The banks of the stream are relatively flat and clear. Intermittent floodings have created a small ditch that for now remains clear of the more obstructive plant life of the forest. Passage along the bank is expediated by this beneficial feature. However, we keep being obstructed in our trek. For example, the large fish that is now currently flapping on top of Jess is quite a hindrance.
The fish is nearly as long as the twenty-something female underneath it. Possessing a wide flat body that it can open wide enough to create a inner hollow big enough to swallow a person. It kind of reminds me of a windsock, with the design. The fish keeps opening its mouth and attempting to engulf the prey that has unfortunately been trapped. Jess fruitlessly stabbing away at the mostly hollow body.
When the fish had suddenly jumped from the stream, Jess’s survival instinct apparently told her to faint temporarily and drop to the ground in a heap of limbs. Resulting in the fish overshooting the target and accidently landing on its prey. I bet it will feel pretty silly about this blunder latter, if it can survive.
Mike and I have taken position on opposite sides of the creature, stabbing relentlessly at any part of the body which stops flopping around for a second. After a few slices and stabs from the three of us, the fish starts to panic. Rounding its body until it resembles a scaly log, it starts to try to roll back to the water. Unfortunately the only path is through one of the two men standing on its sides.
The fish starts rolling at me, during one of my stabs. My dagger had just pierced the scales when I felt the creature start to turn at me. Keeping the knife steady in the fish, I start to backpedal. The fish in desperation tries to power through, but only manages to continue cutting itself on the knife. Resulting in a large cut around the circumference of the fish, which finally ends this whole debacle.
“Well, that was fun.” I say out to the group in a dry tone and smirk. Angie and Mike, helping Jess to her feet, ignore my comment.
“That disgusting sashimi just tried to eat me!” Jess says incredulously pointing at me. However, I was now sat down next to the fish corpse, so the scorn might have been directed at it. But for some reason, I doubt that.
This is the fourth weird creature we have found. And the second to attack us. The first was something that looked like a dog with too much hair gel. The fur stood up in ridged twists that ended in fibrous spikes, covering the entire body. That one was weird because the dog just stood in our path barking for a minute, before jumping at the biggest in the group. Mike punched it on pure reflex and sent the dog away, whining. The girls actually seemed sad at the sight, but Mike was happy to see the beast go as he had cut his hand on the dog’s fur.
The second thing was a strange pair of eyes that was watching us from the treeline’s shadows. None of us are sure what they belonged to, and we were not in a hurry to find out. The eyes followed us for about an hour and suddenly disappeared. No one was sure if they were happy or not that we could not find them anymore.
Thirdly, was some thing only describable as a moose-pig-yak. Big, slow, and dumb was this creature. The stature and antlers of a moose, the shape of a pig, and the fur of a yak gave this “thing” the docile, yet intimidating presence that only belongs to large herbivores. Not a good idea to anger the animal, but this was not a problem. Even after spotting us, the creature just continued stripping the trees of bark with its antlers. Slowly chewing the scrapings.
And now we just took down a giant hollow fish. This is the closest to losing someone we have gotten on this interminable, hours long hike through the unknown wilderness. Unless you count the all the times we have nearly collapsed from exhaustion.
“So, do you think we can eat this?” I say to the group. The fish looks like a deflated balloon now, but hopefully, it will taste slightly better than one.
“Can’t trust a fish you don’t know. Especially a river fish.” Mike shoots down my hope of a fresh meal. Lunch today had been disappointing stale crackers. I just shrug off the displeasure and keep smiling. We could be starving after all. I wonder which one of us would start eating the others in that event.
Jess seems to be more or less fine after the fish fiasco, so we keep moving. The walk is quiet. All of us seem to be either watching the trees or the stream for any surprises. At one point Mike throws a rock at something in the bushes and all we hear is the thing scurry off.
“Should we, um, maybe head back?” Angie finally breaks the silence with what we all thought an hour ago, but gave up for a very good reason. Mike and Jess are too nice to answer her and let the question cruelly linger.
“Can’t, we went too far. Any attempt to make it back and we probably will be eaten by something. These animals around here are freaks, so who knows what comes out at night.” I say, innocently smiling at the situation. No reason to let the negative things dampen my grin.
Angie dejectedly stares down. We continue making our way across the clay and rock of the area. Placing one foot in front of the other, and letting my mind wander. Where are we? Should we start setting camp? Will we live through the night? The usual stuff people worry about in these situations, but you could not guess from my face I was worried. My grinning facade is still there. The others probably think I am remembering something funny, or that I find this all humorous.
I am supposed to be watching the river, but how many big, jumping fish could be in that water. Suddenly, I hear Jess quietly bringing us to a stop. She is making gestures at the distance. Between some trees, I can barely discern something I actually recognize. A deer.
Jess, Mike, and I get lower to the ground and start slowly approaching the animal. Angie does not appear to be on the uptake and keeps standing back. At least she knows enough not to be moving around. Getting a better look the three of us observe the animal. We are downwind and the animal is drinking from the stream. This is a ridiculously lucky scenario.
Moving closer to Mike I gesture for the gun that he still has from this morning. Jess seems to want to object, but holds her tongue. Hesitantly and slowly, he hands me the firearm. We do not have many bullets and Mike’s fear of weapons does not fill me with confidence he can hit the target.
Leaving the other two behind I begin approaching. The deer has no antlers so I assume female. I need to get as close as possible. Leaving the pistol trained on the main body of the prey, I approach carefully in a wide arcing pattern. After just getting within a comfortable distance for a shot, she raises her head and looks directly at me. The momentary shock keeping her still for a second, as her animalistic brain interprets her situation.
I fire without hesitation. The bullet hits the main body but does not down the animal. Possibly the pistol was a poor choice for a novice hunter, and might not have had the power necessary to down the deer. My dinner runs off.
“Fuck it got away!” Jess approaches with the others.
“Not for long. We just have to follow it.” I give off no worry, and smile like I know what I am doing. I point them at the blood trail the animal left. A thick path of blood leading further down the bank of the stream. “Let’s hurry before something else gets it.”
The blood trail is thick and easy to follow. Occasionally disappearing into the water, but Jess is proving to be very perceptive. Usually finding the trail again with just a look around. Angie seems to be distressed about this situation, but smart enough not to speak up on those feelings. Good, I will not miss this meal because somebody watched Bambi too many times.
We find the animal in about ten minutes. Still on the bank of the stream. Just downstream and on the other side. The deer is not moving anymore. Instead, laying down and breathing noticeably heavy. She will not get away again.
Before approaching, Mike stops me and gestures at the gun in my hand. “Give it back.”
“I think I am probably the best shot.” I give him a smile to try to lighten his serious mood. I look around, but find no support. Jess is giving me a gaze that says “Do it.” And Angie is stuck watching the deer slowly bleed out and suffer, a face of genuine sympathy for the poor animal.
“Fine, fine.” I relent. Giving a smile like I am only mildly amused. “Why does nobody ever trust me.” My rhetorical question goes unanswered as Mike takes the pistol. I do not turn the safety back on, hoping he will stupidly shoot himself. Unfortunately, he remembers to check.
I take a seat on a rock as two others move over to take care of the deer. Mike with his knife ready to end the animal, and Angie looking like she wants to comfort the beast in her last moments. They should be able to take care of it.
Closing my eyes, I try to calm down. I need to control my anger, relax my nerves. Getting wound up will accomplish nothing. I need them, and they need me. Just keep smiling.
“Who are you!” Jess yells out, bringing me back to the stream.
I man with a large scar across his face, who is the size of a bear, and with a bastard sword bigger than my leg is standing in the trees. Staring at us.