Reaching the valley floor I found a good spot behind some large boulders at the edge of the pool the waterfall splashed into. Raising the rifle I checked the area, finding nothing, checked the top of the slope which was clear then settled in to wait. I expected at least one of the men tracking me to fall victim to the traps I had set. Actually I’d consider it a bonus if more than one got caught. After the first man got impaled I expected them to be careful enough to either find or avoid the additional traps, but I could always hope for the bonus. The night was passing and the roar of the water spilling over the edge of the falls and crashing into the pool at my back had a lulling effect on me. When I felt myself starting to relax I scanned the area again with the rifle, took a small drink from my canteen and forced my mind to stay focused.
It wasn’t long before a scream from above reached my ears. This was the scream of a man in great pain, not the scream of an infected female. One down, four to go. I only wished I knew which trap they had tripped. Less than a minute later another voice screamed out into the night and I smiled to myself. I didn’t know for sure, but I was willing to bet someone had tripped the first trap on the path, then the others had moved off the path into the brush and tripped the one I had set there for exactly that reason. Listening with anticipation I hoped for another scream, but wasn’t surprised that it remained quiet. Raising the rifle I sighted in on the top of the drop off and waited.
It seemed like a long time but was really less than five minutes before two figures appeared at the edge. They were to the side of the path and well concealed in the brush, but I could still see them with the scope. They stood there for a few moments then each took a knee as they surveyed the valley ahead. Where was the last guy? There had been five men tracking me. Two screams from the traps and two on the edge of the drop off. It was possible someone had tripped the final trap and been impaled and killed when they slammed into the tree, but I didn’t think so. I watched and waited, shifting the rifle when the sound of a loose stone tumbling down the slope reached my ears.
Scanning the slope I couldn’t see anything. Had the two at the top dislodged a rock, or was someone making their way down the slope in brush too thick for me to see into. This was a night vision scope that amplified the available light to enable me to see. It wasn’t a thermal imager that would let me see the heat produced by a body. I thought for a moment as I continued to scan, still finding nothing, and shifted back to the two men at the top. Both now had rifles raised and pointed down into the valley. Neither was aiming directly at me so I knew I hadn’t been spotted, but they also gave away what was going on. Someone was coming down the slope and they were acting as over watch, ready to provide covering fire if he was attacked. Well, I could take care of that.
Clicking the safety on my rifle off I sighted in on the man on the left. This shot would be the reverse of the shooting I’d done earlier to take out the infected who were still scattered around the area, dead. 150 yards uphill this time. Shooting uphill was more difficult than down as there was a tendency to shoot low because of not accounting for the gain in altitude the bullet had to achieve while it simultaneously was dropping due to gravity. There was no wind at my location but I could see the branches moving around my targets and estimated there was close to a ten mile an hour breeze at the top of the slope. Adjusting my aim for the uphill shot, then for the wind, I relaxed and squeezed the trigger. The man straightened up from the impact of the bullet then started to pitch over the edge.
I didn’t waste time watching the corpse tumble down the slope. This would have given the second man time to move. Shifting my aim I cursed to see that he had immediately flattened himself out on the ground and the cross section of target had shrunk significantly. I could see his head, shoulder, arm and rifle and he scanned the valley for the location of the shot that had killed his friend. I had one more shot, two at best, before he zeroed in on my location and started returning fire. That wouldn’t have worried me nearly as much if there wasn’t another man making his way down the slope who could also engage me once he reached the valley floor. OK, two more shots at the most and time to move.
Taking my time I sighted in on the target. The leaves were still blowing at what appeared to be the same amount, so I made the same windage adjustment I had for the previous shot. The problem was I had been shooting for a target the size of a man’s torso, and now I was trying to hit a target the size of a head. I’d lost probably 75% of my margin of error. Oh well, worrying about it wouldn’t help. Adjusting for the elevation I calmed my breathing and sent a round on its way. Miss. Damn it. But, I had seen the round strike the rocks directly in front of the target so I only needed a slight elevation change. I saw, analyzed and reacted to all of this in far less than a second, sending a second round on its way before the target could change position. In the scope I watched the head snap back before falling to the ground and the rifle slipped out of the lifeless hands and crashed into the brush on the slope below.
