A new chapter after a hearty break. I hope you enjoy.

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Cruel Nature

That night, Amelia's mind wondered away into a dream state wherein she envisaged her usual nightmares. The dark grassy field tucked away amidst the woods was familiar to her and immediately, she recognized a dream which haunted her often. She stood at the edge of the forest, looking ahead at a man that sat on a long log. He looked out towards the open horizon, dark and vast with no stars but only endless darkness. She began to walk towards him but the man paid her no attention with his back turned. She already knew the man's identity.

She spoke in the faintest of ways, "Father."

She sat next to him and he turned his sigh to her, glaring with intense dislike, his brown was furrowed, and his hands clenched. He said nothing. Numerous times she had the exact same dream and each time, he would not speak, not allowing her to gain closure. His silence served as an endless reminder of the disapproval he carried towards her choices – then and after his death even. She harboured the usual feeling this dream manifested; hurt and sorrow.

"I'm sorry that my choices were not aligned with your ideals, but I'm still your daughter, your blood, if you could find it in your heart to ever forgive me," her voice trailed off for a moment as she withheld tears.

Before she could continue, her father suddenly turned to the direction of the horizon. The atmosphere shifted, and a stomach-flipping feeling overwhelmed her. This was not the usual set of events in this recurring dream of hers. The sudden change caused her to become uneasy; she froze, only her gaze followed the direction that her father focused on.

The dark night that surrounded them began to change; hundreds of lights shimmered in the gloaming. A low arc of light was seen stealing the horizon, with gradual increase in height as orange-toned clouds manifested all over the sky. The dull and uncommunicative night turned to a striking dawn. Suddenly, she felt an urge to look beyond the edge of the cliff, as the world on the other side felt warm and inviting. Before she could gather her thoughts whether to look beyond the horizon, unease made her tense up.

From the endless rays of orange sun emerged a brown wolf. Tall and mighty he stood; his fur moved with the gentle wind.

She looked away for a brief moment, noticing her father had vanished. All was left was to face the fearsome creature. Amelia could only comprehend fear and when the creature howled, she instinctively began to run in the opposite direction, away from the wolf. She could feel that it began to pursue her, and just as it leaped to pounce the girl the dream abruptly ended.

Amelia awoke covered is sweat. A pain in the head from the onset of the alcohol immediately welcomed her back to reality. Her eyelids fluttered trying to adjust to the darkness in the tent. Her shoulder was pulsing, the bullet wound was slightly crimson in colour. She guessed to have slept on her bad arm and it became sore.

On the opposite side of the tent she noticed the faint light from a lantern. It glowed dimly, providing just enough light for Arthur who held his journal near it. A pencil loosely held in his lips; he was lost in thoughts as eyes trailed slowly within the pages. He gathered his pencil and began to draw.

"Do you not sleep well at night Mr. Morgan? Amelia asked earnestly.

"I do not," he said nonchalant, "And neither do you."

"I sleep like a stone."

"You whimper and groan."

"Ho ho!"

"It's ain't a lie, kid."

A soft but increasingly loud howling of wolves filled the silence. Growls and barks resonated after.

Amelia froze in fear, remembering the dream she had previously vividly. Feeling the fear more openly than usual. She was just startled, she explained, forcing herself to not fear the sounds. But it was the wilderness, an unknown surrounding and the feeling of fear once more won. The howling continued from all directions.

"They sound awfully close," she finally said.

"It's their home we're in," he put away his journal and pencil and replacing it with his rifle. He sighed, not bothered by any fear but rather annoyed at the disturbance of his peace. He placed bullets in the loading gate. "Rest, sleep, I'll keep watch."

She shuffled in her bed; eyes still wide as she couldn't fathom the idea of sleeping surrounded by hungry predators. The snow had thawed late this spring, she guessed these wolfs are probably scouring for food wherever possible – nearing camps they would otherwise avoid.

She closed her eyes, but sleep did not come easy, at least not for at least an hour. Her glances would often fall to Arthur, reassuring herself that he was armed and ready to kill any creature that dared to cross the tent's entrance. She finally dozed off to a light slumber.

Amelia awoke at early hours of the morning. The chilly wind was blowing from the tent's entrance, cold enough that it nipped at her face. It couldn't have been later than half five in the morning. Though she did not have a watch of any sort to confirm the hour, the emerging smidges of light provided her an approximate.

She glanced at the bed at the other end of the tent. Arthur was not there. She pushed the two blankets away, and remembered, that she only had one before. She figured it to be Arthur's doing. She changed her night clothes to the day ones; a white button shirt and brown jeans and boots; a coat was certainly needed. The attire would do this climate justice.

She dunked her face in the basin and brushed her teeth. As she splashed some more water onto her face, she could not shake the feeling of something being off. Like a careful animal that sensed the storm coming, Amelia felt something unfortunate brewing in the air.

