November Contest Winner: The Pack
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. This month, writers were ask to write from the prompt "Dead of Winter" with a maximum word count of 1,000.
by Jora Dublinn
When we piled out of the SUVs, the sweet scent of pine greeted me. The log house added undertones of cedar, even at this temperature, cold enough to freeze my nose hairs.
Tombo helped me lug supplies inside. I didn’t ski well enough to keep up with the rest of the pack, but I provided the meals by hunting, shopping, or whatever means. Otherwise, we traveled light—skis, poles, boots, wax, a change of clothing.
For ten years, our little group had rented cabins near ski trails. Never the same place twice. Rarely in the same country.
This month, though, we were back in the US’s northernmost resort. Owen could no longer schuss or hike. He barely made it to the plane, but he’s the one who gathered us, and this is where we started. He’d wait in the cabin while we chased one another down the slopes. Then we’d all share one last feast before leadership passed to someone else, probably to Jake, which was a shame. I never liked Jake.
I’d miss Owen. Without him, we each would have been on our own. Having a pack to run with had made such a difference.
At midday, I grilled steaks while Owen poured the wine. As plates emptied, he said, “Go on with the others, Kelsi, I’ll clean up.”
When I kissed him on the cheek, I tasted salt sweat, though he’d hardly done a thing. Still licking his flavor off my lips, I suited up and climbed into the SUV.
At the trailhead, Tombo hiked to the westernmost run. Lora and three other females mingled with skiers at the far east side. Derek and the other four males headed to the black diamond runs, while Jake claimed the black double diamond, always having to prove his macho superiority. I waited at the warming hut for them to call.
Lora’s voice crackled through the walkie-talkie first. “This run is perfect. Trees come right to the edge. I’m sure I smelled bear droppings.”
“Any likely skiers?”
“One young couple. He’s in a bright blue parka. She has a pink hat.”
Jake called to describe three teenage snowboarders. Three would be tough to manage. Derek reported family groups. Kids were a no-no for me, no matter how the others felt about it.
Tombo came through next. “I found a big guy, all muscle. Wearing black with gold trim.”
The excitement in his voice made me tingle. “I’ll meet you at the top.”
He skied off the lift with his new friend as I slid into place by the drop-off point.
“Wow, what a run!” Tombo said. “You should see this guy slalom!”
I took off my right glove and offered my hand. The big guy grasped it tight, skin to skin. A wonderful musky aroma came my way.
Looking into his golden-brown eyes, letting my heat soak into him, I used my best voice.
“Feodor, or just Feo.” What a deep, gravelly tone.
My heart raced. “If Tombo is impressed, you must be amazing. Our friends would love to meet you.”
“I usually ski alone, but I can make exceptions for such talented gentlemen.” He nodded toward Tombo but kept staring at me. “And such beautiful ladies.”
What gorgeous eyes. “Do you ever ski at night?”
“I thought the slopes closed at dark.”
I shrugged. “Patrols stop, but the runs are open.”
“Tonight?” he asked.
“Tomorrow night. The moon will be brighter.”
“I look forward to a nighttime adventure. When shall we meet?”
Anticipation flooded me. “Seven-thirty.” No one would be here except the moon, in full glory.
“Until tomorrow night, then.” He squeezed my hand and left.
Tombo grinned at me. “We’d better invite that young couple as a backup in case he cowards out.”
I invited them, but I wasn’t worried. Nothing about Feo said, coward.
At six-thirty the next night, the moon rose. Leaving our clothes on our beds, we prowled through the pines to the ski area. Icy flakes melted on my nose. I longed to feel the sensation all over my naked body, but my dense white fur insulated me.
We moved slowly, allowing Owen to lead us on this last foray. The others’ scents, the soft brush of their feet, and peripheral glimpses of motion confirmed that the pack was all together.
Feo wasn’t at the warming hut.
We stood vigil at the forest margin, tasting the air. No humans. I scented the heavy, familiar musk of a male wolf. Jake snarled a warning. From deep in the woods, an answering growl became a guttural, rolling challenge.
At Owen’s tail-flick, the pack melted into the shadows, facing the sound, sniffing. Feo’s seductive aroma came closer.
Gaps between trees left bright gashes of moonlight. A black wolf stalked toward us, not bothering to slink or hide. Golden eyes met mine.
Owen howled. The eyes shifted toward him.
Pain’s sharp scent radiated from Owen as he tensed his arthritic legs and leaped.
The black wolf met him in the air, clamped his jaws on Owen’s throat, and tore it open. With a final kick at the sky, Owen lay still. His blood blackened the snow. Its thick odor frightened and excited me.
Hackles raised, Jake crept forward, rage rumbling from his throat. At the same instant, he and the black wolf lunged. Jaws snapping, they locked onto one another. Two beasts circled in the snow, twisting and whirling until they were a yin-yang of bloodied fur. Then the black wolf fastened his dripping muzzle around Jake’s throat.
“Hey, night skiers, where are you?”
Male and female voices came from the trailhead.
The pack turned their noses to the sound. The young couple’s scent hovered faintly above the rich spill of wolf blood.
Jake growled. The black wolf shook him.
With a whine, Jake turned belly up.
Feo released him and led us all to the trailhead. The feast lasted until moonset.
In sunlight, we packed our gear and drove away.