It was a warm day, and sweat ran down the small of my back as I walked the familiar game trail. I crinkled my nose and smelled my own armpits. Admittedly, I have not been as good about bathing since my parents were taken, but I wasn’t sure if the smell was me or the bag of dead rabbits I was carrying. I was really good at laying traps and usually came home with a full load. The last time out, I carried home so many I had enough to smoke and store three rabbits for the winter. It was easy to catch rabbits now, but I would need enough food to make it through the winter when there would be no vegetables from the garden and game would become scarce. Any animals I would catch then would be leaner with less meat on their bones. I didn’t think I would have too much of a problem though, since game was always plentiful and I seemed to have a gift for trapping. I don’t know why, but I seemed to know where the animals would go. My dad said it was uncanny how I could trap. He use to hunt deer and an occasional boar, but at 12 years old I knew I couldn’t pull his bow or hold the boar spear. I wasn’t a large boy, so I focused instead on what I could do: pull carrots and trap small game. Some days I would go down to the creek and fish, but I really didn’t like the taste of fish. Since no one made me eat it any more, I didn’t do it often.
As I walked along the trail, I stared down at my boots and I thought about what my mother would say about my appearance. My big toe stuck out of the top of my right boot and the sock had given out before the boot. I grinned to myself as I thought about my mother chastising me for my dirty toenails and my long hair. She would put her hands on her hips or point a finger at me and say, “Wesslayn Grace, just because we live in the woods now, doesn’t mean we live like animals!” I knew my mother was mad when she called me by my full name. Everyone else called me Wess. I hated it, as I knew it meant I was likely to be punished for something I had done, but now I missed it and would give anything to hear her call me by my full name.
I had done a good job keeping the cabin repaired, chopping wood, and keeping up with the garden, but I naturally leaned towards the work my father use to do. Staring at the hole in my boot, I knew I was going to have to learn how to do something or I was going to have a really miserable winter. My feet were growing and my pants were a bit short as well. The idea of me trying to sew my own pants out of dead rabbit fur had me giggling to myself as I came to my last trap. I stared down at it more than a little confused. The bait was gone, and the trap had been destroyed.
As I tried to puzzle out what had happened, I noticed that there were strange footprints all around the area. I crouched down next to one to study it closer. The track was about the size of my foot, but there were three toes that each ended in a point. My stomach sank; I had seen these tracks before. They were all around our cabin the day my parents disappeared. As I crouched there, I thought back to that day. I had come home from trading with the Millen’s farm. The Millen’s live about a half day’s walk to the west of our cabin, so when I go to trade there I normally sleep over. I liked going there because I got to play with my friend Myka. We had been friends since we moved here and built the cabin almost six years ago. She is almost as good outdoors as I am, even though she is just a girl. Working on the farm long hours has made her strong and tougher than most girls. Whenever I went to visit, her dad would let her take off from her chores so we could go play. If she had too much to do I would jump in and help. Her mom died when she was young, so Myka is an only child like me. With no brothers around to help with the chores, her dad counted on her to work on the farm, so I wasn’t allowed to stay more than one day.
That particular day I was carrying my pack full of hard cheese, eggs, and flour when I returned home. At first I didn’t think anything was wrong, it was a pretty spring day and the door was open. My mom often aired out the cabin as she cleaned or cooked if the weather was mild. As I slipped my pack off my shoulders, the first thing I noticed was there was no fire in the hearth. This was a rare thing as there was usually water to boil, food to cook, clothes to clean, or something else requiring a fire. If a fire wasn’t burning, there were usually coals still present. On that day the hearth was cold and the coals weren’t banked, so I knew right away the fire had burned out on its own the night before.
PI looked around the cabin. The blankets were gone, as well as the food crates and jarred vegetables. I climbed up to the loft were I slept and my blankets were gone too. I looked down from the ladder and froze, with a lump in my throat. I hadn’t noticed before that my father’s great sword was gone from the mantle. My dad hadn’t touched that sword since we came here. Whenever I asked him about it I would get a cryptic answer like, “Maybe one day you will need to know how to use that thing. When you are ready I will teach you, but hopefully that day will never come.”
I climbed down and walked back out the door and really looked around the clearing in front of our home. The three-toed footprints were everywhere. I had never seen these before and I didn’t know what could have made them. I walked around the back of the cabin towards the garden and there was blood splattered on most of the trees. As I turned around, I noticed the walls were stained with dark red streaks. I had gutted and cleaned plenty of animals out here so I knew how much blood could come from one animal, but this was more blood than I had ever seen. This might be an odd thing to say, but the huge amounts of blood gave me hope. My dad was the toughest guy I knew and I pictured him swinging his sword in massive circles to protect my mother, killing evil goblin things by the dozens. Despite the blood, there was no sign of them anywhere. I searched the woods, but I am no tracker. After searching every day for months, I gave up hope that I would ever find my parents or the creatures that took them from me.
Looking down at that track now I had a dreadful feeling. Whatever these creatures were, they were still here. I looked up from the track and knew I had to try to follow them. I glanced up at the sky to check the time. It was about two hours until sun down. I would definitely not be able to track them in the dark. I dropped my hand to my belt and tested the edge on my small hatchet. It was a little duller than I would have liked, and I cursed myself for not sharpening it this morning. My skinning knife was razor sharp, but the blade was short and would barely help as a weapon. With grim determination, I dropped the dead rabbits and set out down the path to follow the prints.
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Genre – Young Adult Fantasy
Rating – PG
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