Authors: Anthony McGowan,Nelson Evergreen
Illustrated by Nelson Evergreen
Anthony McGowan is a multi-award-winning author of books for adults, teenagers and younger children. He has a life-long obsession with the natural world, and has travelled widely to study and observe it.
Books by Anthony McGowan
To my Canadian cousin,
Big John McGowan, 1961â2009
He had been travelling south now for a long time. Winters had come and gone, each one a little shorter, a little less cold than the last. He had starved, and he had fed. Early on, the rotting carcass of a grey whale, beached on the shingle, had kept him alive for months. But now that he was grown, there was nothing that he could catch that he could not kill.
Back in the north he had been safe for as long as his mother was alive.
But his mother had fallen down when the tall, thin animals had come with the sticks that made a sound like thunder. A red eye had opened in his mother's chest, and before she died she bit him to make him run away.
And he did run, back to the den that was no longer warm. And then the others came, the white ones, and drove him away. Had he not fled, they would have killed him for being like them and not like them at the same time.
But now he was big. Bigger than the white ones. Bigger even than the biggest of the brown ones through whose territory he now wandered. They feared him, and their fear fed him, like the whale had fed him, filling him with almost as much poison as nourishment.
And now that another year was drawing to its close he was filled with urgency. He had to be fat to get through the winter. He had to eat. His colour was wrong for this place where everything was brown and green â although, now that the leaves were turning, he had begun to blend in, his gold matching theirs. The week before he had killed a moose, a huge creature, taller than a horse. But again he hungered.
And now, as he moved through the forest, he caught a new scent. It was something he had experienced only once before. It was the smell of the animals with the sticks that made thunder. It filled him with excitement and rage and, for the first time in a long while, fear.
But the fear did not cancel out the excitement or the rage. For he knew that, whatever else it might mean, the smell was food.
Fourteen-year-old Frazer Hunt was staring into the eyes of what was, weight for weight, just about the most powerful carnivore in the world. It looked like a stumpy brown bear, but with a longer tail, a smaller head, and with an air of menace that not even a grizzly with a toothache could match. The beast, hunched and forceful, had come trotting along the trail with something in its mouth. It took Frazer a moment or two to work out what it was â at first he'd assumed it was a strangely shaped stick.
But then he realized that this wasn't some friendly, stick-carrying mutt, and that the thing in its mouth was a leg.
A wolf's leg.
Whether the creature had killed the wolf, or simply stumbled across the carcass and torn off this trophy to carry back to its lair, Frazer couldn't say.
It didn't much matter.
The animal stopped in its tracks, raised its broad
snout and sniffed, the sound clear in the cold morning air. Frazer remembered that it had poor eyesight, and depended on a keen sense of smell and hearing to track its prey.
He probably knew more about wild animals than any other fourteen-year-old in the world, but even he'd never seen one of these before. Of course the wilderness was full of shy creatures, but this animal wasn't so much shy as secretive and cunning.
But even as those thoughts played through his mind he was also transfixed by the primal fear of the prey confronted with the predator.
Frazer had stumbled across the scene as he hiked not far from the campsite he was sharing with his father, Hal Hunt, and his cousin, Amazon. They were up here in the thickly forested mountains of Western Canada to help look for Amazon's parents, Roger and Ling-Mei, whose light aircraft had disappeared in this almost endless wilderness weeks earlier.
Hal Hunt was in charge of TRACKS â an organization devoted to saving endangered animals and threatened environments anywhere on the planet. He had thrown the full weight of TRACKS behind trying to find his brother and his sister-in-law â not least because, after years of animosity, the brothers had finally been reconciled, and Roger had been on his way to deliver a vital piece of information to Hal concerning the very existence of TRACKS.
But that wasn't what Frazer was thinking about right now. His thoughts were torn equally between,
How the heck am I going to get out of this one?
This is going to make the greatest photo I've ever taken
Yep, Frazer had his trusty Leica digital camera with him, and he'd set out that morning planning to snap something. He'd been hoping for a deer, or a bald eagle, but he'd found something much more interesting.
