They were following him relentlessly. The cold wind had smoothed and hardened the snow. The blizzard was becoming violent. Even here in the woods it was difficult to see ahead. The voyager was disorientated and worried. He knew he was in danger.
By a dilapidated logger's cabin he found, half-hidden in icy snow, an old splitting axe wedged in a tree stump. He yanked it out and smiled derisively as he examined it. Then he heard once more the muffled noises. For hours they had been doggedly trailing and tormenting him, as if they sensed he was lost.
Sooner than expected he came to an edge of the forest, a large clearing where the free, wild wind whipped up particles of ice that stung his eyes like salt. On a rise before him was their leader, waiting. The wolf was stock-still, intent and vibrantly alert.
The voyager knew there would soon be others, but he poised himself to contend first with their leader.
The sinister noises behind him caused him to glance to one side. At that moment the wolf came at him like a massive bolt, but the voyager managed to ward the beast off with a glancing blow. The wolf slowly backed away snarling viciously.
Again they eyed and assessed each other.
The wolf would now attack to kill. The voyager knew this. He knew that he would only have one chance. If he failed he would perish.
With the most terrible growl the wolf once more sprang at the man going for his throat.
The voyager crouched to one side pulling off his cloak to protect himself, and swung the axe in one continuous movement. The wolf careered past clawing at the side of the man's face, but the voyager broke the animal's neck as it tried to turn on him.
The man would have taken the pelt of the dead wolf, not as a trophy, but as a mantle to help ward off the bitter cold, but he knew he had no time for this.
He had to go on, wherever destiny would take him, but he feared that his followers would never let him go.
Again he tried to look back through the gale. The pack was regrouping, nervous and undecided. Suddenly a dark shape with hideous fangs surged towards him. This was the signal. With rabid hate and resolve the others came on as well. The voyager was determined to defend himself as best he could.
It was the blood-chilling, unearthly noise, so vividly imagined, together with the frenzied violence of the shock, and the impending, horrific doom that rudely awoke him.
The fire had gone out. It was cold. Rays of early sunlight shone through the trees and the narrow gaps between the rotting pine log wall. They coloured russet the old sackcloth that patched the small pane-less window.
The voyager felt numb. He got up, stretched painfully and wrapped himself again in his cloak. Then he groped in his bag for something to eat whilst he thought of the dreadful ordeal. A terrifying dream, strangely real. Yet he was calm and curiously confident, as if indeed he had really survived as the heroic victor against impossible odds.
When he was ready he left the logger's cabin. The splitting axe was still wedged in the tree stump. The wind had dislodged some of the ice, revealing the underlying softer, whiter snow. Near the embedded blade the snow was stained red from rust, reminding the voyager once more of his gruesome nightmare. He thoughtfully scratched the side of his face causing the scar to bleed again.
He swung his bag over his shoulder and continued on his way. The voyager knew exactly where he was going, and there was nothing that would prevent him from getting there.
Story and illustration (c. 1980) © Mirino (PW). October, 2013