Deep and Primal

February 14, 2008
Something exists in all mankind that is deep and primal. It is a savage beast, locked up by our civilized mannerisms. It yearns to be let free, and in the absence of civilization, it takes but a few weeks for the beast to break free of its manmade cage. The result is an unrecognizable being. Only one bit of him remains that can identify with the rest of society, and that is his soul. But, that soul too, was shaped by our society. His rearing, no matter how short, ensured that his soul existed; but, what if a child were left to his own devices before learning the ways of man? No doubt he would become the primal beast we all fear, but would it retain anything remotely human? Without society, could it even have a soul? Could we even call it human? Only through experience could we ever find out the truth.

Deep in the heart of Wyoming, nestled in a small little valley, lies the Citadel Ranch. It’s a small place used primarily for the raising of cattle. Its pastures were green, and its small bovine herd could be seen roaming around the ranch in all seasons of the year. Nearly all of the day, saving high noon and the hours accompanying it, the ranch lay in the cool crisp shadows of the Rockies. When the wind blew, it rocked the small, rusting iron sign that bears the ranch’s name. Like its name suggested, Citadel Ranch was a natural fortress. Encased on all sides by mountains, with only one road, and several small paths known only to the wolves, it was a place of solitude for the man who lived there.

The Jacobs family had been ranching on the same plot of land since the family patriarch had moved there nearly one hundred years ago. Peter was the latest in a long line of ranchers who had stayed to work the Citadel Ranch. Peter’s looks and attitude reflected his heritage. He was tall and, although not muscular, he had the lean fit look of someone who has worked for a living. He was broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hips. Upon the crown of his head sat untamable, flaxen hair. As was part of his daily routine, his face was free of any and all hair, and his teeth shined with a radiance rarely seen naturally. His dark brown eyes were set above a crooked nose, an eternal reminder of his slightly rambunctious youth. Thin lips were situated over a stubborn cleft chin. His large strong hands were calloused from long days of arduous labor.
He was, however, getting old and subtle signs had been revealing themselves to him as of late. His blonde hair now had streaks of gray which were nearly invisible, but he really didn’t need to see them, he felt them. He felt age in other places, too. Weariness had settled into his bones. His once supple joints had begun to grow stiff in recent years in what he knew was the onset of arthritis. It was harder to get started in the morning than it had been ten short years ago. Yet, through all of this, he kept the ranch up to its former glory, if only through sheer persistence. The only reason he kept working was because he was the last of his line. He was no longer married, and he had no one to follow in his steps. Family pride, and perhaps a tinge of jealousy, kept him from hiring ranch-hands.
Despite his refusal to have any ranch-hands, he did have one companion constantly with him. At ten, ‘Bear’ was an experienced blue tick hound. His true value was not necessarily in ranching, at which he was exceptionally good, but in the friendship he provided his owner. After long dreary days, man and dog, master and pet, friend and friend, would sit side by side basking in the light of the dying sun; and each other’s company. The one stipulation of their friendship was that it ended at the front door. The dog did not enter the house. During the long nights, Bear would bark and keep away the wolves howling on the fringes of the fenced in yard. They never did much but howl and only when the season was especially dry did they attempt to steal cattle, but it still felt good to have Bear around--just in case.
If truth be told, the strange events surrounding the Citadel Ranch started about fifteen years ago when the wolves began to penetrate the mountains around the Citadel. It was the typical migratory pattern, the food moved north, and so did the hunters. Yet, Peter couldn’t help but notice how well the wolves’ arrival coincided with his problems with Karen. Karen, how the name brings back so many memories. She was his wife of nearly three years when they had begun to be plagued by marital problems. Looking back, the problems were the usual culprits: finances and love. With a ranch, the former was nearly always a problem and with it came arguments, which eventually led to the disruptions in their marital bliss. In the end, they had made a desperate attempt to make everything better with a drastic measure. One night, whether accidentally or on purpose remains in doubt, they conceived a child. That was the night they first heard the wolves howling.
Prior to that…interesting night, they had heard stories from their neighbors about the wolves slinking around their property; however they had never seen anything more than a footprint or two dotting the ground. How odd was it that the very wolves who would later drive their marriage over a cliff should begin their howls that night.
