THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD
An urban fantasy novel
by Douglas Smith
(Estimated release date: Summer 2013)
Set in modern day Northern Canada, THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD is an urban fantasy incorporating First Nations mythology. With an introduction by World Fantasy Award winner, Charles de Lint, the book will appeal to fans of de Lint and Neil Gaiman. In it, a shapeshifter hero battles ancient spirits, a covert government agency, and his own dark past in a race to solve a series of murders that could mean the end of the world. A synopsis and an excerpt of the first four chapters follows below, along with a special offer to Amazing Stories readers.
© Douglas Smith 2013. All rights reserved.
When MARY TWO RIVERS, a young Ojibwa girl, is brutally killed near a controversial hydro dam outside Thunder Lake, her body partially eaten, the police dismiss it as an animal attack. But ED TWO RIVERS, Mary’s grandfather, suspects something else–a HEROKA.
Human in appearance, the Heroka are shapeshifters, drawing their powers and vitality from their totem animals–animals that have been driven away from Thunder Lake by the flooding for the dam.
Suspicion falls on LEIDDIA BARKER, a local Heroka known to Ojibwa elders. But Leiddia was Mary’s friend, and Ed believes her innocent. Fearing for Leiddia’s safety and wanting to find Mary’s real killer, Ed begs an old friend and Leiddia’s former lover, GWYNN BLAIDD, for help.
Gwyn is a Heroka of the wolf totem. Once, he led his people in a deadly battle against the TAINCHEL, the shadowy agency that hunts the Heroka, a struggle that cost Gwyn the people closest to him. Now he lives alone and bitter, his only companions the wolves that protect his wilderness retreat and GELERT, the huge hound that is his PAWAKAN, his totem animal bonded to his own spirit.
As Gwyn considers Ed’s plea, he suddenly finds himself the unwilling ward of Caz Meadows, a troubled Heroka teenage girl fleeing the Tainchel and sent to Gwyn for protection. But the Tainchel follow Caz to Gwyn’s hidden home, and Gwyn and Caz barely escape with their lives. With nowhere else to go, Gwyn and a reluctant Caz head for Thunder Lake.
KATE MORGAN is a single Cree mother with a blind teenage son, ZACH, a son she both loves and fears. Years ago, Kate fled Zach’s father on discovering he was Heroka, only later realizing she was pregnant. Searching for secrets of the Heroka to save Zach from becoming a “monster,” she joins the Tainchel, unaware that they know of Zach’s Heroka blood and have recruited her for that reason.
SIMON JONAS heads the Tainchel. Years ago, Gwyn killed his son, a Tainchel agent. Jonas now hunts the Heroka with an evangelical fervor. He sends Kate to Thunder Lake to investigate the killing, secretly hoping that Zach’s presence will draw out a shapeshifter. Although terrified to be hunting the creatures she fears, Kate agrees, hoping to gain access to Tainchel files that could help Zach.
ZACH MORGAN knows nothing of his Heroka blood. He does know that sometimes his own mother is afraid of him and that lately his dreams have been very strange. In those dreams, WISAKEJACK, an ancient Cree spirit, warns him of a coming battle that may mean the end of the world–a battle in which Zach must play a part.
Somewhere, a mysterious SHAMAN stares into a fire, watching events unfold in a vision dancing in the flames. Plans are in motion. Twin spirit voices speak to the shaman: The Wolf is coming. The Boy is coming.
It has begun…
The end of the world.
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD will be published this summer (estimated late August). If you enjoy the excerpt below, you can pre-order your copy of the ebook or print editions by visiting Doug’s website store at the links shown below. As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, use the promotion code “AMAZING_WOLF” at checkout to receive a 15% discount on your pre-order.
Pre-order The Wolf at the End of the World now at the following links:
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a sequel to Doug’s award-winning novelette, “Spirit Dance,” where we first met Gwyn, Leiddia, Ed, and the Tainchel. You can also pick up “Spirit Dance” now as an ebook in all popular formats.
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD
An urban fantasy novel
by Douglas Smith
© Douglas Smith 2013. All rights reserved.
(cover art by Jean-Pierre Normand)
PART I: “Draw to You the Wolf and Boy”
“Of old, men were placed here on Earth by the Powers in this wise: they were pitied and befriended by every kind of thing, by as many things as are seen, and by things that are invisible. They dreamt of every kind of thing. Even the animals taught them things. That is why the old-time people had Manitou power.”
—Louis Moosomin, Cree, blind from childhood
Chapter 1: Mary
Everything had gone wrong, and now Mary Two Rivers was running away. Away from the dam site, away from the damage they’d done, stumbling through the bush in the dark, trying to keep up with Jimmy White Creek and ahead of the security guards. And the dogs. She could hear dogs barking now.
What had she been thinking? Why had she gone along with Jimmy and the rest of them? She was an A-student. She was going to university in the fall. She had plans, plans to get off the Rez. Plans that didn’t include jail.
Hanging a banner over the dam protesting the loss of Ojibwa land was one thing, but then somebody had poured gasoline on one of the construction vehicles and lit it on fire. And she’d let herself be part of it.
Just because Jimmy had a cute smile and cuter butt—a butt that was getting farther and farther ahead of her as she struggled to keep up. She was a bookworm, not an athlete, and the ground was starting to rise. Jimmy was heading for the west ridge overlooking the still inoperative dam site and its reservoir lake. She didn’t know where the other kids had gone. Everyone had scattered when the guards had appeared, and she’d followed Jimmy. Or tried to.
“Jimmy!” she cried in a desperate whisper. “Wait up!” She didn’t know these woods anymore. If she lost him, she doubted she’d get far before the guards caught her.
Jimmy stopped on the hill ahead of her, chest heaving, breath hanging misty in the chill October air. The moonlight caught his pale, sweating face, and in that moment, she wondered how she’d ever thought he was handsome. “Mary, you gotta keep up,” he panted, his voice breaking. “There’s a path through the trees on top of the ridge. We’ll lose them in there and cut back to the Rez.” He started up the slope again, not waiting for her.
Forcing her trembling legs to move, she kept climbing. Jimmy disappeared over the top. Half a minute later, she scrambled up the last few yards. She looked around. Jimmy was nowhere in sight.
