The Hunted

Sometimes you have to write a story even when aren’t’ sure where it is going to go. The images in your mind won’t leave once they are stuck, and the only way through is to write it all down and test see how it looks.  I am not sure if this story is done, or if there is more to tell, but I had a need to tell it, and so here it is.

 

The Hunted

 

I stood there looking up at the sun’s slow drop behind the mountain range to my right.  I knew that I had taken too long on the hike today. I began to slowly berate myself under my breath as I recounted my slow pace.  I would likely have been nicer to myself if I realized I would be dead in seven days, but I didn’t and honestly, I was still pretty lenient with my laxity, so maybe some part knew.  The lake was about a half mile off, and I needed to get in gear if I wanted to eat by the water and have my tent set up before dark. But who could go any faster on such a beautiful hike.  

I had parked a few nights ago and camped at the trailhead mostly unimpressed with what I was seeing.  The drive had been a good two hours up a single lane skid road that Idaho liked to call a park service road.  I had been forced to pull two tree falls off the road myself, and the time up was longer then I would have liked.  But the long vistas of pine and rock while hanging the ass end of the jeep off a cliff made the drive enjoyable.

When I pulled in I took a long deep breath of pine dry air and stretched.  I cooked a nice last meal that I did not have to carry or catch and slept in the jeep.  The morning had been a slow crawl through my pack in a final check to ensure I had everything I needed.  I almost threw out my bear spray, not much bears around this area I think, but hooked it back to my waist just in cause.  My pack’s total weight was 26 lbs, though it got lighter as I moved and drained the camelback of water. This was my 10 day pack, a day pack would be much lighter, but this lake was perfect for fishing and I wanted to have as much time as I desired up against it.

If you really want to know I am a lightweight enthusiast.  A Hyperlight Mountain Gear pack and tarp, Enlightened Equipment sleeping quilt and all the best Good To-Go and Backpacker’s Bistro food ready to be cooked over a titanium tri-stove that would allow me to use broken branches if I needed to.  I had almost no plastic if I could replace it, and the only metal I used was titatinam (even my poop hole digger). Titanium is a great, great metal usable for pretty much everything. I carry for light and easy. And of course my Grayl water bottle that meant I did not need to carry as much water, it just magically made all water drinkable.

I had only four allowances for weight.  First, my ulu, a gift from my grandmother that I carried everywhere I could take it.  It is a half moon native alaskan knife. The best knife for cleaning anything, and as old as it is, it’s obviously durable.  Second, my karambit, another knife. More flashy then useful, but this one holds an edge like nothing else I have ever had. It easily replaced my fillet knife, and bonus points for looking cool on my hip.  Third, was my small Anker solar screen and battery backup (hey I need my pictures). And lastly was my Tenkara Fishing pole built right here in Idaho. It is like a fly pole, but without a reel, just extends out and back down and lets you catch the fish.

I smiled inwardly at the hike so far as the sun continued to fall.  It had started with a short half day walk through marshy wetland and several river crossings before slipping into a deep pine wooded area that lasted for a day and half.  If you like slow meandering walks over wet rocks and flowered meadows, the first few miles are for you. If you like deep dark woods with moss covered pines, crinkling streams, and elk spying on you, while you slowly progress upward then the middle miles are for you.  But me, oh, what I live are the falls. And all the miles on today’s stretch are about the waterfalls.

You have to climb, its true, but that climb is next to waterfall after waterfall.  Crashing water spray wetting your face, and small pools allowing for cool dips, make every climb worth the effort.  Going from 4000 ft above sea level to 6800 feet is a tough climb, but oh my, every new beautiful site is worth it.

But all that lollygagging around did set me behind my schedule, so I pushed my feet one before the other and headed up the trail.

One that is not use to long treks over difficult terrain might not realize the difficulty at times of putting one foot in front of the other.  The mental pressure one has to exert to just not set and do nothing. But those of you that know, would be proud. I pushed on, and I began to make progress.  

The trail mosied back into the woods just as a sharp snapping branch cracked to my left, and instinctively I dropped low and looked.  The empty forests wandered out in my sight, but I knew they were far from empty. I idly wondered if it was an elk or deer out there. A predator would have been more silent.  I hunched towards the ground and snuck towards the trees to my right just off the trail. The sound of waterfalls filled my ears, and made it hard to hear what might be coming.