Karen’s pregnancy was a hard one. She swelled to enormous proportions, and when she finally gave birth, it was only through the miracles of pain killers and C-sections that she survived. During her pregnancy, the marriage had only gotten worse. She didn’t care anymore. Peter was still in love with her, but she no longer had amorous feelings for him. Only a week after the baby’s birth, she packed up all of her and the baby’s things and left.
It was the wolves that truly drove her away. Their ceaseless howls drove her wild. They made her take a second look at the life she had chosen and she didn’t like what she saw. It was raining the day she left. “Raining wolves and coyotes,” the ranchers said in their dry, tactless way. It was the worst rainstorm in living memory and still, despite Peter’s pleas, she left. Later, that evening two police cars drove through the Citadel gates. Peter’s worst fears were confirmed with the word, “accident.” The car had skidded off the road, and rolled. She and the baby might have lived, they said, if the car had not caught fire. As it was, all that was left when the police got there was a smoldering pile of twisted metal. There were barely enough body parts left to identify Karen, and the only evidence that showed a baby had even been there, was its car seat, or what little of it remained scattered across the roadside. They both were declared dead, for no child could have possibly survived such an accident. Could they?
Peter was jolted out of his thoughts by the wolves’ howls. They were hungry. After living with them for years, he knew the meaning behind each and every one of their howls. This was the hunt song. They were ravenous, and they would find their fill tonight, one way or another. The sun was just setting completely when he got up from his chair. He gave Bear a goodnight pat and walked inside. As he did, he could almost swear he had seen a pair or two of luminous eyes follow him into the house. That night he was restless, and he expected there to be one less cow in the field the next morning, for the wolves seemed especially rapacious that night. He finally drifted off to sleep around two o’clock in the morning, with their howls as his lullaby.
He woke up the next day to have his worst fears realized. One of his prized heifers had been slaughtered in the night. All that was left of its carcass were a few pieces of flesh gripping mercilessly to the bone. This carcass was no different from ones found in previous years, and that was what was odd. About six years after the wolves had begun to show their wily selves, strange oddities had begun showing up among the remains left after their kill; teeth marks that no wolf could make, clumps of matted blonde hair that were an unnatural shade for a wolf, and of course, the most bizarre thing of all, feces. Now, the last one may not seem like much, but to a man as experienced with wolves as Peter was, the feces was the dead giveaway that something was wrong. It was not of a wolf, there was plenty of that nearby to make that distinction, but whatever it was, it was there at the same time as the wolves. It irritated Peter to no ends that he could not figure out what it was. That was until this kill.
Along with this corpse came the most damning piece of evidence that there was some strange entity that hunted with the wolves. Among the scuffle on the ground a play emerged before Peter’s well trained eyes. He could see the wolves’ prints. Among them was the late bovines’ hoof impressions, but here a bit farther away from the carcass, was a clear depression. It was a human footprint. All he could glean from his examination of it was that it belonged to a fairly young person, and that the persons’ feet were extremely calloused. It looked to be that of a man, but of that, he could not be certain. What really disturbed Peter, was that there was something oddly familiar about that footprint, yet how could a footprint be familiar.
The footprint filled his every waking minute. It flashed in front of his eyes with every step, breath and heartbeat. Every action, every thought, invariably led him back to the footprint. His day progressed normally, albeit slower than usual. With most of his mind distracted from his tedious tasks that made up his wonderfully simple routine how could it not? And yet, no matter how he mulled over it, he could not come up with a reasonable explanation for that impression. Reasonable. What a word, and how it did apply to this situation! Many a solution presented itself to him over the course of the day, but each made less sense than the last. Teenage vandals? No, no teenager was looking for that type of thrill, especially in these parts. Aliens? Ha, he was watching the science fiction channel too much! Wolf man? Aliens made more sense than that! That hideous footprint would not leave his mind alone.
Footprints are as unique as the people who wield them. When a child is born, his feet are inked, sets are filed away in a dark and dank storeroom, but they don’t stay there. The stamp goes home attached to the babe, and is used time and time again, whether the medium be blood, sweat, or mud. Our identifying features, our uniqueness; foot and fingerprints, attitudes and personalities, are all what make us, us. None the less, this footprint was not what set its bearer apart from the rest of mankind; on the contrary, it was one of the few things that tied him to it.

