The call of the wild.

Pyotr followed the others into the abandoned house. Everything was abandoned now, or the owners were dead, like many others, but this was the new normal. There was nothing now but snow, just a blanket of it everywhere, and this was also the new normal.

All of them were bundled in heavy coats and thick undergarments, whatever they had found and grabbed at the last minute before all hell had descended upon them. Pyotr’s thick parka was a dark-blue, much like his mood, but he had always been in a dark mood, something he had come to identify and accept.

Life had never been right for him, so the end was not so much a grief as it was just a fact. He had never felt right in his own skin, had never felt right around people in general, so he had fallen in with a bad crowd, though even that had been more happenstance than anything else.

Viktor was their leader, the leader of what was left of their little gang, the Concrete Wolves. He called the shots, what little decisions were left to be made. It was Viktor who had led them all here, because this house was still standing by some miracle, by some miracle of the same angry god that had destroyed everything in the first place.

Pyotr did not care anymore. He was tired, he was hungry, and there was little left to believe in or stand for. The world was over. There was no other end to this story. All of them should have laid down and died with everyone else, but the Concrete Wolves were nothing if not survivors, so here they were, and here they would be for a while yet or until the very end.

Yes, Viktor was their leader, and the big man with an even bigger black beard had led them here. Viktor made the tough decisions for the group, and some of those decisions had been both bloody and cruel, but their little group could only survive if they had unity, so Pyotr had stood by and watched the others as they had done unspeakable things, but he had never partaken, nor would he ever. He was not like that.

Yes, he was Pyotr, but he did not like to think on himself. He was not like the others, as he was not willing to do the things the others had been willing to do to survive, but he believed in family, and the Concrete Wolves were the only family he still had. His own family were beneath his thoughts; he had abandoned them long ago.

Then there was Rodion. Rodion was stuck to Viktor like glue. He was Viktor’s yes-man, if it were possible for a gang to have as such, but he would do anything for the big man with the big black beard. He had slit that old woman’s throat at the behest of Viktor, and he had done this without even batting an eye. Rodion was one that Pyotr did not trust. Pyotr did not trust Viktor, either, but Viktor had some sense when it came to decision-making, so Viktor was a step above Rodion.

Leonid was the fierce one. He was always ready to fight. He had many scars, many scars that could have been avoided. Pyotr had been dragged into more than one of Leonid’s drunken brawls, and those small battles had always ended in blood. Leonid had once killed a man by caving in his skull with nothing but a brick. Pyotr was always careful around him.

Vadim was the handsome one, but only on the outside. He was a womanizer, and he got what he wanted one way or another, if not by charm, then by force. Pyotr had been too late more than once to keep some young woman from being defiled by Vadim. Pyotr did not like him at all.

Last, but not least, was Rurik, the thief. Rurik stole anything and everything, but he did not like to share. Viktor was constantly disciplining him, if only to get something from Rurik that they needed that Rurik may have picked up. Pyotr kept his eyes on his own things whenever he was around Rurik.

And that was all there was to tell. It was just them left, six men, six wolves at the end.

“Everyone, inside,” ordered Viktor.

They entered the two-story home via the front door, though Rurik had used his lockpicks to open that door. Once inside, Rurik shut and locked the door behind them. They could never be too careful, especially now that the world was a wasteland.

This house was more of a shrine to the dead than anything else. The rotting old couple upon a flower-print couch were too frozen to attract flies, but Pyotr did not like them being there. They would have to throw these bodies outside soon. None of them wanted to sleep near the dead.

First, though, they needed heat. All of them were chilled to the bone, but this place had a wood-burning stove for heating, so all they needed was some firewood, and they would be fine. One of them would probably have to chop wood if there was no firewood ready, but that was also fine.

“There may be food here,” said Viktor. “We will get a fire started, but in the meantime, Pyotr and Vadim will search for food.”

“Aye, Viktor,” said Pyotr, though he had no desire to search for food with Vadim.

“Leonid and Rurik will drag out these bodies,” ordered Viktor. “Rodion and I will get to work on the stove.”

Well…at least Pyotr did not have to move the bodies.

He stared off to his left through an open archway that led to the kitchen.

This old couple must have had money, because most people had lived in apartments, but this couple had owned a house, a two-story at that. This was also probably the reason they had been located in an isolated area. They would have avoided thieves and other ne’er-do-wells that way.

