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  The Last Sabre                       Purchase Now

Book 3 of the Sabre-Toothed Cat Trilogy - Sample

 

Chapter 5

The Last Sabre by James Paddock

May 1, 2009 – Friday

Mom’s car is a Buick and a gas guzzler. I wanted to ask Dad if I could sell it and get a hybrid. I looked into it and figured that if I was lucky I’d have to shell out $12,000. No thank you. Didn’t really want to talk to Dad anyway. I’d drive the Buick gas guzzler as little as possible. It ended up not being a problem seeing as it was buried under snow from early December until barely over a month ago. I didn’t know what to expect when I went out to start it on April Fools Day. It actually started. If Mom is watching I’m sure she is not happy with me about her car. She always kept it in the garage and got it washed regularly. That was the first thing I did. I took it and got it washed. I couldn’t believe how much that cost.

With the car packed there is barely enough room for the two of us to get in. “Where did all this stuff come from?” Mandi asks.

“I don’t know. I came with hardly anything.”

“Me too. And I certainly couldn’t afford to buy much.”

“Neither could I.” We both look over our shoulders at the back seat and shrug. “Whatever. Let’s go.” I start the car. “How about we spend the afternoon poking around the trails and then come back for an end of school celebration at a cool restaurant?” Mandi agrees and we head out, stopping only once for a supply of energy bars and to fill our hydrators.

Hyalite Canyon is a beautiful drive south of Bozeman in the Gallatin Mountain Range. It encompasses a number of camping and fishing areas, lots of hiking trails, and Hyalite Reservoir. The trailhead to Grotto Falls is above the reservoir, about a twenty mile drive from campus, most of it on gravel and dirt road. The only other time we’ve been here was on a field trip with the Physical Geography class in the middle of April.

The drive up is traffic-free, and the parking lot is empty. Fine with me. I’d prefer we hiked without running into anyone. We hiked up to the big M a couple of weeks ago and it was like we needed a traffic cop.

Mandi visits the outhouse, and I pull out my backpack. It’s not the one that carries my laptop, but a daypack with a hydrator. I put the energy bars in a convenient pocket, slip the pack on and maneuver the hydrator tube into place. The cold water tastes good. Mandi returns and puts on her daypack.

“I’m glad you suggested this,” she says. “This feels real good.

“Yeah. Me too.”

We head out at a brisk pace. My breathing quickly settles into a rhythm. It feels wonderful.

 

In twenty minutes we’re standing below Grotto Falls. I have a nice layer of sweat worked up under my sweatshirt. We explore for a while until I start getting a chill. I need to get moving again. Besides, I wanted a long hike, not a stroll. “Let’s keep going,” I say.

Mandi says, “I read that there are more falls on the way to Hyalite Lake. It’s like four miles farther up the trail. You want to do that?”

“Sure!” That’s the Mandi I know. We cut back to the main trail and start heading up, literally. What before was a gentle climb to Grotto, is now rather serious. Thirty minutes into it, and after numerous breathtaking falls and rapids, my legs are burning and I’m sucking for air. I remember the hike with Matt a year ago when I was trying to prove something; I got sick and threw up. Altitude sickness he had told me. “I need to slow a little,” I say. “This is killing me.”

Mandi bends over at the waist. “Killing you! Why are you setting such a fast pace? We in a race?”

“I didn’t set the pace. You did.”

“No, I didn’t. You did!”

“No, you did!”

“No, you did!”

We both drop our backpacks and fall on the ground laughing. We lie there for a while, getting cold, and then Mandi says, “You never answered my question.”

“What question? If we don’t get moving again I’m going to freeze to death.” We get up and start walking.

“When you came into my room and stopped me from . . .”

“From pulling the trigger.”

“Yeah. You never told me how you knew. I heard you screaming from clean down the hall, and my door was closed. How did you know what I was going to do?”

We walk for a long time, breathing easy now. I don’t want to answer her, but I know she’ll pursue it. She’ll bug me until I tell her something. “You’re wrong. I did tell you.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I told you I was psychic.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Can you think of any other way I would have known?”

