Ripping a hole in the forest, she stumbled into an open space. She gulped in shaky breaths of misty air, hands on knees, throat sliced by the freshness of her exertion. Her hands stood stiff with caked blood and sap. A hole now tunneled behind her into the darkness of the trees; she kept glancing back, gathering her breath, trembling.
A branch cracked. Eyes wide, her limbs ignited, sprinting her over a rocky landscape, down toward the stream she heard rushing below. Stones tumbled all around her. This was no time for quiet, no time for safe, sure steps. She flew down the mountain, a red fox swift at her heels.
I observed all this from the stream bed, saw the trail of grey wolves plunging out of the tunnel, snarling, after her. The fox turned at the last second. He jumped at the throat of the closest wolf, a pup in the face of such beasts. I grabbed the girl in my arms and held her head down as the fox was torn apart. The scream that came with the fox's last breaths as we raced down the stream bed sounded not of fear or terror, but of fierce bravery. Now I was her last protection.
photo by Valerio Boncompagni.