Hostile Ch. 02byNehkara©
I heard a sound, a sharp twang, and saw sand fly up from just in front of my feet. I stared down at the arrow sticking out of the sand with a shiver of dread creeping down my spine. I spun quickly to see who had initiated the attack and there was nothing. Just empty woods. I quickly ducked back into my tent, throwing the scanner onto the bed, and pulling a small crossbow, equipped with quiver and scope, and a handful of bolts out of the survival pack.
I loaded the crossbow quickly and stashed the remaining bolts in the quiver in mere moments as I stepped up to the door of the tent and peered out. My eyes scanned the beach as far as I could and, seeing nothing, I very slowly stuck my head out of the tent. I scanned more and more of the beach as it came into view but I still could not see any sign of my attacker.
I could feel adrenaline pumping furiously through my veins as I stepped out of my tent. I continued to scan the beach with my eyes but I knew that it was unlikely that someone who attacked with such stealth would show themselves at this point.
I glanced back into the woods again and raised the crossbow to my shoulder, ready to fire. I began taking slow steps towards where I thought the attacker had been, stopping after each step to scan the woods.
I searched the woods near my tent that way, slowly and carefully until I happened upon a depression in the moss. I studied it carefully and came to the conclusion that whoever my attacker was they must have knelt there to steady themselves for the shot. I looked back toward the lake and realized that I had not been more than 15 yards or so away. My thoughts whirled in confusion, 'How could they have missed from such close range? Did they miss on purpose? Was it a warning shot? Who attacked me!? Why?'
It was obvious that whoever it was, they were an experienced hunter. Other than the one spot where the attacker had knelt, there was no sign of them.
After continuing to search the woods with all of my senses for the better part of an hour and coming up empty, I slowly walked back to my shelter, glancing behind myself every few steps.
"Its not paranoia if they are really out to get you," I muttered to myself coldly.
Before entering the tent I knelt down and picked up the arrow from the sand and carried it back into the tent with me.
Convinced whoever had been lurking nearby with evil intent was now long gone, I unloaded the crossbow and propped it beside the entryway. I sat down on the bed with a sigh and closed my eyes for a moment, allowing a shudder to wash over me as my tension eased somewhat. With my eyes closed images played across my mind of the events that had unfolded. It was very eerie to be attacked in such a manner and have no idea who had done it or why.
When I opened my eyes I still held the offending arrow in my hands. I studied it carefully. It was extremely well made, consisting of a smooth light wooden shaft, feathers for fletching, and a vicious-looking metal arrowhead. I also noted a nock carved in the end of the wooden arrow to secure it to the bowstring. The arrowhead looked as though it was crafted from a piece of a spaceship hull, likely from another craft that had crashed here. Both the arrowhead and fletching were secured to the arrow with carved grooves and some sort of adhesive resin.
I stared at the arrow for a long time, trying to get a full sense of what I could learn from it. The two significant pieces of information I gathered were that my attacker was exceptional at crafting weaponry and at least one other ship had crashed on this planet at some point in the past.
Finally I realized that there was work I needed to do and I could not afford to sit and stare at the projectile all day long.
I slung the crossbow over my shoulder, and wandered back out of the tent. I admired briefly the large fire pit I had created that morning. Now all it needed was a fire.
I began collecting firewood of all shapes and sizes, mostly driftwood and fallen limbs. It was a mundane task and my mind wandered as I worked, 'The ship is at the bottom of the lake. I have no communications equipment. No one will know I am missing because I had nowhere to be. It could be a long, long time before anyone even decides to look for me! Even then, they wouldn't know where I was when I disappeared. I had better settle in for the long haul here.'
Those thoughts transitioned into, 'Someone is on this planet with me and judging by this morning they are none too happy I am here. But if I am to be here for any length of time it would be nice to have some companionship. Preferably of the non-lethal variety.'
Before I knew it I had a good-sized pile of firewood stacked beside my tent. It pays sometimes to just work mindlessly, by the time your mind is back on your task you are done!
I realized despite my desire to sit around a fire this evening I had no seat other than the sandy beach.
