Early 1900s Anglo-Saxon society redirects Angela's life. Minimally daunted by hardship, a fiery character based on a real Texas woman faces obstacles with gritty conviction while struggling to reach a near impossible dream on the land of her murdered father. A huge silver wolf's unconditional love manifests and rules him to battle until bloody during harrowing encounters when the devoted alpha defends her land, avenges his family, saves her, her home, and the granddaughter for whom Angela leaves a great legacy.
Angela's story begins with looking for ways to put food on the table for herself and two teenage sons. One night as she carries a heavy load of bottles across the rough Texas terrain, a wolf pack viciously attacks her. Surprisingly, one wolf comes to her rescue. Could he be the defenseless, stray pup befriended years earlier by Angela and her sons? For decades grim realities combine with spirits and endless devotion which deepen Angela and Moonshiner's relationship.
Chapter Fifteen ~ ~ Dangerously Outnumbered
In spite of the fact that her horse may never return, she patiently waits for weeks, refraining from spending her hard earned dollars. However, she eventually resigns to ready for the second purchase of both horse and carriage. And so, a vast plain challenges Angela once again to experience a suffering not many undertake.
She fills her largest canteen and drinks water at her well until she can drink no more. Afoot and in daylight hours, she travels the three day trip toward Marathon with cash and coin, food, water, and a head wrap which offers limited protection against blistering sun.
Flat, barren terrain is easier to walk but hotter. Angela’s superior condition has her fifteen miles out before she slows down a pace and searches for Moonshiner yet instead notices only his whisking tail amid tall brushwood. His big head rises, looking in her direction. Not pleased that she chooses to subject herself to this trip once again, he knows this is coyote country. He sweeps the wide plain, hoping the excursion transpires as uneventful as the last. However, no matter the degree of danger, she owns his allegiance.
“Moonshiner!” she calls out and waves, "It’s time to rest, right here where I stand!”
Without taking another step, Angela removes her cash bag, moist with sweat, food bag, water bowl, and canteen then wraps and ties them together with her head scarf to form a pillow of sorts. Angela’s long hair has fallen loose from its braid and glues to her neck. In the sunset Moonshiner stretches in dirt and watches her silhouette on a mound. The silhouette bends forward to methodically re-braid glistening hair. She forms a bun on top of her head and reattaches the hair comb, lies down and reaches in her pocket for a small bottle of olive oil which calloused fingers apply to burned, cracked lips.
Before long what Moonshiner dreads could happen does. He instantly lifts his snout straight up and twitches his ears: night air moves gently, carrying the sound of swift-running coyotes. Their thick dust reaches focused Moonshiner, witnessing them thrust toward a rabbit which runs for his life. But they stop cold in their tracks when coming upon Angela resting and trade the rabbit away.
Overcome with fear, wide-eyed Angela nervously snatches the pillow to protect herself and stands slowly. Moonshiner gently rises. She hustles toward him which stimulates the coyotes’ predatory responses. They freeze when they see him and lower their heads, groaning to one another in low tone.
Moonshiner recalls accosting these killers before when their nourished pack overlapped onto his range, but now vague paw prints they leave behind assure him —no need for help. He knows regardless of distance, this pack’s signaler lifts his head to send accurate, blaring cues to their receiver, even better than the signaler in Moonshiner’s own pack. The alpha, the receiver, and the rest of their pack race toward them. To Moonshiner, all coyotes are cowards, but these cowards, he has only minutes to kill.
He clenches their full attention by leaping to meet them eye to eye. Growls exchange. The starving wolf-like dogs realize an “alpha” wolf stares them down one at a time, but because of the group’s size, they see him as a challenge and grow daring. They must kill this big leader before they can feed on the human delicacy, and when the others arrive, they can feed on him. Suddenly one coyote viciously snaps at him yet withdraws.
Moonshiner’s demeanor shifts from expectation to annihilation: his rigid back expands, head held high cocks to one side, paws stand wide apart, and leaning on back legs, he’s ready to spring. Dangerously outnumbered, Angela fears for his life and hers.
At once, they leap toward him, latching on with their fangs like hawks with their talons. Not quick enough he struggles to break necks with brute-force jaws which slam squirming coyotes into petrified ground. Blood-splattered, emaciated bodies abruptly bounce high for more abuse ―split in half.
