The man stood next to the ice-covered stream, turned the little box
in his hands, and brought it to his face. Looking down at the snow,
he did something with the box. Or tried to; a moment later he could
be heard cursing, looking at the box again, Finally he shoved it into
a parka-pocket, and blew on his hands before pulling his gloves on.
He had pointed the box at the snow, and there in the white was the reason
why; a series of paw-prints, nearly as large as the impressions made
by his snowshoes. He dragged the box out again, stared at it balefully,
then shoved it away, and knelt to look at the tracks more closely.
They were splay-toed tracks, those of a five-toed long-clawed animal.
Maybe a bear, but maybe not; whatever this beast was, it walked with
it foot held differently, half on its toes and half on its soles.
The man stood, and looked to where the tracks led over a hill. He adjusted
the rifle he had across his back, and started up the hill. He must have
known that a wolverine - for such were the tracks - traveled many miles
in a day, and would not linger if a man was in the area. But the tracks
led him on. If it was a wolverine, it was ten times larger than it should
be. Curiosity or greed, lust for a trophy? He trudged up the slope,
his showshoes flipping up white powder and fragments of snow-crust.
The tracks led beneath the snowy branches of a spruce, and the man detoured
around, evidently not wanting to spill all that powder onto himself.
The tracks had turned beneath the branches, and he circled around the
tree before finding the continuation of the trail. He paused, looked
up at the leaden gray sky, and pulled up his sleeve to look at his wrist.
It was just past noon, and the sky threatened snow. He looked at his
wrist, at the tracks, and seemed to come to a decision, pacing on along
Atop the ridge at last, he cursed again as the first flakes began to
fall. He fingered his rifle unconsciously, and took it off his back.
There was nothing to shoot, but he looked the thing over anyway, and
worked the mechanism to make sure it was loaded. He looked down the
hill, made as if to turn back; then, with a curse, he turned and followed
the trail again.
He moved slower now, casting frequent glances at the sky. The clouds
were lower now, and the trees were hazy in the increasing snow. Following
the trail between the trees, his determination seemed to waver. Just
one more tree, he seemed to say.
He pushed past the latest, and looked ahead at one of the larger spruces.
The snow had avalanched off this one, and it stood stark and black against
the background of white. Shaking off snow that tried to slip into his
glove, he looked along the trail
and paused, frowning.
Six paces past the tree the trail ended. There was no tree the beast
might have climbed, no stream it could have fallen into, no snowy depression
it could have sunk into. The big paw-prints simply
The man shook his head, and took another step forward. Perhaps it was
a trick of the light? But no. He looked at the tracks that led to the
end; these particular tracks seemed deeper than the rest, and somehow
misshapen. Turning, he followed the trail back until he stood next to
the tree. Here, the tracks became normal again.
He looked at the tracks, at the spot where they ended, and back at the
tracks again. Back and forth went his eyes. It was as though the tracks
past the tree had been trodden in more than once. But why
A faint crackle came from the branches above, barely heard through the
muffling snow, and a light seemed to go on behind the man's eyes. Stepped
in twice! He brought the rifle around
Just too slow. The wolverine, when it appeared, was ten feet above
his head. It had seemingly climbed the spruce, and clung there, its
dark fur nearly invisible against the dark needles. It had dislodged
much of the tree's accumulated snow, but the man had not noticed. Perhaps
it had just climbed to look around.
It fell atop the man, chest smashing down against his shoulder, and
his rifle went into the snow, only the barrel still visible. With a
heavy thud its weight drove him through the crust and sank him nearly
out of sight, the wolverine atop and three times his size. It found
its balance, and hunched up over him, paws driving down on either side
as though it mounted him.
The man grunted, slammed into the snow, and opened his eyes to find
the wolverine looking down at him. A pink tongue traced the beast's
thin, black lips, and with a panicked cry he gripped into its throatfur.
He had a knife sheathed at his side, but the threat of those jaws above
him spurred the man to instant, instinctive action.
The wolverine pushed its paws inward, catching the man's chest between
them, and lowered its head with an almost casual slowness. The man's
frantic shove did not slow the muzzle, the jaws creaking open and enveloping
his head, balaclava and all. Cheeks bulging, the beast pushed its head
down, getting the head entirely in its mouth.
The hands pressed at the dark-furred neck; the man still had not thought
to reach for his knife. The giant wolverine stood for a moment, holding
the head in his muzzle; did it plan to rip the man's head off? Why not
And then, with a deep gurgle, the beast swallowed. The bulge in its
cheeks was forced back, slipping into the neckfur, the man's head impossibly
gulped past the jaws and into the smooth gullet that lay beneath the
pelt. With a curl of its paw, the wolverine hooked the man's shoulder
up towards its jaws, and with an easy downward push, took the man's
bare neck into its maw.
Snowflakes fell onto the wolverine's dark fur as it curled its other
paw beneath the man's shoulders, and pulled upward with both. The snow-shoed
feet kicked at the furry belly as the beast tilted its head far to one
side, hooking its lips over the man's right shoulder. And then, twisted
the other way, straining its jaws wide to take in the other as well.
