Christmas break away from college should be a welcome time for most students, but for eighteen year old Ezra Standish, he couldn’t wait for the holiday to end. Sprawled on the tacky green silk sheets he sighed as he recalled the day’s fiasco with his mother. He had walked in from an invigorating run through the woods, not even all the way through the doorway and she was castigating him for running around like a common dog. It had all gone done from there; she lectured him on his poor choices for a future career and he laminated on her for lining up the next sugar daddy to support her. Frustrated in her continued meddling in his life, he stuffed the few clothes he had pulled out of his suitcase over the past week and slammed the lid shut. Tomorrow, I’m leaving tomorrow. There is no way I can spend another week in this place. Calming with his knowledge of leaving in the morning he settled back onto the slick sheets and found a comfortable position to sleep him. He snorted into the pillows as he considered his mother’s face tomorrow when she found her darling boy gone.
Five hours later he awoke, restless from the thoughts that still plagued him. Sighing at the moonlight pouring through the window, he got out of bed and stretched the kinks out. There would be no more sleep for him this night. Leaving now would make it easy to avoid Maude, and with that thought Ezra began gathering his things and piling them into the rental car. He missed the mustang he normally drove, but taking a flight to join his mother in Aspen at her fiance’s resort, he had to leave it back at the college. He left a note for his mother, otherwise she would use the opportunity to create a fiasco trying to find her poor lost little boy.
The tension eased from his neck as he pulled out of the resort and made his way back to where he came from. His return flight wasn’t scheduled for another week. Taking the opportunity to explore some of the forest in the area, he stopped outside of Denver to do some exploring. Seeing signs for the Genesee Trail Head, he parked and prepared to see the local area. He always had a satisfying feeling when he shed his clothes and shifted into his wolf form. It was a far cry from the terrifying experience he had as a teenager and he shifted for the first time. It was probably the only serious talk he ever had with his mother; and as such he took everything she had to say very serious. At least until he grew cocky a few years ago and began to take more chances. Like now, he knew the trail head was busy with hikers today, the number of empty cars in the lot were testament to that. Looking to the other side of the interstate the area appeared more dense with woods, and less dense with people. Waiting until he deemed it safe to make his way to the other side of the street, he spotted signs indicating the area was called Katherine Craig Park. Shrugging with little care, he eventually arrived on the other side of Interstate 70 and disappeared from sight in the thick foliage.
Ezra was annoyed that there was so much open space once he was past the dense woods by the road. He cringed as he passed an empty school, glad that school was out during this time of year. Traveling further he was pleased to find the untouched wilderness he sought. He spent hours walking and running, just enjoying the crisp fresh air. He kept a leisurely jog until a sharp sting hit his flank. Worried he stepped on a hornets nest, his tail tucked and he sprinted several feet before the world titled on its axis. Unable to make heads or tails of what direction was up or down he stopped. His eyes blinked slowly trying to clear the blurry images swirling around him, until the ground beneath him rippled and he came crashing down. A breath huffed out of him as he connected to the frozen ground. Legs twitching and eyes trying to focus, he was unable to gain control of his body. A shadow loomed over him and he gave a low grumble, unable to do more.
A thick leather apparatus was secured around his muzzle, pressing down onto his nasal passage, preventing him from taking a deep breath. If he was able to flinch he would have as loud tearing sound startled him. Whatever it was it was soon wrapping his front paws together and then the rear. His stomach rolled as he was lifted and flung onto the shoulders of whatever had captured him. He swore he could here his mother’s voice in the back of his head telling him she told him so. Sighing in defeat he eventually fell asleep during the long walk.
“What the hell?”
The loud voice startled him awake, his eyes were clearer than before, and the world lost its titling motion. Shaking his head he tried to dislodge the thick material around his muzzle. It held firm. He tried to bring his paws closer to try and dislodge it, but they were held in a firm grasp.
“Got myself a beauty today, Bud. He’s gonna bring quite a price tag from Mister McFinny.” Ezra heard the man holding him reply.
“Thought McFinny was going legal? That last inspection I thought scared him into running a straight business.”
“McFinny go straight, not likely. Nah, he’s just better at covering up than he was before.”
Ezra listened as the two men talked and headed toward a red pickup truck.
“Alright boy, here ya go.” Ezra felt himself lifted from the man’s shoulders and soon found himself locked into a barred kennel in the bed of the truck. Not liking the small kennel, with his legs and muzzle bound, he let the men know with several deep growls.
