He stopped, thirty feet from the wood line, and sat back on his haunches. He growled low in his throat, a warning to anything close by. For awhile, nothing happened. He was early. He lay down low in the cool grass and waited for something to disturb the stillness.
He felt it first. Its energy came seeping from between the trees but did not cross the line onto the reservation. Instead, it pooled in one area and then spread out horizontally before moving up above the tree line, as though it were smoke hitting a glass wall and traveling in all directions, looking for an outlet. He could not see it well, but there was a visible ripple in the air periodically that indicated its presence. He didn’t need to see it to know it was there, however. His skin was crawling with the feel of it. He backed up a bit, slowly, and slowed his breath to avoid the chemical scent in the air. There was a vibration in the ground now, a thrumming, steadily growing in intensity. He and the cub had felt it the other night, as well, but they had been further back-at least 50 yards more than he was tonight.
He sensed movement in the woods. Three deer suddenly broke into the clearing, moving fast, as though being chased. As they hit the line that separated Indian land from the rest of the great state of Maine, they slowed, as though the air had become suddenly thicker and harder to move through. They appeared to be pushing against it, unaware, as they should have been, of a predator close by. The buck among them attempted to use his antlers to pierce the invisible shield keeping them back. He backed off, lowered his head, and charged. He slowed, although clearly he was straining to move forward, and was pushed back as though something much bigger had caught him by the antlers and force-walked him backwards.. He shook his head, backed up, and tried again with the same result. He hesitated, then turned left and ran along the tree line, the does following him. A black bear was next, throwing itself against the barrier repeatedly, before following the path of the deer. He now could see hundreds of smaller animals doing the same thing. In the sky, birds came swooping in with the same result. It was as though a rubberized net was catching them gently, absorbing their motion, and forcing them back to the forest.
The wolf followed after the bear, keeping on his side of the tree line. On the other side, the animals seemed unaware of him. Was it because they could not see him, or because, in their panic, they didn’t notice him? He hoped there might be a place, an opening, where they could slip through. The reservation should have been open to them, as it always had been. The charms were not meant to keep out wildlife. If they were being prevented from crossing the line, he suspected they were somehow infected by whatever was being kept out. In that case, any life on his side of the barrier would be safe but, he wondered, would they be able to cross the perimeter to the other side, where they might be endangered? He briefly thought of testing the border himself. He decided against the risk. If something happened and he couldn’t get home, he wouldn’t be able to warn the others. He would come back, on his own plane, and explore during the day to see what, if any, damage had been wrought. He tracked the bear for several miles before losing the scent. The deer were also gone. They had either all moved back into the woods or something had happened to them.
He stopped to rest for a moment, keeping a wary eye toward the woods. He needed to warn his pack, and then he needed to find his daughter. If he had to drag her kicking and screaming, she was coming home. Frankly, he never gave a thought to the old legends. They were the stories he had been raised on-a part of a heritage he took for granted, never questioning their truth or origin. He no longer felt he had the luxury of indifference. He rose and trotted in the direction he had come, crossing into the fog and becoming part of it, just as the sun started its ascent on the day.
Bryce slowed his walk to match Janie’s pace. He was on the verge of being late to school again, but he couldn’t bring himself to rush her, knowing that she hadn’t been sleeping well for the past several nights. On the other hand, he couldn’t be late too many more times before the school spoke to his Mom about his tardiness. If that happened, he knew, they would revert back to their old schedule of getting up an hour earlier every day in order to ride into school with his Mom, a nurse for the Franklin County school system . He had convinced his Mom last August that he was old enough now, and responsible enough, to get himself to school, dropping Janie off first with Mrs. Johnson, who would put Janie on the elementary bus with her own girls., and then walking the half mile to the middle school with the other kids in the neighborhood. Here it was, only late September, and he was already in danger of letting her down.
“Bryce, look” Janie said, pointing at something in the grass to the right of the sidewalk. “What is that?”
“It’s a grasshopper, Janie.” Bryce said, stepping off the sidewalk to get a closer look. As he stepped into the grass he felt a crunch underfoot and lifted his foot quickly, looking down to see what it was he had stepped on. It was another grasshopper, several in fact. The grass was littered with them. Why were they only in the grass? Bryce stepped quickly back to the sidewalk and turned to stop Janie from following him. He needn’t have worried. She was standing stiffly in the middle of the sidewalk looking intently at something. She nodded her head, turned to Bryce, and muttered something that sounded to Bryce like the Abenacki word for “back” before collapsing on the sidewalk.
“Janie! Janie, can you hear me? Janie? Come on, Shorty, wake up!” Bryce smoothed her bangs from her face and patted her cheeks. Her skin was pale but he could tell she was breathing. He didn’t think he would be able to carry her far and he didn’t want to drag her into the grass with all the dead insects. Reaching around in his back pack, he found his water bottle and dragged it out. He took off his sweatshirt and wet the sleeve with the cold water, then rung it out, and pressed it lightly against Janie’s forehead. It was working. She was coming to. She opened her eyes, groggy at first. She looked up at Bryce, her eyes filling with tears.
“We have to go home. We have to get away before they get here. Gran said. She said we have to go right now.”