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3/On Call

A strobe of lightning coursed through the dense forest giving a constant light. The deep rolls of thunder were less frequent but more terrifying.

Awareness steeled my spine as the fine hairs on my arms and neck stood to attention. Reflective eyes flashed with each lightning bolt. Two beady hues darker than pitch not far from the ground. Was it a small animal or a crouching larger one? We were in a cave, maybe its home. Its outline was covered by the tree trunk behind it. Its curious eyes locked with mine and a low pitched growl echoed within the cave. Goosebumps pricked my arms. Another warning growl ricocheted like bullets. Without thinking, my hands shot up in defense. This was the wrong move.

The eyes sunk lower to the ground in a crouch. My body tried to move back but was stopped by the boy’s leg. My left hand dropped to the ground to push him away as the animal sprung to action. Claws sharpened and extended, teeth snapping, and ears pinned back. A wild cat.

The momentum of our collision sprawled my limbs out on the cave floor. The feline’s paw hovered in the air for a split second before I felt its piercing claws catch deep into my cheek. My hands fumbled between protecting my face and attempting to push the animal off me. The third strike, its claw snagged in my bird’s nest of hair. My fingers wrapped clumsily around the mouth of the wild cat to close it before its next snap. I kicked and screamed for my life to be spared. A lucky kick sent the cat sprawling towards the entrance to the cave, its stuck claw tearing a snarl of my hair out.

My head was pounding from the instant headache; feeling began to return to my shredded cheek. My limbs were already sore from defending myself. Sweat coated my forehead and neck. My fast pants matched the beast’s harsh breaths. We watched each other for a second more before it pounced once more. I rolled away in the last second using my leg to kick it away again. My body seemed to be running on adrenaline and instinct. A deep seeded need consumed my thoughts. I needed to protect the boy from harm, get the cat away from him.

Protect. Him.

The animal and I played cat and mouse until my tight muscles began to throb. We had made a full circle and my form shielded the boy once again. My finger skimmed the floor around us and brushed against something pointed. At first touch my fingers retracted, but as the cat lunged again I accepted the pain of the jagged rock. My own battle cry melded with the wild cat’s low growl. It didn’t stop me from continuing to hit the cat, even after it stopped making a sound, or attacking, my hand released the weapon and throbbed.

My heartbeat deafened the thunder, as if the gale needed competition. I was exhausted, hungry, and cold. In the dim crack of lightning, my blood mixed with the wild cats. Warm and thick bile rose quickly. I spewed it to the side and dry heaved after. My eyes found its lifeless ones and I doubled over in another round of dry heaves. This wasn’t me, I didn’t kill. I’ve never killed before. Just the thought sent a new wave of nausea bubbling up.

The adrenaline had left my veins and like a junkie my body shook violently. I needed to put my big girl pants on and do what I needed to survive this storm. It couldn’t last forever.

My hand felt the boy’s forehead and chest. Shallow breaths and feverish temperatures. Next I felt around the cat to see how dry its pelt was. After, I cautiously made my way to the tree trunk, a few limbs were inside the shelter of the cave and were dry. I gagged at the thought but I knew what I needed to do.

With the sharp rock in one hand and a fist full of fur in the other, I set to work tearing chunks of dry fur off the animal. I made a decent pile on the floor next to the boy. Next I broke smaller twigs off the dry limbs and stacked them above the tinder. I began to rub a stick between my sweaty palms on a flat piece of bark with kindling. Stubbornly, I rubbed and gently blew on the smoke until finally fire blazed through the singed fur. The smell was foul but the heat was radiant. I transferred my small fire to the larger one by the boy. I piled more sticks until the heat warmed the cave.

In the new light I saw a few larger rocks in the cave’s rear. One even shaped like a bowl and another large flat rock. I took off both the boy’s clothes and mine and laid them out flipping them every so often to dry. My fingers ached from using the crude rocks, scrapes marred my slender fingers. I set the bowl like rock out in the rain to collect water. A few larger limbs made an excellent stand to hold the rock and heat the water which took longer than I would’ve liked. I tore part of my shirt to dip in the liquid and cleaned off my body. I did all this while not looking at the wild animal or thinking too hard about what I did. Guilt and survival warred within me.

I dumped the water and did the whole process over again. Another strip of my shirt was torn to make his rags this time. A stray finger brushed against his cheek and electricity buzzed between us. A physical form that shocked me. I dipped into the hot water and began to clean his body starting from his toes on up. I was training to be a nurse so I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed to see his nakedness. It was purely scientific and in the name of science this male was no boy, he was more of a man than his youthful face led me to believe. While I cleaned his features from the mud and dried blood, my breath caught in my throat when I realized inhuman golden eyes stared back at me, wide and curious. His fingers wrapped firmly around my wrist before I even realized he had moved. I dropped the fabric, hypnotized by his every movement. Cautiously he moved my open hand to his cheek. My palm pressed into the side of his face, stubble pricked at my palm. His nostrils flared in a deep inhale before his eyes captured mine again.

His breath whooshed out aloud but I swear a low growl was hidden in his exhale. His lips moved but I must’ve heard wrong.

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