At least they had already been dead when the Concrete Wolves had arrived. Viktor would have ordered their execution, and Pyotr had no stomach for death anymore.

He walked into the kitchen along with Vadim. There was bound to be something in here, but it was canned goods they were looking for. Those kept the longest and could be carried for long journeys.

Pyotr opened up a cabinet above the sink and found cans of tushonka, shproti, soup, canned sorrel, and even some condensed milk. This would most certainly do.

“Here they are,” he grunted.

Vadim lifted up a burlap sack of potatoes and grinned.

“These are still good,” he said confidently.

“Then we will eat those first,” nodded Pyotr.

“There are also two bottles of vodka here,” said Vadim.

He placed the two full bottles of the strong spirit upon the kitchen counter next to Pyotr.

“Viktor will want those,” said Pyotr.

“So will Rurik,” chuckled Vadim.

“Unfortunately,” said Pyotr, but Vadim only laughed once more.

Vadim slung the bag of potatoes up on the stovetop and took one out.

“Time to cut these in half,” he said. “Once we have firewood, we can bake them, and then we can eat.”

That sounded good to Pyotr. A warm place to sleep, a belly full of food, and the heat of vodka may have been the simplest of pleasures, but it was more than enough for him, more than enough for a wolf at the end.


They sat around the heat of the living-room stove as Viktor passed the vodka bottle to Pyotr. Pyotr took a swig, shook his head from the strong burn of it, and then passed the bottle to Leonid.

“Here is to the end, men,” said Viktor. “If we don’t die of the cold, we die of starvation. If we don’t die of starvation, we die of radiation sickness. Such is the nature of life. To the end, men! To the Concrete Wolves!”

“Aye!” they all said together.

It was a depressing toast, but Pyotr was glad for it. He was glad that Viktor understood the futility of it all, the sad function that was waiting for death, but it was a blessing in disguise, because there was comradery here, a last spout of honor before the last gasp of breath.

At least there had been a stack of firewood in a small shack out back. This was good, because they were currently using that wood to heat themselves, and they had used it to bake the potatoes they had eaten.

They had all stuffed themselves with as much as they could possibly eat, devouring the bag of potatoes with gusto. There was no telling when they would eat again, and the canned food they’d found, though plentiful, would not last forever.

“We will stay here for the while,” continued Viktor. “A couple of days at the most, though. Then we will move on.”

“Aye,” said Rodion.

It would be back into the cold soon, but Pyotr did not care. There had to be someplace, somewhere, that was better than here. This country was lost.

“Let us enjoy the heat for now,” said Viktor. “Rurik, go out and get us more wood for the fire.”

“Aye,” said Rurik.

The skinny thief snatched up the bottle of vodka from Leonid, took his drink, and then passed it on to Vadim.

“A warm place to sleep is all I want right now,” said Rurik.

The others gave him a resounding “aye,” but Pyotr was just grateful that Rurik was being useful for once.

The thief walked to the back of the house to leave via the backdoor. Once he had left the living room, Vadim spoke up, asking a question that Pyotr figured had no meaning anymore.

“Where are we going next?” asked Vadim.

“The cities are a wasteland,” replied Viktor. “The countryside is nothing but snow, so we will head to the border, maybe south. Perhaps the Chinamen are in a better state. I do not know. I know that we cannot survive in this nuclear winter. There must be someplace where food can be grown.”

Pyotr thought about saying something, perhaps throwing in his meager suggestion. It occurred to him that maybe they could take a boat to some tropical island somewhere, but he never got to voice his opinion. No, he was interrupted by something far more pressing.

Rurik’s loud scream was heard by everyone.

Pyotr hopped to his feet along with everyone else.

Nothing was said as the rest of the Concrete Wolves rushed to the backdoor. Viktor flung open the back entrance and bolted outside, Rodion and Pyotr right behind him, Vadim following last.

There was no sign of Rurik. There was only a trail of blood that led out into thick forest, drag marks of a body in the crimson-stained snow.

“What?” asked Viktor in an almost reverent hush.

Pyotr looked around and noticed the drag trail of where the dead old couple had been.

“The bodies of the old people are gone,” he said quietly. “It looks like something dragged them off, too.”