He ran through what he'd read or heard about the beast: Latin name
â meaning the glutton. And it was well named. This glutton would eat anything it could get hold of. And once it had hold of something it wouldn't let go or stop eating until it had consumed every last scrap â meat, skin, even bones.
Its jaws and teeth were perfect for the job â strong enough to crack open a moose's thigh bone to get at the pink marrow within. In fact, it could bite through bone the way Frazer could chew through a candy bar.
Nothing stood up to a full-grown
â not wolves, not bears, not even the big cougars that were still common in this part of Canada.
Yes, at last Frazer was confronting the brutal boss of the northern forest, the wolverine.
And now this wolverine was sniffling and snuffling, tasting the air. He â and Frazer was pretty sure that
it was a he â knew Frazer was somewhere close, and he was using that sensitive snout of his to home in.
Frazer half wished that he'd brought the X-Ark â the world's best tranq rifle. TRACKS used a special knock-out drug in the darts that could put down a grizzly in three seconds. But all Frazer had was his camera, and he doubted that the wolverine would be vain enough to stop its charge and pose for a picture.
Frazer stood perfectly still. He thought over his options. He could climb a tree, or he could run for his life, hoping to reach camp before the loping predator caught up with him.
He'd once heard tell of a wolverine that had chased a half-grown black bear up a tree. The bear got stuck, and the wolverine spent the next week taking bites out of the poor bear's backside, until the creature finally perished from cold and hunger and loss of blood.
Or maybe just plain embarrassment.
That wasn't how Frazer planned to go.
He began to back away, keeping his eyes firmly on the wolverine. Slowly does it, he said to himself. He fought to control his breathing, keeping it steady. Breath was the secret to so many things, from making a good clean shot with a tranq gun to catching a trout with a fly in a cold mountain stream.
Step by step he moved away from the wolverine, putting each foot down as delicately as if it were made of nitroglycerine.
It was working. The wolverine stopped sniffing at the air, dipped its head once more and turned off the track, still carrying that leg in its powerful mouth.
Frazer began to think about how he'd tell Amazon and his dad about the encounter. He'd say he'd faced the wolverine down, stared back fearlessly into those black eyes until the creature had realized that it had met its match, and turned and run.
So what he needed was a little bit of evidence to prove that he was telling the truth. What he needed was that photo. He even thought that he might be able to sell the picture to a magazine. He'd always wanted to get something in the
, and this would be the ideal opportunity. Not even professional wildlife photographers got many snaps of wily old
The camera was in its leather case, hanging from a strap round his neck. He carefully lifted the case and, holding his breath, eased it open. He'd been terrified that the sound of the popper unfastening might be loud enough to alert the wolverine, but still the beast trotted on. Now Frazer had to be quick. In another couple of seconds it would disappear into the trees, and he'd never see it again.
He raised the camera to eye level.
He could not stop his hands from trembling ever so slightly, but the camera had built-in stabilization, so that should be fine, as long as he chose a fast enough shutter speed.
He looked through the viewfinder. He had the perfect shot. The wolverine had stopped again, just before the treeline. Its front paws were on a small boulder and, in the distance, mountains loomed up, their sharp, snow-tipped peaks echoing the teeth of the wolverine. It was staring right at the camera lens, that gruesome leg balanced in its mouth.
This was perfect. It was going to make Frazer famous.
And as he clicked he realized what he had done. The wolverine was looking up because it had caught a whiff of him. Its teeth were bared because it was offering a threat to the unseen challenger for this meal of wolf leg.
And now with the click of the shutter â and it really was such a very tiny noise â the wolverine had gone from yellow to red alert. Now it had something solid to go on, it zeroed in on Frazer, sniffing deeply.
It had him.
Now even the weak eyes were focused.
It spat out the bony leg and began to make its cry.
