Chapter 25

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By ten that morning Sarah and Jason had already hiked a few miles into the woods, following a small game trail they found branching off one of the secondary hiking trails leading to Mt. Chocorua.  Sarah insisted they branch off the hiking trail as soon as she saw a break in the underbrush that the footsteps of countless animals had formed over the years, much to Jason’s dismay. All he wanted to do was get the week over with, letting Sarah get whatever pictures she wanted before getting back to Boston as soon as possible. He loved camping with her, but this was something different entirely. The truth was he had hoped to never set foot in these woods again.

After a few hours of hiking along the tiny and winding path they found a small clearing next to a stream that looked like as good a place as any to setup camp for the week. Jason busied himself putting the tent together and setting up the fire pit while Sarah slung her rifle over her shoulder and took off along the trail; her cameras set to go and packed away in her backpack. She had already set two of them out not far from the camp as they made their way into the woods, and meant to set the rest up in a large circle around the camp. She was determined to stay out here until she got what she wanted, even if it took more than the week Jason was hoping to get out of here by. She felt guilty about bringing him back out here, she knew he wanted nothing to do with the wolves again, but she felt like she had to make sure people knew what was out there, and make sure somebody was trying to do something about it. She truly felt like she would be responsible if someone was to get killed by the wolves she saw and she had done nothing to stop it.

A sound of snapping branches just off the trail made her jump; she quickly swung the rifle off her back and pressed it to her shoulder, swinging it back and forth looking for the source of the sound. Another branched snapped just ahead of where she stood, letting out an unintentional yell she swung around and pointed the rifle at the sound, finger already starting to put pressure on the trigger. A doe and two fawns jumped lightly out of the bushes and onto the trail. The doe gave Sarah no more than a casual glace before stepping lightly off the trail, her two fawns following close behind. Cursing at herself, she took her finger off the trigger and slung the rifle back over her shoulder. If her father had been alive he would have yelled at her for being so careless with it. “Never point a gun unless you know what you’re shooting at and beyond, and keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve clearly identified your target.” The words her father had drilled into her head countless times rang through her and sent a wave of guilt through her gut. “Sorry dad,” She muttered to herself, then adjusted the heavy bag of cameras and made her way down the path.

About ten minutes after the deer the smell of decay blew in, filling her nose strong enough to make her choke, she knew that whatever it was couldn’t be too far off the path. Closing her eyes she forced herself to breathe deeply, turning her head back and forth until she found the direction of the smell. A light breeze blew another strong wave of the pungent odor to her, holding in a gag she turned her body towards it and opened her eyes. There was no trail leading off the path, but the underbrush was light enough, and she didn’t think it would be too much trouble to push through.

Stepping off the path, she forced her way through some shoulder high brush, carefully avoiding a hanging wasp nest. After about fifty feet the forest opened up into a small field with a tiny babbling brook. It didn’t take long to find the source of the smell, just off to one side of the field a dead black bear lay half scavenged and covered with flies. Rifle back in hand, she slowly walked over to the body and bent down. The ground around the animal was too hard for any tracks, but like the moose that still haunted her dreams, the bear looked like something had torn the limbs off its body. She quickly took out her small digital camera and snapped a few pictures, getting as close to the bear as her stomach would allow. Wiping sweat off her brow Sarah looking around the edges of the field, seeking a good spot to setup her cameras. There were a few trees near the brook that would hold her trail cameras and still be in plain view of the carcass, but with enough low brush around them so it wouldn’t be in plain view. “Perfect,” she whispered to herself.

Dropping her backpack with a relieved groan Sarah pulled out a camera and made her way to what looked to her like the best of the spots and attached the trail camera to the tree, stopping long enough before walking away to make sure everything was working and turned on. Smiling to herself she stepped behind the tree and peeked around to make sure the camera would have enough view of the field to spot anything that came to finish eating the bear. Satisfied, she walked back and grabbed two more cameras from her bag, repeating the same process on two other sides of the field until she felt satisfied that she wouldn’t miss anything that came anywhere near the carcass.

Satisfied with her work Sarah pushed her way back to the trail and started making her way back to camp, every now and then stopping to put another camera up along the side of the path. After about half an hour of walking she made it back, Jason had finished getting the tent set up and was busy making a late breakfast over the small fire he had managed to get going. The smell of eggs and bacon made Sarah’s mouth water, she tossed the now empty pack next to the tent and sat down on a log next to him, letting out a tired sigh.

“Any luck” he asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” she said, sticking a piece of bacon greedily into her mouth, “look at what I found out there.” She pulled the camera out of her pocket and slid closer to him, leaning over so he could look at the little screen on the back. Shading it from the sun with her hand she pulled up the pictures she had taken of the bear. “I think they’re around,” she said between bites of bacon she was stealing off Jason’s plate, “hopefully they’ll be back to finish eating what’s left.” She looked over at him and grinned at the look on his face.

Looking at the pictures of the bear, Jason felt his appetite leave, he shot Sarah a look and sat the rest of his food onto her lap. “You could have shown that to me after I ate.” He said, nudging her with his elbow. He pushed the camera away from his line of sight, his stomach giving a small lurch as he caught a glimpse the picture on the screen again.

“Sorry about that,” she said laughing. She stuffed the camera back into her pocket and sat back looking around, stuffing some more food into her mouth, Jason could be such a wimp sometimes. She glanced up at the bright blue sky and back to Jason, a mischievous smile on her face. “You know, it’s pretty hot, and that stream looks awful nice…” She put the plate on the log beside herself and stood up, brushing the back of his neck with her fingers as she stepped away and started making her way over to the stream. Jason sat back and watched her head off, smiling at the wink Sarah gave him over her shoulder.

“We didn’t bring our suits…” he started to say, then grinned himself when she took her shirt off and threw it in his lap.

“I don’t see anyone else here, do you” she called back, shedding clothes as she walked.

He jumped up and ran after her, his spirits suddenly lifted as all thoughts of the bear left his mind. Neither noticed the large white animal hidden in the thickets behind them. Its bright eyes watched the couple running towards the stream laughing for a few more seconds before turning and running off silently into the woods. 

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