A Wolf Below Anoterra Lake
When Avery Hall saw the low shadow across the distant trees, he knew it was a wolf. Dogs waste movement. They lean, bounce, waddle, their hind legs extend too far, their tongues loll, their eyes fail. Time is their only predator, a bowl their only prey. The woods keeps the wolf’s arrow point sharp.
Across the morning mist of the meadow, Avery Hall watched it stalk against the trees, the spine a sleeve on an infinite wire. He squinted ahead to find what it hunted. The trees only held a couple finches in boughs too high. He scanned the trunks for an oblivious squirrel. There were no deer, elk or moose calves grazing. Then, in a short pile of rocks with wet wildflowers at their edges, just off the bisecting stream, he saw the slight bounce of a shoulder — a rabbit nibbling with its ears tucked down. The wind blew across the rabbit’s back, then across the grey wolf’s face. One of the finches cried in an allegiance of prey — the wolf stopped, one foot bent in step — but the rabbit did not translate, still poking the rich grasses leeching life from the mineral flesh.
Avery Hall put his hands over his fire, rubbed them together and sat back. Steam came out of his mouth. He’d been without a companion voice for almost two weeks; his entertainment came in short doses, yet a sense of shame and compassion flushed through him. He jerked forward, unsure of his intentions; then, spasmodically grabbed a stone and hurled it across the meadow. The projectile sailed in a strong arc. Its thud and bouncing rampage alerted the rabbit, and it picked up its ears and stood on its hind legs. It sensed, then saw the approaching wolf.
Though a predator stalks in order to leave a quick, if not instant, pursuit and destruction, they will always balance a critical distance with the prey. Should the prey flee outside this distance, the predator will trot away, searching for the next hunt. This distance is calibrated by existence. But if the prey senses the predator inside this distance, then the terrified break is nothing more than the explosion of a starter’s gun.
The wolf bounded into the field with savage alacrity, swirling and snapping in the dance — the rabbit, switched this way and that, cutting at the whispers of its own ancestors. The surrounding trees stayed silent. But the interlocutions of prey and predator measure in seconds, and with enough slipping in the morning grass, the wolf soon tired. The rabbit continued at full pace and disappeared into the woods. The chatter subsided and the grey hunter flopped down, rolled to its side and let its heavy breaths slow. The normal pace of life returned. It then sauntered to the stream and drank the icy mountain water.
Avery Hall sat down.
The wolf looked at him. It had, no doubt, known he was there from the start — smoke does not go unnoticed by the woods — but with the nonthreatening distance across the meadow, and man’s unclear role in the wild, the wolf had taken no interest. A wolf also lacks man’s proclivity to explain the apparent, so it would not blame the thud of a stone against her lost prey. But Avery Hall saw the steel irises turn towards him. They did not see prey; they did not exhibit a hate; they acknowledged him evenly, simply indicating: “Okay.”
The void of emotion left Avery Hall cold around the heart. The wolf picked up and trotted into the distant woods. The finches flew away as it passed.
Caleb Garling has worked as a staff writer for Wired and The San Francisco Chronicle, and has published in The Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, Matter, Backchannel, Modern Farmer and Vice, reporting feature length stories and writing opinion pieces about the effect of technology on society. Prior to journalism he worked in both business strategy and a molecular biology lab where he spent a lot of time convincing smart people to do stuff.