I’m scared. Mom isn’t moving. There were two sounds before she went still. First was her cry when the metal teeth clamped down on her leg. It echoed through the forest. Next was the booming blast when the human pointed a metal stick at her. It echoed through the forest.
Smoke is dancing from the metal stick’s mouth and mom still isn’t moving. Her tongue is stuck out like she’s making a silly face. She doesn’t blink. Her eyes are open, but she’s not looking at anything. The dark liquid is dripping from her mouth and staining the snow.
There is a human standing over her. It is a man with fur hiding most of his face. He lets out an excited holler. I jump back in fear. He hears me. Our stares meet now, and I see the frosty coldness in his eyes. There is some odd expression hiding beneath his hairy face. I just know it.
He slings the metal stick over his shoulder and releases mom from the metal teeth. No movement. He gathers her in his arms with a grunt, then heaves her into his vehicle, into the metal rectangle bed. The thing comes to life with an unnatural roar and races away. She’s gone.
I scurry over to all that remains of my mother, a black pool. I bury my nose in the stuff and taste the tinny brine of the tainted snow. I howl for her, but the only response is the echo of my own cries. She’s not coming back.
Everything is dark when a shadow covers me from above. I squint into the sun and catch the silhouette of the circling beast. Gliding on the breath of the wind is the feathered killer with a flesh-tearing beak and talons that crush skulls. I’ve heard stories about Eagles. Swoop in on helpless pups and devour them in one bite.
My panicked legs scramble toward the den. There is no sound but the mad beating of my heart, like a frenzied woodpecker. I can feel icy Death breathing on my neck. The chill shoots down my spine and pleads my legs to move faster yet. The den, my salvation, seems so close and yet so far. A sharp pain paralyzes my back and sends me tumbling across the floor. I watch the Eagle soar back into the sky, pieces of my fur tangled in his talons.
The breath has been stolen from me, and the gasping heaves hurt my lungs. There is a stinging pain pulsing in my back. When I look, I see dark liquid mixing with my matted fur. And then he swoops down again with claws drawn like daggers. They take hold of me; I am weightless.
The land is rapidly becoming smaller. Shaking free from my trance, I realize that I am firmly in the Eagle’s grasp as we ascend toward the sky. My mother’s lifeless eyes flash through my brain, which causes me to flail wildly. Every ounce of struggle flows through my muscles, but the talons are stuck in me like thorns. I’m not giving up. I fight, fight for my existence. Suddenly, I am weightless again.
I am stunned when I collide with the ground; however, I recover quickly and race to the den. But now he’s not giving up. His long legs land on the earth and creep slowly toward me. He knows I’m trapped. There is only one hope. I summon all the strength I have, spread my jaws, and clamp down on that spindly leg.
There is a great shriek, not unlike the sound my mother made when the metal teeth snapped her leg, and then a fluttering of feathers. He is gone. I am alone.
The rumbling in my stomach is violent as the thunderstorm raging above. Grey clouds and icy tears falling from the heavens. Maybe they’re from my--don’t even think it. Now is not the time to feel sorry for yourself. I need to go on. Long gone are the days of already-chewed meat being funneled into my mouth. There is an instinct in me. It tells me what to do.
A rabbit hops along obliviously, unaware that a ferocious wolf is thirsting for its blood. I stalk with the utmost stealth, wait for the perfect moment, and lunge! I emerge with a mouthful of mud. Not quite how I imagined my first hunting conquest. I scramble after the fleet-footed prey, losing my balance on the icy surface and tumbling into a bramble patch.
After plucking the pricklies from my hide, I regroup. I know I can do this. I mean, my mom could and I’m twice as spry. I reassess my plan, deciding I need to aim lower. With minimal effort, I corner a field mouse. A swinging paw pins the rodent’s tail to the ground. I move in for the kill; however, a vision of my mother’s lifeless eyes throttles my skull and I let go. I can’t do it.
Was I meant for this? Could I ever snatch the life from another creature? I ask these questions to my reflection, which stares back at me from the surface of the half-slush pond. There is no verbal response, just wordless advice from the eyes. The eyes that possess the same frosty coldness as that human.
I snort two jet streams of vapory mist into the frigid air, taste the longing for blood and sinew on my tongue. A rabbit zips through the forest. I track its every move.
Some faraway wail wakes me from a cold, deep sleep. It is the same wail I heard all those years ago when my mother was killed. The winter has been harsh, and it’s difficult to raise my protruding-bones body. And yet I must. That sound. It must be her. Is she really returning after all this time?
My atrophied legs carry me toward the noise. I recognize this place; it’s where my mother took her last breaths. Another wail. Where’s it coming from? There. I can’t believe it. Twisted in the same anguished position as my mother is a man. Not just a man, the same man I had seen that first winter.
His face has been weathered by time, but it’s most certainly him. The beard is gone; quivering lips are no longer hidden. The metal teeth are clamped down on his broken leg. One look at that mangled appendage, marinated in beautiful blood, and my mouth starts watering. I can almost taste those uneven meat chunks sliding down my throat. He stretches for his gun, but he can’t reach.
He lets out a desperate holler. I have no fear. Our stares meet now, and he can see the frosty coldness in my eyes.