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For the Good of the Cause.

Hannah laid the binoculars on the dash and started the car. She had spent nearly a month staking out the old man’s place and it was almost time to strike. “Soon,” she said to herself while imagining the look on the codger’s face once she had finished with him.

Hannah considered herself an animal rights activist, but anyone who had had the unfortunate luck to cross paths with her would call the young woman a psychopath. In fact, more than a handful of people had been seriously hurt because of the girl’s personal crusade, and one had even lost their life. That incident had gotten her kicked out of the organization, but she didn’t care. They were nothing but a bunch of posers and Hanna didn’t need them.

Hannah had always loved animals. They were innocent in every way, even the ones that killed and ate other animals. People, on the other hand, she despised. It had been this way ever since her parents had taken her puppy away at the tender age of five after she’d been caught being mean to her baby brother. The girl had loved that dog, and it hadn’t been the animal’s fault the baby was so annoying. To Hannah, that had been the first example of people’s disregard for animals. She had cared for her puppy, and her terrible parents had taken it and given it away; probably to someone that ended up mistreating it. But now she was an adult, and Hannah could do something about it. That’s why she’d joined the organization.

Even though Hannah hated people, she at least saw the value in allying herself with those that shared her views, or so she had thought. Turns out, the people of the organization were no different than anyone else. If it was up to Hannah, every pet owner, meat eater, and hunter would be dead, or at the very least in prison. Because of this dedication, the girl was willing to do whatever it took for the cause*,* even when other so-called activists wouldn’t. Which is what happened the night of the incident.

The organization had gotten wind that a local boutique was selling authentic fur, so Hannah and another member were sent to give the owner a lesson in the ethics of selling products harvested from defenseless animals. The two activists were to wait until the late hours of the night, and then break into the store. Upon entry, they were to damage the fur clothing so that it couldn’t be sold. Unfortunately, Hannah had other plans. Much to the horror of her accomplice, she set fire to the building.

“They will just get more,” Hannah told her shocked partner as she poured gasoline along the backside of the establishment.

The building, which was a converted wood-framed house, went up like the Fourth of July, all the while Hannah and her partner disappeared like thieves in the night. In the aftermath, it was discovered that the fur products the shop was selling were in fact artificial, but even worse was the fact that the shop owner was inside the building when it went up in flames. The fire had spread through the old structure so quickly, that the woman never even had a chance to escape.

The organization disavowed any responsibility for the blaze, and when Hannah explained her reasoning for setting the fire to her directors, they promptly booted her out of the organization. “She was a liability,” they had said.

At first, Hannah had been pissed about how things played out, but eventually decided she was actually pretty lucky. The organization didn’t want to be tied to the incident in any way, so they kept it all quiet. Hannah could have gone to prison for arson and murder, but instead, she was still free to continue her crusade, albeit on her own.

Once the dust had settled, Hannah’s feelings about the whole situation were that she felt no remorse. She didn’t care that the furs were fake. Most likely the shop owner would have moved onto the real thing sooner or later, and now it was no longer an issue. Human life was expendable in the name of saving the animals.

Arriving home at her apartment, Hannah went back over her upcoming plans. The man she had been staking out was Wilfred Jones. On the surface, Wilfred claimed to be an animal rehabilitator. He would rescue exotic animals from terrible situations, nurse them back to health, and then work to get them released back into the wild. If that wasn’t possible, Wilfred would donate the animals to zoos. It sounded like such a noble cause, but Hannah knew better. People were all the same.

She didn’t have proof, per se, but Hannah was pretty sure the old bastard was selling the animals to the highest bidder. And those were the kind of people she hated most; exotic animal dealers. She didn’t care that there wasn’t any proof. Besides, how else was the old man able to afford all the property he owned?

At the moment, Wilfred only had a male timber wolf in his care, and Hannah’s plan was to sneak in and set it free. Just knowing how happy the animal would be once loose, gave the girl a warm feeling inside. But it wasn’t nearly as big as the one she got from imagining the look on the man’s face as he watched his next payday, running off into the woods. Hannah couldn’t wait.

