Hyroc – Chapter 37


Sentinel Flame Book One

By Adam Freestone

Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity


Wingbeats drummed ominously through the night air. Hyroc snapped his eyes up at the darkened sky, seeing only the silver disc of a full moon suspended in the blackness. He frantically scanned the void overhead for the creature with the wings. The wing beats grew steadily louder. Sweeping his eyes around, he saw he stood in the middle of a clearing surrounded by trees. This was a bad place for him to be. Here in the open, he was easy prey for the creature. He needed to get to the trees; their branches would protect him. He broke into a run. The wing beats grew even louder; the creature was very near. He reached the trees. The wing beats stopped. He took a deep, relieved breath.

The sound of huge wings fluttered behind him. Turning, he saw an enormous hawk staring down its beak at him. He reached for an arrow but found none in his quiver. Going for his sword, he found it too was missing. He horrifyingly realized there was nothing he could do against the bird. The hawk remained where it stood, watching him. Hyroc fearfully returned its gaze. It had blue eyes, but they had an unusual look to them. They had the thoughtful appearance that reminded him of a person, not an animal. He felt a strange familiarity with those eyes as if he should know them.

“I never wanted this for you,” the bird said sorrowfully, speaking softly in a woman’s voice. Its voice was even more familiar than its eyes. Hyroc felt the brush of memory in his mind, but it refused to come forth. Every time he tried reaching for it, it would slip from his grasp. “I’m sorry.” The bird gave him a look of remorse, and in the moonlight, he saw the glimmer of a tear rolling down the feathers below one eye.

“Who are you?” Hyroc said.

“You never knew me.”

He felt a chill in the air. Everything blurred to blackness as he began to shiver. He instinctively reached over his shoulder to pull his blanket up. His hand grasped nothing. Opening his eyes, he saw the light-colored shape of Kit on the floor, coiled up in something brown he was chewing on. Slowly a fog hanging over Hyroc’s mind parted. His eyes widened with anger when he realized the brown something was the blanket he had made for his bed.

“GET OFF THAT!” Hyroc bellowed as he sat upright. Kit started, leaping from the blanket with an alarmed look in his eyes. Hyroc climbed out of his bed, groggily wrapped the blanket around himself, and laid back down, facing away from Kit. Just as he began to warm, he heard the scrape of claws at the inside of his door. He glanced over his shoulder to see Kit scratching at the door to be let out. Grumbling, he squeezed his eyes shut and tightly pulled the blanket over his head. The scratching got even louder. He groaned. Uncovering his eyes, he saw from the amount of light filtering into the cabin that it was time for him to get up. With a shrug, he sat up. He widely yawned as he swung his legs over the side of his bed. After putting on his boots and hat, he opened the door. The end of his nose tingled as a burst of crisp morning air swept over his face. Kit bolted outside, disappearing from view around the side of the door. Hyroc finished off some leftover duck for his breakfast before joining Kit outside in the cold air.

The sun shone unchallenged from the pale blue sky above. Leafless trees now dotted the surrounding area, and besides the evergreen trees, every plant drooped unhealthily beneath a thin coating of frost, their leaves an ugly brown or sickly yellow.

“Come on, Kit,” Hyroc said with another yawn, a short-lived mist drifting from his mouth as he spoke. “We need to get going.” He started toward the back of the valley, and Kit joined him moments later.

The first trap was empty. From the higher elevation where the trap sat, he noticed a thick mass of gray clouds off to the east. With the chill in the air, he had no disillusionment that those clouds carried snow. The icy grip of winter had finally arrived. He just hoped he was prepared for it and hadn’t neglected anything important. The clouds seemed hours off, giving him enough time to check his traps and maybe get a few more wood rounds chopped before the storm hit.

