The Encounter

by Jody Carlton

I'm walking through a forest. The only sound is the crackling of dry branches and leaves beneath my feet. It hasn't rained for days. The wildlife around me is keenly aware of my presence and they let me know by making their respective sounds. Once I regain my bearings, I begin walking along the path that I had originally started out on. Several minutes pass and I begin to hear sounds of life: human life. After a few seconds I can smell the smoke. Not sure what lurks ahead, I post up behind a large tree. Suddenly, a figure from the fire becomes alerted to something. Is it me? A few seconds pass and the figure returns its attention to the fire. I make a quick glance and then I reposition behind another tree, a tree closer to the fire. By now I'm able to make out more human figures. There appear to be four, maybe five - the far side of the fire remains allusive. Overhead, a buzzard perches violently upon a branch several feet above my head. I immediately hide behind the tree in full cover. I don't risk sticking my head around the tree to take a look, but temptation overwhelms me. I crouch down and slowly turn to maneuver my head around the tree. Just as my head pokes out the side of the tree, I see four figures looking directly at my position. The buzzard ruffles its feathers and takes flight as the fear dial turns up a notch. This is exactly what my research had warned me of. These specimens were highly proactive once their senses had been alerted. They rarely passed up opportunities to progress their skills, skills to kill. My gut begins to wrench. I fight the urge not to . . .

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