to be that we didn't have much trouble with our flocks around
here. Sure, we'd lose a sheep or two to the winter, or falling
down a ravine, or sometimes even to wild dogs. But, nothing like
this. Nobody's seen anything like this since the times of my great-grandfather,
maybe even further back than that and I'm not a spring chicken
these days. Last month I lost three lambs to the wolves. Doesn't
seem like too much, but I only have a few hundred. Lose three
or four each month and you've lost close to fifty by the year's
end. And, I'm not the only one. Ranchers up and down this valley
have been complaining. Nothing much to be done apparently. Can't
shoot 'em, can't trap for the things. Besides trapping would catch
as many lambs as wolves, I guess. Sheep aren't the smartest animals
on this earth, but they still don't deserve to be torn apart by
wolves. Fencing doesn't do much good either. Wolves are smart
as dogs, smarter maybe. They can slink under a fence quick as
was in a pickle. I'd tried watching the sheep more, but it's hard
work and I don't really have the manpower. I tried getting more
dogs, but dogs aren't stupid and any self-respecting dog'll take
off with a wolf pack on its heels. But a neighbor of mine said
to try the Old Culley Place. Swore by it, he did. Said the Old
Woman'd given him a remedy a few years ago that kept the wolves
off his place since then. I can't say I believed it. I mean, witches,
in these days. Seems like something out of an old movie or a fairytale.
We have satellite and John Deeres around here. And, though some
say the Almanac's one step above witchery, well, I still buy one
every year. Though, it's more fluff than
it was in the past. Too may ads now and all that flower gardening
nonsense. Anyway, I was at my rope's end, so I figured, what's
the harm in seeing.
the Old Culley Place is not so easy to get to. You can take the
state highway up to Grange Road, but once you hit it, you're on
pure dirt and gravel. That's bad enough on sunny days, but in
the mud or snow, it's a job even for a four-wheel drive. Of course,
the Old Woman wouldn't care, I figured. She never went anywhere
that I knew of. She had
her groceries delivered in bulk from town. Let the delivery trucks
and UPS hassle with that horrible road, I guess was her thought.
She was the Old Woman when I was a boy, and it's been years since
I was called anything except Old Farmer Craig or Old Man Craig.
anyway, I got my dog, CloverI don't go anywhere without
herand fired up the truck for a day trip. Figured I might
hit the Co-op on the way back through town. I'd heard they had
some new hybrid seeds that were worth having. Anyway, me and Clover
hitched in and made the drive in less than two hours, most of
it spent navigating pot-holes on Grange Road. It wasn't even lunch
yet when we saw the Old Culley Place looming up ahead. Old Miss
Culley was always known for a cook, and I was hoping for something
to eat, I don't mind telling you. Driving in dust is hard work.
So, it was a more than welcome sight to see the old farmstead,
neat and as kept as it was when I was a boy. The flower beds even
looked good, if you care for that kind of thing. And I always
liked these better than most, laid out wild as they were and not
in neat little rows like the houses in town. I could smell lavender
and rosemary on the air,
which is better than red dust any day. The barn lay off to the
side and I could see a couple of old cows lazing about. Miss Culley
never kept much stockjust a few cows and a fat old horse
that I doubt ever saw a plow or a saddle in his life. She kept
cats though, by the hundred, I'd saywell, at least a dozen,
and there were always half a dozen dogs. Big dogs. I asked what
they were once, there's nothing like them around here. And, she
told me they were Irish Wolfhounds. She brought them in as pups
and generation after generation they loped around the place, big
if you ever drive up to the Culley Place, the first thing you
usually see, besides all those cats and the giant dogs, is Miss
Culley herself, sitting on the porch, knitting or shelling peas,
or doing one of the things that old women do on hot, dry summer
days. But, no one was on the porch when I drove up and that gave
me a bad feeling. Old folks die. And Miss Culley couldn't be less
than a hundred by my reckoning.
stopped the car and gave the horn a tap before me and Clover got
out. Those big dogs perked up their ears, but they didn't look
like they minded us about so I climbed down and hoisted Clover
out behind me. Right away, Clover crinkled her nose up and let
out a low growl. Warning growl's what I call it. She lifted her
head twice like she was tasting the wind and hopped back in the
cab. "Come on, Clov," I coaxed. But, she let out a huff
like she was annoyed and edged back toward the window. I rolled
down the window on my door. "Suit yourself," I said,
"I reckon you'll come out quick enough if it gets hot."
But, Clover lay down on the seat keeping one eye on the door of
the Culley Place. I closed the door behind me and yelled out,
"Miss Culley?" No one seemed to hear me but the dogs.
