Controlling the Lonely Road
Consumed by rage, I felt powerful—sure I could easily defeat the monster in battle. Everything faded from my sight, except my target. I studied the way it moved, how it hung in the shadows, slinking along the thicker parts of woods for cover, and always sniffing the air. I leapt to my feet, hatred boiling in my veins. Instantly, a warm, gentle but firm hand wrapped around my wrist and restrained me, and a familiar voice floated dreamily through my consciousness. It infuriated me. It was trying to distract me from my prey.
I whirled on Sarah and was greeted with the veil that blocked her soul from me. After all that’s happened to her, why was she trying to stop me? She’s scared, I thought. And it’s time for me to see what she’s hiding.
I focused my newfound energy on the shroud and slowly, against her will, it began to open a crack. But it wasn’t fear she was hiding, it was hope. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, and it startled me. Her hands reached up and gently held my face, her eyes pleading not to dig further; not because she wanted to hide something from me, but because she was trying to protect me from some knowledge that could hurt me.
It was enough to break the strange trance. When the last of the anger had seeped away, I felt deeply ashamed for what I had done. I’d broken into a friend who purposefully didn’t want me there; one who had somehow taken measures to keep me out. I had forced my way in and took something that wasn’t mine to take. I felt terrible. I tried to pull away, but Sarah held me firm.
She said something to me, and now that the fury was over, I could finally comprehend her words.
“You have to fight it, John. I know anger can be a powerful force, but using it is never a good choice. It’s a lonely road—one where true friends aren’t willing to follow; and it’s a hard one to come back from. If you act in anger, mistakes can be made, and people you love can be hurt.…”
She let that hang for a moment, like a deserving knife in the heart, and I knew that she knew what I had done.
Then she continued, “If you keep giving in, the next time it will be easier, and then easier again, until all regret and remorse have waxed cold. However,” she said softly, “as with any temptation, the more you fight it, the easier it becomes to control, until you become its master and not the other way around.”
The shame I felt was so great that I wanted to get on Smoke and run long and far and hide myself. Sarah had another plan: she pulled me close, wrapped her arms around me, and embraced me in a loving hug.
Quietly, so only she could hear, I whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
She whispered back, “You’re forgiven.”
Jane and Hannah exchanged bewildered looks, as they tried to figure out what had just happened. Giving up, Hannah simply stated, “That was strange.”
Jane, on the other hand, started to ask Sarah a question; but before she could get out anything more than, “Does he…?” Sarah, almost imperceptibly, shook her head and Jane fell quiet.
The next day was bright and sunny, but noticeably cooler. Jane and Hannah had slept in Sarah’s room. I tried to give up my bed, but all three insisted that it wasn’t necessary, claiming they always slept with Sarah in her amply large one. Being vastly outnumbered, I finally retreated to the safety of the loft.
After breakfast, we all helped with the chores. I took care of the animals and repaired some fencing that was badly in need of attention. Jane and Sarah quickly and efficiently harvested the remainder of the garden and orchard, and then went to work preserving what they had reaped. It was unclear as to what Hannah did; she seemed busy, but it was difficult to nail down exactly how she contributed. Apparently, Jane had trouble determining it too, because she eventually commented on it quite sharply—to which Hannah feigned great offense, saying that she was like the grease that kept the wagon wheels turning: hard to see the work that it does, but very important. Though, after Jane’s helpful input, Hannah became much more effective.
It was just about dusk when Sarah caught up with me outside the barn.
“John,” she said.
The tone of her voice told me that it was serious. I put my tools down and looked at her.
“Have you seen them?”
I didn’t have to answer. As soon as she asked the question, her eyes floated past me and she noticed the rifle and the strung up crossbow leaning against the barn wall. I knew exactly what she asked, and it wasn’t about Jane and Hannah. Ever since I had discovered my new gift, I’d quickly put it to use by sweeping the woods every so often. Today, not one, but two Brean returned.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen two of them watching,” she said.
“Mmm,” I replied. “There was only one in the beginning. It left and then came back with the other.”
She pondered this.
“Tomorrow the girls will be returning to Marysvale.”