The tall Jack pines stood closer here, the undergrowth thick between them, their high tops touching, blocking off the cold light from the waxing half moon. Whatever path Jimmy had taken was invisible, hidden by darkness.
She was alone and lost.
She sank down to the ground, shaking. She was going to be caught. She was going to jail. What were her parents going to say? Their dream was for her to get a degree, to beat the odds of being born on the Rez. Their dream…
She swore softly to herself. Her dream, too. She stood up, her anger conquering her fear. They would not catch her. Sucking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly to calm herself as she looked back down the hill she’d just climbed.
The dam and its dark captured lake lay in the distance below. Five burly figures were climbing the bottom of the hill. But worse, ahead of the guards, two grey shadows leapt over the rocks and brush of the slope. The dogs would reach her in less than a minute.
Turning back to the forest, she listened for any sound of Jimmy running ahead. There. Had that been a branch snapping deep in the woods? She moved in the direction of the noise, tripping over unseen rocks and roots. One patch of darkness loomed blacker than the rest. She stepped closer. It seemed to be an opening through the trees. Praying for this to be the path that Jimmy had taken, she plunged ahead.
As she moved into the forest, her eyes slowly adjusted to the deeper darkness under the trees, aided by the occasional sliver of moonlight slicing through the canopy of branches above. This was definitely a path. She paused a moment, straining to hear any sound of pursuit. The dogs were still barking, but they didn’t sound any closer.
The barking stopped. In the sudden silence, she heard the yip of a fox. She shuddered involuntarily, remembering a saying of her misoomish, her grandfather. “Bad luck,” he’d told her as a child. “You hear a fox bark in the night, that’s bad luck.” But then the dogs took up their call again, and she allowed herself a small thrill of hope. The barking was fainter now. The dogs, and presumably the men with them, were moving away from her. They hadn’t found this path.
She was going to get away. The tension gripping her vanished, and her shaking legs gave way. She collapsed onto the soft cushion of pine needles that covered the ground. Sweat soaking her t-shirt under her parka, she hugged her knees to her chest, shivering from the chill and the adrenaline still in her.
Now that the immediate danger was gone, another thought came to her. Just last week, a worker had been killed at the dam site. Animal attack, they were saying. Because his body had been partially eaten, she recalled with a shudder.
Suddenly, huddled on the forest floor in the dark, she didn’t feel quite as safe as she had a moment before. She wanted nothing more than to be home in her own bed, to hear her parents in the next room, talking or arguing, she didn’t care which, just so long as she was out of this nightmare. With that image filling her heart, she stood and started along the path once more, still praying to catch Jimmy, to have him lead her out of these woods, to lead her home.
A brightness grew ahead. A few seconds later, she stepped into a clearing lit in cold luminescence by the half moon above. A rocky outcrop rose ahead and to her left as well. She turned to her right. Her heart fell.
She stood at the top of the ridge. Below, the ground sloped away sharply, the pines thinning halfway down the slope then disappearing completely where the forest had been cleared near the bottom. The slope ended at the road leading onto the top of the dam. Beyond the dam, the black surface of the lake rippled like some great beast shuddering itself awake in the night.
She’d been running the wrong way, back towards the dam.
With a sudden sick feeling, she realized what she should have figured out earlier. The dogs would have followed a scent. They hadn’t followed her, so they must have been on Jimmy’s trail, which meant that Jimmy had taken another path, not the one that had led her here.
She’d taken the wrong path.
She looked wildly around the clearing, searching for some alternative to retracing her steps. The slope below led right back to the dam and the scene of the crime, so that route was out. The dark lake caught her attention again, recalling childhood memories of her grandfather’s stories, the ones about the evil spirits that lived in deep water.
She turned her back on the lake and those memories. Enough. Time to go home. She considered the rock walls. The one facing the entrance to the path was almost sheer and rose too high for her even to think of trying to scale it. The wall facing the lake was less steep and offered some handholds for climbing.
It looked about twenty feet high. She examined its face for the best route, finally selecting a path that would bring her up beside a large boulder that perched by itself at the top of the wall.
Or maybe it was a bush, since she saw something move on it, like branches shifting in the wind. Just then, a cloud scuttled across the night sky, swallowing the moon. As the clearing fell dark, she shivered at a sudden strange thought—that the shape had resembled something crouched there, and what she’d seen moving were actually long locks of hair.
Another gust brought a smell down to her, thick and heavy—the smell of mushrooms and rotting wood and wet moss. Bitter, and yet so sickly sweet that she thought she would vomit.
The cloud hiding the moon moved on. Pale moonlight shone down again, cold and cruel, and Mary finally saw what crouched above her, waiting.
Chapter 2: Deep Water
Ed Two Rivers was dreaming. In his dream, he was no longer an old Ojibwa man with a bad back. He was a hell-diver duck, young and strong and full of life. The hell-diver had been his personal manitou since his vision quest when he was twelve. Fifty-five years ago. Dreams of the hell-diver had special meaning. He would learn something tonight.
He was floating on a black lake at night, his webbed feet moving him easily over small swells. The moon shone full and bright and cold on the lake, but could not penetrate the water’s dark surface, giving no hint of what lay beneath.
He dove, and darkness closed around him. The water was warm at first, warmer than the night air above had been. But a chill seeped through the soft down under his feathers as his feet drove him deeper. Deeper and closer to what lay below, to what lay waiting, had lain waiting for so long…
Ed woke, gasping for breath. He sat up, and as he did, pain stabbed his lower back and shot down his right leg. He groaned. The memory of youth and strength from the dream slipped away. He sighed. Back to reality. The bedside clock glared at him in red digits: 3:46 AM.
Vera stirred beside him. “Ed?”
“You okay?” she mumbled.
No, he wasn’t okay, but he wouldn’t mention his dream. His wife was white and a Christian, but that wasn’t why he wouldn’t tell her. His vision dreams worried her. He’d been right too many times. “Damn back’s killing me.”
“Can you move? Want something for it?”
“I’m okay. Gonna get up for a while till it calms down.”
Vera was snoring again by the time he’d managed to slip his legs over the side of the bed. He rose slowly, waited for the pain to subside, then slipped on his pants and went quietly into their small living room.