Laughing at him the man ruffled the fur on his head. “Pup, right now your all bark and no bite.” He would show him how well he can bite, if he could ever figure a way out of the bonds and cage. “Cover him up Bud, we better skedaddle before any game officers show up.” A thick tarp covered the bed of the truck, leaving him in total darkness. A few moments later he heard two doors slam shut and the truck vibrate as it was started. Unprepared for the movement when the truck drove away, he slid into the metal grating of the kennel. A sound between a growl and a groan escaped before he began trying to escape.
Two hours later he felt the truck come to a halt and the two doors open and close before everything fell silent again. The tarp being removed startled him and he let the three men staring at him know by the deep growls he aimed in their direction.
“Dang Manny, you sure found a beauty. Look at those eyes, never seen such colored eyes on a wolf before. As green as any emerald I’ve ever seen. Nice thick red coat. Well come on, pull the feller on outta there so I can get a good look at him and check him out for parasites. Can’t be too careful before I introduce this beauty to my girls.”
Ezra preened as the man expounded on his quality appearance. His ears pricked as he heard the word girls. Oh hell no, ain’t no way! I’m too young to be thinking about kids! Hell I’m a shifter, not a wolf. Don’t think what your thinking is even possible! Ezra began to struggle as the door was opened and he was pulled out. The movement was in vain as he was unable to move or bite, tied up and muzzled as he was. A cold hand checking his male anatomy, had him tucking his body away from the groping hand.
“Yup, good and intact. No worries there. Hold his tail up a moment.”
He felt exposed and a bit embarrassed as his tail was lifted, but cringed as he felt something breech his rear assembly, leaving him feeling violated.
“Gonna go check his stool for parasites. Be right back. Gotta be sure he ain’t bringing nothing bad on the property. Last thing I need is more do-gooders trying to shut me down again.”
Ezra wiggled trying to rid himself of the sensation that was left behind. He listened to Bud and Manny chat about how much they were gonna make on him. He tried again to wriggle free, then snap and growl at the two men. It left him tired and his muzzle moist from the excess spittle.
“Good news boys, he’s clean. Gotta do a blood test still to check for heartworms, but he appears healthy enough, doubt he has any.
I should think not, you moron.
A number of small pinpricks caused him to jump. “There now, gotta make sure your shots are all up to date. Now let’s just get you microchipped, then we can get you into a nice enclosure.”
Ezra felt the rough of his neck grasped before a large needle caused him to whine in pain. He could feel the blood drip along his coat when the needle was removed. Ow, that stung.
He felt one more sting, before things got a bit hazy. He felt himself carried away from the truck and a series of loud clangs before cool air connected with his moist muzzle. He blinked slowly at the three men standing behind the bars looking at him. Trying to get to his feet was an impossible feat. He stumbled and fell, eventually giving up until his legs were better able to hold him. His head swung around, dismayed he realized he was the one behind bars, trapped in a small enclosure with no visible way out.
A series of low grumbles penetrated his sedated mind, and with it the fogginess that had a hold of him before rolled away. His ears twitched at the grumbling sound not far away from him. Sighing he stretched and turned his attention to the noise that had awoken him. Yellow eyes were evaluating him, set in a lupine face that curled its lips above the long canine teeth below. Daylight was slipping below the mountains in the distance causing him to pinpoint more glowing eyes behind the large black wolf staring at him. Ezra took a step toward the growling beast, but a sharp growl and bark caused him to back step away from the agitated animal. He dropped his head and pinned his ears, trying to appear non-threatening to the beast. A loud screech behind him caught his attention and he looked in the direction of the strange noise. It was a mistake he would never forget as the large wolf used the opportunity to pounce on him and begin its attack. The drug in his system slowed his responses allowing the large wolf to puncture through his thick hide and shake him as if he were a stuffed animal. He swore he could hear the voice of the man that bought him from the poachers but a sharp sting in his hindquarters rendered him senseless. He had a slight satisfaction as he watched the wolf that attacked him fall beside him. His vision was glassy, but he could now hear the man cursing about the damage. You aren’t the only one upset. Perhaps I should have stayed with mother.
He felt himself lifted out of the enclosure and onto a metal cart. The scenery blurred by until he focused on the building he first saw when he arrived earlier in the day. The bright lights stabbed in his eyes as he was brought into the building. Unable to move he allowed his working senses to appraise his current situation. He listened as McFinney grumbled aloud.