Peter woke up in the middle of the night, sheets drenched with sweat, and he listened. He wasn’t sure what woke him up, but when his senses tried to tell him something, he stopped and listened. His ears picked up the minute sounds of Bears nails clicking along the gravel driveway, but more importantly than what he heard, it was what he felt. He sensed a pair of eyes watching him, his house, everything. His hair began to stick up on the back of his neck. He lay awake, his senses all quivering with attentiveness. Every squeak, every twitch in his house he heard and saw. Nothing escaped him. When dawn neared, he felt the presence that had kept him awake all night slowly draw away from the house. When it was almost gone he walked to the front door, and opened it, stepping out into the crisp morning air. He gazed out to the horizon and, while scanning it, he saw a boy.
In the space of a second, his senses took in all the details available to him. The boy was nearing the age of fifteen. His hair was once blonde, but an accumulation of dirt had stained it a light listless brown. He was hunched over, as if he spent half of his time on all fours. His body was covered in scratches that were clearly discernable, since he had no clothing on. As Peter gawked at the odd sight, the boy caught sight of him. In a feral snarl, he bore his teeth. They were hideous. Unnaturally sharpened by God knows what, they were mottled with yellow and brown specks. Even from that far of a distance, Peter could hear the growl that emerged from his thin cracked bloody lips. He was downwind of the character, and his nostrils were overpowered by his festering, rancid smell. Of all the smells there, he could identify only identify a few; old feces, years and years of dirt, and the overwhelming stench of death.
While taking the boy in, he avoided one part of him. He evaded his eyes, fearful of what he might see. Every fiber of his being screamed animal, despite evidence to the contrary. He was afraid, that when he gazed into the face of that child, he would see only an animal, not the sentient being he knew should occupy the body. He slowly drew his eyes level with the boy. Its dark brown eyes, for he saw it truly was an it, were bright, and attentive. They flickered constantly form point to point, and although they were alert, his eyes were completely devoid of humanity. This examination of the eyes took but a second, and with its conclusion, the wolf-child scampered away from the house.
Peter returned shaking to his home. For the first time, he allowed Bear entrance. He nearly collapsed in his chair, as his mind began to absorb what he had seen. His body went into near convulsions as he recalled the soulless eyes of the creature. His mind was still struggling to grasp a name for it; for although it had the appearance of a man, it was no more human than Bear was. As his mind struggled to come to terms with the creature, Bear nuzzled up against his leg, and Peter, mind elsewhere, fell into the soothing pattern of stroking his matted fur.
Hours later, as lunch came around; Peter still sat in the same chair. His breathing had slowed, and he had entered a trance-like state. Bear had long ago walked off in order to find a comfortable place to lay his head. As Peter came to, he realized that he too needed some sleep before he could figure out what steps he had to take. He found Bear lying on his bed and, without even waking him, lied down next to him, and fell asleep.
When his eyes fluttered open, it was already dark outside. His head ached, for his mind had kept going over the details of the strange being long after he had fallen asleep. He got out of bed with his usual stiffness, and walked down the hallway to the tiny kitchen. He fixed himself a sandwich, and sat down at the table. His body rested and hunger sated, he was now able to think clearly. It was not long before the obvious resolution to the problem appeared before him. Once the idea had taken hold of him, he could not wait. He quickly found his jacket, let Bear out of the house, got his car keys, and locked his door. He was in his car in a matter of seconds, and was driving away before he had given his plan a second thought.
The town of Kiowa had started out as a trading outpost when the Old West was still being settled. Back then, the town had contained a small police headquarters, consisting of the sheriff and a deputy, two or three tiny stores, and roughly fifteen residential homes. The only thing different now, is that the sheriff has two deputies instead of one. The town, out of the way of the Oregon Trail, had never really had the chance to expand. Even with the introduction of the big highways it still gained almost no new occupants because it was so far off the beaten path. It still had a few homes ‘in-town,’ but most of its 400 citizens lived in the ranches in the surrounding areas.
Kiowa was nearly forty miles away from Citadel Ranch, and Peter sped the whole way. It never occurred to him what he was going to say, he never for an instant thought that he wouldn’t be believed, but to be honest, what chance did he really have? He got into town in record time and quickly found the tiny hole-in-the-wall that was the police station. He was met with scorn, laughter and disbelief by the junior deputy who took his report. The man was skinny with a small pointy face. His dark eyes were beady and always appeared to be darting around the room. They were deep set back in his pasty little face. He had a small slim mustache over thin tiny lips. His hands were on the counter as he burst out in bouts of laughter; they were grimy, the fingernails were bitten, and encrusted with dirt. Peter was becoming more and more enraged. He demanded to speak to the sheriff, a long time friend of his. The sheriff unfortunately was away on business and wouldn’t be back for a few days as the deputy gleefully told him. So Peter, in desperation, left him a lengthy note explaining everything. The deputy continued to laugh even as Peter walked out the door into the growing morning light.
Peter walked up the main street and turned into the little pawn shop that claimed to sell “A Variety of Items.” The chime pealed as he walked through the door into the dusty shop. He walked directly to the back shelf, knowing exactly what he needed. He picked up a large rifle and some ammunition; he paid the greasy man at the counter and hurriedly left the shop. Back in his car, Peter stopped and took a long deep breath. He considered staying in town for the night but he knew that he needed to get back to the house. He slowly put his car in drive and began the long trip back home.
When he was going to town he had sped like a demon on the way home however, his driving was slow and contemplative. Even going so slowly up the highway Peter still arrived at his front gate nearly an hour before noon. Something was wrong though it was extremely quiet and he could not quite place what was missing. He drove his car up to the house keeping an eye out for the beast in the side and rearview mirrors. He didn’t notice anything off until his car was safely in the open door garage and he was exiting. It was then that he saw the blood. It was all over the place and at the epicenter of the spillage there were drag marks, as if a body had been pulled by a malevolent entity. Fearing the worst, he followed the drag marks around to the side of the house. It was there that he saw the dying Bear. He was at his side in a matter of seconds comforting him. His breathing was labored, and bite marks pocketed his body. Blood welled up in the areas around him. Tears streamed out of Peter’s eyes as Bear gave him one last look and stopped breathing. The light that was in his eyes faded as his head, which had to this point been slightly off the ground since the approaching of his friend, slumped to the earth.
An unearthly primeval scream issued from Peter’s mouth. It echoed and reechoed back from the mountains around the ranch. The man who hadn’t shed a drop of water since the death of his wife and child over fifteen years ago now poured out a deluge of tears for his poor dog. His pain was unbearable he had lost his whole life. His best friend was gone to the same draconian fiend who had been roaming his farm. He let out another cry of anguish as he let go of the body and stood up. In a senseless rage he headed to his car and grabbed his gun. He loaded it with a bullet, shoved a handful more into his pocket and went back to where Bear was lying. He quickly found the tracks he was looking for, those that looked to be that of a human, and followed them.
They led him to the banks of a narrow creek about a mile from his house. On the other side, he saw them pick up again. He backed up a few paces and jumped over the creek. He continued to follow them up the mountains on a narrow path about a foot and a half wide. It wound through tall juniper trees and skinny pines. He followed the trail for nearly an hour driven on by his rage and grief, not even fully understanding what he was doing. His footsteps left large impressions in the mud as he essentially ran up the mountain. The path curved to follow the edge of a large rock formation. Peter followed this for a few minutes before running into a dead end. He swore as he looked for some sign to go on.
It was while gazing at the rock that he first felt something was wrong. The hair on the back of his neck began to stick straight up. Every fiber of his being was screaming to turn around. It felt as if he was in slow motion; he was no longer in control of his body, and it moved dreadfully slow. Behind him was the creature of nightmares. He had but one second to gaze into its dark brown eyes before it was on him. It jumped for his throat, and Peter tried to shoot his gun. After scarcely more than a few seconds of fighting, wolves began to materialize out of the trees. They were attracted by the clash. In the same instant Peter found the trigger and the monstrosity tore open Peters neck. Peter fired a shot deep into the beast’s heart but it continued to fight for a few seconds more, as if not understanding that it should be dead. Peter slumped as his breathing became more labored. He was not in pain, all feeling had left him, and it was with numb curiosity for what would come next that he drew his last breath. The wolves sensing the lost of one of their own howled for most of the night. They refused to touch the bodies, for they did not wish to desecrate the body of the beast.

