Game ChangerMature

Catching fish with nothing but a sharpened stick is something that Michael had never done before. He'd read books and practiced certain skills in his survival training, but had never actually performed the act. Standing in the water, his boots off and his pants rolled up to the knees, he suddenly found his frustration was beginning to get the better of him.

Finally, after the umpteenth attempt, an unlucky pike found itself on the pointy end of Michael's stick; albeit more by happenstance than skill. He plucked it from the makeshift spear and inspected its diminutive size as the fish squirmed in his hands; suffocating in the afternoon breeze. Although disappointed, Michael was hungry, and wasn't about to look a gift fish in the gills. He stuck its gaping mouth onto the spear and rammed it through, then began making his way back to camp. Though he wanted to continue fishing, the fire needed tending and he didn't see much problem in taking a break to fillet the pike and cook it for lunch.

It wasn't until he smelled the smoke from his campfire that another of his five senses got his attention. He stopped, half-assuming that it was simply his mind playing tricks on him. When he heard it again, he dropped to his gut as silently as he could. Someone nearby was talking. They weren't close enough for him to make out the conversation, but they were certainly close enough to make him realize that the game had just changed.

Michael wasn't aware of his situation exactly, which meant that the best course of action would be to assume the worst. He had crossed the line and was running on survival instinct, where everyone but him was the enemy.

He got to his knees and began walking as quietly as he could, crouched, toward the campsite. His steps slowed and became meticulously deliberate as he crested a small hill. The moment his eyes caught glimpse of movement he knew was human, he slowly lowered himself to his stomach again, and crept forward, spear at his side.

There was a silhouetted form in the woods at the outskirts of his camp. The wind was blowing a soft breeze southwest, which meant his company had not smelt the campfire on their way. From what Michael could see, they had stumbled upon it just moments after he heard them speaking. Though it was hard to hear over the beating of his heart, he listened intently, hoping he could muster a word or two as they whispered in the shadows.

He brought the spear up, and found himself face to face with a dry eyed pike, no longer suffering from the trappings of life. He slowly removed the slimy fish from the end of the spear and placed it quietly on the dead leaves he now lay in.

The shadows shifted and Michael heard a short vocalization followed by what he perceived as a nod. His mind filled in the blanks from the lack of information and came to the conclusion that the person had said, “Ok,” but to what?

Moments later, one of the figures revealed themselves in a column of light that cut through the canopy near the lean-to of his campsite. It was a man, wearing a uniform Michael had never seen before carrying a weapon that was not familiar to him. He was weathered in every sense; his clothes were of good quality but obviously well used, the gloves on his hands bore carbon fiber knuckle protection that had been badly damaged with deep scoring, his boots were dirty and caked with mud. The man moved with a trained steadiness that ran a chill through Michaels blood.

The soldier had his weapon up and was scanning for targets.

Michael held his breath for a brief moment as the muzzle of the weapon passed directly by his hidden position. He stared down the barrel, and for a brief moment focused upward, beyond the aiming posts and directly into a set of stalwart blue eyes.

Nothing was between the two but a few leaves and the thin veil of Michaels confidence that kept him hidden behind the conclusion that no one was stupid enough to expose themselves as much as he had in order to reconnoiter his pursuers.

“It looks clear,” said the man.

His stance changed in that moment just enough to make Michael believe he had maybe relaxed a little. Something he didn't think would give him much advantage now that he could clearly see the domineering structure the man's face bolstered. His jaw was angular, chiseled from marble. His steely eyes peered from below a beveled brow that cut into a crooked nose that had been broken more times than set. This man was a fighter, and Michael was outmatched by looks alone.

From behind the same bush, another form stirred. As it came through the shadows and into the sunlight, Micheal's eyes widened.

A young woman surveyed the campsite as she made her way beside the soldier, a pistol in her right hand. Her hair was black, tied in a messy bun that hung nearly to the nape of her neck, strands falling from it in all directions. She scanned the area with a scrutiny that divulged the passion with which she upheld her cause; whatever it may be.

“He was here very recently John.” Her gaze washed over the outskirts of the camp, once again prompting Michael's heart to freeze as her hazel met his blue for a fraction of a second. “He may still be here.”

“What do we do?” John asked. “Wait for him to return?”

Michael gripped the sharpened branch and raised a knee slowly, so that if he had to run, he could do so quickly.

“Just take a look around, then we'll figure out how to proceed,” said the woman.

“You're the boss Andy.”

Michael's heart was nearly bursting from his chest as the mammoth named John took a step in his direction, then another and another. Inside his mind, a battle reigned, and for what seemed like an eternity, the question of fleeing or fighting cascaded from one side of his consciousness to the other, battering his nerves as it went to and fro. With what seemed like no warning at all, his legs pumped into action.

The End

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