This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” Adriana said in a barely audible whisper.
“Who?” The man behind the counter, Mr. Cantrell, peered over his glasses into her dark eyes. She nervously glanced behind her, as if her stepfather might be lurking in the shadows.
“Bud,” she answered still quietly, “he doesn’t believe in us.”
“Oh, I see,” Mr. Cantrell nodded with an understanding smile. He continued to select small sprigs of this and portions of that from multiple rows of glass containers. He packaged a variety of roots, barks and dried herbs, rolling them separately into a piece of flannel. They had to be kept somewhat separate so that one ingredient didn’t contaminate another and the power of each remained within itself.
As he handed her the bundle, he noticed her hand was trembling. She smiled weakly and thanked him before crossing the plank floor to the door. As she reached for the glass-faceted knob, Mr. Cantrell spoke to her reassuringly. “Adriana, there’s no need for you to be nervous. You’ve helped your Aunt Maggie many times and have the natural abilities necessary for this task. Go to the river now and gather five bunches of hamamelia, but remember to only gather it from the north bank, it’s stronger that way.”
Mr. Cantrell inherited the old apothecary with its ancient fixtures, woodwork darkened by age, and a small potbellied stove in the corner. The sign painted on the front window simply read “Cantrell’s.” There were many layers of paint on the old storefront from countless generations of merchants that had sold goods to the people of the once bustling village, but it had always maintained a selection of items for an extremely small clientele of healers, like Adriana.
As Adriana made her way down to the river bank, the shade of the trees cooled the air. The thick underbrush tore at her bare legs and repeatedly caught the hem of her skirts. She could hear barking coon dogs in the distance and the muffled voices of several men. She had to hurry before her stepfather, Bud, got home with his two sons. They were hunting with other men from the community, a day hunt, which was unusual.
Boom! Shouting and gunfire rang out, the sound of men rushing through underbrush and the barking reached a shrill, eerie climax. Adriana grabbed the fresh sprigs she needed and ran with her supplies, away from the hunting party. She had to make it back to the house and prepare the herbs before Bud caught her.
Adriana ran behind the chicken coops into the yard, the flock scratched in the dry earth, chicks imitating the mother hens. She wished that it was a common case of chicken pox that was plaguing the visitors. She would know what to do with that. Aunt Maggie had always chosen the fattest black hen, wrung its neck, plucked it and boiled it down in order to make a salve for itchy children. The thick, cooled yellow grease that rose to the top of the pot was soothing on tender skin.
Adriana carried her precious bundle up the rickety stairs and into the small, dim bungalow where she quickly filled kettles with water and put them on to boil. She carefully unrolled the flannel bundles across the burled walnut table, revealing a variety of healing barks, roots and herbs. As these were moved from table to boiling water, Adriana concentrated on proportions, the ratio of water had to match each ingredient.
Finally, it was time to cut the flannel into ten squares: one square for each of the eight children and the two adults who had been infected. Adriana continued to mix and stir until she was quite sure she had made the recipe correctly. Then she began filling each piece of flannel with a portion of the concoction, tying them with a piece of string. This was a powerful poultice. It was also their last hope, everything else had failed to bring relief and the situation was only getting worse.
Howling and barking accompanied the arrival of Bud and his large sons, Junior and Butch, and the rest of the hunting party. Loud voices, laughter and yells from the men told Adriana that they felt the hunt had been a success. She dried her hands on a muslin towel and looked out the window. The men strung a huge, black bear from an oak tree in the front yard. Its head and forelimbs dangled lifelessly as the men hoisted it up. Bear blood pooled on the ground beneath the tree and was anxiously licked up by the dogs; an occasional yelp rang through the din as a dog was kicked out of the way. Soon enough, the dogs would be rewarded for their efforts when the butchering was underway and scraps of meat and bone were tossed for the pack to share.
Adriana quickly hid the poultice bundles in a basket beneath the back step. This was not the first time she had to secret away something from her stepfather. It seemed that most of her life had been about secrets; either secrets she had to keep from Bud or secrets that he tried to keep from her.
After the butchering, Bud and the two red-faced oafs came into the house to settle at the kitchen table. Adriana sighed. She knew they would spend the next few hours bragging about how they helped kill the bear. Their part would grow with each retelling to one another and any neighbor who might happen by to listen. They kicked off their boots and cleaned their guns at the table. They’d thrown their blood-soaked clothes somewhere near the front door for Adriana to find and clean.