All through the shocking dirt storm, Moonshiner’s nervous eyes detect when Angela shifts position. She remains near. The boldest coyote approaches her; Moonshiner flings the limp one from his mouth, lunges toward the one encroaching into his jaws and hurls him several yards.
Moments later Angela distracts the summoned coyotes from closing in by pitching her pillow toward them. Salivating, having started acres ago, they abruptly stop, pose a brief look, oblivious of her for the moment then nosedive into the aggression.
They lock firm to Moonshiner. Money from the cash bag scatters in the breeze. Coyotes usually eat anything, but Angela’s food is now unsavory, strewn about by riled coyotes. With palms pressing her temples, she anguishes behind him while gawking at the berserk and vicious, a brutal brawl in which he must prevail! How she yearns for the Winchester.
Even though moving as if they fly, Moonshiner’s pack bolts upon the scene too late, splitting up while sniffing the ground, sniffing Angela, smelling the air. Six coyotes lie dead and severed in half. Six are long gone.
Moonshiner steps in slow motion, drops his tense shoulders, and throws her a pleased look. He lies on his side after thoroughly unwinding and licks many leg wounds while Angela crawls and digs in the area of attack to find her money. Still terribly shaken and feeling guilty for his injuries, she sits up, planted in Texas dirt, and speaks to him as if he understands. “Moonshiner, this is a hard life, isn’t it boy? After we get this horse and carriage, I’ll be able to build up my ranch, and when I do, you and your pack must live nearer. I need your help . . . more than you need mine. In return you’ll never go hungry. And that is a promise, my friend.”
She can barely see the paper money, but silver dollars that surface, glitter even under the clouded moon. Each coin wiped free of dirt with the torn head wrap clinks into the cash bag. Tenacious drive renders her tireless until her every coin is accounted for, late into the night, night that cools the ground for Moonshiner and his pack to finally stretch and rest a distance away and for her to fall into a deep, restful sleep.
While changing into her slippers and dressing gown, a brilliant fire leaps up the chimney in Angela’s living room. This winter’s icy frost, shaped like leaves grows over window panes and hides the view of the porch. She draws the crude cedar chair up to the hearth and briskly rubs her hands together when a sudden bewildering sound of sniffing passes under the front door. Panicking, she reaches for the Winchester then squeezes between the table and window. After extinguishing the oil lamp, she peers out, searching for a break in the ice, and notes a ray of moonlight streaming down onto a large silver figure that hovers at the door.
“Moonshiner?” she says.
No sooner than he raises his bright eyes toward the window that she rushes to open the door wide. Freezing wind hastily whirls in, biting her cheeks.
“Come in my companion.”
Ever so timid, ever so careful, the fearless leader shifts his way into her living room. In familiar surroundings yet completely uneasy, his head remains low while his eyes follow the same wood-planked walls, the cedar ceiling that now does not seem as unreachable, and the wood floors with knots he had tried to dig out years ago, remain clawed.
This massive creature seems to have grown even larger since the last time she was near him. Having forgotten about it until now, Angela hastens to the bedroom to bring out the old quilt he slept on when a pup. After she shuffles through several in the blanket chest, it rests at the very bottom. She folds and places it on the wooden floor in front of the fireplace.
With open hand she motions to the floor, “Sit down and relax my hero.”
He drops his guard and carefully places large paws onto the quilt where the warmth of fire embraces him. Sincere eyes slowly turn toward her then he bows so low that the scruff of his neck arches, waiting for a caress. Angela reaches out to pet him, how small her hand appears beside the broad neck. At last he feels at home and lays down his one hundred and seventy pounds that stretch from one end of the fire place to the other. Next to the dancing flames, his thickened silver fur shimmers brighter, rising and falling with his breathing. She pulls the chair toward him and sits to marvel at the beauty of his face lit by fire.
"There can be nothing more striking than the face of a wolf. But oh, yours is by far the most magnificent!”
She smiles at him while the blaze mirrors in glowing blue eyes. Angela stands and steps over him to pet his back with both hands before he lowers his head between his paws. In the end she calms his fear of her touch. Leaving him to his reflections, Angela warms some chicken soup and offers a substantial serving to Moonshiner. After he licks the bowl dry, she again speaks to him as if he is human and reaches for the bowl while stroking his head. He rests chock-full with contentment.