It should not have been possible; the brute's jaws were perhaps large
enough to let it gulp down a rabbit whole, or a human head at the most,
as it had swallowed the man's head. The neck, perhaps as well, but the
shoulders? It was not something a wolverine could do, even an abnormally
Similar, panicked thoughts must have run through the man's head, as
his shoulders were enveloped. The snow muffled the sounds the wolverine
was making as it fed, but the creak and pop of its jaws could be heard,
as somehow it dislocated, distended its lower jaw. Stretching the maw
wide, it forced its lips down over the shoulders, and swallowed again,
the head-bulge pulsing farther down its neck.
The man's hand tangled in the beast's cheekfur, and with a almost amused-sounding
grumble, it pushed the hand away with a textbook-sized paw. More and
more the man was being made to sit up beneath it, and with hungry ease
it jerked its muzzle down over shoulders, collarbones and upper chest.
A bulge was growing in its neckfur, as steam eddied from its nostrils.
Arms forced more and more back against his sides, the man still tried
to struggle, kicking at the wolverine's belly. The snowshoes made it
awkward, and one came loose as he kicked, trod down into the powder
as the beast stepped forward. A heave of its head, muscles moving beneath
its thick neck-fur, and the man was pulled upward, his rump pressing
against the spruce-trunk. The beast stepped forward again, and with
nowhere else to go, the push forced the man's torso inch by inch into
the creature's jaws.
A heavy swelling distorted the wolverine's neck, now, and even its chest
had gone misshapen, the half-swallowed man forced ever deeper into the
hungry beast's gullet. The stretched pelt rippled, and another shove
against the tree pushed the parka-clad torso entirely out of sight.
Black lips folded in around the man's rump, hiding it from view.
More than half of the man was gone, now, and the wolverine swallowed
with a force that sent ripples down its swollen neck. An inch of thigh
vanished; another gulp, and a bit more was sucked out of sight. The
man - or the legs, rather, all the evidence there was of him now - kicked
frantically, and impatient, the beast tossed its muzzle upward, bolting
half the thighs from view in one quick lunge.
A long-clawed paw pulled briefly at the legs - knee and below - before
falling away, and once more the brute turned to the tree. The man was
visible only knees and below now, hardly able even to kick, the rest
of him a swelling that stretched all the way down the wolverine's torso.
Planting the soles of the man's feet against the spruce, the beast stepped
forward once more.
The wolverine was much more massive than the man; with it moving forward,
and the feet held still, there was again nowhere to go but deeper. Curious
creaks and pops were heard through the beast's pelt as the bulge slipped
further down its torso; its belly was developing a bulge, as the man's
face slipped into the hollow space beneath the fur.
The feet were nearly in its jaws; the beast hooked them the last few
inches in with a paw, shut its muzzle as best it could, and sucked at
the toes that remained outside. The one remaining snow-shoe jammed against
its fangs as it drew the feet into its jaws, and its tossed its head
back and forth, pawing at the annoyance. A strap loosened at last, and
the shoe fell away; the wolverine shut its jaws tight around the twitching
Eyes squeezed tightly shut, the beast arched it neck, tensed, and then
stretched out its muzzle. Once, twice it swallowed, the lumps shifting
beneath its neckfur, and then with a creak the long bulge began to slide
downward. Settling down on its haunches, the wolverine tensed and relaxed,
stretching its head up. The bulge in its neck was gone; gradually, the
swelling in its torso shrank away, as its bellyfur swelled out in contrast.
It took thirty full seconds for the man to be fully gulped down, from
the moment the jaws had closed around his feet. Finally the wolverine
relaxed, returned to its normal shape save for the massive bulge in
its middle. Flopping down in the snow, it leaned its full weight atop
Under the bellyfur, there was movement. Little, squirming bulges were
seen through the fur, as the man tried to find a way out. The beast
stayed where it was, paws held upward to keep its full weight on the
It did not take long. There was a sudden increase in the wriggling beneath
the fur, a violent twitch, and then nothing more. For another half minute
the wolverine lay there, and then it slowly rose to its paws.
The movement must have loosened an air-bubble that had gone down with
the man, for the beast's cheeks blew out. A heavy, crass belch escaped,
and then it turned, finding the snowshoes in the powder, and the rifle
as well. With an economical motion it gathered the three together, and
took them up in its fangs, lips drawn back so not to stick to icy metal.
The beast turned slowly, belly dragging the snow beneath, and padded
back along its trail. Holding the snowshoes and rifle up out of the
snow, it paced carefully - stepping in each and every one of the snow-shoe
prints, obliterating them with its own. The beast seemed tired by its
efforts, but it continued down the trail.
Shortly it arrived at the iced-over stream. Stepping in the last shoe-print,
it cocked its ears and listened; somewhere on the far side of the stream
a dog at the man's camp yelped. It was safely distant, so it turned
its eyes on the stream itself. A moment's careful examination, and it
flung the shoes and rifle together into a spot where the water had eaten
The wolverine hung its head now, visibly exhausted. The strain of the
meal, and dragging the man around in its belly, told on the beast, and
it turned wearily away from the stream. Looking back over its shoulder,
it lifted its tail, and sprayed a yellow-green fluid across the snow
where the man had crossed the ice. Foul as a skunk's stink, no dog would
follow past it.
A lesser belch percolated up out of the beast's thick torso, and it
slouched off into the spruce to find a spot to digest its meal. Territory
had been defended, in such a way that the clannish humans would not
suspect. In a day or so, the beast would retch up what clothes and bones
did not dissolve, depositing them in a stream or thicket.
This was the beast's place. Humans were not welcome.