The next night, Hannah parked her car off the road about half a mile from Wilfred’s property. She got out, walked around to the passenger side, and then opened the door. Off the seat, she grabbed a backpack that contained a collection of tools and then opened the glove compartment. Reaching inside, Hannah pulled out what she called her equalizer. It was a small discrete-looking stun gun, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, she’d found someone who’d been able to modify the item so that it produced more than double the amount of voltage that was legally allowed. Slinging the pack over her shoulders and pocketing the stun gun, Hannah hopped the fence and made her way through the woods toward the house and animal pens.

Twenty minutes later, the woods began to thin out and the house came into view. Hanna pulled the binoculars from her pack and scanned the area. There were no lights on in the house, and the only light outside came from a single security light. The wolf’s cage was east of the house underneath the overhang of an old barn.

Always prepared, Hannah took off the pack and inspected the contents inside to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. Happy with her findings, she then took the stun gun out, flipped it on, and then pulled the trigger. The loud pop of electricity coupled with the blue light of the arc told her it was more than ready if she needed it. Hannah turned it off and dropped it back into her pocket.

“Showtime,” the girl said quietly to herself as she re-shouldered the pack and exited the woods.

Hannah circled around the back of the house, well out of range of any motion devices, and approached the wolf’s cage from the backside. Sensing the unknown presence of her intrusion, the animal inside the cage, raised its head and growled.

“Ssshhh. It’s okay, big guy.” Hannah assured the wolf. “I’m here to help.”

The wolf looked at her skeptically as it got to its feet, its low growl still emanating from deep inside its throat.

“Stupid animal,” Hannah whispered. “You’re so used to being locked up, you don’t know what’s good for you.”

The animal watched intently as the girl circled around to the door of the cage. It was latched with a standard sliding bolt, but the problem was going to be the large padlock that had been installed. Hannah set the pack on the ground, opened it, and then retrieved a small pair of bolt cutters. She had hoped the tool wouldn’t be needed tonight, but Hannah had learned from experience that people would do anything to hold on to what they deemed valuable.

With the wolf looking on, she opened the bolt cutters’ jaws and positioned them around the shank of the lock. It was an extremely tight fit, and as soon as Hanna began to apply force to the handles, she began to worry her strength wouldn’t be enough to cut the lock with the obviously too small tool.

“Damn it to hell,” Hanna exhaled in an exasperated whisper.

Frustrated, she continued working the lock with the cutters and soon became so focused on her task, that she didn’t hear the approaching footsteps.

“What’s going on here?” a voice asked from behind her. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?

Hannah spun around, dropping the bolt cutters. Wilfred Jones stood about ten feet away holding his cane like a sword.

“You have no right to keep this animal caged up,” Hannah told the man indignantly. “And it’s my duty to set it free.”

Wilfred rolled his eyes. “Oh hell,” the man scoffed. “You’re another one of them goddamned, do-good, assholes. I’ve had just about enough of you people.”

It was Hannah’s turn to scoff. “You people?” she asked with contempt. “I’m not the one with a wild animal in a cage. It should be free.”

Wilfred began to chuckle, which then evolved into large belly laughs. Eventually, the man was laughing so hard, he had to lean heavily on his cane for support. Hannah watched this outburst with confusion. Finally, the old man’s bellowing laughter began to die.

“What’s so damned funny?” Hannah asked him.

“You folks just don’t get it,” Wilfred replied as if reprimanding an ignorant child. “Atlas has been around people since he was a pup. He doesn’t know how to be free. If he were to be released, he’d probably come right back here; that is if he wasn’t killed by people or other wolves first. And he’s too kind of an animal to go to some damned zoo to be gawked at by a bunch damned fools. No, this is the best place for him. I take care of him by feeding, watering, and loving him. In return, he takes care of me by offering protection and being my companion.”

Hannah couldn’t believe her ears. “That’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard,” she told the man with fury. “You’re just selfish.”

