Hyroc – Chapter 23 – Readers and Writers Book Club

Hyroc – Chapter 23


Sentinel Flame Book One

By Adam Freestone

Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity


A shaft of warm morning sunlight roused Hyroc from his sleep as it slowly crept across his face. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he groggily sat up. He grimaced as a dull throbbing pain radiated through his right shoulder and partway down his upper arm as he put weight on it. Then he became aware of an intense itching underneath the massive scab. Resisting the strong temptation to scratch his shoulder raw, he gingerly put on his boots and got off the bed. Dizziness came over him as he stood, but it soon passed. He stared at the cow parsnips laid in front of the fireplace. Though he felt substantially better than he had yesterday, the mere idea of eating food made him feel a little sick. As unappealing as it seemed, he knew he still needed to eat something. Pushing through his reluctance, he grabbed a parsnip and took a small bite. It didn’t make him want to throw up when he swallowed, so he took another bite. Then much of his remaining sick feelings disappeared.

After breakfast, he donned his bow and quiver. Coming through the front door, he spotted Shimmer watching the cabin from a tree branch. He regarded the large black bird thoughtfully a moment before going to the streambed to fill his waterskin. From there, he made his way toward the mountain to check his traps.

To his dismay, all were empty. When he had finished with the last trap, convincing himself the spiders were no longer at the cliff face, he cautiously made his way to the incline leading to it. From a safe distance, he watched the area for any sign of the spiders. He got a start when a shadow passed over the ground in front of him. Focusing on the shadow, it was in the shape of a bird. Above him, he saw a circling black bird. It was Shimmer, again. He swiped his arm angrily through the air. “Get out of here,” Hyroc yelled at the bird. “You just startled me.” That was the last thing he needed in a place where he had nearly died days before. He received an angry squawk in return, and Shimmer made no move to stop circling. With a sigh, Hyroc began warily reassembling his trap. Since Huntress was dead, there wasn’t any reason for him to move his trap. He couldn’t help being a little sad at that fact. It had actually been kind of fun trying to figure out how to avoid her.

Still feeling some effects from the spider venom sickness, he was in no mood for wandering around for hours hunting and decided to fish in the stream next to his cabin instead. About an hour in, he caught a small trout. After dispatching the fish with a quick stab through the brain, he gutted it, laying its innards on the ground beside him to use as bait. He turned away from the innards to move his pole closer, but when he turned back to bait his hook, the piece he had set aside to use first was missing. He raised his leg to see if he had accidentally sat on it. There wasn’t anything beneath him. Shaking his head in puzzlement, he baited his hook with another piece and cast his line.

Shimmer alighted on the branch of a tree on the other side of the stream then began preening his wings. The bird suddenly stopped, making a bobbing motion with his head as if he were looking at something. Glancing behind him, Hyroc caught sight of a small, slender shape darting into the underbrush. Moving his eyes to his bait, he saw another piece had vanished. Then where the shape had disappeared, he saw a weasel peeking at him through the foliage. He recognized it as the same weasel that had bitten his ear at the creek. He irritably sighed as he set down his pole and stood. Grabbing his bow, he fitted an arrow to the bowstring and started backing away from his pile of bait. When he was about ten paces from the fish, the weasel tentatively stepped out of its hiding place. Drawing the bowstring back, Hyroc eagerly waited for the weasel to move farther away from cover so he could put a sharpening shaft through the beady-eyed miscreant. The weasel took a few more steps forward, then stopped to test the air. That was all Hyroc needed. The light brown, speckled shape of a cat exploded out of the bush onto the weasel. With a quick bite to the neck, the cat dispatched its prey.

A bolt of fear shot through Hyroc upon seeing the cat was a speckled mountain lion cub. Heart pounding, he held his bow at the ready as he rapidly scanned the surrounding forest, searching for any signs of the cub’s mother. Seeing none, he backed away from the cub, listening intently for any sound of her approach. When he was a comfortable distance away, not wanting to leave his pole, he impatiently waited for the kitten’s mother to arrive and retrieve it.

Several minutes passed, but the cub’s mother never appeared. It seemed strange a cub this young would be so far from its mother. Had it been abandoned? It dawned on him the cub might have been the blur he saw escaping from those spiders. He waited until he was certain his assumption was correct before slowly making his way back over to his fishing pole. When he got close, the cub raised its head and made a growling noise at him. Hyroc froze, looking around to see if there was a furious adult cat tearing toward him. To his relief, he didn’t.

He stood there looking at the cub, and the cub returned his gaze. Neither one of them had parents, siblings, or anyone that cared if they died, or at least, not anymore. The cub was a survivor like him. It didn’t simply lie down and die. It had escaped its fate. The odds were stacked against it, but it was determined to live. The two of them were not so different. He had been looking for a companion to make his seclusion more bearable ever since he arrived at the cabin. Maybe now he had found one.