“Adriana! Adriana!” her stepfather roared from a chair at the head of the table. “There’s liver ’n lights in the sink fer supper, git to work girl!” Adriana came in the kitchen and began the tedious chore of preparing the bear organs for supper. She didn’t say anything as she began cooking, the less said the better.
“Why ain’t you got them dirty clothes gathered up yet? More’n likely there’ll be company tonight,” Junior, the older of the two, chided her.
“I have homework tonight,” Adriana said. Although it wasn’t quite true because it was the last week of school and while the teacher hadn’t assigned homework, Adriana gave it to herself. She had a list of things she wanted to learn.
At this her stepfather’s fist hit the table and he barked, “Homework! You betcha ya got homework, it’s all the work I give ya to do here at home!” Bud looked over at the two boys who burst into laughter. Adriana rolled her eyes.
She knew that it was important to avoid a full-blown confrontation tonight. She continued on with the chores while the others cleaned their rifles. Her mind drifted off through the woods to the past.
Adriana’s didn‘t know her mother. She only knew that her mother’s name was Sarah. The details surrounding her mother’s disappearance when Adriana was a baby were still sketchy. However, to Adriana, the real mystery was how and why her mother had ever gotten involved with a man like Bud Beck in the first place. Aunt Maggie described her mother as being very tender-hearted. Adriana suspected that her mother must have felt sorry for the two young motherless boys who were now Adriana’s stepbrothers, Junior and Butch.
People who knew her said that Sarah was full of natural grace and beauty. Bud Beck was a jealous and domineering man; he was the polar opposite of everything Adriana knew about her mother. Rumor was that Bud kept Sarah isolated at home for fear that she would be leave him. Even after her mother’s disappearance, Bud prevented Adriana from contacting the rest of her family. Except Aunt Maggie. Nobody, not even Bud, could tell Aunt Maggie what to do.
The whispers around town Adriana heard while growing up told of various attempts by her father’s family to see or take her as a baby. She wished they had been successful. She wished she knew more about her real family.
Many years ago Adriana realized that there were very few reminders of her mother in the bungalow. As she melted the lard in the cast-iron skillet, Adriana glanced at the peeling floral wallpaper at one end of the kitchen and thought about the notes and recipes she had found in the back of a drawer; they were scribbled on yellowed paper and were among the worn but precious reminders that her mother had once inhabited this very house. There was another house, but unlike the bungalow, that house was full of warm memories.
In her mind, Adriana navigated through various paths, crossed a creek or two and ended up in front of a small, neat whitewashed house with a wooden fence around it. She went through the gate with the wrought-iron latch, up the steps and before she could look through the screen door, she imagined Aunt Maggie beckoning her to enter. Somehow, even at a young age, Adriana sensed that this was where she could belong. Hot grease popping in the cast-iron skillet made Adriana jump as she dropped flour-coated bear meat in to fry.
Her great aunt had been a curer. Aunt Maggie had taught her, cautioned her, loved her and had given her a sense of purpose. Together, whenever Adriana could get away from her stepfather, she and Aunt Maggie had traversed the woods and used every good herb, root, bark, and bit of folk wisdom to heal and benefit others. Aunt Maggie taught her to love others, despite their malicious natures. Perhaps, ironically, this was why Adriana kept returning each night to her stepfather’s dismal bungalow where she was so completely unappreciated, overlooked, and overworked. She quickly turned the browning meat over in the grease.
One special day always stood out in Adriana’s mind. It was the day Aunt Maggie gave her a locket. Inside the silver, filigreed case was a small black-and-white photo of her beautiful mother. When Adriana, who looked so much like her mother, placed that slender chained locket around her neck, she immediately felt a sense of power and strength that was beyond her own. In a sense, Adriana had obtained the strength of more than two generations of women, special women.
It was this strength that at times gave her the power of patience. It was this strength that gave her the power to stand up to her stepfather. It was this strength that gave her the wisdom to know which was needed. She cast a glance at the kitchen table surrounded by her stepfather and two thuggish stepbrothers and hoped patience would be enough.
She had understanding beyond her years and this troubled Bud who took everything as a personal insult. Adriana set the hot skillet in the center of the table on an old trivet. She knew her stepfather was a temporal man, if he hadn’t seen something for himself, it must not exist. If he couldn’t explain it, it wasn’t worth his time thinking about it. If he didn’t see how it would immediately benefit him, it was useless. If he didn’t like it, no one else should like it either. His temper boiled just under the surface like a geyser which regularly erupted.
