A novice hiker is attacked by a mountain lion and saved by a werewolf who wants to follow her home.
Tropes – Shapeshifter Romance, Meet Cute
“You just had to read Wild,” she muttered to herself.
Ari had been marching uphill for the past 2 hours. The trail was rocky and dry. Tiny shrubs climbed up the looming mountain beside her. And there was no end in sight. Her boots, the same ones Reese Witherspoon wore in the movie adaptation, were killing her. The big toe on her right foot had been throbbing since this morning.
At the first sign of flat ground on a ridge facing the valley, Ari fell to her knees and cried out in gratitude. “Thank you, Jesus!”
Real, honest-to-God tears were streaming down her face. When she started this soul-searching journey, she didn’t know what to expect. So far, leaving her comfort zone had only earned her physical and emotional pain. She felt no closer to clarity, purpose, or happiness than she had in Pasadena at her cushy office job.
Ari was halfway through setting up camp when she heard a growl. In the last town, other hikers warned her that there were mountain lions in these parts, but they usually stayed away from people unless they were protecting their cubs. Plenty of easier prey they could go after, except this is a drought year and that could make them unpredictable.
Glancing around, she didn’t see any little cubs or big mamas but the ridge had plenty of dead trees and shrubs where animals could hide. With that in mind, and the sun just past the horizon, Ari forewent the rice and beans she was gonna cook for dinner and opted for protein bars instead. She stayed in her tent for the rest of the evening with a flashlight and a book.
When she laid down for bed, Ari heard more growling right outside her tent. She gripped her bear spray, the only weapon she thought to bring into the wilderness, and prayed whatever was out there lost interest in her. It didn’t. The animal took a few swipes at the entrance of her tent.
Before it could tear through, a large thud sounded, followed by some harsh grunts. The sound of two large bodies wrestling on the ground. Then a great big shriek broke through the air followed by big paws limping away.
In the quiet, Ari heard something fall to the ground. She peeked outside with her flashlight. A large wolf laid on its left side a few feet away from her tent. It was heaving out big uneven breaths. When Ari moved closer, she could see jagged groves—claw marks—running down its side. Its light gray fur was matted with the dark red blood pooling down its back.
The wolf’s eyes were open, watching her every move. There were obvious signs of a tussle on the ground. Whatever had happened, it was clear that this wolf saved her life. Whether it fought to protect her, or for the right to eat her, didn’t matter. It was injured and vulnerable now.
She thought about packing up and moving further down the trail. Other animals might be attracted to the blood and she didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire. But the wolf was defenseless. She couldn’t abandon it after it saved her from being eaten alive. Besides, the chances of another apex predator hanging around were slim. These animals were territorial, weren’t they?
Ari ran into her tent for her first aid kit and a blanket. She slowly walked back to the wolf, keeping herself in its sights. “Nice little wolf, good wolf, I just want to help you. I’m gonna clean the cuts so you don’t get infected and wrap you in this blanket to stop the bleeding. Okay?”
The wolf blinked at her. Ari swore it understood her but it didn’t make a peep. At least, it didn’t try to scratch her when she dabbed the cuts with alcohol. While doing her best to wrap the blanket around its heavy body, she discovered that it was actually a he, which probably explained why he was the size of a baby wooly mammoth. She didn’t know wolves could get this big.
Ari slept outside that night just in case another animal tried to take advantage of the wolf’s weakness. She laid her sleeping bag a healthy distance away from him then fell asleep clutching her bear spray and staring into the wolf’s vibrant amber eyes.
The next morning, Ari packed up her camp and had another protein bar for breakfast. She checked on the wolf. His wounds were still bad but he wasn’t bleeding anymore. She rewrapped him in the blanket and left a few pieces of beef jerky beside his head. He was looking up at her blearily. “Well, thanks for your help Mr. Wolf. Good luck.”
Ari took her stuff and continued up the mountain pass. It wasn’t long before she heard the sound of footfalls behind her. When she looked back, the wolf was a few yards behind her steadily placing one paw in front of the other. “What are you doing? Stop following me. I’m not giving you any more food.”
He didn’t stop. Ari sped up her gait but the wolf caught up to her, panting. She stopped and he stopped about 2 yards away from her. She relaxed a little when she realized he wasn’t going to come any closer. Just a little, he was still a giant wolf afterall, and clearly being injured didn’t mean he was helpless.
They continued on this way for the next three days. When she stopped, he stopped. When she made camp, he slept by the entrance of her tent. He got stronger every day. At the end of the first day, he tugged off the blanket around his torso. Ari made a huge campfire and burned it.
By the second day, the wolf managed to catch a couple rabbits for dinner which he thankfully ate out of sight. They made it all the way up then down the mountain pass and he never came within more than 2 feet from her. Ari started to feel comfortable around the wolf. She shared her random thoughts with him. She told him stories about her life to pass the time. And he listened. She knew because his eyes stayed fixed on her. When she made a joke, she swore his snort was a laugh.
By the time they made it to the trailhead, Ari was sad. It was time for her to go home. She was going to miss the wolf’s constant presence. The tortuous trek wasn’t so bad with him at her side. She didn’t even notice if her feet hurt anymore.
Ari turned to him when they reached the trail marker. He was sitting back on his haunches waiting patiently for her next move. “Well, I guess this is where we part ways. I can’t take a wolf into town. Someone will shoot you for sure.”
His wounds had closed. The gashes on his side were hardly noticeable if you didn’t know to look for them. He’d be fine without her.
“I guess this is goodbye. Thanks for saving my life. Bye, Mr. Wolfie.” She gave a weak wave then tried to stop him when he made to follow her. “No! Stay!”
He stood on his hindlegs. His fur melted away. His legs straightened and extended. As did his arms and his torso. His snout shrunk into a human nose and his paws became human hands. In place of a wolf, now stood a fully grown man. A naked man with long blonde hair, tan skin, and the same deep amber eyes. He spoke with a smooth tenor and a faint accent, “Now can I come with you?”
Ari took a deep breath then promptly fainted onto the dirt trail.