“It’s a snow hut!” Maria suppressed a shout.
It was a snow hut like the ones we had built as kids. From the footprints on its surface, it had probably been built in the same way–first by packing the snow into a solid dome, then digging out the inside. With the pine trees supporting it on either side, it looked more durable than the ones we usually made.
“What do we do?” Satoru asked nervously.
“Let’s go in from the front.”
There was no time to discuss this. I approached the hut decisively. Maria and Satoru automatically spread out on either side of me. I didn’t think that the queerats would attack humans, but in this formation we could easily back each other up as well as avoid being attacked all at the same time.
“Is anyone there?” I asked, standing in front of the hut.
No answer. I went around to the back and saw a small opening like those you see in tea rooms. It was covered by a screen made of twigs tied together.
I peeked in through the screen.
“Satoru! Maria! He’s here!” I shouted.
They rushed over and looked into the hut.
The interior was rather large. Mamoru lay in the middle, wrapped in a woolen blanket. It was hard to see his face, but his hair was unmistakeable. His chest rose and fell slightly and he appeared to be asleep.
“I’m so relieved…” Maria covered her face and started to cry.
Mamoru’s eyes slowly opened. “Hey. You guys came.”
“Don’t give me that. We were worried sick,” Satoru said sharply, but he couldn’t help smiling.
“What in the world happened? Did you really fall down the cliff? I asked.