After accompanying Angela for several weeks of unsuccessful hunts, the barking pup somehow earns "one more chance" over and over again. His small head rests atop his paws as alert, blue eyes follow her gathering gear and scurrying from room to room. It seems much the same as heaven while he comfortably spreads his short body on a quilt in front of the oversized fireplace.
She squats and pulls his snout up, “You can come –but stay quiet.”
West Texas heat takes a long while to oust the pup’s tongue that dangles to the ground; he paws her calf for water. A small wooden bowl she pulls from her sack thrills him, licking hot lips that anticipate quenching insatiable thirst. She patiently stands over him to watch the expanding belly until the devoted pup laps up the last warm drop. He gazes up at her as water drips down his neck. Like many times before, he chooses opportune moments such as this to lift his small paws to her knees, knightly bows his head so low that the scruff of his neck arches, and waits for a caress that she never fails to give.
As overheated Angela tiptoes between cactus patches where prickly needles scrape against her skirt, the dry evening breeze refreshes her fair, true-colored skin, sun toasted to a dark golden brown. The pup mimics her every step. Tension grows each time she abruptly turns, suspiciously observing the pup’s obedience: instantly, his eyes meet hers. He dares not make a wrong move.
Hours later while time creeps by like a caterpillar at its slowest pace, she strokes his back and lulls the pup stretched out on parched ground. Then suddenly something familiar stirs their peacefulness. At long last Angela catches sight of a fourteen-pointer, but the pup sees him first.
She peers down at his surprised face – her heart races. Angela kneels next to him, and with quick fingers, she taps the pup's nose, points toward the deer, raises her forefinger to her lips and whispers, “Stay silent, little stalker.”
He glares back at the deer and remains quiet, unafraid, unlike before. From this point on, he carefully studies her every motion and learns. She maintains silence while still in the kneeling position. She ever so carefully draws an arrow from the quiver, gently loads the bow, slowly draws the bowstring and takes critical aim with falcon eyes of her father. After a steady launch of the arrow, it thumps into the buck that sprints. The pup takes the lead with nose to ground, and Angela follows behind where they together trail blood around boulders and tall weeds which tells her the buck grows weak. Several yards later she draws another arrow while walking, aims, and this time hits his heart. He flops down like a load of bound firewood off a wagon. From this moment the pup learns to step toward fallen prey to lick the most tasty, dribbling fluid.
Angela waives the pup away and approaches the downed buck with caution. She immediately pulls her filleting knife for protection as she had been kicked and bitten by deer in the past that she thought were dead. To field dress the deer, she shoves it upon its back with her boot and stretches the deer legs wide apart, sprawled out on cracked earth. She straddles the deer and with a strong stomach plunges the knife in just above the breastbone. Both hands split the lean flesh straight down to the base of the tail. She packs only delectable sections into the knapsack and laughs while tossing the pup pieces of carcass meat that land atop his head. He has his fill by the time she completes the task. Weighed down with back quiver, bow, lantern, water, and sack stuffed with deer, all over her shoulder, she bends down to lift the bloody-snouted pup above her head, wriggling him as one would a child. And so, without objection, he allows her to cradle him during the two miles back to the cabin while he dotes on cuddles and whispers of love.
The massive, two hundred pound cougar lunges onto the bull’s back, ambushing him. He clutches the back of the bull’s neck with his canines then pulls the bull’s head back with his powerful front legs, snapping the neck. Moonshiner travels the shortest route around every hill and the easiest trail through every valley while racing toward the bull.
Soon, Moonshiner catches sight of his young offspring hiding behind vine leaves, still howling and observing the attack at a guarded distance. When fearless Moonshiner comes bursting upon the open plain, he sizes up the cougar from afar. A thought flits across his mind that this won’t be easy. His breathing accelerates even higher, his heart rate increases even more, and his bodily responses will soon reach the highest level of self-preservation.