We cross over a bridge and come to a sign that says, Silken Skein Falls. We turn left toward the sound. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“I’m psychic. I saved your life. Can we leave it at that?” I move away from her to get closer to the raging water. That and the roar eliminate further conversation. Silken Skein is the perfect pair of words for this waterfall. I kick myself for the umpteenth time for leaving my new camera in the car. I squat down and try to think of what more I’m going to tell Mandi. She’s not going to let it go. What’s wrong with just, ‘I’m psychic’? I stand and we reverse back to the main trail. For the next few minutes nothing more is said. Good. Maybe that’s the end of it.

I’m in love with this trail, the falls, and the constant rush of the Hyalite Creek down the canyon, until suddenly we start seeing patches of snow, and then a few minutes later it is everywhere. “This is Spring!” I scream to the sky. “Isn’t all the snow supposed to be gone?”

“We’re in the mountains, my dear,” Mandi says. “There are some places where the snow never goes away. I’m surprised we got this far, actually.”

We’re not going any farther. We stand and look up the trail and at the water blasting down the mountain. “What is Snow Science,” I ask, “and what the heck are you going to do with it?”

“Avalanche planning; snow run off, like hydrology; water resource planning; the effect of snow on plants and animals, spatial distribution, weight distribution. There’s a lot more but I don’t know enough about it yet. All kinds of engineering, biology, and geographic stuff.”

“Really!”

“Yep. Don’t know what I’m going to do with it, or with anything for that matter.”

I analyze small animal tracks in the snow and wonder what the animal is. “I know I want to be a paleontologist. I just don’t want to wait three more years for the degree.”

“Or more if you end up doing graduate study. Have you gotten into the Museum of the Rockies?”

“Yeah. You and I went together. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah.”

We both take pulls on our hydrators and then start back down the trail.

“What kind of psychic?” Mandi suddenly asks. “I mean how did you know? Did you have a feeling or something? Did you get a picture? What?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Mandi stops. “Why?” I keep walking. “Rebecca!” That stops me. I turn around. “You know everything there is to know about me,” she says. “You’re my best friend, like my sister, but you won’t let me in.”

“I can’t tell you,” I say again and turn down the trail.

“Rebecca!” I keep walking. I won’t tell her, simple as that. She’ll get angry, but she’ll get over it. “Reba,” she pleads. There are fast footfalls and she runs past me, slides to a stop and turns to face me. “Why? Just give me a good reason.”

Damn it! She’s going to cry.

“Just any stupid reason. I don’t care. I just need one and I’ll let it go.”

“No you won’t.”

“Yes, I will.”

I make a face at her.

“Pug-nozzle!”

I stop making the face. Pug-nozzle is one of her fancy words. It’s not in my computer dictionary. She says it means making a face like a pug dog. I think she made it up. “No you won’t.”

“Well, maybe not. But you can get me off your back for right now.”

I look up at the treetops and empty my lungs of air. “Fine! Here’s an excuse, and this is the truth.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t want to lose you.”

“Oh!”

I start to walk past. She stops me. “Wait! That’s not fair.”

“Sorry.” I continue on.

“I promise. We’ll always be friends. I promise.”

I keep on going. I will not . . . I will not tell her. For several seconds she says nothing, following behind about twenty feet. I will not tell her.

“Reba!”

I’m not stopping this time.

“Reba!”

The tone in her voice has changed. There is an edge of fear. I turn around. She is off the edge of the trail looking down at something in a patch of snow.

“Come here!”

Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with our argument. I rush back to her. “What?”

She points down. In the snow are several perfect tracks of a cat; a very large cat. “I’ve seen cat tracks before,” she says. “I’ve never seen any this big.” She’s suddenly super alert, looking all around. “Jesus, Reba! We’ve got to get out of here.”

I bend down and touch one of the tracks. A flash of a sabre-toothed face flashes across my inner eye. I catch my breath. Could it be? Could they have come here, three hundred miles?

“Reba?”

Why? Why would they come here?

