My eyes were moist, my body shaking as the thought of Hunter drowning in the Ghost Pond hit me. Hunter, the mighty She Wolf with her rare light blue eyes and endless patience, had been my friend and mentor. She had vanished, I guess sucked into the deep end of the evil lake of mystery. Our tales of darkness always contained the same message - Keep away from Ghost Pond. Why she would dare to journey near the vile lake escaped me but I was determined to find out. Yet, other matters constantly flashed inside my head. I knew what would happen once I returned to the pack for I, Spirit, was likely the dominant female now, yet I wasn’t ready to be the next, She-Wolf.
“What are you going to do, Spirit?” I could feel his wet nose as he nuzzled me. Storm had been born in the same litter as I, and unusually for a wolf, he had followed me everywhere ignoring all others.
“It’s difficult to explain, Storm, but I have a feeling.”
“You always have a feeling.”
“I know, but this is different. Hunter was old but she wasn’t hurt or weak; her coat shone in the sunshine and her actions were always made to protect the clan. And there is a strange odour around this place; it seems to come from the pond. Can you smell it?” I was pawing the mud where we stood.
“Perhaps, but now I’ve moved forward and lowered my nose near the waters, the reek of death assaults me.”
His body shook, and I knew he was as worried as I was but now wasn’t the time to return to the pack.
“And look at this mist, Storm. The sun is bright, it isn’t cold, yet the veil of concealment is thick in this part of Ghost Pond. Can you see it?” I knew my voice was shriller than it should be, yet felt it was better to show my fears than bury them.
“I agree, Spirit, but what can we do?”
I slowly walked up to him and rubbed my nose against his. “You should go back, Storm.” I didn’t want him to go home but needed to know what his reaction would be.
He bared his teeth, thought better of it and growled instead. “Where you go, I will follow.”
“You stupid, wonderful wolf, the two of us together are safer than one.” I licked him with my long tongue, turned away to follow the path where the mist was thickest and smiled. With Storm by my side, I believed nothing would stop us from unravelling the mystery.
We loped off and soon learnt Ghost Pond wasn’t a pond at all. No, it was much larger, more like a massive lake with many inlets. With soft mud covering the track our going was slow. Whilst we could cope with the fatigue, neither of us wanted to be near Ghost Pond once the light faded into black and that wasn’t far off now.
“Stop!” Storm barked out a warning. “Look how thick that mist is. And my eyes are hurting, are yours?”
I had to agree with his assessment. And as I moved forward to stand alongside Storm, I heard a noise coming ever closer. My tail and ears were raised and my backward curving teeth were ready. No matter what creature it was, I would sink them into its soft flesh and ask questions if it still lived.
The large dog was not dissimilar to a wolf, yet with a strap around its neck, it had to belong to a human. Having scented us, it lowered its head to the mud and howled in pain.
I walked slowly towards the animal clearly in distress and instinctively bared my teeth even though I wasn’t hungry.
“Kill me. Yes, kill me and send me to the afterlife, for everything here is putrid, decaying, the stench overpowering. Seeing fewer of my friends with every dawn of a new day saddens me and with my breathing so difficult… I know my time is over.”
He had grey flecks around his muzzle, an old dog, way past its prime and I knew he was no threat to us. Storm felt the same for he walked over to this dog in great pain and licked a trickle of blood from its face.
“What happened, old fella?” Storm’s voice was surprisingly gentle for a change.
“Got lost…unable to smell my way home due to this vile air. Humans dumped things into Ghost Pond. All creatures die, poisoned elsewhere.”
His breathing was rapid, his eyes half-closed, yet his mind was functioning albeit confused. Without thinking, I lowered my head down to his and growled softly. He was shaking like all the leaves on the nearby trees, yet my instinct to kill had vanished. What happened to him, could have applied to Hunter.
“I’m called Spirit, and you are?”
“Henry… they call me, Henry.” Fresh blood frothed in his mouth and knowing he was struggling to breathe and talk at the same time, I waited patiently until he nodded for me to carry on.
“You said, poisoned elsewhere. What did you mean, Henry?”
“This place, this Ghost Pond,” he spat out more blood, “is full of all the things humans no longer want. They call it, landfill, and in time Ghost Pond will be forever gone.”
I had to know more and pushed harder. “But what about the poison, Henry?”
“Yes…yes…the poison. To the south is a vast building. Many humans like my master work there. It has a huge chimney spewing out choking air… My master is ill, my family is ill and all my doggie friends are sick, as are their families. It’s…futile to stay here… Spirit…for only death awaits you.”
With his breathing so ragged, I had to ask Henry to repeat what he said about the despicable air and when he had finished, my body quivered and I howled in horror. Storm joined in, and even Henry managed a bark. To stay here was to die, I said to myself.
But my mind continued to wander as thoughts of Hunter drowning here refused to abate. Did she die because her body was trapped underwater? With so much rubbish being tipped into Ghost Pond now, it was a possible solution, but I doubted it. Over the years, she had occasionally visited this evil place and always returned safely. And if this area was so putrid, why did she never lead the clan to a place where the air was pure? Perhaps she wanted to leave but thought the stench would soon blow away on the wind, or perhaps she didn’t feel strong enough to lead the pack on a long journey? I’d never know her rationale now, but I was determined not to make the same mistake.
The reek of death was drifting on the breeze and with that smell even stronger than before, and with my eyes stinging, I guessed it wasn’t coming from the waters around us. As one, Storm and I looked upwards. Thick smoke was now belching from the huge chimney and the sky above was slowly changing from a gentle blue to the darkest black. With so much filth in the air, I could only assume Hunter had smelt the toxic fumes, tried to drink from the waters of Ghost Pond to wash away the foulness in her mouth, but succumbed to the poison in the air and drowned.
And if humans were also dying, I knew what I, as clan leader had to do.
Henry soon slipped into darkness and not wishing to see him devoured by rats, Storm and I tenderly moved him into Ghost Pond. We howled in his honour before moving quickly away.
As we raced back to the pack, I knew they might suffer the same fate as Henry if we remained where we were. And as the self-appointed She-Wolf, my duty was clear.
I would lead the clan north.
To a new place where the air was pure and the prey abundant.
Even though her actions were unintentional, perhaps Hunter had shown me the way to protect the clan.