Escape to the Mountains
Time: 2:45 a.m.
Place: Uncle Joe’s Cabin.
She never finished her story.
As her head dipped in the sorrow of her words, a crash came from the woods out back accompanied by a sickening growl—several growls.
“Bear!” I yelled.
“There will be more than one this time, Will.”
I looked for the wolves, but they’d already disappeared. I looked at Aylin, confused. She knew exactly what I was going to ask.
“Don’t worry about Orion. He and the pack will hold them off as much as they can. We must leave, Will. Do you have horses?”
“Horses?” I shouted back in disbelief at the seriousness of her inquiry. “No—of course not. But I have my old Rover. Grab your things.”
I tossed her bag to her, but kept her journal, tucking it in the inside pocket of my coat. I sprang to the kitchen, rummaged for some food—bread, apples, whatever I could find, and remembered the venison I’d brought. I ran to the door, threw on my heavy coat and hat, grabbed keys, my headlamp, and gloves and shouted over to Aylin who was patiently arranging her tunic cloak and her sword.
“Let’s go!” I shouted.
She looked up stunned. Then she ran to me, her eyes big and embarrassed.
“I’m ready, Will.”
“Ok. When I open the door, we run up the driveway just a few yards. The garage is to the left—just in case we get separated.”
“Garage on my left. Got it.”
I took her hand and we burst out of the door. The fight between the wolves and the bears raged out in the front of the property.
“Wait, I have to go back. I forgot the gun.”
I left Aylin standing on the porch wide-eyed watching the wolves fend off the bears.
I returned, snatched her out of her trance, half picking her up, and dashed for the garage.
Three bears stood trapped, encircled by the pack. The middle bear stood like a giant. He roared when he saw us, but the wolves had them pinned.
—I can’t believe this is happening.
We found the garage. The old Rover started right up.
“Does that not always happen?”
“Uh, not exactly.”
We backed into the gravel driveway, I shoved the gear selector into drive and we took off into the snowy dark. I remembered buying this old Land Rover Discovery from Uncle Joe. He laughed when I told him it was going to be my adventure truck. Of course, I had no idea just a few years later I’d be escaping a horde of crazed bears with some faerie girl who says she’s from another world.
I anxiously fidgeted with the dials and knobs.
“Did you buckle up?”
“Buckle up? What is that?”
“You see that black strap over your right shoulder? Pull it across your chest and find the buckle near your left hip.”
She looked at me with confusion, fumbled a bit, but followed the directions well.
“Buckled!” she shouted, smiling.
“Great,” I replied with sideway eyes. “This road is not paved so hang on. It’s been a while since I’ve been further than the cabin.”
“In all my time abiding in your world, I’ve never actually ridden in one of these machines,” she replied, completely disregarding my warning.
The road snaked up the mountain tight and snow-covered.
“Don’t fail me now you old thing.”
“I am not an old thing. I told you, I don’t have age as you do.”
“I was talking to the truck.”
She raised her eyebrows and smiled once more.
Then, out of the pitch of night, a black bear rammed into the side of the Rover. Over and over again he heaved his body into the driver’s side of the vehicle as he ran beside the truck.
The panic. The fear. All of it simmered in my blood veins. I was like a tea kettle whistling from the heat without anyone to turn the flame down.
Aylin’s momentary rapture of driving in a car had disappeared, and a very real fear gripped us both. I almost couldn’t move.
“Will! He’s going to crush us!” The focus had returned to her voice.
The road opened up; a steep run at the peak to our left, and the river basin below us on the right. The road was washed out and the grade was steep—too steep, I thought.
The force of the bear blew the windows out of the back of the Rover. The blow knocked us off the road and the old truck careened down the bank smashing through the mountain laurel and small trees.
I don’t remember the rolling; only the airbags deploying and the sound of my own screams, glass and crashing and pressure on my shoulder and white powder. But all I could think about was Aylin.
