Sword and Crossbow Trilogy — Book One: Decadence



/ YA/ h/ NA/ SF/ F/ R

Chapter Two — The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

        This is why he has to die. He’s alone, at night, with a fire roaring in the middle of the dark forest. Maybe he wants to die. After the food shortage, a lot of people either died by the hands of others or committed suicide. I could never consider the idea of suicide. It’s been too long and I’ve fought too hard to survive to just give up.

        He has lots of food judging by the mouth-watering smells coming from his camp. I never know when my next, even last, meal will be so I take whatever I can get my hands on. It’s almost as if this guy is presenting me with a gift on a silver platter. I could eat him too. Cannibalism became the norm for the Crazies when good food was hard to find. The thought of eating another human being, however, turns my stomach and I push the crazy thought away. 

        I’ve been watching him for a while now, going on sixteen hours now according to my watch, from my perch up in the tree and he seems to be alone. The day had started off warm with just a hint of a midsummer’s breeze blowing through the treetops. I had been walking back from the creek after filling my canister, thinking to myself it was time to find my way out of these woods and try to find food somewhere else. I was a few meters from the road when I caught sight of his dark clothing through the trees. He had been walking casually on the road when he suddenly stopped, turned and faced the tree line opposite from where I was hiding, and headed straight into the forest. I made a quick decision to follow him; he might lead me to a food source or at least have food in the bag he carried on his shoulders. He proved to be quite adept at covering his tracks and would have been almost impossible to follow if I had not seen in which direction he had gone. Surprising him will be difficult, I thought. I never rushed a kill. You have to be sure of who you were about to kill. You didn’t know if they are alone or in a group or what kind if weapons they had on them.

        It’s rare to come across someone who carried a gun. Bullets are highly sought after but their price is steep and it’s better to try your luck with another weapon than paying the price for a single bullet. The most common weapon people carry is a knife, which varies in size depending on the person and their skill level at handling a knife. I’ve also come across some unique weapons like machetes, axes, and tire irons. Anything blunt or heavy would serve as a weapon but people enjoyed putting their own special touches on them as well; it made them personal. I personally enjoy using a samurai sword: the blade is long and sharp and it made killing someone a lot easier. One quick swipe and they’re dead; provided they don’t try to defend themselves or have a gun. I’d come across this sword early on, after the riots and before the freak storms, in an antique store, bought it using my five finger discount, and taught myself a few moves over the years to ensure my survival. It was a real samurai sword too and had most likely belonged to someone important. Now it belongs to little old me, a runaway, someone of little importance whom you could pass by in the street and never look at twice.

        As the mysterious man moved through the forest, I had cautiously made my way around him and searched for a spot from which I could observe him to see what he would do next. Finding a spot had been no problem; the tree I had chosen had branches wide enough to give me support and provided enough cover for me to hide behind. A cluster of branches formed a Y shape near the top of the tree from which I can hide and wait. I was high enough to watch him and remain unobserved by him or by anyone passing below.

        He came upon my hiding spot very shortly and passed right under me. He never even looked up. A few yards in front of my tree there was a small clearing perfect for making camp. He paused just before the clearing and looked around to see if anyone was hiding or had set a trap. He crouched low to the ground and unhooked his crossbow, another weapon unusual for someone to have since you’d have to find arrows to load it with, from his back. Quietly, he knocked an arrow and started to circle the clearing. He circled it once then stopped and watched it again. 

        He carried a small duffel bag across his back and took a moment to look through it. It was hard at this height to see what he was taking out but I was patient. He stood up and circled the clearing again. There was something in his hands he slowly unraveled as he walked; he must be setting up a perimeter of some kind. Maybe a rope to keep out unwanted visitors? If so, he would need more than that to defend himself. He completed the circle and reached for his bag again. From this height I heard the muffled sound of metal banging against metal. He drew out what looked like several small cans and various metal pieces and attached these to the rope. If someone came across this in the dark they would walk right into it, giving him enough time to prepare for whatever was attacking him.

        Once the perimeter was set up he turned his attention to the clearing. He set up his tent where the trees were thickest with the tent opening facing the trees more widely spread apart. The fire pit he placed off to one side of the clearing so he would not be fire blinded at night. He gathered a medium sized pile of wood, made a fire, cooked a meal, and settled down away from the fire. He never made another move other than to fix the fire if it got too low. The morning faded into afternoon, afternoon into early evening, and with the dwindling daylight I could barely see him from up in the tree. Night came and, as far as I could tell, he still hadn’t moved.