“Yes,” I said, already aware of what she planned on asking. “I’ll accompany them.”
She looked relieved. “Thank you.”
“Though I’m not as familiar with the Brean as you are, I don’t think this is a good development. You should come with us.”
I already knew what her answer would be—I could see it on her face; but I wanted to hear it anyway.
She didn’t say anything for a moment, then replied slowly, “I don’t think it would be good, for a number of people, if I went to town. You’ll have a better trip if I don’t go.”
“A better trip, how?” I prodded.
She didn’t answer, so I did. “Because this isn’t just your home…it’s also your prison.”
She nodded slowly, as if I’d forced it out of her.
“Why?” I asked simply.
“I know this may be asking too much,” she said softly. “I haven’t given you a lot of answers, and I’m afraid I can’t give you much more. Please believe me when I say it’s for your own protection that you do not know, at least for now. What you don’t know, they can’t find out.”
She looked at me, hopeful that I would accept what she said and not question her further.
Remembering how quickly she’d forgiven me, after angrily breaking into her thoughts, I looked into her eyes and said, “I trust you.”
Her eyes moistened and there was warmth in her smile that I wasn’t sure I deserved.
Then she said, “I know you must be concerned with where you are going to live for the winter. I want you to stay here.”
I started to protest, but she cut me off.
“Will you stop arguing every time someone does something nice for you, and just accept it? This journey will put you at least four or five days out and there isn’t anywhere to go without fighting the Brean. You can also put your mind at ease: it won’t be charity—though there is nothing wrong with that. I have plenty of work here for the both of us to get done before the first snow flies, and even after. You’ll be a tremendous help.” She then grinned and added, “I’ll see to that.”
I couldn’t deny it would be a great relief for me, so I accepted.
“Good. Now let’s go find the girls. I don’t trust those things, and I don’t want Jane and Hannah out of our sight. I should warn you, Jane has grown up in a tough world; and she has a very independent spirit. Chances are, she won’t like the idea of your coming along. She may think I don’t trust her.”
“I won’t take no for an answer,” I said defiantly.
We found the girls in the kitchen, or rather Sarah did; I stayed on the front porch where I could keep track of the Brean—both of which were still there. I wondered if they knew I could see them and hoped they wouldn’t stay too long. I also knew that it wasn’t practical to sit here and watch them all the time. There had been plenty of times during the night when they could have come unnoticed and, unlike Sarah, I didn’t put too much trust in the dog warning us, or any other animal for that matter—except maybe Smoke. I still debated if it were safer for him to be locked in the barn or left out in the pasture where he’d have a running chance if attacked—probably the latter. Still, sitting here made me feel more in control; at least I felt we’d have a better chance of survival if they moved on us.
Jane came out shortly, carrying a drink of water.
“Here,” she said. “Sarah sent me to bring this to you. You must be thirsty.”
She eyed the rifle and the crossbow at my feet.
“What are those for?”
“No they aren’t. Besides, you couldn’t hit a running rabbit with that thing,” she said, pointing to the crossbow.
A plan formed in my mind, and I decided to bait her.
“Maybe I could. How would you know?” I asked.
“Then prove it.”
“Sorry, I don’t see any rabbits, do you?”
“See, I knew you couldn’t; you’re just making excuses now,” she accused.
“How about I make you a deal?”
“This sounds more like a wager,” she said disapprovingly. “And I don’t bet.”
“Suit yourself,” I said, acting like it didn’t matter either way. Then mustering the most conceited look I could, added, “It’s probably better anyway; you would have lost.”
She sat there for a moment and then asked, as if she didn’t care, “Not that I’m agreeing to anything…but what would the deal be?”
I smiled. “We’ll get an apple from Sarah. You throw it any way you want, except straight down. If I hit it with the crossbow, you let me escort you and Hannah back to Marysvale.”
“I don’t need your protection,” she said haughtily.
I replied sincerely, “No, I suppose you don’t. Even so, that’s the deal.”
She pondered that and asked, “What do I get if you miss?”
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know. You don’t have anything I want…except…”
She glanced at Smoke.
“No,” I said flatly.
