p r o l o g u e
The night was similar to other December evenings, the snow was piled up to her knees as she yet again this week attempted to navigate herself through the thick substance – praying that spring came quicker than it did last year. The forest and beginnings of the mountains were much more fun to explore when you could see your feet and not freeze to death.
The cold wind nipped at her pale skin, flushing her cheeks and giving her shivers. Julianne heard the frightening sound of a large animal trotting through the heavy snowfall. Gulping gently, she looked over should expecting to see a beast standing there but instead she saw a deer. It was young and lost, she was assure as it nervously stood there, staring eye to eye with the human – something it had never seen before.
‘’It’s okay.’’ The words softly left her mouth as she stepped closer to the animal, hoping not to scare it off. The deer only stood there, eyes wide as it watched the small child get closer and closer to it.
Stepping back a little, the deer became a tad hesitant, unsure of this meeting with this creature. But Julianne, she wasn’t afraid of anything except the dark. That was the one and only thing – one reason she came to the woods early in the morning was so she could stay all day and avoid the darkness.
“Shhh, don’t be scared little guy, I’m just going to.. to..’’ She closed her mouth, licking her lips as she softly placed her small hand against the soft fur of the animal, amazed at how smooth and silky it really was.
The deer jerked back, frightened by the sudden connection between the unlikely to meet specimens. Julianne gave it one last smile before it finally scurried off back to where it came from, more afraid to stay with her than to be lost again.
She gave her shoulders a shrug, understanding the deer’s reasoning for running off like he did. Julianne pulled the sleeve of her coat back some to reveal her watch. It was nearly noon and she knew her father was still asleep from his previous night partying, a ritual Julianne was used to, even at her young age of seven.
Of course she knew not to leave the house, but who was there to watch her anyways? Better off in the wilderness than under her father’s wing, or at least she always believed that.
Within minutes, Julianne found herself building a small snowman as she sat on a huge boulder, a sign she was closer to the higher mountains than she had thought at first. She hummed a made up tune to herself as she patted the middle ball of snow to get it shaped correctly.
‘’Mr. Snowman, your belly is fat.’’ She giggles to herself as she works on getting him in shape some more. She was in her own little world, not caring about a thing as she fixed up her snowman’s appearance.
She coughed out into the air, watching as the fog cloud left her mouth. She smiled gently before continuing to play around in the snow, perfectly fixing her snowman.
Julianne stood up and began to dig in the snow nearest a tree she was closest too, hoping to find two little sticks so the snowman she created could have some arms. She found it rather hard at first but she sped herself up and eventually found a long stick.
She tapped her index finger against her cold, redden chin – thinking on how to do this properly. She nods to herself once she gets the gist of her idea and lines her hands up in the middle of the stick, or so she hopes the middle. With a quick movement of her wrists, she snaps the slim stick in two pieces, holding one in each hand.
Concentrating on the snowman now, she aligned the stick up with the snowman’s middle section, jabbing it in so it would stay longer. She done the same actions to the other side, making sure they were even.
Julianne stood there in front of her small snow man, it was up to her chest. She sighed, trying to figure out what he needed next, she lost her train of thought for some odd reason.
After a moment, it clicks, “Of course! He needs…. eyes, and a nose!’’ She gives a laugh to herself as she remembers the key features.
Now, she knows for sure there is a stream near her house, and she knows she wasn’t far from the small neighborhood. In her head, she makes a map and begins to guide herself to where she hopes the river is. Julianne skipped as best as she could through the thick snow towards the bank, having a good feeling that it was close. Trying to focus on her surroundings, she slowed her walking pace and closed her eyes. Her hearing closed in on the sound of running water nearby, a smile forms on her face as she flicks her eyes open and heads in that direction.
“Little stream.. where are you hidin’?’’ She asks aloud as the sound gets louder. She turns her head in all directions as she stops to spin around, trying to find the source of the water but she couldn’t really see anything but trees, boulders, and piles of snow.
“You’re my friend, why are you hidin’?’’ Julianne bit the inside of her cheek as she stood still, squinting her eyes to see if she could find any signs, but hardly anything came to her sight. She sighed as she stared down at her feet, nearly giving up on the idea.
Just when she was about to head back to her unfinished art piece the sound of splashing in water caught her attention. She smiled gently to herself as she followed the noise, hoping that the water won’t be too cold or too frozen yet since this year’s winter wasn’t as cold as others have been.
A tiny snowflake landed on Julianne’s nose and she scrunched it up, not really liking the sudden cold feel on her skin. The feeling melted away quickly as she trotted through the snow, closer and closer to the running water she has been seeking for a short while now.
After long hard working minutes to find the water source, Julianne stumbled upon a wide stream with rocks and millions of pebbles lining the bank as they do year around. She smiled in relief as she took a seat on top of a huge rock that barely was emerged in the water.
Julianne looked out at the stream, her head turning in both directions slowly as she observed the scenery around her, admiring the tall and slim pine trees, awed by the beautiful mid-day sky, and distracted by the natural beauty of her surroundings.
She was so taken over by the landscape that she hardly caught attention of the ferocious growl erupt from behind her. She jumped in her skin, eyes darting over her shoulder. There it was, the animal that made the scary noise that disturbed her peaceful time alone. Julianne’s heart pounded, she knew what the creature was due to her mother’s constant warnings when she was a little younger, as far as she could remember really.
Julianne’s mother died almost a year ago, the loss trembling her life and ruining everything she ever loved. It broke her little heart, crushed her soul. There were only two places she could be happy – the edge of the mountain and its beautiful scenery, and the cemetery her mother’s grave was located. She felt close to her there, because Julianne’s mother always took her on hikes and through the woods at a time when everything was okay. They escaped her father’s constant drunken state, they were happy together – and now Julianne has to fulfil that hole somehow, as best as she can day by day.
The animal her eyes saw was extremely rare in her east Tennessee location but she knew good and well that anything was possible – she lost her mother for God’s sake, she knew anything could happen at any time. She swallowed a lump forming in her throat as she slowly stood up and turned to face the big cougar that was maybe thirty feet away from her standing point.
She held her hands up in the air, showing she wasn’t guilty of anything. Perhaps she just entered its territory and the huge cat just wanted her gone. Julianne, on the other hand, wanted the cat gone so she could finish her snowman that has been waiting forever on her to return.
“Please, if you want I will leave, mister cat. I will leave.’’ Julianne whispered softly as she stepped back, slipping as her foot slid off the edge of the rock and into the water. She threw her arms out, steadying her balance as she gasped, afraid that the animal would pounce on her.
She held her breath, hoping that something – anything – would happen so that she could escape and head home. For once in her life she’d prefer her father over the outdoors.
The huge feline picked up its front paw and stepped closer, just a footstep though, and stopped in the snow. Julianne’s lips parted in fear as she stood before the huge animal, afraid out of her mind. In her seven years of living on this crazy earth she had learned things, and one of them was from her mother as were many others – cougar attacks are very, very rare and hardly occur. But she always knew anything could happen at any point in time.
Her blue eyes closed tight, sealed away from the world. She held her breath only wishing the beast would leave her alone and go along with its day so she could do the same. The cougar’s ears shot up as it heard a deep rumble, Julianne picking up on the sound too as her eyes opened.
Expecting it to be the huge cat, she furrowed her eyebrows as she saw it staring in somewhat fear to the west of them. For a moment she thought of not looking, afraid to see something worse than what already stood only a few feet away from her. But she did anyways, slowly turning her head in the direction to see something that terrified her more, but amazed her extremely.
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