From the editor:The howls of wolves echo in the dark night. You wake up in your car filled with blood and glass, a shotgun at the ready. But who are you, and why are you here? Author Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator, and her work has appeared in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, and many other fine venues.
From the author: You wake up in a crashed car. You don't know where you are, or why you're here. It is snowing. Something waits for you in the woods...
You wake up, slumped over the steering wheel.
Raising your head, you look through smashed windshield. It’s dark and it’s snowing, and you’ve hit a tree. Your headlights are still on, white light reflecting off the snow. You see the dented hood, the jagged edges of the broken windshield, and everywhere inside the car, blood. It’s slick on your hands, on the shards of glass. There’s glass and blood in the back seat, too, as if an animal crashed into the car and scrambled around before escaping.
You try to open the door, but the car is leaning on its side in the snow. Cautiously, you clamber across the passenger seat, pushing the other door open with your feet.
Standing in the snow, you try to remember where you are, who you are, anything.
On the floor on the passenger side is a flashlight and a shotgun. You realize you know how to use the shotgun as soon as you pick it up, your hands remembering what your mind doesn’t. Instinctively, you pat your jacket pockets. There’s ammo in one of them. You load the shotgun. The motion, the feel of the weapon and the slugs…it’s familiar. You’ve done this before, but you can’t remember when or why.
Around you, the world is silent and cold as death. The highway is a smudge of asphalt between banks of dirty snow. Beyond that are the woods, dark trees, shadows beneath. Spread wide above it all is the night-sky, a multitude of stars winking down at you, unconcerned.
You start walking, following a trail of blood-stained tracks that leads away from the car. With every step, you try and fail to settle your breathing and your pounding heart.
There are more tracks in the snowbank where the illumination from the headlights ends. You knew you’d find those tracks, even if you don’t remember how you knew.
Someone, some thing, dragged itself toward the trees.
You follow. At the forest’s edge you hesitate, but the tracks lead in beneath the branches. You try to remember why you feel compelled to go deeper into these woods, but nothing comes to mind. All you know is that you’re cold, that your head and hands are bleeding, that your ribs hurt like hell.
At least the shotgun in your hands is heavy and reassuring. In this world you woke up in, you know nothing for certain, except how to use this weapon.
A sound cuts through the stillness. Howling. It’s coming from behind you, from the road.
Wolf? No. Wolves.
The fear in your belly is familiar. Like you’ve been here before: alone, in the dark, with the wolves howling.
You consider the shotgun, the slugs in your pocket, how many wolves might be out there, how fast you would be able to reload, but in the end, you run. You run in between the trees, with the howling driving you deeper into the night. The snow is heavy and your body hurts. There are glowing eyes behind you, fleet paws following through the snow.
You don’t know how long you’ve been running when you see the light. You’re tired and faltering by then, but the light keeps you going.
There’s a cabin, hardly more than a shack, and the light in its windows is the yellow glow of candle flame and hearth, and somehow, it too is familiar.
You stumble up the steps, and bang on the door. It swings open.
Rushing in, you close and lock the door behind you, as if that will keep the darkness out, as if this flimsy wood and hasp will keep the wolves at bay.
Turning around, something about the place makes you uneasy.
The smell of firewood, rancid meat, and rot.
It’s familiar, right? Too familiar.
There’s an old woman sitting by the fireplace, watching you, smiling wide, a grin that is too toothy for her face. Her ratty bathrobe is stained with blood and her cheeks are scratched and cut.
You think about the car, shards of glass, blood.
Yes. That’s it. You recognize me now.
Do you remember the first time you came here?
What big teeth you have, you said to me when I greeted you at the door.
You were just a welfare-whelp in a red coat from the charity shop, sent here by your mom because she couldn’t handle taking care of you anymore.
She was a mess, your mom. A drunk. A lush. But she knew enough to send you to me. To grandma. Because grandma takes care of all lost whelps. One way or another.
Child, you’re shaking, standing there with that big old shotgun, not knowing whether to lower or raise it.
Do you remember driving here? Do you remember what you planned to do? Find me? Kill me? Seemed like you could do it, didn’t it? That you could put an end to the nightmares that have haunted you since you ran away from me, from us, all those years ago.
When you saw me standing by the highway in the dusk, wearing my best fur and claws, waiting to welcome you home, I know you recognized me. That’s why you gunned the engine and cut me down.
Foolish child. As if that could kill me. As if you didn’t know you needed a silver slug to do it.
All those years fearing me, hating me, and still you hesitate, even now.
Are you here to kill me? Or are you here to join the pack because you’ve realized the world out there is too vast, too cold, too lonely for someone like you, like us? I asked you to join us once, and tonight I’m asking you again.
The pack is all around us, waiting for you to choose. You don’t have enough slugs for all of them, but don’t worry. Soon, we’ll all be family here.
This story originally appeared in R.B. Wood's Word Count Podcast.