Within the Wild I Sleep

Cassiar was once a beautiful, small mining community. But now it is a ghost town. This was Osbourn's home, and he witnessed it burn to the ground Christmas day so many years ago. But he did not flee to a new town like the rest who remained to see that day. Instead he daringly turns to the wild with open arms, taking on the dream he has had since a child to live in the bush like his rugged father claimed to had once done. Somewhere near the shore of Captain lake he has built his own life, a life he finds worth living. On the horizon of his home in the woods is a distant mountain. A place that Osbourn has become completely infatuated with, but doesn't dare dream of visiting the mysterious place. But as the anniversary of his home towns fall approaches, his quiet life as a woodsman changes drastically. ~ A short story for the Christmas Calendar competition. In the category of Supernatural.

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3. Journey

 Freezing, windy and stormy. The conditions were horrible, but Os found himself more than able to walk against it. Snow was once against beginning to fall. It was only a flurry, but the ripping winds made it feel much worse than it really was. The land seemed apocalyptic now. Despite the many strange encounters he had had just earlier, it very suddenly became dead quiet apart from the whistling wind in his ears. It made things eerie, and put him on edge. When would he encounter another living thing next? For some reason he sort of wished it was soon. Strangely, the loneliness was beginning to make him go a little crazy. He noticed this when he began muttering his thoughts to himself. This was odd, since he was so used to having the knowledge that there wasn't another human being to talk to for many many kilometers. But perhaps this thought was no longer true. He had only been trailing up the foothills of Delizu for a short time, and the light atop the mountain seemed to be becoming more intense. His best explanation for this was fire. And the only creature that could contain fire was man.

 Somewhere along the mysterious journey from where he collapsed when retrieving his Christmas tree to the small cave near Delizu, he had lost one of his snowshoes, making the other basically useless now. So he just left it behind before he began his hike. At least the dropping temperatures were making the snow more crisp and solid, so he barely sunk into the ground each step.

 Progress was painfully slow. Os did not even know why he was attempting to climb a mountain in the conditions that he was in, but he took it as his quickest route to safety. Yes, it was a dangerous road, but if he was right, when he reached the top, he would find a man, perhaps many. Hopefully they would help him. For he did not know exactly how far away he was from his home.

 The bitter winds were finally beginning to get to him now. His clothes could only hold him for so long. His face was shielded with many extra pieces of material, including his goggles that he was now very grateful to have, but his cheeks strangely began to burn up from the temperature. His coat and pants were lined with a thick elk fur, as well with his boots, but the chilled wind and snow some how manage to seep through and bite him. This was truly a harsh environment. He wondered how the animals coped with this weather when Os couldn't even keep himself warm when simulating their coats. There had to be a secret that he did not know about.

 After hours of none stop walking, he noticed a change in the land. He was now walking on more slanted ground. The wind was weaker against him now as he was beginning to become shielded by the mountain that he was beginning to appraoch. But even without the force of the pushing air hitting him head on, progress became even more slower, if that was possible. With the nearly solid snow beneath his feet, in order to keep balance and leverage against the steep hills, Os had to kick and gouge a hole into the icy snow to place his foot ever step. Other wise he would had slid right back down the hill.

 But with his mind caught in the new, temporary habit and routine of climbing these steep hills, he hardly noticed how things were suddenly becoming easier for him. He no longer needed to kick his own foot slots, for they were already there. He was now walking in the stampeded snow prints of elk. The tracks were obviously fresh, it didn't take a genius to realize that, for the falling snow was not yet packing up within the prints. This only made him think about how heavy these animals really were. His weight of a hundred and sixty pounds could barely put a dent in the thick layer of snow. These hoofed creatures sunk right through.

 Os did not complain though, the already packed snow was a relief on the aching muscles in his legs, so he enjoyed the set trail while he could. Climbing seemed just as easy as going for a stroll through the forest in the warm summertime all of a sudden. The chills running through his spine came to a pause as he began to enjoy himself a little bit more. This is what he lived for after all. The taste of adventure and the rush of surprise and mystery. And here he was, walking in the wake of giants in the direction of Delizu.