The mountain was quiet as Kit, and he made their way to the second trap. In the silence, Hyroc’s thoughts wandered from one worry about his winter situation to another before eventually turning to his dream. His dreams rarely made any sense, and a giant talking eagle hardly seemed unusual in that regard, especially considering Ursa. But why did the bird seem so familiar? Everything always seemed familiar to him while in a dream, and he never noticed how strange some things were until he woke. Somehow, this felt different. He almost felt as if he expected to see the bird waiting for him whenever he came around a tree. The feeling reminded him a little of the nightmares he had when he was much younger. Waking with a frightful start in the middle of the night, wrapping himself in his blankets, scared something was watching him from the dark recesses of his room. His dream had certainly started out like a nightmare, so maybe that’s what it was. Except a sad predatory bird seemed an odd thing to have in a nightmare. It was absurd to think he had a terrible fear of tear-shedding hawks.

He suddenly flung forward, losing his balance when something pulled his leg back. He caught himself with an outstretched arm on the cool surface of a boulder in front of him. Alarmed, he looked back at his leg. There was a loop of heavy twine wrapped around his ankle, trailing a line off toward a snare behind him. He glared at the snare, irritated someone was encroaching on his trapping grounds. There wasn’t supposed to be anybody trapping this close to the mountain besides him.

Carefully stepping toward the snare’s epicenter, he slackened the line. Reaching down to his ankle, he fed the twine back through the loop that enabled the trap to tighten around his foot, loosening the snare until it fell off. He looked around and was puzzled to see that he stood at the bottom of the ravine. Sweeping his eyes through his surroundings, he didn’t see his trap anywhere, only the stranger’s trap. He took a few steps back. Warmth surged through his cheeks when he embarrassingly realized the trap he had stumbled into was his. He had walked right through it while he was obsessing over his dream. If there had been something caught in it, he would have walked right over the top of it. It didn’t take much thought for him to imagine the pain of making that mistake if the animal had sharp teeth. Looking over the lip of the ravine, he saw the tips of the storm clouds drawing ever closer. He needed to stop wasting time worrying about the strangeness of a dream and finish with his traps before the storm arrived. It was an odd dream, nothing more.

None of his remaining traps had caught anything. When he returned to the cabin, the storm clouds dominated the sky, steadily casting their shadows over the mountain. After splitting two wood rounds, he felt a pinprick of something cold melt on the end of his snout. Lifting his eyes, he saw tiny specks of white drifting toward the ground. Soon the air became thick with large flakes of wet snow fluff. Deciding it was time to go inside, he made his way to the front door. He found Kit excitedly batting at any falling flakes within reach. Hyroc smiled mischievously, knowing Kit probably wouldn’t be so happy with what awaited him in the morning.

When Hyroc opened his door the following morning, he found a thick blanket of snow and clumps of sparkling white powder covering everything in sight. The cold air smelled fresh and clean. When he stepped off the porch, the snow crunched delightfully under his boots. He liked the sound, but he couldn’t stand snow when it squeaked. It made him feel like he was stepping on a white mat of squealing mice.

Kit stood at the edge of the snow just outside the door, looking at the white substance uncertainly. He experimentally put one paw forward into the snow, wrinkled his nose angrily, and pulled it back.

“Oh, it’s not that bad once you get used to it,” Hyroc said. He started patting his leg, “Come on, we still have work to do.”

Kit looked from the snow to Hyroc’s face before stepping out into the snow. He irritably shook the snow from his paws for his first couple of steps and bounded toward Hyroc. On his second leap, he fell face first into a snow-covered hole with only his hindquarters sticking out. Hyroc burst out laughing. Kit growled and, in a flurry of movement, exploded from the snow. Hyroc brushed any remaining snow from Kit’s back. Kit shook, showering him with half-melted snow. He threw a hand up to block the incoming slush. Kit took a tentative step forward, but once he saw the snow was solid, he continued exploring his surroundings until Hyroc was a fair distance toward the back of the valley.

