The Eagle died during the night.
In the morning, Mattie didn’t go into the field to work, she just sat on the porch watching the bird’s mate riding the thermals high above the meadow. Eagles mate for life, was its heart broken like hers?
Larkin arrived at mid-morning riding behind Simon on a two-seater all-terrain vehicle. Mattie was already in a bad mood and the preferential treatment for the professor pissed her off even further.
“Hey, Mattie.” Larkin smiled and opened his arms for a hug.
“You’re a day late.” Mattie had never hugged one of her teachers before and she wasn’t about to start. Besides, she wasn’t a hugger. She preferred to allocate her limited amount of affection on the few people she actually cared about.
Simon was unloading gear from the ATV.
“Hi.” A warm smile accompanied his greeting.
“Come with me,” Mattie said.
In the cabin, Mattie uncovered the plastic storage box.
“Another one,” Simon said.
Simon knelt and examined the dead Eagle.
“What’s with all the equipment on the floor?” Larkin had joined them. He looked in the box. “Where’d that come from?”
“What do you mean, another one?” Mattie said.
Simon stood up. “Where did you find it?”
“On the bluff above the waterfall. What do you mean another one?”
“Perhaps we could put the dead bird in the dumpster and get organized?” Larkin sounded miffed that he wasn’t the centre of attention.
Simon and Mattie both glared at him.
“I’ll take the Eagle to the band elders,” Simon said. “They’ll bless it to release its spirit and say prayers to apologize on behalf of man for its death.”
“Then maybe we can get on with the reason we’re here,” Larkin said.
Simon picked up the bird and carried it outside. Mattie followed him.
“It looks like its been shot, Simon. Why would someone do such a thing?”
Simon took off his shirt, wrapped the carcass with it and placed it in the saddlebag on the ATV.
“For money,” he said. “A single feather can sell for a hundred dollars on the black market. There’s about fifty-two saleable feathers on a bird plus the tail fan, head and talons.”
“Isn’t it illegal? Aren’t they endangered?”
“Yes, it’s illegal, and no, they’re no longer endangered.”
“So what will your elders do with the Eagle once they carry out the ceremony?”
“Give it to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They put it in a repository and if we want Eagle parts or feathers for our cultural ceremonies or regalia, we have to fill out a form and submit to the Department.”
“I didn’t mean to imply–”
“Hey, Mattie” Larkin was on the porch looking impatient. “I’d like to see the feeding stations, if you don’t mind.”
Simon started the ATV, turned around in the yard and headed back down the trail.
So much for the date.
THAT EVENING AFTER Mattie had cooked dinner, Larkin went over the data she’d collected and input since she’d arrived.
“You did all this in two days?” he said.
“Yes.” And stared down a Grizzly and rescued an Eagle.
“There’s still a lot more to do, but we’ve got a good start. Any questions?”
Larkin went into his room and came out with a bottle of wine. “I think this calls for a celebration.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Too bad.” Larkin filled a water glass half full. “If we’re going to work together alone here for three weeks, we should get to know one another.” He took a drink of wine. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Alone? I thought there was another student coming up.”
“Unfortunately, no. But I’m confident the two of us can get the job done. We make an excellent team, don’t you think?”
“We’ll see, Professor Larkin.”
“Please, call me Larry.” Another drink of wine, and a top up. “You must have been lonely here by yourself with no one to talk to.”
“You seemed stressed, Mattie. Finding that Eagle must have been upsetting.”
“I have just the thing to make you relax,” Larkin said. From his shirt pocket he withdrew two joints. He moistened one with his lips, lit up and inhaled deeply.
“I’m going to bed. We should get an early start.” Mattie got up to leave and Larkin grabbed her arm.
“I would have thought someone living with a rocker would know how to party?”
Mattie pulled her arm away. “You’re acting inappropriate, Professor Larkin, and I don’t appreciate it.” She went in her room and closed the door.
She picked up the flashlight and put it under her pillow, then lay fully clothedon the cot not even taking her boots off. She pulled the sleeping bag over her. Something told her lecherous Larkin wasn’t done. Ten minutes later the door creaked open.
“Mattie? You asleep?”
“Look, I meant no harm, I just thought we could relax and get to know one another better.” It was too dark to see, but she heard the floorboards creak and knew he’d come in the room and was approaching the cot.
“No harm done, yet. Get out of my room and stay out.”
“Why all the hostility? You’d think you’d be more polite to someone who can make it easier for you.”
“Easier?” Mattie had been suspicious of the success of a few of her fellow students who obviously had big chests and just as obviously small brains. So this was how they made out so well on exams.
“Or harder,” Larkin said.
She felt Larkin’s weight as he sat on the edge of the cot. Then his hand, hot and moist touched her arm.
Mattie threw off the sleeping bag, sprang out the cot, grabbed the flashlight from beneath the pillow and shone it in Larkin’s eyes.
“You’ve got ten seconds to get away from me or as soon as I get back I’m filing a sexual misconduct charge against you with the university.”
“What?” Now Larkin was on his feet. “I’m just trying to be nice to you and you threaten me?”
Larkin shielded his eyes from the intense beam which gave Mattie a chance to move toward the door.
