An Encounter With Death

Grace had been pursuing him for quite a while now. Every time she was ready to pull the trigger, he would move and her aim would get blinded by either a tree or a bush. But now that he proceeded to a brook to drink, she had her perfect shot. She counted 3 to 1, but before she could utter the last number, the sound of a twig breaking alerted the deer and she missed her shot.

“Bloody hell, Al!” she grumbled. She was ready to scowl at her boyfriend, but when she turned around the forest was as silent as a prayer hall. Even the birds refused to reveal the identity of the intruder. 

“Alex?” Nobody answered. Suddenly, she felt a tingling sensation at the back of her neck. She massaged her nape and shrugged. She turned around. Alex was not visible. She called him through her walkie-talkie, but he didn’t pick up. Confident that she would be able to reach him anytime through the radio, she traced the deer’s hoof prints and followed them until they disappeared where the trees ended and the rocks began.

“Damn!” 

She wasn’t giving up yet. She had not taken shooting and hunting classes in preparation for this year’s season only to end up missing a target. She had not filed for a 3-day holiday only to return unsuccessful. She had not promised her friends and followers on Instagram for a ‘3-day-3-kills-selfie’ only to disappoint them. But now that her acquired shooting skills had only got her one kill, she was fuming. Humiliation was not part of her vocabulary and she would do everything she could to get that selfie picture with her kill before the night fell. 

She checked the time. Still 2 hours to sunset. “I’ll get you in under an hour,” she mumbled.

She called Alex, but his radio remained static.

“Ridiculous! How am I supposed to take a selfie without a phone?” She called her boyfriend one more time. No answer. She tried again with the same results. So she moved on to find her target.

Wearing the rifle belt on her shoulder, Grace climbed a pile of boulders to get a vantage point. When she reached the top, she raised the binoculars that were hanging on her chest and scanned the forest. No Alex and not one animal in sight. She slumped against a rock and threw her rifle down in frustration. It landed on an inclined surface and quickly slipped away from her. She stooped down to grab the front sight of the rifle, but she was too late.  And while trying to save her gun, her radio joined her rifle skidding down the precipice. 

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Her muscles tensed as anger tormented her brain. Her chest was about to explode. It felt like all the blood in her veins was in a race to find an exit out of her body. 

Minutes later, she calmed down. Her brain automatically checked the time. 

“Goddamit!” 

She had lost track of time. The sun was about to set. Panic and fear replaced the anger she felt moments ago due to her misfortune. She tapped the pockets of her vest for a torch and felt relieved when she found it. She also had a hunting knife in one of the pockets of her cargo pants, but with a rifle in hand, she would have felt safer. With a knife and a torch, Grace was determined to reach their rented cabin as soon as possible. She prayed to find Alex on the way. Even more, she hoped for him to be already looking for her at this hour. She couldn’t recall how they got separated. All she cared now was to reach the cabin and have hot soup.

She was descending from the ridge when, at a distance, she noticed a cloud of smoke rising towards the evening sky. 

“Fellow hunters? They must have decided to enjoy their kill!” she thought. “I’m sure they won’t mind having one more mouth to feed,” she added.

She headed towards the place where the smoke originated. She treaded her way from tree to tree and bush to bush carefully. She didn’t want her presence known before she was certain they were the right people to seek help from. 

Ahead of her was a clearing and a huge bonfire brightened the evening sky. Gathered around it were people of all ages. Their naked bodies glowed red-orange before it. Her eyes focused on a huge old man, wearing a red band around his head, talking to two younger men. Her gaze followed them as they entered a thatched-roof hut without a door. Grace peeped through a bush and observed the hubbub of chatter and cackle in front of her. 

Moments later, a gong sounded in the background and the two men who went inside the hut came out carrying a large rod. Skewered around it was an animal, minus its head. Its limbs were stretched out, tied towards the ends of the rod. Grace couldn’t make out which animal. If it was a deer, Alex would surely regret this night. Roasted deer was her boyfriend’s favorite. Earlier that day, before they ventured into the forest for their second-day hunt, she told him they would roast one at the last day of their hunt.

She watched the two men as they brought the skewered animal to the bonfire, which was now spread out. Both ends of the rod were placed on two Y-shaped sticks pegged opposite each other. As the two men started rolling the rod, the women chanted and the children danced.

Grace crept further to get a closer look. By the time she had positioned herself to get a clearer view, she saw one woman step out of the hut holding a wooden tray. On it was a hairy head with a familiar face. Her heart raced as she realized what was getting roasted. She covered her mouth with her two hands to muffle a cry. Tears began to blur her eyesight. Whimpering, she crawled her way back. When she thought she was far enough to be heard or seen, she got up and sprinted in a direction she wasn’t sure about only to shriek in pain when her head got caught in a lower branch of a tree. Her scream rose above the roaring flames of the bonfire. The next thing Grace knew, a dozen men and women were in pursuit of her. The hunter now became the hunted. 