Not sitting still to congratulate myself I moved, running across the clearing and taking up a new position behind a tree. Rifle up, I scanned the slope but still couldn’t see any movement. However I could see where the man coming down the slope had to come out when he reached the valley floor and I sighted in and held on that spot and waited. And waited. And waited. This was a game I knew well. Patience. Wait out your enemy. Make him get impatient and move first, then strike. Waiting, I thought about the man who was on the slope playing the same game and realized that they had finally sent someone after me with some training. Possibly it was a civilian who had learned patience hunting deer, but I doubted it. If you haven’t been in combat and learned lessons like this you probably won’t have the self-discipline to wait for the right moment.
I had been waiting for close to half an hour when I heard movement in the brush somewhere to my rear. Shit. Infected? Probably, because it didn’t sound like what was moving was making any effort at stealth. Not moving a muscle I kept my eyes focused on where I expected my enemy to appear and my ears focused on the sounds behind me. There was a snuffling sound and a growl that didn’t sound like infected. Animal? My mind started trying to come up with whatever wildlife might be encountered in the Tennessee woods, but I couldn’t get past the old children’s song about Davey Crocket killing a bear. A bear? Seriously? Was Davey Crocket from Tennessee? I couldn’t remember, and whatever was making the noise was slowly drawing closer and sounded big.
I flipped the selector switch on my rifle from semi to burst mode. 5.56 MM bullets are not big or heavy. In fact they are almost exactly the same diameter as the ammo used in .22 rifles, the only difference being the mass of the bullet, the size of the shell and amount of powder used to propel it out of the barrel. 5.56 is dramatically faster and harder hitting than .22 but it was never intended for large game such as a bear. If this was a bear, and it decided to attack, my only hope was that I could put enough rounds into it in burst mode to make up for the lack of stopping power of the small bullets.
Another grunt from behind me and then a tearing sound followed by a crack like sticks being broken. It sounded no more than 20 yards away. OK, fuck it. I had to look. Slowly I turned my head, moving no other part of my body. Not far away a large Black Bear was standing on the back of one of the infected I had killed earlier and was busy tearing an arm out of the socket. Great. All I needed was a bear with a taste for human flesh. The bear’s back was to me so he obviously was unaware of my presence. Or he just didn’t give a shit, I reminded myself. Bears are pretty much at the top of the food chain and if he did know I was there he probably wasn’t too worried about me. I wished I could say the same.
I risked taking my eyes off the bear for a moment to turn back and check on the guy on the slope, but there was still no sign of movement. Turning back to the bear I considered my options. Assuming he didn’t know I was there I could try to disappear back into the brush and get the hell out of there. That would leave an armed opponent and a bear running around lose behind me. Maybe I’d get lucky and the bear would find and eat the guy on the slope. Chastising myself for wasting time on ridiculous thoughts I turned back to watch the bear tear the arm completely free from the body. Arm in mouth he ambled over close to the water and laid down, pinning the arm between huge paws as he started stripping flesh off the limb.
OK. No time like the present. Moving as slowly as I could I shouldered my pack and started backing away from the clearing, rifle pointed at the bear in case he decided I looked tastier than the meal he was working on. One slow step at a time I pushed farther back into the brush, carefully moving branches and vines so I wouldn’t make noise that would alert either the bear or my enemy to where I was. I paused when I backed up against the valley wall that was almost a sheer cliff at this point. I could no longer see the slope where the man had been waiting, but I doubted he was going to come out into the clearing and tempt fate with the bear. Moving farther down the valley along the wall I kept my pace slow and deliberate. After about 100 yards the wall softened into a slope and ahead was what looked like a game trail cutting up into the forest.