He and Vera lived above the general store they ran in Thunder Lake. The place was small, but it was enough for them. Enough space for living and enough to be alone in when they got on each other’s nerves, which wasn’t often.
He eased into the old armchair by the window overlooking the street below. Turning on the small television with the remote, he flipped channels, not watching what appeared, just wanting a flow of images to wash the dream from his mind. He clicked the TV off finally. Damn thing only got half the channels anyway.
Outside, the stoplight at the corner changed, throwing a patch of red on the room’s faded wallpaper, like blood splashed on the wall.
Red, he thought. Just red. Not blood. Damn dream, getting me all morbid.
A dream of deep water.
He knew what that meant. He’d kept the old beliefs and practices. The priests at the residential school had tried to beat them out of him, but he’d been one of the lucky ones. He’d only spent four years in the school before his father had spirited him away to live with his grandfather in the bush. And his grandfather had taught him the old ways.
He’d tried to pass those ways on to his son, but Charlie had never been interested. Charlie had never been in a residential school, but to Ed, his son was still a victim. He’d lost his culture.
Charlie didn’t see it that way. “What’s that shit ever brought us?” Charlie had demanded recently, when he’d caught Ed and Mary discussing differences between Cree and Ojibwa shaking tent ceremonies. “Did it keep our land for us? Can it get us jobs? Why don’t you conjure me up a new car?”
“Dad, I enjoy Grampa’s stories,” Mary had replied.
Charlie had glared at Mary. “And you, too. It was bad enough, him filling your head with all the stories when you were a kid. But you’re going to university—”
“To study anthropology,” Mary had said. “And this relates to that. Shaman practices of Anishinabe peoples share similarities with ancient rituals around the world.”
“Ancient,” Charlie had snorted, walking out of the room. “You got that right.”
Ed shook his head as he sat in the darkness. Well, at least Mary still wanted to hear the old stories, hear him talk of the old ways, even if now it was just part of her studies of dead cultures. Dying, he corrected himself. Not dead yet. Just like him. Not quite dead yet.
Mary’s face faded from his mind, morphing into the black lake of his dream. Having thoughts of his granddaughter alongside a vision of deep water sent a chill through him.
When he’d acquired the hell-diver as his personal manitou so many years ago, he had thought the duck a particularly appropriate spirit guide. As a bird, it was one with the realm of the air. Spirits of the air were benevolent, more indulgent of the foibles of humans. But the hell-diver was also at home in the water, and the Ojibwa believed it acted as a messenger to the spirits of the underworld, malevolent beings that dwelled in the deep places of the world. Underground. Deep water.
No use having a spirit guide if it only picked up half the channels.
He knew what dreams of deep water meant. Something bad was coming, maybe already here. He tried to recall the dream. He had a feeling it had told him more than he remembered, which wasn’t much, beyond a sense of foreboding.
Downstairs, somebody knocked on the door to the store. He jumped. Vera stirred in the bedroom. He stood, wincing at the pain in his back. With a feeling of apprehension, he started down the stairs. Didn’t have to be a shaman to read this sign. A knock at four in the morning was never good news.
In the store, he shuffled past the new floor display of bathroom tissue. The only light came from the front windows. The thin curtain on the door window showed a silhouette wearing a familiar hat.
OPP. Ontario Provincial Police.
He stopped, putting a hand on a shelf to steady himself, knocking a tin of corn niblets to the floor. Was it Charlie? In an accident? Maybe just another fight, and they locked Charlie up until morning. But the cops wouldn’t wake Ed up for that.
The silhouette outside knocked again. He forced himself to move. What else could it be? Not Mary. She was a good kid. Never went to the bars. She’d be home safe in bed this time of night. Mary was okay. Charlie was okay.
Everybody’s okay, he told himself as he unlocked the door.
A cold draft hit him. A female constable stood outside. White, stocky. Willie Burrell. Ed knew all the cops. It was a small town, and the store had been broken into twice. Plus all those times bailing Charlie out after some brawl. Behind her, another cop leaned on a cruiser. Frank Mueller. A real prick.
Willie’s lips were pressed together into a tight line, as if she was afraid something might escape from behind them. She nodded. “Ed.”
“Willie,” Ed said, running a hand through his long grey hair. “What’s up?”
“Afraid I have some bad news.”
Don’t ask, he thought. If he didn’t ask, it hadn’t happened. As soon as he asked, as soon as he heard, then it was real. At the curb, Mueller lit a cigarette. The sudden flame caught Ed’s eye. Mueller casually flicked the match into a puddle. It hit the dirty water with a hiss, sending ripples across it that recalled the black lake of his dream.
He pulled his eyes back to Willie’s face. “What’s happened?”
“We’ve found a body. No I.D., but a native girl, we think.”
Native girl. Not Mary. No, not that. “Where?” he asked. It would be somewhere off the Rez, else the native police force would be the ones at his door.
“Near the dam lake,” Willie said. “Since you’re a council elder, we’re hoping you can identify her. Sorry.”
The dam lake. Deep water. The thought came unbidden, and the coldness inside him grew. But he just nodded. “Gimme a minute.”
Closing the door, he leaned against the wall. Native girl. Somewhere inside, he could feel something slipping away, some part of his life that wasn’t coming back, as if it were sinking beneath the surface of that dark oily lake from his dream.
Leaving a note for Vera, he dressed, put on his coat, and stepped outside.
Ed sat in the back of the cruiser, the cops in the front, Mueller driving. The dam site was about seven miles southeast of town, accessible by old logging roads and a drive of at least fifteen minutes.
They didn’t talk much. Willie seemed pretty shaken up, and Mueller never went out of his way to talk with any Ojibwa. The silence suited Ed at first, afraid to learn more of the victim, afraid it would sound like Mary.
But then the black forest flowing past the road started shifting into the dark lake in his dream, and he suddenly wanted something to take his mind off the vision. “How’d she die? This kid?” Not Mary, just some kid. Some poor other kid.
Willie paused before answering. “Animal attack by the looks of it.”
“What do you mean? Bite marks on the body?”
Mueller’s lip curled. He grinned, Ed thought. The asshole just grinned. Willie looked back. “She was eaten, Ed.”
He frowned. Animal encounters in the bush were common, but attacks were rare. Deaths even more so. “What did it look like? From the wounds. What kind of animal?”
