I look upstream, searching for something familiar. I see nothing by trees and the light cutting to the ground on a slant unlike midday when it fears straight down. My belly is starting to grumble.
I turn and look downstream where the river boils over rocks and around a bend. Still nothing but trees. I walk around in a tight circle, head down, searching for a scent to guide me home. I smell nothing but the verdant fir trees and a needy dankness that is me.
I lick my bloody claw, broken in the downhill scramble that was part of how I found myself here in the first place. I hear the cry of a red tailed hawk in the distance - around the bend where the river flows. That seems as good a reason as many to me to go around that bend and see what's there. I carefully pick my way along the slippery boulder-strewn bank toward something. I still don't know what.
I'm almost to the bend and my stomach churns with hunger. I imagine the sound of my kibble hitting the steel bowl like a rainstorm of little rocks announcing dinner. A little drool pools in my mouth and slips out the side. I pause to drink the beautiful cool water of the river in a small calm spot against the shore. It's still enough that I see the Water Dog gazing back at me. She mimics my every move - she licks when I lick, blinks when I blink, and when I bark - she jumps back and vanishes.
Drinking the water calms my stomach and I round the bend to see a wide open stretch of river. With enough room to breathe the river exhales and expands into the space, relaxed from pushing through the rocks and slips lazily on as far as I can see. Small flies dot the surface causing rings that grow wider and disappear.
I look down to see the Water Dog again but something else flashes under the surface. It's a brilliant silvery thing with green and pink streaks and it's still for a moment before twitching and flitting away. I relax my eyes and see another. And another. And pretty soon, these fish look like dinner.
I put a paw in the water and the fish burst to life, vacating the area and leaving me along with a wet foot and an empty belly. The water is cold as ice and soon my foot is tingly and confused - so cold it's almost feels hot. It settle this when I step in with my second paw. I yelp just a little then hold still and wait - thinking of all those times I waited for the man and the feathery thing - only this was more important. This was about food and I was prepared to hold my position until the fish return.
And, they do.
First one, then another fish come close, settle near the bottom and flit away at the slightest disturbance. Again and again they come and go, becoming as accustomed to my frozen paws as any other rock or submerged branch. I can't feel my feet but still I wait.
And the moment comes.
A medium sized fish comes just under my head and faces away from me, oblivious to my powerful jaws dangling just inches above her. With the full force of my frustration of being lost, the rumble of my hungry tummy, and the pain of the cold on my paws, I drive my face through the surface of the water and my teeth push through scales, sinew and bone, dragging the thrashing fish well up on shore.
It struggles, but I am hungry and snap its neck with one good shake. It's taste is unfamiliar and yet it feels so right. I drop it and step on it with one paw, pulling the tasty meat with my teeth. Roe spills onto the shore and I lap it up. I have killed this thing to survive and I will not dishonor it by wasting a morsel.
It is only now that my belly is full that I notice the sun is almost down and I'm shivering all over. the feeling has returned to my paws and while I'm still afraid, I'm feeling better, reasonably assured that I will not starve. Not today anyway.
I follow my nose into the forest, smelling for some kind of shelter. I find a rotten tree that has fallen and dig out a patch of mushy leaves at its base. It's a half-hearted attempt at shelter but I'm tired and it's the best I can do with this attitude. I wind around in a small circle once, twice, three times and curl up as best I can, stuffing my nose under my paw and try to sleep. The last thing I hear is an own, hooting overhead. A thing covered in feathers, taunting me to get even more lost.
As if that were possible.