The sun was shining brightly as Sheriff Waters drove back into Kiowa. He parked his car in front of the tiny station as he gathered his papers from the Police Conference in Cheyenne. Shoved underneath his doorway, he found the note from Peter. His disbelief grew the farther he read. His brains told him that it was just folly; his instincts however, persuaded him to check it out. Peter was one of his good friends, so he resolved to go check up on him. Either way he would need help. If the story was false, then he obviously needed psychiatric help, and if it was true… Upon his arrival at the Citadel Ranch he found Bear lying on the side of the house. It was apparent that he had been there for a few days. Waters looked around the house trying to find Peter. When he finally found his footprints, he hurried back to the car and made a dispatch to the station for help, and he started off into the forest.

It was nearly an hour and a half later that Waters finally stumbled upon the two corpses. It had been nearly a day since the deaths, but it was obvious at first glance that Peter had been telling the truth. The scavengers had barely settled in, and the bodies were still in good condition. The remains had moved slightly, and they lay almost next to each other. As Waters looked upon them, he noticed, through the dirt and grime encrusting the child, a striking similarity between the two. They had the same flaxen blonde hair, thin lips, and dark brown eyes. They even shared the same cleft chin that had attracted Karen to Peter in the first place. It was truly remarkable. As Waters prepared to walk back down to meet his deputies and assistance, he took one more look back at the two lying next to each other on the ground. They could have almost been twins.

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