His observation was met with a loud howling, a lugubrious song of the wild, mournful and poignant, echoing from every direction.

“Back inside,” commanded Viktor. “We are not the only ones to have survived the cold.”

Viktor stepped forward toward the wood shack, grabbed the axe from inside it, and backed away toward the house, never taking his eyes off the line of thickly-clustered trees stretched out before them all.

All of them stepped back into the warmth of the house, and Viktor locked the door behind them.

“Wolves,” said Leonid.

“Death,” said Viktor. “We will have to find a way to kill enough of them, or we’ll never leave this place.”

“We’ll be trapped here,” said Vadim.

“That sounded like…a lot,” said Pyotr. “There are a lot of them…Where did they come from?”

He had not wanted to say it, but he had voiced his thoughts anyway.

“It does not matter,” said Viktor. “It only matters where they will be going, and that is to Hell. They took one of ours, so we will take half of them. Once we thin out their pack, they will find prey elsewhere.”

“We have no weapons except for the axe,” said Vadim.

“Then we will search the house for some,” said Viktor. “Everyone, spread out and look for something to arm yourselves with. I will keep watch at the backdoor. Pyotr, you watch the front.”

“Aye, Viktor,” replied Pyotr.

He did not like being unarmed in this situation, but someone had to watch the front door, and his eyes were as good as any.

He walked into the warmth of the living room, brushed back the curtains of a window next to the front door, and stared out into the cold. He could see dark shapes moving in the tree lines on either side of the dirt road that led to this out-of-the-way house, but he could not tell what those shadows were from this distance. Nevertheless, he had a good idea of their identity anyway.

He stood there for a good twenty minutes until the rest of the Concrete Wolves gathered in the living room.

“This is all we have,” said Leonid from behind him. “Make it work.”

The big brawler pressed a large kitchen knife into Pyotr’s right hand, the very same one Pyotr had used to cut the potatoes…It would have to do.

“They are out there,” called Viktor from the backdoor. “I can see them moving in the trees. We are going to need more wood soon. We’ll have to send two of us out to get more.”

“Aye, Viktor,” called back Rodion.

“These beasts must have been attracted to the warmth of the house,” said Leonid. “There must be a lot of them, but I can’t understand where they could have come from.”

“Who knows?” said Vadim. “All I know is that we have to kill them. We can skin them and eat them for all I care.”

“Sounds good to me,” grunted Leonid. “We can kill them all as far as I am concerned.”

Pyotr shook his head in dark realization. Their chances of surviving this pack were slim at best, but at least the others were ready to fight. They were ready to lay down some vengeance for Rurik’s sake. Pyotr had not particularly liked the skinny thief, but Rurik had not been so bad as all that, and the man had certainly not deserved that fate.

Leonid left them after that, walking out of the living room to the small sitting room that housed the backdoor, probably off to chat with Viktor. Viktor would have Leonid relieve him of his post if necessary anyway.

Pyotr didn’t care. He had his own post to watch, and watch it he did.

Pyotr stared out the window and rubbed his eyes in denial of what he saw at that moment.

A young woman, nude and beautiful, was walking toward the house.

This young lady could not have been older than twenty-four, twenty-five maybe, slender, with small breasts and long, straight, raven-black hair that hung down to her bare shoulders, gorgeous in the face with wild blue eyes…Pyotr was not sure if he was hallucinating or not.

This woman was completely naked, nude in the biting cold, something that should have killed anyone else from hypothermia.

“I must be going mad…” said Pyotr, but Rodion heard him.

“What?” asked Viktor’s right-hand man.

Rodion pushed Pyotr aside and stared out the window, his dark eyes goggling at the sight of the young woman in her birthday suit methodically walking in a straight line toward the front door.

“What in the hell?” said Rodion in audible confusion.

He stared at Pyotr, his dark eyes flashing in sudden comprehension, and then he shone a wide grin.

“Fresh young meat for the taking!” breathed Rodion. “We can pass her around!…And so beautiful, too…Aren’t we lucky!”

He pushed Pyotr all the way aside, flung open the front door, and dashed out there to meet the young and beautiful naked woman.

“Rodion!” barked Pyotr.

This stooge was a fool for simply walking out there unprotected and without backup.

