CHAPTER 1


Wrangell, Alaska – January 2012

The rhythm of the world was wrong. He felt it deep inside his primal heart, that part of him that connected his soul to that of his brethren. The creatures of the air had grown quiet, their songs nothing more than the occasional trilling of notes. The creatures of the ground, himself included, had all taken on a wary, fight-or-flight demeanor. The burrowers were keeping to their holes. They all sensed the discordance of the normal rhythm. Mother Nature screamed danger but gave no clues.

He sniffed the air. The strange smell was everywhere but seemed strongest at the edge of the tree line. He peered right, left, and sniffed again. Something…  There was a rapid clicking sound. He bared his teeth and felt the growl rising in his chest. His eyes narrowed and he focused on a cluster of trees. This was not a sound he recognized.

His body bristled; muscles coiled into tightly wound springs. Head lowered, he started forward, his large paws leaving holes in the snow. Whatever was just beyond the trees was the source of inharmony.

Though not one to run from a fight, he wished one of his larger “wild” brethren were close by. He didn’t know what he faced, but mind, heart, and body told him it was dangerous and needed to be stopped. Even if it meant facing the clicking beast alone, it was what he had to do.

He stopped at the edge of the trees and moved in behind a stack of cut logs. Looking down, he spied a lumpy, gelatinous mass and sniffed at it. The smell was overpowering, the strange odor momentarily flash burning his olfactory senses.

The clicking came again and he tensed. Another growl rose from his chest and his muzzle pulled back exposing his fangs. He could feel a storm building in his body, part rage, part fear.

He knew whatever it was making the clicking sound was well hidden in the trees, but the odor from the squishy mound wouldn’t let him distinguish it, lock in on it. Then a terrifying thought struck him. Was there more than one of the things?

He eased forward. Slowly… Slowly… The clicking sound. He froze. Then slowly… Slowly…

He felt the impact on his back, heard the rapid clicking and then his body was on fire. He twisted his head around, snapping at the thing on his back. He tried to see it but couldn’t get his head far enough around. He felt the fire pass through his body once again. He threw himself backwards trying to dislodge the thing, but it wouldn’t let go. Again, the fire.

Clicking to his left brought his head around and he saw the creatures fully. He’d seen their kind before, many times before only much smaller. So small, in fact, that he had never really given them notice. These were half his size.

More came from the trees, clicking as they approached. One leaped at his face and his jaws locked down, catching the creature in the air. He could feel his teeth penetrate the thing’s hide. The spindly creature’s body was repulsive, but his jaws closed again and again, his primal elation at crushing the thing driving him.

And then they had him. From every side he felt the fire. His legs crumpled beneath him, his jaws began to stiffen, his vision darkened. He felt the snow crunch under him as he collapsed. He felt the fallen adversary being pulled from his jaws and the clicking sounds moving away.

He tried to rise but his body wouldn’t respond. His body was growing cold, and his heart was racing. With much effort he was able to move his muzzle. He could see the snowflakes spinning around him, but the rhythm of the world was gone.

They found the Malamute behind the woodpile. His name was Jake and he belonged to Trent McGill, a retired software engineer from California. They knew the dog had been dead less than a day as he and Trent always took their evening meals together.

Logan Shaw slid his rifle off of his shoulder and looked down at the animal, still not believing what he was seeing. Why would someone do this? He looked up at Trent with genuine sorrow. “I’m sorry.” It didn’t seem like enough, but he didn’t have the words.

Trent nodded his appreciation. He’d had Jake since they moved to Wrangell.

Mike Thomas leaned forward, examining the dog more closely. “Do you think it was some homeless guy? I mean, who the hell stabs a dog that many times with a camping fork?”

Trent knelt down beside his once companion and stroked his fur. Tears formed in his eyes.

Logan put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll find who did this, Trent.”

“Don’t matter. Won’t bring him back,” he replied, a small sob escaping.

Logan tried to smile. “I know.” The words were matter of fact, an affirmation of something they all knew rather than a statement of comfort.

Mike wandered around the woodpile, his boots softly crunching in the snow. “Anybody go after the Chief?”

“Yeah. Marty took his Widetrack up there. Should be back here soon.”

Logan glanced up at the sky. “More snow coming.”

The clouds were the color of old gun metal and moving closer to the small town. The wind was picking up as the temperature began to creep down. A soft “whump” brought his attention to the trees. He gripped his Winchester .30-30, eyes alert.

A small pack of snow had fallen from a tree branch, nothing to be concerned about. But why did he feel so jumpy all of a sudden? He looked into the tree line as far as he could. Was something moving at the far range of his vision? What was that hinky feeling coming over him? He moved his head up and down, letting his gaze seek out something that might not belong. His eyes came to rest on some lower branches, and he saw it. He looked at the object, rippling slightly in the breeze. That can’t be a…

“Hey, Logan, check this out.” Mike called from the other side of the woodpile.

Logan took one last look at the object fluttering in the tree and then turned away.

Mike was leaning down and poking an orange clump of goo with a stick. “Do you see this? It kind of looks like that shit they found in Kivalina a few months ago.”

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