“I’ve read only a little about wolves,” He said. “But they are vicious, very vicious, when they are hungry and hunting. Am I right?”
“Too right,” I told Him, drawing my pin gun and wishing, now that I was going to have to face beasts instead of men, that I had something more lethal than narcodarts. It had been a harsh winter; I could tell that from the depth of the drifts, the bow of the trees after they had borne so many weeks of heavy snow. The wolves had been driven out of the higher levels of the park, down from the dense upper forests into the more civilized areas. Food would be scarce up there in this weather. Farther down, there was still good hunting . . . “They must have caught the odor of blood—maybe from the rabbits you skinned. If that’s the case, they’ve been searching for some time now, and they’re bound to be near mad with excitement.”
Just as I finished, the first wolf loped into sight, a scout of the main pack. He came over the brow of the next hill and stood looking at us across the little valley that separated him from us. His eyes were hot coals, feverish, gleaming between the beads of the snow curtain that draped the night. His muzzle quivered, and he bared his teeth. Two prominent fangs arched up from his lower jaw and shone wickedly yellow-white in the gloom, fangs that could rip out a man’s throat in seconds, free the bubbling blood in human veins. He danced backward, then forward again, examining us, his excitement growing by the second. Then he raised his head and dropped his lower jaw to howl.
I leveled my gun and fired a burst of pins that caught him in the throat. He gagged, shook his head, and toppled over. He writhed a moment, his legs kicking spasmodically, and lay still, sleeping. But the sounds of his comrades indicated little gap between the scout and the body of the main force. They would be on us in seconds. Their reaction to the limp body of their companion would decide our fate—whether they advanced for revenge or turned tail and ran. Somehow, the latter seemed unlikely.
The other wolves crested the ridge and stopped like a line of Indians confronting the cavalry in a cheap Western movie. They moved around uncertainly, taking turns sniffing the scout’s body. When they realized he was not dead but sleeping, some of their bravura was restored. They pranced around more lightly now, their feet hardly touching the ground, springing like wind-up toys—though their teeth were real enough. A few threw their heads back and let go some really wild howls at the low sky. The echo beat around the foothills, carried to the wall at the base of the mountain and boomed back in a loud whisper.
“What should we do?” He asked, though He didn’t seem very concerned—nowhere near as concerned as I was when I looked at those brutes.
“Let’s wait and see what move they make,” I said. “If we try to run, that might give them enough confidence to attack.”
Meanwhile, I counted them. With the scout, there were sixteen.
I could swear it got colder and that the wind blew the snow more insistently than ever, but it may have been my imagination. Besides, I was sweating, a switch if ever I saw one. We waited.
They made their move. Three of the braver beasts started down the opposite slope, gained confidence and loped full speed across the small valley which they easily covered in a dozen strides. When they reached the base of our hill, I shouted, “Fire!”
We opened with our pin guns and stopped them before they were halfway up our hill. They kicked, jerked, went down in a tangle of legs, lay very still, the drugs doing quick work on them. One of them, the largest and most darkly-furred, snored.
The other beasts snorted and snarled among themselves, much like football players planning strategy in a huddle. They milled around, looking at each other, then at us, then back to each other.
“Maybe they’ll go away now,” He said.