The wind shifts the branches above us and the moment is gone and the starlight with it. I stand very still, waiting, in the darkness and
after a moment or two where all I can hear is the broken wheezing of my enemy, finally I hear the crunch of dragging footsteps as it
staggers into the dense blackness.
Slowly, because I find that now the adrenaline of the fight is seeping away. I move back to the tree I had been dozing against and slide down into a crouching position. Every muscle is screaming with pain and when I touch my face, I can feel stickiness everywhere. It must be blood, but I will have to wait till morning before I can really make any true assessment of my injuries.
I can hear my own breathing, hoarse and rapid, and it scares me,
because the forest is otherwise unnaturally silent. The normal rustle
of creatures going about their nightly business has ceased and an
uneasiness remains. I cannot sleep again or the creature will come
back and finish me off. My instinct towards mercy will surely not
serve me here where raw survival is the aim of every day.
And yet, I could not kill it (him? Her? I do not know.) I’ve killed small animals and birds to feed myself, and fish too, but this was a much harsher choice and even though I worry, in some ways I do not regret sparing it.
The night seems long but when the grey morning arrives and the ground and I are both covered with dew, I rise from my crouch to find that I am stiff and very sore. I systematically pat myself all over, and find many areas of almost unbearable pain. Blood covers me from head to foot. I have no means of knowing quite what damage I have received but when I start to move, my whole body hurts. My stomach aches from hunger but there is a pain too that wasn’t there before and it scares me. Did the pummelling I endured do some serious damage? Am I bleeding internally?
I limp onwards, my mouth dry and I know I must find water soon. I lick moisture from leaves and scoop it from hollows in the spreading roots but I crave clean cold water, from a fast flowing stream. The water from the root crevices tastes woody and stagnant but it has to
By the time the sun is fully up, I can hear the sound I have longed for, the rushing of water and despite my pain I speed up towards the
sound. It seems to take an age but finally, I find myself at the head
of a low valley and at the bottom of it, I can see a deep, swift
stream, cutting its way through the bedrock of the valley and I start
to scramble down to it.
Halfway down I stop, shocked.
On the opposite side of the stream there is a small wooden building,
clearly a dwelling place and from the hole in the roof, I can see a
thread of blue smoke rising into the sky.