One of them got up and padded over to give me a sniff and then
lay back down.
started up to the house and opened the screen door, but before
I could give the door a big knock, it came flying open. I nearly
tripped into the room I was so surprised. A tall girl was standing
there in a yellow tee shirt and jeans. Her red hair was twisted
up on top of her head and little strands of it fell around her
face. She was wiping her hands on a dishtowel and leaning on the
she said, "What do you want?" sounding for all the world
like Miss Culley.
pulled my ball cap off real fast. "I was looking for Miss
Culley," I said.
you found her," said the girl, flinging the dishtowel onto
the sofa behind her, "I guess you'd better come on in."
stepped inside the room, hat still in hand. "Actually,"
I said, "I was looking for Old Miss Culley."
she said smiling, "Well, she's not about today. Maybe there's
something I can help you with? I'm taking care of things while
looked around the room. It looked the same as I remembered. Drying
herbs lined the ceiling on neat string lines. An afghan was thrown
in the corner with two fat gray tabbies lounging on it. I could
smell something sweet and full of vanilla baking in the other
my nose lift, she asked, "Want tea cakes? They're just coming
out of the oven."
can't stay long," I said, "I've got my dog Clover in
the truck and it's a hot day."
budge, would she?" she asked walking into the kitchen. I
followed. She opened the oven, an old cast-iron contraption, with
use stains around the burners. "Well," she said, lifting
the tea cakes out of the oven, "I reckon she'll come out
if she gets hot enough. The other dogs don't mind."
I said, "Miss Culley's dogs have always been friendly enough
to strangers, dog or man."
put the cookies down on the table after she had spread a dishtowel
to shield the linoleum top. Using a big iron knife, she cut apart
the cookies that had grown into one another. "So," she
said, "What is it you came here for?"
twisted my hat, "You'll think it's silly, a young girl like
you'd probably laugh at country superstitions, but. . .well, a
friend of mine said that Miss Culley helped him with a wolf problem."
girl looked up, eyes flashing, "Wolves, is it?" she
said, "I suppose you want them killed."
really," I said, "I don't mind them so much, only I
want them to stop killing my sheep and move off somewheres else."
kill sheep," she said flatly, "If I get them to move
off your property, they'll only be hassling someone else. A wolf's
got to eat, don't he?"
nodded. "I reckon a wolf's got to eat same as anything else,
but I'd rather he eat something besides my sheep."
smiled. "Well, maybe I can do something about that after
all." She put down the knife and slid the hot cookie tray
into the sink. The sudsy water made a low hissing sound. "There's
several things, actually, that might work," she said. She
reached into a drawer and pulled out some dried herbs in small
vacuum-sealed bags. "If you have a little problem, you might
want to use a deterrent, something like wolf's bane, aconite's
its Latin name. They don't like the smell of it. You might try
scattering some of it dried, but it's better to grow it fresh.
Course, that won't stop something hungry. That just stops a browser,
someone interested in taking a look." She put the herbs down
on the counter. "For hungry wolves, you need something strong,
something fierce as they are." She squatted down and pulled
open a low cabinet. There were several big jars all sealed with
wax and labelled. She pulled out a big one with a clear yellow
liquid in it. "This is from the zoo. A friend of mine gets
it for me and I don't ask how. Smells something awful," she
said wrinkling her nose.
is it?" I asked.
pee," she said, "Nothing that a wolf hates more than
a cat bigger than himself. You might want to get yourself a dog,
too," she said. I opened my mouth to mention Clover, but
she continued "A wolf dog is what I mean. That dog in the
car is fine for sheep herding and eating biscuits, but it takes
a dog with a wolf's spirit to stand up to a pack."
there aren't many dogs like that around here," I said.
smiled, "Well, maybe I'll bring mine around and let them
mark up the place, and Briseis is expecting pups in a month or
so. Maybe I could hold one for you."
glanced back toward the door where I could see one of those big
dogs peeking in through the screen. "Don't worry," the
girl said laughing, "They don't bitemuch!"
frowned. "I was just wondering how Clover'd like a dog that
big," I said.
won't start off so big," she said, "It'll have to work
up to it." I nodded. "I'll bring them around first,"
she said, "See how the wolves like that, and we can see if
your dog takes a liking to them. They're particular. They didn't
like the smell of me much at first either, but they got used to
me. A dog will even get used to wolves in time, and run with them."
knew that. I'd seen wolf-dogs before. They were dangerousas
bold as any wolf without any fear of man. Like she was reading
my mind she said, "Wolves weren't always afraid of men, you
know. They had to learn it, just like anything will if it's hunted
enough. You ever hear of the Seine?" she asked.
Is that a place or something? I don't guess I have," I said.
a river," she said, "In France. Big river. Probably
nearly as big as the Mississippi, but it's nowhere as long. There
was a time way back, in the 1300s when it froze through. Think
of it. A river as big as the Mississippi frozen down to the core.