She stepped out of the tent, fixing up her coat sleeves as she stomped the muddy ground. Looking around, the other tents of the workers were empty.

She heard the voice before she saw the man. "That's it, you three get back to work! Mr. Appleseed is very unhappy." The voice belonged to the foreman. She walked above the small hill to have the lumberman come into view, with the foreman standing amidst the gathered group.

"Mr. Appleseed ain't out here getting mauled by wolves we lost two men already!" Matt argued his case.

"There ain't none of you getting paid a single penny if the work ain't done," the foreman countered.

"Fine by me I'd rather be poor than dead." Matt said his final words, and the rest of the lumberman followed him as they walked towards the camp site.

"Bunch of good-for-nothing cowards. You call yerself lumberman? You afraid of a few damn critters!" The foreman shouted at their backs.

The men neared Amelia and she quickly did a head count of the familiar faces from last night. It did not take long to deduct the two poor souls that went missing; Clive who was the cook and young Joey that played the harmonica.

"I don't know what to tell ya, foreman," Arthur scratched the back of his head, "We're meant to be moving on anyhow."

"I implore you to reconsider. I mean, can you believe these lilly-livers? Refusing to work on account of a few wolves."

"Clive and Joey…the wolves got 'em?" Amelia's pitched in, the men both turned to the girl.

A moment of silence hung in the air as Amelia nervously swallowed, awaiting confirmation of the horrible news.

"They've been attacking workers on the south side of the camp," Arthur reiterated the information he heard earlier.

Amelia stood in one spot, eyes slightly staring at the ground – a mixture of sadness and grief could be seen in them, but she quickly pushed the feeling to the back of her mind.

Arthur turned back to the foreman, "If you payin', I'll take care for them wolves."

"That would be necessary right about now."

"Only if you payin?"

"Yes! Yes, just get rid of them before they eat all my men!"

Arthur walked in the direction of his tent; Amelia instinctively followed a few steps behind. They passed the lumberman standing by the same fire pit; the very same spot they celebrated their night off just a few hours ago. Now they stood in a group, mourning their lost friend.

They lifted their drinks and Matt announced, "To Joe, a more miserable bastard there never was!"

Amelia's expression dropped once more at the mention of his workmate's final acknowledgment of his name being Joe instead of young Joey. He was now a man in their eyes – or at least, he died like a man only could out in the wild.

The pair entered the tent and Arthur took to his rifle, he cocked the gun and as sure as ever of the weapon, he tossed it, resting it on his back. "Stay behind here, get the horses ready - we' leaving as soon as I come back."

He walked off before she could protest, she watched as he headed out eastward bound towards the woods.

Amelia chased after the man and stood just outside the tent's entrance. She glanced around worryingly. The lumberman had taken to their usual tents, some resting, most packing. "Is not one going to go with him!?"

"I ain't risking my life for that bastard, Appleseed," Rudy answered, "Them boys last night got mangled when trying to face those killers."

She could not blame them. She entered the tent and began to pace the room uneasy; waiting was her only choice. She felt hopeless after hearing one's life being taken away. Someone she could speak to just hours ago. So sudden was it, and so unexpected, that she was taken aback by the events. She feared for the worst when she imagined Arthur coming face to face with the pack of wolves. She did not doubt his skill, however, the nightmare she saw last night prompted her to think that perhaps it was a sign. And so, she feared for his life. All for a bit of money he was willing to risk it. 'What a fool,' she thought.

She took to his saddle bags, pushing away the clothes she spotted his usual off-hand revolver. She shook her head, not agreeing that the weapon was sufficient to take down a wolf. She picked up the longarm carbine repeater – a heavy weapon she was not used to handling but practice reloading when she cleaned the guns the other day. She held the longarm as she applied the usual technique of placing the bullets into the chamber, releasing the safety while moving the bolt handle to seal the cartridge into the chamber, now ready for action.

She ran in the same direction that she saw Arthur walk off too. Foolish as her action may seem, she could not fathom the idea of losing him to wolves. Amidst the rocky formation, a wolf's growl was heard. The sound of a bullet being shot pierced the air, echoing between the rocky terrain until it faded. Without skipping a beat, she ran past the trees, dogging leafy branches as she neared the sound.

She emerged from the trees overlooking a shallow valley where the events were taking place. Here is what she saw; Arthur aimed his rifle at a close proximity to one of the wolfs. The animal's ears were pinned back, it bared sharp fangs, and its stance said it was ready to pounce. Behind this, another wolf stood, in the same pose as its counterpart. A third wolf laid dead from the bullet he received seconds ago.