Armed with the hunting knife, Grace ran as fast as she could. She didn’t remove the torch from her vest pocket knowing the light would give herself away. 

The moon, in its full form, was out in the heavens. Its silvery beams glided through the thick canopy of the forest. Grace had not stopped running. Her throat was parched; her legs ached. She could hear them behind her through crackling twigs and rustling leaves. Their laughter muted the sounds that the night creatures were making. 

Resolving to live another day, Grace galloped without looking back. Next she knew, she was plunging into a pit. She burst out wailing as she landed on one leg. It was broken; blood soaked her socks. She touched her ankle and moaned in agony. All her hopes vanished. There was no way she could escape with her bone split in two. She dragged herself to hide in the shadows, afraid her pursuers would appear anytime and carry her away to roast her beside Alex. Then her vision blurred. She whispered ‘help’ before she fainted.

***

Grace woke up to a voice. 

“Why should I help you?” an amiable voice asked.

She squinted turning toward the direction of the voice. It was still dark and all she could see was a figure whose face was invisible.

“My leg hurts,” she answered.

Grace received a peal of laughter as reply. “That is nothing compared to the life you took, without remorse, yesterday.”

“What?” 

“You know, it baffles me how you humans spend your time. While some use it willingly to dig their own graves by stuffing themselves with all kinds of poisons, others like you and your comrades chose to send us to our graves against our will. Your idea of fun is twisted!” The figure smirked. “Your greatest love affair is with killing. And it refuses to die.”

“Who are you?” Grace asked. 

“Does it matter who I am?”

“Yes! If you’re here to help me, please, I’m begging you. I want to go home.” Grace began to sob.

“Oh, everyone wants to be home,” the figure mumbled. Then he continued, “How did you end up there?”

“They…they chased me. I ran and fell. Alex, my boyfriend, they killed him…and then they roasted him!” Grace wept. “I don’t want to die!”

“Hmm! No one wants to die. Surely that is easy to understand. However, did you ever think that the deer you hunted and killed yesterday wanted to die?”

Grace clearly remembered her first kill -a beautiful buck. His eyes were swirls of green moss creeping over a red earth. At one moment they looked as dark as the forest at sunset and in another as bright as the meadow on a day after the rains. Never had she seen eyes that held such beauty before. Magnificent, enigmatic and captivating.

She cleared her throat and wiped her tears with her sleeve. “What kind of question is that?”

The figure shrugged. “Just a simple question you people don’t bother to ask.” 

“Well, it was just a deer. There are plenty of them in the forest. It’s our way of reducing their population.”

“Ask the ones who were after you; they would answer the same. I better hand you over to them. With you and your boyfriend gone, two down doesn’t seem big enough to reduce the human population. Nevertheless, it is good enough for now.”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Your perspective, not theirs.”

“Okay! Alright! What is this all about, anyway? I almost lost my own life and you’re talking about a deer’s life?”

“Is there any difference?”

“What are you talking about!” 

“How is your life different from a deer’s? Did he not run the moment he knew you were after him just like how you bolted to escape the cannibals? Don’t you both love your life enough to fight for it and protect it from those who want to take it?”

Grace fell silent. For the first time in her life, she had to think. But she needed not think too long, for deep inside her she already knew the answer to the question.

When she didn’t say anything, the figure continued and said, “You are lucky they missed you. How? Don’t ask. They just did. Perhaps, life is giving you a second chance to live the righteous way. Sometimes, nature is more merciful than your kind, you know. It offers people a lease of life. For my kind, most of us are already killed before we could even live. Our days are numbered and your kind decides how and when we die.”

Grace looked up and asked for the second time, “Who are you?”

“Don’t worry. You’ll have time to figure it out. Sleep now. You still have a few hours before the dawn breaks.”

***

In the morning, Grace was roused by the honk of a truck. She was lying on a bed of leaves a few meters away from the highway, curled up like an infant in their mother’s womb. Her hands were clasped. When she opened them, she saw two stones. Precious gems that were swirls of green moss creeping over a red earth. It seemed as though she was holding the forest at sunset in one hand and the meadow after the rains in the other. All of a sudden she understood everything that happened the night before. She felt her heart squeezed in a vice of agony and a whetted arrow went tearing through the innermost sinews of her heart. The muscles of her chin trembled and her tears burst forth like waters from a dam, streaming down her face.

***

One month later, hundreds of people marched across the country. They were all holding placards that said, “Two-legged or Four, ALL Lives Matter!” Grace was leading at the forefront. 

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Rham Dhel
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