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What is that?" Tom Gorman wondered as he looked across the field at the distant animal loping in his direction. He paused briefly and put down the heavy box he had lifted off the truck. Tom had the perfect eyesight of a trained marksman, and he knew from a half a mile away that this animal was big. The approaching shape was much too big for a coyote. His wife, Ellen, joined him, an unspoken question in her eyes. Tom briefly nodded his head in the direction of the animal and she too began to look puzzled. The thing was about four hundred yards away, and the closer it got the bigger it looked. "Wolf?" murmured Ellen. Ed Gorman, Tom's father, joined them.
The beast was gray, and even from three hundred yards they could see that its pelt was wet from running through the wet grass. The animal loped gracefully in a series of S turns and stopped about fifty yards away from the family. This was very bizarre behavior for a wolf. But this wolf was almost three times as big as any Tom had ever seen. It gazed peacefully at the family. Ellen shifted uneasily and glanced around to see where her two children were. Both were standing in silence on the top of the flatbed truck, looking right at the wolf. "Maybe its somebody's pet," ventured Ed.
The animal began walking casually toward the family, unconcerned but obviously determined to make some kind of contact. It appeared completely tame. Tom glanced at the corral seventy feet to his right where he had just unloaded several of his prize Angus calves. They were the first of his herd to be on the property, and briefly he wondered about the wisdom of bringing them onto the land. One calf, more curious than the rest, stood with its head through the bars of the corral, looking directly at the wolf that was now only a hundred feet away. The other animals were at the back of the corral, and they shifted nervously at the strong scent in the air.
From ten feet away, the smell of rain on dog pelt filled the air as the animal trotted peacefully up to Ed Gorman. Ed, like his son, stood over six feet tall, and the wolf reached almost to his chest. Massive muscles rippled beneath its shiny gray-silver coat. The eyes were a shocking shade of light blue that penetrated the soul. Ed reached down and petted the huge beast as it stood looking at the family. Tom felt a tightening in his gut. Something was not quite right. Even somebody's pet wolf would not be this completely tame. A two-hundred-pound wolf exuding a Zen-like calm? Something did not compute.
The animal walked nonchalantly around in front of the family, and Ellen and Ed began to relax. Ellen turned around and yelled to the kids to come over. Tad and Kate Gorman jumped from the flatbed and ran over. The family began talking all at once. Tad suggested they try to keep the wolf as a pet.
Too late, they saw the swift, graceful bound that took the wolf to the bars of the corral. With unbelievable speed, the young calf's head was trapped in the animal's powerful jaws. The movement had been lightning fast, and the family stood paralyzed with fear. The three-hundred-pound calf bleated pitifully as the wolf tried to drag it through the bars of the corral. Tom sprang into action, ran across, and landed two powerful kicks into the ribs of the wolf. Ed followed and grabbed a stout baseball bat he had just unloaded. With all of his considerable strength, Ed beat on the wolf's back as it braced against the bars of the corral trying to drag the hapless calf through it. The bleats were getting more urgent as the viselike lock on the calf's snout tightened.
"Get my Magnum," Tom barked as he aimed more kicks at the wolf's ribs. Even as the sickening thud of Tom's heavy boots rained into the animal's abdomen, the beast seemed unconcerned. Tad ran to the flatbed, retrieved a powerful handgun, and quickly delivered it to his father. Gorman took aim and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang across the field and slammed into the wolf's ribs. The slug from the .357 had no effect whatsoever on the attacking animal. It didn't yelp, didn't pause, and didn't bleed. Quickly, Tom pumped two more shots into the wolf's upper abdomen. On the third shot, the wolf slowly and reluctantly released the bleating calf. The calf scampered quickly to the back of the corral and, still bleating, lay down. It was bleeding heavily from the head.
The huge beast stood about ten feet away from Tom but displayed no signs of discomfort. Tom couldn't believe it. Three shots from a Magnum should have killed the animal or at least very badly injured it. Not a sound came from the wolf as it gazed unconcernedly at Gorman. The chilling, hypnotic blue eyes looked straight at him. Gorman raised the Magnum again and, aiming carefully, shot the animal near the heart. It backed off maybe thirty feet, still facing the family and still showing no signs of distress.
A chill crept over Tom. The family drew closer together. They were all more than familiar with the power of the Colt Magnum. They had seen firsthand the devastation it causes, yet this huge wolf was not even making a sound after being shot four times at point-blank range. There were no signs of blood on the beast. It seemed peaceful but glanced back at the calf in the corral as if pondering the wisdom of another attack.
"Get the thirty aught six," Tom said through clenched teeth, never taking his eyes off the huge beast. Tad ran to the homestead and returned in seconds bearing the heavy firearm. Tom had killed dozens of elk from over two hundred yards with this weapon. As he took aim at the wolf a mere forty feet away, he momentarily felt pity for the beast. The thunderous shot rang out. The sound of the bullet hitting flesh and bone near the shoulder was unmistakable. The wolf recoiled but stood calmly looking at Tom. His mouth went dry. He felt a cold sweat running down his back. Ellen began to cry. Ed began to curse softly under his breath, shaking his head in disbelief. The wolf should be a silent, bleeding pile of dead flesh. Instead, it had recoiled, backed off maybe ten feet, but still seemed perfectly healthy.