Mueller shrugged. “What are we? The Discovery Channel? Something hungry. Not much left of the body.”
Willie looked back at Ed again, but didn’t say anything. A few minutes later, Mueller turned onto the dam road. About a mile in, he pulled over at the foot of a slope leading up to a forested ridge overlooking the dam and its lake.
“Thought the body was at the dam,” Ed said as they got out.
Willie nodded up the slope. “On the ridge.”
They started up the incline, Willie and Mueller leading the way with flashlights. Ed followed, wincing from the pain in his back whenever he missed his step in the dim moonlight.
“Who found the body?” Ed asked.
“Security guards from the dam,” Willie said. “There’d been more vandalism, and they were chasing some suspects.” Mueller snorted at the word ‘suspects.’ Willie continued. “Their dogs followed one trail but lost it. Whoever it was, they’d been heading back to the Rez. Then the guards turned the dogs loose again on another scent. Found the body in a clearing overlooking the dam.”
They reached the top of the ridge, and Ed was glad to see that Mueller seemed as winded as he was. “Any chance the dogs killed her?”
The cops glanced at each other. Mueller’s smirk disappeared. Willie shook her head. “The guards found the dogs huddled in a corner of the clearing as far from the body as they could get. Whining like they were afraid of it.”
Ed frowned. “Probably could smell whatever attacked her.”
Mueller snorted again. “These are Dobermans. Trained guard dogs. Not much those mothers are afraid of.”
But they were afraid of something, Ed thought.
Willie led them to a path into the trees, marked off with yellow police tape. Ed looked at the tape. “You’re gonna let a civilian into a crime scene?”
“The SOC officer cleared it with Forensic I.D. in the Soo,” Willie said. “Our team’s finished with the site. It’s okay.”
SOC. Scenes of Crime. Ed frowned. If the OPP Forensic Identification unit in Sault Ste. Marie had cleared access to the scene, then they’d already decided that this was an accidental death.
Ducking under the tape, they started along the path, Ed behind the cops. The path was narrow, so conversation stopped until they reached a clearing. As they stepped out of the trees, Ed caught a whiff of mushrooms, sharp and acrid, mixed with something sickly sweet. A childhood memory tickled at the back of his mind, then fled.
Four big torchlights sat on the ground in each corner of the clearing, their beams facing in. A man not in uniform knelt hunched over the body while a uniformed cop shone a flashlight onto it. They blocked any view of the corpse’s face, but the lower part of the torso was visible. Ed caught his breath.
All the clothing had been ripped off, and most of the flesh was missing from the limbs and pelvis, leaving bones shining white and red in the flashlight’s beam. He turned away. Two other cops were completing a scan of the ground in the clearing. One was Bill Thornton, a staff sergeant and the senior OPP officer in Thunder Lake. He would be the SOC officer. Thornton said something to the other cop and then walked over to them.
Thornton shook Ed’s hand. “Ed. Sorry about dragging you out here…” He kept talking, saying all the usual stuff. Ed nodded, not listening, trying not to look at the body.
The guy kneeling beside the body stood up and started to walk towards them. He was balding and wore wire-rimmed glasses and a rumpled grey suit. Ben Capshaw, the local medical examiner. The corpse’s face was visible now, but Ed didn’t look at it, telling himself to focus on Capshaw, not the body. He didn’t need to know yet.
Capshaw had a clear plastic bag in his hand. Something glinted in it, shiny and silver. Still avoiding the body, Ed’s eyes ran to the brightness in the bag. It was a necklace, big silver loops with an oval pendant attached.
A sudden cry escaped him, and he took a step back as his legs almost gave way.
“Ed?” Willie said. “You okay?”
Ignoring her, he walked slowly to the body. To where his granddaughter, his beautiful granddaughter, lay dead.
Beautiful no more. He stared at the mutilated corpse, forcing himself to look at the face. Multiple parallel slashes that looked like claw marks had ripped most of the flesh away, but he could still recognize Mary. Just as he’d recognized the necklace he’d given her for her sixteenth birthday.
His tears came, and with them, a river of memories—holding Mary when she was born—her first birthday—playing the snow dart game with her—teaching her to hunt and fish—telling her stories in the hunting lodge on long winter nights—listening with her as the moon sang across a summer night sky—helping her review before her exams—watching her grow year by year into a beautiful young woman, smart and strong.
Wiping his eyes, he straightened and turned away from the thing at his feet. That wasn’t Mary anymore. Mary was gone. She was in the Spirit World now. In the distance, the dark lake lay calm, reflecting the sinking half-moon like an obsidian mirror. His dream of deep water intruded again. Could’ve been the same time, he thought. I could’ve been having that dream when she was dying.
No. His hands clenched into fists. No. Not dying. Being killed. Something killed her. Killed his granddaughter. And he was going to find out what it was.
But he let none of this show on his face as he walked back to the waiting cops. The Ojibwa way was silent fortitude in the face of hardship. But even if his emotions rarely showed, they were still there.
“Ed?” Willie asked.
“It’s Mary,” he said, his voice low but strong. Willie gave a little gasp. “It’s my granddaughter.” He stopped. No, not it. “She is my granddaughter.” Or should he say ‘she was my granddaughter?’ What was correct here? He shook his head. Get a grip.
He pointed to the bag with the necklace. “That’s hers. On that pendant, there’s a blue heron. On the back, it says—” His words caught in his throat, and he had to look away before he could continue. “In Ojibwa, it says ‘Fly where your dreams take you’.”
“So she’s Charlie’s kid,” Mueller said, as if that explained something.
“Jesus, I’m so sorry, Ed,” Thornton said.
Ed knew he meant it. “Did it happen here?”
Capshaw nodded. “Yes, judging from the amount of blood where the, uh, the body was found. There’s no blood anywhere else.”
“Probably not more than three hours ago,” Capshaw replied. “The autopsy will confirm that, of course.”
“So she helped torch the trucks at the dam site,” Mueller muttered. “A trouble-maker like her old man.”
Ed moved towards Mueller, but Thornton stepped between them. “Shut up, Mueller,” Thornton said, his voice sharp.
Mueller glared at Thornton, but said nothing. Shooting a black look at Ed, he turned and stalked out of the clearing.
