By Strega
Story Copyright (C) By: Strega
 2001 - All rights reserved.

Story not to be reprinted, or redistributed, 
without author's Permission.

If you wish to use the stories, or 
anything copyright by me, please e-mail me.
I'll also forward any mail to the author.



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 the tracks.
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…stopped.
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 just bite?
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 large one.
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 feet.
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 the bulge.
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 belly.
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 through.
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.

The End