It clouded my vision, invading my nostrils as I struggled for a breath of fresh air. The late night forest, once a peaceful dark with a freckled night sky, now burned red. Ringlets of fire and smoke wrapped around the once green, now black charred trees, it’s red and yellow hues roaring like an angry inferno.
I was a pup with a dull red and gray coat, now covered in dirt and remnants of ash.
I was alone.
It was in part my fault, having left my sister to fend for herself in our smoke-filled den. Better in numbers my older brother would’ve said. But no matter how hard I pushed and prodded, she refused to follow me, too afraid to search for our parents.
“Mama!” I cried out through the mind link, as smoke swirled around me. The dark clouds made me cough as I tried to howl, and it made my body feel worse and worse with each passing moment. Using the pack mind link, a projection of thought was difficult for a pup my age. As a pup grew older, their connection to their pack strengthened. At my age, trying hard enough my mother could hear me. My siblings as well.
As the forest grew hotter, the struggle to decipher where I stood grew more difficult. The smoke was thick, masking all familiar scents.
My hind legs buckled.
Tendrils of red and orange swirls wrapped around the blurring trees. As the fire neared my small body, I could only fall as my legs gave out under me. My vision came and went in a blurry haze. My breathing grew faint.
I was spent.
A small whimper escaped my muzzle.
Then, she appeared.
‘Cameron.’ Her soothing tone entered my head. ‘Wake up baby.’ I had no strength to answer her.
Teeth bit into the scruff of my neck, my body hoisted into the air. I lay slack in her teeth as she bolted through the trees. "You need to live Cam.” She said.
I didn’t know it then, as I lost consciousness, but thinking back on it, the words she spoke to me and kept speaking were meant to keep me focused on something other than my burning skin, on the fire that crept up my legs and stomach. Focused on something other than death. ‘You need to live so your family can live. You need to live for me. I love you, Cameron. We all love you and you will grow up one day and you will be so strong. And so beautiful. You will be-’
There is no emotion through a mind link. The connection’s only words, vivid in the head by the speaker’s voice. There is no telling if someone is losing strength. My guess, reminiscing as the years’ pass, is that she spoke to me until she lost consciousness, or until she inevitably died.
I never felt my mother throw me through the flames towards the edge of the forest and the pain the fire caused my body wasn’t clear until I woke up a week later.
My mother might’ve been able to save herself that night, but instead, she saved me.
What a waste of life.