“Damn that wolf. Every freaken time I try to add a nice animal to the pack he has to spoil it. I swear he does it on purpose. I’ll have to sell you now, no way those she-wolves would take you in an alpha role now. Let’s get you stitched up and on to your new local. Damn but you would have been good to have some pups out of.”
Ezra cringed at the thought of bringing new life into the world. Good Lord! He was thankful his body was numb at this moment so he wouldn’t have to feel the stitches being put into him.
“There now, all finished. Let’s get you loaded up now so we don’t have to worry about it tomorrow.”
He felt himself rolled back out of the building and then placed into a kennel in the back of a van parked outside. He tried to fight the lethargy in order to escape, but he was only able to twitch his limbs. Before he knew it he was locked in a metal cage inside the dark van. Sighing at the inability to escape he laid down to wait for what the morning would bring.
The opening and closing of the van door woke Ezra from his sleep. He felt the van vibrate as it was started and laid down his head. He was miserable, his body ached and the stitches were itching him now that the numbness had worn off. He dozed until the van screeched to a stop and he was slammed into the side of the kennel. Oh that hurt. He wasn’t sure how long the drive was but sighed when the van finally reached its destination. Certainly his side was bruised from the repeated times he hit the side of the kennel.
The side door slid open and his nose twitched at the strong odors permeating the location. His kennel was pulled out of the van and loaded onto the back end of a golf cart. He looked out of the kennel with dismay as he recognized the zoo atmosphere. He knew his chances for escape were dwindling. Shuddering he considered the implications. There would be no way he could return to his human form here. This was sure to be video surveillance throughout the park. It worried him what staying in this form for a prolonged time would do. There would be no more privacy and he revolted at the thought of what they would require him to eat.
Thankfully the ride was fairly short and his crate was lifted from the golf cart and carried into a long brick building. A tall blond woman was waiting at the door, a long white lab coat covered a pair of well tailored pants and blouse.
“Easy with him guys, McFinney said he was injured in a fight with his alpha wolf.”
Ezra thought she had a pleasant western accent. There was no doubt in his mind that he would have asked her out if he were here in a different capacity. As she came closer, he found himself captivated by her blue irises and the sweet smile that showed a hint of pearly white teeth.
“Well now, aren’t you a handsome fellow. Now just hold still a moment, I promise this will only sting for a moment.”
His eyes rolled when he felt a sharp sting penetrate his hind end once more. The muscles in his body turned to jello and he collapsed down into the crate.
“Wow that hit pretty fast? I bet that moron sedated you not long ago. Gentlemen would you please move him onto the exam table, I would like to exam him as quickly as possible. When your down I’ll need section A prepared for his quarantine period.”
Ezra listened as she sent out her orders, but soon lost sense of what was happening as the drugs pulled him further into the darkness.
“Come on boy, that’s it. Good…good. Now your waking up.”
Ezra yawned, a feeling of deja vu crept over him. Opening his eyes he stared around at the enclosure he was placed in. The entire area was enclosed with thick glass walls, far too high to get out of. The one exception was a large metal door that lead into a building made from cinder block. Trapped. How the hell am I going to get out of this predicament? He shuddered as he found little protection from prying eyes. Standing up he began to walk the perimeter beginning from the metal door around. As the glass emerged from the building, he noticed an area where the public could watch him. How creepy. A family with three kids stopped in front of his display and the kids began smacking the glass with their dirty hands, leaving smudges of dirt, saliva and food upon the glass. The oldest of the three, made funny faces at him, causing the two little girls to giggle and slap the now dirty glass. He watched with disdain as the smallest girl proceeded to pick her nose and wipe it on the glass before her parents pulled her away. Good Lord, how revolting.
Moving along he came upon a mote that kept him from being able to reach any closer to the outer cage. More people observed him from above, in fact this part of the enclosure was the largest. It could allow literally hundreds to watch him from above. The chatter from the few people up there now whispered across to him. Continuing his circuit brought him to the enclosure that bordered his own. Inside was a small pack of wolves. He sat and watched them interact for awhile before the feeling of being watched tingled his nerve endings. Seeking out the watcher he found himself being observed from the metal door. Shaking off the worry he decided to take a look at the area within the walls.
