Author’s Note: This is a story that I wrote a couple years ago, based on a popular 80s song and just haven’t found a home for. It did get some good personalized comments from a few publishers, but alas, no sale. At this point, I don’t think I have the time to invest in continuing to revise and submit.
by JM Williams
The silence of the northern Alaskan forest is broken by the rolling thunder of gun shots. The cold air burns my lungs as I run, as fast as I have ever done before.
I’ve run too far, put too many trees between myself and the poachers for their weapons to reach me. But I don’t know if I can maintain this lead. My legs are already struggling through the snow.
I trudge on from tree to tree, trying my best not to get tripped up by some unknown hazard hiding under the snow. A simple stone or jutting root could be the end of me. My legs sink into white pack up to my shins, leaving an obvious trail that would be hard for anyone to miss, let alone trained hunters. The night is full, but instead of darkness, the bright glow of the aurora borealis covers the trail like street lamps. It provides all the light they need to track me. They are going to catch me.
I never expected to be championed for my work. Conservation is its own reward, and a necessary sacrifice. I followed these men, tourists by the look of them, on their expensive expedition. They came to hunt our endangered bears for sport, waiting in ambush just as the creatures woke from hibernation. I watched them prepare for their bloody act. The clank of their rifle bolts as the bullets were fed was the louder than any creature in the forest. They were crouched in the snow—three of them—waiting at the mouth of a cave for their targets to appear, oblivious to anything else around them.
I sounded the alarm, until my throat ached from the exertion, to warn all the creatures around of the imminent danger. The men were thrown into fits by the surprise. I had expected anger, even threats, but not for those men to turn their weapons on me.
A spark in the dim green haze. Another shot echoes off the trees. This time it hits its mark. My vision flashes red and white. Hot, searing pain. I feel it push through my body. Snow on my face, bitter cold. My ears ringing. I put a hand to my belly. Wetness leaking out. A chunk of flesh missing.
Is this the end?
I hear shouting. My inner voice shouts, too. Get up!
I struggle to my feet and try to run, but all I can manage is an awkward hobble. Behind me, a trail of red cuts across the pristine white of the forest floor. I feel dizzy.
Up ahead I see a light, floating in a dense formation of trees. Maybe another hunter? Or better, a conservationist like myself? They will protect me. Won’t they? I drag myself towards the glow.
Passing around a thick patch of trees, I see a figure in a small clearing. But it is not the form I expected. No hiking pack, nor heavy coat. The figure appears distinctly feminine, her ethereal dress billowing in the cold night wind.
I fall to my knees. I’ve lost too much blood. My legs can’t support my weight. I hear the jeers of the poachers getting closer.
I look up at the illusory figure. My eyes struggle to focus. Is she real, or just a mirage, brought on by my fatigue? She has auburn hair and a soft smile. Shifting shades of green and amber twirl in her eyes. Eyes that are almost hypnotizing.
I hear the crunch of my pursuers steps clearly now. They are only feet away. I imagine they are readying their weapons, preparing to end me, but I cannot turn my eyes away from the strange woman.
Light lances out from her hand. I hear screams of terror and pain, the shuffling of feet and the stumbling of bodies behind me. I fall onto my back, no longer able to keep myself upright. I see the poachers fleeing in scattered horror.
She leans over me and I see her face, or what should be a face but isn’t. There’s only a shifting landscape of colors where her face should be.
“Aurora…” I say.
“You are safe now, Shepherd,” she says, her voice divine.
I feel the pain of my wound fading. My body warming.
“What did you do to them?” I ask.
“I gave them back all the pain they have inflicted on my children.”
“Shepherd?” I ask.
“You have protected my children for a long time, have burdened yourself with their safety. What are you, if not a shepherd?”
“How do you…?”
“I have been watching you.” Her colors smile. It is the most pleasant thing I have ever seen. “Your efforts are not in vain, Shepherd.”
I reach out a hand to touch her face, as the world fades from view.
I wake the next morning outside my cabin. Except for vivid memories, I have no evidence of my extraordinary experience. Just memories. Can they be real?
Rolling over in bed, a sharp pain crawls across my stomach. I reach a hand down and feel the unmistakable shape of a bullet scar.
So can you guess what song this story is based on? Thanks for reading!
On a side note, I am still waiting to get the pictures from my recent library event. I will share those as soon as I have them.