LARRY D. SWEAZY won the WWA Spur Award for Best Short Fiction in 2005, won the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction 2011 and 2012, and was nominated for a SFMS Derringer award in 2007. He has published over 50 articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled, and other publications and anthologies. Larry is the author of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger series (Berkley). He is a member of MWA (Mystery Writers of America), WWA (Western Writers of America), and WF (Western Fictioneers). Larry lives in the Midwest, with his wife, Rose, two dogs, and a cat. www.larrydsweazy.com
The flames had died down, leaving only the glowing orange coals to give off any heat. Neither man noticed; they were fast asleep after a long journey. But the wolves noticed. They could smell the meat of a fresh kill, see the white-tailed deer strung up from a gangly cottonwood by its hooves, left, oddly, to bleed out overnight.
The alpha, a stoic gray wolf, his fur dotted with more than a fair share of scars, padded around the perimeter of the makeshift camp as softly as he could. The deer felt like bait left out to draw in the pack. Something wasn’t right. The behavior of the humans was unusual—or the alpha assumed they were stupid. Unaware of the way of the world beyond the fire.
The rest of the pack stood in wait, just beyond the shadows, listening for the grunts and growls that would command them into action.
The deer was easy pickings for a pack this size, bound and hung like it was, the hard work of the kill already done for them. There were twelve wolves in all, most of them hungry—but not starving. The pack was glad to see, and feel, the depths of winter, when the hunting was easier. The sick and tired were less of a challenge, less trouble to bring down. Especially the bison, weak, and caught knee-deep in snow. The snow season was more bountiful, but some of the pack still longed for the long days of summer when the sun offered more time to play—and kill.
There was snow on the ground, but not so much that it was difficult to walk. The leaves had turned to gold on the aspens and fallen to the ground, urging the elk to move to higher ground, off the moraine, more than two moons ago. The bison had begun to move, too, albeit slowly, gobbling at what tender roots they could find under the snow. All in the world was right, progressing along the way as it should. Except for the presence of the humans.
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