Read an Excerpt
Wilderness #49: Wolverine
By David Thompson
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
The female's nose twitched. From out of the valley wafted
scents new to her.
Tantalizing scents that brought her to a halt and brought her
head up into the wind.
Behind her, her five offspring also stopped, and sniffed as
she was sniffing. They imitated everything she did. It was
how they learned. It was how they survived
in a world that would, if they were not wary, end their young
lives as abruptly and mercilessly as they ended the lives of
so many other creatures.
Spurred by curiosity and an empty belly, the female grunted
and headed down a timbered slope toward the valley floor. She
moved with the shuffling gait of all her kind, her hairy body
flowing over the ground with an ease and economy of movement
that belied her bulk.
She was big, this female. Over five feet from the tip of her
nose to the tip of her bushy tail. She weighed over fifty
pounds, which was more than most females, yet less than the
huge male she had mated with. Her dark eyes gleamed with
vitality and intelligence. Her teeth were razors, her curved
claws could rend flesh and bone as if they were clay. She was
in the prime of her life and her power, the queen of her vast
Of all the animals in the wild, her kind were the most
fearless. The female had never knowna moment of fright her
whole life. She was afraid of nothing, not the giant bears
she occasionally ran into nor the big cats that were wont to
dispute her passage or the wolves that tried to steal her
caches. It was always she who sent them running. For sheer,
unbridled ferocity, she had no equal. Only others like her
could match her, and only the huge male could best her.
Fearlessly she lived, fearlessly she now descended toward the
strange scents and equally strange lights at several points
along the shore of the lake at the center of the valley.
The female had not been down to the lake in two winters. She
had no need. Her thirst was slaked by various streams that
meandered from the snowy heights to feed the lake. Prey was
plentiful year-round. The fastness of the high forests were
her usual haunts, not the more open ground below.
She came to a rock outcropping and stepped to the edge.
Silhouetted against the stars, she raised her head and
sniffed. The scents were stronger. Scents of animals she had
never smelled. Scents of animals that could fill her empty
belly and the empty bellies of her five shadows.
She glanced back at them. Like her, they were nearly
invisible in the night. Their eyesight was not exceptional,
not like their sense of smell and their keen ears, but still
they were used to the dark, and she could see them as clearly
as if the sun were up. Two were males, three were females.
They had been with her almost two years. Soon she must drive
them away and they would go find domains of their own, leaving
her free to mate with the huge male and give birth to more
young in the perpetual cycle by which she lived.
These five were her sixth litter. They had grown at a
remarkable rate, so much so, the biggest male and the biggest
female were almost as big as she. Keeping them fed was a
challenge. She was always on the go, always on the lookout
for something to eat. It helped that her kind would eat
anything, from roots and berries and eggs to any animal they
Some creatures, like the big cats, were faster, and some, like
the elk, were many times larger, yet none, not even the
cleverest of foxes or the most wily of coyotes, could surpass
her kind in raw cunning.
Ferocity and cunning. Along with tenacity, they defined all
that she and those like her were. She lived to kill. In all
the mountains, in all the wilderness, her kind were the most
efficient slayers to be found. Most other creatures fled at
the merest whiff of her musk.
Accustomed as she was to always inspiring fear in others, and
never having felt it, herself, it did not occur to the female
that the strange lights and the strange scents presented any
danger to her or her brood. The lights and scents were new,
they were different, they should be investigated, as would any
potential source of food.
Still, when the female came to the valley floor, she slowed
and stalked warily forward. New sounds reached her keen ears.
Puzzling sounds she could not explain. Sounds so alien, they
raised the hackles on her neck and filled her with an
Where once the shore of the lake had been flat and bare, there
now stood three giant piles of logs. They reminded the female
of the mounds beaver lived in, only these were many times
larger and had sharp angles. One was at the west end of the
lake, another midway along the south shore, the third midway
along the north. Their purpose eluded her. The light came
from glowing squares lit with a radiance unlike the pale gleam
of the moon or starlight.
From inside the nearest pile of wood came a peculiar
chattering. The female could not compare it to anything in
her experience. It was like the chatter of chipmunks, only
fuller and louder and punctuated now and again by high brittle
squeals. Something was in there. Something alive.
At the moment, though, the female was more interested in a
number of large creatures that milled about to one side of the
nearest log den. She slunk closer and realized they were
hemmed by slim logs laid end to end, with gaps between. The
creatures were somewhat like elk in their general shape and as
high as elk at the shoulder, but these had long flowing hair
on their necks, which elk did not have, and long flowing
tails, and the sounds they made were not sounds elk made.
Still, they were prey, and the female stalked toward them with
her body slung low to the ground.
Suddenly light spilled from the pile of logs. A large hole
had opened, a rectangle ablaze like the sun, and out strode
one of the noisy creatures from inside, holding a long stick.
The creature moved to where the elk-like animals were milling
about and made a series of sounds that calmed them. Then the
creature turned and stared in the direction of the female and
The female was not concerned. She was too far from the light
for the new creature to see her. She noted how it came slowly
forward and raised the long stick, and she sensed a
significance to the long stick that was beyond her ken. She
also sensed one of her brood stir, and she hissed so only he
heard and knew to stay where he was or suffer her wrath.
