The coyotes raced around the base of the ladder howling, angry that their dinner might be getting away. Hunter paused for a few minutes, perched in the middle of the ladder. He needed to catch his breath. He held on and looked down at the coyotes who continued to pace back and forth below, yelping and crying, their howls amplified by the stone walls of the cliff.
Hunter turned his head and looked up toward the top of the ladder where it rested against a stone ledge. The shelf ran in front of a cave dwelling, the perfect spot for the night. He started climbing up the ladder again.
The boy had nearly reached the top when the rung he put all his weight on cracked and broke just as he let go with his hand to reach up to the top rung of the ladder. Before he even realized what was happening, Hunter felt himself falling. All the way down he screamed. He heard the bone break the minute he hit the ground.
Hunter landed in a crumpled heap at the base of the ladder. The slick rock on which he fell offered no cushion to soften his fall. The angle at which he hit the ground caused his femur in his upper right leg to break, sending the lower portion jutting out through the skin of his thigh.
The stab of pain made Hunter immediately both queasy and dizzy. Never had he felt such all-consuming pain. His brain was having a hard time registering just what had happened. All it could process was the pain pulsing throughout his body. Hunter let out a loud cry and began gasping for breath, moaning loudly between each shallow intake of air. His body began shaking.
The coyotes scattered as the boy fell, frightened by the primal scream coming from their prey. But they didn’t go far. As soon as the boy landed and their keen ears picked up the moan of pain and fear, they turned and looked at him, their yellow eyes glowing in the gathering dusk. He was theirs and they knew it.
The leader of the pack stepped cautiously forward, sniffing the air. The wild animal’s lips curled above sharp teeth and fangs. A low, threatening growl left his throat. He stopped and sniffed the air again. He could detect the scent of blood. The saliva dripped from his jowls.
Hunter looked up and his heart beat loudly within him. Gritting his teeth, he attempted to slide his body back. With a loud yelp of pain, he collapsed behind the ladder. “Oh God, please help me,” he cried to the heavens. He sobbed and looked back to the ground. “I’m not worthy of your help,” he whispered. This was one thing he was sure of. He covered his head and waited for the attack to begin that would end this pain. In the forefront of his thoughts, he decided that this was as good a place to suffer, and maybe die, as any.
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