Sam has a prophetic nightmare while the rest of the camp sleeps, waking to a chorus of coyotes too close for comfort. A continuation of character development for my post-apocalyptic heroine.
The smell of pine and blood roused her from a dark place. Sam felt the cold earth beneath her legs and twisted to the side, gasping. The forest loomed, black sentries of ragged branches draped in dead mists. She tried to get to her feet only to find the earth held her down between fingers of mud and loam. The whispers of white moving between the shadowed trunks swirled and shifted.
Her voice died dead and ragged in her throat. She opened her mouth again to scream and nothing came.
All around, the hunting dogs began to sing.
Sam felt the ground quiver and dug her nails dug deep into the tender soil. She trembled. Through the mist, there came a piercing shriek, inhuman, otherworldly, everywhere all at once.
Breathless, she could not rise. The hunting dogs were growing louder with their yips and quivering howls. Claws raked at the soil. Choking, she could not rise. Sam felt her chest heave and her head spin. The mist swirled all around.
The earth began to pound. A living heart, it throbbed and vibrated under her cold palms. Again came the terrible shriek. The hunting dogs closed in. She could smell the slather of starving jaws, see the glint of fangs.
The dead dark horse, the night mare from her hallucinations, burst from the turmoil of mist and shadow. Steel hooves tore open earth, hot breath streaking from its bleeding mouth. Wild eyes, wide and white with fear, rolled. All around the hunting dogs exploded from the black. The dark horse ran her down with fangs and claws ripping at its throat. It screamed, screamed, and Sam felt the crashing hooves come down…
Her body flinched and she opened her eyes against the first whirls of consciousness. Heart racing, Sam let go of a long-held breath. She felt dizzy behind her temple, her chest tingling with surges of adrenaline. She quivered and put a hand to the base of her throat, feeling the flutter of her pulse against the knuckle of her finger. Sam sat up. She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed away the tremors of the night mare.
And that was when she heard the dogs.
An angry snort came from outside the tent. Rooster nickered nervously. Sam disentangled herself from the dew-damp sleeping bag and crawled on all-fours to the flap. She hastily pulled at the zipper but it caught for a second and she nearly tore down the entire thing before it let her out barefoot into the forest clearing. She straightened up sucking in the cold air of the early morning on the back of an old summer night. Sam shivered and put a hand on Rooster’s strong shoulder, listening to the coyotes sing.
They were on all sides.
The yips and howls, falling, rising, vibrating through the air, seemed to come from the very vapors. Sam glanced nervously from shadow to shadow. Rooster’s ears perked forward and he stood stiffly on rigid legs. She scratched the big gelding’s shoulder and felt the comforting reassurance of his his body heat, horseflesh quivering under her palm. Rooster tossed his head, pawing at the ground.
The gray world held its misted breath, listening.
“Should we be concerned?”
She jumped at the sound of his voice. Troy had one twin clutched to each leg. The small children were silent, but their eyes were scared. Troy was barefoot and sleep-tousled. It made Sam wondered if he could have even done anything...if it came to it. She was suddenly vary aware she did not have her gun.
“No,” she said hastily. “They won’t bother us.”
But they were so close. Rooster shifted nervously.
“Troy,” Becca mewled. He reached down to pick her up and Tony held tighter to the leg of his jeans.
“They sound like they’re right on top of us," Troy said, a hint of fear in his voice.
A loud yip made Sam twist to the right. She was sure at any moment a coyote would come bounding from the woods to tear open her throat. She stood closer to Rooster’s solid body. The indomitable police horse was as still as stone.
“They don’t attack people,” Sam lied to herself. She gave Troy a wave of her hand as if she could dismiss the whole thing. “It’s okay. You should take them back to bed. It’s still really early.”
“Okay,” Troy agreed, after a moment of consideration. He spoke a soft word to Tony and took the small boy’s hand. They went back to their blue tent.
Rooster nickered again, as if to catch her attention. His eyes were unmoving from the woods.
And then, all at once, they stopped.
The sudden silence made Sam catch her breath. Nothing moved in the gray. Even the mists seemed to have frozen. The rustle of leaves on a faint wind and the snap of a twig broke the spell. One by one, birds began to sing. The dawn crept cautiously forward.
Rooster exhaled heavily and lowered his head. He moved away from Sam’s touch to let her know there was no need to worry anymore and began to nibble at the soft grasses they had bedded down on. Sam spent several long minutes standing there, in the middle of their small circle. She could hear her racing heart. She clenched her jaw to try and still the pounding blood.
The forest was at peace.
Sam did not go back to sleep. She knew there were eyes watching from the brush. She felt them on her skin, crawling over her cold, goose-pimpled flesh as she shivered. Every shadow hid fangs and claws, the screaming night mare still ringing in her ears. She stared at one dark hollow for several beats before at last turning away.
She took Rooster to walk the clearing perimeter. The big horse’s presence was enough to keep her fear stemmed. He plodded along beside her with a low-hanging head. The coyotes seemed to have gone from his concern, so she decided there had been no threat real threat.
Whatever they had killed, it was over now.