“Gavin, come here and look at this?”
Gavin glanced up from his book, “Look at what, Hon?”
His wife was standing at the window, her hands clasped anxiously across her generous breasts. “There’s someone moving around in the pine trees. A little child. She must be lost! And terrified! We have to bring her in. Gavin!”
“Not so fast, dear. Might just be a bear cub. “
“I know a child when I see one!” Her fingers were locked together, her knuckles whitened, and her eyes remained fixed on the sight of something outside. “I’m going out to get her!” She made a sudden move for the door.
“Wait just a minute!“ He closed the book and set it on the coffee table. He was deliberately patient, and more alarmed than he wanted Harriet to know. Their cabin was miles removed from any town. The nearest paved road was barely so, its asphalt broken into dangerous potholes. And since it served only two cabins, one of them deserted, repairs to it would be a long time in coming. Even then, after braving that old road, getting to Harriet and Gavin’s cabin required several more miles of travel on a narrow gravel lane. Campers? There should not be any, not this far up into the mountains, particularly any with children. The country was too rough for camping. Worse, the Almanac promised another bad winter, and the Almanac was usually right.
“Gavin, please,” she squeaked, her hand already resting on the doorknob.
“Stay here by the door,” he said. He lifted the rifle out of its cupboard and handed it to her. “And if I come running, you take careful aim and shoot whatever is chasing me.”
“If there is one, I’ll bring it inside.”
“Do you really need your pistol? It’s just a little…”
“I won’t shoot any children. You have my word, Dear.” Gavin patted her gently on the arm and went outside, glancing down once at the pistol resting comfortably in his hand. He still believed she had only seen something of the wildlife that lived around them. Some of that life was dangerous.
The sun had already disappeared behind the shoulder of their mountain, but the sky was still bright overhead, and everything in the meadow around their sprawling cabin was easily seen: the station wagon under cover of the open garage, the tool shed, Harriet‘s ridiculous little scarecrow waving uselessly at the hungry rabbits who raided her garden.
Under the surrounding pines, however, dusk had already crept in. On other days, he had seen plenty of the bigger animals moving out of the wood and through the meadow past the house. Deer for certain, but also bobcats and bears, and a bigger cat, once. Might have been a cougar. He wasn‘t really sure, since the animal had run off so fast. Any one of them could be in among the trees now.
Harriet could not have seen a child. Not possible.
He walked slowly toward the pine woods where she had pointed, his pistol ready, his finger firmly on the trigger, although he was not really worried about getting hurt. Mostly the animals were puzzled by the smell of humans. Gavin was not anything like what any of them usually ate, and so they ran away, but he was not so stupid as to think that would always be the case, especially if he startled one, or if a young animal‘s mother got the wrong idea.
He stopped at the edge of the wood, close to one of the pine trees, and peered into the murky light beneath them. The trees were large and old, and not much else grew on the earth beneath them because of the pine needles that accumulated there. Deeper into the wood, further from the meadow where his cabin stood, a low mist curled between the trunks, masking the downward slope toward a ravine that he knew was there. The ravine had a creek and was the source of the mist. It was not a place that would appeal to campers. Maybe they were not campers. Maybe a car broke down after the driver made the wrong decision about the fork in the road. Then, possibly, a pothole could have flattened a tire. And the child could have wandered off and gotten lost while the driver wrestled with changing his tire. Maybe.
“Hello,” he said aloud, feeling foolish. “Anyone there? Are you cold? We have food.” He took a few more steps deeper into the trees. “Hello?”
He waited for another minute, listening carefully. He heard nothing. He saw nothing. Shrugging, he started to turn back toward the house. And that’s when he saw her, the child that Harriet had seen.Next chapter