Tonight was no different. After supper, one of the neighbors stopped by for a visit. Mr. Vibrio, who was the son of a poor tenant farmer, had suddenly and mysteriously come to own a great deal of land. He lived about a mile down the dirt road. He took one of the odd chairs in the kitchen and turned it around to sit in it backwards. As the chair swung around, it hit the old table and knocked the salt shaker over. Startled, Mr. Vibrio jumped for it and quickly threw the spilled grains of salt over his shoulder, as was the custom.
“Don’t want no bad luck!” Mr. Vibrio exclaimed.
Adriana moved the salt shaker to the safety of the counter and everyone seemed more comfortable. As an excuse to stay in the room and listen, Adriana unscrewed the lid of the shaker and examined the contents; salt and rice, a combination that kept the salt from clumping in the humidity. Adriana added a bit more salt to the shaker from the old blue salt box.
“I ain’t superstitious or nothin’ but this is a disfortunate circumstance,” Mr. Vibrio said. A caravan of colorfully decorated wagons had entered the county the day before. The caravan was comprised of a group of people called the Knowing Ones. They were a tightly-knit group who made the villagers uneasy. The Knowing Ones came to this county annually to work the fields for many locals. Despite the fact that these people were looked upon by many members of the community with suspicion and contempt, they were hired year-after-year and had been since before any of them could remember. They worked hard for low wages and the villagers depended on them, but that didn’t mean they trusted them. They were never sent for, they just came.
However, it was too early for them to come. They weren’t due for another two months. This unusual arrival scared the locals who always suspected the Knowing Ones of practicing dark magic or having some sort of supernatural power. Adriana had always been fascinated by these people, and unlike other members of the community, she had never feared their presence. Unfortunately, the rural community in which she lived held its own set of superstitious beliefs and traditions; one of them was that the Knowing Ones, although they had worked for them and their ancestors for generations, could not be entirely trusted because they were so different. She looked out the window, wishing one of their brightly colored wagons, pulled by ponies, would come for a visit right now. More than that, she wished they would take her with them.
Growing up, Adriana had heard many rumors about the Knowing Ones. She remembered being told that any Knowing One who spent too much time in the company of a non-Knowing One was sanctioned by the group. There was the story about a local girl who took up with a young man, who was part of the Knowing Ones. Because it was against their custom to join with an outsider, the young man was banished from the group. No one knew what became of him, but some people believed he was so contaminated by his association with the village girl that he died.
Mr. Vibrio’s thin voice peaked as he related the series of events that led to the early arrival of the Knowing Oness. “...this here fella comes up to the barn and he tells me to go get ’em some help. He says they’s sick with fever ‘n chills. They got them wagons circled round on the pasture edge. I ain’t havin’ none of it! I done put out some poison signs an’ told ‘em to get movin’!”
Junior let out a low whistle. “Well, they knowed better’n to bother us. We got warnin’ signs, hog skulls and deer skulls. Thar’s to be no trespassin’ or poachin’ on our property.”
Adriana scowled at the witless creature leaned back in his chair. She knew it wouldn’t do any good, but she tried to reason with the lump anyway, “A dead animal skull on top of a fence post is not a universal symbol. These people are not from here, it could mean something different in other places.”
As expected, Adriana’s reasoning was lost. It was Butch’s turn to bellow, “Ever one knows what that means, don’t be ignorant!” With that, Adriana was instructed to leave the men-talk to the men. This was exactly what she expected and wanted. She turned and left with a sort of huffiness that meant nothing to her really, but it did indicate to the others that she was offended enough that she would stay out of sight for the rest of the evening.
Inside her closet, under a heavy box of books was a small door. It led directly into the cellar which had a cistern for water storage, sagging shelves stacked with jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables, and a few dusty chairs that were only used occasionally at the peak of tornado season.
After descending the rickety stairs, Adriana paused to get her bearings. The dampness reached her skin at the same time the musty smells reached her lungs. She had to carefully pick her way through the shelves of food which were guarded by an ax that was believed to protect the jars from bursting or spoilage. Adriana cautiously made her way: she was directly under the kitchen floor and could hear the men’s voices. She continued to the heavy, wooden outside doors; they were difficult to open from the underside as she stood on the hewn stone stairs. She only had to push open one side of the double doors, close it as quietly as possible so the dogs didn’t sound an alarm, then grab her basket of poultice bundles out from under the back step.
