Authors: Nick Pollotta
Double Dragon Publishing
Copyright ©2009 by DDP
First published in Double Dragon Publishing, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Nick Pollotta
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Double Dragon eBooks, a division of Double Dragon Publishing Inc., Markham, Ontario Canada.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from Double Dragon Publishing.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
With fond memories and warmest regards to the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, and the Sunday afternoon gang of crazies at Chestnut Hall: Oz Fontecchio, Barbara Higgins, Luke Thalmeyer, Frank Richards, Joanne Lawler, Larry Gelfand, Joyce Carrol, John Prentis, T-Burn, John and Laura Symms, and especially to the vivacious Debbie Malamut.
Okay, who brought the pizza?
The scream came from out of nowhere.
Steadily, the howl of pain grew in volume until it split the forest night like an endless explosion. Rapidly increasing, the raw-throated cry of anguish wavered and wassailed until it abruptly ended in a meaty thump. In perfect harmony, the mountain cabin shook; pictures and diplomas went lopsided, mugs danced off bookshelves and the glass door of a surgical instrument cabinet cracked.
Quickly rising from her easy chair by the fireplace, Dr. Joanne Abernathy threw aside the medical journal and hobbled over to a window. Dear God, what was that horrible noise? Had somebody fallen off Deadman's Cliff?
As she drew back the lace curtains, the panels of thermal tempered glass segmented her view of the Canadian forest into tiny squares. Pressing her nose flat against the glass, the veterinarian frantically glanced about. Illuminated by the full moon overhead, the trees were frosted by the silver light making green seem black and black turn invisible. Completely filling the northern horizon was the ragged gray expanse of the MacKenzie Palisades; an irregular series of sheer angular foothills that bisected this isolated area of the Yukon wilderness like an insane granite wall.
Then the howl sounded again. Closer this time, and faintly overhead could be heard a jetliner streaking off into the distance. An odd thought came to Abernathy. The old woman promptly dismissed it as nonsense. Anybody falling out of a plane would be dead before they hit the ground from cranial blood loss. And afterwards? Well, you'd simply fill in the impact crater with a bulldozer and put a tombstone any ol’ damn place that seemed appropriate.
However, if the noise of the passenger jet had frightened some poor bastard into tumbling off the cliff...
Hurriedly, the retired vet retrieved her teeth from a glass of water set on the stone hearth, pulled on her walking shoes and grabbed a flashlight. After forty years of birthing calves, inoculating sheep and fixing broken bones for both man and beast, there was little she couldn't patch. If the luckless son-of-a-bitch was still alive when she got there, they had a good chance of staying that way. As the closest thing to a doctor in these parts, Abernathy was duty bound to heal even incompetent hunters who tumbled off mountains. Darn fool was probably drunk. Frightened by a plane, indeed. Hurmph!
Pulling on a light cloth coat, the woman paused for a moment at the gun rack. This wasn't downtown Whitehead. There were pumas and grizzly in this area, neither of which gave a hoot about her Hellenic oath, but only how tasty old folk were. Bypassing the big bore 30.06 Winchester as too cumbersome to use with her arthritis, she started to take the Browning .22 carbine, but then decided no. It was only a varmint rifle and so incredibly lightweight that it floated if dropped in water. Obviously, a compromise was the answer.
Yanking open the hall closet, she retrieved a bulky leather belt from a peg on the wall. Dutifully, the vet strapped it about her waist and checked the load in the shiny clean Webley .44 revolver. She had never fired the weapon except in practice sessions and once, only once, to put a rabid opossum out of its misery. Afterwards she had burned the corpse and gotten royally drunk. As with all the women in her family, Joanne hated to kill anything. Being a pacifist just seemed to run in the blood.
Unbolting the front door, the woman clicked on the porch lights and stepped outside. The forest was strangely quiet. Weird. Testing the wind with a damp finger, she guesstimated that the noise had come from the direction of the old salt lick and started east. After a few dozen meters the trail angled off in another direction, so Abernathy took advantage of a fresh bear tunnel to continue towards the cliff. She moved fast and silent along the collapsed line of bushes that marked the regular passage of a large bear. A griz, perhaps. Thankfully, the droppings smelled old.
Minutes later, she found the moaning creature buried under a pile of leaves by a copse of tall evergreen trees. The white beam of her flashlight displayed little of the animal besides its hind legs, but those were enough. Joanne knew a wolf when she saw one, and this was the biggest ever. The paws were large as a grown man's foot. Enormous!
