A Midnight Journey
By Cecilia W.
The wagons’ coverings shuddered and the carriages swayed as the wing howled within the canyons. The horses pushed on, tired and parched, as the company made there way through the dusty passageway. Their legs were stiff and their bodies tired. Their movement slowed as the night dragged on. The mountains of dirt and stone cast long, ominous shadows over the travelers.
Oliver and his family had started their journey three weeks prior to that night. Aiming to explore the new land, they had pushed through forests and open plains. Had it not been for the full moon that lit their path, he would not have been able to see the reins he was holding. There was a cloth tied around his face, caked in dirt, to protect him from the tornados of dirt that suddenly tore through the narrow trail. He coughed and his old hunched shoulders heaved up and down. His eyes were heavy and red from sleepless nights.
Oliver’s three sons, Liam, James and Christian led the mules that were carrying extra supplies on foot. Their mother Ellen stayed in one of the horse drawn carriages, mending cloths, mixing herbs and preparing dinner at night. They continued in silence, hoping to make it to the next town by midday tomorrow. The journey thus far, had been easier than expected.
Old Buck, the mule that Christian was leading suddenly stopped. His ears flattened against his head, snorting in anticipation.
“Pa!” called Oliver’s youngest son. “Buck ain’t movin’!” he said as he attempted to pull the animal forward. However, Buck’s hooves were rooted firmly in the dirt, not ready to budge. Oliver pulled the horses to a stop. As they shuffled uncomfortably in place he looked around with a frown upon his face.
“Christian can’t you pull any harder?” asked Liam as he handed his mule to James. “Give me the lead, I’ll make ‘im move.” As Liam put all his strength into moving the animal, Ellen stuck her head out of the wagon.
“Oliver,” she began with a hint of worry in her soft voice.
“Shh.” Oliver said putting a hand in the air.
“I give up! This stubborn beast ain’t gonna move more than an inch.” Liam said as he threw the lead down on the ground.
Just as the leather rope hit the dirt a rustle came from the brush on the side of the road. Suddenly, five snarling wolves threw themselves through the air. Their eyes blazed golden in the night’s dark blanket, and drool dripped down from their sharp, yellow fangs. The horses kicked their legs up and their shrill whinnies rang through the night. Their nostrils flared and their eyes were dilated in fear. Oliver was thrown from the wagon as it was overturned. He landed on the ground with a loud grunt. The boys had dropped the leads and run.
Two of the wolves went after the horses. One already had its mouth clamped around a chestnut’s throat. The mules scattered in different directions and two more wolves followed suit. The last wolf went digging through the remains of one of the carriages in search of food. Ellen had managed to escape one of the carriages before it crashed. She had hauled her husband over to the side of the path and propped him against one of the rocks, using a dampened cloth to revive him.
As James was running to calm the remaining horses a sixth wolf lunged at him, pinning him to the ground. With his breath knocked out of him and no strength left the wolf toyed with him for a bit. The wolf’s snout was less than an inch away from James’ face. Its breath carried the rotting stench of dead corpses. It sniffed him, pressing its cold black nose against James’ sweating skin. The pointed talons attached to the wolf’s massive paw pressed harder against James’ chest. Crimson blood seeped through his tattered shirt. Within minutes, James was gone.
Liam grabbed Christian and threw him behind the bushes on the side of the road to shield him. He then pulled out a gun and fired three shots in the air. After no one responded he took a shot at one of the beasts. He grazed the animal’s hide as it scampered sideways to pick up a piece of horse meat. With that, the wolves scattered whimpering, dragging some pieces of meat with them.
Two of the five horses were dead and one was wounded beyond repair. Before he could take time to recall his fond memories of the grey mare Liam shot it. Oliver was up and unharmed, as was Ellen and Christian. As the dust cleared, it was Liam who uncovered his younger brother’s body sprawled about the dirt, a bloody mess.
“Oh dear Lord.” Oliver breathed when he came up behind Liam. Ellen collapsed in sobs into her husband’s arms. Liam put a stiff hand on his brother’s shaking shoulders. There was no time for a proper burial for it was likely that the wolves would soon return. So the family continued on their journey to the next town, with one less traveler to join them.