The fog was thick, obscuring the rippling roots of the twisted cedar trees, and the dead lower branches kept pulling at his sleeves as he ran. Behind him, the ground shook and the branches snapped, but he couldn’t stop to see how far behind it was.
In the trees, skittering noises told him his pursuit was being watched by the small creatures of the forest — but he couldn’t pause to try and join them in the branches — and what would it be worth, with a creature like that at his heels.
All he could do was run, and run he did, stumbling over roots and rocks, sliding on damp moss and cutting his hands on tree trunks studded with broken limbs.
The grunting breath of his pursuer felt like it was pressing on his neck, and when a huge boulder blocked his path between the trees, he couldn’t let himself think about it — he just veered left, downhill, down slippery clay wet with the mist.
He barely noticed when his feet started to splash instead of stick in the sucking mud — and it was too late when he realized he’d run into a ravine. The thin creek wove deeper between steep slopes, and as the water reached past his knees he knew he had to get out of there.
He pushed along the bank on his right, feeling for handholds, until miraculously he found where it turned into a gentler slope, lined with saplings and ferns. Behind him, something large and heavy was splashing down the creek — was it just the fog distorting noise, or was it — no, the white bear was too close, he could see its silhouette, hear its low growl, and he knew as it approached that it was slowing down, the better to corner him.
Mabek had no choice left — up the wet clay bank he climbed, pulling on the doomed saplings like ladder rungs.
As the trees were torn out by their roots from his weight, he dragged himself further and further up, and behind he heard the white bear gnash and roar as whiplike young willows and maples tumbled down to block its path. The trees were older and stronger as he climbed higher, and through the mist was the glow of the sky, of a wide open space just beyond this ravine. Could it be the road? Were those human shapes in the fog?
“Captain!! Guards! Bear!!”
Behind him there were crashing noises as the creature threw itself up the slope, tearing out what growth Mabek hadn’t destroyed himself, and as he turned to look, he felt himself slip in the clay, sliding on his belly for too long before he could catch himself on a knotted root.
“Yaska! Captain!” The bear behind him grunted with effort as it pulled itself closer. “Help!”
But the grey silhouettes were sharpening, and at the top of the slope stood not his troop, not his captain, but a pack of grey wolves, ears perked and hackles up — and then he felt it — five dagger-length claws latching on to his calf, pulling him back down the slope — throwing him back down the slope with frightening strength. As he landed on his back in the stream, he looked up the far slope and saw more watching eyes in the trees; and as his doom crashed back down the slope to take its prize, it was no comfort to know that his end was witnessed by black bears and bobcats, raccoons and possums and smaller chittering shapes he would never get to see. All was the white bear.