The truck caught a large tree with the corner of its bumper and it flipped us over and over until it rested at the bottom of the ravine. My door was ripped off, but my belt held me fast. I hung out of the side of the truck, bait for the bear. The pain in my shoulder, excruciating. It felt like it took me years to unbuckle. When I finally did, I fell out of the Rover and into the snow.
I felt my face. It was cut and bleeding badly, numb to the touch. I tried to lift my left arm.
“Aylin!” I shouted but the water from the river drowned out my feeble voice. Again, I shouted as I wiped the snow and blood from my eyes and face.
Then I saw her. She was lying face down in the snow.
I made my way to her side. She was bleeding from her head. I rolled her over.
“Aylin, wake up. Aylin! Don’t die on me now, not after—.”
She moaned and slowly blinked her eyes open.
“The bear—the bear!” She woke with panic in her voice and grabbed my arm with surprising force.
“I don’t know where he is. We have to go.” I pulled her up and winced in agony. “Ah!”
“You are wounded. I can help you,” she said. Her voice sounded woozy, but her eyes held me fast. She looked confident, though in pain herself.
“Please don’t touch it.”
“I can help you. Will you let me help you?” she looked at me dead in the eyes and a flash of calm moved through me. I nodded and held my arm, wincing in pain and bleeding openly from my head.
She stepped toward me, pulled my right hand away from my left shoulder and placed her hands around my dangling arm. Then, she placed her left arm on my shoulder and grabbed my left wrist and shoved it with such force I dropped to my knees and screamed.
I coughed and dry-heaved, bending over face down in the snow. I felt the cold on my forehead and shook with pain. For a moment the sound of the river washed out of my ears, replaced by a ringing.
I closed my eyes and tried to keep it together. It felt like blood was draining from my body. I shivered. I couldn’t feel the snow anymore.
Then I heard a muffled sound in the distance. Or was it right next to me. It kept repeating, like a soft voice ringing through an empty canyon. It grew louder, cutting through my dulled senses. The moment seemed to stretch out into forever in my mind. My thoughts were swimming and I felt like I was falling into blackness.
But the soft voice persisted. It crystallized, and I felt like it was inside of my head.
I fought to stay with the voice. I resisted the blackness. The cold on my forehead returned. The river sounds seeped into my ears as if someone had opened a window to let in cool breezes.
The soft voice—no, it wasn’t just a voice, it was singing. And then I felt skin on my cheek.
I opened my eyes and saw dirt and snow and a body hunched next to mine. I felt strong arms around me, holding me, steadying me. Aylin’s cheek was pressed against mine, her head buried in the snow and dirt with mine. She was singing into my ear.
Time stood still. The river sounds filled my ears along with Aylin’s song; a song with words I didn’t know. My shoulder no longer hurt. My face felt fresh, the numbing replaced by a foreign energy. Aylin raised me slowly from the snow and stopped singing and pulled away from my cheek.
“Are you okay, Will?”
“How did you know how to do that?” I asked. The calmness of my question surprised me. I knew what had happened and the gravity of the situation but my anxiety was gone.
“I have lived through your tempest, Will. I have learned much,” she said, grinning. Her eyes looked strong and her voice, sure. “And it will take more than a push down an embankment to keep us from Springer’s Pass.”
I smiled at her confidence, still unsure about Springer’s Pass. But now was not the time for questions.
“Come Will, we must continue on. The lone bear will return with the others. He knows not to come against me without … “ She stopped midsentence and looked up the mountainside. Her eyes turned from confidence to sadness, I could barely see her breath in the snowy air, but it was steady and strong. “He will return with the others, Will. Let us hurry off and find cover.”
We ran with great haste along the river valley. The snow was deepening. We raced onto a narrow promontory. The river gashed through the frozen valley far below us still swelled with the autumn rains and now this freak noreaster. It was a treacherous place. But Aylin did not seem to notice.
“We can’t outrun the bear, Aylin. What are we going to do?”
“I have outrun him and the others many times, Will. We will prevail.”
“Look!” I interrupted. In the distance, I saw a small light. “Do you see it?”
“I do, Will!”
