Halfway home Annabel fully recovered, trotting behind him like a talking puppy. The sun-painted mountains grew cherry red. His vision was now razor sharp, all colors rich and dark, all pines emerald spears, all mountains hammered walls of molten iron.
“God in heaven,” he spoke warily. “My eyes are light-drinking wells.” He was roaring with wildcat energy. The world sparkled in kaleidoscopic rainbows of green, yellow and red, the sky a rich vault of cobalt blue. Never had he felt such vitality. Yet he felt anxious as if he was too late for something. He slowed down to let Annabel catch up. She was puffing.
“What did you say? Ain’t you gonna tell me what happened down there?”
Petr shrugged. “It was like a dream. I only remember snatches.”
“Tell me snatches then.”
“I dove underwater and found a tunnel. I swam until I reached a chamber filled with stale air. It was filled with gold light coming from below. That didn’t seem possible. So I went down another tunnel for a look. I found a room full of bright light. It was hot. That’s all I remember. That’s probably where I found the gold moon. But I don’t remember. I passed out for a while. I dreamed I was in a land of pyramids and pharaohs and I was looking for gold.”
She said, “Was there a beautiful girl?”
He didn’t answer. That was enough for now. They could hear the whispery welcome of Valoryvale waterfall that fell twenty feet to the valley floor. Just one more step and–
Then he heard something very bad. “Wuh-wuh-wuh,” like a big dog. He knew what it was.
A rolling mound of flesh was heading towards them and he reached back and gripped Annabel’s head. “Stay put like a rock.” She crouched behind him. She looked more like a noodle than a rock. Jack had been right to scare them with stories. Kids alone in the woods without a weapon had no–
He remembered the Indian knife and pulled it out.
The grizzly sniffed the air, gazing at them. His head was big as a bushel-basket, his body a dark sack of hunger. When it reared up Annabel screamed. Six feet of raging hunger stood on its hind legs. A greasy patch of blood smeared one shoulder–a wounded grizzly–very bad news. He remembered the gunshots earlier today. The bear made a low rumbling grumble. Then it charged.
Petr screamed: “AWAY! AWAY from my sister!” Amazing thunder in his voice, the warrior screaming in his head: Attack!
Suddenly he ran at the bear, the knife cocked at his hip, ready to strike, ready to meet the bear, and it kept coming. A little girl-scream sounded a thousand miles away. And then the bear filled his eyes.
It halted abruptly–and swung a hooked paw. Petr ducked and amber eyes blazed hatred at him. It bellowed and Petr smelled rotten fruit and death. Its gaping blue yap filled with yellow teeth. Petr struck the knife into the huge mouth.
With all his might he drove into the slimy hole, down the slimy throat, plunging until his arm was engulfed in a meat grinder. The bear gagged humid breaths and vomited purple geysers spraying Petr’s should and neck. He was clamped up to his shoulder in an iron jaw. Below his embedded fist a powerful savage heart pounded like a buried drum–
Nothing existed in the world but him and the heart of the bear.
The bear toppled sideways and Petr felt his shoulder pop. The grizz made a curious whining cry, turning its mouth gingerly aside. Its legs coiled like springs and Petr knew his stomach was about to be churned out like spaghetti from a bowl.
Thick claws raked him but clicked against metal as something round pounded his gut. And for some reason he knew what to do next. He forced the knife into a grisly circling stroke. Hot greasy fluids boiled over his hand and the big beating heart popped like a balloon. The grizzly stiffened. Blood poured from its mouth.
From somewhere a keening wail had been going on forever. “Eeeeeeeiiiiiii!” A little girl pulling on him, screaming and kicking and beating.
Blood rivered over him in big red gushes–but the girl was there to help free him. She didn’t stop screaming as she pulled his arm from the gushing throat and his arm floated out like a newborn baby. Red teeth-marks sliced from his bicep to his wrist. He did not want to believe that arm was part of him–or his hand–a dead-looking blob that no longer held a knife. Well, it was a good place to leave the knife. He crawled away.
Collapsing on his back, wiping sticky goo from his face, he was coated in purple puke. No girl should see such a sight. Poor Annabel, where was she? Was she all right?
He didn’t have strength to stand so he twisted around. Annabel was standing over the dead bear with her fists clenched and her voice even higher than usual. “Bad old bear! Why did you do that? Bad old bear!”
He gasped, “Annabel…it’s…not much…farther. Get help…get Papa.”
She crouched beside him, hands on knees, staring at him, her dress a bloody rag, her voice awestruck. “That was amazing. Where did you learn that–that was real Injun fighting. You jumped, you swung, you rolled, you–”
“Rocky! Get Papa and don’t tell Mama.”
She nodded and ran away. She was a girl, but she was reliable. He had one last thought: That was one hell of a birthday. Then everything went black.