Something raced out into the road, a massive blur of blood on white fur. Panic spiked through Aura, its affect deafening, and she floored the brakes. For a split second the only sound she heard was her own heartbeat slamming its way out of her chest and then everything exploded all at once. Her bumper hammered into the animal and the hefty SUV spun a hundred feet down the asphalt then jerked to a stop. Aura blinked several times then thrust the drivers side door open just far enough to throw up on the concrete, the ringing in her ears too much to take. She ran her arm across her mouth and staggered to the front of the vehicle, its headlights still shining into the dark abyss. There were no streetlights on these wooded roads and at night the black couldn’t get any darker. She surveyed her SUV and was amazed at how little damage had been done to it. The fender was a mess, bent and broken and covered in blood, but the hood, which by all accounts should’ve been smashed, was barely dented. Maybe she hadn’t hit whatever it was as hard as it had felt. At the thought, she remembered the animal and her heart sped up again. She turned, her vision following the twin orbs of light coning out from the vehicle and quickly searched the road. Nothing. It wasn’t until she looked down to walk back to the car that she saw traces of red on the asphalt. A faint trail of blood led off the road and into the woods. The thing couldn’t have gone far in it’s condition. What if it was still alive and hurt. For a second when it first ran out in front of her, she could swear she glimpsed fear in the reflection of its yellow-green eyes.
The drivers side door still hung open, the interior ding signaling she’d left her keys in the ignition. She brushed aside the deployed airbag and despite traces of powder and a stinging forearm she seemed to be feeling fine. The ringing was almost gone, taking with it the bout of nausea. She leaned over and flipped open the glove compartment. Digging around produced a variety of things; papers, napkins, homemade cds. It wasn’t until she reached the very bottom that she found the mini flashlight she was looking for. Its steady stream of white light guided her way as she left the car once again and followed the trail of droplets into the woods. Just a quick check, she told herself, and then back to the car. It was late and she had an early shift in the morning.
The leaves cracked and broke beneath her heeled boots, not ideal tracking gear, she knew. What if she had to run? She was out in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. What was she thinking? As if to answer her, a strong gust of wind pounded against her back and she spun around, nearly toppling over a soft mound of white fur. If she hadn’t switched positions to block the wind, she would have passed over it completely. Now, as she stood above the animal, she froze. Whatever it was it was massive. It looked much too large to be a dog but arctic wolves aren’t native to North America. At first glance it didn’t look to be breathing. Its snow white fur was matted with blood and its eyes were closed, its long snout covered in deep gashes. It lay in the leaves, curled and unmoving. For a moment she just stood there, too afraid to do anything. Its body twitched and a soft cry escaped its mouth, a cry that pierced her soul. She knew she had to do something but carrying it herself would be next to impossible. She pulled her cell out of her back pocket and held it up to the sky. No service. She spun in a slow circle and moved her arms around to see if she could catch any signal, but not even the first bar appeared. She slid it back with a sense of defeat and sighed. She had to do something, she couldn’t just leave it here. She knelt down beside the animal and very carefully reached out to touch its fur. It was soft. So utterly soft, but as she ran her hand down further it became sticky and matted, like a child who had gotten bubblegum stuck in her hair. It cried out again, this time struggling to open one eye. Aura’s hand froze and she thought for a moment it might try to bite her, how stupid was she to pet a wild animal. Especially a hurt wild animal. She looked into its eye and the same feeling washed over her again. It felt like much more than looking into the eye of an animal; it was almost as if it were talking to her, trying to communicate. Maybe it was because it was injured or maybe because it sensed Aura’s harmless intentions, but for whatever reason, it closed its lid and left Aura alone.
It was getting even later and colder at that. If she was going to help the animal, she had to do something quickly.