Mandi grabs my arm and pulls me to my feet. “Reba! We’ve got to get out of here!”

They were safer there; more wilderness to hide in. How could they travel that distance without being seen?

Mandi starts rushing down the trail.

At night, of course. They’d travel at night and find a place to layup during the day. Probably took cattle to feed on. How many are there left?

“Rebecca!”

There were seven a year ago. Nadia was with kitten, so there are now as many as eight, or more depending on how many kittens were born. Would they all have migrated? They stay together. They survive together as a family. Of course they’d travel together. But why come here? There was plenty of game there. They’ve already survived there nine years.

“Damn it, Reba! Come on.”

Are they here because of me? I look down at Mandi. “Holy shit to hell!”

“What?”

I don’t know what else to say, what to do. My God! “Yeah. Let’s go.” Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is a huge mountain lion and we really are in big danger. I catch up to Mandi and we start running down the trail, slipping and sliding in places. I’m looking everywhere, trying to get a glimpse of one of them, or of the mountain lion if that is what it is. We pass the sign to Silken Skein Falls. All the snow is behind us now. We clamor across a bridge that crosses over the creek that comes from the falls and I stop and look behind us. If it’s them and they have come because of me, why hasn’t one of them shown it’s self? Where are they?

“Reba!” Mandi suddenly screams.

I whip around, but I don’t see her.

“Reba! Reba! Oh God!”

She is around a bend, just beyond a stand of trees and bushes. I take off. She is screaming without words. I turn the bend and almost run right over her. She is trying to scramble back on her hands and butt. Twenty-five feet down the trail is a huge cat.

“It’s okay,” I say, considerably relieved. It is not a mountain lion. It is a Smilodon, just as I feared; not fear for us but for them. They are much too close to civilization here to survive. They’ll be found out. “It’s okay,” I say again to Mandi and step forward putting myself between the cat and her. I reach into the hidden chambers of my mind and pull up the talent I stuffed away nearly a year ago.

My mind touches that of the sabre-toothed cat. He dips his head, his long sabre teeth nearly touch the ground. It is Roma. We were the closest. He helped me drag Matt out on the stretcher. We sort of bonded. I walk up closer.

“Reba!”

I turn and look at Mandi. She has backed into a stand of bushes. I smile at her. “Everything is okay,” I say. “They won’t hurt you.”

“They?” Her voice is shaky, raspy.

“I don’t see them, but I’m sure there are more nearby. Maybe all of them.”

“All?”

I turn my back to her and walk up to Roma. I think about when I saw my first sabre-toothed cat while rushing down the trail with Matt. Suddenly, just like now, there he was. I think I peed my pants. This time, though, I walk up and place my hand on his head. “Hi, Roma,” I say softly. He pushes against me, like a domestic cat would rub against your leg. I stumble back and laugh. “Easy big guy.”

Mandi is still on her butt, but she has stopped babbling. Her mouth is hanging open. She looks white. “Are you all right?” I ask.

She looks side to side and then back at me.

“This is Roma. He is my friend. He will not hurt us. None of them will. I won’t let them.”

“H . . . h . . . how?”

“You’re not looking good. Put your head between your knees. Everything will be fine.”

She doesn’t move. Her eyes are as big as saucers.

“Mandi!” Her eyes leave Roma and go to me. “Do as I say. Put your head between your knees before you pass out . . . now!”

She does what I say. I walk up closer to her, bringing Roma with me. “Keep your head down. Don’t bring it up until I tell you. Are you feeling better?”

She gives me a nod.

“Okay. What we are going to do is convince you that you are not in danger. My friends are your friends. Do you understand that?”

She nods again.

“That means that this sabre-toothed cat is your friend. That means he will not hurt you. That also means he will protect you. You have absolutely no reason to fear him or any of his family. Do you understand that?”

She shakes her head.

“You’re going to have to believe it anyway.”

She nods her head.

“Raise your head.”

Her head comes up and her eyes are still huge, but her color is beginning to return. I’ve made Roma settle down five feet from her. She doesn’t look convinced.