 But when he reached the summit of this tallest and final foothill, the ground changed yet again. Now as he faced the great ascent of Delizu, but the tracks suddenly stopped. As if the whole herd had just disappeared into thin air. Again he faced the thick layer of untouched snow.

 But he did not stand alone against the unmolested face of nature. There was an extra puff of vapour from the flared nostrils of the cow elk as she sniffed him at the shoulder. Os jumped back with a shout, nearly falling as he fended away from the animal. There stood the tall cow, but not as tall as she could be. It was obvious that she was still a yearling. Despite Os's frightened reaction to her sudden presence, she did not react anywhere near the same way, just a slight hesitation in her big, black eyes.

 "Easy!" said Os in a harsh whisper as the elk advanced at him nose first, very curious about his scent. The enthused glint in her eyes made him uneasy. He knew this yearling wasn't going hurt him if he didn't try to harm her, but what he was really nervous about was the fact that a yearling such as her was probably with a herd. And with every herd was a bull.

 And like he had promised himself, the unmistakable silhouette of large, pointed antlers emerged from the misty snow. As he tried to gently ward away the cow elk. His heart rate increased when he imagined how this mighty bull elk would dislike a foreign species associating with his young. No matter how much Os backed away from the cow, she just got closer and closer, as if she thought it was a game. But at the same time, the bull approached as well. 

 It was at the point where Os had tripped into the untouched snow that the bull came into his clearest view. It was gigantic. Bigger than any he had ever seen. It stepped up proud, its muscular neck holding up a massive pair of fourteen point antlers like they were lighter than air. It was a monster.

 The yearling came to a halt when it noticed the bulls presence. The bull gave her a grunt, obviously an order, and sent her running away from Os and prancing somewhere behind the monster elk. Os had thought that the young cow was a reasonable size, being nearly his own height. But seeing her standing in the shadow of this old, mighty leader made her look tiny. From the tallest point on his antlers atop his proud head to his mighty hooves, he must had been eight feet tall. Reluctantly in his head, Os estimated that it probably weighed somewhere between eight hundred pounds to half a ton. Never before had he imagined an elk being so big, let alone have it standing in flesh, advancing towards him in a steady step. He was terrified. 

 This bull did not have the same playful, curious stride that the yearling had had. His eyes didn't flicker with wonderment and fascination. They remained without a flicker. A solid, beady black. This elk knew. Os wasn't sure exactly what, but an animal this old and mighty, thriving in a wild like this had obviously seen things that an animal more feeble would never get to finish witnessing. This bull had witnessed violence and battles. Most likely he had been a part of many of them, obviously rising victorious. Perhaps fights with bears, cougars wolves or even other stags during a rut. Maybe even man. This very bull could had encountered man many times through its long life. The way the bull was looking at Os, he could tell that these supposed encounters weren't friendly ones. The stag stepped up to Os calmly and with a sense of dignity, but a now apparent hatred was burning in those soulless black eyes. He was merciless to the submissive position that Os took in the snow. He would be merciless to him, just like the men had been to the stag in his past encounters. This elk had his opinion set on the species, and would put an end to any one of them that would stand in his way. And Os couldn't blame the stag. If Os had had his bow, he would had probably taken down the young cow as soon as he had seen her without a second thought. The bull lead a herd. And it was his duty to protect them. And as Os's life began to flash before his eyes more vividly as he gazed up at the sharp antlers, he knew that he was a threat.

 In the split seconds that Os used to glance away from the stag, he noticed more elk. They all appeared to be cows as well, noticeably larger than the yearling. They all stood where the stag left the yearling, watching as he squared up with Os. This is never the way he expected to die. In the shadow of the elk, a species of creatures he had thought to be so peaceful. His body would never be found. His parents would never know what happened to him, perhaps think he were still alive. How he regretted not staying in better contact with them. How he wished that he didn't let his monthly letters quickly slip to nothing. How he now kicked himself for not just moving to the new town with everyone else.

