and Alex knelt by him, examining the wounds.
“These aren’t tears, they’re… cuts!” Jiwon exclaimed in horror. “This was done by a blade. Someone murdered Lila and Champ.”
Mart stood up and pretended to wipe sweat from his brow. He sniffed. “Alright, priority is finding out who the fuck did this. It could have been the campers in the area doing it for fun, or even those ranchers who are still pissed at us when Shelly and Timmy escaped last year.”
“Um. But what about the wolves?” Ricky said.
They looked at him, noticing for the first time that we were there.
“Shouldn’t we find them?” he asked. “The gate is opened.”
“Shit!” Alex shouted, running for the gate. They had been so preoccupied with the death of their alphas that they forgot about the lock being cut. We looked around the area. The wolves were gone. “The tour group!”
We heard a scream. I grabbed Ricky tight while he struggled against me. “Ricky, hold still!”
We followed the three out of there and ran for the jeep. It would be faster in reaching the tourists, who had all but scattered at that point. The tour started off with eight tourists, including me and Ricky, so it was getting to be a tight squeeze in the jeep as we picked them up.
We picked up number seven. “My husband,” she wheezed tearfully. “He ran in the other direction to distract them.”
The wolves hunt in packs. We turned the jeep around, bumping around on the unpaved road. Darkness was falling quickly, so far from civilization and light of the outside world, secluded in this wolf sanctuary that had suddenly become a nightmare.
It was when Alex turned on the headlights on the jeep that we saw it. The tourist, lying on the ground. Five wolves surrounding him. Their muzzles, coated thickly in blood.
His wife screamed, and the wolves took off in different directions into the woods surrounding the area. Jiwon jumped out of the jeep to check on the man, mostly as a formality. His innards were scattered in the dirt road, the thirsty ground soaking up the viscous liquid. I sat there in shock, vaguely remembering him kissing his wife on the cheek, pinching her when they thought no one was looking, how they smiled at each other.
I felt ill, arms still wrapped around Ricky. I needed to keep him safe. Mart left Alex in the car with us and Alex locked the doors. Mart walked over to Jiwon. We couldn’t hear them talk over the hum of the engine, and the woman next to me sobbing uncontrollably. Jiwon looked furious, shouting something at Mart. He said something back, and she looked shocked.
I saw Mart kneel by the man’s remains and pull something away. Jiwon paled in the beam of the headlights.
“What’s going on?” Ricky whispered to me. He looked so damned scared. I scratched his scalp like I did when he was younger and scared of lightening, of clowns, of anything, to soothe him. It usually helped, but I could feel the scared flickering of his heartbeat against me.
Mart and Jiwon got back into the car. “Go back to the main entrance. We’ve got to get these people out of here.”
We rumbled down the trail back to the room where the original presentation was. The guests were quick to run to their cars, except for the now catatonic woman and us. Ricky was still shaking, so I kept my arm around him while I talked to Mart.
“This is insane. This doesn’t actually happen, right?” I thought I was being cool, but I sounded hysterical. “What the hell just happened?”
Mart shook his head. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
We heard another scream, and this time, the three of them acted quickly. Ricky and I stayed indoors, not wanting any of this shit. I heard one of the tourists yell, “Our tires are slashed!” and I knew that we were stranded.
The lights flickered, then shut off, bathing us in darkness. The evening had come in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilizations, far from the nearest town. There weren’t even lights outside. The only light that could be seen was the pale full moon, casting long shadows of the two of us in the empty room. It had gone quiet outside as they realized the power had gone out.
Ricky started to sniffle. I squeezed him tight, then knelt in front of him so we could be at eye-level. “Listen, Ricky—”
“Don’t say it’s gonna be okay,” Ricky sniffled. He kept blinking back tears. I don’t know when my kid brother learned how to do that, and amongst the fear, I felt a profound sadness. “Don’t lie and say it’s gonna be okay.”
“Ricky, I’m not gonna let anything bad happen to you, I promise.” I wiped at his eyes and my fingers came back wet. “We’re gonna be okay, and we’re gonna get onion rings and fries and 7up on the way home, and you are gonna tell Mom all about this, and you are gonna get me in so much trouble. How does that sound?”
He nodded and held my hand for the first time in years. I squeezed it hard back, then looked around. There had to be a flashlight.
I went into the “Employee only” room, figuring that’s where I would find it. Maybe even a first aid kit, if we needed it. When we needed it. When I couldn’t find anything in the cabinets, I resorted to looking through the lockers, the dirty feeling of snooping taking a backseat to survival. I found a granola bar in Alex’s locker and pocketed it for Ricky, just in case.
I got to the last locker, labelled Eleanor. Inside smelled musty, like mothballs and old lady perfume. I dug around in there. I found… nothing. What kind of nature centre didn’t have flashlights!? I threw the contents of her locker on the ground, frustrated. Then immediately felt bad and started putting it back. Her jacket, makeup bag, hairspray can.
In my anger, the contents of her wallet had exploded on the floor. I picked up each credit card and gift card and put it back when something caught my eye.
Mart had said before that all of them worked different jobs and just volunteered here. In my hand was the ID badge for Eleanor’s second job, and an icy chill shivered down my spine.
Eleanor Wilkes, Mortician.
The door slammed open, and the older woman was there, standing in the doorway, hair undone and a mess. She grinned at me with blood on her teeth. I realized what Mart had pulled from the body of the dead man.
It was a strand of long blonde hair.