Pyotr rushed out there, knife in hand, just as a large grey wolf took Rodion off his feet, ambushing the man from his blind right. Pyotr would have helped him immediately, but he was too busy defending himself as another beast jumped at him from his own left.

Pyotr stepped lithely to his own right and swiveled as he stabbed downward with his knife. The blade cut into thick fur and skin, but not deeply enough to fatally injure the animal. It growled and continued running, only to turn and face him as three more wolves approached from the right.

Rodion’s screams were drowned out by a howling from all around them.

There was no time to think, only react.

Pyotr reached forward and gripped the nude young woman’s bare right arm with his empty left hand, and then he dragged her through the open doorway into the safety of the house. He could see the trail of blood in the snow just before he slammed shut the front door, that trail of blood that marked the dragging of Rodion toward the tree line, that fool’s screaming growing fainter by the second.

Pyotr did not feel sorry for the man, not like he had with Rurik. Rodion had brought that fate down upon himself, not to mention that he had never liked Rodion, but that was beside the point.

Pyotr locked the front door just as Viktor and the others gathered around him.

“What happened!” demanded Viktor.

“This girl appeared, and Rodion rushed outside without protection to get her,” said Pyotr. “The wolves took him. I got to her, but I was almost taken, too.”

His story was as simple as that. There was nothing else to tell.

The young woman in his grip did not shake from fear. She merely shivered from the cold, and her blue eyes gazed upon them all with a strange wariness, something primal that Pyotr could not define.

Viktor stepped forward and clenched the nude young woman’s jaw in his big right hand. He held the axe in his left, though he raised it slightly as a show of force.

“Who are you!” demanded the big man. “Where are your clothes, you little fool!”

The young lady said nothing, but there was a defiance in her blue gaze that was undeniable, a defiance that immediately enraged Viktor.

He smacked the mystery woman across the left cheek, letting go of her jaw in order to smack her with an open palm hard enough to turn her head.

“This fool got Rodion killed!” hissed Viktor.

He was truly angry; Pyotr could tell, and if Viktor was angry, then this young woman’s fate was sealed.

Pyotr did not know why he spoke up in defense of her, but he felt compelled to. There was something about her that called to him, some kinship he could not define.

“She is not right in the head, Viktor,” said Pyotr. “Only madness would cause someone to strip and march through this wolf-infested hell.”

“Then she is of no use to us,” said Viktor.

“Oh, I can think of a use,” grinned Vadim. “She most certainly has a use…Look at her!…She is luscious…We can pass her around.”

“Yes,” scowled Viktor. “Take her, Vadim. And when you are finished with her, bring her to me. Once we’ve all had our turn, I will slit her throat and throw her to the wolves for Rodion’s sake.”

“Rodion made his own choice to rush outside like a fool,” frowned Pyotr. “How is taking this girl’s life justified for that? It’s clear she is ill in the head, defenseless. I don’t even think she can speak.”

Viktor stared at him with a fury in his brown eyes, but Pyotr would not back down, not this time.

The big man with the even bigger black beard reached forward and snatched Pyotr’s knife from him. He used the blade to slice into the bare skin of the woman’s right shoulder before Pyotr even had time to react.

The woman grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut at the bloody line that appeared across her once-flawless peach skin, but she said nothing, did nothing. She did not so much as breathe out a whimper to express her pain.

Viktor handed the bloody knife back to Pyotr and scowled down at the nude young woman.

“Perhaps you are right,” he said in slight anger. “She will do as a toy, then. We’ve lost two of our own, and there is no guarantee we will find any more women, certainly not one so…enjoyable…Fine, then. Since you are so bent on keeping a pet, you are in charge of her, Pyotr. You will watch her, feed her, and wipe her clean after she uses the toilet. You can be her nursemaid from now on.”

Vadim and Leonid laughed at this, but Pyotr did not find it funny. For one thing, he did not like what the others had in store for her.

“Find something for her to wear and then hand her over to Vadim,” ordered Viktor. “We don’t want our new pet freezing to death before we get to play with her.”

“Aye, Viktor,” frowned Pyotr.

Pyotr pulled the new prize of the Concrete Wolves toward the narrow set of wooden stairs that led upwards toward the second floor. He did want to find her some clothes, but he did not feel good about the fate that was in store for her. There was supposed to be some honor amongst wolves, but he was not feeling it now.

