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DANCING IN THE SHADOWS
by Richard L. Provencher
6/09/2008 / Short Stories
Snow-patches surrounded a Doe and her Young One as they lay under spreading branches. Each drew warmth from the other as mottled leaves provided a backdrop from October's wind.
Their hideaway provided a unique view, indicating a route for easy escape should the need arise.
Young One jerked to his feet, anxious to shake off the cold. He looked forward to nibbling left over tufts of grass. His wondering stare found it difficult to penetrate the gloom. Both deer were soon stretched to full attention, their camouflage a blending of color within a fortress of willows.
Thick pine provided an additional screen of protection.
The Doe meandered proudly along an ancient trail, followed by her young son, his first set of antlers protruding as short spikes. Ahead lay an open space where once stood tall timber. There was no thought of danger as they absorbed the sweet smell of life. As they stepped along the edge of a clear cutting, an unexpected sound broke the silence.
KABOOM was followed by a rush of air, not unlike that of a darting wasp. Instinct caused the doe to flinch, affecting her survival, and her short snort conveyed a message of extreme danger. Caution was now on the menu.
Her son waited nervously, knowing something ominous had entered their part of the woods.
Fearful images swirled in the doe's brain. She swung her head decisively knocking young one off his feet, and out of sight. Her rough thrusting conveyed a need for her son to lay silent as a garter snake.
Like a ballet dancer, she began long-legged sprints leading danger away from young one. She made a half circle using brush as cover then detoured to familiar well-worn trails. Graceful movements drew hidden pursuers to her escape. Deafening sounds followed mother's flight. Thankfully, she escaped.
Young One lay motionless where he had fallen. His last view of mother was her rising and falling white tail. He saw her as a shadow in the distance, finally disappearing into the safety of the woods.
Quickening activity reached his ears. Crashing and sporadic movements followed in a widening pattern. Not far away branches were moved aside, and snapping noises headed in his direction. Young one pressed tightly against a birch.
Aroused ears listened intently to these sounds uttering a language he did not understand. From his learned wood lore, young One knew it was not the usual activity of a feathery neighbor. Nor was it graceful movements from one of those creatures whose black fur stood out among the greenery.
Yes, these hurried sounds definitely did not belong to any creature he knew. This was a land where the piping of a chickadee brought calm to all who lived in these woods.
Understanding swept across the cowering young deer. Danger continued to approach in the form of an unwelcome scent.
Young One's nose prickled. For the first time in his life, he felt deep-seated fear. Browsing on bark and twigs no longer interested him. Where was his mother? He missed the comfort of her closeness, and her counsel.
Family was important in his upbringing. Yet, an integral part of woodland development included patience and caution. Young one listened intently, unsure of whether to rise to his feet and rapidly pursue his mother's trail.
Finally, he dared to stand and peer around. Noises from earlier intruders had abated, and he set off seeking his mother. On the other side of the field she had marked a trail with her scent. Now he loped happily through the forest and across the next ridge.
During a restful pause he detected new concerns. An acute sense of smell inherited from the genes of his ancestors had matured to a new plateau.
Also, an unfamiliar thudding settled upon the ground, in a pattern of vibrations. There was caution in his sudden stillness, as he sought to pierce the danger. Young One was wary of propulsion advancing in his direction. Further discernment was unnecessary. It was time to move.
Young one stood shakily. The commotion in this section of the forest was ominous. His ears were on full alert, tuned to hear even a falling leaf. Nervous bubbles of air blew through pursed lips.
If only his mother could hear his heart beating a message of panic. His tongue licked moisture from the air, before the sun evaporated the balance of dawn's signature. Young One turned fearfully in the direction his mother took.
During seven months of life his curved hooves, attached to long slender legs, developed strength. Now each carefully placed step positioned itself in a straight line, as he left the protection of his enclave. He brushed noiselessly against a poplar. There were few left in the area, since a beaver colony felled many for a dam.
Young One sensed his destination would be over several more ridges. Surely, succor from mother awaited, along with water and lush grass. His lean body began a slow journey forward as a symphony of mobility. He was determined, through his passage of hope, to flush this developing fear from his brain.
Experienced ears picked up young one's gathering strides. A hungry male coyote drank in young one's 'wild' scent. A vision of freshly prepared venison would be welcome within his family circle. Tensing, the large coyote hunched forward. Not far behind, three shaggy members of the same pack copied his example.
They awaited their leader's signal to attack. Only a short distance separated them from their prey.
Young One came to a full stop, almost afraid to turn. Ears expanded to full attention, instinct detecting numerous intruders, and his eyes, deep pools of black, bulged nervously. Something was coming, a burly coyote rushing swiftly towards his right side.
Instant explosion of movement ignited Young One into a sprint for survival. His body went from camouflage to stillness, then soaring amid a harrowing, narrow escape. Snapping teeth leaped for his flanks. A "Whoosh" of hot breath propelled Young One forward. The chase had now begun.
During the next several kilometers of zigzag movement, meat-hungry coyotes crisscrossed Young One's escaping path. With determination they tried to keep up the pace.
Pausing in moments of wonder, his fleetness surprised them. Tongues lolled, empty bellies ached for a meal. This was a harvest year for the pack and a growing family demanded much food. Except this day was not meant to be victorious for them.
A healthy young son was eager to find his mother. Fear and indecision was left far behind as powerful legs allowed him to run easily. Young One pursued a familiar scent among worn trails leading to forest retreats created by his forefathers. His racing rhythm was meant to cover miles of territory. And he did so without undue hesitation.
Fallen clumps of brush tested his sprinting. Like his mother, Young One's white tail bobbed up and down. "Can't catch me," it teased. He had an appointment to fulfill. And somehow knew it was his destiny to lead a long life. Majestic leaps across a variety of protrusions annoyed his sluggish pursuers.
Short-legged coyotes were unable to successfully pursue this jumping machine. Heavyset bodies low to the ground met resistance from hubris. Further hindrance to their desperate chase was an abundance of prickly raspberry bushes and streams. Tired paws could barely scramble for a toehold in weary scampering up each rocky ridge.
After an hour's chase squinting eyes no longer saw their intended victim. Nor did they care. Young One had simply disappeared from their desires. And they were glad.
Blanketing shadows ended dusk's last sunny fling. Maturing eyes accepted the peace of darkening sky. Indeed, Young One was no longer afraid, having passed his bravery test through survival.
Marauding coyotes had been left far behind, in a mirage of trails. In headlong flight, Young One traveled speeds up to 40 mph, resting often to listen for his dogged pursuers. Instinct and perseverance had brought him to this destination place.
The shelter of safe sanctuary saluted him with a welcoming smile. He sniffed the air carefully, seeking one familiar scent. There. Its essence saturated Young One. A son moved forward in strength and love. Mother was calling. Oh, what tales they would share as they gathered in the coolness of this evening.
Young One stepped forward.
The forest now transformed itself into a garland of peace, surrounding this special place, where tasteful twigs, and a rug of accumulated leaves awaited. Stars above, as an approving myriad of eyes, gathered proudly in honor of his bravery.
Reunited as a family, Young One and his mother completed their journey, dancing in the shadows.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2006
Richard enjoys writing poems; many of which have been published in Print and Online. He and his wife, Esther are also co-authors of stories and a print novel. They are "born again" Christians and very busy in their church, Abundant Life Victory International, in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.
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