By Tara Roberts
She explodes through the trees, bent low, smacking the ground with her fists every few steps to vault herself forward. She charges with such swiftness and agility that the fresh, deep snow doesn’t slow her. She only cares about one thing: Getting to the cabin.
She is beautiful and furious, an incoming missile of muscle and glossy tan fur, her eyes shining, her sharp, yellow teeth bared.
The old woman whips around, lifts her gun, and fires. Jamie and I scream, but so does the Howler — so deafening the old woman’s arms jerk and the bullet ricochets into the forest. Andy the baby sasquatch shrieks and buries his face against my neck.
Before the old woman can aim again, the Howler is on her. She bursts through the open cabin door and leaps with her whole body, slamming her feet into the woman’s chest and her arms into her shoulders.
The collision forces the gun out of the old woman’s hand, and it skitters across the floor beneath the bed, where Jamie and I huddle with Andy.
The attack is over as quickly as it started. The woman lies crumpled on the cabin floor, hidden from our view by the table. The Howler shakes her shaggy head, lets out a few panting breaths, then turns to us.
Standing, she’s more than 7 feet tall. Her immense arms hang to her knees, but her hands are open now. She takes a slow step forward and stares at us with her huge, golden eyes.
The Howler pauses and tilts her head, sniffing. Andy is still clinging to me, but I raise my arms into the air. Jamie does the same. The Howler hoots once, softly. Andy jerks his head back and opens his eyes.
She hoots again and he leaps away from me, bouncing and hooting and waving. The Howler grabs him and wraps her arms around him, nuzzling her furry face into his.
“It’s his mom,” Jamie whispers. “You knew, didn’t you?”
I grin. “Well, not right away.”
“And that’s where you were this morning?”
It was. When we first got to the cabin, I’d found a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper in the cupboard and remembered what Jamie had said about the Howler raiding campsites and coolers. When I woke up this morning, I realized the creature wasn’t harassing humans — she was looking for something. For him. And taking what she needed to stay alive as she searched.
The Howler would never stop searching, ever, but the old woman was trying to force her to admit defeat. I invited her right in.
I spent my pre-dawn excursion leaving a trail of open cans, chunks of candy bar, and scraps of Andy’s blue blanket in the trees between the old woman’s campsite and ours. And it turns out, it was a pretty brilliant plan.
The Howler cradles her baby to her chest a moment more, then gently moves him to her back. He looks over her shoulder and gives a little hoot. We wave, and they bound out the door and away into the vast forest of the Hoodoo Mountains.
To be continued next Thursday …
Coming next week
Part 12: Epilogue
Roberts is a writer and mom who lives and works in Moscow and is very slowly pursuing her master’s degree in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.