        The plan I had come up with was to wait until he fell asleep then make my move, but to make sure I have to get down from the tree. I lower myself down, making sure each branch is thick enough to support my weight, and being careful not to make a sound. After sitting in one position for 18 hours had put my body into one large cramp so I take the time to stretch those muscles; one wrong move or a cramped muscle can get me killed. A few minutes later I feel ready to creep up on his camp. It had rained heavily the past of couple of days so the ground is still damp and muffles my approach. I lick my chapped lips and silently wish I’d collected more water before stalking him. Attacking him at night will give me the advantage since I don’t know how strong he is or what other weapons he might be carrying. 

         About a yard away I stop to catch my breath. I’ve barely done anything physical all day except climb a tree and this small amount of movement makes me dizzy. I need to kill this guy soon; it’s my last chance at getting food for who knows how long. If I wait any longer to eat something my body will give up and I’ll be an easy target for the other things living in this forest.

        Through a break between the trees I have a clear line of sight of the clearing. I hide behind some bushes to observe him. He’s planted a large hunting knife with a serrated edge in the ground beside him and laid his crossbow across his lap with enough arrows lined up in front of him to get me in serious trouble if I’m not able to close the gap between us fast enough. Being this close to him I can see he’s about my age or a little older judging by the bit of beard on his face. He has long dark hair and the ends just reach his broad shoulders. He’s physically fit, appears to be in good health, and I know he’ll have the advantage in strength and speed in hand to hand combat. I’ll have to kill him quick if I have any hope of coming out of this fight alive.

        I’m ready to attack, yet something about this situation gives me pause. If he had taken the extra precaution of having his weapons close by, then why had he chosen to have a fire going in the middle of the woods and in Mongrel and Grimlock territory no less? I almost decide right then and there to turn around and get out of this forest as fast as I can, but the hunger pains in my stomach remind me of why I’m hiding behind a tree contemplating murder. I hope he’ll fall asleep soon because sleep is another thing I’ve been deprived of since entering the forest.

        Minutes later his head is nodding against his chest. I can’t see if his eyes are closed because his long hair covers his face. His head nods a final time. I wait a full fifteen minutes, the longest fifteen minutes I’ve ever experienced in my life, to see if he moves again. The only thing moving is his chest rising and falling with each deep breathe he takes. I pull my hood up and ease out from my hiding spot. If by any chance he does hear me I’ll make sure he doesn’t have a chance to reach for his weapons.

        I circle half way around the camp before I find the spot from which I can safely make my move. I wind my way toward the camp in a crouch with my samurai sword at the ready. I watch for any sign of movement from the direction I roughly remember him to be sleeping. I can hear nothing but the crackle of the fire as I move closer. I approach his make-shift perimeter and step over it with no problem. I’m almost at the edge of the clearing and I slow down my breathing. When I’m a few feet away I drop low so I can look into his camp with my view unobstructed. I should’ve come up just behind him if I planned my attack just right. I lay my sword down in front of me for easy access in case of any surprises. My eyes sweep across his camp – I can see the fire and his tent more clearly and I estimate the amount of room I’ll need if he puts up any resistance. 

        Speaking of which, judging by how long it’s taken me to circle halfway around his camp I have to be right next to where he’s sleeping. He should be exactly in front of me but…he’s nowhere to be found. I check the clearing once more to make sure. My pulse quickens and I feel dizzy again when I realize the only thing in the clearing is his tent and the fire he’s built. His knife, the crossbow, HIM – all gone.

        I try not to panic but my light headedness almost causes me to pass out. My body shifts into an attack position my sword already in my hands. He’s obviously not in the camp so I don’t move forward.  I turn around to face the forest. I see nothing. I hear nothing. The prickly sensation on the back of my neck warns me I’ve chosen the wrong guy to kill. I keep my back to the camp and make my way through the trees in the opposite direction than I had originally come. My whole body is tense and on alert for any sign of movement or sudden noise. I can feel him watching me and I know in this moment he knew – he somehow bloody knew – I had been watching him. I have played right into his trap.

        Well, he won’t get much from me. I had buried my things about ten yards away from where I had been hiding well before he had walked through this part of the forest. As an added precaution I moved in a random pattern away from the spot I hid my bag.

        The forest waits in quiet anticipation to see the outcome of our little game of cat and mouse. I’m dead already – his crossbow would see to that – but I intend to give this guy the fight of his life. Maybe I can deliver a fatal blow that will fester and rot as a slow death claims his miserable life.

         Escaping is out of the question yet there is still no sign of attack. Maybe he’s given up; maybe I’m not worth the kill. I feel a bit cheated. I want to scream out loud, ‘Why not me? Am I not worth it?’ But I stop myself. This type of thinking would lead me down a very dark path to Crazy town. Maybe he’s decided to let me go – or maybe he hasn’t and wants me to lower my guard.

