Sunset Cloud loves the way they look, all the different colored tents spread out in the snowy glade. You never know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of the brightly-colored coverings. Generally, the bigger ones have more good stuff inside, but not always. Sometimes they have only one human and a bunch of inedible things, but that one human is often the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth kind. Sunset Cloud stays away from the smallest containers, the cramped, only-come-up-to-your-shin ones. They’re inevitably filled with the stringy, beef-jerky humans. She hates those. Old Treebreaker likes those the most, says they keep his jaw strong, but more likely his constant talking is the reason for his jaw strength. She likes a little fat with her meals, good for her coat. Alpenglow said her hair shined like the river in the moonlight. Maybe she’ll invite him for a swim in the moonlight when the thaw hits.
Treebreaker pushes closer to her. She growls at him, showing fang as she does. “Sorry,” he says.
She grabs his arm, her claws like daggers on his dull, gray fur. She remembers when his fur was as bright as the leaves of the aspens before the snow, but that was a long time ago when she could still walk under her mother’s legs and her feet were smaller than a human’s. Now she’s the tallest in the clan, and her footprints draw spotters from all directions. “Don’t move.”
He stops, head hung, eyes downcast. She pities him, his strength leached away by the last hundred years. She knows it will be her one day. The more cubs she bears, the more she feels the passing of time and the weight of mortality. So she fights it the only way she knows how–y ensuring that the name of the Sunrise Clan Sasquatch of the Middle Mountains will go down in legend. For too many years the Sasquatches of the Western Water Clan have been preeminent among clans. They hold records for both the closest encounter with humans and for the number of encounters. And don’t think they don’t brag about that at every gathering. She’s getting tired of hearing how they’ve found the perfect time of day and lighting to show just enough to keep the humans coming back but never enough for absolute proof. And the Western Water Clan is wasteful, too. They eat almost none of the humans they find, preferring to play with them instead. They get the humans all hopped up and excited and then just let them go. Of course, they can live on loggers and bear alone. Food’s a little more scarce here.
Sunset Cloud’s expectations for tonight are sky-high. The last path she made, over rocks and through piles of fallen pine needles with the occasional enormous print just clear enough to get hopes up, was a work of art. The humans started entering the glade an hour or so ago, after a two-day walk from the nearest road. Humans walked slowly and ponderously in the snow. Nightfall forces them to stop and settle. Tomorrow, they’ll get up early to look for her. She counted eleven containers, all bright colors. She could see a few of the humans moving around, doing whatever it is humans did.
A loud shuffling from behind her announces Alpenglow’s arrival. Snow falls from the trees with a soft pitter-patter as he slides to a stop behind her. Muted as the sound is, it still attracts the attention of at least one of the humans in the clearing below.
She grabs Alpenglow, pressing him deeper into the shadows. “Quiet,” she hisses.
He peers around her shoulder. “So many. Are we going to get one tonight? I hear it’s easy when they are in their dens. The bears do it all the time.”
“That’s why bears get hunted,” Sunset Cloud answers.
His mouth opens in an O of understanding, and he nods. He’s not the brightest squatch, but he’s strong and good-looking. She probably should have left him behind on this trip, but the nights are long and cold this time of year. A little company makes them warmer and brighter. His red hair feels silky under her hands as she pats him reassuringly. “Don’t worry. We’ll get one tomorrow. After we play with them for a while.”
Alpenglow hugs her, smiling, and she leans into him. He’s almost as tall as she is, his feet almost as large. Maybe he would be a good father for her cubs. If she’s lucky, they’ll have his looks and her brains. “Back to the cave,” she says. “I’ll meet you there after I lay some more tracks.”
Alpenglow leaves with a nose nuzzle, Treebreaker with a grumble. She ignores both of them, caught up in the fantasy of knocking the Western Water clan off their high perch. As the sun slips behind the mountains, a flash of light catches her eye. Two humans are watching her from across the snow. The game is on.
From the other side of the glade, the man and he woman watch her go. The man drops his high-powered binoculars. The woman looks through her scope a little longer.
“Should we go after them?” he asks.
“There’s three of them, two of us.”
“But we have guns.” He points his rifle upslope.
“One of them is ten feet tall,” she says.
“Good point. I just can’t wait to show up to the BRFO Conference with an actual capture. Screw those Washington guys and their unfocused videos.”
“Tomorrow.” She smiles. What he lacks in planning, he makes up for in enthusiasm and looks. “Don’t count your sasquatches before they’re caught,” she cautions.
They head back down to the tents. “I hate winter camping,” the guy complains.
“I bet we can find a way to get warm.”
“Now you’re talking,” he grabs her arm, hurrying her.
She looks back up the hill. Tomorrow.