TO CATCH A WOLF By Susan Krinard
TO CATCH A WOLF By Susan Krinard
Canon City, Colorado, 1875
Morgan paused just outside the gates of the Territorial Penitentiary, staring through the bars at the cold, hard faces of the men who had kept him caged for the last five years. He knew that their blank expressions hid relief—relief that the one prisoner they couldn’t break was leaving their jurisdiction.
They’d stopped trying to beat him after the first year, because he gave them no reason other than their dislike of his silence. They left him almost entirely alone after the second year, and so did the other convicts. Even though he never attempted escape, they kept him in his cell all but an hour each day, and let him out only under heavy guard with half a dozen rifles trained at his head.
He’d learned how to keep his sanity when the scents of wood and river came to him through the barred window. He’d learned to exist in a place where everything he had been died a slow and lingering death.
It was easier than the one his father had suffered.
With no possessions but memory and the clothes upon his back, he turned away from the high stone walls. The road led east, to the town of Canon City with its houses and shops and saloons. To the west rose the peaks of the Sangre de Cristos, and to the north Pike’s Peak and Colorado Springs. The border with New Mexico Territory lay a hundred miles to the south, as the crow flies.
The road that had led him to Colorado in search of his father had begun in the west, in California. But his mother and sister were no longer waiting in the little mountain cabin. Four years after his trial and incarceration in various jails and then here at the Territorial Penitentiary, he had received the one letter of his nine-year term.
His uncle Jonas had been brief. Edith Holt was dead, and his sister Cassidy had gone with Jonas to his ranch in New Mexico. There she would have a decent upbringing away from the unsavory influence of her kin.
Cassidy had been six when Morgan left. She would be a woman now, familiar with courting and kissing and all the things Morgan had missed. She might even have started a family of her own. She’d have no place in her life for an ex-convict.
Better that Cassidy should forget he ever existed. He had no family. He was alone. And he would remain alone.
There were many ways to be alone in Colorado. Not every valley was a booming mining town, nor was every hill swarming with eager prospectors. There were places where wolves still avoided the hunters’ guns and traps.
That was where Morgan would go. North, and west, into the high mountains, the deep valleys. There he would forget he had ever been a man.
His feet, so used to measuring the dimensions of his cell, were slow to remember what it was to stride. Autumn dust rose in little puffs about his dilapidated shoes. He stepped out of the shapeless leather and kicked the shoes away.
He walked a hundred paces down the road and turned north where only animal trails marked the path. No one called after him, neither a curse nor a farewell. He dismissed the humans from his mind.
Time as men measured it had long since lost its meaning. He walked for many days, drinking from trickling streams and springs and rivers, eating what he sensed was fit and safe. Where men made their stink of waste and metal, he passed by unseen. The season they called Indian summer lingered well into the mountains. Golden leaves rustled under his feet. Then snow fell, and he shook off the cold as he had done in the years of captivity.
At last there came a day when he heard the wolves howl.
The scent of men did not reach here. The air stung his nostrils with the promise of winter, and turned to fog with each breath.
He looked up at the unbarred sky and howled. The wolves answered. They came, silent to any who walked on two legs. When they ringed him in, hackles raised and teeth bared, he stripped off the remains of his ragged clothing and walked among them without fear. As they shrank back, he Changed.
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