With her eyes trained on the dark spaces between the trees, Nadie signaled her brother to come. His soft footsteps whispered in the snow, careful and deliberate. Good, she thought. He remembered father’s hunting lessons, lessons from long ago. Hunter or hunted, the same principles applied.
His tiny gloves slid into her hand, warm and trembling. The shadows hadn’t moved yet; the beast could be anywhere, was everywhere. Any one of the dead branches in the dark could be its antlers.
“We run west, Sam, to mom,” she whispered. “Look only to the west.”
“I can see too, Nadie,” he said. “I can spot-”
“-No, Samoset.” His name misted in the cold night air.
The wind was too faint to carry the thing’s scent, too low to rustle the dead leaves that carpeted the snow. All sounds moved from tree to tree. An arctic hare’s teeth gnawed at a piece of willow. A twig snapped under the foot of something large, a moose perhaps. Or the hunter. No, she thought, it’s too smart to give itself away. Was it a trick? Icy fingers clutched Nadie’s heart; a deathly frost spread through her chest. None of the branches in the trees had moved.
“We need to go, Sam. Look only west.”
She pushed off her legs with all of her strength, pulling Samoset with her. Their footfalls crashed through hard snow, dried leaves, atop logs and through the brush.
Something else ran with them. The silent shadow.
It touched none of those things, but it summoned the cold night to join the hunt as well. Nadie’s lungs grew hot from the dry air and the chill wind scrubbed her face. She wished Mother was here. She wished father was here, to lead her the way she led Samoset.
“Nadie.” Sam sounded as if he called from the back of a tunnel.
“Just run, Samoset, just look forward.” She didn’t want to look back. She didn’t want to look anywhere.
“I can see too, Nadie.” His voice ran through the forest.
In the space between his words, Nadie heard their footfalls, and the echo of their footfalls again. Snapped twig. Snap. Snap. She could not tell which sound was theirs: the first, or the second.
“I can see too, Nadie.” His voice crashed through the trees.
Broken branch. Crushed snow. Broken branch. Crushed snow. A frantic flight of an owl, each flap echoed, so that two wings became four. Frozen tears stung her cheeks.
“I can see too, Nadie.” His voice rode with the wind. She didn’t want to look. Look forward. She squeezed the hand in hers. Samoset was behind her. It was her little brother’s hand she was holding. It could only be his hand.