“Come closer.” She gives me the, are you crazy? look. I hold my hand out to her. Long seconds tick by before she raises her arm and accepts my hand. I give her a pull and she comes forward to her knees. Roma turns his massive head toward her and she nearly falls over backwards. I hold on to her. She settles. “Roma. This is Mandi. She is my friend.” I don’t know if I’m sending all the right pictures to him, but I figure my action is enough. He appears to have already accepted her.

I place Mandi’s hand on his shoulder. She doesn’t resist. “Friends,” I say. “Friends.”

“Wow!” Mandi says with a whisper as though to say anything louder would startle the huge cat into biting off her arm.

There are others close. I can feel them. I stand and look around. I call to them. Roma makes a hissing noise as though to pass the word that to come is safe. Mandi jumps to her feet and grabs my hand again. “What’s happening?” she stammers.

“The others are coming.”

“Others? How many?”

“Don’t know. There were seven. There may be a few more now. Some may have died.”

“Died?”

“Getting old.” And then I see them. I point. “There they are.”

I can’t believe how happy I am to see them; long lost friends. Mandi is trembling. I can’t blame her. I feel only joy. I let loose of her and point. “There are Yulya and Gosha.” I look to the trees; up and down the trail. “I wonder where the others are. Nadia was about to give birth when I last saw her.”

Nadia! I call with my mind. I feel nothing, sense nothing. Tricia! “Tricia was the oldest. Maybe she didn’t make it through the winter.” I feel nothing. “Maybe they’re far away, in a cave somewhere, holding up with the kittens. They’d be no more than ten months old. I need to find them.”

Mandi grabs my hand again. “Why?”

“I have to know. I’m kind of . . . responsible for them.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll tell you later. I’ll tell you everything later, even how I knew you were going to kill yourself. Come on.” Not much choice now. She knows this. She might as well know about all my weirdness. I can only pray I don’t lose my best friend again. I pull her with me and we head off trail, toward the area where they all came from. Gosha moves ahead as though leading us. They know where I want to go.

The lead shifts between Gosha and Yulya; Roma remains directly behind us.

We’re going up, steep at times, hit the snow line again and keep on going. We’re not dressed for snow, but neither of us thinks about that. Thirty minutes later we’re both breathing hard, soaking wet from the knees down, even though the cats have made a trail for us. We level out into a thick forest, so thick that there is little snow to tramp through. And it is quiet.

“Wow,” Mandi says.

Dead quiet.

We keep on until suddenly there are rocks, and then a towering barrier of a mountain. We stop. Roma passes by us and slips between a group of trees and the barrier, and disappears. The other two lay down. I grab Mandi’s hand. “Come on.”

“Where?”

“In there. They’ve got a den.” Reluctantly, she goes with me.

It is nothing more than a hollowed out area in the side of the mountain, surrounded and protected by a huge thick stand of old growth trees. It could hardly even be called a cave. But it is shelter. Still blinded by the light of the outdoors, I can’t see anything, though I know others are in here. I can feel them, and then I can make out their shapes. “Get out your light stick,” I tell Mandi.

We each carry a couple of light sticks in our daypacks. We pull the packs off and dig about until we have two sticks glowing. Mandi catches her breath. I step forward and kneel down in front of Tricia. She is old. Even in the colored light the gray of her muzzle is evident. She is thin. “How are you old girl?” I touch her head and reach into her mind. She is tired and weak; she is sick. “She’s dying.”

“Dying?” Mandi says.

“Yes. The journey from the Flathead, through the Bob Marshal and across open country all the way to here was too much for her.” I stroke her forehead. “Why did you come? I wish you could tell me.”

Nadia eyes me wearily. Her kittens are backed up to the wall behind her. They don’t know me, don’t trust me. Nadia doesn’t fully trust me either. “Don’t get near the kittens,” I say.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Mandi stutters. “This is cool and everything, but I think we need to get back to your car.” She’s cold. I suddenly realize that I am too.

“What do I do about them?” I don’t expect an answer. I say it because it suddenly occurs to me that maybe I should be doing something.

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. What do I do?”

