Harr continued running toward the direction he had heard the screams. It was coming from the meetingplace gathering ground, and he didn’t know what trouble might be going on. But if it involved the girl, he wanted to be there, to sort things out. Maybe he could get back the book.
He ran and ran and then had to stop to nurse a sideache, and after the screams stopped, it didn’t seem to necessary to run so fast. In fact, with the forest was quiet again, he decided to approach the area more cautiously. There was no telling what could be going on.
When he approached the edge of the meetingplace, he decided to peer from behind a distant bush rather than come in openly. After all, everyone despised him already anyway.
He could see the girl tied up with rope around a tree. Near her, Ji and the interpreters carefully studied a book. The book! They must have found it. The girl must have had it, and they retrieved it. Harr felt a sigh of relief. But why was she still tied up? What more did they want? Did she know too much? Were they punishing her?
The interpreters argued over something, and one of them picked up a rock in anger and threw it. Without knowing, he threw it in Harr’s direction and almost hit him. Another interpreter grabbed the book and started making a case for some thing in front of the others. What had she done to the book? Did she scribble in it? Did she alter it? Did she rip out the pages and replace them with something else?
One of the interpreters, who had been studying the book for a while, stomped over to the girl and demanded to know something. Harr couldn’t make out what they were saying. When she didn’t answer, he grabbed her hair and yanked it back. Another who had been examining the book came over and demanded something of the girl as well. When she didn’t answer, he slapped her across the face.
Harr’s knees trembled watching the scene before him. He wanted to do something to free the girl, but what. He had gotten her into this predicament, by leaving the book out so carelessly, by wandering the woods trying to be an observer.
While the interpreters and Ji continued to study the pages of the book, the girl looked around, trying to make sense of her surroundings, when her gaze settled directly towards Harr. Noting him peering out of distant bushes, she looked right at him, with a direct stare.
Harr stiffened in a frozen pose — perhaps she was looking at something else, or someone else, but no, she looked right at him. He wiggled his body back a little, trying to hide himself from her view. And then she smiled. Not a devilish smile, but an innocent smile, the way one child smiles at another. What did she see that made her smile?
The interpreters, busy studying the book, looked up and noted the girl’s smile. They found it appalling, and mistook it for a sinister knowledge of something related to the book. One of the interpreter’s pointed directly at the girl and justified something to the others, many of whom seemed to agree.
Finally Ji stepped over and took a stick from the ground. He held it tightly under her chin cross ways, choking her a bit. He then leaned close to the girl and whispered something lengthy in her ear. Harr had seen Ji whisper into clan members’ ears before who had committed some act of theft or harm, and whatever he said made them pale. The girl started trembling.
Harr’s pulse began to rise. He needed to do something. He couldn’t remain there any longer. Almost without thought, Harr bolted up from behind the hill shouting, “Hunters coming! Hunters coming! They have dogs!” He made gestures with his hands, shaking them back and forth frantically to indicate danger. “Run,” he said. “Now!”
This was about the only thing Harr could say to make the clan scatter, because anything else — bear, fire, hikers — the clan could deal with. They were adept at dealing with these scenarios. But hunters with rifles always posed challenges. Rifle-carrying hunters were too methodical and calculating. These hunters could position themselves in one spot for hours, examining every inch of the forest floor and tree cover with binoculars.
The clan scattered, and Harr knew he had about five minutes before the others realized the trick. Harr reached the girl and frantically untied the rope that held her hands. “Come, follow me,” he said, grabbing her by the arm. She trusted him and ran. Harr led her out along the forest floor paths. He turned down a series of less commonly used trails, crossed out of sight, and ran up through hidden edges of the forest. The girl ran fast, but Harr pulled her along faster. “C’mon,” he said. “Run!”
As Samantha ran, a funny thing started to happen — she could hear it, the forest song in her head. It began pulsating with regular rhythm, and what had before only been instruments playing was now accompanied with a soft voice. She couldn’t make out what the voice was saying, since she was running and the voice was almost a whisper, but the music gave her confidence and courage. She ran in rhythm with the music, racing alongside Harr across the forest floor.
Eventually Harr turned back, and he could see Ji and a group of hunters 50 yards behind, following them. They had been spotted them and seemed to be in pursuit. But then Ji and the hunters stopped. They just watched Harr and the girl run. Eventually, when Ji and the others were tiny in the distance, Ji held up his hand. Harr knew the sign Ji was making. It was the signal of farewell, the hand held high with the palm out front, held high and remaining high. They were letting him go, it seemed. The more distance Harr and the girl gathered, the slower they ran, until they only jogged, and then walked. The others weren’t following them anymore. And it started to sink in what was happening. Ji had dismissed Harr, removing him from the clan. The farewell was a final farewell. He would no longer be welcome among the others anymore; no one would be able to trust him. He had violated the code of the group. He was on his own now.
He still held the girl’s arm since he had previously been pulling her along. But now that they walked, and Harr’s countenance was sober and downcast, Samantha recognized that something had changed too. They continued quietly along the paths of the forest. They didn’t speak for at least an hour while they walked. As mixed up as he was inside, Harr wanted to say something but couldn’t find the courage or the right words.
They walked past a waterfall, with the bubbly white water at the base where the falling water splashed. Harr looked at Samantha and finally said, “Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”
Samantha stopped and turned, looking directly into Harr’s eyes. She brought a finger to her mouth and said, “Sshhh.” “I can hear it,” she said. “I can hear the voice now.”
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