Thornton sighed. “Sorry, Ed. He’s an asshole.”
Ed didn’t answer. He watched as Capshaw closed Mary’s body bag, the sound of the zipper slicing into him like a knife.
“You want me to call Charlie and Elizabeth?” Thornton asked after a moment.
Elizabeth was Mary’s mom. “I’ll call them,” Ed said quietly, still staring at the body bag. “What killed her?”
Thornton looked surprised. “Animal attack, for sure. Pretty obvious from the state of the, uh, well, you know…”
Thornton shrugged. “Bear. Wolves, maybe.”
“Find any tracks?”
“No, but this clearing’s all rock. Capshaw’ll be able to tell us from the bite marks and any hair he finds on the, uh…that he finds.” Telling Ed again that he was sorry, Thornton left to talk to Capshaw.
Ed walked to where the clearing overlooked the dam and its captured lake. He shook his head. The dam had been bad news from the start, splitting the Ojibwa community. He and others had protested against the loss of their hunting grounds, the impact on wildlife. More had argued that the money the provincial government was offering could buy much-needed social services on the Rez. Others, like Charlie, had just wanted the money that new jobs at the site would bring.
In the end, the money had won. Money always won.
He stared at the dark lake, remembering the priests teaching the story of Noah’s Ark. That flood had been to cleanse the world of evil. Guess it’d missed a few spots, he thought. Seemed that white man floods destroyed what was good, not what was evil. The flooding here hadn’t saved the animals in pairs—it’d killed them or driven them away.
Now his Mary was gone too.
Willie walked up beside him. She squeezed his arm. “Let me take you home, Ed.”
He sighed and nodded. Turning to go, he glanced down the slope. He stopped. “Willie, give me your flashlight, will you?”
Willie handed the light to him, and he shone the beam over the ground. He’d been a hunter since he was a kid and a guide for years before he met Vera. He saw something. There. And there. “Something went down here. Not too long ago.”
Willie squinted down the hill. “How can you tell?”
“Pine needles been kicked up. They’re wet. Something turned them over recently.” He started down the hill, grabbing tree trunks for balance with his free hand, avoiding areas that had been disturbed. He almost slipped twice, his back screaming each time.
Twenty feet down, he knelt beside an impression in the ground. The smell of mushrooms, acrid and sharp, stung his nostrils again. Again, childhood memories stirred but skittered away. The ground was softer here. He carefully brushed away dead needles and leaves from the impression. When he’d uncovered it all, he stood.
Willie came up beside him. “Find something?”
He pointed with the flashlight beam.
“Holy shit,” she said.
It was a footprint. A barefoot, human footprint.
Chapter 3: The Shaman
In a dark forest glade, the shaman stared into a campfire, focusing on the vision dancing in the flames. A young woman lay dead, her body horribly mutilated. Police moved around her, looking but not seeing what was there. An old Ojibwa man stood over a footprint. He sees, the shaman thought. He sees, but won’t let himself believe.
The shaman passed a hand before the flames. The vision faded.
The voices returned. The voices never left for long now. Neither did the hunger.
Comdowtah, the voices called in Ojibwa.
“That is not my name,” the shaman replied, speaking to the air. “Comdowtah died long ago.”
You carry his spirit. It is he who drew us to you. It is he that we see when we touch you. To us, you are Comdowtah.
The shaman now called Comdowtah shrugged. “So be it.”
Beyond the fire, two dark shadows seemed to detach themselves from the blackness of the forest. They were huge and identical to each other, with the suggestion of something feline in their outlines. But Comdowtah knew that these were not cats. These were something else. The shadows drew closer. Comdowtah suppressed a shiver.
You grow concerned.
“Another killing. Just a week after the first,” Comdowtah said, eyes fixed on the two shadows, praying that they did not come any closer.
A price you pay. It is necessary. You must feed the hunger you now carry.
“Ah yes, the hunger I now carry, as I now carry you. Like an infection.”
We are an infection to you?
Comdowtah swallowed but did not answer.
The killings serve another purpose.
You must draw to you the Wolf and Boy.
“So you’ve said. But why?”
Do you want the power we promised?
“Do I have a choice anymore?”
The voices fell silent. The two shadows retreated to wherever they went. The fire died to embers, blood red on black. In the darkness, the vision of the dead girl returned.
“What have I done?” Comdowtah asked the darkness. But like the voices, the darkness did not reply.
Willie told Thornton about the print, and he called back the site team. He thanked Ed and told Willie and Mueller to take Ed home.
They were silent on the drive back. Then Ed finally spoke. “Mary didn’t make that print.”
Willie nodded. “Way too big. At least a size ten. Probably a guy.”
“But it was recent,” Ed said.
Mueller shrugged. “So there were two of them running from the guards. The guy just ran a bit faster.”
Ed’s anger rose again, but he didn’t take the bait. “Running barefoot?”
“Maybe they were making out. The guards and the dogs had followed the other trail, so Mary and her boyfriend were taking a break. Big bad wolf or something busts up the slumber party. The guy takes off and leaves her.”
“So where are his shoes?”
“Grabbed ’em when he ran.”
“Yeah, sure. First thing he’d think of. So where are the animal tracks?”
“The thing didn’t follow him. Stayed behind to have dinner.”
“Shut up, Frank,” Willie snapped. Mueller just shrugged, but he shut up.
Ed stared out the window. The sky was brightening over the trees in the east. “Something’s not right. Bear would’ve covered the body with sticks, leaves. Wolves would’ve eaten some at the kill site, but then they’d have dragged the—” He swallowed. “Dragged the rest to their cache.” Animals didn’t waste food. And that’s what Mary had been. How she’d ended her young life. As food. He caught a glimpse of the lake in the distance. His dream returned, and he shuddered.
“Cougar?” Willie offered.
Ed shook his head. “They cover their kills, too. Besides, there hasn’t been a cougar around here for a good year.” His thoughts took a sudden turn, remembering that last cougar.
“The guards said only two kids ran up the ridge,” Willie said. “And the other kid took a different path, nowhere near where we found Mary. So she was alone.”
“So who made that print?” Ed asked, as much to himself as anyone.
“Hey,” Mueller said, chuckling. “Maybe it’s like those stories you Indians have. You know, with people changin’ into animals and animals into people.”
