#10-11The Lone Traveler#10A

October 11, 2014  |  By  | 

they tried to fgure me out. I must have looked a mess—I hadn’t had enough to eat for days, I hadn’t slept at all last night, and my hair was full of leaves from lying on the ground. I should imagine I looked mad to them, wearing a tunic and leggings made of skins sewn together with sinew, fur boots, a wide belt with a knife and rope, a basket on my back, and a bow. Then the older one started to laugh. He pounded his knee and shook with mirth, and the son looked quite uncomfortable. Up above, two squirrels chattered insistently, squeak- ing and chirping over whose tree was whose. “You set this up, huh, son?” The man wheezed with amusement. “That’s pretty good, but I’ll give you ten she can’t hit a tree with that bow. Nice trick, but…I don’t get it.” I drew back the string far- ther, aimed at the squirrels up ahead, and released the string. The squirrels fell silent suddenly, and in the over- powering silence, the man stopped his chuckling long enough to see two squirrels, impaled by the same arrow, fall at his feet. Then he saw my empty bow and made the connection. “The squirrels,” I said, hold- ing out my hand. My voice felt thick and awkward from my lack of conver- sation. The son picked them up and handed them to me by the feathers of the arrow, like he was afraid of catch- ing some disease. “Since you killed my deer, I will have the squirrels,” I said to the son, my grasp of language returning. “Especially since your father says I cannot shoot my bow.” I removed the arrow from the squirrels, wiped off the blood with a wad of ferns, and stuck it back into my quiver. “Who are you?” the son said, his voice quaking. “Nobody to you,” I replied, tying my kills to my belt. “Although far less wasteful than you and your sire there.” “Chill, we’re hunting. Sec- ond—” “No,” I said. “You are not hunting. I am hunting. You killed three deer. I killed two squirrels. I know your society. You’ll never eat that venison. I’ll have these squirrels for dinner and make the leftovers into jerky. You’ll stuff your deer heads and hang them on your wall. You are wasting the precious resources on this planet. I, on the other hand, am not. I am only taking what I need. What I do not use, I give back. That is hunting.” The son’s eyebrow went up, whether in anger, awe, or something else entirely I could not tell. “I meant,” he said. “What’s your name?” “The one I was given or the one I call myself?” “The one you use.” “Stream.” “Stream?” “Yes.” “It’s a nice name.” “Yes.” “What are you doing out here, Stream?” “Surviving. Living. How I want to.” “Cool. I wanted to do that when I was a kid.” A pause. “You can have the deer.” “I need it.” “You’re welcome.” I began tying rope around the deer. “Thanks.” I tied some more rope to the deer’s hooves. “I’m Isaac.” I grunted in acknowledge- ment. “Listen, if you ever get tired of just surviving, or need to have din- ner, or—” “I do not need any help,” I said. “Why do you think I’m living out here? So I don’t have to go back, ever.” The boy went quiet. I started dragging the deer off, where I could set up a good place to stay the night. This time, it was harder than usual, because I’d twisted my ankle crossing a river the day before and it still hurt to put weight on it. I heard voices be- hind me but paid no attention to what they were saying. “Hey.” The boy had caught up, with his father. “Let us take the deer.” Not wanting to look depen- dent on them, but thinking I might as well take advantage of the offer (and let them make up for the insults), I thrust the deer to them. “Follow me,” I said. “Where do you set up camp?” asked the son. “Wherever it looks best.” ♦ 11 The Lone Traveler