Scanning with the rifle and seeing nothing noteworthy I kept moving, pausing at the spot where the game trail reached the valley floor. There in the soft soil was the bear’s tracks, but there was also a set of boot prints that were fresher than the bear tracks. One of the boots had stepped onto a bear print. Freezing in place I raised the rifle scope to my eye and searched the valley floor but couldn’t see any threats. Had the man on the slope been able to move laterally and circle around me while I was playing the waiting game? I pictured the terrain around the waterfall in my mind and discounted the possibility. Eons of river flow and flooding had cut the valley into sheer walls at that point. Unless my enemy was an accomplished rock climber there was no way he could have circled me. But then, why couldn’t he be? Only my own preconceived ideas prevented him from being able to scale the rock face and move around me. Idiot!
Moving away from the game trail I put myself back into the thicker brush, carefully avoiding a patch of blackberry vines that were lined with thorns that would grab clothing and skin and make a racket. The pack on my back was heavy and cumbersome, but I needed what was in it and didn’t want to drop it and have the bear tear it apart to get the MREs inside. Stepping around a tree something caused me to freeze in place. I hadn’t heard or seen anything, but something, call it a sixth sense, warned me to stop. I think I’ve mentioned I’m not a superstitious man, and I don’t get into the whole metaphysical thing. I believe in what I can see or feel… or shoot. But I also know that if you spend enough time in combat situations you start to develop some type of awareness of danger. Don’t ask me how or why it works, but it’s saved my ass a couple of times and right now all the hair on my arms was standing straight up on end. Slowly I took a step back and pressed up against the tree.
Looking, listening and smelling the night air I couldn’t detect anything. Behind me the roar of the waterfall continued as it had for thousands of years. There was a gentle breeze blowing down the valley and it brought the smell of the infected bodies lying dead by the water to me. I couldn’t hear or smell anything else. Deciding it was time to shed the pack I kneeled down very slowly, released the straps and lowered it to the ground without a sound. Free of the weight I felt re-energized but stayed frozen on one knee. Finally, at the very threshold of hearing I thought I could detect a rasping sound from just ahead. At first I thought I had just heard something because I was listening so hard, but then it repeated. It was the sound of fabric moving against the trunk of a tree. The person making the noise was probably leaning against a tree and had shifted position to get a better or different view of the forest. He was close. As in only one or two trees away. Had he detected me, was that why he had moved?
I wanted to raise the rifle and use the scope, but wasn’t about to make that much movement and give myself away. Silently I lifted the rifle sling over my head and just as cautiously placed the rifle on the ground with the pack. Drawing the Kukri in one long, slow motion I got it into my hand without any sound then slowly lowered myself until I was on my stomach on the forest floor. Using knees and elbows I began inching forward, worming my way around the tree and inching towards the one where I thought the noise had come from. When I was only a few feet from the tree I stopped and stared at it. What I had thought was a knot sticking out of the trunk was actually a knee sticking out beyond the profile of the tree. Got you, fucker!
The knee told me which direction the man was facing and I angled for the other side of the tree. Taking five minutes to cross four feet I was at the base of the tree, right behind him. As carefully as I’ve ever done anything I gathered my feet under me and stood up without so much as a whisper. Taking a breath I stepped around the tree and encircled the man’s neck with my left arm. He was well trained and started to react and probably would have succeeded in throwing me over his shoulder but I stabbed with the Kukri into the small of his back. All 12 inches of the blade entered his body, the tip poking out through his abdomen. Holding the blade in place I exerted pressure with my left arm on his throat which was trapped in the crook of my arm between my bicep and forearm. I held tight enough that no sound escaped his mouth as I withdrew the Kukri and stabbed a second time into his side, angling the blade in between his ribs and up into his heart. The body went completely limp and I pulled my blade out and lowered it to the forest floor.
“That’s a nice blade you have there.” The deep voice startled me as I hadn’t detected anyone else. Stepping forward I held the Kukri out at my side, ready to defend or attack. The man that stepped out a couple of trees away was massive and had a long blade held in his right hand as well. “Why don’t you put that blade down and let’s have a chat?”
“Why don’t you come over here and try to take it away from me?” I suggested, shuffling sideways to make sure I had room behind and on both sides to move. That was the last thing I remember doing as a heavy object slammed into the back of my head and everything went black.