Ed watched the dark trees flash past. He’d been thinking exactly the same thing.
It was almost 7 a.m. by the time the cops dropped Ed back home. Vera was in the store, getting ready for the day. She looked up from where she was restocking a shelf. He knew his face was as implacable as always, but it didn’t matter. She straightened, dropping a box of bran flakes, suddenly pale. “What’s happened?” she cried. Somehow, she always knew.
She broke down when he told her, and he held her in his arms as she sobbed. After a while, she stepped back, red-eyed. “Do Charlie and Elizabeth know yet?”
He shook his head. “Wanted to tell you first.”
“Ed, you gotta go. They’re going to be frantic already.”
He hesitated. “There’s something else.” He told her about finding the human footprint.
“An animal did the killing, and a person left the scene?” Her jaw clenched. “My god, that sounds like a Heroka.”
He nodded. “First thing I thought of.”
“Leiddia’s the only one of them around here now, isn’t she?”
Now. Ed didn’t miss that. “Only one I know of.”
Vera was quiet for a moment. “No,” she said finally. “No. Leiddia was Mary’s friend. She’d never have hurt her.”
Ed shook his head, trying to dislodge the memory of Mary’s body. “I don’t think so either. Besides, the footprint was way too big. Had to be a man.”
She took a deep breath and wiped her eyes again. “You should go to Charlie and Elizabeth. I’ll handle the store.”
He nodded. “Gotta get something in the back.” That was a lie, but he knew she wouldn’t agree with what he was planning. Going into their little office in the back storeroom, he sat down at their computer and typed in an email address. A picture for the contact name popped up. Dark, shaggy hair framing a lean face above a square jaw, a long straight nose splitting sharp cheekbones and black eyes. He started typing his message.
“Jesus Christ. You can’t be serious.”
He turned. Vera stood in the doorway, hands on hips. Always a bad sign. She was staring at the screen. “Gwyn Blaidd? You’re bringing him into this?”
He sat back, rubbing his face with both hands. In that moment, he felt a thousand years old. “The cops don’t give a shit about this. Just another dead Indian. They’ll bury Mary’s file along with her. They’re already calling it an animal attack. Her killer’ll go free. Maybe kill again.”
“We have a Heroka killing—”
“—so you’re going to invite another one of them to town?”
“Gwyn knows this town. And he knows Leiddia. If she is the killer—and I’m sure she isn’t—then we’ll need Gwyn to stop her. If the killer was another Heroka, we’ll need Gwyn to find them. And to protect Leiddia.”
“We’re not the only ones who know that Leiddia is Heroka. Other elders know. Hell, Charlie and Elizabeth know. When news gets out about the footprint, somebody’ll suspect her, too. Maybe try to do something about it. And then, someone else will get hurt.”
Vera broke down again. “Oh god, Ed. Our poor little Mary. Who could have done such a thing?”
Ed took her in his arms. Who…or what? he thought. That dark childhood memory from when he’d found the footprint flitted through his brain again, but slipped away. “Dunno. But we need Gwyn. Even if the cops wanted to, they couldn’t handle this. They don’t know what they’re dealing with.”
“Why would Gwyn help Leiddia? Things didn’t end well between them from what she told me.”
“I know Gwyn. He still cares for her. And he’ll help me. He’s a friend.”
“I still don’t like it,” Vera said, her face set in hard lines. “Gwyn Blaidd attracts trouble. Always did.”
“We already got trouble,” he replied. He sat down and began typing his message again.
Chapter 4: The Wolf
Gwyn Blaidd stepped out onto the broad promenade that ran the length of Cil y Blaidd, his sprawling wood and stone home that sat on a hidden wilderness lake in northern Ontario. Gelert, his huge hound and pawakan companion, followed him outside, whining at the distress he sensed in his master. Gwyn quieted the dog with a thought.
Leaning on the wooden railing, he stared down to where the mid-day sun shone bright and beautiful on the water below. Bright and beautiful. So different from the news he’d just received.
Mary dead? He couldn’t believe it. He’d known her all her life, taught her to track and hunt, gone camping with her and Ed. It’d been two years since he’d seen her. Ed and Mary had been the only ones who’d come to say goodbye the day he’d left Thunder Lake. He remembered her as warm and caring, smart and confident, with a self-deprecating wit and quick smile. Ed had written not long ago that she was starting at U of T this fall.
Now she was dead. Just eighteen. He shook his head. Too short a life, even for a human. Killed in what the cops were calling an animal attack. But Ed suspected something quite different.
A Heroka killing? Leiddia was the only Heroka in that area—at least that he knew of. But she’d been one of Mary’s closest friends. She could never have killed Mary. Hell, she could never kill anyone. Leiddia had a temper, for sure, but he could never imagine her killing someone.
Or eating them.
Leiddia. Two years together, and now two years apart. He tried to remember how she looked on the day they’d said goodbye, but her face kept morphing into Stelle’s.
Which encapsulated perfectly what had been the problem in their relationship. He’d loved Leiddia. Maybe still did. But he had still loved Stelle, too.
Maybe still did.
When it had ended between him and Leiddia, he’d told himself that they’d met too soon after Stelle had died. Leiddia had a simpler explanation—that he loved a dead woman more than he loved her. He wasn’t sure she was wrong.
They had not parted friends. And now Ed was asking him to come back to save her.
He hadn’t left Cil y Blaidd for those two years. He thought of Ed and Mary, of Leiddia, of all he’d left behind in Thunder Lake. He looked around. He’d built this place twenty years ago as his occasional retreat from civilization. But it had now become his permanent home. Or had his act of retreat become permanent?
He pushed that thought away. Ed had no right to ask him to come back. Heroka didn’t kill innocent people like Mary. This couldn’t be a Heroka killing. The police could handle it. And Leiddia had made it more than clear that she never wanted to see him again. She was a big girl. She was a Heroka. Predator class. She could take care of herself. She didn’t need him. She didn’t want him.
Turning his back on the lake, with Gelert trailing after him, he went back inside, into the main living area of his home, a large high-ceilinged room with oak floors, scatter rugs, and lots of couches and chairs. A stone fireplace flanked by bookcases filled one wall, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the lake. A notebook computer attached to a satellite internet link sat on a desk near the windows.
