Hold and Presage

By Ashes-Onik

"Shit." A woman sat up in the middle of a blackened forest clearing. The smoldering remains of a campsite greeted her as her eyes opened once more. Her tent, the moss on the ground, the trees around, sundered, charred and split around her in utter ruin. The radius of the damage spreads to the edge of the clearing and stops at the treeline, and the epicenter lay just below her. Having taken in the sight, the woman brought her hands to her face, then her chest, patting herself down and looking over herself to check her body for wounds or pain. None make themselves known; she appeared to be in good health. This is equally shocking to the woman, considering what happened last night. A freak gale had whipped across the forest despite the weather channel's predictions of a clear night sky. Peaceful stargazing had gone out the window in a hurry, and in want of a safer position, the woman had hurried away from the trees adjacent to her tent. She remembered adrenaline-fueled visions of the moon overhead, clouds rushing across the area, and a bright, burning light. 'Welcome to International Falls,' the sign had read yesterday; it really drove this current experience home. I was a good thing she'd taken a picture of it to ruefully immortalize all this.

Being stuck by lightning often does significant damage to a person, but not this one, if she were even struck in the first place. The site suggested that she was indeed struck in contrast to the tale her body tells. Further vulgar words attempted to make themselves known to the surrounding woodland, but none would come. No just words could describe the heart-pounding site before her. In the overcast light of morning, the woman climbed to her feet and brought her hands to cover her forehead in disbelief. A devastated sigh parts her lips in lieu of words. This is the power of nature, alright. She felt she had spent too long in stunned awe. In an effort to process the events of last night, she began to look through her things to see what had survived. The backpack tucked inside the tent, as well as her pillow and sleeping bag, had survived far better than their shelter had. That's far from the worst outcome in her mind - shelters can be erected in the wilderness from nearby materials, and her car is less than a mile away. If she followed the trail West running parallel to the creek, it would lead her right back to the parking lot. It was a cheap tent, anyway. On the other hand, her cookware hadn't fared as well, leaving behind only a twisted gnarl of melted metal. The woman sarcastically surmised that this is what one gets for eating unseasoned beans during a camping trip; she must have offended whatever cooking gods had been watching. At least her clothes appeared to have survived. Denim jeans, a black tank top, a flannel button-up shirt, black work boots, glasses and a loose-fitting Black Sabbath hoodie, all intact. Even better, all of the brown hair that tumbled over her shoulders was intact as well.

Another thought occurred to the woman. "Oh," she muttered with her hand dipped into her jacket pocket in that smoky voice she was known for. Her phone is procured, still within its case, and with a held press of the power button... nothing happened. That figures, doesn't it? Hopefully it had survived the lightning strike in a similar manner in which her clothes had; there was no telling until she could get back to her car to charge it. A mental note was made to return to the campsite to take pictures of the area. Imagine the story she could tell - 'I was struck by lightning and survived.' Wracked with a feeling of surreality, the woman reached into her other jacket pocket to retrieve a cigarette from the still-sealed pack of American Spirits she'd brought with her. This maneuver was managed with some fancy hand-work; a bassist has their ways. The strike of her windproof lighter had no issue lighting the cigarette. With a click of its top, the lighter was stowed back in its usual place as the woman inhaled and took stock of her current situation. Things could be far worse.

Speak of the devil and he doth appear; a small rustling sound caught the woman's attention, and her head whipped around to examine the source. All she could see was the darkened interior of the forest, shrouded by arboreal cover and aided by the thick clouds of the morning. A tickle crept up the back of the woman's neck: the feeling of being watched. "I can hear you in there," she called out to the treeline. The dark began about 30 feet from her in all directions; if someone tried anything, she would have time to react. "Who's that?"

What the woman next beheld would cause enormous regret of asking that question. One by one, from the shadows, pairs of reflective yellow eyes opened and rose feet above their initial positions. An exhale of smoke didn't provide its usual calm in the face of this harrowing visage. Breath caught in the woman's chest as the owners of the eyes stepped forward into the clearing to reveal themselves. Tall lupine creatures with a humanoid build, nearly a dozen, nearly encircled the woman. They kept their distance, however, not having ventured into the creek behind her. The creatures featured different patterns and colors of fur, though the one directly in front of her was adorned in odd markings reminiscent of tattoos. She didn't have time to question this aloud in her freeze, however, before this creature spoke back to her. "We watch this land, and you're not supposed to be here," came the creature's response in a feminine voice. "Who are you?"

Grace wondered how she could have possibly found herself staring down wolf people in the middle of a Minnesotan forest. "Shit."


© 2022 Ashes-Onik