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Chapter 03: Wounds
The storm had been worse than expected. The snow had fallen so thick Barricade had barely been able to see from his house to that of the humans the reason Rachel had insisted he stayed with her this night. A good idea, as they had to discover the next morning. The snow reached from the ground half way up to the veranda, his own house completely snowed in, which forced Barricade to remain behind until his owner had cleared the way, but other than that everything seemed alright. No cows missing, no building either and the horses ... well, they were their usual, crazy selves and apparently didn't even hold his sore mood yesterday against him anymore, but still there was something wrong, very wrong. He could smell it.
He could smell it!
Irritated the woman looked back when hearing the bark and watched her dog and friend jump through the snow to her. He sniffled here and there, then continued his search, getting closer to the barn, the only building the woman hadn't been in until now, with every jump. Noticing the pattern Barricade stopped and looked expectantly at his owner.
"Barricade, stay. I'll be right back" she said and went back into the house, only to come back with her shot gun and Gramps Joe close behind her.
Following the smell further Barricade found a hole in the barn wall with blood and fur. A wolf, female, alone and obviously hurt, badly if the strength of the smell was anything to go by. Sadly he couldn't tell that his owner, but they had ways to make up for lacking senses.
"That would explain a lot."
The humans straightened, freed the gate from snow and positioned themselves at both sides of it. Gramps Joe then pulled it open and Rachel and Barricade jumped in, ready to shoot/bite everything that moved, but nothing happened.
"I don't like this."
"I don't like it either" Rachel mumbled, as if she could actually understand him. Slowly they searched through the straw. In the backmost corner to Barricade's shock right where the cats had lived laid a wolf, a notable small and badly wounded wolf, but still a wolf.
Uncertain the cattle-dog looked up at his partner, but for once Rachel seemed as clueless as he was. Using the handle of her gun the human prodded the wolf. The wounded being stirred, one eye opened and tried to focus on them, then her look became empty and the body stilled, although not completely.
Again dog and owner looked at each other.
"God, why does it always have to be the hard way?" the woman complained, then took a blanket and threw it over the wolf. When she didn't move Rachel carefully got closer and scoped the small quadruped animal up.
"Doc Ratchet won't be happy."
"Neither am I. What do you think you're doing?" Gramps Joe complained, but was ignored.
"My farm, my rules. If you have a problem with that go and try to change the deed of ownership again. Until then I decide what's right and what's wrong."
That, Barricade decided, was bound to become a very nasty argument once they returned from the vet, but first things first. He surely wouldn't let his owner alone with a wolf.
"Great, Ratch, and now the whole speech in simple English, please."
"She is half starved and has several wounds, most from claws and fangs, some fresh, but also many old wounds and she got a compound fracture in her left foreleg. I could safe her eye, but ... I don't think she will ever be able to hunt again, at least not successfully."
Having heard enough Barricade went back to the other room and the cage where the still unconscious wolf laid in. She was small, thin, now that she was shorn even more so than before. He knew what it meant when a wolf, an outcast by the look of it, couldn't hunt anymore: zoo or euthanasia and both were a death sentence; at least it would seem like that to her, he was sure of that.
The cattle dog wondered how old she was and what she had seen. Had her pack been wandering around a lot or was it only hunger that had driven them out of their territory? And why had their done that to her? Not that it was of any concern to him. This was just a wolf after all, a wolf that, if the situation would have been just a bit different, could and probably would have inflicted serious harm to Rachel.
She had to be cold without her fur, but that was what red light lamps were for.
"Like what you see?"
Barricade actually jumped.
"Really now? With that stare you could wake the dead."
Her voice was still weak and rough. It sounded as if it hurt to speak ... or it was just the acid in every word.
"I'm referring to the narcotics. They actually should have knocked you out for a while longer" the cattle-dog tried to safe his dignity, only amusing the wolf further. She didn't react the way he would have expected her to at all.
"Shouldn't you try to get away?"
"And for what reason? I have nowhere to go and here it is at least warm and safe."
"Great, just my luck: I get the dump dog for company. Go and play with your master, dog. I have no business with slaves and want to be alone."
"I'm no slave and my name is Barricade."
"And don't you come running when your master calls and do as he says?" she replied scornful.
"Well, at least my pack didn't cast me out."
"Of course. Because everyone knows wolves always run around alone and half dead."
"You know nothing about ... !" whimpering the wolf broke down again after attempting to jump up and suddenly Barricade felt sorry for provoking her like this.
"Are you okay?"
"You really must be dump to ask that."
And there went the sympathy out of the proverbial window. Growling Barricade went back to the door and scratched at it until Rachel let him out, but he couldn't stop himself from looking back at the heap of pain and misery the wolf had become the moment she thought she wasn't watched anymore.
Rachel also looked at her for a moment, then they went to the rover and drove back to the farm.