The flare arched up high with a shriek like the cub’s, and for a moment vanished among the cloud cover before exploding in brilliant blue and gold.
“Rangers!” one of the poachers shouted. He dove into the back of the Jeep, over the buck’s carcass.
The others cursed and shouted and scrambled to get into the Jeep, nearly forgetting the guns and the flashlights. Charli stared, unable to believe their reaction. She leaned out further, watching them as the Jeep bounced and jolted out of the clearing. The grinding of gears nearly drowned out the thudding of her heart. She leaned out as far as she could, following the bouncing and sliding of the headlights until they vanished entirely.
Charli let out a little shriek as she overbalanced and lost her grip and slid down the slope. She twisted, trying to miss that lump that was probably a boulder, then another, long dark shape that was definitely a tree knocked down during the winter storms and heavy ice load. She flipped over onto her side. Her good leg hit something hard and she pushed off, grunting at the impact.
Then suddenly she was down, rolling across the clearing, until she landed in a depression on her face. A wet depression. Charli lay still for a few seconds, catching her breath. A gasping chuckle escaped her. Then she struggled to her feet, pulled her backpack straight, brushed herself off and hobbled over to the cub. He whimpered when she bent down and touched the top of his head.
“It's okay,” she murmured. “Nobody's going to hurt you anymore.”