         I drop my sword to the side and take a deep breath. I’ll need to be quick if I want to escape even one shot from that crossbow. 

        I spot a big tree a couple yards in front of me I can climb and hide behind its branches if he shoots at me. Taking a deep breath I run straight for the tree at full speed, pumping both arms and drawing short, deep breaths to gain momentum. I slide to a stop at the base of the tree and sheath my sword. A couple tree branches are within my reach I just have to reach out to them and…

        “Don’t move.” He steps out from behind the tree, his crossbow aimed right for my heart. Needless to say, I don’t move. I know when I’ve been caught.

         “Where is it?” he barks. “I saw you carrying a bag two days ago and now suddenly you don’t. So where is it?”

        Two days ago? But I had only seen him come into the woods about a day ago. The pieces fall together in my head. He had been watching me first and set himself up as bait to get me into the forest. 

        I look at him steadily, both hands still reaching for those branches I’ll never climb, as I think of what to say.

        “I lost it,” I reply. Lame but let’s see if he’ll accept that excuse.

        “No you didn’t. Your hands are dirty so you must’ve buried it.” 

         Oops. The one time I didn’t wash my hands.

         “I’ll ask you one more time,” he growls. “Where. Is. The. Bag?”

         I’m definitely testing his patience.

        “Well, you see I thought it would be fun to play a little game of hide and seek with myself…”

        “Cut the bullshit!” he yells. 

        He takes a couple steps closer which puts the crossbow right in front of my face.

        “Okay. No bullshit,” I reply evenly. 

        My arms lower a fraction of an inch and I make eye contact with him to show I’m serious. “I buried it just like you said. But you’re an idiot to think I would tell you where it is.”

        He doesn’t say anything or even acknowledge the fact I just insulted him. Idiot.

        “You’re really not going to tell me, are you?” he finally asks. “You would die over whatever is in that little bag?”

        I don’t respond. I would rather die than tell him anything.

        He sighs. “Well, at least I’ll get a new weapon out of this.”

        He makes the mistake of taking his eyes off my hands to look at my sword. I take a chance and reach for my weapon. Just as my hand touches the handle he realizes his error and fires his crossbow. The arrow misses and hits the tree beside me. I turn to hide on the other side of the tree to give myself room to draw my sword and fight. He anticipates this and moves to the other side of the tree, another arrow already knocked and ready to fire. He aims for my chest but I roll to the side and he misses again. This time I manage to draw my sword and hold it in front of me. I have to find some way to get the crossbow away from him because my legs are about to give out and it’s getting harder to dodge his attacks.

        As he reaches for another arrow I make my move. I run at him at full speed, sword coming up then down, aiming for his hands. He brings his crossbow up in a defensive swing and brushes aside my attack. I place a well aimed kick at his ribs but it’s not hard enough to break any ribs. He grunts in surprise and retreats a couple of steps. Knowing he doesn’t have enough room to use his crossbow he tosses it aside and withdraws his hunting knife from his belt. Never bring a knife to a sword fight buddy, I thought.

        He charges and stabs downward at my chest. I swing upward with my sword and fling his knife easily aside. Now weaponless he backs away from me and we circle each other in quiet anticipation of what the other might do next. He stops circling and holds up his fists in a boxer’s fighting stance. I stop and mirror his defensive pose with my sword raised and wait for him to make a move. 

        He isn’t moving. He’s waiting for me to make the first move, to come close enough so he can take my weapon. Well, he won’t get it that easily. He beckons with one hand for me to come at him. Foolishly, I rush him again but this time feinting to the right and attacking his left side. He falls for the misleading attack and I manage to cut him deeply on his upper arm. 

        It’s a short victory, though. I don’t see his arm come back in an upward swing and he lands a solid blow to the side of my head. Stunned, I fall to the ground tears stinging my eyes. The trees around me are spinning and I can’t pinpoint where he is. I find out soon enough when he kicks me in the ribs leaving me gasping for air. I roll onto my back from the pain and try to catch my breath. He doesn’t attack again right away. He knows he’s won and is taking his time. 

       I desperately search the ground beside me for my sword but I can’t figure out when or where I had lost it in the fight. He notices my frantic movement and sits on top of me restraining my arms with his legs, leaving his own hands free to do as he wanted. 

       He leans in close to my face to make sure I see him in the dark. 

       “You’re a dead woman. You know that don’t you?” he whispers. 

        I can feel his warm breath on my face and I’m glad to hear he’s winded. I put up enough of a good fight with this bastard to make an impression on him.

        I look deep into his eyes to show I’m not afraid of him; I’m not afraid to die. 

        “Fuck…you,” I gasp. Perfect last words. 

        He sneers and sits back up. 

        “What a waste,” he says, and then everything goes black.



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