There are wolves in the forest by April O’Neil’s home.
At least, that’s what she’s been trying to prove to anyone who will take a chance at listening to her.
“The only wolves living in New York live in the zoo. It was probably reflection from the streetlights, or someone was talking an early jog.” Her mother told her a few years back, when April woke up early one morning to see bright red eyes peering from the treeline. She told her there’s no way she mistook what she saw; their intensity was unlike anything else. She also knew for a fact that she wasn’t the only one who heard the intermittent howls that pierced the night so rarely. Hell, there were even some reports of sightings, some called them large dogs, some called them cryptids, and some went as far to say werewolf .
The weather, as with every northeastern state, turned for the worst right on time. The snowstorms were to be expected, but they never got any more pleasant. It didn’t deter the hunters, though, and if anything it bolstered their desire for the rugged chauvinist image that always seems to formulate in the minds of middle-aged men.
April caught glimpses of the occasional passing truck full of men in their camouflage and orange vests, the pickups loaded with tarps and snares and traps and rifle ammo. These cars trawled steadily through the slush-covered streets while April walked home from school. After making the mistake of attempting to ride the bus the first day, she learned the hard way that walking was better, so long as you dressed for it. There has been another flurry the night before, so she put on at least three layers, uncomfortably hot while indoors, but so cozy in the elements. Her waterproof boots allowed her to tread at a steady pace over the salted sidewalks and her mind wandered to the new library books nestled inside her backpack. She would have to find time between her shifts at Al-Bear-To’s and homework to read them, but she could manage. These things had become a routine by yesteryear. At least she was so, so close to graduating.
“I’m ho-o-o-me .” She hollered after opening the apartment’s front door. She looked both left and right before closing and locking it. She didn’t hear response, so her mom was probably at the grocery store, or something. April went to her room so she could start her Physics homework, a packet detailing how vectors work. Being a science-nerd had its perks, and she did find physics and chemistry interesting, but she really felt most comfortable during her computer programming course, despite the little Purple Dragons Club that made everyone who didn’t like coding think everyone who did like coding was annoying and rude, and no April didn’t just think that way because of her falling out with Kendra thanks brain .
The packet only took, like, 20 minutes, so April finally dug out her copy of The Temple of Wolves . As she completed chapter one, she wondered what it would be like to travel with a wolf pack, certainly it would be so much better than going to school five days a week to see people you didn’t get along with to get some shitty job for the rest of your life. So much better . If only wolves and humans could co-exist better, and so many hunters didn’t drive them to near extinction in the States. April sighed, checked the time, and changed into her pizza parlor uniform before heading out for her shift.
When April returned to the apartment, with a much less enthusiastic greeting than earlier that day, she actually had a response. Her mom sat, with the same degree of exhaustion as her daughter, on the sofa watching the nightly news.
“Hey, baby, there’s spaghetti on the stove.” Her mother said in lieu of a proper greeting.
“Thanks, mom.” April said, and before long was sitting next to her mom slurping at a plate of microwaved noodles while the news reporters droned on.
“-say not to leave out trash bags where these animals can easily get to them. While officials have allegedly been keeping an eye out, some residents are worried that these repeated incidents will encourage local hunters to take matters into their own hands.” The newslady read diligently off the teleprompter. B-roll footage of people’s torn trash bags, and interviews with residents played.
“Isn’t it weird for these things to happen in the winter?” Her mother asked flimsily. “If it were a bear, wouldn’t it be hibernating or something? I’ll bet it’s a bunch of coyotes. Everyone just gets this hunting fever this time of year.”
Or… April wanted to say, but she just stuck another forkful of spaghetti into her mouth.
Sometimes, she would leave scraps on her back porch, where civilization fell away to wilderness (or at least a close facsimile of it). Years ago, she learned that it was probably not the best thing to do, as it drew all sorts of pests that were more trouble than they were worth. Plus, feeding animals people-food, mainly scraps of pizza, was just plain unhealthy for any creature, including humans. However, if her theory was correct, they were desperate; this was her chance to finally, finally see the truth.
And so she sat backwards on her couch peering through the blinds at the now-cold spaghetti plopped onto a paper plate, for the slim chance of spotting a wolf. As the clocked ticked, and her eyes burned with a desire for sleep, April contemplated the stupidity of her choice. If anything, she’d get a raccoon, like her mom said. Or a stray cat. Or-
She was about to turn away from the window to relive the strain in her neck when she saw them: those bright, piercing, blood red eyes, followed by a canine face, and a lupine body. A wolf .
She gasped secretively, every fiber of her being alert and awake, as if it were a phantom instead of a flesh-and-blood creature. It was massive - granted she’d only seen them in books and videos- and incredibly fluffy-looking. The wolf’s fur was a deep reddish-umber color, lighter at the feet, chest, and mouth and darker at the head and back. An old scar criss-crossed its left eye and nose bridge, and various others lined its body. The canine crept quietly up to the plate of pasta, ears and nose twitching in anticipation, paws practically gliding along the ground. It was almost comical that such an intimidating predator was attempting to covet some leftovers. April didn’t even think to wonder how it got past the other tenants’ watch dogs, she just watched as this elusive animal gobbled the cold pasta, licking the plate clean. Then it looked up, it looked right at her . They both froze, April didn’t even dare to breathe, just watched how its eyes widened in the universal look of ‘ oh shit ’.
The wolf backed up slowly, before dashing off like a shot, back to wherever it came from. She covered her face to keep herself from screaming out loud, but then she thought, how did it get past the gate ?
Raph’s back , Donnie announced. It was mostly unnecessary, because everyone else could tell when Raphael returned. He just wanted to bring back the subject of food, because he was just about to start gnawing at his own stomach. All the stupid hunters were making it way too hard to find something bigger than a squirrel or rabbit, or a turkey, if they were lucky.
Raph’s back! Mikey echoed with a bark and ran up to said wolf to lick at his chin, partly because he missed him so much and partly because he, like the rest of them, were desperate for something to eat. Raphael lifted his head and growled to make him stop, and Mikey did, but not without and whine and puppy-dog look.
Did you find aaaanything? Leo asked, still flopped lazily on his side since before Raph left an hour ago. He had laid there so long, all the snow beneath him had melted in a canid-shaped bed. It wasn’t like the ground was much warmer, the only reason they weren’t in the den was in the hope of good news.
The eldest brother laid down next to him to share warmth. Mikey slinked over to join them in their dogpile. Donnie stayed put, chin atop his forepaws, waiting for Raph’s answer, watching intently for any signs of a lie.
No, well, I mean, not really. The spiky canine admitted, and licked his lips in memory of whatever he tasted, the asshole. Some girl left out some spaghetti, but I left because she was, like, watching me . He shuddered slightly, either from the memory, or the cold. Donnie could tell that more snow was soon to come, so he stood and stretched.
Whatever, at least we all ate something today . He yawned and walked back to the den’s entrance. A few fluttering snowflakes signified the beginning of another flurry, and there was no point being caught in that weather any longer than necessary. The rest of the pack squeezed into their underground home behind him.