Frazer had heard the roar of a male lion as it stalked him in the African bush; he had heard the higher-pitched snarl of a man-eating leopard; he had heard the deadly hiss of a spitting cobra, aiming its spray of venom at his eyes; he had heard the snarl of a leaping jaguar and the splash from the tail of a tiger shark beginning its killer-surge; but this stream
of yelps, yaps, yips, growls and snickering was the most terrifying sound he had ever come across.
And that was it. Frazer's coolness, his hard-earned calm under pressure, fled and he followed. He turned and he ran.
It was like running away from a monster in a dream. His legs wouldn't seem to move properly.
The thick leaf mould on the ground sucked at his legs, pulling him down. He could hear the quick scampering feet of the wolverine behind him. He imagined its jaws sinking into the seat of his pants. That gave him another spurt of panic-fuelled energy. He escaped from the soft leaf mould and found the firmer ground of the trail he had been following. The pine and larch trees closed over him, but now he was moving more quickly, his long legs eating up the ground.
He glanced over his shoulder, thinking that the wolverine might have given up on him and gone back to the dead wolf, which was, at least, a meal that had stopped trying to escape.
What he saw almost made him scream. The wolverine was only about two metres away. Its strange loping gait â with each limb seeming to go off in a different direction â was almost comical. But there was nothing funny at all in the look of deadly intent on that vicious face. In fact, all that stopped Frazer from screaming was the shame he would feel if his cousin and father heard him. The Hunts were not a screaming family. They were the sort of people who faced whatever the world threw at them with a grim smile. Screaming wasn't an option.
Then he saw the flash of colour ahead of him. It was the orange of the tent he shared with Amazon. His heart leapt with hope. On he raced. He jumped over a tree trunk that had fallen across the trail.
Again he glanced back, hoping that the obstacle might have deterred the wolverine. But no, it somehow managed to squirm under the log. But squirming is a lot slower than running, and Frazer gained a few vital seconds.
Four more metres and he was there, right in the middle of the campsite, shouting out at the top of his voice. His father was by the fire, cleaning his hunting rifle, an ancient bolt-action Lee-Enfield, dating back to the First World War.
âDad,' screamed Frazer, pointing frantically behind him, âquick, shoot!'
He didn't, of course, mean âshoot the wolverine'. He just wanted his father to shoot the gun in the air to scare it off.
Amazon Hunt stuck her head out of the tent to see what all the commotion was about. Her face showed first puzzlement and then, as she saw the danger Frazer was in, horror. Amazon might not have come across many wolverines back in her boarding school in England before she joined TRACKS, but she certainly knew all about the grim reputation of the glutton.
Hal Hunt stood up. In late middle age he was still fit and lean, hard muscle covering his well-knit frame. With his close-cropped grey hair, he exuded a sense of power and competence. Frazer also knew that his dad was a magnificent shot, whether he had a tranq gun, high-powered rifle or slingshot in his strong
hands. Yep, he was exactly the kind of person you wanted to see when a deadly predator was on your tail. He'd ping a bullet right under the wolverine's nose to scare it off. And if that didn't work â¦ well, he loved his son even more than he loved other animals, right?
But then, with dismay, Frazer saw that his father had left his rifle on the ground. In its place he'd picked up a rock.
What was he doing?
âYah! Yah!' shouted Hal Hunt, waving his arms in the air.
Frazer looked back at the wolverine. It had stopped on the edge of the campsite. It stood on its stumpy back legs and again made that infernal chattering sound that seemed to combine both an insult and a threat.
Then Hal Hunt threw the rock. It hit the ground in front of the wolverine. The creature started to shy away. But then it stopped, sniffed again at the air and gave a low growl, which, to Frazer, seemed to say, âI could quite easily eat you all if I felt like it.' After lingering for another moment, to Frazer's utter relief, it slowly turned away in an unhurried fashion and walked into the forest with its nose held high in the air.
Frazer looked over at Amazon, who was making a noise not unlike that made by the wolverine. The look on her face wasn't, it turned out, fear for his
safety. It was mirth. His cousin was laughing fit to burst.
Puzzled, Frazer looked back at his father. Hal Hunt had his hand over his mouth, trying to hide a broad smile.