There’s blood on the snow.
Vaguely, I wonder where it’s coming from. My stomach growls at the warm, wet metallic scent. Many times in my life, blood on the snow has meant food. But there’s nothing here to eat. There hasn’t been food for a very long time.
The last few days and nights have kind of bled into one endless time for me. The last few days and nights that I’ve been alone.
How long has it been since we’d heard a pack’s howls? How long had it been since we’d seen a herd of prey? Even longer. Too long. How long since our pack died off… I’d lost count. How long had we been catching rabbits? How long had we been subsisting on rats?
How long had he been dead?
We should’ve known better to attack a horse, but we were so hungry, and it was all alone… Still, we should’ve known better. I’ll never forget the sound of that horse’s hooves crushing my mate’s leg. I’ll never forget the sound that ripped from my throat when he died the next day.
There was blood on the snow then, too. It was his.
I don’t feel anything anymore. The cold has dug it’s way into my joints in a way it never has before. My eyes are all but frozen… it hurts to blink, but that hurt is at least a feeling. A reminder that I’m still alive. I don’t really think I will be for too long, though. A wolf isn’t worth anything alone.
I can’t hunt anymore. In fact, I can’t move. I just won’t move anymore.
It’s an odd sensation, feeling one’s body shut down. It’s an odder experience still to not want to fight it. A moon cycle ago, I would’ve fought it. I would’ve stayed alive for my mate… I would’ve stayed alive for the pups in my belly. But I’ve already felt them stop moving. The cold has already dug into my belly like a claw, and ripped the life away from those little unborn pups. My mate’s gone, my pups are as good as gone… Why am I still here?
Frozen as I am, I can hear some creature approaching. The crunch of paws in snow. Two paws, not four. It’s one of Them.
They are strange creatures. They walk on Their hind legs, holding objects They craft in Their front legs. The Mammoths call Them the Lost, and Their bulky, stocky cousins the Dreamers. The main difference between Them and the Dreamers is that the Dreamers are content to stay in one place for generations. Their caves are testaments to their non-nomadic lifestyle. The Lost, however, They stay in one place until the place ceases to serve Their strange desires, and then They move on. They wear the skins of the other animals that They kill on Their backs to keep warm. They build things from the bones of their kills, and create pointless trinkets from the rest of the parts of Their kills.
The Lost is coming closer now, approaching me carefully. It probably expects me to growl or bite It. But I don’t have the energy anymore. I don’t have the energy for anything at all. I watched from a distance as They stole my mate’s skin from his corpse. And now They come to do the same to me.
I wonder briefly if They realize that there are no more of us. No more Great Wolves howling over the chilled landscape, with it’s ever shorter winters. My mate and I were the last two Great Wolves… All the howls had gone silent. Only our smaller Grey cousins remain, roaming in packs a fraction of the size ours used to be. Their tinny howls splitting the night, silenced by a single howl from a Great Wolf.
The Lost is standing over me now. There’s a long stick in his hands, with a sharp, pointed piece of rock tied to the end with sinew. The lingering scent on the stick marks the sinew as Great Deer… There are no more of them now, too.
I am just one Great Wolf. The last hope for my species dying in the snow. And as I lay there, one eye gazing up at the Lost who waits, vulture-like, for my skin, I have a moment of clarity.
It is Their world, now. The Great Animals are all but gone… but They remain.
I see and vaguely feel the Lost resting It’s sharp stone against my throat as I lie on my side. I don’t move. I can’t move. I don’t care anymore. I watch the Lost make a quick, jerking movement, lifting the stick, and I see blood spray. I barely feel the wound, so cold is my skin. The scent of blood fills my nostrils again. Fresh blood. I allow my eyes to close. Nothing matters anymore.
There’s blood on the snow. It’s mine.