A chill was growing under the hemlock as the fire died. There was little energy left in him now. He slipped into a fitful sleep.
* * *
Two miles away the black bear caught a faint scent, but he could not identify it. Without his sense of smell, he was nearly helpless. It was days since he had had meat, and his instinct to hibernate as well as his hunger told him how badly he needed to eat. He stood up on his hind legs and peered uselessly into the blinding screen of snow, but a bear’s eyes are weak, and he saw nothing.
A great rage was building within him.
* * *
Tim woke, shivering uncontrollably. The fire was out. He scattered the ashes and found a live ember. Working carefully, he took tinder from the supply in his canteen and rekindled the fire. When he had it going, he didn’t wait to warm himself, but stacked the remainder of his wood so that it would fall into the fire as it burned. Then he fell back into a half-conscious state.
* * *
The fire was out again when he woke and day was beginning to lighten the world. The snow had stopped. He ate a mouthful of snow, then dug around the roots of his shelter tree, hoping to find a squirrel’s cache of pine nuts. He found a pitiful few.
He did not bother to rebuild the fire. If he stayed here now, he would never leave.
The deer’s tracks had been covered by the fresh snow, but it made no difference. He was too weak to stalk it anyway. The tracks of birds and small rodents dotted the snow here and there, but there were by not many of them.
Tim wandered in a daze, looking for anything to eat. Once he blundered into a pine and looked longingly at the cones hanging high above his head. For the life of him, he could not figure out how to get them down. Not for the life of him.
Later, he realized that he was following a set of tracks, but he didn’t know what had made them. He followed them to the base of a lodgepole pine and, looking up, he could see a creature sitting in the lower branches staring down at him.
The porcupine is one of the few creatures slow enough to be caught and clubbed. The have no speed, only their quills for protection.
Shaking with excitement and need, Tim strung his bow and nocked an arrow. Shooting overhead was a skill he had never practiced. His first arrow buried itself in the limb on which the porcupine sat.
The porcupine was startled into action. As Tim nocked another arrow, almost sobbing, the porcupine waddled to the main trunk and started up. Tim took careful aim and shot again. The arrow skewered the porcupine and buried itself in the tree trunk.
The creature hung suspended by the shaft that had struck it, nailed to the tree and completely out of Tim’s reach.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Tim cried as tears ran down his cheeks. Then, making slow and graceful turns, the porcupine slid down the shaft, propelled by its own weight, and fell to the ground. The arrow remained embedded in the tree.
Tim approached the fallen creature and fell to his knees before it. It lay on its back with its rodent like mouth half open. Its eyes were flat and dull in death.
It was meat. More than meat, this was life itself. more tomorrow