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Authors: Angela J. Townsend

Amarok (8 page)

BOOK: Amarok
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At dawn Amarok got to his feet, careful not to disturb the girl, and worked his way to a high perch on a steep hillside. He peered down upon the earth, into the ice-choked canyons and across to the barren tundra valley. So many winters had passed before his eyes, and as the seasons changed, his life remained much the same. Throughout his long servitude, he’d missed the companionship of another human being. Cruel Abe Ryan could hardly be called a companion and his grandson, Weasel Tail, was a man to be hated. But Suka, with his bloodlust, was a breed of crazy that Amarok feared more than anything else.

When Amarok was young, he never knew such people existed; he’d only read stories of villains in Wild West tales. His legs trembled as he remembered the dreadful look in his father’s eyes when they’d crossed paths with Suka on the way to check their trap lines. Suka stood at the edge of the trail, partially concealed in the bushes, his flannel shirt stained with sweat and blood. He clutched a doll in one hand and a knife in the other. Coins glistened in sun, protruding from a jagged slash in the doll’s back
.

The wild, piercing look in Suka’s eyes made Amarok’s neck stiffen. Suka held the knife in front of him, waving it at them as they passed at a healthy distance. Later, word came that Suka had murdered a woman and her four children for gold—slashing their throats. No wonder his shirt had been soaked in blood
.

Amarok closed his eyes, blocking out the haunting image.

A voice sang out his name, carried softly on an arctic breeze. Amarok stood still and listened, hearing the girl’s call. He wheeled and ran to the campsite. She greeted him with a smile, patting her leg, beckoning him to her side. Amarok loped to her, sinking to his haunches as she hugged his neck.

15

Emma’s kidnapper had jumped when she yelled for the wolf. He seemed more anxious than ever before, narrowing his eyes, glaring at her as she stroked Amarok’s fur. The man stood completely still. His gaze slid away, darting over the landscape, endlessly scanning. Minutes slipped past, and Emma wondered if he’d ever move again. A few minutes later, he turned his back and stomped into the brush. Emma thought about making a break for it, but he quickly returned, zipping up his pants. He shoved the caribou hides they’d slept on into his pack and kicked snow over what remained of the fire.

Overhead, an owl soared across the early morning sky, its white winter plumage a pale discoloration against the gloomy clouds. It swooped low, sailing several times over Amarok’s head as if following him, watching him, and then disappeared into the gray horizon. Emma ran her fingers over the silky feather, safely tucking it behind her ear.

They traveled in the same direction as the bird, heading north at a hard pace. Rain drizzled from the sky again, which made the trek even worse. Wet and cold were a harsh mix in the arctic. Emma could never get warm enough with the polar winds and the constant dampness. Her hair stuck to her skull like a helmet. She would’ve given anything for a hot shower. She hated smelling like smoke, hated the grime on her face and hands, but most of all, she hated smelling like
him
—the man who’d taken away her last shimmer of hope. No matter what, she would make him pay. She’d make things hard for him; she’d never be a willing participant in his sick plan. Mule-stubborn, she’d dig her heels in, like she’d done with Stan. And just like Stan, this man would never make her do what he wanted. He could never break her will—she’d gladly die first.

The rain disappeared around noon, when they entered an area clogged with deadfall and thick clumps of underbrush. Emma crossed a fallen log, and a sheer pain jabbed into her foot. “Ouch!” She hopped on one leg. “Can we stop for a second? There’s something wrong with my heel.”

The man stopped, swiveled around slowly and narrowed his eyes to slits. “You got two minutes. Better make it quick.” He leaned against a boulder, arms folded, leering at her.

Emma balanced against the trunk of a spruce tree, slipped off her boot, pulled her sock down, and winced. Angry blisters, red and raw, swelled across her ankle. She eased the sock back over her blisters when she noticed a tree branch wave in the distance, then another. Something was headed their way. Something big. Amarok laid back his ears and growled, baring his teeth. His body stiffened, and his tail hung parallel to the ground. A deer bounded from the trees and skittered away.

Emma breathed a sigh of relief and slipped her boot on, but Amarok still growled, his fur bristling higher. She patted his broad head. “It’s okay, boy, it was just a deer.”

Amarok stalked forward, snarling louder, ignoring her touch.
What was wrong with him?

A sudden, violent thrashing from the brush brought Weasel Tail to his feet. He pulled a long rifle from the side of his pack.

Emma stepped back, staring into the brush, every nerve in her body on fire.

“What was that?”

“Hush!” the man hissed. He shouldered the rifle and peered through the sights into the timber.

Minutes passed. She held her breath. A booming crash sounded. Then another, closer this time. He shoved her to the ground and onto her belly. “Stay there!” The man crept ahead, surveying the area. With her nose close to the ground, Emma’s nostrils filled with the musty smell of wet leaves and rotting plants, wilted with frost. The man turned and waved her up. Emma rose from the ground, her damp clothes clinging to the front of her body, sending a deep chill into her bones.

He placed a finger to his lips and pulled her to him. He pressed his mouth to her ear. “Listen,” he whispered. “A grizzly’s favorite trick is to roar, then circle around back while the prey’s lookin’ ahead.” His eyes drifted over the terrain and then to Amarok. “The wolf will let us know where the bear’s at.”

Terror washed over Emma in a freezing wave, and she glanced at Amarok. He stood protectively in front of her, ears erect, his gaze fixed into the brush behind her. His lips drew back, and a rumbling growl emanated from his throat. The man swung around and raised the rifle to his shoulder. A massive grizzly tore through the brush, galloping at them, its head held close to the ground, its mouth hanging open. Bands of foaming saliva flew out behind it.