“So either way you’re out nothing. If you miss, you have to do nothing. If you hit it, then you get your way—or rather, I suspect, Sarah’s way, since she’s making you accompany us, isn’t she?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say a four or five-day round trip, through a forest known to inhabit man-killing monsters, is nothing,” I replied.
“But, you don’t deny it.”
“That’s what I thought.” She paused. “I don’t know. You obviously think you can hit it, or you wouldn’t have bet.”
She looked at the crossbow.
“That has two shots?”
“Then here is what I’ll agree to: you have to hit it twice in the same throw.”
I started to protest, but she cut me off. “It’s this or nothing; but I’ll be fair. I’ll throw it as high and far as I can to give you a clean shot—no tricks. But if you miss, then I want your word that you won’t follow me tomorrow, no matter what Sarah says.”
“In that case, I get two chances.”
“You can have three,” she said smugly. “Because there is no way you can hit the same apple twice in the same throw.”
“Then we’re agreed?”
She quietly went into the house.
I glanced back at the monsters. They were gone. Good, I thought. If they really do study their prey, then I don’t want them to see what I’m about to do…or at least hope to do.
Jane returned with not only three apples, but with an excited Hannah and a disapproving Sarah.
“Oh, this is so exciting,” said Hannah. “I hope you win. I think it would be fun to have you along.”
“I hope you win, too,” added Sarah coolly.
I picked up the crossbow and stepped down off the porch. Jane followed, carrying the three apples. She stepped a few paces to my side, but as she passed, she brushed her body against mine and whispered in a seductive voice, “Good luck, John. You’re going to need it.”
“Did you see that?” exclaimed Hannah perturbed. “Did you see what she did? She’s trying to distract him! That’s not fair!”
I turned, winked at Hannah, and said, “Don’t worry. It won’t work.”
Jane put two of the apples down on the ground, and kept one in her hand.
“When you’re ready,” she said.
I brought the crossbow up and prepared for her toss.
She heaved back and threw the apple in a high arch. I steadied my breath, aimed, and as soon as the small red projectile was safely away, I let the first arrow fly. With little more than the click of the trigger and twang from the string, it shot out like a streak of lightning. It whirred through the air toward the fleeing target and sliced off a corner. Jane gasped, just as the second arrow tore straight through the rest of the apple, shredding it to pieces.
Hannah clapped and cheered wildly, while jumping up and down. Sarah looked relieved, and Jane was speechless.
As the remaining bits of apple rained down, I walked by the still disbelieving Jane and whispered in her ear, “I should have bet more.”
“You knew you could do it in one try, didn’t you?” she accused, while following me to help retrieve the arrows.
“Of course. But I had to make it look like there was some doubt as to whether I could hit it or not; otherwise you wouldn’t have agreed.”
She smiled insincerely. “I was going to let you come anyway. Sarah would have insisted, regardless of our wager; and Hannah would have harassed me endlessly if we left you behind.”
“That’s good, because I would have come anyway.”
“And break your word?”
“No. But I never promised that I wouldn’t accompany Hannah. You would have had to join us if you wanted to ride on horses—or have a very long walk alone.”
“You wouldn’t have!”
I didn’t answer and she shot me a mean look; but for the first time, her eyes were playful and betrayed the scowl on her face.
After quickly recovering the arrows, we walked back toward the cabin together. I found it difficult to keep my eyes off her. The wind gently blew her long hair, trailing it out behind and away from her smooth neck. Suddenly, she turned and caught me stealing a look. Unexpectedly, she flashed a gorgeous, if not a slightly embarrassed, smile, and then quickly looked away. And just like that, Sarah’s prediction came true—I was glad to be accompanying Jane back to Marysvale.
The memory of Jane sitting next to me on the swing, her sweet smell, and beautiful smile made falling asleep difficult. But what made it even more elusive was the disturbing sight of the two Brean. One watching us would have been bad enough, but two gave me the impression they were collaborating. Not that I knew for sure, but it didn’t bode well and nothing good could come of it. When sleep finally did come, it was restless. I awoke frequently and found it a most difficult task finding a comfortable position. The room grew noticeably colder. Finally, abandoning all hope of sleep, I lay there and watched little puffs of vapor shoot out of my mouth with each breath.
