Fear Itself

Just to give you a taste of The Stream trilogy, of which 1/2 of the action takes place in dreams, here is a typical sequence from Book 1, Discovery. It’s Chapter 14, entitled, “Fear Itself.”

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Mary was in a deep but fitful slumber on the night of Charlie’s visit. In her mind, it was 1973, and she and her boys were under attack. The meds given by the nursing staff made her sleep but did nothing to assuage the images that had taken over her unconscious mind. She knew nothing of Virginia, or Charlie, or of being a 69-year-old woman. For her, there was but a single reality — the pack had begun to hunt.

Mary grabbed her boys and began to run.

As the wolves encircled her, Mary watched each one, noting their positions. First would be the alpha, which must be avoided at all costs. She had noticed one to her right that lagged behind. It was away from the rest of the pack. Perhaps it was old, or wounded – maybe the omega, more timid than the rest. She knew wolves could sprint up to 40 mph, faster than she could ever hope to go. They possessed stamina and ferocious determination. They would never give up, and they would not be outlasted. She feinted in the direction of the beta male that stood directly to the alpha’s right. She appeared to be playing chicken with it, on a beeline in its direction. It reacted by sprinting toward her, and the horrified boys screamed, no longer holding onto their mother, but holding their eyes shut instead.

The alpha saw Mary’s move instantly. It took one step, and leaped a full fifteen feet in the air on an interception course with dinner. A split-second before both wolves would have tackled Mary, she cut right, heading toward the timid wolf in the shadows. The alpha, just landing, did not have time to alter its course, and barreled into the beta that had been running full speed at Mary. They tumbled in a swirling, snarling, angry ball. The other wolves began to chase, but they were distracted by the two lead wolves – the alpha female and her mate, the beta male – that were busy chastising each other.

Mary charged the sole wolf ahead of her. It seemed more inclined to run away than attack. Mary shouted fiercely at it, using words her sons had never heard her say before. It turned and bolted. It was just another outcast in dangerous territory.

She had chosen well, and her sons had survived because of it. At the base of a tree with deep, thick roots, Mary practically threw her sons into the lowest branches. The wolves were on her heels. She could hear the snarls and feel their humid breath against her legs as she pulled herself into the tree. One solitary tooth snagged the flesh of her heel, leaving a crimson trail streaming behind.

They had tasted her, and she was warm, and it was good. Exhausted, heart pounding, full of fight, and tears, and hugs, the trio climbed deeper into the massive branches of the tree, away from the wolves, and toward salvation. She rested and pulled her children closer to her breast. Her boys were brave now, safe in their mother’s arms, and almost calm enough to stanch their tears. Below, the wolves circled and waited, circled and waited. They were forest sharks, and the little family was adrift in a deadly sea. The pack followed a protocol of snarls and leaps for a while, before settling down below the tree.

They are hungry, but not starving. They can wait. Wolves are patient beings.

Mary pulled off the few remaining leaves from the middle branches of the tree and tore off most of her skirt to make a bed in the manner that she had seen chimpanzees do. They were twenty feet above the ground, and safe as long as they stayed in the tree. The wolves would tire of the hunt — she hoped. In the meantime, they would sleep.

“It’s okay kiddos, we’re safe here.” It was as much a prayer as it was comfort.

The wolves were quiet, all save the alpha, which pawed at the tree, never taking her eyes off the group above. The alpha had a pack to feed, Mary a pack to save. Mary and the alpha made eye contact, neither blinking. The wolf showed her teeth in a warning, and Mary answered with a middle finger. It was an impotent gesture, but it made Mary feel stronger. The two watched each other for a long time, until both settled down to a restless sleep.

Around ten o’clock, with the moon high in the night sky, Mary awoke to a rustle in the leaves above. Squinting, she could just make out what appeared to be a branch moving above. Mary looked at the boys, who were sleeping quietly. Mikey had his thumb in his mouth, something he hadn’t done in months. Davey was sleeping with his arm around his little brother, protecting him even in sleep. Mary sat up, not wanting to disturb the boys or waken the wolves, now invisible below, deep on the forest floor.

Something moved below. Another sound overhead. Below, a small branch snapped, and a whimper shattered the still night, followed by a loud thud. Above, the moving branch had become two, and one had a mouth.

It is no branch. There are snakes in the tree above.

Below, Mary heard a low growl and saw angry amber eyes fifteen feet below her. They were looking straight up, and met her gaze with a coldness that chilled her. She had seen those eyes before. They were the eyes of an alpha female gray wolf.

The wolves had learned to climb.

P.S. For the record, I think wolves are the most beautiful animals on Earth.
P.S. For the record, I think wolves are the most beautiful animals on Earth. Brownie points if you noticed I gave the white wolf this wolf’s eyes.

7 Comments

  1. cecilia says:

    I know that wolves live mainly on mice and rabbits and small mammals but they get hungry and this was a great piece..scary … …i can hear snarls and woops of coyotes as I sit here in the small light .. and I wonder – how can I miss someone I have never met.. who is the wolf, when it is late.. why does the sound of wild dogs howling down by the creek have my feet on the floor running, between anothers snores. when does a mother stand down.. I run with my eyes closed so that i can see in a minute, soon, soon – in the dark, but i never trip and fall.. the stars are bright here, are your stars bright? They say the wolves are coming down this way.. should I fear them? Are you OK? love love.. c

    1. Gray wolves are apex predators. They’ll eat smaller animals if that’s all there are, but they prefer large ungulates, like deer. A pack will pull down and eat a Caribou.

      I am doing okay. Trying to share some of what I’ve written in order to gauge whether it’s worth my time to continue. I still close my eyes when the words get stuck, and type, letting them flow from within. It’s easier if I don’t look.

      At some point, I’ll decide whether to continue or stop. For now, letting people know The Stream was NEVER written for kids. It’s not YA, they just star in it.

  2. I write much better than this now. (sigh)

  3. Ishaiya says:

    Wolves and dragons dream deeply of us, and we admire them for their courage in doing so 🙂

    1. Yes, I suspect a wolf’s greatest nightmare is of a human pack invading their territory. Dragons, on the other hand, as amused by how inept we are at finding them, despite the fact that they do not attempt to hide.

  4. EagleAye says:

    I remember this scene from the books. One of many intense scenes. I remember when Granpa went there to rescue her.

    1. Thanks! That’s cool to hear.

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