 The intensifying snow began to stick to everything, including the deadly antlers. Os was close enough now to see that the snow made them look like they were gleaming against a none existent light, like little shiny daggers. The stag was now just a few feet away from where he lay, and never before had he seen such a beautiful yet terrifying sight when he looked up into the great bulls face. This was a true warrior, and Os was just some kind of adrenaline junkie.

 Os's last moment was about to run out when a loud, creaky cry escaped the lips of one of the cows that was watching behind. This immediately took the stags attention away from Os, as if he were just as important as a tasty looking shrub to the animal now. This meant that something was much more important than Os's defeat. The stags head spun straight around in alarm, looking straight to the cow who's head was tilted up in an alarming call. Her scratchy call was forced into the air for several short moments until a much more smoother sound slipped in. It was a howl.

 It was not just the sound of one howl though. It was several. The voices ever so gently took over the air as the cow elk began to stumble together into a huddle, shooting out sharp, alarmed grunts. The stag quickly leaped towards his herd, showering Os in the snow that his hind hooves kicked up from the ground. The bull urgently pushed his way through his herd to meet the creatures that were on the other side, hidden from Os's view through the wall of terrified elk. All he could see now of the bull was his antlers as he flashed them at the enemy that he was now facing.

 There was a sudden call from the bull, one of the first noises that Os had heard him make. It was an order to his herd, obviously, because within seconds after the belch, the cows began to thunder straight at Os. He shielded himself for impact of hooves against him, but luckily they swerved around him, like a river around a rock. The young yearling was the last to scamper past him.

 The face off was clear to Os's view now. It was the mighty stag against the three pairs of glowing eyes that approached through the shadows of the stormy night. He recognized the golden irises that commonly belonged to the northern timber wolf. But the strange, familiar pair of green centred the two golds. Soon it was apparent that it was the same wolf that he had encountered so many times in the past couple days. Its creamy coloured coat became noticeable as it stepped out from the shadows. The two other wolves loosely flanked the green eyed wolf, each wearing equally thick silver-white coats.

 Steady, calm puffs of vapour escaped the wolves nostrils as they carefully stalked forward. However, the stag let out short panicked breaths as it tilted its head back, trying to make his weapons looks more menacing. But despite the stags great size, the wolves were quite large too and it was three on one. It was obviously the wolves had more of a plan, having taken the advantage of surprise with the stag. Each step they took, they splayed further from one another, surrounding the bull. The closer they got to him, the further they pushed back their ears and the more of their deadly fangs they revealed. Alarm took over the bull as he watched the wolves calmly yet viciously unfolded their form. Os was caught in a brief daze until he realize that the stag was backing up towards him. He did not want to have to meet those sharp hooves if he didn't have to. Os hastily tried to stand from the snow he had fallen in, which was now conveniently trampled further from the retreat of the cows. He strode almost reluctantly away from the confrontation, because he honestly wanted to see what would happen. Right now he wasn't considering the worst. He was too caught in awe at this rare experience to worry about his safety. He rarely saw wolves, and never before had he seen only three corner a abnormally large bull so daringly. The outcome would be legendary.

 Os had only stumbled out of the uncertain path of the stag. Not necessarily out of the way of everything that was going on. He had let his weak legs collapse in exhaustion once again as he watched and waited. They were too preoccupied with each other to notice him, so he took advantage of the moment.

 The wolves never faltered in their slow, stalking steps. They advanced bravely at the bull which intimidated him very much. The stag stood alone. It was perfectly capable of taking down a wolf if it so happened to stumble into the wrong path. But if three attacked at once from different angles, things wouldn't go as great for the stag. And that was just what the stag was assuming. He knew that these wolves weren't messing around. They were mature, clever and built to kill. After all, a prey this size doesn't come along often in a winter wasteland like this, so these wolves had to be determined to take him down.

