The scream froze him to the spot along with the blood in his veins. The scream came again, through the trees that bordered the St. Claire family farm. The sound uprooted his feet and he ran. He burst through the trees into the clearing on the other side. He didn’t see anything except the Rillson’s farm house in the distance, crouching at the foot of the small hill. “William?” he called uncertainly, confused by not seeing his friend anywhere.
The scream came again, this time closer and at the same time higher up. Silas turned round and the horrible tableau unfolded in front of him. A large black bear was throwing itself against the trunk of a tree. His friend William was half way up, clutching the thinning trunk for dear life which swayed violently each time the bear threw itself against it. William’s foot dangled like a tempting treat and the beast swatted at it with a massive paw. Silas could see the whites of Williams’s eyes, wild with fear. “Climb higher!” he instructed as he ran away, back to the farm house, to get his rifle that he kept in the narrow closet just inside the door. His heart pounded against his chest with fear and adrenaline. He scooped up the rifle and was back out the door again before it had a chance to close.
He arrived at the tree, a slim birch, as the bear let out a terrifying roar that seemed to shake the ground. “Hey!” Silas shouted hoisting the rifle to his shoulder and taking aim. The creature paused in its attack, swivelling its giant head on thick black shoulders and swung around to meet this newest morsel. Silas lined up the sight with the things chest. It seemed to bounce up with each beat of his heart. He tried to slow his breathing, to focus. The thing padded a few steps towards him, and then lunged.
Movement above him caught the corner of his eye, but Silas focused on the creature thundering toward him, teeth bared. He pulled the trigger and the bear shook and looked almost startled, and then crumpled to the ground in a mass of black-brown fur. Silas took a step forward and fired again. Better safe than sorry, his father had always said.
He took a few hesitant steps forward until he was only a few feet away. The fur remained still.
Satisfied, he side stepped the beast and headed for the tree where his best friend wavered like a flag in a breeze. “It’s okay, William. I got it, now. You’re safe.”
He watched as William began to slowly shimmy back down the tree, back to where the branches were thicker, more reliable footholds. William placed a foot on one of the thick limbs and there was a sharp crack – a noise so loud that instinctively Silas ducked, thinking someone had fired a gun. In slow motion he saw what had made that sound. The tree snapped and was falling to the ground, with William along for the ride.
With a sickening thud the tree fell, pinning William underneath it.
A long wail erupted from Silas He threw the rifle to the ground and rushed to his friend’s side.
“William!” He fell heavily onto his knees. William was as white as a sheet. Silas had never seen anything like it before. He went to move the trunk that was lying on the left half of Williams’s body off him, to free him.
William screamed an agonizing scream, and Silas removed his hands from the wood as if it was on fire. “What? What is it?”
William opened his mouth to speak, but instead of words blood bubbled up and dribbled down his chin. “The branches,” he mumbled, spitting flecks of blood onto Silas’ pale shirt. It was then that Silas looked at the tree. A branch had pushed itself through Williams left thigh, straight into the ground, and a smaller one had skewered him through the chest.
‘It’s my fault!” Silas screamed. It was the first and only thing that came to him. It was his fault that William had been there after all, in that forest. The one time that he had decided to take a break from plowing the field and play a game. He had chosen hide and seek. He hadn’t played it since he was a little boy, but it was a hot, humid summer day, and he didn’t want to be in the sun anymore. He was getting a headache, and dizzy. So he’d suggested to William if he wanted to play hide and go seek. And of course, William had been delighted. It was always William who was playing pranks, and joking. Making light of any sort of work he was supposed to be doing.
Silas always just smiled at William’s antics, and wished he could be as carefree as his friend. He just wasn’t built like that. He was like a work horse, quiet and dependable, not wanting to shy away from anything.
William had suggested that he do the hiding first, and Silas could find him, the only caveat would be to give him a ten minute head start – there was a lot of open land where they lived, and not so many places to hide. Silas reluctantly agreed, even though he desperately wanted to be the one to hide first, to find some shade and cool down, and rest.
He had almost reached the ten minute mark when William’s screams cut through the quiet peacefulness.
Silas could barely make out Williams face in the blur of tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” was all he could find the words to say.
William moved his head once, to the side. “No, no sorry. Not yo- fault.” Another bubble of blood came up. “Promise me you will do it,” he whispered.
Silas shook his head vehemently. “No. No.”
William’s chin moved down a fraction. “Yes. There is…” the words came slower, “no one else I trust more.”
“Yes, you can. I know you, Silas. I’ve known you your entire life. My entire life.” William choked. “You were, are, like a brother.”
“I’m not worthy. Look what I just did!” he cried through the haze of tears. Williams face cleared in front of him as the tears that clung to his eyes fell.
“-it wasn’t you.”
Silas shook his head, trying to speak through the lump in his throat that was growing exponentially bigger with each second.