Chaser padded beside his litter sister Hunter and cast a last glance back at the burrow. There was no moon that night, so they had to find their way by starlight. “Don’t worry.” Hunter said, bumping his shoulder. “You’ll be fine. I’m sure that The Mimic isn’t even out tonight.”
Chaser groaned. “Why’d you have to say that! I wasn’t even thinking about that.”
Hunter offered him a wicked grin. “Yes you were. I could see it in your face as soon as Digger told you to go to the Dry Riverbed.” She said.
Chaser frowned. “I don’t know why he couldn’t send you there. I’m fine with going to the Herd Plains.” He glanced at her. “You want to switch?”
Hunter shook her head just as Chaser figured that she would. “Nope. Digger gave us our orders.”
“I know.” Chaser sighed. Then his green eyes glowed with mischief. “I bet I can carry more sage then you.”
Hunter let out an indignant squeak. “You’re on!” then she was racing away into the night, leaving Chaser to continue on his own. Their father, Digger the dominant male of the Night Diggers, had tasked them with gathering more sage for the burrow. Sage was an abundant plant in the Desert with a strong minty scent that deterred pesky bugs like fleas and ticks. The Night Diggers lined their sleep chambers with it for that very reason. While the rest of the family cleared out the old and withered sage, Hunter and Chaser were to gather new. They foraged it from two different parts of the territory to make sure that neither crop was depleted to the point where it could not grow back.
It just so happened that the part of the Dry Riverbed that Chaser was heading towards was rumored to be haunted. It was thought that a dark spirit had escaped the Catacombs deep beneath the earth called The Mimic. Chaser had never heard or seen it before, but he knew that some members of the family believed that it existed. Those family members happened to exclude his father and sister.
He fluffed out his pelt against the chill of the night as he darted down the slope and dashed under a plump shrub. He peered between the branches at the starry sky and was thankful to see no outlines of birds of prey, not that they were easy to spot at night. Then he took a deep breath to scent the air. The breeze carried the smell of dying foliage, the stale scent of a black fox, and meer scent. No trace of predators. Once he was sure that it was safe, the eleven moon old meer crept out from under the shrub. Despite the moon being absent, the shadows were long and dark in the Dry Riverbed. The breeze caused the branches to rustle and the shadows to stretch and reach. Lion Peak, the mountain named for the pride that made their home there, was a dark outline against the far horizon. Chaser gazed at each individual shrub and bush, but could see nothing hiding within them. Satisfied that there was nothing, including a dark spirit, around at the moment, he continued on.
It wasn’t long before he reached a thicket twice his height, covered in small round leaves, with a heady scent that wafted toward him. He sniffed at the leaves and almost choked on their obnoxious scent. Yep, this is sage alright. He thought as he nosed a thin branch aside. He set his teeth and prepared to snap it off with a bite of his jaws, when a voice sounded from behind hm.
“Chaser.” It was a lilting high-pitched voice. Chaser swung around and squinted. He took a step away from the sage.
“Hunter?” He called. “Hunter, are you there?”
There was no response and when he raised his snout to scent the air he found his nostrils clogged with the smell of sage. Fighting against the chill that was crawling up his spine, he turned back to the thicket. He managed to nip off a few branches full of little leaves when he heard the voice again. This time is was a gruff, breathy whisper against his cheek. “Chaser.”
Chaser whirled around, his pelt bristiling. “Who’s there?” He barked. Again there was no response. He struggled to see anything through the shadows. The scent of sage wreathed around him, making his nose useless. Realizing that all he could do was make a swift exit, he clamped down on a mouthful of sage branches and padded in the direction he had come.
His pelt pricked as he walked. He felt eyes burning holes into his fur. He picked up his pace. The branches were hard to see around and he could only make out what was directly in front of him. He glared at every shrub that he passed, sure that some meer must be hiding behind it. Because if there were no other meer in this section of the Dry Riverbed then the only thing that could be calling his name was…..The Mimic. He shivered at the thought and moved as fast as he could toward the bank.
He had almost reached it when a chilling voice said, “Chaser.” He stopped in his tracks, his body stiff. His eyes went wide. He recognized that voice. That quivering tone with an uncertain tremor audible at the end of each word. That was his voice, and it sounded from right behind him.
With a slow, cautious movement he dipped his head to lay the branches on the ground. Then, fear a dead weight in his stomach, he turned to face the voice. He blinked at the shadows smothering the path behind him. He couldn’t make out any creatures.
“Chaser, over here!” Barked his own voice. His head whipped to the side. Was he seeing things or did that shadow have more mass than the others? Two green orbs the same shade as his eyes glowed as the mass seemed to tip it’s head. Chaser took a step back, his paw landing on one of the branches. “Poor, Chaser.” Rose his own voice from the shadow, a mocking lilt to it. “What will Digger think when you fail at such an easy task?”
Chaser’s head spun as dizziness overcame him. The shadow seemed to take a pace forward. Chaser didn’t know what to do. He sucked in a breath-
“Chaser, what are you doing?”
Chaser glanced over his shoulder to see Hunter standing on the lip of the bank, a stack of sage branches beside her. He jerked his snout to gaze back at The Mimic, but it was gone. The shadows appeared normal and the glowing eyes had faded into nothingness. He was alone. He took a deep, steadying breath and then turned to face his sister.
He shook his head and forced his expression to brighten. He regarded his sister with gratitude. Her presence must have startled The Mimic away, for now. “Nothing.” He sighed. “Let’s go home.” Then he dipped his head to scoop up his sage and went to join her on the bank, where they started toward the burrow. Together. Chaser let the fear lift from his fur. He was safe now that he was with his littermate.