Hyroc only found a white hare caught in the trap by the hill. He really didn’t have any immediate use for the rabbit’s pelt, so after lunch, he began his slog toward town to sell it. As he came to the road, he heard yelling off toward the Shackleton cabin. He headed toward the sound. When the clearing came into view, he saw Curtis, Elsa, and Donavan running around and throwing snow at each other. He regarded them curiously as he came closer. The instant he opened his mouth to ask what they were doing, a ball of snow hit him in the face. Donovan tensed sympathetically, Elsa covered her mouth with both hands, and Curtis burst into laughter. Now a little annoyed, Hyroc spit out a mouthful of slush and wiped his face off on the back of his glove.

“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t actually aiming at you,” Donovan said with a laugh of embarrassment. With a primal yell from Curtis, he and Elsa started pelting Donovan with balls of snow as punishment. Donovan responded in kind and started throwing balls of snow back at them.

“What are you doing?” Hyroc said inquisitively.

The three of them stopped to give him a strange look. “What does it look like? We’re having a snowball fight,” Donovan said.

“Snowball fight?”

Donovan, Curtis, and Elsa exchanged concerned glances with each other.

“Yeah,” Donovan said. “Haven’t you been in one before?” He shook his head. The three of them gaped at him in shock. Their reactions were starting to make him feel stupid for not knowing what they were talking about

“You’ve never been in a snowball fight?” Elsa said.

“No, the place I came from wasn’t the sort of place you got to play games. And well –” he indicated his face with a subtle wave of his hand “– there weren’t exactly a lot of people that wanted to play – with me.” The three of them looked at him sympathetically.

“Would you like us to teach you?” Donovan volunteered.

Hyroc’s eyes lit at that. “Sure, what do I do?”

“It’s simple, really.” Donovan reached down and grabbed a handful of snow. “You pick up some snow like this.” He began fashioning it into a ball. “Then…you… hit somebody with it!” Donovan threw the snowball, and it hit Hyroc in the chest. He narrowed his eyes in annoyance. He didn’t need to know anything about the game to know that was a cheap shot.

“Donovan!” Elsa yelled in outrage. “I can’t believe you.” She quickly fashioned a snowball and hit Donovan in the side of the head with it. Curtis smiled impishly before hitting Donovan with a snowball of his own. Donovan jumped back, made a snowball, and hit Elsa with it.

Hyroc scooped up a handful of snow, packed it into a ball, and threw it at Donovan as hard as he could. Donovan dodged out of the way of a snowball from Curtis, and Elsa was suddenly in the path of the one Hyroc had thrown. It splattered against the back of her head. Hyroc cringed. Elsa wheeled around with a stunned look on her face.

“Did you just,” Elsa said pointedly.

Hyroc felt a tinge of warmth seep into his face. “No, no, I was aiming at Donovan,” he said sheepishly.

“Well, let’s see how you like this!” Elsa made a snowball and hit him in the shoulder with it. Curtis did the same.

Hyroc put his arm up to block the incoming snowballs and used his other hand to grab a handful of snow. Without even bothering to make it into a ball, he threw his handful at Elsa. With an excited yelp, she jumped back.

Donovan nailed Curtis in the back with a snowball.

“HEY,” Curtis yelled.

Donovan grinned. “You’re the one who left yourself open,” he said.

Curtis made a snowball and threw it at him. Donovan dodged out of the way, then took aim at Elsa. She narrowly avoided the incoming attack and retaliated with one of her own. Hyroc used this reprieve in their assault to make a snowball and hit Curtis with it.

Donovan thrust a finger at him. “That’s my brother, you fiend!” he yelled with mock intensity before hitting Hyroc with a large snowball.

After this, the fight turned to chaos, and the four of them were quickly covered in snow. While Hyroc fought back, he felt like he did the day Kit had savaged him with his play. He realized the feeling was enjoyment; he was having fun! It had been so long since he had been able to do something fun. He had almost forgotten fun even existed. This place was starting to feel like home, like he belonged here. Maybe winter wouldn’t be so bad for him after all.

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.