The night was silent; not a sound could be heard. I felt uneasy and couldn’t quite figure out why. Nothing seemed that different, just like any other night; but I had a feeling I was being watched. I glanced at the doorway expecting to see Sarah, or perhaps Jane, but it was empty. I doubted one of them watching me sleep would cause such a nervous feeling anyway. In anticipation, I got up, sat on the edge of the bed, and looked toward the stairs for a moment. Nothing appeared. I wondered if I was just upset from lack of sleep, and debated if lying back down would do any good. Probably not, but sitting by the warm fireplace might. I started for the stairs and stopped. Something told me to get the rifle that had taken up residence near the bed. Downstairs is full of weapons, I argued with myself. Why would I need this one? I again turned to leave, and once more the feeling returned. Stupid. I’m just being paranoid. I renewed my efforts for the door. Again, the impression to grab the rifle stopped me in my tracks. Fine, I told myself. Have it your way, you chicken. I turned to retrieve the weapon and leapt back with shock and horror.
There was no light coming through the window—no moonlight, no stars, trees, nothing. In their place, filling the entire frame, sat the hideous face of a massive Brean. Cold, red eyes studied me. It was huge, larger than any of the others I had seen. A long, ugly scar ran down the forehead and through its nose and cheek. It made no movement, except for its breath, which fogged the glass momentarily with each exhale.
Our eyes locked and it glared at me in hatred. Its lip turned up in a silent snarl. There was something different about this one, something about its presence. Its eyes were keener, sharper, more full of substance; and they were red, when the others had been black. Fearful, but momentarily intrigued, I tried to read its soul. I expected the dark vortex of nothing. What I found was something entirely different, and it left me aghast. This Brean had a soul. It wasn’t like that of an animal; it was more human, with thoughts and intelligence. It was also dark and full of evil. I got the impression that it was curious about me. His eyes probed mine—as if searching for recognition. I pushed deeper, trying to harvest some thoughts; but the moment I did, it burst into a terrible rage and let out a horrifying roar that covered the window in spittle and rattled its frame.
The intensity of its anger paralyzed me with fear and broke my mental link. A huge, hairy fist smashed through the window, sending shards of glass everywhere. With its incredible strength, it tore away large chunks of wood, increasing the hole where the glass had been, at an alarming rate.
The dog finally started to bark.
In an instant, my paralysis wore off and my mind screamed, Move!
I lunged for the rifle, snapped it up, turned, and fired. The deafening explosion and concussion from the weapon, in such a confined space, caused my ears to ring. Acrid smoke from the burned powder filled the room.
I cut through the lingering cloud with my special vision. The monster was gone. It must have seen me grab for the rifle and had dropped to the ground, because it was now streaking across the open fields.
I cursed and ran for the stairs. Jane and Sarah were halfway up, both wearing panicked looks. I shoved past them and leapt over Hannah, who was as the bottom of the stairs. Landing on my feet, I grabbed another rifle, sprung to the door, and flung it open. As I ran out, I wondered if this was a trap.
Fortunately, nothing happened. I forced my extended sight open again and saw the huge shape moving amazingly fast. It was almost to the edge of the woods. I raised Sarah’s long black rifle, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The weapon erupted in another ear-splitting boom, which rocked me back, and broke my concentration; the vision closed. By the time I got it open again, the Brean was gone. I strained, trying to find it, but it was out of range. I tried to summon the power that flowed from me when I was angry, but it was useless. Frustrated and exhausted, I let the vision close.
Slowly, I turned and faced the three terrified women.
Jane, with wide eyes, asked, “What happened?”
“We need to leave quickly,” I replied somberly.
“What? At this hour? But why?” asked Hannah.
I looked at Sarah; she was pale.
“Something’s changed. We’re not safe here anymore.”
I couldn’t explain how I knew—I didn’t really know myself. Perhaps it came from the brief glimpse into the monster’s soul. Regardless, we were in immediate danger, I was sure of it.
Jane and Hannah looked at Sarah, waiting for some sort of denial. She simply said, “Girls, you better get ready.”
They didn’t move.
“I want to know what’s going on,” demanded Jane.
