Authors: Heather West
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Her Wild Bear copyright 2015 by Heather West. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.
By the time they had both tents set up, the hot summer sun was dipping below the rocky mountain ridge. Tawny smiled as she sat to watch the little brook that gurgled quietly by the campsite. The icy water tumbled lazily by as towering pines whispered to each other in the gentle breezes and covered the ground in deepening forest shadows.
Tawny heard soft footsteps edging up behind her.
“We should start cooking the beef patties before they get too old,” Sasha suggested, placing a friendly hand on Tawny’s shoulder. “Besides, I’m famished.”
“The meat was still frozen solid when we left the cars, right?” Tawny yawned. “They should be good for another hour, at least. There’s no hurry.”
“I suppose…But I’m still famished!” Sasha giggled. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and we just finished a three-hour hike into a remote wilderness area and
set up camp. God, Tawny, don’t you ever have to eat? Are you trying to lose weight for your gymnastics or something? Come on. Let’s get the guys to start the fire while we watch.”
“Right, no problem,” Tawny laughed. “But let’s have Justin and Chad help us set up the beds, and we’ll see if Kyle can get a fire going, okay?”
Tawny blushed as she saw Sasha’s eyes gleam with mischievous understanding. “You want to see your man go a bit primal, do ya?” she taunted.
Tawny stared down at the stream and muttered something cruel under her breath.
“I get it,” Sasha smiled, grabbing Tawny by the arm and pulling her to her feet. “The whole roughing-it thing gets me all hot, too. There’s something about the smell of Chad’s skin when it’s sweaty and hot from the sun that drives my lower — ”
“I don’t need details,” Tawny interrupted. She followed Sasha back toward the tents.
“I’m just not convinced that a preppy boy like Kyle is the roughing-it type, that’s all,” Sasha explained. “Sure, he played football in high school, but now he’s all into computers and finance — stuff you learn when you want an office job.”
Tawny glanced around at the tents as they stumbled back into the campsite. Justin and Denise were setting rocks in a ring for the fire and Chad was sifting through his backpack searching for snacks.
Sasha pointed to the rifle where Chad had propped it up against the tree. “That thing isn’t loaded, is it?” she demanded.
Chad chuckled and nodded. “It wouldn’t be any use if it weren’t.”
“Somebody’s going to get shot with that thing just sitting there in the open like that,” Sasha grumbled. “I thought I told you not to bring any guns with you.”
“Nobody’s going to get shot if everybody just leaves it alone,” Chad retorted. “Besides, you’ll thank me for bringing it if a wild animal comes after us. There are mountain lions and even wild boar in these parts.”
Sasha huffed and glared at Chad, but he ignored her.
“Where’s Kyle?” Tawny asked.
“He’s gathering wood to make a fire,” Justin answered.
Sasha raised her eyebrows and elbowed Tawny in the ribs. “How very woodsy of him,” she snickered.
Matt crouched down and ran his hand over the dark, fertile soil that filled his father’s grave. It felt cold. “I can’t do it,” he groaned.
Bradly sniffed the mountain air, his gaze searching between the trees. “You need to, Matt,” he countered. “The entire clan depends on us finding more food, including you and your mother. The elk and deer have been scarce all summer. Maybe we’ve over-hunted, or they’ve died from some disease; I don’t know. But if we don’t prepare for the winter, we’re not all going to make it to spring. The entire council agrees we need to make this the highest priority.”
Matt raised his eyes and gazed down along the trail that led back to Woods Creek, the only civilization for miles.
“What we need is vengeance,” he growled. “They need to pay for what they did to my father.”
Bradly sighed in disgruntled agreement. “What they did wasn’t right, Matt. There’s no denying that. But we need to keep focused on what is necessary for survival. Do you believe we can march into town and openly attack The Path and get away with it? They may be beastly, but the members of The Path are people. Even if we do manage to kill them, these hills would be swarming with armed men hunting one thing: us. It would mean the end of the Cold Foot Clan.”
“They shot my father!” Matt yelled. “He died from what they did to him — slow and painful. Are you asking me to just let it go?”
“I’m telling you that you need to,” Bradly rebuked him. “If you go after revenge, more of us will die. Your father understood the risks, he knew that — ”
“He knew that he needed to find more food for the clan — that’s what he knew.” Matt stood to confront Bradly. “He went too close to town searching for elk and they shot him on sight. It’s a mystery to me how he managed to make it back here at all — for all the good it did him once infection set in.” Matt looked down at the fresh grave and felt his jaw clench. “We’ve always tried to be peaceful with humans, to forgive their stupidity and carelessness. How have they repaid us? We need to take back the forests and the mountains, and rid them of these smelly vermin.”
