Sheriff Jebediah Clancy received yet another call about the howlers. Only six families lived just outside of town up on the mountain slopes and all but one had called to complain about the howling they heard, not just at night, but off and on day long. They were frightened.
“Now, Jeb, you know I’m not one to go gripin’ and shootin’ off my mouth bout any noise I hear,” Mort Himer angrily said when Jeb sighed and replied “Oh, gawd! You the fifth one to call bout this!” loudly. Mort retorted, “I lived up here all my life and I tell ya there’s all kind of noises round here. And I ain’t scared of nothin’. You know that! Member who protected ol’ Miss Sally from that bear that busted down her kitchen door?”
“Yeah, Mort!” Jeb rubbed his sleepy eyes from getting calls all night long. “I member. That was ten years ago and I hear bout it all the time.I got up there fast as I could when Miss Sally called screamin’ at me. Bless her ol’ heart. By the time I got there you was standin’ prouder than a peacock guardin’ the kitchen door.”
“That’s right,” Mort laughed. “I got that ol’ bear’s hind end loaded with buck shot! He took off up the mountain and ain’t been back since.” Mort was laughing so hard he started coughing a fit. When he caught his breath he said, more calmly, “Now, we gotta find out what these howlers are and get rid of them afore someone gets kilt. I ain’t nevva heard anything like it. Sounds like there’s a lot of them, too.”
Jeb poured another cup of coffee from the pot on the wood stove behind him. “Okay, Mort. I been up all night listening bout these howlers, whatever they are. Oscar will be on duty here soon then I’ll come on up there. You get your guns ready and we’ll go huntin’ these critters down. You seen or heard from Gabe McKneel? He lives up farther than any of ya.”
“Naw, and that kinda bothers me, Jeb,” Mort said. “I sure hope he’s okay. The sounds are comin’ from up his way and he would be down here by now if he was alright. This has been goin’ on for two days now.”
Now Jeb was worried. “Okay. Give me one hour or less, I’ll be there.” He slammed down the phone and gulped his coffee down, burning his throat. What the heck kinda creatures are we gonna find? Jeb shook his head as thoughts of horror came over him. Were they going to find ol’ Gabe torn apart by some ferocious beasts?
When Jeb pulled up in front of Mort’s cabin, three other men were standing on the porch with guns, looking scared yet ready to kill whatever they found that had been scaring all the mountain folks.
“Well, Mort, looks like you got your hunters together,” Jeb eased hemself out of the car, which was becoming more difficult with age and his pot belly. One of the guys spat a stream of tobacco juice out onto the ground. “Ya, Mort rang his calling bell like the whole mountain was afire, so we all high-tailed it up here. Mawnin’, Sheriff,” he tipped his beat up old hat towards Jeb. “Billy Boy! Ain’t seen you in ages. How all you fellas doing?” There were greetings all around then Jeb pulled up on his pants to adjust them round his waist as he headed to the trunk of the patrol car and got out his rifle and ammo pack. “You fellas ready?”
“Have a swig first, Jeb,” Mort held out a jug to him. Jeb was tempted to take the moonshine, but held up his hand. “Thanks, Mort, but I’m on duty. Save some for me for later.”
As the men came down off the porch, the howlers started up again. They all stopped to look up the mountain and listen. Chills ran up and down their spines. “Good Lord!” Jeb shivered. “That’s the most damn awful sound I ever heard! Almost sounds like wolves, but we ain’t got them around these parts.” Billy Boy spat again and pulled down his hat tight on the forehead. “Or a werewolf,” he mumbled. They all looked at him, for they, too, were thinking the same thing.
There was no clear road up to Gabe’s cabin, so they started hiking up the path on foot, not too anxious about what they would find. It took them about half an hour. The closer they got to Gabes cabin the more cautious they became. The sound was really loud now. They found Gabe lying on the old camp cot on his porch, one heavily bandaged hand in bloody wraps dangling off the edge, his face scarred with scratches.
The trepidation grew as they all stopped and stared at the old man. The howlers were close, out back, and loud.
“You guys watch each way while I check Gabe,” Jeb slowly approached the porch and stepped up. Hearing the footsteps on the creaky stairs, Gabe sat up quickly, scaring the heck out of Jeb. “Good Lord, Gabe! We thought you was dead. What happened to your hand and face? What’s going on up here? The howlers attack you?”
“Jeb?” Gabe rubbed his eyes with his good hand. “Howlers?” He struggled to stand up and Jeb helped him. “Aw! I’m fine, Jeb. Just a few bites and scratches. Howlers?”, he queried again. “Oh! You mean them what’s howling? I got them all penned up out back. They’s hungry critters. Damn near bit my whole hand off.” He held up his bandaged hand. “But I slathered Ma’s old salve all over it, cures everthin, it does, even stops the hurt.”
“You got them penned up?” Jeb took his hat off and wiped his brow. “How’d you capture them and pen them up all by yourself?”
“Well, come on out back, fellas, I’ll show ya!” Once the sleep wore off, Gabe was spry as a kid and hopped off the porch, looking right proud of himself. They all followed him out back and shock hit them all as they stared at the howlers in the pen.
Murmers and shouts of exclamations sprang from all of them. “Holy cow!” “Good Lord.” “Hell’s bells.” “I’ll be damned!” “Give down the country! I ain’t nevva.” “Scarce as hen’s teeth!”
“Now, calm down, fellas. Ain’t they the berries?” Gabe was happy as a bee in a jar of jam. “Guess I’ll have to find a home for them. Can’t keep all the pups, maybe one I think.” Gabe scratched his head. “Whatta think, fellas? Aren’t they cute? Their mama wolf must have been kilt or abandoned em. First time I seen wolves in my whole life here.”
They all stared in amazement as the pups kept howling and tumbling over each other. They all offered to take one pup. “Now hold on, fellas,” Jeb rested his rifle on a shoulder. “We just can’t have a bunch of wolves running around here. The mother must have been shunned by a pack and found her way over this side the mountain to birth her litter. She may have abandoned them. I’ll call Oscar on my car radio and have him send up the animal control people. These pups need to be taken care of and released back in the wild when their old enough.”
“Well, cain’t I keep one, Jeb?” Gabe asked. “We’ll see what animal control thinks,” Jeb was tired and just wanted to get Gabe down to have him checked by the Doc then get home to bed.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns
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