“So do I,” added Hannah.
“Please, girls,” pleaded Sarah softly. “I wish we had more time for explanations, but time is the one thing we don’t have. Now let’s go and change. We’ll talk while we ready the horses.”
Reluctantly, and with anxious looks, they did as they were told; and so did I.
It only took me a moment to throw my clothes on and return, as it did with the girls. Sarah gave them some instructions as to what food to pack. It was too much for four riders and three horses to handle, and I told her so.
She simply replied, “I’ll take care of that.”
With the girls busy collecting food and supplies, Sarah walked me to the barn. I noticed for the first time that fog had rolled in during the night. The moon illuminated the eerie mist and bathed the barn in a ghostly dim glow, making it look like a leviathan rising out of the depths of a deep, dark lake. I shivered, partially at the thought of what else may be out there, and because my body was already preparing for the onslaught of cold.
“What happened upstairs?” she asked.
I told her, except for the part about digging through its soul. When she was opening the barn door, I added, as an afterthought, the detail about the monster having a scar.
She stopped. Her face drained of color and her hands trembled slightly.
“What is it?” I asked concerned.
She answered quietly, “That was the beast that beat me and dragged me back here.”
Her little revelation left me speechless, and I didn’t know what to say.
“It doesn’t matter now,” she continued.
“I think it does.”
She ignored me, walked over to a horse, and worked on saddling it.
Deciding I wouldn’t get an answer, I left the topic alone. I readied Smoke, who was eager for another adventure into the dark night. Finishing first, I went to work on the third horse, but Sarah stopped me. “He doesn’t need a saddle, he can carry the food.”
That doesn’t make sense, I thought. What is she riding? There are only three horses.
I protested, “We have to move quickly, and we’re already down a horse….”
Her expression stopped me as her meaning began to sink in.
“You don’t mean to come with us, do you?”
“No,” she replied.
“You must!” I exclaimed, alarmed at the thought of leaving her.
“You must what?” interrupted Jane as she entered the barn with Hannah in tow; both were carrying armloads of supplies.
“Have you guessed what happened to me in my room?” I asked.
Hannah replied, as if she was revealing some great secret. “A Brean tried to attack you!”
“Not just any Brean,” I said. “It was the same one who attacked Sarah when she tried leaving the territory.”
“No!” exclaimed Jane. “How do you know?”
I told them about the scar and what Sarah had just told me.
“And she says she isn’t coming with us,” I added.
Both the girls erupted in protest at the same time.
Sarah, who had been quietly packing the third horse, stopped, and with a long sigh explained, “It won’t work. For one, there aren’t enough horses…”
“Nonsense,” I cut in. “Smoke is strong enough to carry both the girls, and we can ride the other two.”
Looking tired and stressed she continued, “I’m counting on Smoke carrying the girls. Now if you’ll please stop interrupting me, we really don’t have time. I’m sure that Brean went to get more of its kind and will be returning soon. Now girls, you’ll ride Smoke, and John can ride the mare. This other horse,” she said, gesturing to the unsaddled bay, “is only good for packing. He doesn’t have the heart nor stamina to run fast nor far. He’ll fall behind quickly in a chase. If that happens, you’ll just have to abandon him—which you won’t do if I’m riding him. I’ll have a better chance here anyway. I can’t go into town, and camping outside it would be suicide. Jane can explain more about this to you later, John.”
I glanced at Jane and Hannah; both seemed to accept this explanation, for they both had tears in their eyes and offered up no more protests. With the argument over, Sarah finished packing our supplies. Taking the horses by the reins, she handed them to the girls and asked them to wait outside, explaining that she needed to talk to me alone. The girls obeyed.
When they had gone, she turned to me and said, “I need you to do something.”
“I want you to convince their father to leave Marysvale and come back here.”
“But it’s not safe,” I protested.
“We’re not staying; but don’t tell him that. And when you return, try to bring more horses if you can.”
She slipped me a small pouch with a few gold pieces in it.
“And if he doesn’t want to?” I asked.
She looked steadily into my eyes and said, “Find a way—by force if you have to.”