Anyway, it froze and the wolves came across it right into Paris,
right into the city. They weren't afraid then, you see. There
were more wolves than men after the plague, and the wolves didn't
have much to fear. But, they learned it later, when guns came
and more and more men were born and less and less wolves. They
remember, you see. They remember. Dog's memories aren't so long."
I thought of Clover and they way she always jumped when the vent
came on in the truck, even though she must've had that cool air
hit her hundreds of times.
remember," she said again, "That's why this," she
said tapping the yellow jar, "and my dogs work so good. If
the wolves get scared off once, they're likely to stay away unless
a great need presses them." She looked out the window. The
sun was failing and falling golden over the wooden floor. "Its
not so bad here," she said, "There's plenty to eat besides
sheep. It just takes a bit of workfor a wolf." She
picked up the jar and pushed it and the bag of herbs into my hand.
"Your dog'll be ready to go now. I'll bring my boys by in
a week or so. See what we can do and check for tracks and marks
to see how big a pack you have a problem with."
nodded at her, my hands being full, "I'd be much obliged,"
walked with me to the front door and pushed open the screen. "Don't
be a stranger," she yelled after me. Clover barked once at
her yell, then slunk down in the seat. I carefully centered the
jar and the herbs between me and Clover. She gave the herbs a
sniff and then lay her head on her paws. I started up the truck
and turned around careful of cats and big dogs and turned back
down the dusty road toward home.
Clover and I had an uneventful enough ride home and after a few
days the girl showed up with those dogs, just like she said. I
hadn't had a chance to try out any of her remedies yet and she
said that was lucky enough since they would've spooked her dogs.
It was already starting to get dark when she drove up and by the
time she got all those big dogs out of the back of her truck and
set them loping about, it was near to sunset. I studied the sky.
enough, I guess," she said, "We shouldn't have any problem
with the weather."
nodded. "You sure you want to be going out this late?"
the reason I'm here," she said, "I didn't figure that
wolves would come marching across your fields at mid-day."
She whistled and those big dogs perked up their ears. "Reckon
we'll take a look around and see what we see," she said.
Then, she turned heel and headed off with her dogs toward the
low pasture. I watched her till she was too small to make out
clearly and then clucked at Clover. She lingered a bit, her brown
eyes watching the other dogs in the distance and then followed
me. The screen door swung shut behind us and I pulled the heavy
wood door closed for the night.
the girl had said that she'd come back in the morning, but I still
couldn't sleep. Dogs or not, it didn't seem right for her to be
out there, just a girl, in the night. But, what could I do? She
didn't even so much as take a rifle with her, not that I saw anyway.
Big dogs or not, there are plenty of things prowling about in
the night and wolves are the least of them. Mountain lions and
rabid foxes and trigger-happy hunters with poor eyesight just
to name a few. It might not be hunting season but that didn't
stop some folks from getting off a shot or two at a deer. And,
I remembered last year a bunch of boys had gotten liquored up
and shot old Earl's best heifer thinking she was a prize buck.
Some folks got more time than sense, I'd say. The feeling grew
on me. Clover sat by the door and waited. Every now and then she
thumped her tail and it would make a dry whack on the wood floor.
"Think I should go on out?" I asked her, "Make
sure everything is okay?" Clover looked at me and gave her
tail another whack. "I reckon you're right," I said.
rummaged around in the cabinets till I found a flashlight with
some juice left in it. I flicked it on and off and it gave out
a strong steady light. Then, I took down my 30/30, the one with
the sight and shoulder strap. Too bad my night eyes weren't what
they were once. Still, it was a full moon, hunter's moon, and
I thought I could hit a wolf if it came to it. For good measure,
I jammed the herbs, wolfsbane she called it, in the pocket of
my coveralls. I patted to make sure that I had everythingextra
bullets, wolfsbane, pack of cigarettes, lighter. I grabbed a moon
pie too. No sense in starving. Clover jumped up when I unlocked
the door, wagging her tail something fierce. "No, girl,"
I said, "This isn't a night for you." She slumped down
on the floor and put her head on her paws, looking at me dog-eyed.