Laying her flashlight on the rocky ground to shine on the wolf, the ranger gently brushed aside the leaves and uncovered the wounded animal. The beast whimpered at the intrusion, but offered no resistance. Black blood was matted heavy on the chest and there was reddish foam about its snout. Joanne frowned. Damn. Possible internal bleeding. There wasn't much she could do for that here. Glancing upwards, she was not surprised to see a leafy hole through the tree branches overhead. The ground here was a flat outcropping of stone, torn branches and smashed bushes forming a natural cushion under the dying wolf. Hmm, the angle was wrong, but the creature must have fallen off the cliff. What else made sense?
Keeping well clear of the dagger-sharp teeth, Abernathy examined the beast closer. The wolf was shivering and panting, but its nose was bone dry. Trained fingers checked its ears and eased back an eyelid. Damnation, the pulse rate was down, while the temperature was up. The wolf seemed to be suffering from more than mere impact damage. Suspicious, the vet turned her flashlight directly on the bloody chest and got an answer. Yep, it was also gunshot. But the wound in chest was only superficial, made by a .22, or .32 at the most. Ye god, were the frigging poachers using poisoned bullets again? Anything to save the pelt from additional damage. Damn them. There was a difference between hunting for food and killing for fashion. Morally, ethically and legally.
Furious, Abernathy hoped that the slug hadn't hit any bones so the ballistics lab of the Royal Mounties could get a good reading off the round. With any luck they would be able to track the poacher's by the identifying marking from his/her rifle and slam the stupid sonofabitch into jail! Wolves were an endangered species, protected by international law!
On the other hand, if there were massive internal injuries compounded by poisoning, there might be nothing she could do to help. Tentatively, Dr. Abernathy drew the Webley .44. Unexpectedly, the beast extended a shaking paw to gently touch the gun barrel and push it away in an amazingly human gesture.
In ragged stages, Abernathy holstered the handgun and knelt alongside the wolf to tenderly stroke its head. A hot tongue licked at her wrist.
,” she softly crooned. “No mercy killing. I'd rather not anyway. Somehow, I'll get you back to the cabin and fix you proper.
Qui, mon ami
There was no response. The wolf had fallen unconscious.
Realizing that time was now against her, the elderly vet moved fast. Placing her pocket handkerchief on the oozing wound, she cinched her belt tight about the chest. The wolf stirred and mewed in pain, but did not lash out with its deadly paws and the bleeding slowed.
Using her belt knife, the woman split some of the fallen tree limbs and crisscrossed the branches through the sleeves of her coat to jerry-rig a drag. Gently, she rolled the huge animal onto the makeshift litter and the limp wolf actually seemed to assist in the task. She smiled at that. Either this was a hell of an intelligent animal, or else somebody's escaped pet.
Buttoning the coat closed to keep the wolf in place, Abernathy grabbed the pockets of the garment and began the arduous task of dragging the wounded beast through the woods. An hour of backbreaking labor later, the panting vet and patient were at the cabin. Gasping, the elderly woman thanked God for the new bear tunnel or else she never would have made it here. The colossal animal must weigh a hundred kilos! Almost as much as a full-grown man. Maybe more.
The shed at the rear of the cabin was on ground level, easy to get into, but unheated. So the oldster nearly busted a gut hauling the hairy giant up the inclined wooden ramp used for conveying fireplace logs into the house.
As she closed the front door, Dr. Abernathy took a moment to catch her breath. Getting the poor thing onto the dining table was out of the question. The surgery would have to be done here in the living room. It would be messy, but the battered rug had seen worse. Her monthly poker game with the local Eskimo tribe always added a few more beer and bloody-nose stains to the overlapping montage on the old Sears two-ply. Someday, she really would have to give the rug a serious cleaning. Or maybe just burn it and buy a new one.
Retrieving her medical bag from the hall closet, Abernathy loaded a glass hypodermic needle with a clear liquid, tapped out the air bubble and injected the moaning animal with 10cc of morphine. Audibly, the beast sighed in relief as the pain diminished. She followed with a wide spectrum antibiotic. The bacteriological compound was an inexpensive sulfur mixture; trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The only type she could afford. It wasn't as powerful as the new crystal silver formulas, but it didn't require refrigeration after mixing and would do the job. Wisely, she decided that the distemper and rabies vaccine could wait till later. Step one: get that bullet out.