Yes, it’s time for another Fiction Tidbit! Over the summer, on top of doing Camp NaNoWriMo with one of my roommates, I’ve challenged myself to revisit/revise some of the short stories I’ve written for class over the past couple of years. I don’t generally feel compelled to write or work on short stories outside of class, so I figure this will be a good exercise for me. (I’m also vaguely considering expanding this story into something longer, possibly for Camp NaNo—we’ll see.) At any rate, hope you enjoy!
About the piece: This excerpt is the opening scene to a short story (“Watchers”) that I wrote for my creative writing class last fall.
We’ve been hunting them for two days.
Tano keeps saying that we’re getting closer, but it’s hard to tell for sure. They move quickly. Sometimes we find their footprints in the mud by the river, or in the soft earth under the first autumn leaves, but we’ve never seen or heard them. Tano is our best tracker, so I trust him to keep us on their trail. But it’s eerie. Like hunting for ghosts.
We found a camp they made yesterday. There’s no doubt they’re like us, but they’re strange. They leave their scent behind on little pieces of cloth, bits that Sita collects and stuffs into the pouch around his waist.
“You never know,” he says. “We might need their smell at some point. We can use these.”
I’m not sure I want to smell like them. They smell prickly, and they smell like the Watchers—like the air before a storm. But I keep my mouth shut. Not that Sita would ever do anything to me, but we figure it’s best not to talk when we’re around other people. Trees are listening, little brother, Sita says.
I know he isn’t actually talking about trees, but I still don’t like the saying. It makes me feel like no place in the world is without ears.
It’s going to be dark in a couple of hours, and Sifuri is slowing down. He lags a little way behind us, trying not to breathe too loudly and give away how tired he is. Sifuri used to be a great hunter, but now you can tell his body hurts him and he’s getting slower, weaker, duller.
Most of us pretend not to notice as he breaks into a stiff trot along the path to catch up. It’s strange to see this once-strong man looking so old. We avert our eyes. But I can tell from the way Tano holds his shoulders that he’s angry—annoyed by Sifuri’s slowness and frustrated that we haven’t found the strangers yet. I almost expect him to give up the hunt for the night and lead us back to camp as quickly as possible. I don’t know what will convince Sifuri that he’s too old for hunting, but moving so fast that we leave him to find his own way home seems like the sort of thing Tano would do.
But as Sifuri finally catches up and falls into step beside Sita, Tano holds up a hand.
We’ve reached the edge of our territory, where the forest falls away and the long grass of the meadow flows up against it like water against a rock. I feel a tingle on the back of my neck as we hover just inside the boundary of the trees.
We can’t see it well, but we know it’s there, at the far edge of the waving grass. In the thick orange light of late afternoon, I can see the barest hint of something hard gleaming against the edge of the forest.
“They went that way,” Tano says. He doesn’t point. He doesn’t need to.
We stand there in silence for a long time, staring. Then, with a grunt and a toss of his head, Tano wheels about and strides off in the opposite direction.
“Speak up if you find any signs of them on our land,” he says over his shoulder, no longer making any effort to be quiet.
The hunt is over. We don’t go near the Watchers’ Place unless we have to.