“Spencer!” someone yelled, waking up.
My heart pounded. I unzipped my tent and discovered a panicked Cricket.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m, uh, sorry to bother you, but everyone went back down to the springs and I don’t have anyone else to turn to.”
“I’m always a last resort for you,” I acidly replied.
“I deserve that, and I’m sorry, but right now I can’t talk about that. Right now, you and I need to go out and search for Jonah and Ethan.”
“What?” I said, my adrenaline spiking. “Why?”
“Because they took their bows to hunt and their rifles to protect and I just heard their rifles discharge.”
“Oh my God,” I said, already sliding my boots on.
I zipped my jacket up and grabbed my own rifle.
“Come on,” I told her. “Where did you hear the shots?”
“In that direction,” she said, pointing southwest.
“All right,” I said, walking.
“Jonah!” I yelled and waited for a response.
“Ethan!” she yelled.
We traded back and forth that way for a good five minutes before we heard two shots. We stopped dead in our tracks before sprinting their direction, yelling their names at the tops of our lungs.
Finally, Jonah yelled back, “Spencer?!”
“Where are you!”
“This way,” he said, blowing his air horn.
We found them and Eugie, their rifles cocked and ready and staring farther southwest from us.
“What happened?” Cricket asked, out of breath.
Ethan looked at her. “Are you okay?” he asked, concern in his eyes.
“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile.
“Wolves,” he answered.
“Oh no. Eugie!” she said, calling him to her side. She held his belled collar in her hand. “Stay here, boy.”
“They ran off that way,” Jonah explained.
“Good,” Cricket said, “let’s get back to the campsite.”
He nodded but looked unsure.
We were halfway back to the site when Eugie began growling.
“Eugie?” Cricket said, uneasy.
All three of us cocked our rifles and lifted them.
“Where are they?” I whispered.
“They’re circling us,” Jonah answered.
“Quiet,” Ethan said, scanning the woods around us.
Cricket’s grip on Eugie’s collar tightened and we moved in around her, sheltering her. Eugie growled even louder then started barking. Ethan and Jonah tensed.
“Shh, Eugie,” Cricket ordered.
“Oh my God, there’s five of them,” Ethan said looking around.
I had no idea how he saw, but I knew how dangerous things had become.
“Each of us only has one shot,” Jonah quieted. “Keep them in your sights. I’ve got this one here, Ethan far left. Do you think you could get the alpha, Spencer?”
“Yes,” I said confidently, aiming at the glowing eyes a head above the rest of the wolves.
“Why can’t we try to scare them off?” Cricket said, worrying her lip.
“They’re ready to attack,” Ethan said.
The alpha started stealthily made his way toward me. Eugie began to growl again and the wolf bared its teeth, his snarl grumbling menacingly. Eugie barked and the wolf leaped toward us.
My breath held as I aimed my rifle. I fired, hitting him in the chest and falling him midair. Two more shots rang out succinctly. I went to load the rifle quickly to get the other two but they leaped toward us before I could so I swung the butt of my rifle and pegged one in the head, but it did nothing but slow him down and he set his sight on Cricket with renewed fury.
“No,” I breathed and threw myself on top of her.
Eugie ripped himself from her grasp and attacked the wolf.
“Eugie!” Cricket cried.
Jonah batted the fifth wolf with the butt of his rifle as well and we watched as Eugie chased both of them off into the woods, his belled collar ringing as he ran.
“Eugie!” Cricket yelled after him.
“We’ll get him,” Ethan promised. “Come with me,” he said.
Cricket and Ethan followed the bell and Jonah and I fell in beside them.
“They could be so far away already,” she said, worrying her lip again.
“We’ll get him,” I assured her.
We followed the bell as far as we could but out of nowhere the bell stopped abruptly so we did as well.
“No,” she said, her hands going to her head.
“He probably just went out of hearing distance,” Jonah tried to soothe.
“Eugie!” she called out over and over, her voice frantic.
“We should split up,” Jonah told her.
“Okay,” she said, without thinking and following Jonah, leaving Ethan and I together.
Jonah and Cricket went off toward the direction we last heard the bell, but Ethan and I just stood there staring at one another.
“Just follow me,” he said, walking into the left side of the woods.
Silently, we walked, keeping our eyes peeled for Eugie, when we heard the wolves once more. Both of us having reloaded, we crept upon them. Their noses were pressed into something and they were working together to ravage it.
“No,” I whispered running toward them. “No!” I yelled, my heart already shattering into a million pieces.
I raised my gun and shot one while Ethan shot the other and we stumbled upon Eugie, laying on his side, the only movement, the rustling of his fur in the wind.
