Flynn Cadara looked up at the sky. It was getting dark. He knew that he needed to head back to the cabin. It would be dinnertime undeniably, and he didn’t want to miss it.
“Tam!” Flynn called out.
A large, wolf-like dog appeared, heading toward Flynn at a slow trot.
“It’s time to head home,” Flynn said. “Did you find anything interesting?”
“There’s a large herd of elk not far from here,” Tam said to him, looking up at Flynn’s face as they headed up a low hill. “You should tell your father. Winter is coming, and he hasn’t been able to get much meat.”
“I’ll tell him.”
“Also, bear tracks,” said the burly dog.
“Agh, blast and confound it all! Why bears!”
“Just tell the bear to stay away from the sheep and the horses,” Tam said, unconcerned.
* * *
Tallinn Cadara, Flynn’s father, peered into the darkness from the porch of a small cabin. He saw Flynn come out of the dark and into the warm glow that the oil lantern was casting. The boy was tall for his age, ten, and was skinny and lanky. He was wearing tough britches cut just below the kneecaps, and a short-sleeved shirt, and no shoes. His hair was a gray-brown color, and his face’s details were sharp.
“What took you so long, son! And what have I told you about those, those… pants! Winter’s not a month away! And you don’t even have your boots on!” Tallinn called out in frustration.
“My boots are too small, and these pants are more comfortable!”
“Oh, well, we’ll go into town tomorrow to get you some more boots, but if you wear those, those… shorts anymore before winter is over, I’ll burn them. Come inside, we’re having supper. Your mother is worried sick about you.”
Tallinn was a strong man, a kind but firm father. Flynn understood that he didn’t want him to get pneumonia or anything, but his “shorts,” as Tallinn had called them, were much more comfortable, and his legs didn’t get hot or stuffy.
Flynn came inside and approached his mother, Selenia. She was setting the table with stew and bread and pale cider. When she saw Flynn come in, she crossed her arms and gave him a large scowl.
“I have a mind to not let you eat, young man,” she said in a voice shaking with concern. She hugged Flynn and sat him down at the table. Tallinn came in and sat down. Selenia said the grace, and they all began to eat. Flynn had worked up an appetite, and he ate large portions of food. Tam, who had found his bowl, was tearing at the slab of meat ravenously.
“Did you see anything interesting or important today?” asked Selenia, to see if Flynn had an excuse for being so late.
“Yes. There’s a large herd of elk, not far from here,” he said, slurping up a spoonful of the stew.
That seemed to redeem Flynn to his father, who was grinning widely. “Get the bows ready, and we’ll head out tonight!”
A spark shot through Flynn. They were going to go hunting! This meant that they could go farther than he was normally allowed, so he would be able to explore more. What’s more, they were going at night. He felt bad, though, for the elk, as they would be killed.
“No, you won’t leave tonight,” Selenia broke in, “at least not until my son has had some sleep.”
“Selenia! I don’t nee- ” protested Flynn.
“Don’t you argue with me, young man. You’re not going hunting until morning, and that’s that.”
Flynn knew that he had lost the argument, short as it was. He went to his small bed in one of the corners of the two-room cabin. He pulled off his clothes and crawled under the warm blankets. He thought about all of the familiar territory he had crept through that day, all of the birds and squirrels he had chatted with. He thought about his strange ability to talk with animals, something that he had not shared with Tallinn or Selenia. He pondered this subject for a long while before he fell asleep.
* * *
Flynn jerked up in the middle of the night. He hadn’t told Tallinn about the bear, and he hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to him. The sheep! He dashed up, pulled on his clothes, and dashed to Tallinn’s bed, which was across the room from his. Selenia was slumbering fitfully, but… Tallinn wasn’t in the bed. Flynn looked over at Tam’s small bed. Empty too.
“Come on, are you coming or not!” whispered a voice below him, making him jump. It was Tam.
“What?” Flynn whispered back.
“We have to get to the elk as soon as possible. We won’t have this chance every day. C’mon!”
“Selenia said…” Flynn began.
“Don’t pretend that you don’t want to go hunting, Flynn. I’m sure Selenia will understand when she has meat for the winter.