I reached down and scruffed the fur on her head, "I'll be
back soon enough," I said.
stopped on the porch to let my eyes adjust to the night. It was
bright. That big full moon hung heavy and orange in the sky. I
wasn't really sure which way to go, but after some thought, I
started out the way I'd seen her go, over the low pasture toward
the grazing fields. Once I crossed over the hill, the house was
lost from sight. Clover must still be waiting by the door, I thought,
hoping I'll come back for her. I walked a bit further. The air
was crisp and colder than usually for a summer night. And, there
was something else. Something like danger on the wind. Like a
hint of electricity. A hunter'd know what I meanit's that
excitement you get right before a big buck comes into your line
of sight. It's like you can feel him there before you can ever
see him. I could see the sheep up ahead clustered together like
a cloud gone to ground. They stirred a little when they smelled
me and milled in my direction expecting food or comfort. I knew
they felt it, too. I had a sheep stung by a bee once come and
duck its head under my arm. It's like the whole flock wanted to
tuck themselves under and hide. You could smell something wild,
that raw, sharp smell, I knew it through and through. All wild
things have it, even stray cats and dogs. When wild cats broke
into my barn and laid up in the straw, I knew it just by the smell.
But, this was a little different. There was no smell of fear underneath.
This smell was tangy and high and I knew just from the hint of
it that it was old and didn't give a flip about me or any man.
sheep gave a little collective shiver and pushed in on themselves.
Then I saw one of those big dogs on sitting on the hill, like
it was watching over the flock. I craned my eyes around and sure
enough they were stationed all around, almost hidden from sight.
Every dark eye fixed on the sheep, ready to pull down anything
that didn't below. I raised my hand, hoping they could see it
was me, but the dogs didn't budge. These were professional dogs.
They didn't give any little yips of acknowledgment like Clover
and cock their ears. I was the same as the sheep to them. I walked
through the flock and up past one of the dogs. He turned his eyes
toward me, but didn't move and I walked on into the night.
it might seem strange that I didn't call out for the girl. But,
to tell the truth, I didn't know her proper name. It was dark
and clear and the moon hung low and full. Every tree, every blade
of grass seemed outlined in light. There was just the slightest
mist, a clash of the humidity earlier in the day and the coolness
of this night, hanging low to the ground. I almost missed themin
the mistlow to the ground as they were. I crouched down
on the hill sure they had seen me, but not a one moved. They sat
in a circle, some on haunches and some laid down with head on
paws like Clover was prone to do. There was a big wolf, gray and
a half-head bigger than the rest, in the center and another wolf,
dark, almost black, but slightly smaller facing him.
werent fighting, just staring nose to nose, like they were
in the middle of something. A meeting of the minds, or the muzzles,
at least, so it seemed. I felt a brush against my back and looked
back to find myself eye to eye with one of those wolfhounds. He
growled low in his throat. Warning growl. But, I reckoned he was
warning me off or telling me to be careful. There are some things,
maybe, a man isnt supposed to see. Just like there are some
things that maybe a dog shouldnt get used to. I slunk back
down the hill and walked back to the house. Clover was waiting
for me at the door. I knew the big dog had followed me, though
I never saw him. Clover gave a low growl and then a yip of recognition.
I unlatched the screen door and stepped inside, leaning my rifle
against the wall. I was getting old. The air seemed colder somehow
and I was tired.
dont know how long I sat there with Clover at my feet. I
closed my eyes and laid my head against the back of the wooden
chair. After some time, I heard the screen door open and felt
Clover bristle against my leg. A low rumbling growl rippled through
her body and I looked down to see her on her feet, fur raised.
"Its alright, girl," I said, Clover growled again
and kept to her feet.
its hard to put up with," the girl said, standing at
the door. Her red hair looked dark and there were bits of weeds
caught in its tangled mass.
not used to strangers," I said, patting the still bristling
dog on the head.
wolves wont be bothering you anymore," she said.
nodded. "Plenty of room around here for wolves," I said,
"I reckon theyll do just fine without my sheep."
sniffed the air. "Could be a hard winter, though," she
said, "Could be theyll come back if they have to."
I nodded again.
the winters hard, I reckon I could leave something out for
them, to tide them over."
might do," she said, "Ill bring that pup around,
when its big enough." She turned and put her hand on
wont forget what youve done for me," I said,
"Ill return the favor if I can."
turned back and smiled her teeth glowing softly in the dark room,
"Ill remember," she said. She opened the door
and was gone. I saw two big dogs melt out of the dark and catch
up with her. I watched her till she was gone from sight. Only
when she had disappeared over the hill did Clover settle down
by my feet. Men may be fooled by disguises, but no self-respecting
dog ever will. I got up from the chair, careful to step over Clover,
and locked the door. "Its too late for us, Clover,"
I said. The dog stretched and gave one happy little yip, glad
to be in her home on a crisp summer night.
Forehand is a freelance writer and painter living in Nashville,
Tennessee. Her short stories and poems have been published in
Atriad Press' Haunted Encounters, Bewildering Stories, FATE,
The Harrow, LongStory Short, Quantum Muse, Typhoon.net, Waxing
Waning Moon, Ultraverse, The Wheel, Zephyrus, and other publications.
She recently published a pet recipe book with Dawson Progressive
and is a monthly columnist for Critter Exchange.