The central area held a cave-like house. I suppose this is where I am expected to sleep? How demeaning. Surrounding the cave was a stretch of soft sand that met a thick carpet of grass. How in the world was that grass green in the winter? Trees and shrubs were planted throughout. A small pond had an array of birds and turtles along the edges or seated on the logs that gave the pond a more natural appearance. His shoulders slumped as he realized that was where he would be getting his fresh water from.
Finding nothing left to explore he sought out the semi-privacy of the cave. Completely shattered at the thought of this being his new home he turned his back to the opening and laid down. If he could have cried as a wolf, he would have been hysterical at this point.
Winter had passed and the warm weather of spring was a welcome relief to Ezra as he greeted the early afternoon sunshine. Enjoying a long stretch he glanced around for his breakfast. When he didn’t spy the food thrown on the ground he knew it was Marco’s day to care for him. He had learned quickly that Marco was to be avoided at all costs. The man took pleasure in causing him pain. How the man had become employed as an animal keeper he never knew, but if he ever got free of this place he would see the man paid for what he did to himself and the other animals he was responsible for.
“Just you an me today, eh puppy”
Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Ezra felt the sharp swat of the bamboo stick Marco often carried make contact with his side. Bastard.
“I have something new today pup, gonna see how you like it.” The man laughed at his own joke.
Ezra ignored him as he made to get out of his way.
“Nuh uh, not done with you yet boyo.”
Ezra glared at the tall Mexican. There was nothing attractive about the man, his belly protruded and hung over the low hanging pants he wore. A swallow face contained a nose that had been broken one time too many and a pair of beady eyes set too close together. The man kept his hair long and held back in a ponytail. A high hairline caused his forehead to hood over the eyes and the finishing touch was a mouth of crooked yellow teeth, well what few teeth he did have. In all Ezra found the man repulsive, not even a face a mother could love.
“Ha ha, you think you can take me muchacho? Wait til you feel what I have for you. Come on I dare ya, ha ha.”
If ever there was someone worth biting it was this man. From the first meeting he had with him just days after his incarceration here, the man had been the bane of his existence. Snarling at the man he hoped it would be enough bravado to back the man off. Again the bamboo stick hit him, he felt a welt rise from the pain. Now growling, snarling and barking at the man he hoped to bluff him again. He caught the movement in the corner of his eye as the stick came towards him again. Ready for it this time he snatched it in his jaws and listened in pleasure as the bamboo crunched. His joy turned to fiery pain as a loud crack thundered in the sky and a trail of blood dripped down from his back. Yelping he backed away from the man, hoping to stay out of reach from the long whip that he was swinging.
“Ah I see you don’t like my new toy. I’m a fine welder of the whip pup. I’ll put you in your place. You’ll see.”
Another crack had him trembling, but he didn’t feel the sharp bite of the whip like before. Calming, hoping the man was done tormenting him, he was ill prepared when the next crack opened a wound on his front shoulder. Another yelp escaped him and he scuttled back as far away as he could from the man.
“Where you think you’re going pup? Ain’t no one here to help you today. It be downtime at the zoo.” Laughing the man stalked Ezra further into the corner, lashing out with the whip as he continued closer.
Backed into the corner, Ezra curled into himself as he felt the whip bite into him again and again. Lost in the pain his body trembled as it tried to deal with the damage that was done. The hitting and cursing from Marco stopped. Dredging an eye open he sought out the crazy man’s location. He was startled to find him squatting near him, just staring. The creepy smile cause a shiver of fear to run down Ezra’s spine as he realized he may not live through the man’s torture.
“Not so tough now are you pup. You haven’t seen all the toys I brought yet. You’re going to like the next one, just wait it’s real shocking.”
Ezra whimpered at the thought of more pain. Before he could consider what was in store he felt a jolt of electricity ravage through his system. His muscled all constricted, he couldn’t escape the excruciating pain. As the jolt died down his limbs continued to jerk and tremble from the excess voltage running through him. His eyes widened and then slammed tightly shut as he prepared for the next jolt to overcome him. A grunt and clang had his eyes popping open, wondering if another form of torture was coming. He blinked a few times as he tried to comprehend what was happening in front of him.
