Scream tried not to cry as she made her way along the bank of a small stream. There was no reason for her to be crying - she wasn't upset, after all. So what if mother scolded her for being mean to her sister! She didn't care at all. It was Swan's fault anyway, getting scared so easily.

They had stumbled across the dead Totoma completely by accident. The sisters had been talking their usual walk, and strayed outside of their usual territory by accident. Scream immediately took the chance to press on before Swan got too anxious and insisted they turn around. They rounded a particularly thick tree and there it was - the corpse. The body was half-submerged in muck, and the scavengers had already started their grisly work. There was still some skin and fur left, but the skull was already halfway bare, eyes long eaten.

Scream immediately wanted to investigate, so she walked right up to it while Swan stayed behind, worriedly bleating something about how they shouldn’t approach it. A crawfish scuttled away at her approach, clearly unhappy at being chased away from its meal, but the insects stayed, buzzing and writhing on the dead flesh. Scream was fascinated by the skull, and the powerful horns protruding from it. She had seen bones before, of course, but only of small creatures like mongooses or songbirds. She hadn’t even seen a live Totoma before, much less a dead one, only recognizing the body as such by its bulk and horns.

Just as she was about to gather her courage to try and yank the skull off, however, she was grabbed by the tail and painfully pulled back. Swan had finally met her limit and was determined that they were going back home, right now, otherwise she’d tell mother and Scream wouldn’t get any treats for a month. Reluctantly, Scream backed off, and the two raced back home, one more eager than the other, where a lecture was awaiting Scream, just as she had expected.

Scream scoffed and kicked an offending pebble into the water just remembering it. Swan was always the cautious one, the responsible one, as their mother called her. Whenever Scream wanted to explore or eat something new or do anything exciting, Swan ran to their mother, making sure that whatever ideas Scream had were permanently ruined. Today was no different, and Scream’s ears were still ringing from the scolding she had received. She had run off immediately, for once managing to lose her sister.

More than once Scream had tried to dissuade Swan, telling her to mind her own business and to leave Scream alone, but Swan never did, always following Scream around whenever mother wasn’t around, “Because I’m worried about you!” Ugh! So frustrating! Scream wanted to bite Swan sometimes, deep enough to draw blood, so that she would just leave her alone. She never did, though. Just the thought of Swan's tears made something in Scream's belly twist to the point of pain.

Scream sighed and finally plopped down, watching the gentle trickle of water go by. It wasn’t Swan’s behavior that truly upset her, not really. She was annoying, true, but not more than that, not usually. It was mother’s behavior that made Scream’s blood boil. All of her lectures, and her constant praise of Swan’s habit of running for help - it was impossibly cruel. Because she was leaving.

Scream knew that it wasn’t unusual, that mother was already an outlier in taking care of them for so long, but what stung was that she had stayed for all this time, had taught them, and especially Swan, to rely on her, had loved them, and now she was leaving. Swan hadn’t noticed yet, but Scream had - mother often looked into the distance, as if seeing something beyond the trees that surrounded them. She took long walks along their territory’s perimeter, taking longer and longer to return. She had started slowly, and much too late, trying to dissuade Swan’s constant questions. Even her lectures and scoldings of Scream had become less and less frequent.

She was leaving. Scream guessed that a moon or two from now, mother would simply go out and not return. And then they would be alone.

And Scream didn't know what to do.

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