Wolf in trouble

Wolf sat on his haunches next to the frog pool, but it wasn’t a frog pool anymore. A strong chemical smell rose from the clear water, and a thick layer of brown gunk floated near the pool’s bottom. A few bloated toads bobbed belly up on the surface.

Thirsty enough to try the water, at least, Wolf stuck the tip of his tongue in, but changed his mind before lapping some up. It hadn’t done those toads any good; it wouldn’t be good for him, either.

A new swarm of screaming young humans had invaded the farm next door, ruling out the possibility of finding water there today, even though the gate by the road had been left open. Lifting his face to the wind, he sniffed. The ditches around here had all dried up. The only clean water he could access would be down the hill in the bay, or in one of the marshy inlets that fed it.

He trotted through a tangle of overgrown weeds and shrubs, then encountered a stretch of open land that someone had recently mowed. Feeling exposed, he ran until he reached the tall marsh grasses between the hills and the water.

As he stood among the upright blades of tough grasses and plants that cloaked him in their concealing shadow, cool mud sank beneath the pads of his feet. The scent of water beckoned now. The smell clung to the roof of his mouth, and he knew that the water would taste rich with nutrients imparted by sand, soil, and plants.

The mud got deeper, softer. His paws sank farther down with each step, tearing through tender root systems before plunging into a bottomless slurry of mud mixed with water. Half walking, half swimming, he surged leap by leap through the shoulder-high muck toward the sandy beach he had seen from the hills above.

A low growl filtered through the leaves, seeming to come from all sides at once. It sounded like a dog’s growl, but Wolf knew it wasn’t. This deep, bellowing growl came from the throat of something much bigger than any dog Wolf had ever seen.

And whatever it was, it was growling at him. His hackles rose at the unseen threat.

The growl moved closer, and Wolf could tell now that it was coming from behind him, accompanied by the silky, swishing sound of something big slithering through the mud, somehow staying on top of it instead of being swallowed by it.

Panting, floundering in the ever-deepening mud that sucked at his feet with every swimming step, Wolf struggled toward the smell of the clear water beyond the marsh. His front paws struck something hard and slick, something hidden deep under the muddy surface that the reeds seemed to grow on top of rather than sending roots down. Wolf scrabbled to get all four paws on the shifting platform, then pushed off and leaped forward…only to land in an even deeper pool of mud.

No bottom. No bottom. He went down, down, down. The mud closed over his head.

Eyes closed, mouth closed, knowing better than to inhale the muck that clogged his nostrils, Wolf swam, all four legs moving in unison but getting him nowhere. Was he going up, toward the surface, or farther down to an unknown bottom from which he would never escape? He couldn’t tell.

Whimpers rose in his throat; he could hear them, pitiful sounds that reminded him of puppyhood, of being taken from his mother with no explanation, no chance of turning back or saying goodbye.

Something slammed into him, shoving him up out of the mud. He rolled, his eyes too covered in mud to blink, his nose too clogged to inhale. He gasped, shook his head, and opened his eyes just enough to see past the dripping mud that covered his face.

The thing roared and its log-shaped body lunged forward, its huge mouth open wide. The soft pink abyss of flesh was surrounded by enough teeth to fill the mouths of a dozen dogs.

All but blinded by the gritty mud that dripped into his eyes, Wolf leaped away, but his back legs collapsed under him. The thing’s teeth sank into his side, snagging fur and skin. It held on to him, slinging him back and forth the way he’d once played with the squeaky toys of his youth.

He scratched and bit, but the thing’s flesh wasn’t flesh at all; it was as hard as wood or bone. Wolf’s teeth couldn’t penetrate it. A small toy in this monster’s mouth, Wolf went limp. The thing slung him sideways, his skin ripped, and he tumbled into the bay.

He swam, feeling clumps of mud fall away in the dark water, knowing that the monster would be right behind him, its big mouth opening wide for a bigger bite, a better grip. With a desperate surge of energy, Wolf veered back to the sandy beach, looking for a safe path to high ground.

But there was only the water, this small strip of sand, and the deep, muddy bog that had swallowed him whole. He was trapped.