Emma stood frozen. Unflinching, her captor fired a quick shot and missed. The deafening boom echoed through the woods. Emma covered her ears to stop the painful ringing searing into her eardrums. The bear kept coming and the man fired again. This time, the bullet sank deep into the creature’s shoulder. The grizzly stumbled, almost collapsed, and continued its charge, even more enraged. The man fired another booming shot; a wad of flesh flew off the bear’s mammoth hump with a splash of dark liquid. The beast lurched to a halt, wheeled and retreated into the forest.

Over the ringing in her ears, Emma heard the sounds of the grizzly disappearing deeper into the thick underbrush. Shaken, she dropped to her knees in the snow, trembling as she fought to gain control over the sudden rush of terror. Relief turned her bones into jelly, making it hard to stand.

Her captor spat on the ground. “Get up.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” He lowered the rifle at her. “Now, get up before I make you get up.”

Emma rose to her feet, her nerves blazing. She tramped through the snow behind him. Her pulse quickened at every sound. The grizzly could return at any moment, tearing them to pieces and eating their flesh. She brought her shaking hands to her face, wiping the cold sweat from her forehead. Her legs wobbled as she scanned the forest, searching for danger. She felt herself starting to disconnect, floating from her body. Emma leaned against the base of a spruce tree. A flock of ravens flew from its branches, flapping over her head. She screamed, and the man grabbed her arm, his eyes wide with fright.

“What is it?” he roared.

She stood staring at him, fighting to catch her breath.

He dropped her arm and aimed the rifle at her head. “Make me jump like that again, and I’ll put a bullet in your brain.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Emma stammered.

With a grunt, he lowered the gun. “We’re almost there. Keep your trap shut.”

Amarok came to her side, licking her hand. She ran her fingers over his bristly fur. The wolf trotted away, scouting the tree line, sniffing and pacing nervously. The man whistled and Amarok returned.

They trudged onward. Emma struggled through snow and mud that sucked at her oversized boots, crossing tangles of fallen trees stacked like matchsticks. Branches tore at her clothes and cut into her exposed skin until she collapsed from near exhaustion. Amarok rushed to her, licking her face. He wagged his tail and gave her a playful bark. She gazed into his sparkling eyes. Why was he suddenly so happy? Then it came to her, and her spirits soared. Maybe they were almost there, and the whole nightmare would be over soon.

Emma got to her feet, and after a short while they emerged into a clearing. A rustic log cabin with a mossy roof sat nestled in the middle, surrounded by several crude outbuildings. Traps hung from the eaves of the cabin, swaying with each gust of bitter wind.

Finally, she could stop hiking and get rid of the bulky boots. She fell to her knees, limbs quivering. Amarok jogged to her side, nudging her, as usual. A twig snapped. Her head jerked up. Amarok growled, and Emma saw the bleeding bear crash through the brush, surging straight at her.

“Look out!” the man roared.

She couldn’t move. Her legs were like Jell-O. She fought to get to her feet, staring at the snarling mouth, the gigantic teeth of the furious beast raging closer and closer. It was at this moment that Emma suddenly realized how much she wanted to live.

“Run!” the man yelled.

Emma looked away as the bear slid to a stop at her feet, suddenly changing direction. It whirled and tackled the man before he could fire a shot, sinking its teeth into his thigh. The man screamed—an unearthly cry—pulled his knife from its sheath, and gouged at the bear. The grizzly knocked the blade from his hand and gripped the man’s head in its powerful jaws, violently shaking him.

Emma bolted, glancing over her shoulder, running clumsily in the oversized boots. The bear dropped the man to charge after her. She ran for the cabin and tripped, her boots stuck in the snow. The bear barreled down on her. Amarok jumped between them, the two animal bodies blending into a growling mass of blood and fur. Emma scrambled to her feet, running hard to the cabin door. She gripped the handle.
Please don’t be locked. Please!
She pushed the door open—
Thank God!
—and burst inside. She crouched under a dingy window, watching helplessly as the bear destroyed her only friend.

16

Just as Amarok had feared, Suka dropped Weasel Tail, broken and useless, to the ground, and headed straight for the girl.
His
girl. Amarok’s hackles bristled as he raced to intercept the ungodly creature. His heart filled with fear and a sorrow so penetrating, he nearly lost himself in the enormity of the emotions. The end had finally come. Amarok prayed the girl would make it to the safety of the cabin before the bear butchered him.

Suka rose on his back legs, a deadly mountain of teeth and claws. With one powerful blow, he knocked Amarok back several feet. His vision blurred and his ears rang as his head throbbed from the painful blow. He scrabbled to his paws and leapt at the bear again. He couldn’t let him get to the girl.

Amarok sank his teeth into Suka’s neck. The great bruin flung him off again and charged after the girl. Amarok got in front of him, but Suka swiped his side, splitting it open with his claws. Intense heat burned like a brand, searing into his flesh. Amarok hesitated, disabled by the pain. Suka seized the moment, unleashing the depth of his fury.

Every blow threw Amarok harder and harder to the ground. He tried to bite at the bear’s tender spots, but Suka grabbed him by the shoulder in crushing jaws, biting down until Amarok howled, a thunderous scream of death.

The world swirled around him in a dazed mix of pain and regret. White lights flickered in front of his eyes, and for a brief moment he saw his mother dancing with the northern lights, her glossy hair decorated in beads and feathers. She reached out to him, beckoning him to the spirit world. He ached to let go, to find the peace he had so often dreamed of, but suddenly his mother wore the girl’s face, and he wanted more than anything to stay.

BOOK: Amarok
5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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