The strange one stopped. The female was tempted to attack but
just then another of the strange creatures came out of the log
den. This one was shorter and slender and had long flowing
hair, like the tails of the elk-like animals. It, too,
carried a long stick, and it made a noise that caused the
first one to turn and walk over to it.
Then a third creature emerged, the smallest yet, with flowing
hair like the second. The three of them made many sounds
until the large one motioned and all three went back inside
the pile of logs and the rectangle of light blinked out.
Bewilderment gripped the female. This was alien, and oddly
disturbing. She started to turn to lead her offspring back up
into the high country. She froze when yet another new scent
reached her quivering nostrils. It came from a smaller pile
of logs situated a short distance away. It was a bird scent,
but birds unlike any with which the female was familiar.
She crept closer. From within came soft clucks and the
flapping of wings. She sniffed and scratched at one of the
logs, and the clucking grew louder. The birds had heard her,
and were scared.
The female circled the logs, seeking a way in. A recessed
hole held promise but it was blocked by a flat piece of wood.
She pressed against it but it would not budge, so she used her
claws. The birds uttered frightened squawks.
Maybe it was the racket they made. Or maybe it was the
stomping of the elk-like animals that brought the largest of
the strange creatures back outside, this time holding a long
stick in one hand and a glowing object in the other.
Light spread across the grass toward the female. In three
bounds she darted around the small pile of logs and was
crouched in deep darkness beside her young ones. The strange
creature came closer. The light brightened but it did not
touch the female or her shadows. The strange creature bent
toward the pile, then straightened and raised the glowing
object on high. The female girded to attack, but the strange
creature retraced its steps to the rectangle of light and the
light went out.
A pang in the female's belly galvanized her into going around
the side of the logs and renewing her assault on the flat
piece of wood. She liked juicy bird meat, whether it was duck
or the succulent geese that came to the valley twice a year,
or the occasional grouse.
Her claws did their work. The wood came away in bits and
pieces. Within moments she had gouged a slit, and through it
came the bird scent, strong as could be. In her famished
state it was enough to drive the female into a frenzy. She
threw herself at the barrier as if she had gone amok, her
teeth and claws digging deep. Slivers flew every which way.
One pierced her paw but she did not stop. It was a trifling
discomfort. She could endure worse.
One of her young growled. She did not think to wonder why,
and the next moment light washed over her. Belatedly, she
realized what that meant, and whirled.
Thunder boomed. Something struck a log next to her with a
loud thwack, and an acrid odor assailed her.
Two of the strange creatures had come outside, the large one
and the slender one with flowing hair. Wisps of smoke rose
from the end of the long stick held by the creature with the
The female screeched a challenge and flung herself at them.
Quick as she was, the large strange creature was quicker. It
raised its long stick, and again the female heard a clap like
thunder. Simultaneously, a tremendous blow nearly buckled her
forelegs out from under her. She recovered her balance but
instead of charging she spun and loped into the night.
Instinct propelled her. The instinct to stay alive. She was
hurt, badly hurt. Her insides churned, and she felt hot and
wet and uncommonly weak. She had to concentrate to keep her
legs moving. Her body wanted to lie down and rest.
Dimly, the female was conscious of the patter of her young.
She heard a bellow from the large strange creature, and
another clap of thunder, but she was spared another of those
The female ran until she came to the base of a wooded slope.
Plunging into the vegetation, she stopped to check on her
brood. They were all there.
A commotion broke out along the lake but she paid it no heed.
She was in too much pain to care. She was bleeding, and her
left foreleg and much of her front was soaked. The blood
flowed from a hole about the size of a large acorn. She
licked it and tasted the salty tang she so loved. But this
was her life's blood, not that of prey.
She climbed rapidly toward the high forest, and her den.
There she would be safe.
An unusual urgency gripped her. An overpowering need, like
the need she felt when it was time to mate, or the need she
always felt to secret herself when it was time to give birth.
Her young ones followed, as they always did. The scent of her
blood agitated them and they made more noise than they
ordinarily would. The biggest of the males would not stop
growling. Normally she would silence him but now she needed
all her strength and focus to keep moving.
Queasiness came over her. Bitter bile rose in her gorge but
the female swallowed it and kept on climbing. She thought
only of her den, her haven, the sanctuary where she had raised
her litters. She must get there, and get there quickly, and
nothing must stand in her way.
Presently, though, the female found it hard to breathe. Her
lungs strained for air. In great gulps she sought to fill
them. But gradually her limbs grew numb. She lost all
feeling except for the pain. The bleeding had stopped but she
suffered bouts where her mind spun, relieved by periods of
Dimly, the female perceived that her offspring were on either
side of her and not behind her as they should be. The largest
of the females nudged her and whined deep in her throat. They
were confused by the blood and her weakness, and did not know
what to do.
She was only halfway to the high country when her strength,
once so prodigious, gave out. Her stamina, once without
limit, dwindled to nothing. She was empty inside, empty and
cold and exhausted. For another dozen yards she staggered on,
spurred by a spark in the wellspring of her being. Then her
legs gave out and she collapsed in an exhausted sprawl.
Excerpted from Wilderness #49: Wolverine
by David Thompson
Copyright © 2006 by David Thompson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.