Convinced, Flynn hurriedly put on several layers of clothes and rummaged under his bed for his old, small pair of boots. He grabbed his wool cap and then followed Tam outside, where his father was waiting.
“Ready to go?” asked Tallinn, rubbing wax along the string of his long hunting bow.
They headed out into the thick woods as silently as possible, Tam trotting ahead, showing Flynn the way to the elk.
They made good progress, speeding through the woods. Flynn couldn’t bring himself to tell Tallinn about the bear, for his father would undoubtedly kill it when he most certainly did not need to. All Flynn could do was hope that they came across the bear before it killed any sheep.
“Flynn! Up ahead!” Tam barked.
“This is where the elk were,” Flynn told Tallinn, pointing ahead.
“Now we must go slowly and silently. If the elk are still there, then they’ll hear us if we’re not careful. You stay here, and I’ll scout ahead.” Tallinn crept forward through the forest and down into the steep valley. Flynn stayed where he was, and then he heard a huge roar. A roar that couldn’t be the bear.
Flynn heard his father yelp and Tam scream his challenge to whatever was down there. Flynn dashed forward and gazed down.
Tallinn was loosing arrows at a huge monster. Tam was dashing in at it, biting and tearing at its legs. Flynn squinted down at the beast, trying to figure what it was, but he couldn’t.
It looked like a bear, though much larger. It roared out into the night and looked over, directly into Flynn’s eyes. A huge, fiery pain shot through Flynn like an arrow. He felt dizzy and fell to the ground. The shapes of Tallinn and Tam and the thing below him grew to shadows and shades, and then Flynn’s mind went blank, and he fell, unconscious.
* * *
Flynn was roused back into consciousness by the cracking of trees being mowed over by the wailing beast. It was crashing off through the forest. Flynn stood up gingerly and slowly walked down to Tallinn, who was panting, crouching next to Tam. The big dog was gasping in ragged breaths. Tallinn stood up.
“What was that!” Flynn gasped.
“I don’t know,” Tallinn said, but Flynn wondered if he really did.
“What made it run away?” Flynn asked Tam quietly as they walked back to the cabin.
“Your father hit it in the eye.”
“How did he know to do that?” Flynn inquired, but they were back at the cabin. Tallinn and Flynn slowly crept in, took off their clothes, and got into bed, trying not to disturb Selenia.
* * *
The next morning, Flynn got up and asked his father if he could go out.
Tallinn said no.
Flynn understood, but he still needed to find the bear. So he went out while his father was chopping wood behind the house.
Neither of them had spoken a word of the last night’s incident to Selenia, and for good reason. While Flynn searched for the bear, he thought about the huge monster. And then a huge idea hit him like a thunderbolt. Why hadn’t he tried to talk to the thing! Probably because he was glued to the spot, petrified, but he should have tried.
When Flynn found the bear, a huge grizzly, he talked to it for a while, asking it about the monster. The bear said that he didn’t know anything about a phantom beast. Finally Flynn asked him to leave the sheep alone, though told him about the elk, which seemed to interest the bear greatly.
* * *
When Flynn got home, relieved that Tallinn didn’t find out about his outing, he went inside. That night, Tallinn called Flynn out to the porch of the cabin.
“Don’t ask me any questions, Flynn, just listen,” said Tallinn. “What we saw last night was an Alarcon. One on a mission. No, don’t ask any questions,” Tallinn repeated, seeing that Flynn was about to speak. “I think I know what its mission is,” Tallinn continued.
“To capture you, and use your powers.”
Flynn couldn’t believe his father’s answer. “What?”
“You can talk to animals, can’t you, son?”
“How did you know?” asked Flynn in alarm.
“I see you continually, conversing with Tam, in a way that couldn’t be just friendly dog-talk. And I know that you are special. If the Alarcon comes back looking for you, you’re going to have to leave.”
“What?” Flynn asked confusedly.
“Eventually, it will get to you, and I don’t want to let that happen—will not let that happen. You will flee, with Tam, and get as far away as you can. I’m pretty sure that Tam knows of a good place to take you. Though you must go, without arguing.”
Without waiting for Flynn to reply, Tallinn began to push him into the house.
