The images of those last few moments were etched in his mind’s eye, that final scream echoing through his head. It was as if he had just heard it only a second ago. He saw Bandit had jumped back, and was now staring at him, at first alarmed, then curious.
The nightmare still repeated itself even as his breathing began to calm. He felt alone and scared, feelings to which found he was becoming more accustomed than he had ever wanted to be.
“Dad… forgive me…”
Slowly, Max stood up, walking over to the edge of the cliff before him. He peered down at the narrow, shimmering strip of waterfall spilling below him. His gaze drifted up and out to the crashing waves that he could hear only faintly, perhaps just in his own mind, from on high. Past the shattered, shimmering reflection of the moon, to where the Ocean met the sky.
Max held nothing back as he screamed, falling to his knees. For somewhere beyond that horizon, dead or alive, was his father. And even from up here, that distance seemed endless.
“No… you can’t be…” he whispered.
He wiped his eyes as he rose slowly to his feet. The hot pain in his chest again threatened to stifle him, but after a moment he began to master himself. The pain seemed to draw from a well with no bottom, and seeing this, Max chose to accept the one hope his conscience could still compromise with.
“I know you’re still alive…” he said, his voice one of quiet, quivering determination. “You have to be. I swear…” Max clutched the silver triangle dangling under his shirt, a gift from the very one for whom he now made his vow, “Wherever you are… I will find you, father. Someday…”
He looked down to see that Bandit had walked up to him, looking up at him with big, unjudging eyes. Max ran his hand across the cub’s head, choosing for now to accept the cat’s irrelevant absolution, and walked wearily back to his resting place. Drained, but not quite running on empty (after all, the well was bottomless), he tried to hold back the tears as he wrapped his arms around Bandit.
He was glad to have company, and it seemed that his little friend was also comforted by his presence. Max wondered how long Bandit had been alone before he came along…
Before he knew it, he was asleep again.