Another man was trading blows with the deranged man. Silently he cheered him on. Get him. No watch out. Duck. Stay away from that cattle prod. Oooh that had to hurt. The silent cheering continued as he watched the man take Marco down. Two more men came running into the enclosure heading for his savior and Marco. Coming to a decision he pulled his screaming body from the ground and limped before the two combatants. Pinning his ears back and giving his nastiest snarl he warned the two men from proceeding. He was sure he was presenting the men with a gruesome sight, hunched low dirt and blood dripping off his body. The taller of the two skidded to a stop and held his hands out, trying to show him he was harmless and wouldn’t cause him harm. The other glanced over at the two fighting men before narrowing his glaze on him. The man’s tough exterior turned to surprise as his eyes rounded at whatever he had perceived.
Time seemed to stand still until the man that had saved him pushed by him, throwing Marco at the tall man. “Get’em outta here for I do something I may not regret Bucklin’.” The man that had been gazing at me dropped his hand onto the savior’s shoulder as the man bent over catching his breath.
“You alright Vin?”
“Yeah, just need a minute to catch my breath.”
The man nodded before looking back over at Ezra. “We have a big problem here.”
“I can see that cowboy, what’re we gonna do?”
“Get Nathan…and tell him to bring the special tranquilizer.”
Ezra watched as the younger man left, wondering what was going to happen next. A few minutes later a dark skinned man arrived carrying a small dart gun. Why does everyone keep shooting me with tranquilizers? Do I have a big target posted on me saying..’Shoot here’? Ow damn’t, why is it always in the rear? Blessed darkness arrived and allowed the pain to disappear with it. He felt himself lifted and carried out of the enclosure. At least I am free of this place, what his last thought before total darkness left him unaware.
Warmth…Soft…it was a pleasant feeling and Ezra tried to ignore the buzzing that was taking him away from the comfort he had long been hoping for. Shush and let me sleep.
“Sure is a grumpy lil feller now ain’t he?”
“Hush now Buck, he’s likely pretty sore and tired. A body’s not meant to take that kind of abuse.”
“Didn’t mean nothing nasty by it Nate, just think its kinda cute how he’s cuddling in them there covers.”
Ezra listened as the two voices floated above him. This was the best dream he had since he had lost his freedom, although he didn’t understand where the voices were coming from. Go away strange voices, too early to be awake.
“Sun’s been up for hours there pard, day’s bout half over.”
That voice was familiar, but he couldn’t place where he had heard it before. It was taking too much effort to think about it and he settled back down and let the voices continue to float around him.
“Gesh Nate how much sedative did ya give him?”
“Weren’t that much JD, we shouldn’t be having this much trouble waking him up.”
Of for the love, would you all please just shut up and let me sleep, your ruining my wonderful dream.
Peels of laughter tickled his ears as he realized that his dream world was a falsification. Green eyes popped open and before anyone in the room could react he was off the bed and scrambling for a way out. Terrified he sprang toward the open doorway only to be blocked by a giant. Only one option for freedom was left open to him and he charged toward the glass window. I hope this room isn’t too far up or this is really going to be painful. The other men in the room were creeping toward him talking low, but the words were not making any sense. He was too far gone in his flight response for the words to penetrate. He faked toward his left before charging to the right and seeing the window before him he jumped.
The glass didn’t shatter and a hard landing never came, instead he was griped in the arms of the man that had entered his enclosure after his savior had saved him. His body trembled as the adrenaline wore done and words were starting to make sense. A soft rumbling was reaching his ears and he felt himself respond to the voice. The sounds started to make sense and he listed to the crooning words.
“Easy now kid, ain’t no one gonna hurt ya here. No your frightened but we won’t let nothing happen to ya.”
Comfort from another human was not something he was ever familiar with. Within moments he was pushing back, hoping to be released. The man instead walked over to the bed and laid him on it, careful to avoid pushing on his wounds. “You’re safe here. You can change whenever you are comfortable, but you may want to do it soon so Nate can care for your wounds.”
His eyes widened at the implication. Did they know he could change form from a wolf to a human? His eyes narrowed, perhaps this was a trick? The man he assumed was the leader of these men nodded to him before standing and removing his clothing. In seconds the man transformed into a large black wolf, his hazel eyes flecked with red stared at Ezra. Another blink and Chris was back in his human form once again. “Can you change?”
Ezra felt at peace and transformed into his human form. Exhaustion filled his every pore. It had been a long time since he had been able to change. Smiling at the others his soft southern voice filled the room, “Ezra P. Standish at your service, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Sighing into the soft mattress his eyes closed with the smile still on his lips. He wasn’t sure what tomorrow would bring, but the feeling of those six men watching over him gave him a strong hope for what may come.