Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: One
Title: I See Angry People (Part 11)
On my northward trek, one day I came across a clearing filled with a picnic table, chairs, dishes, and food. Every brain cell in my head screamed, “Danger, danger, danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” so I remained hidden in the brush, grasses, and trees. Instinctively, I drew my bow, set an arrow.
I made a wide circle around the clearing, searching for signs of other people. They were there, if you knew how to find them. Whoever had put the picnic in the clearing had not wanted to be tracked. I moved as I’d learned from the wolves, slowly, cautiously, ready to shoot if needed.
The weight of my quiver, with the arrows I had left, concerned me. I had maybe a dozen arrows, probably less. Not enough for a protracted fight. I’d been searching for good wood to make more, but the terrain had changed. Trees were in small clumps, scattered across the hills. Bushes, briars, and vines filled the landscape, with weeds taller than I was. It was different terrain, and I did not like it. I felt exposed, easily seen, an easy target, walking in the open.
I had found no wood I could use. None. The wood was gone, like the forest.
I moved away from the clearing, away from the fragments of trail left in the brush and weeds, and followed their general direction, toward the northwest, until I spotted a house among the scattered clumps of trees. The area around the house was not overgrown, it had been cleared in the recent past. Someone took care of the land around the house.
Carefully, I moved through the brush, until I reached one of the clumps of trees. The trees provided me with some sense of protection, some sense of safety. I knew I couldn’t be seen while I was in them. Once in the copse of trees, I stopped, and waited for the sun to set, when I could circle the house in the dark.
After a nap, and a small snack of what remaining nuts and berries I had, I watched the house from the safety of the trees. There were people there, maybe a dozen, a mix of men and women. It wasn’t easy to count them, or identify which gender they were, but my best guess put it at nine men, three women.
There was something to the west of the house, I couldn’t tell what it was, only that it wasn’t natural. It was a pit, or a hole, or something. Something dug in the ground. Whatever it was, it was several hundred yards from the house. Every time I looked toward it, my brain cells screamed it was evil, that it hid great darkness.
After the sun set, I stayed in the safety of my little group of trees and watched the house, and the brush around it. I watched four of the men move across the open space around the house, and disappear into the brush, heading southwest. Back toward the clearing with the picnic table.
Three more men crossed the clearing, heading toward whatever it was my brain screamed was evil. The last two men hid in the brush that surrounded the clearing. They moved through it, as if hunting, searching for something, or someone. “They’re good,” it was hard to track them.
I stayed in my trees, and waited. When the night was its darkest, I drew my bow, set an arrow, and set out to the west, to the unnatural thing in the brush. It took every skill I’d learned from the wolves to move without disturbing the weeds, to leave no trail. On footprints, not broken stems among the brush. Every movement was slow, cautious, deliberate. My ears listened for any sound, the sound of voices, the snap of a twig on the ground, the swish of a bit of brush being moved.
Halfway to the evil, I heard the chirp of a cricket to my left, answered by the chirp of a cricket ahead of me. My hands and arms reacted on their own, two arrows flew. My ears heard one strike home, that thunk an arrow makes when it hits a target, followed by a flurry of sudden breath, a fall to the ground, an attempt to remain silent, and the call of another cricket from the source of the noise.
Then, more sound, something moving more rapidly through the brush. My hand found my knife, my arm extended, my body launched into the brush directly ahead of me, at the movement, the sound.
Blood. Not mine. More noise. My body used the knife again, then a third time. One of the two men I’d seen searching the brush was on the ground, his blood leaking out of the wounds. My knife silenced him, sliced through his throat.
I moved toward the other cricket. Motion, through the brush, the swish of the grasses being pushed aside. My bow came out, an arrow flew, the motion stopped. I found the man in the grass, and made certain he was dead.
In the dark, I studied the two men. They had strange bracelets around their wrists, strange necklaces. Some kind of bone.
Suddenly, everything was wrong. Everything I’d learned about hell, about fire and brimstone, burning flesh, souls damned to unending torture, became a child’s fairytale. The bones were finger bones. Human finger bones.
On each of them men I found knives. I took them, added them to my meager arsenal, checked my quiver. I was down to six arrows. Six arrows, seven men. The math didn’t work.
I made my way to the edge of the clearing. There, I used an old butane cigarette lighter, and set a fire in the brush. I moved a hundred feet, and set another fire, then another, and another. Then I moved toward the trail to the south west. I set another half dozen fires there.
In the dark, in the dry brush, the fires caught, then grew. I moved to the northeast. I didn’t need to see the thing in the west. I knew what I’d find there. Bones. The bones of the dead. Bones of the victims of the people in that place. As I left, I lit two arrows on fire. I fired them at the house. They struck with somewhat loud “thack” sounds, like they’d struck a wooden structure. I watched to make certain the fire from the arrows spread.
Then, I headed north east, away from that place. I didn’t need to be told what went on there. What those beings did. They’d found a way to stay alive in the world. They hunted. They killed. They ate what they hunted.
They hunted people.
And I knew, if I encountered them again, I’d be ready, with a quiver full of arrows, with the wolves, the eagles, the hawks, and any other animals I could convince to join me. And I’d finish what had started that night. None of them would walk away. None of them would escape.
I didn’t sleep that night.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.