Last time we left Snow, she and her dad had heard a drone in the forest and were heading back to the safety of the village. When I first wrote this scene, it was completely different. I’ve taken Chapter 1 through multiple revisions, and whenever I edit something new, I always send the results to my friend who’s my beta reader. She’s also the founder and only member of the Snow fandom. 🙂 Thanks so much, Julia, you’re a great friend! 😉
“Don’t worry. They’ll never find us,” Dad promises in a low whisper, squeezing my hand. We have been evading drones for years; the village hunters dodge them on a regular basis. My dad, as both hunter and leader, probably has the most experience of anyone in the village in dealing with them. Still, as the light whirring becomes louder, I can’t help but feel fear rising up. I take a deep breath and slowly blow it out knowing what’s coming. I watch my dad who is watching the sky. Suddenly, Dad pulls me to my feet, and we take off running. Away from the river, deeper into the forest we run silently. We duck under branches and over snow mounds, making our way to the village, to safety. As we run I know my dad is listening and calculating, carefully planning each path we take. Finally, Dad slows and holds up his hand for us to stop. I notice the whirring has grown fainter. Dad leans against a tree trunk and puts a finger to his lips. We stand there, listening to the ever fading whirring of the drone as it moves on to another area. The forest returns to its previous undisturbed silence. Dad opens up his hunting bag, pulls out an old, faded yellow map and spreads it out on the tree trunk.
“What pattern is the drone using?” Dad looks at me, motioning to the map. He’s been training me for years to recognize the search patterns used by the drones.
I look over the lines, thinking. “Grid Pattern A?”
Dad smiles. “Good job. And which drone usually uses that pattern at that altitude?”
I look at the map, and then close my eyes, remembering the buzzing of the drone. When you hear one, it’s a sound you never forget. “It’s a surveillance drone, and it’s traveling from east to west.”
“Actually, it’s coming from the northeast, but close. Recommended course of action?”
“It’s moving away from us now so we can continue hunting?” I turn my answer into a question, hoping to salvage the rest of what was supposed to be a peaceful afternoon with my dad.
Dad doesn’t answer and stands there looking intently into the sky. “You’re right, Snow. Normally, we would continue, but something doesn’t feel right to me. We’ll head back to the village.” With a single movement, he folds up the map and places it into his bag and begins the hike back home. I follow behind him, wondering about his uneasiness.
After a few minutes, I break the silence. “Dad?” The aurora glitters above us, now a dark, blood red color that turns everything around it the same bright hue.
“Jamin was right. The drones are never out this time of the year.” The words stick in my throat, and I feel sick just saying them.
“Like I told Jamin, we’ll get through this together.” Dad flashes me a defiant look. “We’ve hidden from the drones for sixteen years. We can make it through another one.”
I can’t help but think of a few years earlier when three of our hunters were killed by a drone attack. That winter had been hard, too, but we made it through. Dad is right. We can do this together. That still doesn’t answer the other question I’ve had for a long time – the one I’ve had since I realized the drone searches started once I was found near the village. “Why are they hunting me, Dad? What do I have that they want?” I ask, my voice catching.
Dad looks at me, his brown eyes glinting. “I don’t know,” he finally admits. “I really don’t know.”
We continue trudging through the snow, until we’re on top of the ridge above Northolt. Here, I’m able to see Northolt spread out before me. The village is shielded from the drones’ sensors, making it the last safe place in the forest. The villagers here call it a town, but it’s really just a collection of ten white domes peeking out of the snow, arranged in a circle. I sense the breeze across my cheek, and although it doesn’t feel cold to me, I instinctively know the temperature is dropping.
“I’ll make sure I warn the other hunters to be extra careful for the next few days until drone activity dies down,” Dad says, more to himself than to me. “Come on, we have to get back to Northolt before it gets much later.” Dad starts down the slope.
I glance behind me one last time, for a moment thinking I can hear a drone. All I see, though, is the peaceful edge of the forest, utterly still and silent. I start down the slope, half-sliding, half-walking into the village. The only sign that anyone lives here are the footprints leading into the domes. I follow behind my father, my feet stepping into the holes made by his boots, as we return home for the night.
Thanks for reading!