She could only assume Arthur could focused on one target at a time, therefore she aimed the carbine repeater at the second wolf, making her way quickly yet carefully down the valley. A loud shot was heard as Arthur's fired and hit the wolf that lunged towards him. He quickly began to reload the gun, but to his dismay, the bolt jammed as he struggled to release the barrel. He did not have a moment to react when the wolf ran into his leg, biting hard and drawing blood. He swung his leg with much force, tossing the animal away. The wolf prepared to pounce once more. "Stay back!" he shouted while pointing the unloaded gun at the animal in hopes of intimidate it. He now mentally prepared himself to be bitten again, possibly having to strike it with the back of his gun. The beast took a few steps back.

Amelia took this opportunity to pull the safety leaver and the bolt before firing a fierce shot that had her stumbling back a few steps before falling onto the ground. Gun smoke filled the air as her ears rang. The shot missed and served only to startle the wolf. Now surrounded by two humans, with his fellow comrade's dead, the animal opted for quick retreat.

"Give me that!" Arthur approached the girl, quickly snatching the carbine repeater out of her hands and aiming at the bolting wolf. It was pointless, the wolf had disappeared behind an array of rocks.

He stood still for a moment, aiming at the distance and intensely listening in for the wolf's return that never occurred. He relaxed his muscles and let down the carbine repeater. Amelia picked herself up off the ground. She was dusting the dry soil off herself when she saw Arthur approach rather quickly, so naturally, she backed up against the rocky wall. Intimidated, she made herself slightly smaller as he towered over her, clearly angry.

"I asked you to stay behind, what part of that was unclear!"

"You're ungrateful! I provided the distraction you needed."

"I had the situation in control," He pointed at her in anger but ultimately composed himself, choosing to step away while shaking his head at the disbelief at the headache the girl was causing him. He picked up his guns and began to walk back to camp.

She followed slowly behind, murmuring underneath her breath, "Shoulda' taught me how to shoot then maybe I coulda' cover you better."

"I ain't asking for cover!"

"You also ain't abiding to your end of the deal."

"You're a spoiled brat, you know that? Am I meant to feel responsible for being coaxed into this false bet which I lost but never asked for?" He meant to continue to express his frustration, however, when he stopped his stride and turned back to face Amelia, he was met with a sorrow look on her face.

There laid Joe's body, mangled to almost no recognition.

Amelia had never dealt with wolves in such a near proximity. So how could she ever know what to be expected? And her first experience taught her an unforgivable lesson. Nature is cruel and it fights back against intruders.

Arthur winced before his face soften, feeling remorse – he never meant for her to see such a harrowing sight. "Come on kid, you don't need to be looking at that," he spoke with a a more gentle tone.

She kneeled next to the body, turning away to not look at the face but rather, she reached into the boy's coat pocket. She retrieved the silver harmonica from his possession. She sighed and thought, 'I would of wrote you too, Joe.'


She offered him a dull smile and she lifted herself back up, "He got mauled by wolves, the first boy I ever kissed."

"Well, you sure made his last day on earth worth it then, that or perhaps the kiss sealed his fate," Arthur laughed along with his last remark, patting Amelia heartily on the back.

"Oh, go and comb your hair Mr. Morgan!"

"You bad luck? Anything I needing to know about? Ever been to a witch she put a spell on you, unfortunate events start occurring around your life straight after, that ever happen?"

"I'm done here."

"Don't take it so serious, I'm jokin'!"

"Men died."

"Yes, and I saved the rest of those sorry bastards by killing a pack of wolves. That's the world out here, many die and some survive."

"Maybe I wouldn't be so vounrable if I finally had a gun!"

"I ain't trustin' you with a gun till you can shoot proper."

They returned to the nearby camp, Arthur instructed Amelia to pack while he gestured in the direction of the foreman's tent, "I'll go sort the formalities of the payment, then we're heading out - don't dawdle, we lost enough time as it is."

Amelia watched Arthur walk away, she noticed the slightest limp in his right foot, she also noticed the ripped material and the dried blood from the wolf bite.

"Ho ho, there you are!" The foreman greeted Arthur with wide arms opened, "I assumed from all the gun shots and howling' that you got some good news for me?"

"Yep, it's done."

"Thats a relief, I tell ya'. Excellent work - money is right there on the table."

"Don't mention it, me a wolves go way back." Arthur counted the money and turned on his heel to walk away. He gave the foreman a tip of the hat before heading back up to Amelia. The girl stood next to the packed horses, saddled with their belongings atop their backs.

Arthur mounted King. Amelia approached his right leg, pulling his foot out of the stirrup. Initially confused, until she said, "Can't have you limping like a cripple, not good for the tough outlander look."

He observed as she cleaned and banaged his wound. Without a word, he offered a nod to the kind gesture.

She mounted Gin and the pair rode off in the direction of Strawberry, leaving Appleseed Timber in the dust kicked up from the horse's hoofs.