I breathed in slowly and then out, letting it all go.  I had seen animals when I hunted, but every moment was a treasure, and so I held still, just a moment of stillness.  A sharp twang sounded through the woods as bark and dust exploded from a tree to my side. I dropped lower and scooted back.  

That was a gunshot, but there had been no sound until it struck wood.  My mind twisted around possibilities, but it all happened to fast for me to really think through.  My body moved of its own volition backwards towards the sounds of running water.

“Did you get him?”

The voice was mechanical and filtered through some sort of mask.  I crouched lower and stilled. Five figures slipped out onto the trail I had just been on and looked around.  They did not crouch or hide. Not use to the woods then, or just cocky. But use to the woods or not they were obviously dressed as soldiers.

They were uniformly covered from helmet to boot, and dark half masks covered their faces.  Deep black goggles stared out like bugs on parade. Who were they? Why had they shot at me?  I leaned over letting the weight of my pack hit the ground, knowing its white color would blend with the patches of snow if low enough.

They moved as if trained, but obviously not trained in the woods.  They were a unit, a team. I could feel that. They were a pack of wolves feeding off the thoughts and positions of each other.  But they seemed unclear of how to progress in the woods.

“He went that way.”

They moved towards me and I knew not to run.  Running prey was taken down. Predators did not think you could hold still.  Did not think you could charge. But hold still I would, and charge I might. I lay frozen as they spread out amongst the trees.  Now that they were closer I had a better look at them.

Their gear was a dark blue.  From thick helmets, to dark goggles, to half masks, and dark padded armor around their torsos and legs.  Small packs strapped to their backs looked heavy yet streamlined. They looked like soldiers ready for combat.  Ready for anything. Dark black gun barrels pointed out from their bodies in rigid military precision.

They moved in formation, I held still.

The falling light of the sun dappled the trees, and I breathed through the dust motes, disturbing none.  MY kerchief pushed up against my chin as an extra irritation. They spread too wide for the terrain, but obviously they were not trained in this forest, and I smiled.  They had gotten close. I had a chance. Who ever they were this was my chance. I reached down to my waist to grab my karambit, but found a cold canister instead. I gripped it tight and pulled it free.  Not as lethal as my my knife, but it would help make a strong fist. I tried to pop the safety tags off, but without looking it just wouldn’t budge, I should have practiced with it more.

I held to the earth and let the earth drink me in.  I hid. I was prey, but I was not easy prey. I was the mongus to their viper.  I felt my body tense and tried to relax it. Who ever this was they had shot at me.  They were hunting me. They would not kill me, only if I did not let them. They would not kill me.

I pushed back along the earth until I felt water at my feet.  The stream raged behind me, driving waterfalls back towards where I had come.  Unless I was ready to freeze in that cold water, I was where I was. I dug one hand into the earth and waited.

“Where the fuck did he go?”

The mechanical voice echoed out along the trees giving away the speaker’s direction.  I turned slightly towards it, but kept my eyes peeled for others.

The light of the day folded behind me. I wished I could slip further into darkness, but at this point in the day the light would take awhile to die.

“Is that him?”

The voice was close, a slight pft just feet from me let me know another shot had been fired.  But not at me. I leaned forward towards the sound. Dark blue legs pushed into the brush near my head.  I felt the steel of the canister tight in my hand. I heard a few more shots cut through the brush around me. They were here to kill it would seem.

I tightened my legs and drove upward into the legs standing besides me.  A hard oumph let out as my hand found the cold metal of their gun, and my shoulder found their soft middle.  I swung the cannister up and into their torso driving it as hard as I could. I felt the give of fabric before the hardened armor turned my fist and it slipped up along their side.

A low omph of air was released above me.  We fell among the brush and I pulled free only to drive my fist back down towards their goggled face.  The sound of cracking glass and confusion followed my back to my feet as I stepped back and slipped upon the wet rocks.

I turned throwing the canister at the next closest body.  It was unlikely I might hit them hard enough to matter, but still, it might distract them.  The canister spun as it moved towards it’s target. The soft pft of a silenced gun was followed by the canister exploding, throwing bear spray into the wind.

The burning taste of pepper was almost immediate, as were someone’s screams of pain and confusion.  I stepped back feeling my feet slip upon the rocks. The stream reached up and grappled with me even as a screech continued above me, and the sounds of bodies running through brush filled the air. Cold water hit me, and my world was swallowed into the rushing waves of now.  