Tom took a deep breath and raised the weapon again, aiming for the huge chest cavity. The bullet ripped through the animal, and a sizable chunk of flesh detached from the exit wound and lay on the grass. Still the wolf made no sound. Then, with a last unhurried look at the stunned family, the wolf turned slowly and began to trot away across the grass. Tears of fear streamed down Ellen's face as she hugged her twelve-year-old daughter.
Tom's face was white and there was strain in his voice as he turned toward his family. "Let's keep calm," he muttered hoarsely but didn't sound very convincing. "I'm going after it." The animal was now almost a hundred yards away, trotting west across the field in the direction of a dense group of cottonwoods. Beyond the cottonwoods lay a roaring creek. Tad grabbed the Magnum and Tom hefted the thirty aught, and the family watched as they sprinted off in the same direction as the wolf. The animal was only trotting but was covering ground quickly.
Anger and fear pulsed through Tom as he pushed himself to run quicker. He was already out of breath, but they were gaining on the wolf. They could see the animal disappearing into the belt of cottonwoods and then reappear in the open ground beyond. It stopped, momentarily shaking itself free of the moisture from the grass before heading for the creek. Tad ran silently, feeling how upset his father was but concentrating on keeping the wolf in his sight. The wolf seemed to be accelerating. It was now almost three hundred yards ahead of them and still loping easily as it reached a denser patch of Russian olive trees that bordered the creek.
As they ran, Tom noticed that the tracks of the animal were easily visible in the wet ground. Gorman was an experienced tracker and he was confident that they could track the animal even in the thick Russian olives. His sharp eyes spotted the silvery-gray blur as the animal disappeared into the tree line. Minutes later, Tom and Tad ran into the line of trees following the giant animal's tracks. In some places it had left inch-deep impressions in the soft ground. There was no evidence of blood on or between the huge footprints.
Tom couldn't shake the fear he felt as he brushed through the tightly woven undergrowth. His pace had slowed because the large trees were interwoven with thorny brambles and weeds. The tracks were still visible. As they approached the creek, they could hear the water gurgling as it cascaded merrily over the rocks.
They broke cover near the bank of the creek and Tom held up his hand. Tad stopped and the two listened carefully. They heard no sound of an animal crashing through the undergrowth. The huge paw marks periodically meandered in and out of the surrounding vegetation but consistently shadowed the direction of the creek. Tom guessed they had run about a mile.
Several minutes later the two broke through into the open about forty yards from the river. They breathed a sigh of relief. It was hard going, stumbling through the trees, making sure the head-high thorns and bushes didn't take a toll on their skin and their faces. Suddenly, Tom stopped breathing. He grabbed Tad's arm and pointed. The wolf tracks were directly in front of them, as plain as day, as they headed toward the creek. About twenty-five yards from the river, the prints entered a muddy patch, and it appeared as if the two-hundred-pound animal had sunk almost two inches into the mud. The deep paw prints continued for another five yards and then stopped. The tracks simply vanished. So did the wolf. Gone. There was no possibility that the animal had leaped the intervening sixty feet to land in the river. The tracks just stopped abruptly.
The Gormans walked slowly and carefully, looking at the perfectly formed tracks in the thick mud and trying to see any change that might explain the sudden disappearance. Around where the tracks halted, the ground appeared about as soft as the mud patch. It was as if the animal had vanished into thin air. Tom looked at his son, and he could see that the teenager was white faced and trembling, close to tears. Tom felt stunned. He couldn't reassure his son, because he just didn't have an explanation. "We'd best be getting back," he said hoarsely. "It's near sundown." Tad nodded dumbly, fighting to keep his father from seeing how scared he was.
They were silent as they trudged the miles back to the homestead. Thoughts raced through Tom's head. The family had just moved from New Mexico to get away from the busybodies and the closed community that kept prying into their lives. They had looked in Utah because property prices were right. In this out-of-the-way place, tucked away in northeast Utah, they had found their dream property -- a 480-acre homestead that had been empty for almost seven years. The elderly previous owners had virtually abandoned it. The owners were a prosperous family who now resided in Salt Lake City, and they visited their property a couple of times a year to make sure the fence lines were intact. They were willing to unload the property to the Gormans at a very fair price. The family knew that about a year of hard work would be required to fix it up. High ridges bound the acreage to the north, the flowing creek to the south, and extensive fencing to the west. The homestead was hidden about a mile from the nearest road, down a dirt track that was almost concealed. In short, it was a perfect refuge for a family that yearned for privacy and a home where they could relax and put down roots. The Gormans were happy to trade a small-town life in New Mexico for a new start in a Mormon community in rural Utah. Like most of their new neighbors, the Gormans were members of the LDS church, although they could not be considered devout.
As they trudged through the deep undergrowth, Tom couldn't shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong. Had they made a mistake in buying this place? Thoughts tumbled through his mind, causing his gut to tighten even more. He knew something had happened today that everyone knew was physically impossible. And it had occurred in daylight and in full view.
Quickly, Tom came to a decision as he stood facing his family. He was not going to second-guess their decision to move from New Mexico. "Look, son," he said to Tad. "I can't explain what happened and I am not even going to try. Let's just forget that this ever happened and have a meal in town."
Tad just grinned weakly, relieved at least that his father was taking charge.
Copyright © 2005 by Colm Kelleher, PhD, and George Knapp