Owl Dance Excerpt 4: A Clockwork Wolf

This excerpt begins after Ramon has seen a poster in the town of Mesilla, stating there is a bounty on wolf carcasses. He’s decided to collect the bounty, even though Fatemeh objects. An alternate version of this chapter will also appear in the anthology Wolf Songs: Volume 2 edited by M.H. Bonham.

Ramon found a hidden spot in a ring of rocks just at the edge of the little grove. There, he laid out his bedroll. Opening his rifle he aimed the barrel toward the moon and checked that there wasn’t too much powder buildup, then loaded a shell into the barrel so he’d be ready to fire without delay. He was determined to shoot a wolf, but tired as he was, he fell asleep instead.

He dreamed of a time when he was a child, running through a field on his way home from school. He saw two wolf pups wrestling with each other in the tall grass. Nearby, a mother wolf watched him. The young Ramon thought they were cute and wondered if he could pet the pups. Remembering his dad’s warnings to stay away from wild animals, he decided he should give them a wide berth. Just then, he felt a sharp pain and heard a loud snap.

He woke suddenly and realized the snap was a nearby twig. There was another sound as well—a strange whirring and buzzing, not unlike the soft sounds that came from Mr. Castillo’s clock.

Slowly, he reached for his rifle and turned toward the grove. The moon was high and there were deep shadows amongst the trees. His throat was parched and he wished he had time to take a drink from his canteen. However, he soon spotted movement. A lobo stepped from the shadows and strode confidently toward the cattle down the hill.

Ramon tried to swallow, but no saliva would come to his mouth. He thought he detected a flash of movement behind him, and quickly looked around. Not seeing anything amongst the rocks and deep shadows, he turned his attention back to the strange lobo that walked so brazenly in plain sight. Ramon thought a wolf would have been more cautious when stalking prey, but he was glad for its erect stance, and slow, steady stride. It was an easy target. He carefully aimed his gun at the wolf.

Just as Ramon started to squeeze the trigger, someone pushed the gun. His shot went wide, missing the lobo. Ramon cursed and turned, finding himself facing Fatemeh’s angry glare. “What are you doing out here? That animal doesn’t deserve to be shot just so you can have a few dollars.”

“It’s not about…” Ramon shook his head. Fatemeh would not understand. “We really could use the money.” He looked down, avoiding her gaze.

She sighed. “I know, but there are other ways.”

Ramon looked at the lobo. The gunshot had not spooked it. It strutted through the grove, ignoring its surroundings. It didn’t even seem to notice the strange clicking and whirring sounds—Ramon looked around, trying to figure out where they were coming from. When he looked back at the wolf, he saw that it was headed straight for a rock. Surely it would turn before it got there, but no. It walked right into the rock and the most amazing thing happened. There was a bright flash of light accompanied by a loud popping. The top of the wolf’s head flew off and its body toppled over sideways.

“What the hell?” Ramon scrambled out from his hiding place. Fatemeh followed close behind.

He reached the wolf and peered inside its head, expecting to find a bloody mess. Instead, the head was mostly empty and separated into two compartments. At the back of one of the compartments was a small, glass photographic plate. The other compartment held the charred remains of some kind of powder. The wolf’s eyes were lenses with black metal just behind them. Ramon reached in and felt around, then dragged the wolf’s body out into the moonlight where he could see better. It was much heavier than a wolf would be, as though most of the body was made from metal rather than skin or bones.

Fatemeh looked inside. “It’s like a camera.”

Ramon nodded. “There’s some kind of spring-loaded mechanism that lowers these metal contraptions just behind the eyes.” He pushed on a rod inside the wolf’s head and sure enough the metal plates lowered, which would, in turn, expose the glass plate at the back of the head to light—except that the plate had already been exposed when the top of the head was blown off.

“But what caused that bright flash of light we saw?”

“Flash powder,” said a voice from the trees.

Whose voice came from the trees? You’ll find out more in Owl Dance available at Flying Pen Press: http://flyingpenpress.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=49


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