The Howls at Dawn

Dedicated to my mother, who grew up in Alaska

A loud rumble woke Dawn from her evening nap. She jumped from her bed to see everything in her room swaying. As she hurried out of her bedroom, her brothers bolted past her. They went to the kitchen, and all was still shaking.

She grabbed her little brother, Thomas, and they hid under the kitchen table. A few plates fell and shattered overhead, and then the rattle stopped.She checked on Mary, the baby of the family, and saw that she had a slight bruise from where a book fell and hit her, but nothing too serious.

Mary wailed, and dawn picked her up from her crib and bounced her on her hip. Her hands trembled as she slowly opened the door. A water main had cracked and was pouring into the street where the road had completely buckled. It had looked as though the hand of God had come down and folded the next street in half.

The earthquake spared the trailer where her family lived from the damage. Inside there were a few broken dishes and picture frames, but nothing too great. It had crumpled the houses on the neighboring street to the ground, and giant cracks were in the road.

“Tom, I need you to watch Mary. I’m going to go over to the shop and make sure mom and dad are safe.”

“It’s too dangerous for you to travel alone,” he said. “I need to know that they’re ok,” she said while handing off the toddler to her ten-year-old brother. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

With that, she snatched some sandwiches her mom made for lunch from the refrigerator and lay them in a basket. She gripped a large nickel-plated flashlight, put on her heavy red coat, and dashed out the door.The air was icy, and the ground still had a healthy amount of snow, but it was thawing in the March air.

It was already dark at 6:00 pm, but that was how Alaska was. Where Dawn lived, and she would not have traded it for anything, except for today. All the beauty had folded in half. Trees jutted out of the road, and rubble lay everywhere.

She turned on her flashlight to better see in the dark and rushed towards downtown Anchorage to the repair shop her parents ran. Stopping to catch her breath, her flashlight caught glowing eyes.A giant brindle wolf jumped in front of her, knocking the basket out of her hands. The wolf went over to the sandwiches and devoured them. When Dawn ran to reach for her basket, the wolf snapped at her and continued eating.

There was a gunshot overhead, and the wolf ran off in the other direction. Another shot fired.

“Please stop! It was probably just hungry!” screamed Dawn.

“The wolf looked like it was attacking you,” said a man’s voice in a slow drawl.

“No, it just wanted my sandwiches, so much for lunch,” sighed Dawn as she picked up the basket. “Sir, I have to go downtown. I need to make sure my parents are ok.”

“Why are you going alone?” he asked.“My folks run a repair shop downtown. My brother is at home with my baby sister. We’re all right, but it looks like the phone lines are down.”

“All correct, but why don’t I go with you? The earthquake has made the roads dangerous, and up here, you’re not on top of the food chain,” he replied, nodding in the wolf’s direction.

Dawn nodded as she picked up her basket. She saw that the man was skinny with an enormous hat and thick glasses. They both walked over the craggy streets together.

“My name’s Hansen, Robert Hansen,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Dawn Michals,” she said, giving his hand a firm shake.

“That’s some coat you have on.”

“My folks got it for me at J. C. Penney’s for my birthday. I turned thirteen a month ago.”

“Is that so?” Dawn nodded and hurried up ahead, but the street had shattered, leaving a massive sinkhole.

“What do I do now?” sobbed Dawn.

“I know a way,” he said, nodding his head past the rubble.

“Thank you, Mr. Hansen.” He grabbed her hand firmly and pulled away from the road, towards the deep pine forest.

“Are you sure you recognize the way, sir?” asked Dawn.

“Of course, I do.”

“Well, are you sure the woodlands are the best course? As you said, we’re not on top of the food chain, and there may be bears, wolves, or angry moose out that way?”

Dawn followed Mr. Hansen into the woods as the ground rumbled once more, knocking them both to their knees. Soil tumbled down the steep ravine. Robert got to his feet and helped Dawn up. He led her down a path in the forest. Debris lay everywhere. It ripped trees from their roots, and rocks jutted out like angry teeth.

“Sir, I don’t think it’s wise to go this way,” said Dawn.

She no longer felt safe with Mr. Hansen and headed out of the woods. He grabbed her sharply by the arm and pulled her close to him.

“You’re going to have to trust me!”

“No,” she yelled as she struggled to break free.

“You’re not on top of the food chain, little girl, I am.” He added as he pointed the gun at her.

His body pressed against hers, and she felt cold steel from a knife tip on her neck. She wanted to scream for help, but she was so far in the wilderness no one would hear her.

She knew she should have listened to her brother; it was too dangerous to go alone with the wild animals and aftershocks. But she never thought a person would hurt her. People were here to help. When the nights got cold and dark, they were there to be beside you and keep you warm. Now she would never feel warm again. Tears fell from her eyes.

Out of nowhere, she heard a low growl. Looking up, she saw the brindle wolf from earlier, only now it had its pack-mates. They surrounded Mr. Hansen. He aimed and shot at one of them, but the bullet flew wild. Dawn struck him in the head with her flashlight, and he fell unconscious.

The brindle wolf licked Dawn on the hand and watched her. Its eyes were a beautiful warm gold. Dawn saw that the wolf was female and appeared as though she might have been nursing. “Thank you, Mrs. Wolf,” she said, dusting herself off. The wolf seemed to nod and then trotted off into the forest after her pack.

Dawn headed back to the road, and a large army truck greeted her. A gruff older man piled her into the rig.“They have called martial law on the city of Anchorage. Tsunamis have struck coastal towns like Kodiak, and landslides are wrecking total devastation.”

“I need to see my parents,” said Dawn.

She gave the address of their store to the gruff man in the truck. Driving downtown, she saw it devastated everything. J. C. Penney’s had all but sunk under asphalt. It ripped roads in half, and gas and water lines were burst, pouring everywhere.

They stopped outside the repair shop. It was crumpled to the ground, but her mother and father stood. She saw that her dad had a large goose egg on his head, but her mom looked uninjured. Dawn embraced them, and the army truck took them to the hospital for examination. Her father only suffered a mild concussion, and her mom was fine. A cab dropped them off at their trailer. Rushing in, they hugged Thomas and Mary, relieved that their house and children were well.

“I’m glad you went looking for us, but never do something that stupid again,” sighed her mother. “I’d rather have you home safe. Something could have happened.”

Dawn nodded. She was about to tell her about the man when she heard a howl outside. She looked out the window and saw the brindle wolf.

“It’s all right, mama, I gave her some sandwiches, and she’s just been following me.”

“You know, if you feed them, you’ll never git rid of them,” her dad said, raising an eyebrow.

“That’s ok. The earthquake scared her,” said Dawn.

The wolf wagged her tail, and she could see the smaller eyes of four pups looking at her. The mama wolf then gathered her young and headed off into the woods.

“I think she just wanted to say goodbye.”“Just be vigilant. They’re dangerous animals,” her dad said.

“Yes, papa, but man is the most fatal.”

“I suppose you’re right, Dawn, be careful of who you trust. At least most of God’s creatures are pure in their intention.”

Dawn nodded at this, and overhead the northern lights shimmered, and she heard howls in the distance as she settled down for bed. ………Anchorage eventually got back on its feet after the earthquake. Her parents finally had their shop again, and all was well. She never saw Mrs. Wolf again but would occasionally hear howls in the night that comforted her. They arrested Robert Hansen and charged him with killing over seventeen women. She felt lucky that she survived, all by the luck of a furry guardian angel.

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