The fire popped and snapped every time a snowflake hit it. The snow was steady enough to create a constant stream of noise, but not so heavy that he couldn’t keep it going with careful tending. Even as night had fallen, there was no sign of it ending soon. He had resigned himself to waiting it out while trying to keep warm.
The forest around him was dark and silent. The land sloped gently before it rose steeply into the mountain. He had walked far to get to this place and still had far to go. The snow, and now the night, had conspired to make it longer.
As he contemplated his journey, something glinted in the trees across from him. A pair of eyes reflected the flickering flames. As they neared, a snout took shape, followed by the wolf itself, its gray fur taking on an orange tint. Standing on the other side of the fire, its gaze never wavered, holding his own stare transfixed.
His mind raced, contemplating options and discarding them almost as quickly as they occurred to him. His bow lay next to him, but aiming and drawing at a target so close would likely give the wolf too much time to strike. Running obviously would not work. He did not trust his own skill with a knife to think it would save him. Perhaps he could summon enough strength to drive an arrow deep enough with his hand to give himself a chance.
While he considered what to do, the wolf had stayed unmoving on the other side of the fire. He could not understand what it might be waiting for. But as time passed, the wolf gave no indication of getting any closer. After several minutes, the wolf laid down, its eyes never moving off of him.
The fire began to wane, and the wolf’s eyes began to close. If the flames died, it would be difficult to restart them, so he took a chance and slowly moved to put another piece of wood in them. As he did so, the wolf raised its head, its gaze once more firmly fixed on him. It watched as he worked carefully to stoke the fire. Once he finished, the wolf again lowered its head and feel asleep.
Exhaustion was taking him over as well, but he forced himself not to give in to it. Every time he moved, the wolf opened its eyes. Were he to drift off, the wolf may take the opportunity to attack. He could not take the chance.
However, as determined as he was, sleep must have enveloped him. The sun’s light, shining through bare branches and reflecting off the new snow, woke him. The fire’s embers still smoldered, but they provided no heat. While he chided himself for succumbing, he also realized he was still alive. The wolf was gone, an impression in the snow where it had lain the only trace of its passing. Grateful for having survived the night, he struck camp and began walking once more.