A deer stands beneath me, it was luck that brought her here. I have been hunting smaller game all day. I depleted my arrows into smaller animals. They lie in the carcasses hanging from a tree, high away from predators. As I begin to examine the deer my mind thinks back to the stories my father and mother have told me about the old world. They are only a myth to me; I find myself believing what they say to be true because of the buildings built long before my time. A world where you didn’t have to hunt to survive. Where animals were once pets, trained to do tricks for their masters. Trading wasn’t for meat or berries but for paper. Work didn’t consist of being in the sun, but sitting in front of a thing called a computer pushing buttons in a cool room.
All around me are trees, leaves fill their branches, yet on the ground there is a dense pile of dead ones. My father’s friend Zat Pomfield who is a scientist said that the trees have an increased enzyme production that keeps the leaves in this constant cycle of life and death. One of the many side effects the bombs had on the world. My father was my age when they were dropped, or launched and detonated, whatever the townsfolk call it. The world went into chaos, governments fell, and these bombs were released. They affected the planet in many ways. The towns people said this area was originally sand and death, but after the bombs, trees began to sprout up and take over. Sand gave way to mud, and mud into plants.
A snap of a twig causes both the deer and I to flutter a bit, my eyes scan the branches. Then I see it, a small ball of brown fur with a tail the size of its body. It moves up and down, claws dig into the tree bark. Then it turns and its black eyes stare me down, its cheeks full of nuts. Fear is struck into me, the most deadly creatures to call this place its home. The squake, a dreaded half breed that many have fallen victim to. The bombs gave birth to many abominations and mutants. The squakes being one of the first deadly creatures man living in this area had to learn about. The bombs fused, a squirrel and a snake together. What kind of snake? Not a clue, but it is very deadly and they are very territorial. Seeing one this close makes my body go limp, not wanting to make any sudden movements to scare the squake into attack mode and thus having my stroke of good luck flee.
The squake of course has to make things difficult and leaps on me! The claws rub up against my shirt not applying any pressure to make the deadly venom that runs in them and their fangs to find a home in me. The nose is wet and rubs up against the back of my ear. Sweat drops down my face, one bead falls in my eye. It is salty and burns, yet moving right now would mean my death. So I control my breathing, the sweat falls over my eye like a blanket and my vision blurs. Hands begin to twitch so I force myself to think of something else. Thoughts of my grandfather, and his moments of teaching calm me and let me focus on anything but the few pounds of death that tickle my skin.
“Kalon, what do you do when your life hangs in the balance?”
“I don’t know!” I scream at the top of my lungs, blood rushes to my brain. A rope is tied around my ankle and I hang upside down over spiked rocks. “I don’t know!” My lungs burn from the screams. We were hunting a fox when a group came and snatched her up. My grandfathers’ plan, was to use its fur as a gift to my mother for her birthday. Then when he learned that the prize was snatched up. The goal became find out who got it. He got jumped by one of the stragglers in the group. It was a skinny man, far younger than my grandfather, but far less experienced and nourished. I was quick to run up and try and save him when my ankle got caught in the trap.
The man didn’t stand a chance when he faced my mentor, armed only with a rusted knife and lacking energy, made disarming him by my grandfather easy. The man panicked and fell to his knees when he lost his weapon. Rather than finish what the man started my grandpa picked the man up and returned his knife.
“We have a town nearby if you can find it, if you can’t here, take these.” He digs around his pack and pulls out some jerky from our local butcher we had for a snack as well as some wild kikuberries we stumbled across. The man was taken aback by the gesture; that the man he just attacked showed him kindness. Of course while all of this is happening I am hanging upside down, trying to force my body to free itself from the rope. Then I give up, thinking my grandfather would come and get me out of the trap. Yet he just stands up against a tree and watches me struggle. Seeing a teaching moment arise.
Time begins to move slowly as more and more blood goes to my head. “If you…if you just keep me hanging here…I’m gonna…gonna pass out.”
“Don’t you worry, your body will still be hanging up in this trap until you comeback and I will be waiting for you.” My vision begins to black out a bit on me then a cool rush slaps me. Water drips down my face and it keeps me alert. “You have knives amidst yourself why not try and cut yourself out?”
“And fall down onto some spiked rocks? Isn’t that a little stupid…get free only to die?”
“You tell me, would you rather stay up there and let the predators get you or get yourself free risking your life and possibly surviving?”
“How would you get down?” I bark. Fists turning red as I hang.
“I would use my head, your body will do amazing things when you need it to, just act rather than think. Feel the world around you.” I let go of the idea of falling into the rocks. Their is a knife on my belt that can easily cut this rope. So my hands find it and the wind begins to pick. The rope begins to make my sway with the wind. Then my torso begins to put some force with it. Slowly but surely my body picks up more and more movement, the rocks underneath me begin to go into a blur of color. Then at the peak of my movement the knife finds the rope and I plummet outwards away from the rocks.
The impact into the leaves is more pleasant than I would have imagined, but then hanging above a death trap and getting free of it would always be a victory. “I hope you know, I despise you right now.” I mumble to my grandfather as my face is buried beneath a layer of leaves.
He chuckles at me and drags me to a nearby tree. “You must learn something from my motives today Kalon. You won’t always be out in the woods with someone. So when something like that happens that can possibly kill you, you will not think, you will just act. It is something all of us Hemmings must all learn when being a hunter. Don’t take it personally There will come a time when you will thank me. I know it and on that day I will be smiling.” Then a canteen is placed in my hands, the water is more than welcomed.
The blood begins to return to the rest of my body. “Why did you,” I move the canteen around, “give that guy some of food?”
“I did that because he hasn’t been shown kindness in a long time. Never be quick to judge someone. You have your own problems but they are all facing their own struggles too. You should try your best to gauge if they are truly lost and need to be put down. If not? Show kindness before dominance. You will always be better prepared. I will show you the ways of the hunter as well as the ways of a respectable man.”
“What can be used to gauge if someone is of ill intent to me?” I try my luck at standing up.
“There is something,” he pushes me back down to the ground. “Something in a persons eyes that will truly show you if they mean you harm. That man who had a knife on me didn’t have much fight in him. He acted out of desperation. Body language is also a key element. One of these days we will go barter with some of the local shops. I know who are the good merchants and the bad ones. While we are there you will have to judge who are the good ones again.”
“I guess that sounds good to me.”
“Great! Now on your feet we have to get home.” He offers me a hand and pats me on the back.
Finally the squake has leapt to another tree and away from me and my deer. Ever so slowly my hands come up and wipe away the sweat in my eye. The deer hasn’t moved, it still sniffs and searches for more grass. A piece of me wants to leave it, just let it go on about its life. Then a pang in my stomach reminds me of why I hunt. Not for sport or because I find it fun. Even though there are moments I find happiness out in the trees. Right now this deer isn’t just for me, its for my home, my town. The meat won’t just feed me but the pelt can be used for clothing and most of the meat will be donated to others. Its passing will help us survive but first, I need to bring it down.