I jogged up the shallow slope to the edge of the woods and looked around for the nearest sizable log that was not attached in some way to the ground. I quickly located an ideal candidate and began heaving and pulling it out of the woods and onto the beach. In a few minutes I had pulled the log up a few feet from the fire pit and I relaxed on my new-found seat, breathing heavily from exertion.
Once again I realized that I had a bit more work to do before I could relax. The sun was nearing the horizon and I wanted to finish up by dark. While I was working in the woods I recalled that when I had the close encounter with the arrow I had been intending on using the scanner to study the lake water and determine if the water quality had suffered due to the impact of my shuttle.
After recovering the scanner from my bed inside the shelter, I jogged down to the edge of the water and leaned in close to the surface, extending the probe from the top of the small device. It gathered a small sample of the water and in a few moments declared it safe to drink, although in the full readout it was apparent that some of the heavy metal levels in the sample were higher than I would have liked. I decided to continue using the water I had for the time being and continue to test the water in the lake daily to see if there were any changes. I also had the water purifier if I needed it but as I did not know how long I needed that equipment to last I preferred to save it for a time when I truly needed it.
After putting away the scanner, and recovering a box of good old waterproof strike-anywhere matches, I built a respectable fire and relaxed beside it, finally removing the crossbow I had carted with me all evening. For whatever reason just having it within arms reach had made me feel secure, though all evening I had still been frequently glancing over my shoulder to ensure there was no danger.
I chuckled as I regarded the crossbow and matches. The technology was centuries upon centuries old but the simple fact of the matter is that in a survival situation it is better to have something reliable. For a survival situation energy weapons were not particularly useful as they were unreliable and required a large number of heavy power cells. Crossbows were still produced, as were longbows and compound bows, for survival and nostalgic hunting purposes. For a variety of reasons, weapons firing bullet projectiles had ceased to exist over a 100 years prior. Those who wanted the best weapon had an energy weapon, those who wanted a traditional weapon used a bow of some sort. The matches were a simply a perfect firestarting method. They had been refined over the years to be completely waterproof and would strike and burn successfully even when soaking wet. At their heart, however, they were still very similar to their predecessors that had existed hundreds of years prior.
My thoughts now shifted to events of earlier in the day. As I sat beside the fire I contemplated how I would proceed, now with the knowledge that there was, in all likelihood, another human being on the planet. I knew that if there was any hope of avoiding the all-consuming loneliness that would come with an extended stay on this unknown planet, I had to try. I decided to venture out the next morning and see if I could find this person. I hoped that if I DID find them, that reason would prevail and I hoped that I could avoid another attempt on my life.
With that thought I got up from my seat beside the fire and retired to bed and a fitful sleep full of nightmares about dying at the hands of a well-placed arrow.
Alie panicked. Her mind screamed at her as she released the arrow, 'You CANNOT kill your only hope for an end to this miserable existence.' She watched in horror as her arrow landed at the feet of the man. By some blessing, he looked down at the arrow before he glanced back into the woods.
Alie was fast. Very fast. And very quiet. She sped through the forest at lightning speed, making hardly a sound and keeping her steps light to avoid gashes in the moss which would give away her escape route.
As she slowed, finally well out of sight of the man, she was still panicking. 'I can't do it,' she thought with despair, 'I can't bring myself to kill him no matter how much danger he poses to me. I can't kill my only hope. I have been alone for so long...'
Alie now walked slowly through the woods toward her path home, tears streaming steadily down her face. As she stepped on to the path her eyes opened wide, still glistening with tears, and she realized that anyone who walked around to this side of the lake could easily see the path through the forest and it led directly to her home.
She began piling rocks along the path, pushing half-fallen trees across it, and generally making the path as unrecognizable and impassable as possible. She came to a point in the path there the bushes were thick on either side and the path was narrow. She gathered a myriad of boulders from nearby and built a makeshift wall that was about as as high as her chest.
If she thought about it she would realize that none of the measures she had taken would dissuade someone if they were determined and her efforts did little to hide the path. But Alie's mind was in full-on panic mode and she was not thinking clearly.
