Sarah woke during the witching hour. At least that’s what her father used to call this time of night, when all was still and even the nocturnal animals were quiet. It was that time just before false dawn appeared and the world was at its coldest. Sarah shivered and pulled her blankets around her. She listened. Whatever had woken her wasn’t making any more noise.
A glance towards Adam indicated that he was still asleep. Sarah tried to relax, and couldn’t. Thinking she heard voices, she strained her ears to try and make out the sounds. There was nothing, still she lay listening until false dawn broke through the tree tops. Then, cautiously, Sarah wormed her way out from under the out cropping. Straining her ears and her eyes she listened and peered through the trees. Nothing.
I must be on edge, Sarah thought, out here in the silence looking for others. Not that she knew what she would do if she did see another Hopeful. Still Sarah stayed hidden, watching and listening. True dawn had just begun when she heard Adam stirring below. She jumped down from her perch.
Adam had risen and was packing his pack. Sarah did the same. It was time they moved on anyway. Especially if they were to make it back to the camp by the end of day five.
“Did you hear anything this morning?” she asked as she tied her bag shut.
“Not sure,” Adam responded. “Something wake you early?”
“Yes, though I couldn’t say what,” Sarah sighed. “I thought I heard voices, but I couldn’t confirm anything when I checked.”
He nodded and they moved out of their shelter. Adam showed Sarah the Splinter and she set their course for the day. They walked east north east now. Keeping her eyes peeled Sarah walked cautiously. She still felt tense from waking early this morning, but there was no sign anything had passed their way.
By the time the sun began to set Sarah had chalked her morning waking up to nothing but nerves. No matter what question she had asked, or how she phrased it Adam never gave her a direct answer. Sarah sighed as they ate dinner under an ancient oak tree.
“I suppose I’m supposed to know for sure myself, huh?”
Adam grinned at her. “Well if this was a normal...”
But his statement was interrupted by a bawling cry from the woods. Sarah immediately began to climb the Oak under which they stood. Adam followed suit. Staying as close to the truck as she could, Sarah climbed into the upper limbs. Being very careful to not disturb the branches she slowly lay herself along on one and looked downwards.
“S**t,” she muttered as she noticed thier packs and the still burning fire below.
The breaking of brush, thuds and the crackling of leaves as well as more bawling cries heralded the intruder's approach.
“It’s a bear cub,” Adam stated as the animal came into view and careened into a tree.
It bawled again as it backed up and tried a different direction. The cub hit another tree and bawled again. It’s cries sounded pitiful and lonely.
“I think it’s blind,” Sarah stated as she watched the poor thing bump into its fifth tree.
Both she and Adam began to descend to the ground. They stopped at the lowest branch as the bear cub neared their tree.
“BRAWWWW!” It cried as it stepped into Sarah’s fire pit.
“Oh god the poor thing!” Sarah would have jumped down if Adam hadn’t restrained her.
“We don’t know where its mother is.”
Sarah watched the blind, and tailless she suddenly realized, cub as it lumbered off. “Can’t we do something? Anything?”
“Best thing to do would be to put it out of its misery,” Adam stated as they jumped down. “But as we haven’t the time to smoke the meat, its best to let the wolves take care of it.”
As if on cue a lone wolf howled into the night. The sound made Sarah shiver as she banked and camouflaged the fire pit. She didn’t have to ask to know that wasn’t one of Wolf troop.
“I think we should sleep in the tree tonight,” Adam stated as soon as she had finished her task.
Sarah did not argue. They shouldered their packs and climbed back up. It was a bit more difficult to climb with the extra baggage, but Sarah managed. Adam clearly had practice. Once they were about half way up he showed her how to make a sling from the blanket. Now she understood why the blanket had short ropes attached to the corners.
“Keep it small so it will look like a bird’s nest from below,” Adam cautioned her.
Just as long as the wild animals don’t climb the tree to get into the birds nest, Sarah thought as she curled up, japon covering her. Despite the relative comfort of her ‘nest’ Sarah could not sleep. More wolves had joined the first and they were clearly hunting something. Each howl made Sarah to start and listen intently, no sooner would she relax than another howl would sound. It didn’t help that they were getting closer.
Soon Sarah heard the bawling of the cub. Brush crashed below them, intermingled with the cubs crys and wolfish barks and yelps. Glancing at Adam, Sarah noticed that he too was awake and listening to the scuffle. Something rammed into the tree, shaking them where they hung and she could only assume it had been the cub; the cub whose cry had been cut off mid bawl. Now other other noises floated up to her eaars. Noises Sarah wished she didn’t have to hear.
It’s just part of the cycle of life, she chided herself, the wolves have to eat and the cub would have died anyway. Sarah wrapped her japon tighter, her mind filled with images of the cub from before. Someone had killed it’s mother, of that she was certain, but who, or what, had taken its eyes and tail?