Both men walked a little closer to the cave and stopped. Daecon’s mind was racing. He was glad, really really glad, that he had not revealed himself to these two. He was even more glad that he had decided to not go back into the cave. The two men were standing outside of it arguing.
“Well, go in then! You wanted to check this cave, here we are.”
“Fuck that, I ain’t going in there. You saw those bear tracks back there. This might be his lair.”
“Well I ain’t goin’ in either. I guess we can just go on back down to the lake then.”
“Wait. Send in the dogs.”
The man whistled for the dogs, who came running to his side. “Go on, you mutts! Get in there and sniff that cave out! Git!”
The dogs both looked at the cave opening and back at their master, then both of them sat down. Daecon almost giggled out loud as he imagined the dogs saying ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, you want that cave checked out, you do it!’.
One of the men interrupted Daecon's thoughts. “Why, you little sons of...”
“Wait, let me try.” The other man reached into his pocket and produced some beef jerky, which he started waving around.
“Here boys! Come and get a treat! Who wants a treat?”
The dogs both got excited and started jumping around as the man was whipping them into a frenzy. The man shouted “Go get it!” and threw the jerky into the cave. Both dogs took off inside after it, and after what sounded like a brief quarrel inside they emerged again, one licking his lips triumphantly and the other looking expectantly at the man, expecting more jerky.
“What the hell was that supposed to prove? Them dumb dogs wasn’t in that cave long enough to look around.”
“Maybe so, but they was inside long enough to prove that there ain’t no bears in there. Now, come on. Let’s check it out.”
With that he went inside and the other followed him. The dogs did not go in, instead they returned to the rhododendron that Daecon had peed on and sniffed at it eagerly, then followed Daecon’s scent to the edge of the cave opening where he had climbed up to get into the trees.
“Shoo! Git! Leave that alone! You’ll lead those fuckheads to me!” Daecon hissed, barely audible. Shockingly, the dogs looked up into the tree directly at Daecon and nodded (or so it seemed to him).
“Wait”, Daecon whispered. “Can you actually understand me?”
The dogs looked at each other, then back up at Daecon and nodded again.
Daecon was excited. Holy shit! This is so cool! It was all he could do to keep his voice down. “Look, those men are bad. They mean to hurt me. Can you lead them away?”
The dogs nodded again and turned away. They strolled over to the mouth of the cave again and sat down, waiting for their masters. Daecon could hear them talking inside the cave.
“Nope, ain’t nobody in here. No signs of that bear, either, thank God. Let’s get back.”
“Yes, let’s. This place creeps me out. Those bear tracks have me worried. I’ve never seen such big bear tracks. I don’t want to have to face that brute without my gun. Matter of fact, come bear season I'll be right back here here looking for 'im. Right now, though, let’s get the hell off this mountain and back to the lake... Wait. What’s that over there?”
“What? I don’t see nothing. You’d better not just be saying that, trying to...”
“No, shut up for a moment, can't you? I see something over there. Something shiny. Hold on...”
A few seconds of silence, then:
“Holy shit, it’s a cell phone, with two shiny blue things sitting on it. I think they might be contact lenses. And look at the phone. It’s locked of course, and the battery is just about dead, but look at the lock screen photo.”
Daecon instinctively reached for the pocket he kept his phone in. It was missing.
‘Fuck!’, he thought. He continued listening.
“Hey, isn’t that that same fancy car what’s smashed up over on the other side of the lake?”
is. This proves that Daecon fellow has been here. Come on, let's get back to
our boat. We'll let the others know what we found.”
"But if he's been here, where is he now? Why would he come to this cave and then leave it, and worse, leave his phone behind?"
"Beats me. Stupid queer's probably afraid of the dark, or bears, just like you. He can't be far away, though. When we come back with help we'll find him."
The two men
left the cave. The dogs started racing around on the ledge, barking excitedly.
“What the hell has gotten into those dogs?” one of the men growled.
“Maybe they’ve found his scent? Let’s follow them and see where they take us.”
With that the dogs started toward the edge of the plateau to go back down the mountain. The men followed them.
Daecon’s mind was racing. He didn’t care at all about the phone, but he did care about these men returning to their base and telling people what they had found. They would have proof that he had survived, and they would wonder how he got all the way across that lake. Suddenly the story of him flying away would make a little bit of sense. He was also very concerned about what was on that phone – he had just this evening taken a selfie with his wings! If they could somehow unlock it and look at his photos they would have all the proof they needed.
He had to stop them. But how? There were two of them, plus the two dogs. Besides, he was stuck in this tree. He’d never be able to climb out of it without making a lot of noise, which would bring those men right to him. They could then simply wait at the bottom for him to drop into their arms.
He had to get down out of this tree quickly and quietly. He found himself wishing that his wings were there now – he might not be able to fly but he could probably glide down and surprise them.
Just as he was thinking this there was a flash of light. Daecon didn’t even have to check – his wings were back! He had been leaning on the main trunk, and their sudden appearance behind him had almost knocked him out of the tree. And not only that, but he could feel something else underneath him. As he slowly stood up on the branch he heard the men below.
“What the hell was that?” one of them asked from just inside the woods.
“I don’t know. It came from up above that cave”, the other said as they both reappeared on the ledge. The dogs could be heard barking impatiently further down the hill.
Suddenly both of their flashlights were searching the trees, occasionally shining directly on Daecon but never lingering. Could they not see him? It didn’t matter anymore anyway, he could not stay in this tree. As he continued to stand he realized that what was under him was a set of tail feathers that matched the wings. He still hadn’t fully become a bird but at least he was getting closer! And the men didn’t seem to be able to see him, even though they had passed their lights directly over him.
An owl hooted nearby, momentarily drawing the attention of the men below. After a brief search with the lights they started talking to each other.
“I don’t see anything”, one of the men said. “Maybe it was that owl?”
“Whatever it was, I don’t see anything now. Come on, let’s get back to the lake.”
Daecon had already decided that no matter what happened he was not going to let those men make it back to their base camp with his phone. He thought he heard a faint rustling in the tree next to him, but he didn't have time to look to see what it was. He spread his wings out wide, crouched down on the branch, and prepared to jump.
He was just about to launch himself when he heard a faint “Don’t” coming from where he had heard the rustling.
He whipped his head around to look and was surprised to see an enormous black owl perched in it, its huge green eyes looking at him. The owl’s feathers were so dark they were almost invisible, making the eyes look like they were just floating there. Normally Daecon would have had his senses scared out of him at such a sight, but after what he had learned today he didn’t even wince.
“What do you mean, ‘Don’t’”, he whispered. “I’ve got to stop them. They’ve got my phone, and they...”
“QUIET!”, the owl hissed. “Never mind your phone. Wait until they are out of sight, and I’ll come over there.”
After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity the men were out of sight. They could still be heard, though, and with the racket they were making going down that hill they weren’t likely to hear anything. The owl silently fluttered over and landed on the branch beside Daecon. If it looked huge in the other tree it was now enormous sitting next to Daecon in this one. It was broad and short, very powerful looking.
“Who are you?” Daecon asked.
“I am what you are, and you are what I am. I am Leander, Owen’s husband. I’ve come to help.”