Chapter 10 – The Change (Excerpt 1 of 2)

It was nearly dark. The wolf had been resting in his makeshift den, deep in the heart of Epping Forest. Gnawed bones and discarded antlers littered the surrounding ground. A nearby stream provided a ready supply of water. He had carefully marked all of the surrounding trees with his scent to ward of any intruders.

The wolf had grown larger and more intelligent. So he had both the need and the means to dig out the small hollow where he now made his home. It was a safe spot and difficult to find. It was sheltered by mossy-green rocks and fallen tree trunks from the unpleasant rain and persistent cold. The wolf sat upright, while he used his powerful claws to move away large boulders and stones.

The paws that held the claws had become larger and more dexterous. The due claw was now separated and bending outwards while also growing longer. This allowed the wolf to grasp ahold of the variously-sized rocks and move them with surprising accuracy. With the bare earth exposed, the wolf used his powerful hind legs to dig out enough room for his enlarged shoulders and widened torso. These could fit comfortably inside while concealing his entire body from sight. Not that any animals were foolish enough to come close to the wolf’s den. He remembered when he had taken the territory from a large brown bear that had likely escaped from a nearby bear-baiting pit.

The large predator was covered in battle scars from dozens of fights with vicious Bulldogs, starved until they were ravenous. The bear was strong and confident in his ability to defend his territory. As the wolf approached it, the enormous creature reared up on powerful hind legs. The bear must have weighed over five hundred kilograms and was nearly three meters in height. The wolf snarled his challenge and began to circle the large creature wearily. The bear was unimpressed. There was no scaring him off. This confrontation would be to the death.

As he began his assault, the wolf relied on his superior speed to keep the massive animal off balance. He lunged in to strike at the bear’s legs and stomach with claws and teeth, then dodged away as the massive paw descended in answer. The creature roared as the wolf bloodied it, frustrated that it could not strike the wolf in return. The wolf continued to attack until the enraged animal finally surged forward, falling onto all fours. In a burst of speed, the full bulk of the bear slammed into the wolf and sent him sprawling backwards.

The wolf had barely any time to recover, before the bear’s claws raked across his back and side. The immense animal was too close to evade, so the wolf rose up his hind legs. This gave his front claws the freedom to sink deep into the bear’s shoulders and neck. The bear rose up to his full height again and the two traded blows back and forth, dealing devastating injuries to each other.

The wolf was outmatched, but he refused to give up. Suddenly, the bear’s left leg buckled as the bloody ruin was no longer able to support the immense weight. The huge animal began to fall. In a burst of urgency, the wolf pushed sideways and narrowly avoiding being crushed beneath it. Seeing his chance, the wolf leapt onto the back of the bear and sunk his teeth into the muscular neck as deeply as possible. Blood poured out, but the wolf had not severed the artery. The bear wasn’t finished yet. Massive shoulders tried to roll the wolf off, as huge claws scored deep gashes in the wolf’s flanks. The bear rose from the ground and began thrashing in every direction in an attempt to throw the wolf off. To allow that would mean death for the wolf and he clamped down with all his might, sinking all of his claws into the heavy hide. Gradually, the thrashing slowed. The bear tried to run but was dazed and crashed into the surrounding trees and rocks. Finally, with a groan of anguish, the warrior bear sank to the ground and surrendered to the warm embrace of death.

It had taken many moons for the grievous wounds inflicted by the bear to heal. Unable to hunt, if not for the ready supply of meat that the gigantic carcass provided, the wolf would have surely starved. Once he was healed, the wolf returned to hunting the smaller deer among the trees. Still tender from his scars, the wolf sometimes sought out easier prey and fast became an expert at killing the fat, Suffolk sheep that lived in the small villages lining the outskirts of the forest.

The trick with the black-faced sheep was to approach the nervous animals slowly from downwind—ideally while they were sleeping. The wolf could leap over any small, wooden fences that protected the flock and rush into the fleecy group of them while they were still unaware. It was best to kill a few as quickly as possible and carry one off, before they set to their incessant bleating. Sometimes, the noises would alert a sheepdog which would rush in, barking his challenge to the vastly bigger wolf. The annoying animals were foolish to test the dominance of the wolf. He would quickly dispatch any dogs with a few swipes of his powerful claws, or by pinning the animal down and ripping out its throat. He had learned a painful lesson to flee however, whenever the farmers themselves exited their homes, brandishing a Brunswick percussion rifle or Baker muzzle-loading rifle that the wolf had come to think of as a “fire stick”.

The first time he had been hit by one of the small lead balls, he had been feasting on several sheep in an enclosed field. He was gorging himself on their blood and innards, and so had missed the approach of the accursed farmer in the midnight darkness. The burning pain had hit the wolf, almost simultaneously as the flash of fire and terrifying smell of smoke registered to his senses. He had yelped loudly and instantly abandoned his kill to flee for the protection of the trees. Loud bangs had followed him on his flight and another of the terrible balls had grazed his ear as he leaped the final outer fence. The fire-ball had lodged itself deeply in the wolf’s shoulder. Pulling the vile object out with his claws proved even more painful than when it struck him. He had licked the wound constantly and now knew to be more watchful, he avoided man more carefully. Eventually, the lack of game in the forest and the returning hunger, drove the wolf to enter the villages again.