Abandoned as a child, Gruff is taken in and raised by a Wolfmother. She teaches him to survive in the wild—and to be wary of the Legwalkers.
When a chance encounter brings Gruff near humans again, he wants to know more about this world to which he no longer belongs. But as he soon discovers, he doesn’t really fit in with the wolves either. As Gruff feels his body change into that of a monster—and hears the evil call coming from others like him—he knows it’s time to face the terrible truth about himself.
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About the Author
Lynn Harnett, who was married to Rodman Philbrick, passed away in 2012. She was a talented journalist, editor, and book reviewer, and she had a real knack for concocting scary stories that make the reader want to laugh, shriek with fear, and then turn the page to find out what happens next.
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The Werewolf Chronicles, Book One
By Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
All rights reserved.
The day my life changed forever I was feeling sorry for myself.
There I was lying on my back in the clearing outside our den, letting the two cubs tumble over me. Leaper and Snapjaw nipped at each other, making happy little growling noises in their throats as I rubbed their fur.
I loved the cubs, but it wasn't fair that I had to stay near the den while the rest of the family went hunting. They hadn't left me behind because I was such a great cub-sitter. No. The other wolves thought I was a useless hunter.
Slow, weak, and useless, like the cubs I was minding.
I was about twelve years old and I'd been with the pack for almost nine winters, near as I could recall. And still I had to rely on the other wolves to get me food. But how did they expect me to learn how to hunt if they left me behind every time?
"Gruff!" barked Leaper. "Gruff! Gruff!"
Gruff, that's me. Wolfmother named me for the first sound that came out of my mouth, and now little Leaper was trying to get my attention. I growled and she backed off, puzzled, and began to whine.
Sighing, I longed to be out in the woods with my throwing stick. I was getting so good I could knock a leaf off a tree. Any day now I'd actually hit something we could eat. That would show them!
For some reason I was jumpy and more moody and I couldn't concentrate on anything for more than a minute.
Did I have some kind of premonition—a feeling about what was going to happen? Maybe even then, before the Change came, something inside me was stirring, trying to get out.
That's what I got for not paying attention. Leaper had gotten overexcited and buried her teeth in the base of my thumb. She didn't break the skin—she knew better than that—but those sharp baby teeth still hurt.
I shook my injured fist in her face and she quickly backed off. Crouching low to the ground, the little cub rolled to show me her belly. That was her way of apologizing.
Naturally my heart melted like snow in the sun. I reached over to scratch her belly, burying my hand in the thick soft fur. She wriggled in the dirt and growled contentedly while I looked around for Snapjaw.
Snapjaw—he had a bad habit of biting everything in sight, although nobody but me seemed to think it was a bad habit—was sitting on his haunches with his head thrown back. His little black nose was twitching like crazy. He was sniffing at the air as if he could taste it.
Which he probably could. He had an awesome nose. It was hard to keep him near the den as he was always following some new scent into the woods.
But not this time. Rump high, the cub backed slowly away from the forest. The slate-gray hair began to rise along his back in stiff peaks.
Whatever was out there, Snapjaw wanted no part of it.
Behind me I heard a low growl. Leaper was up on her feet, her ears pointed toward the forest, twitching anxiously.
Something was wrong and the cubs knew it.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose. My eyes scanned the trees anxiously but I couldn't see anything, and I couldn't hear or smell danger as well as the cubs could.
Snapjaw suddenly bolted. Leaper was right behind him. The two cubs disappeared into the safety of the den.
And then I finally heard it, too.
Strange noises from the swamp, like some big animal was moving around.
But there weren't any big animals around here except for us.
CR-ACK! A big branch broke. Leaves crunched. This animal, whatever it was, was moving slow. But coming closer.
Twigs snapped under heavy feet.
I suddenly realized what had me spooked. The thing out there didn't care who heard it coming. It wasn't afraid of anything, not even wolves.
The noises stopped. Had it gone away?
I was listening so intently I forgot to watch my back. That's lesson number one. The first thing a cub learns. And I forgot.
There was no sound. Just a gray blur of motion on the edge of my vision as it sprang out of the forest.
I threw up my hands to ward it off but too late.
The full weight of the huge beast slammed into my back and threw me to the ground. Rank-smelling breath was hot against my bare neck. Knife-sharp teeth grazed my ear.
Then the great jaws opened and I saw the gleam of teeth just as they sank into my throat.CHAPTER 2
It was Wolfmother.
I tried to cry out but the big wolf held my throat between her jaws. Her teeth were hot needles against my skin. Fear churned in my belly. What had I done?
Then I understood—the strange, noisy creature was still out there in the forest and Wolf-mother was making sure I kept silent. She was guarding the den and her cubs.
Danger was coming closer. I could feel Wolf-mother tensing, her jaws still clamped around my neck, as if I were a noisy cub. I tried to tell her with my eyes that I understood, that she could trust me not to make a sound. But she wouldn't let go.
