Without a word, she dropped to the ground. Her instincts took over. She would run no more. She would fear no more.
She would be hunted no more.
The beast had chased her through the forest. A sleek panther, keen on its next meal.
She was out to get water for her family when she noticed it lurking behind the brush. She saw its sharp yellow eyes, staring through the gaps in the branches. Staring at her heart. Not looking, but listening for the beat.
She acted ignorant. But she knew. She knew that – if she wanted to see her family again – she would have to run.
Inhaling deeply, she looked for the panther out of the corner of her eye. The periphery was too hazy, too cluttered with foliage.
Standing tall, she turned in its direction.
She focused her eyes on the spot in the bramble where the creature rested on its haunches, muscles coiled. She saw nothing. Nothing but the sun’s reflection on the waxy leaves.
But after a moment, she saw it. The soft flare of its nostrils. The steady breathing of its chest. The piercing gaze of its eyes.
It was there. Waiting.
She tensed her calves and scrunched her toes. Never taking her eyes away from the distinct yellow circles, she readied herself. She drew air in slowly through her nose, then quickly out her mouth.
She closed her eyes.
And she ran.
Sprinting through the forest, hurdling over logs and vines, she raced for refuge. Desperately surveying every inch of ground, she searched for cover. She pushed her legs to run faster, her shins tightening from the strain. Her bare feet snapped twigs as they bolted across the ground. Running. Pushing. Striving.
The beast wasted no time. The gallop of its black paws pattered close behind, closing fast. It lowered it’s head and shoulders, staying close to the ground, maneuvering effortlessly around every obstacle. Ears pinned back, it was a flat black streak, blazing through the woods. Flashing behind the trees and bushes.
She darted her head from left to right. All seemed lost. There was nothing.
Finally, she saw a tree with low branches.
She launched herself from the ground and grabbed onto a thick branch. The muscles in her shoulders flexing, she pulled herself up and began to climb. She climbed as high as she could, creating distance between her and her attacker.
Perched high, she rested her back on the tree.
All was quiet. No pattering feet. No murderous chase. Only the slight sound of her breath against the air.
Was it gone? Was it over? Had she escaped?
She looked around. It was nowhere to be seen.
With defenses lowered, she placed her hands on the tree, ready to descend. But as she peered around the rough bark, she saw something.
The swish of a thin, black tail.
The beast climbed the tree. And it was right behind her. Waiting.
She held her breath. It hadn’t seen her. Her brain flashed from thought to thought, racing just as her feet had done. She knew what she had to do. She crouched on the branch, readied her legs, and reached back for the wooden spear she carried on her back.
Waiting for the right moment, she rested in anxious tension.
Then, she jumped.
She dropped to the ground and grabbed the spear. She saw the panther clutching to the side of the tree. It turned it’s head, surprised to see her below.
She drew her arm back. And, with all the strength she had left, she threw.
The spear made a thudding sound as it pierced the panther between the shoulder blades.
The black creature fell to the earth, leaves and dust rising from the forest floor as it made impact. Floating down, the leaves settled softly on the panther’s motionless body.
She stood there, staring the dead creature. Then, she looked up to the tree. Perched just above where the panther had been, she saw a single blackbird. The bird looked down at her, shuffled its feet, and squawked.
She knew what happened. The bird had taken the attention from the panther. The bird had saved her life.
She thought for a while and began to realize. She realized that her life was more fragile than she thought. She realized that luck had kept her alive.
And she realized that it didn’t take much for the hunter to become the hunted.