By sean mcnulty
Everything turned white for an instant under the sun’s pinpointed rays – everything except the cave and the wolf’s bristly fleece, both of which retained their dire blackness.
The sunlight seemed to cause the animal some discomfort, its blazing eyes wilting in the unexpected gleam, and losing their blaze briefly. It turned its nose upwards and sniffed the air but did so with some consternation as though its nose was clogged and incapable of picking up a single scent.
It wasn’t a well wolf.
It had roamed the island for many years now, killing all in its path, but now it was in a state of degeneration, cumbered with arthritic pain and worsening bronchitis. Sad to see such an excellent beast in this condition. These ailments misrepresented its terrible bearing in the world. But luckily no-one could see. No-one could see it humbled like this. For it had rid the land of possible witnesses. If they had not had the privilege of sluicing along its slavering chops, they resided now in the ground, bones rotting to dust like the rest of the island.
They got some hymns in perhaps. Some of them. Foolish prayers to what had to have been a rather spiteful deity.
All for what?
Those who buried the bodies were next in line for consumption. And their bones would see no blessings. But that last kill had been a taxing encounter. The man had contested bravely. Braver than those others – who were so easily picked and helpless they might as well have offered themselves up to be devoured. Lambs had more fight in them.
But this one man took the beast to task. A hectic chase occurred in the hills – over serrated bluffs, down slippery crevasses, across knotted crags...until...the arthritis catalysed, the wolf’s legs buckled, and it went flying off a cliff.
A painful landing.
But it caught up with its prey eventually, and its claws gouged through the man’s torso and held him impaled in the air to enumerate the scream, before cutting him into two parts; and then it didn’t take the lupine hellion long to make red gruel of the body and it feasted for the last time on the flavoursome viscera of a man. That final taste had been glorious. The blood was sweet and warm. What it wouldn’t give for a small drop of that brave man’s blood right now.
But there was none of that. There was not much of anything left in this desolate place.
Not much time left for the wolf on this foul world.
Thank the Devil.
Fuck the Devil.
The Devil had allowed this to happen. Had let the wolf grow sick. Had not provided its loyal canine servant with a mate. And it had done all the Devil had wanted. They had poisoned the land together, pulled and gnawed at it, ripped soul and soil apart – yet the wolf was not invulnerable. And now it was hungry and cold and there were no people left to eat.
Fuck the Devil rightfully.
‘Do you think it can smell us?’ asked Stinson.
‘Doesn’t seem to be able to,’ replied Littlewood. ‘It’s got a fierce dose. I’ll tell you what: if it could turn the nose on itself, it would meet a hell of a musk. Can you smell it?’
‘It smells like the snowy soot on the ground.’
‘Rancid. It must never wash itself at all if it’s managed to allow its own odour proliferate like that. Though, to be fair, I wouldn’t imagine sanitation is of utmost concern to this kind of creature.’
‘Why not? There’s water all around us. It could easily have a wee dip.’
‘Ssh. It might hear us.’
The wolf had yet to hear them. It remained at the cave’s entrance with its nose in the air, irremediable sniffs. Littlewood looked back and checked the pathway that had brought them there. Three to four yards away. If they made a dash for it, they would be seen surely. Best to wait for the wolf go back inside. He told Stinson to keep his head down and stay whisht. Stinson did as he was told. But not for long. He suddenly recalled a breed of animal from home which, if the name was anything to go by, challenged the accepted theory about wolves in Ireland.
‘What about wolfhounds?’ he whispered. ‘We have them in Ireland.’
‘Wolfhounds are as nice as pie. Not these ones, oh no. Look at the teeth on that!’
Sure enough, when the wolf dropped its jaw to splutter, you could see inside its mouth teeth like the derelict towers of a nightmare city and a huge pink tongue slithering between them like a river of flowing gore.
‘That’s no wolfhound, Father.’
‘I’m inclined to agree. But I have not seen a wolfhound either so I’m unable to confirm the dissemblance.’
‘Father, you’re a very intelligent man, but if we get out of this, you’re going to have to brush up on your natural history. It’s scandalous, I swear.’