It didn’t take Rufus long to get used to his new environment. He was in his element, up to his eyes in reports and samples. He had bored his friends and relatives half to death with regular telephone updates on what the pack was doing – apart from Jake, who rarely let him get a word in edgeways (He had forgiven his brother for leaving and the two were thick as thieves again).
At least he had the advantage of living with someone who shared his interests, both in work and leisure. Unfortunately, the ‘leisure’ aspect had begun to take over more and more as the pack of wolves they were tracking moved out of observation range. That particular morning, he had vowed to get down to some proper work and had stationed himself determinedly at the desk by the window.
“Still here? Take a break, why don’t you?” said Steven later that day, having watched Rufus craning over at the telescope for several hours. He placed a sandwich on the table beside him. “Just relax.”
“No, no more relaxing, I’ve done far too much of that this week. We’re being paid for research, not sitting around all day watching TV and playing darts.”
“Oh, it’s only one week. And you’re just bitter ’cause you always lose.” Rufus snorted but didn’t move from his work.
“I’m serious. This is not a frat party – plus we’re nearly out of drinks and snacks. We’ll celebrate when we finish our next report, deal?” He smiled and extended a hand. Steven sighed and rolled his eyes in mock reluctance and shook it. He picked up a pile of folders and sat on the sofa, sorting them.
The two men carried on like this for a long time. As the hours ticked on and the sky grew darker, Rufus’ burst of motivation was gradually disappearing. It seemed as if he’d been sat at as his desk forever, with absolutely no observations of any worth. The moon shone through the window. He could have sworn it was mocking him.
“I have been here for two months,” Rufus moaned, laying his head on the desk. “And it’s been three weeks since I’ve even seen a flippin’ wolf. Do you think we could lure them or something?”
“Try singing again,” muttered Steven, half asleep on top of a pile of folders.
“Oh yeah, very funny. Very mature.” He went quiet again for a while. As he looked up at the moon rising over the trees again, his thoughts drifted once again to Jake and his games. Right now, in the absence of any reasonable data, they almost started to seem plausible. “Steve, do you believe in werewolves?”
“Now who’s immature?” he scoffed. “Dude, we’re scientists. We’re here to research real animals, not fairytales.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Oh, wait!” Suddenly, Rufus jumped to the telescope and looked through, his shout rousing his colleague from his doze. “They’re back! They’re actually back – and look at the cubs! Finally we can go out and do some proper observation.” With a quick high-five, he rushed into his room and flung on his outerwear, wasting no time in getting out into the night in pursuit of the pack.
Out in the trees it was cold as ice, but he was far too focused on his task to notice that. Creeping as quietly as possible, he tried to keep his torchlight as inconspicuous as he could. For one terrible moment, he thought he’d lost the trail, but some broken branches and disturbed bushes quickly put him back on track. The wolves had certainly been on a journey: their path twisted this way and that, winding further and further away from the facility. Before too long, Rufus found himself in a part of the forest he hadn’t seen before. He was on the verge of turning back when he spotting a clearing just ahead, and the shadows of tails and snouts dancing around in the moonlight. Slowly, he moved to a safe distance and took out his notepad to record what he found. They did seem to be behaving oddly. They almost seemed to be arranging themselves into a kind of circle. A slow howl spread around the pack as the moon came to its highest point.
“I wonder what-” Rufus began to think, before something interrupted him. Something that felt suspiciously like a nose prodded him in the back. He turned around, trying to remember what to to when confronted by a wolf. But when he finally faced it, he jumped a mile and all rational thought flew out the window. The animal in front of him had glowing yellow eyes, and a growl that reverberated through the forest like an earthquake.
All of a sudden he had a flashback to that day at the cinema, hiding in terror from the teeth of the alpha wolf…
“Oh, dear watcher, no. It’s just a movie,” he squeaked. The wolf pushed him backwards until he was standing in the middle of the circle. He got the terrible feeling that, whatever he’d seen, he wasn’t meant to… and they weren’t about to let him go back and tell anyone.
The last thing he remembered was a pair of snarling jaws headed for his leg, before everything descended into a swirl of fur and blackness.