“That was a footstep,” whispered Louis. He drew his gun from the holster under his arm and moved behind a tall, bare pine trunk.
Vasily rolled his eyes. “An animal,” he said aloud. The Carpathian forest of red and orange leaves swirling or floating to the floor at each breeze held no danger for him, only magic. Threat was a KGB torture cell. Fear was an interrogator with that look in his eye. You just knew he enjoyed inflicting pain. Wildlife in a forest? No problem.
“No. Listen! It’s big. It may be a trap. What if they ambushed the camp?” Louis’s black eyes had opened wide with terror as he matched his tall, gangly form to the trunk he tried to hide behind.
“If you are going to jump at every sound, Louis, we will never get there.”
Vasily kept going, not wanting to be late. Louis crashed behind him, breathing hard, gun in hand, but at least he was moving. Uncle Bertrand had neglected this part of their education. Louis operated best in effete salons, wearing a boiled shirt and dinner jacket. Vasily’s uncles, anti-Soviet forest partisans of the old school, had completed his education on these dense slopes when he was fourteen.
“You move too fast, Vasily.”
“You move too loud.”
“I tell you, I hear something following us. Are we even on the right trail? How can you tell?”
A yellow moon showed the way through half naked deciduous branches and waving fronds of fir. Vasily knew the differences of sound between ordinary predators, wolves and bears, and the vicious kind, humans. Like the difference between the clang of a lock and the turning of a key.
“These forests hold many threats, Louis, older than the KGB. There are vampires here, more powerful and immortal.”
“You don’t believe that.”
Vasily wondered how much higher he could drive the nervousness in Louis’s voice. “It is fact. I have seen them. Now that the sun has set, we are at risk.”
“I refuse to believe it.”
Should I tell him about the bear? Vasily saw no fun in dangerous realities. “Vampires suck your blood at the neck when they catch you. My uncle Lazor watched it happen to his friend, Janusz. He said it seemed Janusz lived on, but his face had no color after that, and Lazor never saw him again in sunlight. Very strange.”
“You’re lying, Vasily. Stop it.”
Vasily stopped, raised one hand and whispered, “Did you hear that?” He was sure Louis would have his finger in the trigger guard by now. Time to deflect the round. “Up there!” He pointed. “Sometimes they drop on you.”
The wind did the rest, or maybe it was a squirrel. Louis’s suppressed Modelé 1935 didn’t echo badly when he fired, but they were close enough to camp for it to become part of the entertainment around the fire, all laughing variations about the time Louis shot the moon.