Then at last, when I thought my whole body would seize up in one big cramp, she lifted her head, keeping her paws on my shoulders. Her eyes bored into me. It was only when she saw me press my lips tightly together that she released me. She twitched her ears once toward the noises still coming from the woods—closer now.
Then with a switch of her tail she let me go and hurriedly checked on Leaper and Snapjaw. Once she knew the cubs were safe, she stood at the entrance to the den, narrowing her eyes in the direction of the mysterious noises. She bared her teeth, growling low.
I hurried to Wolfmother's side and crouched next to her. I made the reassuring yips that told her I would keep danger away.
She turned her eyes to mine and gazed at me.
"Grruff," I growled, telling her, don't worry, Gruff will protect you.
In reply she gave a short, sharp bark, urging me to hurry.CHAPTER 3
Our den was in the drier portion of a forested swamp, rich with game animals and thick with trees and low thickets.
I knew the swamp like I knew my own hands and moved stealthily, sliding my feet so as not to crunch the leaves and pine needles, ducking under branches rather than pushing them out of my way, avoiding mud holes and wet places.
I moved without making a sound.
CRUNCH! CRASH! THUD!
Ahead of me the beast floundered around like it didn't care who could hear it coming. I shuddered to think how huge and ferocious it must be.
I circled around its strange noises and then began to creep back toward it from behind. If it got too close to the den I'd get it to chase me instead.
I could do that much for my wolf family after all they'd done for me.
I froze, holding my breath. Lost in my thoughts, I had stepped on a dead branch.
But the strange beast just came crashing on. My skin crawled. What kind of animal was so fearless it didn't care how much noise it made?
Then the creature made a strange sound. My scalp prickled. I felt like lightning had just shot through me, zapping my arms and legs. Suddenly I wanted to run back to Wolfmother. But the new sounds tapped a beat in my head, drawing me closer.
I forgot to watch my feet, stepped on a twig, and blundered through a pile of dead leaves. But I wasn't worried about that now. I was close. Excitement churned my stomach. But what should I do?
Something slashed through the leaves faster than sight and buried itself in a tree trunk no more than an inch from my nose. Something deadly—and wonderful!CHAPTER 4
I dropped to the ground as another thing whistled through the air. It hit a branch over my head and dropped to the ground in front of me. It was a stick thing, with feathers on one end and a sharp point on the other. What was it, and how did this strange beast make it fly?
"I got it!" cried a voice. "Let's see if it's dead."
A voice like mine! But this voice made strange high babbling sounds all strung together. The sounds echoed in my brain, somehow reminding me of long ago, of the time before Wolfmother took me into her den. And then something really strange happened.
The sounds began to sort themselves in my mind as if something deep inside me was struggling to make sense of the odd Legwalker noises.
And then suddenly I understood that the creature had tried to hit me with the sharp stick thing. He thought he had killed me.
"You didn't hit anything," said a second voice. "You couldn't hit a train if it was right in front of you!"
"Oh yeah? Then you go check it out if you're so sure there's nothing there. I'm telling you, Billy, I heard something big moving around in those bushes. I bet I hit it right through the heart!"
There was a silence. My heart raced. I could almost understand them. It seemed as if I'd heard the sounds they made with their mouths sometime long ago. I felt sure I could understand more if I only had more time to listen and remember.
I understood the other animals who lived in our swamp. They all had their own cries of greeting and warning and fear. But this was different.
It was like some big part of me was waking up after a long sleep. It was wonderful, exciting. But it was scary, too.
"They're your arrows," said the one called Billy. His voice sounded shaky. "You go check it out."
"All right. I'm going."
One of the creatures began moving through the bushes in my direction. I tensed. What should I do?
I couldn't let them catch me.
But if I tried to run they'd shoot more of those sharp flying things after me. Besides, I wanted to hear more. I wanted to see them up close. I wanted to know why I had never seen or heard them before.
As the creature stumbled blindly through the undergrowth I crouched, hiding behind a tree. My hand closed over a good-sized rock.
"Yuck!" the boy cried. I heard the sucking sound that meant he'd stepped in a mud hole.
"What was that?" said the other one, Billy. There was fear in the breathy sound of his voice. It calmed me—they were even more scared than I was.
"I don't know. Probably nothing." He grunted, pulling his foot out of the mud. "This place gives me the creeps."
Billy sounded frightened. "I think we better forget about those arrows and get out of here, Paul. I have a bad feeling about this."
"I can't! They're brand-new arrows," said the one called Paul. "My dad just bought them for me." Hesitant steps crunched toward me again. "It's probably just a squirrel or something."
The smell of their fear was thick in the air. But the one called Paul was coming closer. I had to keep him from finding me. I threw back my head and opened my throat, letting a picture of Wolffather Thornclaw grow in my head until I felt I was him.
