Stan muttered unintelligible obscenities under his breath as he kicked the tire of his car. Why the hell had the damned thing stopped, it was like it wasn’t getting any gas. Which meant that it was most likely one of two things, The fuel filter or the fuel pump. Stan seriously hoped it was the former, which would be considerably cheaper and easier to have replaced. Climbing back into the car he looked over at his girlfriend Janice. Her beautiful blue eyes shimmered with concern, and her thin pinked lips were pursed tight.
“What’s wrong?” She ventured brushing away a stray lock of her beautiful ebony hair.
“My guess is that it’s either the fuel filter or the fuel pump,” he replied.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’ll try the cellular and call a tow truck.” He picked up the cellular telephone from its charger between the front seats and stepped out of the car. The readout on the phone still read ‘no service’. Stan took a few steps down the road, trying to maybe locate a signal, but to no avail.
“Can you get anything?” Janice asked.
“No, I’m going to try to find a house, and see if they have a phone I can use.”
“But we’re in the middle of nowhere. Where will you find a house out here?”
Stan looked around; on one side of the highway was a thin field of grass and then the river. The other side was lined with a wall of trees which stretched on for several kilometers. The sound of the river flowing and the wind blowing through the trees filled the air, but further away than these Stan could hear another sound; the playful shrieks and cries of a child. The sound seemed to be coming from somewhere out of sight through the trees. From this information his brain started drawing conclusions. The sun had nearly set, within about 20 minutes the last of it’s light would be shed. No responsible parent would let their child play in a forest at night, so logically they must be playing in their own yard. That would mean that there was a house back there, and a road too. But Stan had no idea where this road had originated so he couldn’t go up the road to find the house. What he could do was follow the sound and watch for lights.
Stan explained his plan to Janice who did not appear to like the idea one bit. “But you won’t be able to see where you’re going,” she protested. “What if you get lost or fall and hurt yourself?”
“I’ll be okay, you’ll see. I’ll go find this house and be back before you know it, and the tow truck will be on it’s way to take us into town.” He gave her a quick kiss to reassure her and trotted off down the slope of the ditch and into the woods. The first two hundred meters or so were no problem but after that he lost sight of the highway and Janice’s first prediction came true. Stan wasn’t sure which way the road was but he could still follow the sounds of the children playing. He was sure now that there was more than one of them, which made sense, few children played outdoors alone. He could also now hear the quiet yips and barks of a young dog, probably no more than a pup. So he simply kept walking, trying to follow the sounds.
As he pressed deeper into the woods the last of the sunlight disappeared from the sky, leaving him with only the light of the moon. Fortunately this was the night of a full moon so he could at least see where the trees were. He continued walking, ignoring the branches and small bushes which snagged on his pants and scratched his bare arms; that and the growing cold made him wish he had stopped to grab his jacket from the car. And still ahead he could hear the children play, and the excited yips of their dog.
As he struggled ahead Stan found himself trying to imagine the dog that was creating the sound. The bark was not throaty enough for a bulldog or a Doberman, however the sound did carry some weight behind it; not like a Chihuahua or a poodle. Stan settled on the seemingly likely image of a German Shepherd or possibly a golden retriever.
As he wondered deep in contemplation Stan failed to notice a root sticking up out of the slope he was just starting down. Failing to notice it he also did not consider to lift his foot high enough to clear the root and soon found himself sprawling through the air and crashing to the ground. He slipped for a few meters on the grass, which was still wet from some recent rainfall. Stan brushed himself off when he finally came skidding to a halt and shivered at the cold. In the distance he could hear a little girl giggling in whatever game she played. Stan started walking again in the direction of the voices. “And that’s another thing strange…” Stan thought although what the first strange thing, what the other was, Stan didn’t really know or care. The nosie of the children didn’t seem to be getting any closer. No matter how far he walked the children playing and the dog yipping seemed just as distant as it had when he passed the first tree.
Stan had heard some legend or another about something like this, it was a strange light which doesn’t ever seem to get any closer, and walking towards this light would lead the person into a sinkbog. Or there was an old Indian legend about a creature that could speak like a woman and would pretend to be in danger to lure it’s prey, namely men, into it’s lair to kill. The later was most likely based on the mountain lion, whose cry sounds remarkably like a woman’s scream. Not that Stan could prove it from personal experience, that was simply what he had heard. Still cold and starting to grow tired Stan pressed deeper into the forest, still seeking those children, who would be running around in front of a house, it was too late to start thinking now about what if the people there did not want to let him use their phone.