“Come on,” he said quietly as he marched her up the stairs.

He turned his head to view Vadim following them, a wide grin on the man’s square, if handsome, face.

Pyotr shook his head and led the nude young woman via pulling upon her right arm. He clutched the bloody knife in his right hand, a sick nausea sifting and settling down upon him, unsure as to what to do.

He could always slit her throat. He was not a murderer, but perhaps it was a mercy killing. Yes, Viktor would be angry with him, but he did not like the thought of this stranger, a mentally-ill one at that, being defiled by the rest of the men.

He shook a little as he led her into a short hallway and through an open door, a door where he could see the previous old couple’s small bed.

The bedroom was the best place to find her some clothes. Perhaps he could get her dressed before he ended her…It was the decent thing to do.

He pushed her into the bedroom, walking in after her, and he was going to close the door behind him, but Vadim followed him in and closed the door for him.

Vadim forced the young woman onto the bed where she sprawled out upon her back, her legs spread, her head slightly lowered, her blue-eyed gaze fixed upon Pyotr rather than her would-be rapist.

Vadim stared at Pyotr and then back at the young woman on the bed.

“Let’s get this started,” grinned the lascivious man. “Don’t put any clothes on her yet. She is perfect the way she is.”

The young woman’s sapphire eyes bored into Pyotr’s own, and he could not help but stare back at her, study her for what she was, something alien and beautiful, something wild and wholly apart from anyone he had ever met.

He could smell her scent, the tangy scent of woman, but it was wild, untamed.

His eyes viewed the thick black hair of her pits, and then they wandered down over the small bulbs of her bare breasts, her pert brown nipples erect in the cold upstairs chill. His eyes continued to wander down to view the tufts of curly black hair between her open legs, those slender legs unshaven, a fine coating of black hair over them as well.

She was like a wild creature in the shape of a human, completely nude like this in front of strangers, men at that, wholly uncaring of what they thought in their civilized minds…

The howling outside picked up in a symphony of mournful wailing, a song that seeped into Pyotr’s bones. He could smell the young woman on the bed, hear the notes in the howling, the longing sounds of the pack…

“You hear it,” said the young lady.

“Oh!” said Vadim. “It speaks!”

The lascivious man unzipped his coat and pulled it free from his arms, tossing the article of clothing to the wood floor. He then turned and gave Pyotr a puzzled look.

“So, are you going to watch or what?” asked Vadim. “I don’t really care if you watch, but you will have to wait your turn. I don’t share with other men…Now sharing with other women? Absolutely.”

Vadim turned his attention back upon the woman.

Pyotr’s eyes fluttered as he listened to the lugubrious howling outside, drawing in the scent of this woman through his nostrils, that powerful smell of both sex and animal, of both hunger and freedom…

“He does not hear it,” said the strange mystery woman. “He does not heed the call.”

Pyotr knew she was talking about Vadim and not about him, though Vadim did not understand this.

“He’s always like that,” said Vadim as he unzipped his pants. “Don’t worry, though, beautiful. I’m heeding the call right now.”

Pyotr had thought about killing her, had thought about ending any suffering for her before it could truly begin, but now his thoughts ran in a different direction. He wanted her now, fully and truly wanted her, but not like Vadim wanted her, not like a toy to be used and then thrown away.

She was something more than that, much more, much more than any other woman he had ever known, and Pyotr wanted that, wanting what she had, her animal presence, that connection to the wild, and he wanted it more than anything.

He wanted to run with her, to be like her, to be wild and free, untamed, to completely abandon this ridiculous notion of society he had somehow been born into.

“You feel it,” said the young lady on the bed. “I know you do. I can smell it on you.”

“Oh, you think so?” asked Vadim. “Well, you’ll be feeling it too in a moment.”

But Pyotr knew she was not talking to Vadim. She was talking to him, to Pyotr, and he knew this with one-million-percent certainty. He had never been so sure of anything else in his entire life.

“Come with me,” said the woman.

“Oh, we’ll be doing that together,” said Vadim. “I think that’s a great idea. Loud and pleasurable is how I like it.”

Pyotr gripped the bloody kitchen knife in his right hand. Yes, he had honestly thought about killing her, but this was no longer a possibility, nor would it ever be, not now, not now that he truly wanted her, not now that he truly wanted what she had.