There was nothing, not even breath as I felt hard rock hit my back then chest.  I rolled over, and more cold water met me. I reached out through water and found nothing but more water.  I coughed, I tried not to breath, I sank into the cold of now. Freefall took me as I went over the first fall, and then another.  Each fall farther than the last. I had no time to steal a breath, and darkness threatened to take me under.

How long the water had me I cannot say.  The shock of being attacked was fresh. The shock of maiming another human was still fresh.  What I was, was fresh.

I did not come here to be hunted or to hunt.  I had wanted a simple hike and some fishing. I felt the cold embrace me though.  I felt it own me, and try to pull me under. But it couldn’t. I was not ready. I was here to fight.  I was here to survive. All my earlier thoughts had become mundane, all that mattered was now.

I had dreamed of this moment.  The moment I would become more then what I was even as everything was stripped away.  The cold water embraced me, and I knew I had nothing. I knew that death was here with me, hiding in the cold.  The hunters might come after me. They might not. I could lay here and die. I could get up and face death. I could find another way.

There is a possibility of death in every moment, but in this moment I wanted life.  Not in some hot burning way that you read about in books or hear about in movies. This was a cold desire for the status quo.  I wanted to keep on keeping on, and moving or not could decide if that happend. I felt the cold water roll over me, and the hard rocks slip under me.  

I turned and grasped at the first thing my hands found feeling the current pull at me in frustration.  I didn’t scream. I had no passion for life. I had only a deep tension in my arms and body as the current pulled against my body.  I took a long deep breath that hurt my lungs and pulled myself to the bank.

Wet cold mud covered me, and dry grass tickled my face.  Fuck it all, they would not end me. I would not end here.  And if I did, I would end on my terms. I struggled against the current and rolled onto the muddy ground.  Water spit from my lips as I lay unmoving, waiting for the hunters to come. Waiting for death.

I had only one thought.  I would end them. I would kill them all, and I would walk out of here.  My mind told me that this was a fool’s thought, but honestly I failed to care.  I was too tired to care. The water had sapped care from me. The slow cold burn of survival at the expense of those trying to end me was all that I breathed out.  All that I breathed in.

The coming of night air gew cold upon my flesh.  My clothing wet and clinging to my skin reminded me that it was time to move.  But I did not want to move. Wanting to do something and needing to do something are two different things.  I struggled to my side and pushed myself up. Fuck them. I was going to live. Living meant moving. Moving meant standing.  Standing meant motion.

I struggled to my feet and fell heavily against a tree.  The hard bark digging through my clothing and into my skin.  It was good though. It said, “You are alive.” And that was all I needed to hear.

The night echoed around me and I dipped down against the ground in an attempt to sneak.  I did not know what they had as equipment. Their goggles had looked like they might be night vision, which if that was the case, I was at a huge disadvantage.  The screams at the exploding bear spray told me that their half masks were likely not breathers though, so I could not be sure the extent of their equipment. I cleared those thoughts from my mind and began to move.

My pack was gone, and so all I had was what was still on my person.  A dark purple hooded shirt of thin material, green hiking pants, and my red approach shoes. My ball cap emblazoned with “Our Orchard” in green was gone, as were my sunglasses.  My black kerchief was still tied around my neck and I lifted it up to cover my face. I felt at my sides. My karambit was still hooked to my waist, and my ulu was still in its sheath on the other side.  My Camel cigarettes, zippo lighter, and Beats earphones were in the pocket zipped at my knee, and I could feel my phone along my left hip pocket, the other pocket was empty. The phone was useless in these deep woods unless I got higher, and even then only if the Lifeproof Fre waterproof case had protected it.

I shivered in the cold, and pushed forward through the trees, keeping low.  If they were going to follow they would have to climb down several large rock faces, as I doubted they would want to try my trail.  I knew the way out was down, but I also knew that I would have just as dangerous a time once I hit the next climb. The land plateaued here for about a mile of forests and meadows before another steep rock face dropped towards the valley below.

I had some maneuver room here, but I was not sure it would be enough.  It might be too dangerous to head down, but would it be too dangerous to head back up in the dark?  They would not imagine I might do that. I began to calculate in my head as I kept moving. Down, up, stay in this area?  Thoughts persisted in my head as I moved through the night.

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