Upon hearing Mr. Vibrio’s account of the Knowing Ones’ misfortune, Adriana knew that their symptoms would require a tonic to relieve them of the fever and chills. She also knew that more people could become sick. She would have to take a shortcut through the thickest part of the woods in order to catch up to where she believed the Knowing Ones had probably camped after leaving the Vibrio farm. This was advantageous because she could collect Burdock roots and Black Oak on the way.
Every now and then Adriana wished she had brought one of the dogs along for company. She felt comfortable enough with many sounds of the Ozark woods: the owls hooting softly, the june bugs, and locusts. It was the unrecognizable sound of movement that scared her, she quickened her pace.
She stopped only long enough at the edge of the clearing, looking around frequently into the shadows, to dig a bit of Burdock root with a sharp obsidian knife and cut some small Black Oak twigs. She placed the knife back in the pouch which she kept tied to her side. Like the locket, the knife had also come from Aunt Maggie; it was serrated on both sides and had been beautifully knapped by a skilled craftsman. It had been used by Aunt Maggie’s grandmother, Adriana was, at least, the fifth generation to own it. Most stone knives in this part of the country were flint. Adriana’s knife was special, it told of an earlier time and place far from here; and oh how she longed to be far from here! When she held it in her hand, she wondered if she used it in much the same way her ancestors did. Had any of them been healers, too?
Out in the clearing, Adriana could just barely make out the fence line that ran along the road. She made her way through the damp clearing looking and listening for signs of the colorful wagons that belonged to the Knowing Ones. Finally, above the din of the insects, Adriana heard music. Chords of song accompanied by an occasional clearly-voiced note drifted to her over the moonlit landscape. As she followed the sound, the lyrics wound through the music and warmed her blood.
Her abrupt appearance out of the darkness and into the light of the campfire made several people jump to their feet, the instruments and singers joined in staggered pause. In the brilliant firelight, the brightly colored wagons seemed to be dancing. Copper pots, hanging from one of the wagons, gently chimed in the breeze, continuing the rhythm.
An older man with gray hair and trimmed beard and mustache spoke, his voice was warm and friendly, yet expressed a hint of concern. “From what unexpected path does our visitor come and to what end does she wish to pursue a dialog with the Knowing Ones?”
Adriana found herself staring blankly at the obvious leader, her mouth wide open and suddenly quite dry. She tried to speak by closing her mouth then opening it again and heard herself stammering, “...I…um...I...uh…”
A few chuckles went around the campfire. Then the gray-haired patriarch spoke again, “Child, you have brought a parcel with yourself, does it have a purpose aligned with your visit?”
“Yes,” replied Adriana simply. She found herself regaining composure. “I have heard that some of your people are suffering with boils; I have prepared the best poultice available. I have also brought with me Burdock roots and Black Oak bark with which to prepare a tonic to cure the fever and chills.”
Adriana noticed several people were nodding their heads and talking amongst themselves while glancing at her. The kindly leader approached her to take the basket and said, “We were expecting someone older, perhaps. Someone with whom our people have dealt before, but requirements as they are can be met sufficiently by your hand it appears. The Knowing Ones thank you and will manage the remaining preparations ourselves. It is our custom to be self-reliant and because of this we now owe you a repayment to be made at your bidding.”
It was obvious that Adriana was excused as the basket was quickly handed off to an older woman, with a dark shawl draped around her shoulders, who began attending to the afflicted patients in various wagons. No one else appeared to take notice of her, so she began her journey back to her stepfather’s house.
She puzzled over the leader’s comments. Who had they expected? Had her great aunt, the only curer that Adriana knew of in the area, dealt with these people when she was still alive? What did he mean by a repayment? She certainly never intended to require someone to pay her for a gift that had been given freely to her.
The shape of the small bungalow was just ahead, outlined by a few streaks of light in the sky. The lightning bugs were not so bright and not so numerous now. One of the coon dogs howled at her approach, she called to it quietly and it settled right away.
As Adriana crept through the cellar and up the tiny stairway into her bedroom closet, she thought she heard something or someone moving above her head. As she emerged from her closet, a hand clasped tightly over her mouth and an arm reached completely around her body trapping both of her arms. She tried to kick, but a leg behind her and one in front of her kept her from moving. Her muffled cries were not enough to awaken Bud or either of the useless stepbrothers. Not even one of the coon dogs heard her muffled pleas.
