The night air was settling on the mountain; the late rising moon gave the stars a few minutes to own the sky. The savory fragrance of the pines now mixed with the smoke of the campfire; the crackling of the fire now was becoming background to the awakening sounds of the night forest - an owl calling to a distant friend, a band of raccoons could be heard making their way to their fishing hole, the coyotes taking their places for the evening's chorus.
It had been a good day of fishing for the Captain and me, not a great but a good day -enough mountain trout to fill the frying pan. Add some corn bread biscuits and some baked beans laced with molasses, some snorts of Jack Daniels, and life was good. Captain would get a couple of biscuits, maybe three, he'd get the remains of the bean pot and possibly a share of the fish. Old Captain, my black Lab, loved these fishing trips. We've been making these trips to Wolf Mountain since the days when Captain was a young pup and I was a younger man.
But this time, a night fog was setting in, a mist that was turning the mountain into a ghost. The air was turning to frost, a cold so cold that it began to steal away the fire's warmth.
The Captain gave me a worried look that came from his coffee colored eyes, a look I had never before seen in my old friend's eyes. It felt as if he were sense of a rising wildness all about us. The owls in the trees, their solemn hoots became more as mournful cries, as if they were trying warn the mountain that tonight something evil had been let loose and was on the prowl.
The Captain then drew his ears to attention and lifted his nose into the air. He was sensing something and he was desperately wanted to figure out just what it was. Then he must have uncovered some ancient fear within his instinct, for he slouched down beside me, wanting whatever he sensed, to pass us by.
With that, I swear I began to hear the woods begin to breathe, with heavy, panting breaths. It had that relentless pace, like the sound of wolves enduring the heated hunt, gasping for more air as they kept going on the long run together. Closer and closer, the sound of the panting shadows came, circling over and over again the Captain and me. We had become the helpless prey for these Masters of the Hunt, easy prey and they knew in their common soul that the pack was too much for us.
Along with the silent breath of the pack, we could now hear the paws of each wolf as it made each stride. We could begin to hear the snarl that rumbled deep within each savage soul. Here and there, eyes filled with hellfire burned holes into the night. Closer and closer, now like a rising, boiling fever, they were now just beyond the firelight.
The Captain reached down deep within his primal memory for the wild spirit deeply buried within his bones. I had only those fears that our frail humanity has always tried so hard to conquer.
I reached into the fire and pulled out a flaming torch, the act of desperate human trying to find some way to fend off the inevitable.
Then they were here, flashes of gray leaping out of the darkness. eight ghostly wolves passing through our camp as they continued on with their eternal hunt throughout these dark and deathly hills. And as they did, their shapes passed through our souls, the souls of Captain and me, leaving with us forever a trace of the wild that snarls away the fear.
As our heartbeats slowly began to quiet, the crackle of the campfire returned once more, midst the occasional hoots of the distant owls and the fragrance of the moutain pines.