It was the print in the soft, clay earth that first caught the huntsman’s eye. A four-clawed pad greeted him, too large for a dog or a coyote. When he saw a second stamped into the mud a few feet away, the huntsman knew the truth.
Wolf. And a big one, at that.
Still, the huntsman might have passed it by if not for the old home in the distance. Wolves were hardly prey, and he had mouths to feed — including his own. He hoisted his axe, the polish steel head glinting in the afternoon light, and counted his options.
“Suppose I should warn ‘em,” he decided.
A wolf was no laughing matter, even worse if you didn’t know it was there. The last thing he needed on his conscience was word to get back to him that a wolf had trounced an old lady or waylaid a child.
The huntsman started down the road toward the home. It was sturdily built, a log cabin with a cobblestone chimney mounted to the far wall. A coil of smoke whispered out of it, trailing off into the distant trees. It made the huntsman long for his own hearth, a place he wouldn’t see until long after the sun dwindled on the late horizon.
He was nearly to the door when the screaming reached his ears. It rang out through those stone walls like a bell, a pleading screech that snapped short as it reached its apex. The huntsman stopped, squinting hard at the window for any telltale sign of the tragedy unfolding within those walls.
He eased closer to the walls, keeping low as he bustled through the clearing between the forest and the house. When he finally placed his back against those wooden walls, the huntsman let out a quiet breath and edged toward the window. Leaning forward, he glanced inside.
A red cloak lay crumpled upon the floor beside a pair of muddy, black shoes. An old bed, sheets rumpled in disarray, sat beside it. It all looked quite normal, and the huntsman was about to turn away when a figure loped into view.
A pair of long, canine legs paced across the floorboards. The hem of a long nightgown dangled just above those hairy ankles, running the length of that muscled body. Those front paws poked through the top of the gown, twisted in an unnatural and grotesque way to imitate human arms and hands.
What black magic was this to turn a wolf into a man?
The huntsman didn’t know, but he could not stand its presence in this place. He wondered after the screaming, though he suspected that he might be too intervene.
Of course, a huntsman wasn’t known to intervene — simply to stalk and strike when the time was right.
Inside, the wolf shrugged out of the gown. Outside, the huntsman readied his axe.