Time ticked away on Alex’s research without him finding a single wolf. The island was once filled with howls at night, but after a month of listening he heard nothing while his food supply dwindled down to a few granola bars.
There was only one day left until the boat arrived. A year of research and he found nothing. The day he left home, his wife said she might not be there when he got back because a life of solitude was not her idea of a happy marriage. She accused him of loving wolves more than her. The rare time he got a cell signal, she didn’t answer his calls or text messages.
The cabin became colder and ice crystals even formed on the inside walls. The wolves needed him. If he found any proof of their existence, they would reintroduce more of them, if
there was no sign of them the project would be terminated along with his research. They needed
evidence that wolves could survive here before they reintroduced more of them. Without the proof, wolves would never howl here again.
The exploratory walks became shorter, but more dangerous. Recent snow made the ground treacherous. He went farther than usual since he was scheduled to pull out the next day. On the top of a hill, his foot slid on the frozen ground and he tumbled downward until he landed on a ledge. The pain in his leg seared, but he almost yelled out in joy when he turned around.
Wolf tracks led to a den. He pulled out his flashlight and shinned it into the darkness.
“A wolf.” He stepped backwards. The wolf stayed on its side and didn’t move. He picked up a stone and threw it. It hit the wolf’s side with a thud, but it remained motionless.
The wolf was dead.
He stayed there a long time thinking how much time he wasted here. He could be home with his wife, maybe starting a family. Darkness was coming and it brought bitter cold, but he didn’t feel it when an idea hit him. A deceptive, bad idea that could save his research.
He dragged the wolf’s body out of the den. It was stiff, but not that heavy since it looked so thin. Sickness and starvation probably caused its death.
He found sticks and with all his strength he hammered them into the snow. With a painful leg and weak arms, he propped the wolf up. The wind increased making him fear it would collapse along with his plan.
He moved farther away and snapped pictures of it. In the pictures, the wolf lived. He pulled out the radio collar he always carried with him and activated it. He emailed the people involved with the wolf research. He sent just three words along with the pictures. Wolves are here. It was a lie. Back at the cabin, a program on his computer came to life and started tracking the collar on a map.
Alex walked in different directions, he made the collar travel on the map. He walked farther then he normally would and with darkness closing in on him, he took a wrong step on the
a frozen creek and the collar slipped out of his hand and fell into the crack in the ice. It sank.
He grasped, but missed and he watched as the light on the collar turned from green to red. Red meant a dead wolf.
“Damn it.” He stayed there trying to retrieve it with a stick until the red light on the collar went out. It was dead.
The boat bobbled in the water when he got aboard.
“How did it go?” The captain helped him load up his gear.
“I thought I heard howls a few days ago, but maybe it was the wind.” The captain steered the boat away from the island.
Alex took out his cell phone and got a signal. He called his wife. She answered.
That night, on the ledge of a hill, a propped up dead wolf fell over. Next to it, two wolves sniffed the ground. They looked around then raised their eyes to the stars and howled into the night.