A cool breeze played with Ashley's hair as she and her father stared through the trees. It was hard to see; light was patchy coming through the leaves, and it was made worse at sun down. But Dad said it wasn't dark enough to leave yet, so she zipped up her jacket against the cold and kept waiting.
"Finally," Dad whispered. Ashley followed his line of sight. Drinking from the creek, standing broadside to them, was a big, brown buck.
"You wanna take the shot this time, pumpkin?" He gave her a look, still annoyed from when Ashley had thrown his aim earlier. She wasn't even sure why she'd done it, but she'd be lying if she said she wasn't glad the doe managed to run off before she could get shot.
She nodded, and he handed her the bow.
Ashley had wanted to go hunting with her dad for as long as she could remember - she'd even had an imaginary friend that hunted - but she never really thought about actually killing something.
She knocked an arrow and drew her bow, just how Dad had taught her. She could see the arrowhead shaking and then-
Her hands weren't so cold anymore. Neither was her nose or her feet. She'd lost all feeling. All worries, too.
Her hands stopped shaking, and they loosed the arrow. Even from 30 feet away, she heard it bury itself in the deer's shoulder and heard it gasp one last breath.
"Great shot, pumpkin!" Dad's voice was surprisingly loud as she came back herself. She followed after him, a little stunned.
"Right through the heart. Good job, sweet heart. And on your birthday, no less!" He hugged her, and she decided to forget about the strange feeling.
Quiet as a mouse, Ashley padded into the kitchen, careful to break the seal on the fridge before opening it. Mom and Dad wouldn't like it if she were caught sneaking more birthday cake after bed time.
"Kind of late for that, isn't it?" Ashley jumped about a foot in the air when a voice spoke behind her.
She was wearing different clothes this time, silver instead of green, but it was obvious who had spoken: the Hunting Lady.
"If you're going to have a slice, would you mind cutting one for me, too? It's been a long time since I've had cake."
Silently, Ashley nodded and cut another slice of cake for the woman. She smiled but didn't say thank you.
"Are you surprised I'm here? Happy birthday, by the way."
"Thanks, and, uh, yeah…" She sat across from the Hunting Lady, digging into her own slice of cake.
"Well, formal introductions are in order, I suppose. I am Artemis."
Ashley paused just as she was putting a bite in her mouth. She quickly swallowed. "Artemis. The goddess?"
"Like an actual goddess."
"But what about God?"
"The Christian God?" Ashley nodded, and Artemis cringed. "I…I'll tell you the same thing that my brother told yours. You can think of me however you choose. As a goddess, an angel, or just as a manifestation of the power of your God. It's not as important as what I'm about to tell you. You and your brother both can channel Greek gods. He can channel gods, and you can channel goddesses."
"Is that what happened when I was hunting?"
Artemis nodded. "Because you would not let a pregnant doe be killed, I took hold of your body and killed the buck for you. And that can happen more on your own terms if you so choose. But there will be some rules."
"Why are there rules?"
"No I mean, you're a goddess. Why are you letting a ten year old 'channel'
you, or whatever?"
Artemis sighed. "I'll be honest with you. We do not have as many worshippers as we once did, and worship gives us power. It keeps us alive. We're dying, very slowly.
"Which brings us to the first rule: after you call on us, you owe us a debt. Not a big one, but a debt nonetheless."
Ashley hung her head. "I'll go get my allowance." But as she stepped away, Artemis leaned forward and grabbed the back of her nightshirt.
"That one was a freebie. Next time, just leave us a little something. A cookie. An arrow. A picture. Just a little thing."
Ashley nodded and sat down again. "So, what other rules are there?"
Artemis smirked. One more child on board.