Then slowly, and almost unnoticeably the sound started getting closer. Stan wasn’t sure when it had happened, only that the sound was no longer quite as far away as it had been before. Stan hurried his pace, catch up with the sound before it started to flee again. He wasn’t sure how long he had been staggering through the woods, but he was pretty sure it had been at least half an hour. As he pushed forward the ground suddenly dropped sharply and before Stan could react he was almost knee deep in water. “Son of a bitch!” He griped, this just seemed to be getting worse and worse. Stan lifted his foot out of the water and stepped back onto solid ground. Looking down he could now see the large pond, it was probably about 30 meters across and who knows how long, but he really had no desire to swing through who knows what. For all he knew this could be the rural equivalent of a sewer outlet.
Stan slowly made his way around the edge of the pond, which seemed to stretch a couple hundred meters in the direction he had chosen to travel with no indication of turning. Maybe it was more like a stagnant river. But then Stan spotted something; there was a fallen tree up ahead, which seemed to lead out to a tiny island of dirt. There were similar islands of dirt scattered around the surface of the pond. If Stan chose his path carefully he could most likely cross the pond without having to go around. Stan started walking out across the log, he thought of a tight rope walker he had seen in the circus as a young boy, the daring man had carried a long pole which helped him keep his balance. Stan had no pole but he could put his arms out to the side to improve his center of balance. He started out across the log, heading for his immediate goal of the first island. A couple of times he nearly fell, but managed to regain his balance. This was a lot harder than Stan had imagined it would have been. Every few meters was a struggle as Stan very nearly were careening into the water, but each time he managed to rearrange his footing and regain his balance. Then as he was nearing the first island the dog who’s barks had been guiding him this trip gave another yip, this time it seemed close, close enough that maybe Stan could see it! Stan quickly turned to look to the shore, too quickly. His balance was shot and Stan was now wobbling back and forth, desperately fighting a losing battle to keep from plunging into the water. At some point he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to regain his balance, but he also realized he was nearly at the island, maybe he could jump to the island. If he missed then he was going into the water, which could be over his head by this far out, but if he didn’t try to make the jump then he was going to fall face first into the pond. An easy decision, Stan thought and tried for the jump. He was surprised, and a bit relieved when his feet contacted solid ground.
Now that he had a stable footing Stan looked around for the dog, but it was nowhere to be seen, and although it’s bark was farther away again, the sounds of the dog and the children were not that far away, once he crossed this pond he should be able to able find them without too much difficulty.
Stan continued to pick his way across the pond, going from island to island, sometimes by jumping sometimes by fallen log. The logs here seemed to be perfectly placed, possibly put here by some young boy for running and jumping around on the pond, which would seem to rule out the idea of this being a sewage pond, one doesn’t play anywhere near those. A couple of times Stan had to turn back because the path of islands led to a dead end, and several more times he put his foot into the pond while trying to jump between islands. And still the children played ahead of him, he was starting to think this strange, it was getting late, these children should not be still playing out here. Still, as long as the sounds of their play was guiding him, Stan wasn’t about to complain. Finally Stan made his way across a log to the far shore, holding onto the trailing branches of a willow to keep from falling into the water. Stan found it felt good to have a sizable chunk of stable earth under his again once he was off the log, and he set out again, towards those not quite so distant voices now. From there the sounds lead him up a steep hill. So steep that it had him grabbing small trees to haul himself up by. The progress up the slope was slow, but it was quicker than crossing the pond, and a lot less difficult. He was sure by now that Janice would be going crazy. She was that type, she worried needlessly over every little thing. It could get irritating at times, but one look in her eyes, and the thought of her smile or her kiss erased any doubts that he may have had about why he stayed with her. As Stan gripped another tree to pull himself up his hand stuck to something. Damned pitch! Stan tried futilely to wipe the pitch off on his pants for a moment before he realized that it wasn’t going to come off that easily. Ignoring the problem he continued to stumble and pull himself up the hill. Finally he crested the hill, he had half been expecting the forest to suddenly come to an end and to find himself standing on the edge of the yard, with those children playing with the dog. His heart sank as only more trees sprawled out before him. At least it couldn’t be that far to the house, the children weren’t that far off now.