There was just the issue with the cub being a mountain lion. The kitten was about the size of a house cat, but Hyroc knew that would eventually change. Maybe he could train it. Even dogs could be trained. That’s what he had heard anyway. Why couldn’t he do the same with the cub? Ursa could probably help him; if what she had said wasn’t a lie. Even if his plan proved impossible and he had to eventually release the cub when it grew up, he would still have a companion until such time.

Hyroc crouched down and started patting the ground while calling the cub over to him in his most inviting voice. The cub simply stared at him without moving. Hyroc rolled his eyes in irritation at himself. He wasn’t dealing with a house cat. It wouldn’t come to him no matter how much he called. Fishing around in his pocket, he withdrew a tiny dry piece of three-day-old grouse meat and offered it to the cub. The cub let out an initial growl but stayed where it was. It watched Hyroc’s outstretched hand a moment, then made its way over to him. The cat tentatively sniffed his hand, then the pro-offered meat. Once it seemed sure he posed no danger, it snatched the meat out of his hand.

With the cub distracted downing the snack, Hyroc reached over to stroke its back. As soon as his hand touched the kittens’ fur, it wheeled around, sinking its needle sharp teeth into his flesh. Hyroc yelled out in pain, making the cub bolt away from him. The cub turned around and hissed. Hyroc stuck the bleeding part of his hand into his mouth.

“Maybe I should name you after that weasel,” Hyroc said coolly. The cub’s ears went flat against its head, and it hissed again. Hyroc smirked at the response. “How does Tom sound?” The cub’s ears remained in the same position, and he growled. It seemed the cub hated the name. Lucky would probably be a good name since the cub was obviously lucky to have survived that spider attack. But the more he thought about it, the name Lucky seemed to be a favorite for owners of three-legged or one-eyed dogs and it was asking for trouble. He should probably use something less accident-prone. Especially with the luck he’d been having lately. He wondered about naming the cub Thomas. No, naming it after his only friend at the boarding school seemed an unacceptably strange thing to do and would only serve as a depressing reminder. The name Kit popped into his head. A kit was the name for a fox cub if his memory served right. That might work because the cub seemed smart like a fox.

“How does Kit sound?” The cub’s ears returned to their normal position, and although still glaring, he appeared pleased with the name. “Then Kit it is.” Hyroc paused thoughtfully. “But before I take you home, I need to catch some more fish. Otherwise, the two of us will be going to bed hungry.” The cub stared at him blankly a moment, then walked back over to the weasel and resumed eating it. “And thank you for killing that little monster.”

By the time dusk arrived, he had caught three more fish.

“Okay, Kit, we should probably get headed home,” Hyroc said after tying his fishing line around his catch. Kit lay beside the bloody remains of the weasel, fast asleep. Hyroc tapped a rock with the bottom of his fishing pole, waking Kit. “Come on, wake up. You can go back to sleep when we get to the cabin.” He indicated its direction with his eyes. “It’s just over there.”

Kit stayed where he was and stared at him. With a shrug, Hyroc set down his fish and, using his knife, sliced off a strip of meat from one right above the tail. After cutting the meat strip into pieces, he stuck them in his pocket, leaving one in his hand. He held his hand out and started calling Kit. The cub’s eyes focused on the meat chunk. Kit studied Hyroc’s hand, then cautiously walked over and snapped up the treat. Hyroc took several steps back, pulled another piece from his pocket. In likewise manner, the cub ate the new piece of meat. This time when Hyroc walked away, the cub followed.

“That’s a good boy,” Hyroc said before picking his fish back up. With only the use of an occasional incentive, the cub trailed him all the way to the cabin.

As Hyroc waited for the fish to cook, Kit wandered over to the deer-rabbit hide, sniffed it, and began gnawing on it.

“HEY!” Hyroc yelled, rushing over and snatching it away for him. With his ears flat against his head, Kit growled. Ignoring his protest, Hyroc examined the damage to the hide. Other than a chew mark, the hide seemed unscathed, but the hair was starting to fall off, and it had the beginnings of a rancid decaying smell to it. It was starting to rot. Hyroc sighed. “Never mind, it’s yours,” he said, tossing the decomposing hide to Kit, who happily tore into it. “It’s useless now.”

Although displeasing, its loss was not much of a setback, though any other hides he got would suffer the same fate. He needed to figure out how to prevent the hides from rotting; otherwise, he could never use them. His thoughts turned back to the family of hunters. He could probably figure it out by watching them as he had done with the two boys skinning their deer. Food wasn’t much of an issue for a day or two, so he could devote at least that much time to watching them without worry.

“You know what, Kit,” Hyroc said, looking toward the cub. “I think it might be time for me to start paying closer attention to my neighbors.”

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.