He sat down at the computer and sent Ed his reply. It was simple. It was short.
Sorry, but no.
Gelert raised his great head from where he was lying beside Gwyn’s chair and whined.
Gwyn glared down at him. “Shaddup. They don’t need my help,” he said. And she wouldn’t want it, he thought, still trying to convince himself.
He was still brooding over his decision later that day when the sound of a plane brought him outside again. Staying out of sight, he searched the sky until he found it. The plane dropped lower, and he relaxed as he recognized its markings. The plane belonged to Michel Ducharmes, the current head of the Circle of the Heroka and the only other person who knew the location of Cil y Blaidd.
He shook his head. Mitch was a friend, but he wouldn’t have flown hundreds of miles for a social call. He would have a problem, one he’d want Gwyn to help solve. He thought about Ed’s email. Got enough problems right now, old friend.
The plane did a circuit of the lake before landing, scanning for any sunken logs that could rip a pontoon open. It pulled up to a dock hidden from above by arching willow branches, alongside Gwyn’s own single propeller de Havilland Turbo Beaver. A huge man, his hair and beard a mass of red curls, climbed out onto the dock and began to tie up the plane. Mitch.
Gwyn straightened as a second person emerged from the plane. Much smaller, with a slim female figure and spiky black hair that did not ring any memory bells.
Swearing silently, he headed out of the house and down the path to the dock, Gelert loping behind him. Why the hell would Mitch bring a stranger to Cil y Blaidd?
Mitch looked up as Gwyn stepped onto the dock. Gelert, tail wagging, bounded forward to greet the big man. Mitch patted the dog, and then, with a nervous glance at the girl, gave Gwyn a broad grin and stepped forward, arms out.
They embraced, and Gwyn stepped back. “You’ve brought a guest,” he said, glaring at Mitch, then turning to the girl.
She looked to be somewhere in her mid-teens. She wore torn black jeans and an unzipped black hoodie over a wrinkled t-shirt proclaiming the band Metric. Up close, he could see that her spiked hair was dark blue, not black. Two silver rings pierced her right eyebrow, and she had a stud in her right nostril. A large grey rat perched on her left shoulder.
A familiar aura tinged her outline—the Mark of the Heroka, visible only to another Heroka. He focused on her aura, and the image of a brown muskrat superimposed itself on the girl for a second. Rodent clan, which he’d already assumed from the rat—her pawakan, no doubt.
The girl was smoking a cigarette and staring at her cell phone.
Mitch cleared his throat. “Gwyn, this is Cassandra Meadows. Goes by Caz. Caz, this is Gwyn Blaidd, an old friend.”
Gwyn put out his hand, but the girl kept staring at her phone. “No signal,” she said. “How…rustic.”
Shooting Mitch a look, he dropped his hand and forced a smile. “Welcome to Cil y Blaidd.”
The girl looked up at him then. She had big grey-blue eyes framed by too much eyeliner. She took a drag on her cigarette. “Silly Blade? Weird name.” The rat twitched its whiskers at him.
He took a breath. “Seel ee Blah-heed. It’s Welsh. It means Lair of the Wolf.”
“So why don’t you just call it that? Or, you know…house?”
Mitch covered a grin with a hand, while Gwyn bit back a retort. “Let me show you to the…house.”
Caz looked up at the sprawling structure perched on the rock face above them. “Wow. You can’t even see that from the air.”
“I like my privacy,” he said, glaring at Mitch, who ignored him.
“Kinda creepy, you ask me,” she said.
Nobody did, kid, he thought. At least they weren’t staying.
He led the way up steps carved from the cliff face. Pines grew thick at the top, but a cleared path led into the trees and then followed the cliff edge.
Caz stopped suddenly, taking a step back and staring into the forest. “Uh, what are those?”
Two great stags emerged from the woods, their antlers barely missing trees on either side. The stags turned back to the bush, lowering their heads toward three gray shapes hovering behind them in the shadows.
“Looks like my totem feels I need protection from your troops,” Mitch said with a grin.
Three large timber wolves stepped from the trees, keeping their distance from the stags. Gelert wagged his tail, but the wolves ignored him, focusing on the stags, Caz, and Mitch.
“That’s Magula and some of his pack. They guard Cil y Blaidd for me,” Gwyn explained.
“Wonderful. Predators,” Caz muttered, slipping her rat into the pouch of her hoodie.
“Magula, take off. You should know Mitch by now,” Gwyn said. The largest wolf stared at Gwyn for a breath, gave the newcomers a final appraisal, and then led the other two back into the forest. A moment later, the stags retreated as well.
Gwyn turned back to the trail, then stopped as he caught the sound of another plane. Staying hidden, he stepped to the edge of the trees and looked up at the sky. A familiar yellow sea plane with black markings was passing over the lake.
“Trouble?” Mitch asked.
Gwyn shook his head. “The Ministry of Natural Resources plane. Usually see it about once a month. It’s early this time.” By at least a week, he thought, then forgot about it as the plane disappeared up the lake.
They emerged from the forest path onto a graveled walkway leading to huge oaken doors set in the stone front of the house. Gwyn pushed open the doors and invited his guests inside.
Corridors ran off the entranceway into the two wings of the house. His bedroom lay in one wing, guest bedrooms and unused rooms in the other. A half-flight broad oak staircase led down into the large high-ceilinged main room.
Caz’s gaze fell on Gwyn’s computer on the desk. “Holy shit, technology. I don’t believe it.” She turned to Gwyn. “You got internet?”
She moved towards the desk. “I’m gonna check my Facebook, okay?”
“No,” Gwyn said, stepping in front of her. “Definitely not okay.”
She glared up at him. “Why the fuck not?”
“Because I said so.”
“God, what is your problem?” she said, taking a step back.
Before he could reply, Mitch cleared his throat. “Uh, Caz, why don’t you go for a walk while Gwyn and I discuss business? Won’t be long.”
“A walk? Outside? With the wolves? Yeah, right,” she said. “I don’t suppose he’s got TV?” When Gwyn just glared, she shrugged. “Figures. I’ll wait on the dock.” With that, she pulled out some earbud headphones and headed to the door.
When she was gone, he turned to Mitch, but Mitch raised his hands before he could speak. “Okay, okay. Take it easy. I can explain.”