She reached the end of the trail near her home and she dragged several logs over the entrance. Alie nearly sprinted the rest of the way to her home and dove into her bed, finally collapsing in violent sobs that lasted until she fell into a deep sleep, her longbow lying forgotten on the floor of her dwelling. Her dreams were filled with the man she had seen at the lake, some frightening and others wonderful.
Alie woke very early in the morning still feeling wrung out. She rose slowly and changed into a fresh outfit, designed very similar to the one she had worn to bed the previous night.
Alie sat down on her bed and munched aimlessly on bits of fruit she had collected as well as some smoked and dried meat. As she ate her breakfast she contemplated her situation and the events of the prior day. She knew now that she would not seek out the death of the man at Barrier Lake. She could not kill him without cause. He represented too much hope for her.
Alie could not define her hope. All she had ever been told of men was pain and abuse but she could not keep from hoping that somehow this man might be the end to her loneliness.
Despite her hope she also would not seek him out. She could not leave herself that vulnerable. She blushed as she realized that if she never went to him and he could not overcome her efforts to make the trail impassable then they might never come face to face. That thought both made her feel safe and deeply sad at the same time.
Alie shook her head, breaking herself from her reverie. She needed to hunt today and she silently berated herself for getting caught up in useless fantasies about men who do anything less than hurt her.
Alie rose and recovered her longbow from the floor of her hut, feeling ashamed for not having put it away properly the night before. She quickly added her quiver and hunting knife to her ensemble and she stepped out of her hut and then began moving east, away from the river. There was plentiful game on the planet and since she was the only human hunter she tended to be very successful. She moved slowly, quietly and with purpose, keeping her eyes open and ears alert for any sign of her prey. After about an hour of skulking through the woods she came to a clearing in the forest where light flooded down. At the other side of the clearing was a small deer. She preferred smaller deer because she was better able to deal with them and because she preferred to take only what she needed. A large animal would go to waste.
Alie sank to one knee, extending her other leg out for support. She silently drew her bow as the deer lowered its head to feed. Without hesitation, Alie fired and saw the deer crumple immediately, the arrow having hit the deer in the neck.
Alie, flushed with the joy of a successful hunt and a clean kill, waited for a few moments to allow the deer to cease its final movements before approaching. She made quick work of gutting the deer but it was messy work. When she had finished the job she was covered in blood.
Alie swung the small deer over her shoulders, grunting from the heavy load, and began her short trek back to her camp after ensuring she had all of her equipment.
The walk back with the animal over her shoulders had further covered Alie in blood but she knew there was no sense in washing quite yet. Alie utilized a portion of the massive pile of firewood that resided beside her small dwelling to create a line of smoky fires. She then strung lines similar to clotheslines between trees and over the fires. Alie then returned to the deer.
She quickly and efficiently skinned the animal and began cutting up most of the meat into thin strips which she hung orderly from the lines, over the fire. She kept a few choice cuts of meat intact. These she put into a small waterproof container, made from the stomach of a deer, and walked down to the river. The water of the river was cold and clear. Alie submerged the waterproof container and put a rock on it to keep it in place, then tied a small piece of rope from the container to a tree just in case, she had no intention of losing the best cuts of meat from her kill.
The fires would dry and smoke the meat hanging above them and keep the animals and bugs away long enough for the deer meat to be properly preserved. The cold water of the river would keep the meat she saved for immediate use from going bad.
Head to toe Alie was now covered in blood, soot and dirt. She dropped all of her equipment in her hut and then began walking purposefully north along the river.
After about 15 minutes she arrived at a large pool. At the far side of the pool was a sheer cliff and a towering waterfall. Alie smiled as she looked out across the beautiful and familiar pool. She eagerly stripped off her garments and left them beside the pool. She waded in, shivering for a moment at the cold water but thankful for the opportunity to relax and wash away the grime from her day's work.
Alie loved to swim and in keeping with this, she lazily spent the next few hours bathing, swimming, and playing in the pool and waterfall. She was completely, blissfully, unaware of the pair of eyes watching her every move.