The first snow of winter was settling in as I trudged through the white landscape. My boots crunched the fresh powder beneath my feet, the only sounds in the otherwise silent forest. The pine boughs hung low as the burden of snow weighed heavily upon them. The smaller shrubbery looked like balls of white that had been crudely pressed together, with the odd twig protruding from beneath the layers. My breath clouded the chilly morning air.
I looked to the sky beyond the break in the canopy and saw that the first streaks of color of the new day were apparent. It would not be long until the forest came to life. I looked down to the scattering of tracks before my feet. I had been right to choose the game path, it had seen a fair amount of activity through the night. One set of tracks stood apart from the rest, I crouched down to take a closer look. The tracks were larger and held the distinct features of a predator. They were also identical to those left near the farmsteads that bordered the forest.
The beast had been allowed to roam for too long now, growing bolder by the day. The village council had shrugged off the missing livestock as merely a pack of wolves passing by, but when the trapper of our village went missing all they said was that accidents happened in the forest, and we all knew the dangers of venturing too deep, alone and close to dusk. I had to take matters into my own hands.
Their excuse did little to comfort me, it was the same one they had given me when my wife had disappeared. I knew this was no pack of wolves that plagued our village, it was something far fouler. There had only ever been one set of tracks.
I unslung the rifle from where it hung on my shoulder and removed the cartridge inspecting it, the ten rounds I had had the smith craft for me, stared back with a silver sheen. If he thought me mad, he did not say. All in the village left me to my own devices since the ‘accident’. Satisfied, I placed the cartridge back on the rifle and rose. I needed to be on my guard, there was no knowing when I would stumble upon the beast.
The trail continued, moving on into the denser parts of the forest, where the trees pressed close and the light of the new day was sporadic. Less game traveled into this part of the forest, and I knew I was getting closer to my quarry’s territory. I slowed to a crawl as I grew warier of my surroundings.
A couple of minutes passed before I reached a kill. It was a young buck. I moved up to the buck and examined it. The kill was fresh, only a couple of hours old, but the icy touch of winter was already setting in. The snow around the buck was stained a dark red. The beast had been picky, eating only the soft organs, and leaving the rest to freeze. I shook my head in disgust, such a waste of good meat. The beast killed more for pleasure than survival, I thought.
Looking around the corpse of the buck, I noticed that the beast’s tracks had stopped. The feeling of something watching washed over me, making my skin crawl. The forest was quiet, holding its breath for what was to come. I loaded a round into the chamber of my rifle as I prepared for an ambush.
A scattering of snow fell from the branches above. I brought up my rifle just as the snarling beast launched itself at me, from high in the boughs. I fired off a round, the shot echoing through the silent forest. The shot went wide. I rolled to my left. The beast crashed into the ground where I had just been. Righting myself, I hastily loaded the next round and put the beast in my sights, getting a clearer look at it.
The beast was wolf-like in appearance, covered in thick gray and white fur. Its wolf-shaped head ending in a muzzle lined with razor-sharp teeth. Instead of paws, its forelimbs ended in claw-tipped hands. The sight of this monstrosity turned my veins to ice, and a primal urge to take flight called to me from the pit of my stomach.
The beast rose onto its hind-legs and howled. I felt all the hairs on my body stand on end. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from its uncannily human body. With preternatural speed, it lunged at me. I fired my second round before diving to the right, but its claws found purchase. I felt them scrape bone as they sunk deep into my side. Rolling to my feet, I felt adrenaline now coursing through my body. I loaded the third round. The beast lunged once more towards me and with deft precision, I fired my rifle.
The beast stumbled forward, clutching its chest, a crimson trickle running between its fingers. Euphoria rushed through me, I had done it. I had felled the beast. Our eyes met, and I saw a swirl of emotions within the beast’s own. Then before me, the beast’s form shrank. I watched in horror as the beast that I had slain became my wife, her naked body pale against the reddening snow. I fell to my knees as fresh snow fell in silence around us.