 Os did not realize how close he was to the action until he heard a low growl coming from the throat of a wolf. One of the golden eyed timber wolves stalked past him. A sudden surge of panic rushed through Os as he curled himself up and tried to bury himself deeper into the snow. This desperate attempt at a disguise would most definitely not had worked on a non-distracted animal. But these wolves had their undivided attention on the stag. It probably wouldn't had mattered if Os had stood up and started dancing, the wolves had their eyes attached to the stag, their minds racing a million miles an hour as they carefully planned the next each and every step. This was the real dance of nature. It was intricate and delicate, much more beautiful than any move that Os could preform.

 The silver wolf walked by Os, but skimmed past so close to Os's eyes that he was able to take in the detail of every hair. He found he admired the many beautiful shades that were hinted in the wolves fur. This wolf did seem colourless, but it had every shade of gray, black and silver he could think of blended into the snowy white fur. He could only imagine the shades of copper, hazel, red and orange that were mixed in with the thick, creamy coat of the green eyed wolf. How Os wished he could reach out and touch the fur, to brush his fingers against the amazing coat that was only unique to the wolf. But even in its state of attentiveness, Os knew that it would be a risky move. He knew the animals to be unpredictable and untrustworthy. Yet they lived in packs that moved so gracefully. His feelings for the animals were so mixed at the moment. Because basically they were saving his life from the stag right now. But who was to say that the wolves wouldn't turn on him if they took down the stag. Os found that he did not care right now. At this point, in his state of exhaustion and confusion, he would much rather be taken in the jaws of a wolf than by the antlers of a stag.

 The moment when the wolves quit their pacing was the moment when time seemed to stand still. It almost went completely silent. Their growls disappeared along with the whistle of the howling wind that seemed to leave Os's ears. Os lay there and watched as the three wolves stopped with their lips suddenly covering their fangs, their ears standing straight up along with their heads, and their tails hung neutrally between their legs. There was nothing threatening about them anymore. But this only seemed to drive the stag even more mad. It didn't know what to do. Was he to attack or run? Or perhaps wait for the wolves to choose one of those options.

 The stag kicked the air with his front hooves and let out many laments of both roars of battle and bellows that called for mercy. It was at the moment that the stag seemed about to flop backwards onto its back and go mad in panic and confusion was when the green eyed wolf stepped forward. The stag found a strip of sanity in the approach and used it, pulling his front hooves back down into the snow after his last round of mauling the wind. Os was quite concerned to see the green eyed wolf squaring up with the stag while its other two comrades stood and watched. This wolf wouldn't survive alone against the mighty bull. The beast of an elk now had a few options on how he could permanently drive this wolf into the Earth.

 The green eyed wolf's ears once again flattened, along with its tail stiffening horizontally and its teeth being revealed. Except this time, instead of a soft growl, it lashed out with a horrible snarl that rung out through the apocalyptic forest, lifting its head high as if trying to match the stags height, if that could ever be possible.

 Almost out of nowhere, Os watched as the green eyed wolf crouched back and loaded itself up for a pounce at the stag. He almost found himself about to cry out at the wolf to stop, because acting on the jump would practically be suicide. But the wolf never did act fully on his leap. Os watched wide-eyed as the wolf pretended to jump. It was a leap that could had propelled it ten feet over the snow, but instead it barely sent itself two. But this was enough to fool the stag. He had been watching his opponent carefully and was aching for the wolf to make the first move so much that he didn't think before reacting. Even before the wolf landed from its small jump, the stag was way up in the air on its hind legs and barreled down like an avalanche both antler and hoof first. But when he reached the ground, his hooves landed on nothing but the fresh snow and his antlers drove themselves through the layer of compacted ice so far that the tips almost reached the dirt below.

