Ahead was the beaver dam pond.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired,” said Gary. “Could we stop to rest for a minute?”
Lock looked at his watch, then nodded. Gary sat down heavily on the ground and started massaging his legs. Then there was a rustling in the bushes… and a swan burst out and charged him, wings beating furiously.
Lock backed away, but it kept coming after him. He turned to run, tripped and fell to his knees and dropped the camera. The swan’s wing struck him across the shoulders.
This was much more painful that he would have believed. It was like being hit by a steel baton wrapped in a very thin layer of cloth. Lock dived into the underbrush.
It was still after him. It pecked at the soles of his shoes, which didn’t hurt, and then pecked him in the seat of his pants, which did. Some part of Lock’s mind was astounded at his own actions as he turned over, kicked it in the chest and punched it in the side of the head. Had it really looked beautiful earlier in the day?
Lock lunged out of the underbrush. Gary had already scrambled to his feet and was ready to go. They looked behind them, and saw that the swan was still not out of action.
It staggered around a bit, then looked about as if trying to get its bearings. It saw the two boys, and seemed to be getting ready to charge again. Then something as big as a man leaped down from its perch atop the remains of a minivan, landed on the swan’s back and crushed its skull flat with one blow of its paw.
Lock could never have imagined that he would be glad to see the death of a swan. As it was, the only downside was… that right now he was face to face with a cougar. Only four feet away, it snarled at him, as if daring him to come and take its prize. Trying not to think about the fact that if the big cat had made its move five seconds earlier it would have killed him or Gary, Lock backed off.
“Okay, I might as well say it,” said Gary. “Stopping to rest was a bad idea.”
“Let’s not stop for anything until we’re outta here.”
“Yeah, it’s getting late anyway,” said Lock, pointing at the sun, which was getting low on the horizon.
“I’ll go back and get the camcorder.”
“Careful.” Gary nodded, and took a course that gave the feeding mountain lion a wide berth. He returned with the camcorder under his arm, looking embarrassed.
“The cygnets were over by the edge of the water,” said Gary. “I saw them.”
Lock sighed. So the swan hadn’t gone after him just for the hell of it — it had thought he was after the baby swans. He took the camcorder back, shouldered it and started off again, trying to ignore the dull ache in his legs.