Then I howled.
When I lowered my head I could hear them crashing and splashing through the wettest bog in this part of the swamp. I stood quickly, hoping for a good look at them. Although they moved slowly, stumbling into mud slicks and holes, tripping over tree roots and snagged by brambles, they were already almost hidden among the trees.
But I could see what I already suspected. They were Legwalkers, like me!
My own legs itched to follow. I wanted to know more. Where had they come from? But I sensed somehow it would be dangerous to get too close to these creatures. Torn between doing what I wanted and doing what I should, I bent to pick up the sharp stick—the ar-row—off the ground.
What a strange weapon! How did it work? I reached for the one stuck in the tree. It didn't move. I tugged harder. It stayed stuck.
I dropped to my knees, and using both hands, worked the thing back and forth until it finally came free. I stared at the hole in the tree, excitement swelling in my chest.
Now I had to go after the Legwalkers! This arrow weapon made my throwing stick look like cub's play. It had taken months to shape my throwing stick and sharpen it and learn how to throw it so I could hit something.
How had those two clumsy Legwalkers made this marvelous arrow fly fast enough to bury itself into the tree? I had to find out.
The creatures were crashing through the bog, away from me. I began to run silently after them. They had secrets I wanted to know. Secrets that would make me as good a hunter as a wolf.CHAPTER 5
It didn't take me long to catch up, despite all the time I'd wasted. They had stopped running and were stumbling along, out of breath.
"That was really weird," said the one called Paul. He had a curved piece of wood slung over his shoulder—the arrow shooter.
"Maybe we should go back," said Billy.
"Go back? Are you crazy?"
"What if it was somebody's dog you shot?" Billy had a worried look on his face.
Hidden in the trees, I peered at them through the leaves. I felt they were talking about me and thinking of going back. How could they not be more scared by my ferocious howl?
"It didn't sound like any dog I ever heard," said Paul. His arrow shooter caught on a branch and yanked him backward. "Ow," he said, easing it off his shoulder. "I don't see how the Indians ever sneaked through the woods carrying a bow," he said. "It snags on everything."
"Had to be a dog. What else could it be?" Billy insisted. "There's nothing in these woods bigger than a squirrel."
Paul had the bow in his hand. "Maybe it was a wolf," he said. "My dad said there used to be wolves in this swamp."
My pulse quickened. Suddenly I saw how I could get the arrow shooter for myself. Once more I threw back my head and howled.
Both Legwalkers squawked in terror and took off running. Just as I'd hoped, Paul dropped his bow.
I snatched it up and disappeared again into the trees. I loped off toward the wolf den, stopping every once in a while to try out the bow and my two arrow things.
I was acting foolishly, I knew, but I was so delighted with my new weapon it never occurred to me the young Legwalkers might come back. With bigger Legwalkers, carrying bigger weapons.
No, I never suspected that my carefree days were about to end, or that the horror to come would swallow up not only the innocent wolves, but the Legwalkers, too.CHAPTER 6
But I wasn't worried about the Legwalkers, or how meeting them would change my life for the worse. I was too excited by my new weapon, and by seeing the Legwalkers.
I was puzzled, too. How could the Legwalkers look like me but be so different? They wore odd bulky skins on their bodies and didn't know anything about the woods. And they made those strange fast noises. Other animals communicated when they needed to—a bark or a screech or a short call. But the Legwalkers made their sounds all the time, even when there was no danger or food to call attention to. And how could it be that the noises seemed familiar to me?
As I loped along, heading back to the den, I tried making some of the sounds the Legwalkers had used. But even though I could hear their strange words plainly in my head, I couldn't quite get my mouth around the sounds. They were too complicated, not at all like growling, barking, and howling.
Excited by my thoughts and at how far and fast the arrows would go, I lost track of time. It was nearly dark by the time I reached the den.
I stashed the bow and arrows with my throwing stick in some bushes. It was silly, of course, but I didn't want my wolf family to see my new weapons. I felt embarrassed about them. The wolves didn't need that kind of help when they hunted. And on that great day when I returned from the woods with game for the whole family, I wanted them to marvel and wonder how I'd done it. They would praise me and share the food I'd caught—I'd be as proud as Sharpfang, the best hunter in the pack.
My wolf family were all gathered together in the clearing. The cubs were scrapping over a piece of meat. When Wolfmother saw me she raised her head and growled in annoyance, so I knew she'd been worried.
I growled to reassure her that I was all right and the danger was gone.
I wished I could let Wolfmother know about the Legwalkers, but probably she already knew. The wolves knew lots of things that I didn't. I had to see things with my own eyes, but they used their ears and noses to keep track of just about everything that happened in our swamp.
Excerpted from Night Creature by Rodman Philbrick, Lynn Harnett. Copyright © 1966 Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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