Still…he knew what to do. This was abandoning everything he had been, but…he wanted something strange and alien, something he could sense just below the skin, but not his skin, no. He could sense this wild freedom beneath the skin of the world, beneath the skin of the end. He sensed it in her, and he knew she would lead him to this destiny, so he was taking her, and he was taking her now.

No, he had no stomach for death anymore, but death was necessary now, or he would not be leaving this house with her.

The wolves outside howled in a longing and forlorn symphony as Pyotr stepped forward with the knife. He gripped Vadim’s short black hair and pulled back hard, pulling the man’s head back enough to expose the throat, and then he quickly slit that throat, a red line erupting in hot blood as that sanguine lifeforce spilled from Vadim’s ruined jugular.

Vadim struggled for a brief few seconds as Pyotr covered the rapist’s mouth and held him firmly around the chest. It did not take long for Vadim to bleed out, and then the man died, expiring in Pyotr’s arms, though Pyotr felt nothing for him, no twinge of loss or regret over Vadim’s murder.

He laid Vadim upon the bed at the woman’s bare feet like an offering. She stared at the fresh corpse for a moment, but that brief attention was an acceptance, an acceptance of Pyotr and what he was, the first time in his life he had ever felt such acceptance.

The young woman arose from the bed and stood before Pyotr, and he drew in her scent, that wild and tangy scent that fit like an interlocking piece with the song of the wolves outside. His eyes fluttered again from it, the song and the scent, and he stood there, shaking from the power of it.

She closed her eyes and breathed him in too, breathing in his scent, his musk, and he could tell she was feeling it as well, that connection, that electricity that bound them both to something so primal but also so natural.

“Come with me,” said the woman in a quiet voice. “Run with us.”

Pyotr stared down into the depths of her glacial eyes and breathed out one word in response to her request.

“Aye,” he said.

Oh, yes, he knew what to do now.

He turned and opened the door of the bedroom, and she followed behind him, walking softly on the soles of her bare feet on cold wood. They made their way down the stairs after that, stepping into the living room together.

Leonid was at the front door, peering out the window, a kitchen cleaver in his right hand, the curtains of the window pulled back in his left. He turned his head once to view the arrival of Pyotr and the mystery woman, went to looking outside again, and then turned his gaze back upon them as realization kicked in.

“What are you doing down here?” he asked in audible suspicion. “I thought you were finding her clothes to wear…Wait…Where is Vadim?”

Pyotr gripped the bloody kitchen knife in his right hand. There was blood on the sleeves of his dark-blue parka, difficult to see within the blending of those darker tones, but it was not difficult to see the fresh blood on his hands or the deadly resolve in his eyes.

“We are leaving,” he said firmly.

“You are not leaving,” growled Leonid. “Where is Vadim?”

“It was not a request,” threatened Pyotr. “Step aside, Leonid, or you will end up like Vadim.”

Full comprehension swept across Leonid’s eyes, and then a rage burned within them, a small flame that stoked to a blazing fire within the span of seconds.

“You son of a…!” choked out Leonid.

He rushed Pyotr, and they grappled, each gripping the other’s weapon wrist as they jockeyed for position. Leonid was both strong and tough, an experienced brawler, but Pyotr was also strong and tough, and he also had experience.

Pyotr smashed his forehead down into Leonid’s nose, breaking the man’s nose in a brutal strike of bone on cartilage. Leonid staggered backwards from the pain, and then Pyotr was on him, gripping him around the waist, only to pick him up and slam him to the floor a moment later.

The nude young woman with the raven hair and sapphire-blue eyes appeared on her hands and knees behind Leonid’s prone form, and then the brawler cried out in gurgling anguish as she bit into his exposed throat, taking a bloody chunk of skin and muscle as she ripped up and away with that torn flesh in her mouth.

She spit out the chunk of raw human meat in her mouth as Leonid struggled to stand, only for him to fall to the floor again, his throat ripped out, his eyes glazing over with the finality of death.

Pyotr felt some regret over Leonid. He had not wanted to kill him. Leonid had been a violent man, but he had also been the closest one of the others with any semblance of honor.

At least he had died a warrior’s death. At least he had died fighting.