“No,” I said, falling at his side. I pressed my face into his snout and waited to feel his breath but nothing met my cheek and I almost broke down. My palm went to his side and I felt for a heartbeat but it failed to beat. “Eugie,” I murmured, an overwhelming sadness already inundating me. My head whipped up. “Oh God, Cricket.”
I picked him up and cradled him in my arms, burying my face into the side of his neck. I had no idea how we were going to tell Cricket. My whole body shook with the weight of having to relay such awful news to someone I loved so dearly. I didn’t want it to be true. I would have paid my entire fortune in that moment to bring him back just so she would never have to know that pain.
I carried him the three miles back to the campsite and pulled out my sleeping bag, laying him inside and wrapping him up. I paced the side of the firepit, biting my nails while Ethan sat at the picnic bench, his head buried in his hands.
After half an hour passed, we saw Cricket and Jonah approach.
“Did you find him?” Cricket asked across the campsite.
Ethan and I stood by Eugie. “Cricket,” we said in unison.
Cricket stopped at the edge of the site and began to shake her head.
“Please tell me you found him and he’s okay,” she pleaded. “Please.”
I opened my mouth but couldn’t find the words.
She began to sob and Jonah tried to soothe her. At first she let him, but quickly slid from his grasp and turned toward us, her eyes weeping. She knew where she wanted to be. All I wanted to do was console her, but she wasn’t mine to console.
She started to run toward Ethan, run toward his comfort, her arms wide, anxious to be held, desperation written all over her face. My heart broke once more for her. I loved her so much. I wished so desperately to remove her pain. I would take it upon myself if I could.
She gained momentum, running as fast as she could, as if she couldn’t get to Ethan fast enough, and my heart broke all over again.
But instead of running into Ethan’s open arms as we both expected, she did something that shocked us both.
She ran into mine.
My heart began to pound when she neared me and I swooped her up into my embrace, hugging her so fiercely she could barely breathe.
“I’m so sorry, my love,” I told her. Her tears drenched the side of my face so I kissed them. “So, so sorry.”
“Me too,” she sobbed into my neck. “I know how much you loved him, Spencer.”
I couldn’t answer, too choked up, so I just nodded into her neck. I kissed her face once more as the tears were still flowing, and I refused to put her down. I didn’t think I’d ever put her down again.
“Why me?” I secreted into her ear.
“You were the only one I saw,” she whispered back, making my heart burst.
“Let her go,” we heard Ethan command at our right.
We broke apart and looked at him.
“Let. Her. Go.”
“Ethan,” Cricket began, suddenly aware of herself.
I tucked her behind me.
This move seemed to incense him. “You think I’d hurt her!”
“I don’t know what you’d do, to be honest.”
“Spencer Blackwell, let her go.”
“No,” I demanded.
“She’s mine. Let her go.”
“Ethan,” Cricket repeated softly, stepping at my side. My hand instinctively held her from going any farther.
“Don’t you dare, Cricket Hunt,” he gritted, his jaw clenching.
“Ethan,” she said, softer.
“Don’t you fucking dare!” he bellowed.
“Don’t yell at her, Moonsong!”
Ethan laughed before piercing me with his stare. “Are you kidding me right now?” He turned to her and ignored me. “Cricket, you’re confused.”
“I’m not. Ethan, I…”
“Don’t,” he said, his head hanging low. “Spare me this bullshit. This has been going on for so long, and I just put up with this shit. I should have known it was over when you took me off the list.”
“Ethan,” she warned.
He faced me, the most furious, most livid expression in his eyes, and when he spoke, his voice dropped menacingly. “Spencer Blackwell, I warned you. I told you. Now I’m gonna get you...when you least expect it.”
He eerily turned from us and wordlessly walked to his truck. He got inside, started the engine, but before he drove off, he watched me.
His eyes promised a furious revenge.
That same morning, we brought Eugie home. Jonah drove while Cricket and I rode in the bed with him, our hands petting his fur all the way home. Cricket kept saying that she couldn’t believe it over and over, but I wasn’t sure if she was talking about Eugie’s death, Ethan’s abrupt departure or both.
When we pulled up to the house, Ellie came bounding out to greet us, but one look at our faces and she knew something had happened.
“What’s going on?” she asked in dismay.
Cricket hopped out of the bed and ran up to her. Ellie held her and stroked her head, still not understanding. I slid Eugie’s body over in the sleeping bag and hopped out of the truck, letting down the tailgate, then picking him up. He felt so light to the touch; I could hardly stand it. For being such an amazing friend to Cricket and even to me, he should have felt more substantial. His weight should have been directly parallel to how he served the Hunt family, but that would have made it impossible for me to lift him.
I carried him up the stairs and Ellie furrowed her brows, trying to decide what it was I was carrying when it dawned on her. She searched the truck, bed and ground quickly for him, but she wouldn’t find him. Her hand went to her mouth.