He had forgotten the days of the week. Only the weather changed. From his wooden citadel atop the tallest tree he could find, he watched and waited every day. Food was never a problem; he would only need a few minutes up there to get his mind right for the hunt. But isolation was essential. It was the reason he chose to live here in the first place. So every day he would climb the tree to survey his territory and make sure no other human being could be seen.
The odds of his being discovered were not good. He had walked for weeks to get to this spot, back when he still thought in terms of weeks. Deep into the mountains he had gone, far past any sign of civilization. With each passing day, he had felt the skin of society gradually peeling off himself. Each step felt more natural. He even imagined he could feel the animals growing less fearful of him, more used to him. When he finally reached a suitable spot — a small clearing surrounded by trees, near enough a cold, clear stream that he could always hear the water when he lay down to sleep — he settled. A small hut constructed of logs and grass was all he needed, providing minimal protection from the elements. The days — all of them the same — were filled with the search for food and the exploration of his new home. Only an intruder could break the routine and end his new-found peace. He wanted to be sure he saw one coming, so every day he watched for signs of a foreign presence. But there was never any change in the things he saw.
Eventually he forgot what he was looking for, but the routine comforted him, so he kept doing it. Then one day, he saw death.
He had become quite familiar with the natural cycle of life and death. It no longer troubled him to witness a predator tearing into its prey, or creatures of any shape and size finally succumbing to age or disease. And of course, he had killed many himself for food and clothing. But this was different. This was the first creature that looked somewhat like him that he’d seen in, he could only guess, years. She was small, barely half his height. The pinkness of her coat was like a shout on the brown leaves. Her pale skin was sliced all over with red. He lay down beside her, his coat camouflaging him so well that from any sort of distance, no one would guess that she was not alone. He stared directly at her face, so quiet and untroubled, with no trace of life remaining.
Minutes passed, so many that he finally began to notice them. Where had her killer gone, and why hadn’t it returned? He had fought and frightened off every type of animal to be found in these woods. An unnatural feeling welled up inside him, another reason to kill that he’d tried to forget. He turned away and stared in the opposite direction. This — girl could not have been alone. Someone would be looking for her; someone must be very close. Too close. Or maybe not. He needn’t interfere. He could stay quiet and perhaps remain undiscovered: he left few tracks. Normally, he left few tracks, anyway, but he had already left so much evidence of his presence here. He turned back to look at the girl again, shocked by how the sight of her made him feel. She deserved better than nothing from him. Her body was still too beautiful for him to leave it to whatever scavengers might find it first. He got back on his feet and looked around. Still no sign of anyone. He took her up in his arms, clutched her to his chest, and walked.
The day was already nearly over. It was one of his favorite things to watch the sky from beneath the trees as its color changed every evening and the stars came out, but this time he didn’t look up. His mind was focused, reaching back as far as it could so he could know what it was he was looking for. The darker it got, the more certain he became that there should be lights. Darting beams of alien light, shot through with intelligence, purpose. When at last he saw the first one, he shuddered at the sensation that a whole world had turned. Then there were more. His gait slowed, but he continued. He fought the urge to drop her, turn and run. He must not be a coward again. As the lights drew nearer and nearer until they almost blinded him, he could just make out shapes from behind them, shapes that were all too familiar.
He saw death that day.