"The Surrogate," by Meredy Amyx





The Surrogate

     The child awoke from uneasy dreams that clung to her like thick cobwebs, fogging her senses. Where had she been? There was a memory of moving heavily through a darkened space, of shadowed woods thick with leafy branches, of a deep, steady heartbeat and a powerful animal smell.

     Blurred with these images was the sound of cries, forgotten in waking hours but filling her ears now from the dream: voices calling, calling in sounds she almost knew, a word with special meaning to her-—what was it? She strained to recall. The voices of strangers echoed through her mind, evoking a faded recollection of a flat black path, a forested hollow with rocky walls looming far above, and rapid, galloping motion—and then the memories were gone, and she was awake.
     But where? She sat up and looked around in sudden panic. She was lying among soft green ferns and wood sorrel, sheltered by a cluster of low shrubs within the deeper shelter of immense redwoods. Nothing within her range of view was recognizable. Where was her home? And the cedar grove, and the nearby stream? Where were the faces she knew, the loving voices, the familiar smells and sounds?

     Instead, she realized, somewhere close by to where she now stood, turning round and round in dread and dismay, something was making terrifying noises. She heard a whining hum growing louder and louder, and then a sudden whoosh, and then it faded, to be followed by another and another. And along with the harsh roar came a dark, disturbing smoky odor of burnt rock and foul things she could not identify, but which she knew meant danger! danger! danger! Heart pounding, she leapt to her feet, thinking only to get away as fast as possible from the smelly, threatening noises.

     Close by was a stand of bay laurels, whose dry, fallen leaves formed an aromatic carpet that gave off a spicy fragrance as her tiny feet trod on them, slowly at first and then in a headlong rush as she failed to discover any familiar sight in her vicinity. She let the slope of the land carry her downhill, away from the scary rushing roar, and as she went the woods got thicker and darker. The brambles plucked at her thin rag of a garment, and the rocks bruised her bare feet. Crying, she began to call out for the warm motherly presence that meant safety to her, calling in her wordless child's voice.
     And echoing back into her inner ear came the sound of those other voices, less distinct now, but the sound had a shape, and suddenly she remembered the shape of that sound. "Annie! Annie!" They were calling for her! That sound meant herself! Someone wanted to find her. But no, that was only a dream. No one was there. She was alone, and lost, lost.
     The child was dazed now, faint with thirst, confused. How long had she been running? She was hungry, hot, and tired.
     She thought she heard water trickling over rocks and turned toward the sound, ignoring the thorns that sliced her short, chubby legs. She fell to her knees and scooped the cool water to her lips. Once again she heard the voices of strangers calling her name, and then it was only the sound of the splashing water. As she stood, her hair became entangled in a low branch. She wrenched it free, her panic having dulled all pain hours ago. Sobbing, she stumbled on, following the stream while she whimpered to herself over and over, "Annie…Annie…"
     And all at once, as the brook merged with a larger stream, the landscape became familiar. The double pine. The salmon river. The crossing log. The narrow strip of graveled beach and the rocky shelf, the rainwater path leading up into the trees, the small clearing by the jagged stump, and the dense woods beyond. Heedless of her exhaustion, the child began to run uphill as fast as her little legs would carry her. Long before she saw the place she knew as home, she could smell it: tree scent, earth scent, bear scent.
     And then there it was: the den beneath the spreading roots of the old red cedar. Scrambling in, the child uttered a cry of joy and flung herself at the mountain of shiny black hair. The she-bear released a snort of surprise and sat up as far as she could within the hollow below the giant tree. Then she spread wide her huge paws and gathered her little hairless cub to her warm breast.
     Hearing the contented hum of his mate, the great black bear sighed. He would have to break her heart again.
     He remembered that dreadful day in the woods, the smell of Big Two-Legs, the crack of the thunder stick. And then her cub, lying still, with the warm blood staining his fuzzy black face. And how she had reared up, though wounded, and brought Big Two-Legs down. How he had licked his mate and tended her through many days, and carried fish to her and berries, and how she had pined until he feared she would die.
     And how, one day, he had found Little Two-Legs straying alone below the hard, smoky black path. How he had run with her, deep, deep into the woods, away from the calling voices, carrying her softly in his jaws by the thin coat she wore, and how he had kept her hidden safe from all the Two-Legs. How his mate, at last, had come to life once more, cuddling the young creature that now slept peacefully curled at her chest.
     But now the Long Nap was nearly upon them as autumn overtook summer, and they could no longer nurture Little Two-Legs. He would have to try again. Next time he would have to carry Little Two-Legs all the way up to the road in the Two-Legs world.
     But just for tonight, their cub was home.

Copyright © 2008 Meredy Amyx.
"The Surrogate" was completed on April 26, 2008. This 996-word story was written as an entry to the spring 2008 WritersWeekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest, in which entrants are given 24 hours to respond to a prompt within a set word limit (in this case, 1000). It appears here exactly as submitted.