The man chuckled again. “Sounds like the pot calling kettle black,” he chided her. “What are you in this for? The animals, or your own whack-job piece of mind.”

Hannah was done listening to the son-of-a-bitch. She reached down, picked up the cutters, and then began on the lock once again.

“Hey now. You stop that,” Wilfred called as he closed in on the girl.

The old man took hold of the girl’s shoulders and began trying to pull her away from the cage. Meanwhile, Atlas began barking and growling as he watched the exchange from inside the enclosure.

“Get off of me,” Hannah yelled as she was wrenched away from the bolt cutters.

She was shocked by the strength of the old man’s boney hands, but not so much so that she couldn’t reach into her pocket for the equalizer. Pulling it out and switching it on with one smooth motion, the girl whirled about, jammed the contacts into Wilfred’s chest, and then pulled the trigger. The elderly man’s body tensed as a scream of agony briefly escaped his lips. Behind them, Atlas was becoming more and more frantic as the animal watched the two people scuffle. Wilfred finally released his grip on Hannah, took two labored steps backward, and then crumpled to the ground like a sack of dead limbs. The girl watched in silence as the old man’s death spasms gradually ended, but she was forced back to reality by a sudden, remorseful howl from behind her. Turning back to the cage, Hannah stooped to pick up the bolt cutters, but then stopped. Maybe she didn’t need them now.

Going to Wilfred’s lifeless body, she began rifling through the man’s pockets and was soon rewarded for the effort. Taking the ring of keys she had found in the old geezer’s pocket, Hannah walked calmly to the door of the cage and then unlocked it.

Atlas gave Hannah a tentative growl as the girl swung the cage door open.

“You’re free now,” she said to the leery animal with forced cheer. “Go on. Take off.”

The wolf only stood there, eyeing its would-be savior. Finally, deciding maybe it just needed a little bit more space, Hannah took several steps away from the open cage. Atlas hesitated momentarily and then sauntered out. The wolf glanced nervously at the girl as it carefully made its way to the old man’s motionless body. The animal nudged at Wilfred’s cheek, then tenderly licked it. When there was no response, the large wolf began whimpering.

“What are you waiting for, you idiot?” Hannah yelled at the creature. “Get out of here. You’re free.”

Atlas ignored her. Instead, he continued walking around Wilfred’s corpse, sniffing and licking; still attempting to wake his friend. After a few minutes, the animal realized it was futile, and let out another remorseful howl.

Hannah couldn’t help but be disgusted by how the animal was acting. It should be grateful to be free, but instead, it acted like it had lost its best friend. She was just going to have to help it along. Picking up the old man’s cane, Hannah began waving it in the air as she approached the mourning animal.

“Go on,” she screamed at it. “Get out of here. You’re free.”

Atlas, who could no longer ignore the threatening intruder any longer, turned to the girl, and then uttered a deep, guttural, growl. Hannah sensing the animal’s change in demeanor, dropped the cane and then began backing away. Atlas, continuing to growl, began slinking towards the girl.

“Easy now,” Hannah said to the wolf, unable to hide the panic in her voice.

She took two more careful steps back and then turned to run. Atlas was much faster. The wolf leaped on Hannah, knocking her to the ground. She tried to stay in a prone position as the snarling animal clawed and bit at her upper back, but it would tear her apart if she didn’t do something else. In desperation, the girl rolled over and began beating at Atlas with her arms. It was of no use. The animal was too angry and much too strong.

Eventually, Hannah’s own strength began to falter, and she was no longer able to fight the creature off. It ripped and tore with tooth and claw until it found its way to Hanna’s neck. Atlas easily bit into and tore out Hannah’s exposed throat. Then, sensing that his friend’s killer was no longer a threat, the wolf retreated.

As she lay bleeding out, Hannah watched with dying eyes as the animal curled up next to Wilfred’s dead body. Her last thought as life slipped away from her was one of confusion. How could an animal be so loyal to something that was not of its own kind? Wilfred had been right, and even in death, Hannah still didn’t get it.

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