Everything was happening so fast.
May let out a strangled cry. The bear beat down on the forest floor where Em and the injured woman lay huddled. Before it could rend them both, the animal flew backwards, hit by an invisible force.
If she had dared blink May would have missed it; an impermeable bubble rippled with light, distorting the world around it only in the instant the bear came in contact with it. Em was manipulating energy to create a protective shield.
“Comms, this is May!” she yelled frantically into her radio. “Please come in.”
Static flared as a connection was established. May almost wept when she heard Matti respond. “This is Comms. May, what’s wrong?”
She never would have imagined an animal that size could move as quickly as it did. Already the bear was back on its feet, roaring with fury as it slashed and gnashed at Em and the woman.
“A mother bear has attacked a hiker. Em is trying to protect someone but we need help!”
“Where are you, May?” Matti asked, his voice like a steady lifeline. “Is anyone hurt?”
“We’re just down the east road leaving town,” May replied, struggling to hear herself over the thundering of her own heartbeat. “Near the trailhead. One woman is hurt but Em has her.”
“The team is on its way, May. Keep the area clear and stay away from the animal until help arrives.”
Keep the area clear.
May looked around. Her brief training was already starting to kick in. Most of the other hikers had put a safe distance between themselves and the attack but no one had completely left. Tragedy was a tough thing to tear oneself away from.
“Everyone needs to move!” May shouted, waving the crowd up the road. “Help is on the way. Get to safety and leave room for emergency responders!”
Almost everyone listened. One woman remained rooted in place, closer to the scene than anyone else had been. May rushed forward and took her by the arm, breaking the trance she seemed to be in.
“Ma’am,” May mustered as much authority into her voice as she could. “You need to get back. It isn’t safe here.”
The woman’s grey eyes looked May over as if she were surprised to see her there. It took a beat for her to react.
“Right,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder one last time. “Of course. I’ll go.”
May watched the woman retreat up the road before turning her attention back to Em and the bear. Over the panicked clamour, May could hear the injured woman shrieking in terror. Em seemed to be doing what she could to speak calmly to her, but her voice was drowned out. She looked exhausted. A new sense of dread hit May as she realized the energy it took to keep the bear at bay was rapidly taking its toll on Em. It didn’t look like she would be able to hold out much longer and the animal wasn’t giving up.
Mind racing, May tried to remember what Dom had taught her. What was it he had said?
Well, she didn’t have any of that on her. Em did, but she needed both hands now to maintain the force-field projection. Every time she thought she had time to reach down to her holster, the bear would strike again.
May searched the ground, looking for anything to distract the bear and hopefully give Em time to escape with the woman.
This is a bad idea, she thought as she picked up a baseball-sized rock from the ground. But what other choice did she have? Casting all caution aside, May lobbed the stone as hard as she could. It connected, cracking the animal right between the eyes.
The bear reared up, howling with rage.
“What are you doing?” Em shrieked.
It was then May realized the full miscalculation of her actions. Just as she turned to run, a pair of hands grabbed her. She hadn’t even heard the truck arrive.
In one swift motion, Dom hoisted her in his arms and broke for the truck. As they moved in one direction, Sean stepped in from where they had come, a formidable gun propped and aimed in his arms.
A shot rang out. The bear howled.
May looked back in time to see the animal stumble, still trying to pursue through the haze of the tranquilizer already racing through its bloodstream.
After a few more wobbly steps the bear slowed and shuddered. With a bitter grunt it fell to the ground, unconscious.
Sick with adrenaline and relief, May looked back, only to find Em had done the same.
Banner art by @flowerveil