Pyotr had no more time to think on the matter before he was beset by an angry shout from behind.

“What have you done!” cried Viktor.

Pyotr turned to face him. The others had been one thing, but Viktor was truly deadly, especially with an axe in his big hands. This was the real battle, but Pyotr had to win it. He had to win for both his sake and the woman’s. He had to win this fight in order to start his new life.

He reached down and snatched up Leonid’s kitchen cleaver, switching his knife to his left hand. Now he had two weapons, and though they were kitchen utensils, they would have to do.

“Fool!” yelled Viktor. “You killed Leonid over this pet! She’s an animal! Look at her! You killed your comrade over a pair of bare breasts! Are you mad! You have killed Leonid!”

“And Vadim,” grunted Pyotr, though he mentioned this fact with some bit of pride.

Viktor was all fury over this confession.

“I’ll butcher you, you swine!” shouted the big man. “Betrayer! I’ll cave in your skull, you traitor, and then I’ll flay the girl alive and wear her skin as an overcoat!”

He swung the axe in a side arc with the intent to bury the head in Pyotr’s gut, but Pyotr danced backwards to avoid the strike.

But Viktor was an experienced killer.

The big man with the even bigger black beard thrust the metal head of the axe up and into Pyotr’s jaw, and then Pyotr was on his back, stunned, stars in his eyes.

He watched in slow motion as Viktor raised the axe, both of the big man’s arms raised above his head, the height of the axe just below the ceiling, the weapon ready to come down with the maximum amount of force necessary to cleave Pyotr’s skull in twain.

“WAIT!” shouted the young mystery woman.

Viktor paused just long enough to turn toward the young lady, the axe still raised, his face still a mask of rage and hate.

“You will have your turn, witch!” he yelled.

“I will have it now,” said the young woman in a matter-of-fact tone.

The nude young woman with the raven hair and arctic-blue eyes stood by the front door, her lips and chin covered in Leonid’s blood, a wild and untamed expression of defiance upon her beautiful face. The knob of the door was in her right hand, the door already unlocked, and she simply turned that knob, pulling backwards upon it to open the door wide.

The wolves poured in after that, a wave of fur and fangs that crashed into the living room with all the fury of the snowbound wilderness behind them.

Viktor shouted and screamed as he was pulled to the ground by gnashing fangs and the heavy weight of bestial muscle and fur, and then he was torn apart, a bloody carnage of meat and bone and blood.

Anyone else would have been afraid. Anyone else would have been terrified, but Pyotr simply stood up and watched the bloodbath that ensued. He no longer cared for this world, this world of men that deserved such an end, and that was all there was to say and think about that. Viktor had been the last symbol of such, and that symbol was now nothing more than a pile of bloody meat.

There would be no more of man’s world.

Pyotr unzipped his coat, pulled it from his arms, and tossed it to the floor. He shimmied out of his clothes as the wolves before him tore into the bodies of Viktor and Leonid, the blood and gore everywhere, some of it spraying onto Pyotr’s bare skin, the blood hot and steaming, but he did not care.

He stood there now, naked with the animals, but he did not feel the cold as he should have. He did not feel the bitter chill or the biting wind from outside. No, he only felt freedom as he strode through the wild pack and toward the woman he had killed for.

“Run with me,” said the woman. “Be my mate. Leave this world behind and run with me.”

Her voice was hushed, her breath steaming in the cold air, her scent a heady aphrodisiac in his nostrils, stirring the call in his blood.

He followed her outside, and they ran in the snow, barefoot and naked and free, and then she was on all fours in front of him, her hind end suddenly slender with black fur, her tail in the air, a marker for him to follow.

He ran after her with all the joy of the wild within him, and then he was on all fours, his once-peach hands now dark-brown paws, his new fur protecting him from the terrible chill around them.

They were the real wolves of the end, and they had been waiting a long time for the last vestiges of humanity to burn out, for civilization to die in the fading embers of man’s final winter, and now that end was here, and now the world was theirs.

He reveled in the call of the pack, his new brothers and sisters, reveling in the crunch of snow beneath his quick and treading paws, reveling in the husky scent of his new mate before him…Yes, Pyotr had found his real family at last, the wolves of the end, the wolves of a new beginning.

The Wolves of the End Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott

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