He reaches the gate and draws back into the woods . . .


He fixes on the red hues that kindle the horizon. Sounds below steal his attention. It is too dark to see.

The painted canines pulled off the rocks onto the savannah some time ago to the dreadful place they den in: a place full of the parts of mangled men. Dangerous animals. The Gatherers are not safe on the trail in the evenings when they return in winter. They come in the night with a taste for human flesh given them by the tribe who to the person now look to him for the deity he took. They used to say those animals took the sacrifices to Ashirah.

The noise continues below, clattering on the rocks in the gloom. Only a few of the Gatherers and a Warrior notice him as he slips off the platform. To them he holds out his hand in a sign to stay behind and takes to the trail and descends below the precipice. At the vine, he looks to his palms where two fat scars lie in the groove Marnea uses to decide a Gatherer’s life.

Turning off the trail he reaches the rocks and pauses as he scans the dimness for signs the dogs linger. Finding naught he picks his way over the jagged stones. The sound takes up again. He follows it until he hears growling below him, between rocks. There he finds an orange and black ball drawing away into the scree. He reaches his hand to pick it up. It bites him, drawing blood, but he grabs it by the scruff like it’s mother and pulls it up to the level of his eyes.