We ran hand in hand towards the light, making our way carefully off the promontory and along the cliff that ran the length of the river. The light was closer than we thought. The driving snow made it seem like it was miles away. We were upon it in minutes.
It wasn’t just a light. It was a small cottage that looked like it was built into the side of a granite wall—into the exposed mountain on the other side of the river. One long suspension bridge led to the cottage but it looked weathered and beaten.
“You first,” I said to Aylin as I helped her onto the bridge. “Don’t look down. Keep your eyes on the cabin until you get to the other side.”
She walked the bridge as if skipping across rocks in a creek, with ease and grace.
—My turn, I thought, taking a deep breath.
The water raged below me.
—I won’t hear the bear until he’s right on me.
Onto the bridge.
It shook in the wind; the suspension cables felt cold to the touch. Halfway across my foot cracked clear through one of the wood slats. I caught myself even as my leg hung below the bridge.
I pulled myself up, found sure footing and ran across the slats to Aylin. Her voice rang out as I cleared the bridge.
“The bears! They’ve returned!” she shouted, pointing across the bridge.
The bear rumbled onto the bridge just as I saw Orion appear out of nowhere, a black speck in the snow-filled air. Orion ran wraithlike moving along the edge of the river cliff as a brief glint of twilight pushed through the clouds and through the trees. The speed of the chase pinned back his coat. In a blink he reached the bridge eyes glinting, set on his target. The brief spill of light into the river gorge painted the scene with a vivid savageness.
The bear bashed plank after plank roaring frustration and anger. The bridge shook violently. Orion did not break stride. He leapt onto the bridge with startling grace and strength. With his next bound, he found his target.
The great black beast landed on the back of the frenzied bear. The bear lashed around his torso attempting to swipe the wolf off. He stretched his jaws back but to no avail. The wolf tore into his neck with a vicious growl. And to think, moments ago the black brute sat quietly at Aylin’s feet as she gently stroked his fur.
Now he had the bear.
But as the two struggled on the splintered bridge the cables pulled out of the far supports.
The next moment the two animals fell thirty feet and crashed into the river mid a tangle of wood and cable and metal. Aylin stormed up to the edge of the river cliff and screamed out for her guardian falling to her hands and knees as we watched the valiant creature vanish in the wintry white water.
“Orion!” Aylin screamed into the gorge.
I grabbed her to keep her from flinging herself into the river after them.
“Aylin, you can’t. They’re gone.”
“He will return, he will return, he will return,” she said over and over through tears as she knelt in the snow near the edge of the cliff, her fists clenching the snow.
I did not doubt her words. I hoped them true. Wherever she was from, something was coming after her, after us both.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said as I helped her up and away from the edge of the cliff. “I hope whoever lives here will let us in. You never know with mountain folk. Some of them have been up here too long.”
Aylin didn’t seem to hear me.
“Aylin, I know it’s hard—hard to keep moving like that just didn’t happen, but we have to see if anyone’s here. We could die from exposure out here or worse, the other bears could find us. As you said, Orion will return. I believe you.” I tried to keep my voice even, calm.
She pulled away from me, patted the snow off her hands and legs, and turned to look at the cottage.
“Yes, let’s see,” she said.
She looked resolute. Somehow her beauty eased me. And not her form as before. Her face was smeared with blood, her hair matted against her neck. And her eyes were full of tears. And yet something seized me in the way she smiled at me through her words. Her response to the situation was untouched by her injuries or the unknown that lay ahead. I found a certainty in her way. Her movements, her tone, her willingness to listen. She gathered in my doubt. And that bitterness I knew was there—often in my words and tone—but always ignored or justified it, she pushed herself into it and smoothed it with the simplicity of a bloody smile.
We approached the cottage. Each step, an act of faith.
I pushed on the door and it swung open with ease. I motioned to Aylin to follow close behind. We took a few steps into the foyer of the cottage when I heard: “And just who might you be?”
The words found my ear just as the feeling of cold steel found my neck.
To be continued …
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