I’m afraid for all his Glaswegian heritage, Connoly was hardly the man his hometown was. Without our leader, Connoly would have quickly dissolved into a ranting pile of flesh had I not stepped in and snapped him out of it with a good shake. I needed him at least calm enough to get moving because, with Whitworth gone, we needed to get the hell away. Whatever had taken her would still be out there, probably stalking us now.
We pushed on till morning and I tried to keep Connoly talking, despite Whitworth’s previously strict light and noise discipline. As long as he was talking, I could keep him distracted from our bleak outlook. Unfortunately, I’m no officer. I don’t like to lead, I’ve always had someone to tell me where to go, what to do, who to shoot at. Now I had to lead Connoly, the junior member in our little couple, through the moors to safety. Even worse, I had hardly any idea where I was going. Whitworth had been carrying the GPS navigation equipment. Now without that, I needed the sun to navigate, and the blizzard was denying it.
Worse still, the howling didn’t stop now. It continued, hounding our every step. I was hard pressed to keep Connoly sane, while the incessant howling chipped away at my own peace of mind. It could not hold and around noon, or so my watch told me, The howling reached a crescendo.
Connoly broke, he screamed in rage at the snow-filled sky and dashed off into the white. I cursed and chased after him, shouting his name, but to no avail. Eventually I found myself alone in a blinding white out. The snow would soon turn my march into a trudge, wading through snow up to my thighs.
After a bit, I could no longer hear Connoly’s rage over the howling, and decided to push on, trying to keep despair from taking over my mind. As the sky darkened, I began to dig a snow trench for my shelter, and spread a field blanket over the top. Of course with the rate of snowfall, I’d probably wake up buried, but I required some much needed comfort.
I produced a tiny flask of whisky from my pack. I had managed to keep it hidden from Sinclair and Whitworth on the trip, but by now the supply was dwindling, one good pull left. Well, there was no time like the present. I swilled it around my mouth a bit, savoring the taste, and let its false warmth comfort me a bit as I laid down to try and sleep. Barely any chance of that, the howling had not let up.
At least it didn’t until near dawn. The sky was just starting to light up again when the howling abruptly stopped. I hadn’t managed any sleep after all, and the sudden changed stirred me from my position. Immediately I jumped up in alarm, whatever it was might be sneaking up on my position. With my rifle gripped tightly in one hand, I wriggled my way out of the snow trench. Of course with visibility cut all the way down, my only option was to run a quick patrol around it, but the I didn’t fancy being attacked inside the trench.
Ranging out from the trench, I looked for signs of an enemy but did not find any stalking threats, which worried me even more. The only other reason I could think for the howling to stop was that the thing, whatever it was, had found some other prey to attack. My mind immediately went to Connoly and I was seized by guilt again, guilt at letting him run away.
There was no way of knowing where he went, not in this blizzard. It had barely let up, only enough for me to make out the contours of the land in front of me for a few feet. He could be virtually anywhere by now, especially if he had continued through the night. Of course, the alternate option was that he was dead, and I liked that idea even less.
I was preparing to pack up and begin searching for him when I heard something. Something like a yelp, quickly stifled. Judging from what part of the sky was starting to light up, I could’ve have sworn whatever I heard was just north of me. My instincts told me to start legging it, but Connoly was still on my mind. I gritted my frozen teeth in determination and snuck forward in the direction of the yelp.
Sure enough, the sounds of a scuffle continued and I tentatively raised my rifle, ready to shoot whatever threat appeared. Through the snow in front of me I realized I was coming to the top of a hill, and whatever was causing the noise lay behind it. It turned out to be more of an outcropping of rock with a little hollow beyond, which the snow had not filled in as heavily. I reached the top and peered down into the hollow, and immediately wished I hadn’t. What I saw froze my already chilled blood.
There were three figures standing in the hollow, lit by a sputtering campfire. Standing off to one side was a large grey wolf-lady. The mane of fur around her neck identified her as pack leader and the scars on her body made it clear how she had earned the leadership. I could only imagine the rest of her pack were waiting in the blizzard beyond, which made me nervous that I had managed to get this close without noticing anything else.
The second person was Connoly. With heavy bruises and claw marks across his face, it was clear he had been the center of the scuffle. His parka was gone and he was down to his shirt sleeves, his body already shivering in the cold. What horrified me was that he was currently being held aloft by his neck. The fight had left him, and his limbs hung limply in defeat.
And holding him aloft was the third figure in this little group. With silver ponytail hanging to her belt, Lt. Whitworth seemed to be inspecting the poor lad like a cut of meat. I watched on as she lowered him to the ground and whispered something into his ear. I could see his eyes widen in terror and his mouth jerked open to scream. At that moment she shoved him in the direction of the wolf-lady who grabbed him tight and muffled whatever shout he was about to give vent to.
What followed kept me rooted to my spot in horrified curiosity. I watched as the wolf-lady hauled Connoly to the ground right there and tore off the rest of his kit without mercy. Naked and helpless, she had him, right there in the snow. She had him until begging whines and mewling escaped his mouth unbidden. She had him until he passed out from cold and exhaustion.
The wolf-lady let out a triumphant howl and was joined by the howls of countless other wolves. I looked in pained terror at Lt. Whitworth, who had now raised her face to the sky. I watched as she let out a shrill, keening howl, and terror gripped me. I recognized that howl, she had been the one hounding us on the moors. Right there in our midst, our betrayer, our saboteur. She had led us into this cold, white hell like blind men.
My soldier’s discipline failed me. I quickly flipped over and slid back down the way I came. As soon as I hit the bottom, I ran. It didn’t matter that every few feet I fell over because of the snow, I ran for my life. I ran until I lost my bearings. I ran until I could hear the howling no more.