Close Encounters

Copyright © 2004 Daniel V. Klein

Pfaugh!  I smell them in the dim forested moonlight long before I see them.  Don't they have the sense to clean themselves?  To lick the strongest of their scent from their bodies?  Surely the prey must know when they are near, and the wind no matter.  How do they hunt?  Yet hunt they must, for that other scent taunts me, drawing me near, like my pups are drawn to their mother's teats.

Fearing them, my pack has fled, but I cannot abandon my pups.  Chuffing softly, I think of them.  They are voracious little locusts, devouring everything I put in their path.  But with eyes still shut, their path is small.  Even now they tug at me, even though I am here and they are snug in our den.  And they hunger, but mice and voles are hiding snug in their burrows, and I cannot hunt bigger prey on my own...

Crawling silently on my belly towards the flickering light, I see them.  Odd, noisy creatures, always on their hind legs.  This morning they downed an aurochs bull, and now it roasts on the fire.  I stop just outside of the ring of light, and crouch in the shadows.  Maddened by hunger and tormented by the scent of meat.  And I see: they know I am here.

They are smart, and they feign innocence.  It is an old trick – I use it myself when the prey scents me.  They look everywhere but at me, yet I see in their sidelong glances, at the tenseness in their bodies and the sniff of their noses that they know.  But like me, it is a confident awareness.  We are neither of us prey.

There is nothing in these woods that long survives that does not fear the unknown, and we fear each other.  They respect my pack's prowess, but they know I am here alone.  And I fear their numbers, but my hunger growls like a beast in my empty belly.  One of them casually waves a half-gnawed bone in the air, knowing that I can see its every arc and gyre.  He deftly tosses it away, and it lands at the edge of the circle of light, near me. It is a gift.

I snatch it, and as I trot back to my pups, I think that these strange ones are like us.  Strong and smart, feared and respected.  They frighten me, but they are not cruel.  Tomorrow night, maybe, a little closer...