Franklin woke both shivering and soaked through with sweat. Not a good sign. He wrestled with his fever to gain more control over his senses and moved his head slowly and carefully to see what else had changed while he’d been asleep. Nothing seemed to have found his hiding place. The ground looked undisturbed under the growing glow of the sunrise. In particular, the snow and pine needles he had sprinkled over his tracks were exactly where he had left them. Surprising since he could see, from this vantage point, he hadn’t done nearly as good of a job as he’d thought.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Franklin untied the belt securing him to his tree perch. After partly lowered himself and partly dropping to the ground, he closed his eyes to recover. The crude bandage on his right arm needed to be changed, but it was his shoulder he was concerned about. He couldn’t see the wound, but it didn’t seem any different to the touch. It certainly wasn’t matted with fur or anything. Besides he’d be able to tell if he was an infected wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he have started to transform by now if he was?
Franklin chewed down a couple mouthfuls of snow and forced himself to his feet. He tightened the shirt sleeve sling holding his arm in place and started walking in the general direction of the mine. With those tasks under way he spared enough energy to examine his questions again. With the information available to him, the timing of a possible physical transformation depended largely on how long he had been feverish in the tree. If he had been up there longer than one night then he was well past the time it had taken Cookie to turn in Earl’s story. His hunger and weakness implied he had been up there a while, though it was possible it was just due to the fever. Still, assuming it had been a while, he might be able to return to camp and convince the others to nurse him back to health. Even if they were mad at him, they surely wouldn’t kill him if he had waited out the sickness’ gestation period and hadn’t turned. That would have to prove it had been the bear’s claw that had wounded him or even that he was immune. Wouldn’t it?
Franklin hated that his entire plan was based on knowledge gleaned from a weirtale, but he didn’t see any other options. The next time he went to sleep in a tree there was no guarantee he would wake up. It was well past noon by the time he was gently pushing aside tree bows and cautiously peering into the mine’s clearing. The door swinging ajar and the blood stains in the snow made it obvious what had occurred there.
I did this. Earl wasn’t able to get back in time because of me. This is my fault.
Franklin backed away in horror and pushed deeper into the woods away from the scene of the crime. He knew the attackers could still be nearby and it wasn’t safe to be anywhere near here but after a while he couldn’t go on any further and collapsed into a sniffling mess.
This isn’t like you, pull yourself together. None of them would have done any differently. Earl probably wouldn’t have made it back in time anyhow and this way at least you’re still alive. It’s just the fever getting you down. You’re better than this, you just need to get back up.
Franklin looked to the sky. The sun was far enough past it’s zenith that he could easily find North. He just had to get on the trail back to town. Walter was coming up the mountain with supplies and more recruits. If he could just find Walter, he could get through this alive.