Juliet clenched her eyes shut, willing the responsibility away. Precious seconds decided her victory or defeat and she moved her head from side to side in an attempt to clear the cobwebs and gain some clarity.
Beside her on the ground, her best friend lay sprawled out, knocked unconscious by a single swipe to the head by the brute’s massive paw. Did she stay and tend to him, or did she chase the creature down and give him what he asked for? Mark was breathing and seemed otherwise in stable condition. She decided to roll him over onto his left side, just in case. Recovery position, after all. Juliet cut her eyes towards the path the beast had taken, gripped her rifle the tighter, and began pursuit.
As she entered the forest, the tree leaves whipping past her face served only as an annoyance. She soon came to a part of the wood where the trees were larger and grew closer together. It was extremely quiet now, the living columns serving as a sound dampener. She scanned her immediate area, searching for a flash of color, some movement, or hell, even a smell would be helpful. There. Away to her right and much farther away than she’d anticipated, the creature was on the move heading upstream, very near the falls. The hunter set her teeth on edge and began pursuit.
The rocks underfoot were not slippery, covered in lichens though they were, and Juliet made good time. She felt she was gaining on the beast and the thought gave her a boost of morale. A small noise of agitation escaped her throat when she broke away from the trees for a moment and spied her quarry up on top of a towering waterfall. He must have been in the forest and sprinted up through the trees where she could not see him.
The aim was good enough. The creature turned and stared at Juliet, who was now leveling her rifle. The little red precision point centered between its brown eyes, full of rage at her intrusion and pursuit. Its tongue was lolling out its mouth. Juliet felt the trigger beneath her gloved finger, set to react when she did. As she took the requisite deep breath before she fired, something new caught her eye.
Two young pups struggled up to the ledge to be with their father. The wolf nudged them back as if to say Now isn’t a good time, but kept a steady eye on the hunter below. Juliet lowered her rifle. No use killing an animal when it has a family.