“What’s makes you think you have to do something?”

I give Tricia a final pat and stand up. “Remember when I told you I was afraid I would lose you as a friend?”

“Yes.”

“And you promised that that wouldn’t happen.”

“Yes.”

“Well, here’s the test.” I put my arms straight out from my sides; the light stick dangles from my fingers. “I am their leader. I am their queen. I was passed the reigns from Samantha Sikorski just before she and my mother died. And if you believe me and still remain my friend then you are as crazy and weird as I am. I knew you were going to kill yourself because I’m a blooming psychic. I saw it happen before it happened. I saw your brains spattered against your wall. That’s what I am. I can foresee death, actually see it happen just before it actually does happen so that it then is upon me to try and stop it. I watched my mother die just before it actually happened, and then I watched her blow to pieces because I could not stop it.”

She stares at me with her mouth hanging open.

“And if that is not enough, wait until you get a load of this.” If I’m going to spill it I might as well break the lid off the jug and dump the entire thing at her feet. I look her straight in the eyes and without moving my mouth, without uttering a sound, I say, “I can do mental telepathy. Not only can I talk to you like this, but I can also talk to these cats like this.

“That’s it. I’m done. You can run away screaming now.”

I’m not sure Mandi is breathing. She’s a statue, one hand holding her light stick. The orange light makes a sickly glow on her skin. I drop my arms. “Well?”

She closes her mouth. “Where am I going to run to? You’ve got the keys and it’s a long walk back to town.”

“Oh.”

She turns around and walks out. Was she joking? She’s going to stick with me until we get back to Hapner Hall, and then that’s it? I’ll never see her again? So much for friends. Roma steps up next to me and looks after her as if he is as puzzled as I am as to what she is thinking. I could reach in and find out. Yeah, right! If she isn’t running now, she would be then.

I look at Roma, this huge animal who on all fours can nearly look me in the eye. “Why are you guys here?” I ask. “Why am I here? Where are the others?” He can’t tell me and it does no good to ask. Do they know they’re dying away and think I can do something to save their species? Did they come here only because they sensed my presence in this part of the country and knew nothing more than to come to me? What if I’d never come up here hiking? Would they have come wandering into town, settling themselves down on my front porch, maybe picking up a passing college student for lunch?

That raises another question. What have they been eating? I haven’t heard any news about missing people, or cattle for that matter, but then how much attention do I pay to the news? Each one of these guys requires a lot of protein, a lot of meat. Maybe there have been strange animal sightings. How could they have crossed the center of Montana without being spotted?

I call to the other two waiting outside. In a few seconds seven sabre-toothed cats are in the shelter, crowding me toward the entrance. I mentally reach out to them and give them pictures of people, portray them as bad, to stay away. I form a picture of Mandi and say that she is good. I make pictures of cars and trucks, helicopters and planes. All bad I tell them. Like I did a year ago I make pictures of all kinds of game—elk, deer, moose, whatever—and make them fine to kill. I bring up cow, horse, dog, sheep, and make them bad to kill. “Stay in the mountains, deep in the mountains,” I tell them. “I’ve got to go. Do not follow me.”

I back out. Roma follows. “No! What do you want?” He looks at me with expectation, or what seems to be expectation, like I should know something.

Mandi is pacing back and forth, rubbing her arms. “Let’s go,” I say. Without a word we head out of the old forest, into the deeper snow, and back down the mountain. We reach the trail together. I look back up through the trees, expecting to see a huge set of eyes and sabre teeth. There are only trees. Roma is not in sight. Mandi doesn’t wait for me. She moves fast down the trail without looking back.

“What do I do now?” I ask the silence, getting only silence in return.

 

I barely have the car in the lot at Hapner Hall and Mandi is out. She never said a word during the entire drive back. I let the car idle; the hot air blows around my soaked feet and legs. Mandi disappears into the building. The back side of my eyes begins to burn, and tears roll down my face.

“Why did they have to come here? Shit to hell! Why did I have to come here?”

I pound on the steering wheel. “WHY? . . . WHY? . . . WHY?”

 

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