It really should have occurred to me that running on the nature reserve might not have been a good idea, even if it was daytime, even if I’d been running the trails for months. But humans are creatures of habit, and I am certainly no exception – my morning run wouldn’t wait.
The day was brisk, but not too cold. I had at least remembered to bring my phone with me, but it was no secret that cell service was unreliable at best on the wooded trails. I didn’t like foregoing music while I ran, but since I wasn’t running with a buddy, it was probably smarter. Besides, most of my friends had signed into the military and been shipped off to basic training or wherever else they ended up. So, I ran the trails alone, without music, and let my mind wander.
It really seemed to be a shame that there were no wolves in Colorado. The latest editorial piece I had copy-edited for the paper talked about the Wolf Management Plan that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife committee had put together in 2005. It was an attempt to put together a plan for the likely inevitable return of wolves to the area. The conservation center nearby likely spawned the discussion after the successful reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone. Colorado Springs is a long way from that national park, but there had been increasing reports of wolf sightings in the northern areas of the state. It was an interesting article, to say the least – well written and well thought out – but there were some dissenters.
My thoughts were interrupted by something huge crashing through the underbrush toward me. It had black fur, sharp teeth, and yellow eyes. Forgetting all knowledge that running from predators only provokes them to chase you, I turned on my heel and headed toward civilization, ignoring the winding trails altogether. Big mistake, of course. I had only taken a handful of steps when the creature tackled me full force, knocking the wind out of me as I fell across a tree stump that marked a bend in the path. There was a meaty snap that must have been my femur breaking as pain exploded through my right leg and stars swam in my vision. Jaws clamped around my wrist, crunching through the bones, and I wailed.
A wolf's howl sounded elsewhere in the woods and I started to shake as more adrenaline pumped into my system. Well, at least I was wrong about the wolves in Colorado. Barring some sort of divine intervention, I was about to be a hungry wolf pack’s next meal. The thing let go of my wrist as I cried out in pain and brought my one good arm up to protect my face. In a momentary flash of clarity, I remembered that going fetal and limp is supposedly one of the best ways to survive a bear attack. The creature was certainly huge enough, and while it more closely resembled a canine, I was hoping the theory would still hold true. Through the pain, the best I could manage was to curl around the mess of blood, bone, and muscle that used to be my arm and squeeze my eyes shut.
The creature’s claws tore at the arm covering my face and it tried to get a grip on my head, trying to drag me out of my half-balled position with a mouthful of my hair. I felt blood slithering down the back of my neck. Despite my heart pounding in my ears and the adrenaline racing through me, I tried to go limp. I hoped that if I could make myself boring enough, maybe it would go away. It was a delusion. I fought against my own body, my muscles tightening when I tried to relax them. Tears streamed across my face and into my hair.
When it let go of my hair, sharp teeth scraped against the bones of the ankle on my already hurt leg and dragged me out of the fetal position. My head was swimming from the pain, but I finally managed to be limp. I could hear nothing but the scrape of my body against the brush and my heartbeat pounding in my ears. The terrible yellow-gold eyes of the wolf-thing met mine and I knew I was going to die. The fucker.
Rage filled my chest. I was not going to go down without a fight. Yelling my anger, defiance, and pain at the creature as more adrenaline surged through me, I took a kick at its head with my good leg. My heel connected with an eye socket and the creature yelped and backed away, shaking its head. I sucked in a lungful of air and put just enough weight on my good leg to start a scrambling, crawling search in the underbrush for a branch I could potentially use to beat the huge wolf.
That's when a flash of grey fur slammed into the side of the first creature. It was another huge wolf-thing. I must have somehow managed to get in the middle of a fight for territory. Or the newcomer was interested in picking off an easy meal now that the first had weakened it. Well, not today assholes. I was not going to be taken down by a couple of wild animals, no matter how large they were.
Scooting away from the two wolves, my eyes finally landed on a sturdy fallen branch just arm's length away from me. One more pain filled shuffle across the floor of the woods and my good hand grasped the end of it. Clutching it to my chest with the only hand that could close around it, I tried to use it to get upright, but renewed pain crackled through my right leg and I crumpled to the ground again. There was no putting weight on that leg. That made things harder.
I don’t remember how I managed to get vertical, but I did. Snarls and yelps came from the masses of fur and teeth and claws behind me, but I tried not to look back for fear that it would draw attention to my getaway. Blood was pouring from a wound on my right side, drenching my shirt and the waistband of my sweatpants. Where did that even come from? I pressed a shaking hand to the wound to try to stop the bleeding and started making unsteady progress away from the fight. I tried to stay quiet as I attempted to even out my breathing and my racing heart. I've seen enough zombie movies to know what I must have looked like dragging my useless right leg the way I had to. If I wasn't in so much pain, I would have at least smirked at the thought. Instead, my vision tunneled into darkness and I closed my eyes for a moment just to catch my breath.
When I opened them again, I was face down in the dirt and leaves. Furrowing my brow in confusion, I tried to push up with my good arm and saw bare feet and ankles in front of my face. Who the hell comes out to these trails barefoot? I blinked to try to clear the black from the edges of my vision, but that only made everything foggy. I had fallen from my adrenaline high, and every inch of me screamed in its pain report.
As I tried to look up, to see who these bare feet belonged to, a man's arm scooped under me. I fought against the blackness, but my eyes rolled back into my head as it overtook me.
# # # # #
When I woke, there was a vague sensation of softness under my head, and I caught a glimpse of paisley wallpaper. I thought it all very strange for a hospital, but then the pain caught up with me and the darkness embraced me yet again.
A PLACE TO RUN will be available for purchase July 2019!