Unknown, undiscovered, she developed immunity to hazard, to hunger and thirst, to cold.
The fog became her friend, hiding her from predators; the steep, sharp peaks of ice, the tumble of talus, became ally in fleeing danger. Deep forest was home, the mountains her fortress.
In time, moose, elk, deer befriended her. Then came bear and mountain lion, wolf, cayote, and coon. The ravens, the hawks, and the crows, they became guardians, warning of intruders. She became their protector.
“You cain’t go up there.”
Jake stifled an urge to mimic the idiot’s drawl. This was the only gas station for miles. Feigning innocent interest, hands jammed in pockets, he asked the expected, “Why?”
“She’ll kill ya.”
The man spit a stream of tobacco. Didn’t respond. His rough hands screwed down the caps on the gas cans. “That’ll be seventy-nine-ninety-eight for the gas and one-oh-two-seventy-four for the deisel.”
Jake handed over his credit card, but the man shook his head and pointed to the sign on the old pumps. “Cash only.”
Digging his wallet out, Jake handed over two hundreds.
The man reached in his pocket and didn’t even pause counting back seventeen-twenty-eight in change, which surprised Jake. He’d expected the dipshit to fumble it. “Okay, then. You all have a nice day,” Jake said, nodding, his voice just short of insolent.
He saw the man’s eyes shift. He’d hit his mark.
Following his GPS, he found the right Forest Service road. Climbing elevation, he was surprised to see snow already crowning the peaks. Finding a decent camp site near a stream, he shut her down and turned in. He wanted up before dawn.
He didn’t sleep well. He wasn’t used to wilderness silence-no cars, trains, or people sounds. Around midnight, he turned on the radio, but all he got was static. It helped some, though. He woke with a start mid-morning, the radio still crackling white noise. “Goddamn it!” It was way past dawn.
Jerking the zipper down on his sleeping bag, he wolfed down a breakfast bar and pulled on his cammo. He checked his rifles, sliding extra ammo, keys, and a power bar into his vest pockets. Skinning knife and canteen clipped on, he locked down the camper, took a leak, and mounted out on his four-wheeler. Time to find himself a muley.
The ravens warned her. She watched as deer vanished into the snow mist. Then the elk, mountain lion, and wolves. Two bears lumbered toward her, sitting down on patient haunches just below her vantage point.
A hawk screamed, and a crystal view of a man riding something that growled filled her mind. He was headed toward the rushing water.
One soft hum, and the bears ambled toward her, following as she took the ridge down from high ground.
She saw him come, waited till he was almost beneath her, then slid off the branch.
He flipped his machine trying to stop. Its weight pinned him down. She watched him struggle to free himself as the bears ambled forward. She watched his hands’ desperate reach, but she got there first, pulling the killing sticks loose, his eyes huge, terrified, in a bloodied face as the bears stood close by, watching him.
She threw the killing sticks into the river, and, with a single glance back to make sure he would never get free, called the bears.
“I told you not to come up here,” the man drawled.
Jake opened his eyes, hope renewed. “Get help,” he managed to croak.
The man spit a stream of tobacco juice. “Nope.”
Originally created for Jon Stone’s image writing prompt of Sept 29 – Oct 5, 2014 in the G+ Writer’s Discussion Group. It was voted best story of the entries that week.