“I don’t know about forcing a man from his home,” I said, debating if I really had it in me to do something like that.
“I don’t think it will come to that. I believe he will come willingly. However, if he’s stubborn, tell him this will be the last shipment of food.”
“And will it?”
“Yes, but not by choice. For better or worse, things are going to change…they already have.” Then, with a distant look, she quietly added, “Your presence changes everything.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to explain more about that?” I inquired.
“No,” she sighed. “I’m not sure. But I’m hoping if things go wrong, your ignorance will save you. It’s not by accident you came to me. I believe you were guided here, and you have a role to play in the events which are sure to come. I believe I, too, have a role; but I’m afraid I can’t fulfill it if those I love are at risk.”
The way she was talking made me uneasy.
“I’m not looking to cause any trouble.”
“No…but it has a way of finding you doesn’t it, John?”
I didn’t answer. She was right and she knew it.
“Please, bring them back,” she pleaded.
“I’ll do what I can,” I said honestly, and vowed I would try everything reasonably possible to accomplish her wish. “But I won’t force Mr. Wolfe.”
She accepted that. Pulling a pouch full of cartridges from a sack, she handed them to me.
“Take the rifle,” she said, thrusting it into my hand.
She then gave me detailed instructions about the route to take.
“And one more thing—then you really must go, for I’m afraid we’ve taken too much time. Be careful with your gift. Pulling feelings and emotions from the surface is harmless; but when you dig down for thoughts, people can feel that. It’s like a pressure in their head. Most everyone simply dismisses it as a mild headache or one of those random pains that just happens…except for those who know better; and I believe there may be some of those in Marysvale. Unfortunately, I don’t know that for sure, nor do I know who they would be.”
This opened a flood of questions in my mind.
She could see the curiosity on my face, but before I could ask, she hugged me and said, “I wish there was more time, but we’ve already taken more than we have.”
“What about you? I can’t just leave you in this situation.”
“Don’t worry about me. I haven’t lived here all this time without preparing for a possibility like this.”
I did worry.
“What are you going to do?”
She took my hand and led me to the door.
“I can explain all my plans. However, the longer you wait, the less time you’ll have to get away safely; and right now there are others who need your help. Whatever just happened, I’m convinced that Jane and Hannah won’t make it back without you. And John, don’t spend any more time than necessary in Marysvale.”
“I want to know your plan,” I said flatly.
“Please,” she said in a panicked voice. “Trust me.”
She tugged me along with more strength than I expected, and reluctantly, I obeyed.
The girls were waiting outside with the horses. All of them quickly embraced and said their goodbyes.
I walked Jane over to Smoke and gave her a leg up.
“My goodness, he’s a big fellow,” she observed.
“Yes, and I should warn you, he has a tendency to take advantage of weak riders. You’ll have to show him who’s master, or you’ll forever have difficulty controlling him.”
I left the part out that Smoke didn’t really like others riding him, and I couldn’t think of any who had successfully done so, except Thomas.
I handed her the reins, said a silent prayer, and hoped for the best. The prayer didn’t work, or so I thought. Smoke, as if on cue to my silent Amen, lunged forward, nearly toppling Jane off his back. However, he only got in a few strides before Jane regained control. She halted him sharply, causing him to rear a little. She then proceeded to scold him severely, with a rather hard slap on the neck. For a moment, a small battle raged between them: Smoke trying to run, and Jane holding firm. Finally, after one last protest, he gave in and obeyed.
She turned him around and came back. Hannah took a small step backward and hid behind Sarah. She glanced longingly at my smaller and visibly more docile mount. She opened her mouth….
“No,” I said, answering her question before she could ask.
I walked over, picked her up, and tossed her behind Jane. She glared at me.
“You’ll thank me if we have to run,” I said. It was probably the wrong thing to say, because her eyes got wide, and she squeezed Jane so hard that if one fell, the other would surely follow.
I climbed up into my saddle and, without any more words, we set off at a canter. Glancing back, I saw Sarah run into the cabin, as it quickly faded and became obscured by the thickening fog.
The inky mist made it impossible to see more than a few feet. Everything visible looked ominous; even innocent trees appeared menacing. Every so often, I ignored my natural eyes and used my newfound sight to get our bearings and to check for Brean.
