May arrived and filled the field around the burrow with life. When Steven emerged from the den before dawn, he was greeted by the strong fragrance of flowers. It was loud outside as insects whizzed, buzzed, and whirred as they seemed to try to drown each other out. Despite the noise, he could hear water making its way over rocks in the creek nearby. It all made him want to go explore.
As Steven walked about sniffing and studying all of the different smells, the horizon hinted the sun would soon rise. The ambient illumination rose slowly until there was enough light to see the reds and yellows that covered the field. The Earth seemed to celebrate, and he felt the days ahead would be better than the cold and hungry days behind him.
Lisa slept in the den while Steven explored. She had begun sleeping longer than she used to. He estimated he would have enough time to hunt and return with a treat before she woke. He wanted to surprise her with an eastern cottontail. Steven surveyed the field one last time for its beauty. Then, he changed his point of view and began to hunt.
The day became brighter as the sun slowly crawled its way to the top of the sky. The coolness of the morning air was gone and was replaced by a nervous warmth. Steven had not had success. He picked up and lost scents of prey. Tracks led him to nothing. It was as if the rabbits were suddenly disappearing as they hopped along.
Steven suddenly found himself hunting much farther from the den than he had intended. He was in unfamiliar territory. At a distance, he saw buildings from a farm he avoided whenever he could. There was a large unpainted barn made of distressed wood, holes in the roof, and doors that appeared to be unmovable. There were rusted farm machinery and car parts randomly scattered between the barn, house, and shed. Tall grass and weeds surrounded and grew into the insides of the materials. The house was one fourth the size of the barn, but almost equally neglected.
Three dogs who rested on the porch of the farmhouse caught Steven’s scent. One of them began to bark. As soon as Steven heard barking, he searched the distance for the source. He expected to see a dog threatening somewhere far away. However, about a soccer field away, he saw a black German Shepherd and a black, white, and brown collie sprinting toward him and closing in.
Steven turned and ran. He knew he was not faster than the dogs, so he looked for the nearest tree. The first one he saw was a White Oak growing alone in a meadow. It was not a good option, but it was his only one. Its location changed his trajectory so that the dogs actually had less distance to travel to overtake him. With panic shooting through his body, he slowed down as he neared the bottom of the tree. And just as he heard growling and paw beats on the ground beside him, he climbed up and out of reach.
The German Shepherd and the collie stood up against the tree and barked menacingly at Steven. He held on to the tree unable to move further from fear and looked down at them. A black Labrador Retriever joined them and walked around looking for a way up. Steven’s heart raced as he watched the dogs below him trying to figure out how to get to get him.
Long minutes filled with the sounds of menace passed, but Steven was still alive. He became sure the dogs could not reach him. Being less afraid, he was able to move. He found a branch nearby upon which to rest. Once he was on it, his heart began to beat a little slower. The energy from adrenaline retreated from his paws and evaporated from his body. The blood pounding into his head slowed its rhythm, reduced its intensity, and he was able to think.
Steven looked around the perimeter of the tree for a way to escape. He was in the middle of a meadow, and there were no other trees nearby that he could leap to. He searched the ground for holes or abandoned dens he might be able to dash to, but he could not see them if there were any. There were brush and fallen trees that offered cover, but were so far that the collie would most likely catch him halfway to them. The despair that struck him felt all the more intense because he had so much hope for a good life earlier that morning when he had walked out of the den. Steven felt he might never again go home to Lisa.
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