Then she heard the whispered voice of a man she couldn’t quite recognize. His face was up against hers and his mouth spoke right in her ear. His words left moisture clinging to her cheek and hair and chills up and down her spine. “Your daddy don’t know where you been tonight. But I follered ya straightways acrost my farm and down the way to them vagrants. I ain’t stupid, I knowed what a girl like you is likely up to and you is up to no good, jest like your ma ‘n her folks you is downright dangerous. Jest consider this a neighborly warnin’ because I’m gonna be watchin’ you from now on and if you step outta line one more time...well we never did need your kind round here anyways.” His soured breath reeked its way into her lungs.
As he released his grip, Adriana fell breathlessly onto her bed, her face in a pillow and her head barely clearing the iron headboard. She wasn’t sure how he exited the house, but she was glad he was gone. The voice became recognizable as Adriana replayed it in her mind. She was almost positive that it was the oldest Vibrio boy, Cotton. Not only was he someone Adriana had always tried to avoid, but she had always viewed him as being dangerous. He was something like a nest of water moccasins waiting for the first victim, animal or human, to step into the water and he was venomous enough to kill. The feather pillow was now tightly clutched against her chest.
So, someone knew where Adriana had been, and that same person knew how she escaped and re-entered the house when her stepfather wasn’t looking. She felt extremely compromised by this realization. Dawn crept up on her like a cat stalking a field mouse. Her selfless act of healing had been a fleeting thing of the night, an almost surreal event, and now as dawn turned to morning she had some very real things which she had to deal with on her own terms.
School for Adriana was just another chore. Her teachers viewed her as reasonably bright and eccentric, a stark contrast compared to her family. Junior and Butch had done their share of nasty pranks on unwitting teachers and classmates, and by all accounts had probably been promoted each year just to be rid of them.
Adriana, on the other hand, was creative and insightful. Her vocabulary and comprehension exceeded that of most of her classmates. Unfortunately, teachers do not grade pupils on potential. Adriana was compassionate and was always willing to sacrifice things, like punctuality or finished homework, in order to help the few friends she had.
The rumors of Adriana’s nighttime exploits had reached the school before she did. As she approached her desk, she heard whispered words like, traitor, witch, and Knowing One. Now Adriana had no doubt that it was the Vibrio boy who had hidden in her room during the night. Cotton had the propensity to spread gossip of any kind and he didn’t care who it might hurt. As a matter of fact, Adriana suspected that he relished this.
It was no use trying to defend her actions to these people who had grown up on a substantial diet of hatred, prejudice, and suspicion of anyone that was different. All attempts to try to persuade those around her, whether they were taking part in the verbal assaults or not, were useless. Although it was the last week of school, when students and teachers were normally good-natured, throughout the day Adriana was constantly berated and insulted. Someone scrawled “Adriana is a witch” across the blackboard.
This was an excruciatingly long day. Adriana was actually looking forward to going back to the bungalow; cooking and cleaning up after her stepfather and stepbrothers seemed like a pleasantry after what she had endured from her peers. Even the teacher had seemed distant and more than once she caught a glimpse of suspicion pass across her face. She understood now that she had to be very careful.
By the time she reached the yard, where a dog or two usually ambled her way wagging its mangy tail and bringing a few flies with it, Adriana was deep in thought. She wondered if the poultices had relieved the sick Knowing Ones of the boils that plagued their bodies. She hoped that the old woman could use the Burdock roots and the Black Oak bark properly to make a suitable tonic to relieve the fever and chills. She knew that if more people came down with these symptoms, they too would need poultices and tonic. She hadn’t prepared enough for everyone. If allowed, she could take the old woman in the shawl into the woods and show her where and what to gather for the cures. She could teach her how to make the poultices, if only she had a chance. Adriana decided that she had to return to the Knowing Ones tonight, even if it meant outsmarting the Vibrio boy. “That shouldn’t be hard,” Adriana thought. But trying to get around Bud’s suspicious eye would be a challenge.
The second Adriana entered the house it sounded as if explosives were detonated, starting in the kitchen. The fury with which Adriana’s stepfather exploded at her was unprecedented. She had seen him angry before, but this was by far the worst!
