A man waits, still in the cover of an old pine tree. His body is pressed against the trunk, he is invisible. His clothes are sticky with sap, smeared to blend him with the smells of the forest. It’s cold, almost freezing, and the air is damp and heavy. It longs to freeze the humidity and rid itself of the burden, but it grudgingly suspends it under the watchful eye of the man. No snow lay on the ground, and no frost. Just crisp dead pine needles and a pair of boots. There is a gentle crunching sound, only once, as soft as a distant sigh. The source of the noise returns to silence, but it was all the man needed. His ears prick up and, without moving, he shifts his eyes in the direction of the sound.
“40 paces, almost” the man thinks. His heart is calm from years of practice in pursuit of prey. With impossible grace, the man slides himself along the tree bark to face the sound. Even if his prey had known where he was, they would have seen no movement, heard no sound. The man’s whole life has been spent becoming a ghost. In order to eat, to survive. He was exceedingly good at it.
There is no movement on the air. The sound’s scent eludes him and, despite his prowess, he has difficulty finding it. The sound must not be moving. But he can be patient. He’s been a part of this tree for two days, and he can wait another two if he needs to wait. Failure is not an option. The man pulls gently on a bow string, flexing the fingers that nock the arrow. They are cold, stiff, turning blue. They’d been there, in the moist, wet air, without relief, for as long as he has be waiting. His face is wrapped with a long, wide strip of cloth that covers his mouth and ears. A hat sits low on his brow, hiding his forehead and roughly shortened hair. Only his bright, watchful eyes are exposed with his fingers, and they are equally weary. Two nights with no sleep. Two days of weakening sun. Two days of scarcely being able to blink. Though his heart might be calm, the man is worried.
This is not ordinary prey. The sound moves again and he catches a glimpse of it. He shifts his weight gradually to the side to hide his rising bow from the view of the prey. There it is again. The sound is getting reckless, impatient. The sound that would ultimately fight back given the chance. The unusual prey. Another crunch, and the man can see, just over the tip of his arrow, a head, much like his own, leering from behind a tree. It’s hands hold a long metal object, one that throws smaller metal objects very fast and very well. His hands hold smoke. Fire. Death.
But the prey doesn’t know the forest, and the forest doesn’t want him here. It makes him stick out, the nature of their mutual dislike made tangible. It will be his downfall. The bow arches back. It makes no sound, no creak. It is a ghost, just like it’s wielder. The man’s thumb touches his ear. He’s ready. He waits for the exhale, the breath 40 paces away that will show like his won’t. The tense before the lunge. He sees it. He lets go. For less than a second the arrow hangs in midair, seemingly weightless. It flies with every ounce of the man’s strength. He doesn’t breathe. He watches. His heart skips a beat. Then he sees the impact. Feels it. Just above his prey’s nose, straight out of the other side. The prey lands in a wet thump, crunching more needles beneath it’s body when it falls. Silence. It is no longer a danger. But there’s no satisfaction. No pleasure in this victory. No lauding the man’s skill. The man merely feels dirty, bringing an unnatural blight to this forest. His forest. He scowls, and holds back tears.