They were lost, that much was true. They had been lost for some time, but neither spoke of it. Night had come quickly. The day’s pleasantries were nothing but a distant memory. There was no longer the warmth of the sun or the inviting summer breeze to keep them company. Now they were prisoners of the darkness, wrapped in a blanket of broken trails, clicking branches, and howling beasts. In short, they were fucked.
The first to realize they were lost was the tall man. He was slim and clean, save for a smarmy pencil-mustache drawn across his upper lip. The second man was short, squat, round, and usually red-faced. But out in all that cold and all that dark his skin was exceptionally pale, and his bloated, red face had turned sick and ghostly. The round man had planned poorly, dressing himself in a thin flannel shirt and a pair of slacks more suitable for cubicles than wilderness. His ratty sneakers were worn to the nub, having endured countless months of decay and reeking of furry patches of mold.
Night had been lasting for centuries. The food was gone and they hadn’t come across fresh water for hours. All that was left were a few measly drops at the bottom of the canteen. Their tent had been damaged in the storm the night before and their sleeping bags were still soaked. Their legs were tired and weary and their minds were beginning to play tricks on them. They had lost the map. They had lost the compass. But one thing was true: they still had the gun.
“I never should’ve let ya talk me into this,” groused the round man.
“Just keep moving,” said the tall man.
“We’re both cold.”
The tall man could hear the round man’s feet shuffling behind him, dragging across the dirt with his short, fat strokes. This was beginning to irritate the tall man. He hurried on ahead and the round man watched his lanky outline disappear in the dark. The round man tried to keep up, but soon he could no longer hear the tall man’s footsteps. He stopped, surveying the dark. In the silence he could hear a stream nearby.
“Hey!” the round man called up ahead. But there came no answer. “Hey!” he called again. “I hear fresh water.” No answer. “It’s over here!”
The round man cut through a cluster of branches and emerged into a wooded glen. Cutting through the glen was a slowly moving stream. The round man uncapped the canteen and dunked it in the water. He splashed a handful on his face and rubbed the nape of his neck. The water was cold, but somehow it seemed to warm him. He tipped back the canteen and swallowed three large mouthfuls that did nothing but cramp his stomach. He fought the pain away and took another gluttonous sip.
A branch cracked behind him and the round man jumped to his feet. He peered through the darkness, but could barely see the cluster of branches he had cut through.
“Is that you?” the round man asked. Another branch clicked. “Quit screwing around,” he called. “I found water.”
A gunshot rang out and the round man froze. He heard the bullet strike the rocks behind him. His knees went weak and he dropped to ground. It didn’t take long for him to notice the bullet hole in his chest. The round man stared curiously at the patch of red that expanded on his grey thermal. Even in the moonless night, the blood seemed to be shimmering. He was still holding the canteen and saw the bullet had pierced it, too. Water poured out of the ends like a double-sided spout.
The round man looked up and saw the tall man emerge into the glen, the pistol held firmly in his hand.
“What are you doing?” the round man asked.
The tall man fired a second shot, catching the round man in the gut. He toppled over, falling back into the stream. The water surrounded him as he struggled to his feet.
The tall man stepped forward and pushed the round man’s face under the water. He thrashed and he gurgled, but soon became still. The tall man let go of the round man’s face and rolled him over. He quickly dispatched of the round man’s clothes and wrapped himself up in them. It wasn’t much, but they provided a bit more warmth and comfort. The tall man pushed the round man’s half-naked body down the stream and he watched the current carry him away. As the body disappeared around the last bend, he said again, this time to no one in particular, “We’re both cold.”
A branch clicked behind the tall man and he spun around, gun still in hand. “Who’s there?” A second branch broke, this time to the tall man’s left. He turned, but saw nothing. A third branch cracked on the other side of him. The tall man was spinning in circles. “Come out!” he called. “Come out, whoever you are!”
A dozen more branches snapped, these ones all around him. The tall man squinted up the stream and saw a pair of eyes staring back at him. The eyes were fierce and glaring. He turned back toward the clearing and saw three more sets of eyes--all with the same vivid yellow hue--emerge from the dark.
“Get back!” the tall man shouted. He fired a shot at those horrible yellow eyes. That’s when he heard the growling. More growls came from behind him--so did more eyes. Outlines began to form and he heard the crunching of leaves under their paws. The outlines became more pronounced and the tall man no longer needed to squint. He could see the wolves just fine.
He fired the gun until the hopeless click of the hammer was all he heard. And then the wolves descended on him.