by Martin Nelson
Somewhere in the shadow of two mountains, every Hunter lives. It is a strange place where the inhabitants are bold but most are weak. They want to be strong like us, smart like us, but mostly accepted and bound together, like us. They are more educated and sophisticated but seem to want the experience of everything except sacrifice; which is the difference between us.
The smartest hold their families close and quietly craft rich lives by gathering together the fruit of the land; indifferent to the malicious, who incessantly shout battle cries from their roof tops. The continuous call to arms startle those who have already fought countless battles on their behalf. Together, we three have created a safe, trendy, and bustling little society where the gatherers and protesters know nothing of the evil outside the city walls while the Hunters know nothing of the peace and freedom within.
As time passes, the gatherers have slowly gleaned the fields, leaving nothing behind. In the middle of the night, the sharp eyes of the malicious slowly open and from their perch they abruptly unleash a barrage of pointed words; protesting the inequity of society. The Hunters stir in their beds. Alone they are fighting sleep, fighting in their sleep, until finally they are fighting to sleep. There is no peace. Not even at midnight in their own land.
With a blanket tightly wrapped over sweaty shoulders, a Hunter ventures deeper into the valley. Under a star lit night, the two mountains loom. To the left, the mountains base is inviting and gradually goes vertical. In the Hunters youth, the rocky face was climbed for fun with other young Hunters. Now, the path is more difficult and the trail more treacherous. On these cold nights, the Hunter makes the journey alone, stumbling in the dark. The path has become over grown as the trips become fewer. Thickets that were trodden and beat back in the hunter’s youth, now get revenge by tearing at clothes and flesh as the Hunter passes. With each cut, a memory and each trickle of blood, a face remembered. Some of the thorns stick in the blanket and will provide torment for tomorrow. It’s bittersweet remembering lost hunters, but better to own the pain then to forget a friend. At the trails end, the hunter reaches out to touch the cliff. All the hunters started here, touched these rocks, committed to each other -here. Some went to the top, some climbed for a while and went home and a few fell. Some found trails over the mountains to adventures we will never know, but we all started here. We remain committed here.
Across the valley, the hunter can see the forbidden fires and palaces on the other mountain. It is a decadent land where the tribes thrive with much to eat and abundant comforts. The tribe is said to have left the Hunters own land generations ago, but the Hunter cannot be accepted as a Hunter there. Hunters are disarmed and only welcomed as slaves. As the moon rises, another fire is revealed at the far side of the valley. The Hunter makes his way down the mountain base, through the thickets and rocky paths until the sight of the fire is lost. Guided only by the beat of a drum the hunter creeps through the softening brush. Dew drops roll from tender leaves, slowly soaking the blanket and cloths, but soothing the many cuts and scars. The Hunter presses forward as the music gets louder and familiar voices can be heard.
As the Hunter boldly steps in to the fires warm glow, several of the figures rise. They begin dancing closer, each with a different erratic rhythm. Their faces and scars become visible and they all have blankets riddled with thorns wrapped around their shoulders. Their unique dance steps are products of their unique injuries. They look into each other’s eyes momentarily and know they are all the same. Silently, they return to the fire; the only comfort in the shadow of the two mountains.
Martin Nelson is a retired Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician and their 251st helicopter rescue swimmer, with over 23 years of open water rescue, federal law enforcement and executive security missions. He writes fiction and non-fiction pertaining to his military experience, as well as technical and grant-seeking documents. A recent cancer survivor and Texas A&M graduate, Martin now resides peacefully in Corpus Christi, Texas, with his wife Veronica and four children: David, Ian, Thomas and Sydney.