“Werebears don’t kill people,” Bradly objected. He reached a comforting hand for Matt’s shoulder, but Matt bitterly pushed it away.
“Maybe it’s time we did!” Matt snarled. “Look at what they’ve done to our home, our forests. Even our air doesn’t smell right anymore. They’ve soiled everything they’ve ever touched. Besides, where is this rule written that we shouldn’t harm people? Didn’t Jacob slaughter some campers a few years back?”
“And when he did that, we had to find a new place to live,” Bradly reminded him. “We were driven deeper into the mountains. We can’t keep moving like that. There are fewer places for us all the time as it is.”
“I have an idea of how we can fix that,” Matt muttered.
“Good. Now get an idea of how we can eat this winter. You need to take your father’s place in the council. We need leadership right now.”
“No,” Matt’s voice rumbled. “What I need is retribution.”
Matt turned away, stripping off his buckskin shirt and pants as he walked. His mournful roar echoed from the nearby cliffs as he shifted to bear form and dropped on all fours, trotting angrily toward the mountain pass.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Bradly yelled.
Matt stopped and turned back to stare at Bradly for a moment before giving a gruff reply. “I’m going to spend a couple of days at the old cabin by Granite River. I need to think things over. I’ll be back soon enough. Don’t get your fur matted over it, tight-ass.” He turned and loped up the incline to the path.
“Don’t do anything rash!” Bradly called after him.
“Like save the world from people, maybe?” Matt grumbled under his breath as he walked away.
Tawny watched as Kyle stacked broken logs and twigs into the fire pit and lit a match. He jammed the match under the wood, stood up, and stepped back.
Tawny dropped her head into her hand as a little puff of smoke curled up into the air. The flame was gone.
Kyle shifted the twigs around a bit and tried again, but with no better success. “I think we need paper,” he said with a grimace.
Tawny took a long, heavy breath, feeling some satisfaction as her large breasts swelled out, and gave a sad sigh. “We didn’t bring any scrap pieces, Kyle. You’ll have to find some dry leaves or something.”
“Actually,” Justin pointed to a nearby tree, “that’s a birch, and the bark peels off like paper.”
Kyle stared at the tree and scrunched his nose, but walked down the little hill and started picking at the trunk. Tawny squinted her face in dismay as she watched his awkward attempt.
“Here.” Justin walked up alongside Kyle and began tearing off large pieces of paper-like bark strips, “let me give you a hand with this.” Justin pointed over to an enormous evergreen tree. “And that’s a red cedar, I believe. That bark will make excellent kindling. This should be easy.”
A few minutes later, Justin had filled the fire pit with birch and cedar bark, piled twigs atop that, and stacked a few thicker branches teepee-style over that. He grabbed the matches from Kyle’s hand, and Tawny had to cover her mouth to conceal a sudden cry.
“Justin,” Sasha called out, scampering up to him as she saw Tawny’s look of horror. “Let Kyle get that. I need you over on the other side of the tents.”
Justin glared at her. “What’s the matter? We need to get the fire going so we can get some dinner.”
Sasha lightly ran her fingers up and down his arm, leaning in close. “Kyle can get that,” she sighed. “But one of the ropes that holds up the girl’s tent looks loose to me. I don’t want it falling in on us in the middle of the night, leaving us laying there helpless in our pajamas. You wouldn’t want that, right?”
Justin swallowed hard. “Of course not,” he lied. He tossed the box of matches back to Kyle and followed Sasha around to the other side of the tent.
“What the hell was that about?” Kyle mussed as he crouched down once more. “Do those two have something going on?”
Tawny shrugged and pretended to know nothing, sitting to watch as Kyle lit another match. It took two more after that before he managed to get the birch bark to catch, and a minute later a healthy flame took hold. Kyle stood and gloated over it triumphantly while Tawny quietly nursed a gnawing disappointment. She daydreamed of him building the next fire, hoping he’d gain confidence.
As Matt came up on the cabin, he waded into the river near a spot where the water ran deep, his dark fur clumping over his legs as it got wet. In a few minutes he had caught a couple of large trout with his teeth and devoured them greedily on the riverbank.
Clambering out of the icy water, he shook himself, fluffing his thick fur. He lumbered clumsily up the cabin’s porch steps, the thick wood squealing under his weight, and shifted back to human form before walking inside.
He checked to make certain he still had clothes there, but didn’t bother getting dressed. Instead, he fumbled around naked, his large parts swinging, and wandered the cabin preparing the bed and checking that everything was in order.
Once he was satisfied that nothing had been messed with, he went back outside and shifted back to bear form. He was still hungry, and it felt good to be back on the old hunting grounds. These were the forests where he had lived as a young cub. Night was settling in, and he knew he would be able to smell out a deer grazing in the moonlight.