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LOST IN THE WILDERNESS

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 31
Sunset

 

The end of a long day had come at last. The new sun, εEri2 was low in the west and yellow-orange highlights were kissing the clouds that floated high overheard. The extended daylight hours would take some getting used to and just about everyone was exhausted from a full day of work that was a third longer than anything they had ever experienced; most were now resting or asleep, simply worn out from the day's events. Although there had been no apparent problems with the local wildlife so far, it was possible the night might bring out potential dangers from indigenous nocturnal creatures, so while the others slept, Jon was one of four volunteers who had elected to stand watch over the camp.

Seeing as how Norman, Arne and Manny were vigilant around the entrance of the cave that housed their new home, Jon took it upon himself to climb up the side of the mountain to a ledge he had seen from below. From there he would have a good view of the horseshoe valley and the lake, and could raise an alarm if he spotted anything coming. Remembering his failure to stay awake during their survival march that resulted in the coyote attack upon Erin, he was determined to let that never happen again.

Although the light was waning, the mountain lion had no difficulty on all fours traversing up through rocks and around brush, but before he'd gotten halfway to his destination, his enhanced senses told him that he was being followed. A change in the breeze shifting scents up to him confirmed his suspicions; he smiled to himself, but he continued on as if he had been unaware.

It only took a few moments to reach his objective and he was pleased at the size of his new perch. It was a relatively flat slab of rock that had separated from the mountainside at some time in the distant past and had fallen over near the edge of the cliff. It was stable enough that when he stood up on two legs that it didn't even shift beneath his redistributed weight.

He rubbed his shoulder a bit, and although the gunshot wound still had some healing to do, it wasn't bothering him as much as he thought it would – especially after a day of manual labor. He had neglected his exercise routines due to constant schedule interruptions since they'd left the Institute, but he knew he needed to start them again just as soon as they'd all gotten used to the new clocks.

There were many others in the group that weren't used to as much physical labor as they'd done that long, long day and were near collapsing when Avon had announced an end to their endeavors. There was more to setting up a real settlement that they'd experienced in the play-colony of the Institute, but at least enough of it was familiar to everyone that there were few surprises. 

One of the newest members of the colony was still having a difficult time that encompassed more than just the physical toll of the hard work they'd done. Chieko Mochizuki was still experiencing the final painful effects of her transformation, and although she was nearing her completion, there were still things shifting around inside that hurt enough to keep her incapacitated at times.

Masanori had been exempted from the colony setup to tend to his wife. There were twenty-nine sympathetic Furs who understood what she was going through, but she would have the hardest time of them all.  With Avon's approval, the red panda had assembled one of the traveling camping tents from their supplies to set up a makeshift privacy shelter further back into the cave to be away from all the activity. Masanori came out periodically for fresh water, food or allowable painkillers, but there was no masking the woman's occasional cries of pain that echoed from the bare walls of the cavern.

At the moment, however, there were no sounds emanating from Second Chance. With everyone asleep, including poor Chieko, the evening was peaceful. From his new perch, Jon could see the other three males pacing the entrance of the cave lip, so he took a few moments to close his eyes and stand still. 

The sun was near the horizon and he could still feel the warmth of its diminished rays upon his eyelids. With nightfall fast approaching, he could hear new sounds coming up to him from the forest below that had not been present during the day.  It was now time for nocturnal creatures to venture out for their nightly activities.  Despite that the place was alien to everything he knew growing up on Earth, there were so many similarities that he felt calm and at peace.

Birds chirped and sang, insects buzzed, clicked and chirred as other living things issued forth their calls, some jarring enough to send shivers down Terran backs and others so melodious to calm even the most frazzled nerves. As the sun sank further toward the horizon, a nighttime breeze picked up around the crags of the mountain and the light wind brought the aromas of green growing things, of dust, and even the familiarity of the decay of vegetation.  He could smell the fresh water and although he did not recognize all the scents around him, he felt no danger.

Although Jon was the alien on this world, he knew it was likely to be his home from now on.  Even if they survived the initial five years of their contract, it would be decades before anything resembling civilization ever arose in this place.

This is the life that was originally meant for the man I murdered, Jon mused to himself. Henry Parker should have been the one standing upon this rock listening to the night sounds of a new world.

Jon regretted the actions he took on that fateful night, but he clung to the belief that if the cougar had been just another human, he still might have killed him for taking his fiancé and ruining his life.  Of course, he realized that if things had happened that way, there would have been no alternative for him and Brian Barrett would have been executed for the murderous crime.  As a Fur, Jonathan Sunset had a chance to live, even if it was in place of a life meant for someone else.

He let such thoughts float away on the wind. There was no Earth now. It was nothing more than a dreamland for his memories. Think of only the good, he remembered. Forget the bad.  This was a fresh start on a new world, and there were plenty of adventures to be had.

He put his hands behind him in a relaxed manner, keeping his eyes closed as his follower finally reached his perch. It was only when she stood up beside him that he opened his eyes and smiled at her.

Kristen returned his smile and then looked off to the west just as the sun began to touch the far horizon. Although Epsilon Eri 2 was an alien star, it resembled the old Sol that kept watch over the Earth where they were born.  The sunset was comforting in its familiarity.

The lioness looked back at her companion and saw the soft expression upon his face in the waning light.

“Are you okay?” she whispered.

In silent answer, he smiled and took her by the hand.  His old life had been swept away and now there was only the new. Feeling the warmth of his hand in hers, she looked up at him expectantly, and with the last rays of the sunset reflecting in his eyes, he leaned forward and kissed her.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.