The Mist Wolves
Softly fluid the mist wolves ran, coalescing out of the night fog along the embankment, loping towards the inhabited streets above. The boy watched with shock and fear as their elongated snouts formed from the pearly drops of mist along the river, sniffing for prey. Prey like him. He turned and ran, feeling their cold breath at his heels, ever closer, poised to spring. He couldn’t look round, couldn’t check to see how near their slavering jaws had come to the soft flesh at the nape of his neck.
His mother had warned him not to stray too near the river at night but he, worldly wise at thirteen, had dismissed her words, laughing off the stories of the night takers as children’s tales. And now here they were, chasing him through streets he barely recognised in his panic. He had a dim idea they couldn’t venture far from water, but on a night like tonight there was water everywhere, dripping from overhanging eaves, pooling before ill-lit doorways and trickling from broken gutters.
He rounded a corner and ran up against a locked gate. Nowhere left to run. Slowly he turned to face the pack, hoping it had all been his imagination, just a young boy’s remembrance of stories designed to frighten him back inside the house before dark, but no – they were real, all right. They gathered before him to enjoy his fear, snarling, wispy and faint but solid enough to bite, he didn’t doubt that for a second. He sagged against the gate, sure his life would end here in this alley, his body carried away to the river, his mother believing he ran away. He tried to force his whirling thoughts into a plan, but time was not on his side.
Something caught his eye and he realized he’d missed a bolt-hole in the shadows; a narrow opening between high buildings, barely wide enough for a boy to squeeze through. With no time to wonder where the passage led, he lunged for the entrance and scrambled through, grazing his arms on the rough bricks. The wolves could move faster than the boy in the confined space, mingling and passing through each other as they went; he felt an insubstantial claw, not quite a solid shard of ice, rip at his calf, a taste of things to come.
The boy launched himself from the narrow alley onto the wharf, breathless with terror, the numb cold slowly rising up his left leg from his wound. The snarling wolves were springing from the gap behind him, re-forming in a semi-circle. The only way out was forward.
With no time to consider how slim his chances were in the cold, dark water, the boy plunged into the river. As he came up for air he saw the last of the pack mingle with the water, and expected to feel jaws close around his legs at any second. Something cold caught his thigh and he was under the surface again; he floundered for half a minute more before he grasped some unseen solidity and lifted his head clear of the water. Frantic, terrified, he whipped his head from side to side, searching for his assailants.
But they were gone, the fine droplets of their insubstantial bodies dispersed by the slow-moving river. Half a snarl rose above the water here, the hackles rising on nothing but a wave over there, the diluting effect lessening the wolves’ control of their element until they could no longer gather themselves for an attack. The boy drifted, ragged flotsam on the night current, praying to gods he had also not believed in before tonight for rescue before the river itself claimed him as the wolves had not.
Author BIO: Trained as a theoretical physicist, JY Saville writes speculative fiction that would make her teachers despair. It has appeared on the BBC7 website and at 365tomorrows, and is forthcoming in Morpheus Tales. When she isn’t writing she reassures the cat that she doesn’t really love the laptop more than him.