Not long into our journey, we were forced to slow our pace down to a mere walk. Sarah had overstated the bay’s ability, and it tired much sooner than expected. I wondered if the dog would have been a wiser choice for a pack animal. On the other hand, the mare I was riding did better than I had hoped. Smoke grew aggravated at moving so slowly and being stuck in the rear. He constantly tried to pass the others; but Jane kept him held back, which irritated him even more. Hannah still hugged Jane relentlessly, which she didn’t seem to mind.
“Do you know where we’re going?” asked Hannah.
“How? You’ve never been to Marysvale.”
“I just do.”
Then, for her benefit, I described the town’s location, or at least where Sarah had told me to go.
“This doesn’t look like the right way,” she wailed. “I think we’re off course; we’re not even on a path.”
“No, we’re not. Nor will we be using any trails; but we will stay as close to the lake as possible.”
“But that will take longer!” she exclaimed.
Jane understood why and explained to Hannah that it would also be harder for anyone or anything else to find us.
“Oh,” said Hannah simply, and she lapsed into silence.
A few moments later, I discovered my first mistake. When I checked again for Brean, I saw eight dark vortexes burst into the edge of my vision, running full speed. The big, scarred one wasn’t with them, which unfortunately meant it was still out there. They were coming from the north and were only about two miles away, which appeared to be the limit of my sight. I wished my vision could’ve had the distance I experienced during my last uncontrollable rage. I remembered the Brean I’d seen so far away then. There was some nagging detail that seemed important at the time, but now the significance of its actions escaped me. What was it doing? I thought. While straining to remember every detail, Jane’s experience with her Brean popped into my head. There was something similar between the two.
The Brean drew closer, but we were far enough away that our paths wouldn’t cross…or would they? Abruptly, I knew what it was that I had missed. The Brean in the forest had been sniffing the air. During Jane’s experience with her Brean, it too was sniffing. It dawned on me that they relied heavily on their sense of smell. With that understanding came the terrible realization that our paths would indeed cross. Dismayed, I became horrifically aware that by hugging close to the lake, we would be up wind when they passed. Our scent would be carried to them on the breeze.
Instantly, I knew what needed to be done. The only question was: did we have enough time?
I turned to Jane and whispered urgently, “Follow me and do exactly as I do; and don’t talk until I tell you.”
Hannah started to ask why, but Jane gave her a stern, “Shh.”
I turned with the breeze and set off at a run, with the reluctant packhorse behind me. We desperately needed to cut across in front of the Brean before they passed.
This plan presented me with two other problems. The first being the noise we were making, which wasn’t much; but under the present circumstances, it felt like we might as well had been banging pots and pans. Since there wasn’t anything I could do about it, I hoped that the Brean had poor hearing; or perhaps they were making enough noise to drown us out. Horses, on the other hand, did have good hearing, which lead me to my second problem. I wasn’t worried about Smoke getting scared. With a few reassuring pats, he could hide like a jackrabbit and would remain motionless, without panic, as long as I wanted him to. I didn’t know about the other two horses and could only hope they would stay still.
It felt like we were on a collision course, with the Brean drawing dangerously close. Would we be seen? Would they smell us? My heart was pounding and, despite the cold, I sweated—except for my hands, which felt numb.
We crossed their path, or where they would be in a few moments, and kept going. I reined up when the fear of being overheard overcame the fear of being smelled. Then I gave the signal to be quiet. We were only a little over fifty yards away from where the Brean would cross our tracks. The fog obscured us from view, but doubt gripped me, and I grew unsure of my plan. Would the breeze clear our scent in time? What about our tracks? Are they going fast enough to miss them? I second guessed myself. Perhaps we should have stayed the course. At least we wouldn’t be so close to them; and we’d have had more distance, giving us a better chance of running or using the lake for some type of escape. My internal wrestle was pointless. It was too late to do anything else.
I drew out the crossbow, and then loosened the rifle and opened a pouch of cartridges. Jane followed my lead and handed a pistol to a very scared Hannah.
I watched with my special vision as the lead Brean crossed where we had just been.