A gnarled root snagged her toes, sent her down into the mud. Ava caught herself with both hands, silt oozing up between her fingers like dough gone chilly and foul with mosquito-laced brine. The ocean was close—she could make it. Ava lunged upright, stripping leg skin on a knob of bark, and ran.
All around her trees pressed in, greedy schoolboys whose long and spindled fingers caught at her arms, her cheeks; she could hear them whisper as she lurched around blackberry thickets and shoved her way between fat bows of pine. Above her head the forest crept across the sky, choked out the sun.
Ava’s heart was all she could hear: the savage pounding of her blood as she forced her legs to churn, whipped the giant northwest ferns out of her face. Her own damned pulse blocked out the wet and rhythmic slaps of feet on undergrowth—her feet, and--
No. The ocean. She could smell it, taste the salt against her tongue with each sobbing breath; she could feel the frantic smash of waves even if she couldn’t hear, but no, she could, she could hear—there! A crash, another--
Behind her the forest thrashed and boiled, tree limbs snapping in the wake of something massive. Ava stepped hard on a jagged spear of rock or oak that pierced her sock and stuck inside the pad of her right foot; she couldn’t stop the scream but caught herself against a sapling before she hit the rotting leaves again. For one awful, breathless moment Ava felt her brain go still and shrieking voiceless like the painting, frozen in the no-man’s-land of Get it out! and Run!
Then she bent and yanked a granite spur the length of her thumb from the ball of her foot. Ava dropped the spur and hurtled forwards, her stomach scrambling for her throat. If she could make the bluff—if she could only clear the trees—get out, get out--
It came on her like thunder, like trains, like any other stupid metaphor for something too big and too hungry and not at all like any useless human words.
The bear exploded from the left, a flood of fur and teeth and fetid, fish-scaled breath. One moment she was on her feet, racing for the sound of waves and the steep cliff dotted with tiny caves and ledges where a desperate girl might hide, and the next Ava was not so much a girl as a chunk of termite-eaten wood, hurled into the ground so hard her mouth gushed blood where her inner cheek had been.
She had time to look up, to see it blocking out the canopy in a smear of brown and red. The grizzly’s teeth came down.
That night, rain. First a drizzle and then, briefly, a downpour. Enough to work beneath the fragile roots of two young birches on the bluff and send them sloughing down into the water. With the loamy slope came a torn and broken thing in denim and plaid, which caught on a shallow outcrop. Hours later it slipped into the sea.