“Go ahead, who’d believe you. Uncorroborated, my word against yours. Besides, I haven’t done anything.” Larkin’s eyes were adjusting to the light and, Mattie imagined, his intoxicated brain was adjusting to the reality of the situation.
“Look, no harm done, right,” he said. “Let’s just carry on like nothing happened, okay?”
“Sure.” Mattie was assessing the reality of the situation herself and it wasn't great. She was alone with a man who was no stranger to sexual abuse and she’d threatened to destroy his career, his life. Cornered rats attacked. Mattie rushed for the door, but Larkin grabbed her arm and she dropped the flashlight.
“Hey, hey, where are you going? Settle down.” He pulled her toward him
Mattie kicked him in the shins with her heavy lug soled hiking boots.
“Son of a bitch.” Larkin let her go and she fell backwards on the floor.
Mattie’s hand felt the flashlight. She grabbed it and pushed back against the wall until she was standing.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Larkin said.
The door, the only escape, was to her right but closed. The flashlight had gone out, but she still clutched it tightly.
“Mattie? Are you okay? Look, I’m not going to do anything.”
It was too dark to see but Mattie sensed her attacker approaching. Wait, wait. She swung the flashlight with all her might aiming for where she thought his head would be. The metal casing made contact. Mattie found the door, opened it, dashed through the main room and out into the night.
She raced across the meadow toward the black wall of the surrounding forest. She fell, got up and continued to run. At the edge of the forest she tripped on a log and landed hard. She lay there listening, her raspy breathing the only sound. She rolled over and high above could see the delineation of tree tops against a night sky pricked with stars.
She hadn’t killed him, too bad. And he was looking for her. To do what? This could only be resolved with the demise of one thing or another, his career or her life.
“Mattie. Come back to the cabin. There are wild animals out there. You could get killed.”
Mattie got up. Through the forest she could see a light shining from the open cabin door. He was coming.
She turned and plunged deeper into the dark forest, feeling rather than seeing her way. She’d take her chances with the wild animals.
MATTIE WAS FREEZING. She jerked awake. Morning sun filtered through the fir boughs leaving a dappled pattern on her surroundings, a shallow alcove at the base of the trunk of a giant evergreen. She remembered stumbling, rolling down an embankment and the tree stopping her descent. Exhaustion and the realization she could have run off a cliff made her decide to nestle there for the rest of the night.
She was on the side of a ravine, three metres from the top and an undetermined distance down a steep, rocky slope to a creek she could hear but couldn’t see. Bumping into this tree had hurt, but not so much as if she had bypassed it on her descent.
Mattie got up slowly; stiff, sore, scraped hands and knees, bare legs flaming red from stinging nettles, but otherwise intact. Desperately thirsty, she decided the priority was to climb down and find the stream.
It was more difficult than it sounded. The lower she went the more impenetrable the growth. She reached the creek bed and quenched her thirst and had a breakfast of huckleberries that grew in abundance in the dank at the bottom of the ravine. The dense vegetation left no alternative except to climb back up.
By the time she emerged from gulley she had to pull off her hoodie sweatshirt to cool off. She’d been wearing it because nights in the cabin were cold. She wouldn’t have fared too well last night in the outdoors without it. Except for her mistrust of Larkin, she would have only worn sleep shorts and a t-shirt to bed, and certainly not her hiking boots.
She’d deal with that vermin once she was back some place safe.
How to get there?
Her plan was to retrace her steps until she came to the meadow then, staying hidden, circumvent it and go down the trail to the highway. She’d flagged down a vehicle and have them contact the RCMP or at least take her to a telephone where she could make the call. She needed to pick up her stuff from the cabin and she wasn’t going back there without and an armed escort. Once she was safe, she’d consider what to do about Larkin. Right now, given the opportunity and absence of consequences she was sure she could kill him—slowly.
Mattie had been walking for what seemed like eight hours. She had no watch, but by the pain in her feet, the weakness in her thighs and the fact the sun was going down made her think she wasn’t far off.
The meadow was nowhere to be found, and the forest looked more or less the same as it had when she’d started out. She’d heard that when people were lost in terrain void of distinctive landmarks, then walked in circles. Had she been walking in circles?
It was too late to do anything about it now. Tomorrow morning, if there was a tomorrow morning, she’d align her sight on one tree straight ahead, walk to it and then do the same with another. Would she be going in the right direction? She could only hope.
She settled down under the low, drooping branches of a large evergreen. The boughs would keep off the dew and the needles would provide a soft and somewhat insulated bed.
Mattie wasn’t about to panic, not yet. She was sure she could keep it together for at least another day. She’d slaked her thirst be eating huckleberries and salmon berries, but backed off when her stomach rumbled. Besides being unpleasant, diarrhea would only hasten dehydration.
As soon as it was dark, the wolves began to howl, and the forest became alive with shadows and sounds. The night was alternately threatening and tedious. Mattie’s hunger, thirst and growing anxiety kept her awake
Reluctantly the darkness began to recede as light sifted down through the foliage gradually providing definition to trees, bushes and a stump where two Ravens perched examining her.
“You’ve come to show me the way?”
Indeed they had though she still used the tree alignment technique as backup. In an hour and a half she was at the edge of the meadow.
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