The huge cougar cocks his ears forward to better hear a thunderous sound: a wave of twenty-five savage wolves flows down the mountain slope toward him. He cowers by jumping off the partially-eaten bull only to face Moonshiner, standing tall at the forefront: in haste, his wolves gather behind him, one by one. Intent, they split up. Heads lower. Backs arch. They crouch as though cats with eyes narrowed to slits while encircling the cougar and their father. But the cougar need not worry about them, only the high powered beast that faces him.
Hefty Moonshiner charges forward never before relying on the force of his jaws, his size, and his bodily strength to win a battle. With mouth wide open, the cougar instantly launches toward him. They clash high in midair, clenching then yanking at each other’s necks until blood forms puddles beneath them. Once releasing the grip of his interlocking teeth, Moonshiner rushes underneath the cougar, raising him upward, and resembling a vice, closes his powerful jaws on the cougar’s hind leg, nearly dismembering it.
As they tumble, the cougar swings his paws with seething wrath, unable to gain an edge on him. Moonshiner’s greatest challenge is avoiding swiftness of deadly claws, especially to his throat. The cougar screeches in agony while thrusting long claws through Moonshiner’s thick fur, repeatedly slicing into the flesh of his back. Moonshiner, half covered in blood, rolls away, stands up, rears, and advances again similar to a fierce buffalo gaining momentum then leaps on the back of the wounded cougar’s neck. Moonshiner’s potent jaws open and shut in milliseconds as bloody skulls thrash, skilled fangs tear flesh, and patches of fur fling into the air before he realizes the cougar loses strength.
Now, with his dominance prevailing once again as in so many other battles, a menacingly powerful creature dismounts the cougar, steps back, and allows his pack to partake: as a sequel, with Moonshiner’s signal, his eager wolves spring into a conflict already won. However, a split second of opportunity arises for the weakened cougar to slash a young wolf at the throat. He dies instantly.
A rifle fires: the pack raise their heads at once. Angela and Alvis have been watching while sitting on horses a distance away then fire more shots into the air. For Alvis, seeing is believing; in awe he throws a glance at Angela.
He asks, "Which one is he?"
In bright sun Angela proudly responds, "The big one that shines."
The half dead cougar suddenly stands and leaps over the wolves. All heads, including the entire pack watch the cougar break away. Deadlocked, Moonshiner stares back at Angela, as if to ask for permission. His pack wait for his eyes to flinch.
She tells Alvis, "I thought they did him in," lowers her Winchester level with the saddle, waives her fist, and shouts, "Go get him, boy!"
Like a shot the unwavering, brawny boss catapults into a frenzied bolt of lightning. His wide paws thrust in the lead. In order to take their positions behind him while in motion, his anxious pack of killers have to push themselves to the limit. Moments later Alvis and Angela stretch their necks to barely view paws of the two hundred pound escapee, up and motionless.
EXCERPT: The pup’s still locked jaws struggle to wrench the kill, intestines dragging behind, back under the fence toward Angela. Merz and Angela stand talking about the incident when the pup finally heaves the heavy calf onto her feet and beams with pride, seeming to smile at her.
“I've heard other ranchers speak of this, but now I see it with my own eyes,” concedes Merz. But then he chooses to confront the issue positively. "We go back a long way, Angela, your father leaving you his land and mine inherited from my father. . . . we shall see."
The wind picks up and forces his silver hair into his eyes. Clearing it from his face, he glances down at the pup that pants and primly sits with excited eyes that stare up into hers.
He says curiously, “He looks like a dingo, doesn’t he? Except, his color isn’t right.”
Merz invests a great deal of personal toil on his land. He pays minimal help minimum salaries in order for his family to live just above the poverty threshold. He soon succumbs to more sacrifice when he hires two more hands to keep watch during night hours. However, the huge cats' extreme agilities, leaping eighteen feet into trees, attacking cattle from thirty feet away, and acute senses that communicate to others to join in posthaste, run circles around the extra help. The powerfully built animals abscond with more beef that they can devour, leaving leftovers scattered in valleys for coyotes and buzzards that also leave behind a food that insects gorge upon, and lastly the scorching sun fries blood to dust and brittles bare bones, listlessly swallowed by soil.
The mountain lions are unstoppable; consequently, a great number of Merz' cattle suffer attacks for several weeks. Weighing heavy on his heart at sixty-eight, Merz finds it exhausting making the difficult decision to move the ranch to a county where his cattle can survive away from the predation of cougars.