Excerpt, Earth Tones

ET cover with awardExcerpt, Earth Tones

I turned the volume on my radio down, slipped my rifle off my shoulder, and headed after the tracks. The trees grew thick in this part of the forest, towering spruces that trapped almost all direct sunlight in the canopy. Here and there, patches of lupine wildflowers clustered together, cone-shaped blooms with violet bases and cream-of-wheat tips. When their stalks moved, it looked as though tiny gnomes hid inside those bushes with their party hats sticking out. My footsteps crossed around them, soundless across the soft earth.

It took me a moment to notice the sudden stillness of the clearing I had just stepped into. Not a single pine needle or blade of grass seemed to move. Everything was silent. I cocked the rifle and turned in a slow circle, watching for any disturbance in the woods. The few animal presences I detected huddled in their holes, not moving. A predator was near. If it were a normal land animal, I would have sensed it, but since I didn’t, that left the werewolf as a strong possibility.

I knelt on the ground and braced the rifle barrel on my knee so I could hold it with one hand while I dug around in my sack with the other. I pulled out a fresh kill—goose, feathers intact—and tossed it several feet away. If he was in wolf form, he would smell the traces of blood. With my eyes scanning the tree line and my rifle still braced on my knee, I took my free hand and dug my fingers into the earth. The soil hummed at my touch, thousands of tiny voices from centuries of rock and clay singing out to me. My fingers coiled around them like a lifeline. If that wolf attacked, this was my defense: my earth wielding.

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