“Wait, Tallinn, what about Selenia?” Flynn asked.
“I will talk to your mother.”
“One more thing.”
“How did you know about the monster?”
Tallinn hesitated. “Ask Tam to tell you, and I’m sure he will.”
“OK,” Flynn said, and he went and got into his bed.
* * *
Over the next few weeks, Flynn rarely went out. He constantly asked Tam about the monster whenever Selenia was out of sight, though the big dog refused to give any details. He continuously told Flynn that he would tell him when the time was right, though Tam didn’t say when the time would be.
Tallinn told Selenia about the entire ordeal, which of course made her very angry. Just before she was about to burst, they all heard a wail, and then a roar, that sounded awfully familiar.
They all stood for a split second and then snapped into action.
Tam dashed outside to keep watch, while Tallinn urgently gave Flynn instructions. “Follow Tam. Stay with him, and heed his commands. He will keep you safe. Don’t look back. Your mother has a pack ready for you. Go!” Tallinn then rushed for his bow and ran outside.
Flynn rushed into the hands of Selenia, and she pressed a kiss onto the top of his head. She handed him a sack of food and gear. “Forgive your father for that rough farewell, though he wants you safe. Be safe, be brave, and be wise. Good luck. I love you,” she said.
Tears pouring out of his eyes, Flynn followed Tam out of the back door, and, just as the cabin was out of sight, Flynn heard the wail of the beast.
Tam ran Flynn hard for several hours after the wailing of the beast was out of earshot. The dog wanted to keep going, but Flynn insisted that he needed a rest. Tam gave him a few minutes.
Flynn sat down with his back to a tree and dug into his sack. He saw a small knife, lots of food, a canteen of water, a little bottle of medicine, and some extra clothing. He pulled out a chunk of cheese and got a slice of bread. He devoured them hungrily and then took a short nap.
Tam woke him up after he too had had food, a small porcupine. He didn’t make Flynn run, but rather walk quickly.
Then the dog, rather suddenly, began to talk. “Now, Flynn, the time is right. The thing that you saw, and is most likely chasing us, is called an Alarcon.
“I know already. Tallinn told me a little about it, though keep going,” Flynn said, anxious to understand the Alarcon completely.
“It’s sensitive in the eyes, and it’s the fiercest, most brutal, most savage beast in the entire country. Somehow, it knows that you can speak to animals, and it clearly wants that ability. And it can get it. Its eyes are how it does it. If it looks you in the eye, it slowly drains you of your powers and takes them for itself.”
Flynn remembered the pain that had pierced through his body when the Alarcon had looked him in the eyes.
“Explain my powers,” Flynn asked.
“You have your ability because your great-great-grandfather didn’t kill an animal when he was starving to death and when he had the opportunity. The animal granted him the power and then showed him food. That’s all. And the power was passed down in your family,” Tam said quickly and simply.
“Wait,” asked Flynn, perplexed. “If it passes down in the family, why doesn’t my father have the power?”
“It was on your mother’s side, though she lost it when she married a man from a different country.”
Flynn thought about the sacrifice his mother had made.
And then, cutting off the conversation, was the roar of the Alarcon. It was close. Very close. Too close.
A huge tree toppled not a foot away from where Flynn stood, thrown by the huge beast. It was right there, and uprooting another tree.
“Run!” Tam barked, and Flynn ran, the Alarcon following close behind the dog and the boy.
Flynn was soon tired, and the Alarcon was almost on top of him.
And then, Flynn fell, and Tam fell, and the Alarcon fell. They plummeted down, having run head-on off of a cliff.
Flynn gazed down, horror rising up in his chest. They were falling into a rock field. Huge, sharp, jutting rocks stuck up out of the earth, and they were not a hundred yards from the huge stones.
And then, a huge condor was under Tam, and Flynn, and shot back up to the edge of the cliff, leaving the Alarcon to burst apart on the crude rocks.
* * *
The condor flew back to the cabin, which was now in ruins. It appeared that the Alarcon had stepped on it, and more than half of it was crushed. Tallinn and Selenia were well, though quite upset about the cabin.
Flynn thanked the condor, who nodded and flew off.
Flynn ran into the arms of his parents.