 Without giving anyone, including Os, barely enough time to react, the silver wolves were on top of the stag. Biting, clawing and drawing fresh, warm blood. This all happened in seconds, before the bull even had time to tug his antlers from the ground. When he finally managed to do so, his head flew back and he staggered with the extra weight of his two attackers. And just a split second before it happened, Os noticed how exposed this left the bulls neck. The green eyed wolf launched itself with a real jump this time teeth first. There was a horrible, hollow cry as its fangs dug themselves deep into the flesh of the stags throat. It was only a brief moment before the mighty warrior was hauled down. With the combination of his windpipe being swiftly crushed by the clamping jaws of green eyes, and the rest of the damage being delivered from the other wolves, his knees buckled beneath him. Green eyes made it the swiftest death possible by continuing to drive its teeth faster and further into the bulls throat, making sure that he would not live long enough to feel too much more pain. And in that one, quick, pivotal moment, a mighty beast and warrior fell.

 Os was caught in a moment of strange amazement. He wasn't sure if he should shout in horror or break into an applause. Obviously both would be a wrong decision, so he just sat there, choking a gasp as the whistling wind returned to his ears, sweeping away the soul of the stag along with it.

 Another thing that the wind brought was Os's scent, directly to the wolves. It was almost within seconds after the kill that they realized his presence. He spied the green eyed wolf's head rise up, its muzzle smeared in blood as it fixed its gaze on Os along with the other two mates of the small pack. Os snapped out of his trance and realized that they could be contemplating how to kill him right now. 

 Getting to his feet as fast as possible, staggering away from them in the direction of Delizu, he retreated, putting in every measure of effort to not fall. He didn't know if they were chasing him or not, but he could feel their eyes burning a hole into his back, the feeling was unmistakable. He was soon forced to trample through untouched snow again because the fleeing cows had chosen a path different from the one that Os desired at the moment. He attempted almost galloping through the snow that was steadily packing upon itself as the snow continued to fall, but his legs weren't long enough and he didn't have enough strength to propel himself above the snow each stride, let alone through it. He stumbled and fell within a few feet in a patch of softer snow that trapped him from the knees down. He found himself unable to free his boot and stumbled in the process of his struggle. And as he fell, he forced himself to look back. Perhaps seeing the wolves chasing after him would had been less unsettling.

 Instead he saw a slightly more distant view of the two silvery wolves remaining at their original spots on top of the carcass. But green eyes, however, had strayed a good ten-twenty feet in Os's direction, now standing and giving an unblinking stare at him. The vivid green irises stood perfectly against the heavy snowfall that was blending its creamy coat from his view slightly. There was a standstill where Os just watched, wondering if the wolf would decide to break into an attack sprint at Os, for he was the easiest kill at the moment. But the wolf didn't. Maybe it was because it wasn't fond of human meat, knew that it had more than enough elk or just didn't feel like taking Os down. It just looked at him for a long moment.

 But it didn't give much more sympathy to Os's current situation, besides the mercy of letting him live. It instead broke out into a fierce howl that told Os that he was wise to leave. He saw the green eyes disappear as the wolf tilted its head back. Behind it came the sound of the other two wolves joining the howl, the snowfall was mostly blocking them from his view. But all it took was the mutual feeling of assertiveness in their howls that sent Os running. Not in fear, but respect.

 He turned away from the wolves whose howls still echoed into the night. Swiftly, he tugged his lodged boot from the snow and stood, running off in the direction of Delizu less frantically, choosing his steps more wisely. He was soon well over the final foot hill and onto the mighty slope of the great mountain. The sound of the howls had stopped long ago, but, somewhere inside his head, he almost felt that if he listened closely, he could hear the sound of their jaws ripping and grinding at the meat and bone of the once beautiful creature. Yes, he had a new found respect for the wolves, but his feelings were still mixed. He felt that almost nothing could completely turn the bad impression he had on their savage behaviour. Merciful they were, practically saving his life from the raging stag, but who had that kill been for? Most obviously for their own good. Os had to respect their drive to survive. But at the same time, Os knew that they were unceremoniously devouring the flesh and blood of an animal that had so shortly before been living a perfect and proud life. Os was a killer too, a meat eater in the circle of life. But he had always killed with respect. He knew he did. Always.  

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

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