His red face and narrowed eyes came within a fraction of an inch of her face. His foul breath relentlessly puffed into her nostrils as he yelled; spit showered her face. Her ears were ringing with the sounds of a wrath she had never heard before. Her mind was reeling with threats and curses, all of them directed at her and only her. She dare not even glance around but faced him with trembling; she felt herself grow hot and then cold, finally a cold sweat overtook her; she needed oxygen even though she was breathing hard and fast.
Adriana didn’t remember exactly what happened, but one thing was certain, she had been forbidden to ever, ever return to the Knowing Ones. Bud blamed her for the fear running through the village of Ozark. She was responsible for the shame and disgust her stepfather and stepbrothers faced by the other men who viewed them as weak for not controlling her more closely. Her stepfather vowed that would never happen again; he would know where she was every minute of every day. To make matters worse, some of the men had suggested that Adriana would be better off betrothed to someone who would rule her with an iron fist. Instinctually, she was simultaneously repulsed by the idea and horrified that Bud would even consider it.
From the kitchen Adriana could hear each thud of the hammer driving another nail into the small escape door through which she had gone the night before. It made her feel as if she were being sealed into her own coffin. Coon dogs were posted outside the doors and windows because they howled at the slightest opportunity and would certainly do so if she tried to escape again.
Adriana knew her stepfather was a stubborn man. She hoped she could reason with him and carefully thought through her argument as she was cutting out biscuits and frying pork sausage for gravy. The delicious aroma filled the small bungalow and wafted outside, arousing the dogs who meandered toward the front steps, hoping for a scrap. From all appearances, these dogs were lazy and never moved faster than to scratch at a tick or flea.
However, when they went on a coon hunt, they were swift and sure and unrelenting until they treed the raccoon; keeping up the howling and barking until the men arrived to shoot the sequestered creature. The one thing the raccoons had going for them was their wit. Their clever maneuvers often outsmarted the dogs who relied mainly on scent. But a sly coon would double back over his trail, use the rivers and creeks to lose their scent and could even manipulate locks and latches on doors and pens because they hand human-like hands. Adriana checked the biscuits to see if they were slightly browned on top.
Indeed, Adriana was captivated by the masked, ring-tailed animals that sometimes mocked the sleeping hounds by running through the trees and across the roof of the bungalow and back into the woods. It took an entire pack of trained hunting dogs to trail and tree one little raccoon. Even at that, it took a coon hunter to respond to the incessant howling to shoot the poor, trapped creature out of the tree. Perhaps she felt some empathy toward them; trailed by that good-for-nothing Cotton and then trapped in her room, surrounded by dogs.
After supper dishes were dried, Adriana was confined to her room. She opened her locket and stared down at her mother’s face. “I don’t know what to do,” she confided to the black-and-white picture, “I need to escape from the house and go to the Knowing Ones’ camp again, they might need me.” Adriana felt it was her duty and responsibility to help these people; after all, it could be a matter of life and death and she knew her great aunt would have done the same. Once she felt justified in disobeying, Adriana set her mind to figuring out just how to do it.
A long howl startled Adriana. The dogs were excited, Adriana listened at the door. Several men had entered the bungalow and were talking loudly. She could tell from their voices that something was wrong. She could only discern a few words, “...calves...bear...Knowing Ones...dogs...kill...” The sound of the gun cabinet, guns being loaded, heavy thuds of men’s boots running down the front steps and then nothing. Even the frenzied dogs had been loosed. Silence settled on the bungalow as the hunting party went deeper into the woods. Adriana realized that she was alone and not even one dog remained behind to guard her. So she left.
Running through the woods toward the Knowing Ones, Adriana’s mind raced. Her steps were quick and sure, she knew her way and this time she would avoid the Vibrio farm. She heard the distant sound of the men and dogs, and carefully kept a generous space between them and her. She heard the sounds of the woods. Then she heard another sound that didn’t belong. She paused briefly, long enough to hear movement. It stopped immediately after she stopped, but it was definitely there. Whether it was a human or an animal, Adriana couldn’t yet tell. But she knew that she was being stalked.
Panic gripped her. She could barely breathe. Surely that oaf, Cotton, would be with the men. Had the men been talking about a bear attack? They had recently hunted and killed one of the biggest bears Adriana had ever seen. Had they meant that the Knowing Ones had been attacked? After all, they were camping at the edge of the woods, the smell of foods over an open fire could attract a bear and several of them were sick, making their defense against such an attack weaker than normal. Whatever was following her quickened its pace too. It was closing in. Adriana had to hurry!
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