The cat had not disappeared. He’d withdrawn back into the clustered thickness of low scrub that dominated the bottom of the forest, like a wavy and near limitless thick rug. The writhing and waving plant growth of small size, where rivulets of wind were able to creep down through and among the great pines, blended the lines and coloration of the cat’s protective fur into a kind of obscurity, penetrable by the eyes of almost no other predators or prey. The cat did what it did best. He waited to see what was going to come down the valley and what kind of threat would have to be responded to. Acting or moving too soon could prove just as deadly as acting or moving in the wrong direction when the direct threat finally revealed itself.

It took only moments for the boy and the warrior to extinguish and then disassemble and disguise the fire pit as much as was possible. The lean-to came down in seconds, although both the boy and the warrior knew that even the most cursory of inspection would reveal the fact that humans had encamped at the spot, and very recently.

The cat watched the hurried cover operation with passive interest. Fight, flight, or simply remain motionless were the three choices that automatically played through the cat’s mind for its own response to the approaching threat. The lightning strike hadn’t changed the automatic survival mechanisms genetically sealed into the cat’s very being, but the cat’s awareness that such actions were his choices was new, and discomforting because of other things that also crept into his mind. What of the boy and the warrior, the beaver, and even the territory he’d staked out as his own? Was he to abandon those creatures and things, or face the looming threat without respect to what might be the best automatic response for immediate survival?