Stan sighed and set off again, this was taking forever to find these children, it probably would have been easier to just walk along the highway with the cellular for a little ways until he finally found a signal. Oh Well, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Nothing to do now but keep on walking he would eventually reach either the house or the road; and from the road he could walk along until he found the house. He wove his way in and out between the trees, pushing through the brush, constantly hoping that within the next couple of meters he would see the edge of the forest. The voices were getting close now, he could clearly make out the meaningless cries and laughter.
Stan pushed onwards, practically running now, eager to find these damned children. Finally he broke into a clearing. He hadn’t even seen it coming, it was just one moment he was in the forest, the next he was in a clearing. Finally he caught sight of the children, and he couldn’t have possibly been more surprised.
There were two of them, both girls around seven years old. And what was surprising about them was the fact that neither of them was wearing a shred of clothing. And directly behind them, was a dog. No scratch that, a wolf! It was a young wolf probably a year or so old, slobber flew from it’s mouth as it chased behind the one girl, trying to latch it’s jaws around the girl’s hamstring. Reacting as quickly as he could Stan picked up the first thing he could find; a rock. The stone was a little bigger than Stan’s head, but it seemed solid. He was momentarily grateful that he had been on the shot-put team in school, he had practiced with rocks like these down at the local junk yard. He heaved the stone through the air, praying that it wouldn’t strike the child by mistake.
The rock struck heavily against the side of the young wolf bowling it over, and sending it crashing to the ground with a pained yelp. Stan ran over to the gently whining form and kicked it as solidly in the head as he could. Again and again he lashed out, thank god he had arrived in time to save that poor girl. Stan stopped kicking as he heard a growling from behind him. Turning he saw the two girls standing there, glaring at him with fire in their eyes. Before his eyes the first girl fell onto all fours as a whitish gold hair pressed through the skin of her back. The second one followed suit a second later.
Stan could do nothing but look on in horror as their hands shrunk and drew in to form paws, and the hair grew to cover their naked bodies. A bushy tail burst through the skin of their bottoms as their faces stretched outward into muzzles.
Within a moment what stood before Stan was two wolves snarling like they were rabid. Both were about a year old, just like the one Stan had hit with the rock. The growling was joined from behind him again, as the one he had ambushed was up and showing no sign of any injury.
Stan screamed as all three wolves bounded at him snarling and biting. As he fought to keep them at bay he realized that he had come too far into the woods Janice would never hear his screams from here. They had led him this far, watched him the whole time, waiting for him to get to just the right place.
* * *
Janice slowly rolled over, as her eyes opened. She stepped out of the car and stretched her back, which was stiff from spending the night in the car. As she did so she realized that Stan had not returned the previous evening. Where could he be, what if he was lost, or hurt, or possibly even… No she couldn’t think like that. She had to go try to find Stan. She would go out and find this road that would lead to the house he was convinced was back there, maybe they knew where he was. Maybe he had found the house but had been in no state to call the tow truck. Locking the car door Janice started walking in the direction they had been heading before the car broke down. She walked for about ten minutes before she spotted a side road, angling back into the bush in the direction of Stan’s supposed house. Taking a deep breath to galvanize her hope Janice started up the road. The road was rough with forest on both sides, and no sign of anything for at least the first ten or fifteen kilometers. Finally as she came up a hill she saw a house. A simple little rural A-frame, with a station wagon parked in front of it. Janice ran up to the house and knocked on the door. While she waited she tried to decide what to say that she might not sound like a raving idiot.
The door pulled open and a large man, with golden blonde hair, possibly a little greying, and a thick beard answered.
“Hello, um… this might sound a bit crazy but my boyfriend and I were driving last night and our car broke down. He came this way to try to find a phone, did he happen to find you?”
“No ma’am I’m afraid we haven’t seen your boyfriend, but you’re welcome to use our phone.”
Janice stepped inside as the gruff looking giant led her into the kitchen. Three children were sitting at the table playing a board game, two little girls and a boy, all around seven years old; they were probably triplets. The mother, who was standing by the stove, apparently having just put a large roast in the oven turned as Janice walked in. “This young lady is looking for her boyfriend and needs to use the phone.” The man explained.
“Well we were just about to have some breakfast, would you care to join us?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Don’t worry hon, I’m sure your boyfriend will turn up.” The man assured, “He must be around here somewhere.”