As you get closer to the man, you see him disassembling the tent with quick motions. His back is towards you, and he still seems to have no idea that there is anyone in the vicinity. Just when you are about ten feet from him, he suddenly turns around. You freeze. A flash of panic passes over his expression, but he quickly recovers, and his dark eyes narrow into an enquiring gesture. He drops the edge of the tent from his hand and starts walking towards you with long, slow strides. For the first time you notice how tall he is: a little above six feet, give or take.
When he has crossed the distance between him and you, you still haven’t moved a bit. He clears his throat.
“Err… I don’t mean to be rude or anything but, what are you doing here?” he says in a flat voice.
“I could ask the same to you,” you surprise yourself with your calm tone. You feel your thumping heart gradually slowing down. There is something about him that makes you feel relaxed and safe. Instead of wanting to run in the opposite direction, you look straight at his eyes. He speaks again.
“Okay stranger, let me rephrase my question. How did you end up in the middle of this place out of nowhere? I know for a fact that you don’t live around here because if you did, I would have run into you at least a hundred times by now.”
“So you live here?”
“Near here, yes.”
“Am I the only person in this place capable of answering a question?” He does a dramatic eye roll that immediately makes you think, if he knows when to do an eye roll then he must have had contact with human society for at least some part of his life, which means I’m not dealing with a Tarzan case. Phew. Which then makes you think, oh well he was just speaking with me in English, I think that is enough proof that he wasn’t raised by monkeys and bears. By this point you realize that you have been staring blankly at him for several seconds while having a conversation with yourself, and you still haven’t answered him.
“You’re right, I don’t live here. I mean, what kind of a person lives in the middle of a forest? No offense to you. The thing is, umm, I don’t actually know how I ended up here. Yes, I know, super weird. And creepy. And not believable at all. But that’s all I’ve got.”
He stares at you as if you just spoke a bunch of gibberish that makes no sense.
“No, seriously. I don’t know how I came here. I think I lost my memory or something. Maybe I knocked my head against something?” You laugh out and realize that the man isn’t finding this the least bit funny.
“Do you have a concussion? Can you feel any pain?” he asks with a calm seriousness.
You instinctively reach out and touch your head. You realize that you haven’t felt any pain in your head from the moment you found yourself in this place, neither have you found any signs of an injury. The man seems to read that from your expression.
He gives a slow nod, as if coming to a conclusion.
“Is there anyone with you?” he asks softly, although he looks like he knows the answer.
“No, just me.”
“Okay. Come with me.”
He goes back towards the tent, which is lying in a mess, and starts to gather it up. He asks you to hold the corners and with your help folds it up and then rolls it into a neat, small pile. He reaches out and grabs a backpack that he had taken out from inside the tent before he had started disassembling it l, and ties the tent with the bag. You have a thousand questions running through your head but decide to hold them in for a little longer.
He straps the backpack onto his shoulders and starts walking towards the direction from which you had come.
“Um, wait, where are we going?”
“Yes, that’s what I believe I just said.”
He is walking a few feet in front of you with confident steps that can only come from someone who has passed through this path many times before. You force yourself to keep your questions at bay. After all, this man could possibly have killed me by now, but he hasn’t. So he must be trustworthy, right? Unless he is going to the den of his fellow smugglers, or murderers, or pirates. Well, not pirates. Unless this is an island. You look around in sudden panic and after some observation decide that these trees aren’t….island-ish enough.
A scratching noise breaks your train of thought and you find the man sharpening a short, wooden arrow and putting it in a pocket-like pouch on the side of his backpack, where at least a dozen more arrows lie. He then takes out a small bow-like thing that looks like it was carved by someone who had a major grudge against conventional bows and had decided to invent a style of their own. You wonder what other weapons of mass destruction he is hiding in that innocent looking backpack. As if on cue, he brings out a street-gang style pocket-knife. He turns back and hands it to you.
“Just in case,” he says as if that is enough explanation, and starts walking again.
You feel the coolness of the metal against your hand. There is some rust along the edges. It looks several years old.
“So…what are we going to hunt?”
A few seconds pass before you speak again.
“Why Red Deer?”
“My wife felt like eating it.”
“Your what?” you almost stop in your tracks.
“Wife,” he chuckles. There is a slight amusement in his voice, as if he isn’t used to saying it.
You try to connect the dots – all the information you know about this strange person so far, and form somewhat of a story inside your head. You decide to test your theory out.
“So let me guess. You and your wife came to this place – in the middle of this forest – to spend a vacation. For going through some self discovery or that kind of crap. You live in a posh apartment somewhere in Sydney, or New York City, or whatever, and decided to spend the summer out in the wild. Like that guy Alexander Tramp. In that movie, you know? That’s what’s going on here. Am I right?”
“They made a movie out of it? Wow, what a miss. I read the book a long time ago. Always imagined how awesome it would be if someone made a movie about Alex Supertramp.”
“So I’m right? You’re on a vacation?”
He is silent for a few seconds.
“No. We’re not in a vacation.”
He says it almost…sadly. Or perhaps you just imagine it. You spot a few Red Deer in the distance among the trees.
“Then what are you doing here?”
He takes an arrow, holds the bow straight, and checks the strength of the bowstring with his fingers. He slows down his steps and looks around with alert eyes.
“That, my friend, is a long, long story. Don’t worry, you’ll hear it some time. Let’s catch our deer first.”
After at least half an hour of waiting and several missed opportunities, he shoots an arrow that hits a red deer right in the neck. He runs towards it as it falls sideways. You follow behind with trembling legs. This is the first time that you’ve watched a hunt outside of National Geographic Channel.
He holds the deer down and runs his hand along the back of it’s head several times, which, strangely enough, calms it down and puts it into a sort of daze. He then takes the pocket knife from you and places it at it’s throat. He silently mutters something and then slashes it’s throat in a quick swipe. You jerk backwards in shock, and stare aghast at the blood pooling under the deer’s head. Within a few minutes, all it’s movements stop.
He looks at you as if suddenly remembering that you are here too.
“Don’t worry, that is the least painful death possible. It died quick.”
Your are too disoriented to help out with the cleaning. You sit at a distance and wait as he partially skins the deer and prepares to carry it back. When he is done, he hangs the deer around his shoulders above his backpack, and starts walking back.
Once again you start walking behind him.
“Will there be any more hunting?” you ask warily.
“Not today. Not in a while, actually. This little fella will last for some time.”
“And where are we going now?”