“It’d better be good. Want a drink?”
Mitch smiled. “About time. Scotch. Neat, please.” Mitch settled his bulk into an oversized leather chair while Gwyn poured them both drinks. He handed a glass to Mitch and took a seat across from him. Mitch took a sip. “Nice. The Macallan? Eighteen year?”
“Twelve. Think I’d waste the good shit on you?”
“So talk. Start with why you’d bring a stranger here. Especially her.”
Mitch chuckled. “She’ll grow on you over time.”
“I’m not planning to give her the chance.”
Mitch’s smile faded. “Her parents are dead.”
“Oh.” Shit, he thought, wishing he could rewind his introduction to Caz. “Sorry. Recent?”
“Just after she was born. Two of the first ones we lost to the Tainchel. Older brother, too.”
Gwyn frowned. Caz Meadows. Meadows. He knew that name. “Not Peter and Selma?”
Mitch nodded. “Jeremy, too.”
“Their son. Yeah, I remember now. They did have a daughter. Younger than Jeremy,” he said, thinking back. “Must have been hell for her.”
He and Stelle had still been together at the time. Back then, he ran security for the Circle in the northeast, which had mostly amounted to ensuring that the Heroka remained nothing more than creatures of legend. Shapeshifters. Werebeasts. Things from fairy tales. Things that no rational person would believe in.
Then came the Tainchel, a covert operation of the federal intelligence agency CSIS, formed, as they later learned, with the single goal of tracking down and capturing the Heroka. For scientific testing. Testing that the Heroka subjects generally didn’t survive.
Tainchel. Old Scottish term: armed men advancing in a line through a forest to flush out and kill wolves.
The Tainchel developed specialized scanners from tests on early victims. Subtle differences in alpha wave patterns, infrared readings, and metabolic rates gave the Heroka away, even in crowded cities. Several Heroka, like Caz’s family, disappeared before the Circle caught on.
But we did catch on, he thought. Eventually. And then things had changed. Including between him and Estelle.
“So who raised her?” he asked, pushing away dark memories.
Mitch sighed. “It’s more like who hasn’t. She’s had several foster homes, some with us, but mostly with humans who are sympathetic to us. She’s…challenging.”
“Gee, you think? So why—” He stopped suddenly as he felt contact with a wolf nearby. The mental touch had been brief, but long enough to know that the wolf was strange to the area, part of an intruder pack, not Magula’s. He’d sensed alertness, even alarm, in the animal. He reached with his mind trying to re-establish contact, but with no success. He repeated the process with Magula and his pack, searching for any sense of danger from the guardians of Cil y Blaidd, but found no signs of concern there.
He shook his head. If a new pack had wandered into Magula’s territory, he had probably detected the intruders’ fear of confrontation with the resident pack. “False alarm. So again, why is she here?”
“I’m her trustee. I arrange her foster care, and right now, she doesn’t have any. So for now, I’m it.”
“Her last foster parents kick her out?”
Mitch studied his drink. “They were killed.”
Gwyn stared at him. “Explain, please.”
“Cops called it a botched home invasion. Both her foster parents were shot. House was ransacked. Jewellery, cash, electronics taken.”
“But the cops don’t know the whole story.”
“Doorbell rings late at night. Four masked men force their way in. Demand to know where Caz is.”
Gwyn swallowed as the old Tainchel chill ran down his spine. “And where was she?”
“Upstairs in her room. She hears all this and figures these guys are cops.”
“She’s got a record of petty felonies. And she’d done some shoplifting that day. Like I said, she’s challenging. Anyway, she figures it’s about that, so she slips out her window and takes off. Hard to stop one of the rodent clan at night. Comes back later to find her foster parents dead. She called me then.”
“Shit,” Gwyn said, shaking his head. “But if they weren’t cops, who the hell were they? And why were they looking for her?”
“I have a theory.”
“I have a source inside CSIS,” Mitch said. He looked at Gwyn. “He thinks that someone’s resurrected the Tainchel.”
Gwyn swore, any thoughts of the contact with the wolf suddenly forgotten. “Within CSIS again?”
Mitch shook his head. “My contact doesn’t know, and he’s pretty high up. They may have people there. Within the federal government, for sure.”
“So you think this was a botched abduction of a Heroka.”
“Have you told Caz that theory?”
“No. She’s feeling guilty enough about their deaths as it is. And with the Tainchel killing her parents…” He spread his hands.
Gwyn stared at Mitch. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You’re trying to recruit me again, aren’t you? Bring me back to fight the Tainchel.”
Mitch shook his head. “Actually, old friend, I would expect no more success in bringing you out of seclusion this time than I’ve had in any of my attempts over the past two years.”
Gwyn winced. “So why are you here?”
“I’m hoping to put your isolation to good use. If Caz has been targeted by the Tainchel, then I need somewhere safe to leave her until I can—”
“—until I can find a more permanent arrangement for her.”
“You’re kidding, right? You want me to play babysitter to that anti-social little—”
“Excuse me? You are calling her anti-social? She’s not the one playing hermit.”
“Don’t start on that again. I—”
The pain from the first bullet dropped Gwyn to his knees. The next two shots came in quick succession.
“Gwyn! What’s wrong?” Mitch cried, running to his side.
Though the wolves were miles away from him when it happened, Gwyn felt their deaths immediately. Felt each bullet shatter their bones and rip through their organs. Felt it as if he’d been shot himself. Felt them die, one after another. He slumped to the floor, weak and shaking, as he felt the life force of the wolves drain away, draining part of his own strength as well. Gelert appeared, whining and nuzzling his face, sensing his master’s distress.
“Gwyn?” Mitch asked, kneeling beside him.
“Hunters,” he managed to gasp. “Somebody’s hunting wolves.”
# end of excerpt #
THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD will be published this summer (estimated late August). You can pre-order your copy of the ebook or print editions by visiting Doug’s website store at the links shown below. As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, use the promotion code “AMAZING_WOLF” at checkout to receive a 15% discount on your pre-order.
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THE WOLF AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a sequel to Doug’s award winning novelette, “Spirit Dance,” where we first met Gwyn, Leiddia, Ed, and the Tainchel. You can also pick up “Spirit Dance” from Doug’s website as an ebook in all popular formats.