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We, The Hidden
WIt was already getting dark. A misty haze had set in the air, and circled me in my concealed spot. Although the cover of dark and fog was to my advantage, it still sent a shudder down my spine. I had been hiding in the same spot for nearly two hours without a slight detection of another human being, but now I tensed. A crackling of a twig sounded directly behind me.
“What was that?” I whispered, barely loud enough for even myself to hear.
For how close I was to the sound, all I could do was watch – and wait. There was no telling who had stumbled upon my concealed area, yet no matter who, I knew I had to be careful. Even the slightest movement could betray me now. Then I saw it – there!
Two sneakers moved like phantoms through the trees, directly ahead of me. Of course! I should have known. It was Kurt, the best Tracker of all of them. If he so much as seen me breath, I was a dead girl. I had watched him before, and observed that of all Trackers, only he would carefully study each patch of ground like a hawk before he passed. All of us Hiders knew that if even one Tracker saw us and captured us, their touch would instantly transform us into Trackers ourselves, forcing us to betray our once fellow Hiders. It was a vicious and doomed cycle, one that would never stop until every last Hider was caught, and forced to turn traitor.
Now I was up against the most professional Tracker of all time, Kurt! I dared not make another sound. With every tedious moment that passed I was forced to watch, as he swept his eyes closer and closer to where I lie. Every muscle in my body hurt from pure fear.
Suddenly he stopped, resting his eyes directly on my trembling form.
I barely suppressed a gasp of panic. My heart pounded furiously, and for a moment I feared that the sound of my own thundering heart would betray me.
“Please,” I murmured under my breath. “please don't see me.”
But the foliage around me was immensely thick, and my clothing was already dark. Kurt may not have realized it, but he too was up against a professional. After a few more strenuous seconds, my disguise paid off. At long last Kurt continued his search. So he had not seen me. Good.
Moments passed slowly as I watched him walk away. Even when he was long out of sight, I waited another good ten minutes before allowing myself to breath regularly. After a careful sweep of the area, I stood up. That had been way too close. The time had come to find another spot.
Just as carefully as Kurt had been walking, I eased myself out of my spot, and headed the opposite direction from Kurt.
Being on the run was a lot more dangerous than staying still. This way, my continuous movement could be detected at any angle, by any Tracker. An involuntary shudder seared through my body. With that in mind, I stayed low to the ground, protected by the thick foliage surrounding me.
After a while, I picked out a worthy spot. The shrubbery was so thick that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get to it. I bit my lip at the pain ascending through my knees at the rocks digging into my flesh. This too, I told myself, was an advantage. For here, even looking up at the sky, I was completely encircled by branches. If by any chance I was seen, I had an easy channel out, leading straight to the security of the woods. If even that was blocked, I had an alternate escape route on the other side. As an added plus, I had the good sense to pick a spot where rosebushes encircled me at every angle, except one of the escape routes. Allowing myself to relax, there I lay for a good hour or more.
Only after another hour did I see any other signs of the dreaded Trackers. This one, I could tell immediately, was not Kurt. The Tracker before me, perhaps less than a few feet away, had far less delicacy than Kurt had. He trudged through the weeds where I lay not two feet away like a moose on a tarp.
Even so, his presence unnerved me. I could feel my heart once again speed up, until even at my ears I could hear the betraying sound, thud-thud, thud-thud. I gulped, involuntarily loudly. My fingers quivered as they dug themselves deeper and deeper into the dirt before me. I had to get a better view of him, if I wanted to see him before he did.
That did not prove challenging, for apparently, this Tracker was not used to the woods. In a matter of moments the noise he made revealed him, and I could get a full view of his face through the weeds. I looked at him – and nearly screamed.
The Tracker, a boy not much younger than myself, was somebody I instantly recognized. I had spent most of my life with him. I had trained him myself as one of the best Hiders in the clan, and worked with him at every possible hiding place, every possible route to safety.
This was my brother.
My entire body shivered. My brother, playing the part as Tracker? That would mean that a Tracker had gotten him as well, perhaps long before I. I almost whimpered at the thought. I could imagine his fear when one had spotted him, his blind dart to safety. Perhaps he had heeded every one of my warnings in an attempt to escape.
But even that could not save him.
The shivering would not cease. In fact, it actually got worse. Now my brother, in who I myself had trained and worked side by side with, was stalking me. I gulped once more, and felt as a bead of sweat trickled down my brow. This meant another thing for me.
This Tracker knew every last one of my tricks.
Of all Trackers, he would be the prime contestant to catching me. In a vicious cycle, my own gimmicks would come back to stalk me. My brother moved closer in my direction. From where he stood, I knew he would see exactly how I got in.
“Please, no.” I whispered once more.
He did indeed study my entrance with great concentration. I could see his eyes, almost as thoroughly as Kurt's, sweep through my general vicinity. With great haste, I forced myself to review my two escape routes. Good. The first one wasn't blocked yet. Apparently, the Tracker had not spotted this one. If he made a move, I'd dart away before he would even detect my presence. I still had one advantage over him – the rosebush. To get at me, he'd have to break through three layers of thorns, if not go through the only escape route he had not yet noticed.
Suddenly, he raised his chin up, ever so slightly.
Trying to see over my layer of brush?
“Hey guys!” He shouted maliciously. “I think I have something!”
My eyes widened. What did he have? Did he see me? Was there a way he could see through my disguise? If the Trackers surrounded my hiding place, I'd be trapped!
I didn't have time to think about that one, because two other Trackers joined him in front of me.
The first I hadn't seen before.
The second was Kurt.
I gulped, and forced myself to listen to what the Trackers said. “What is it?”
My brother studied me closer. “The entrance.” He said, pointing directly where I came in.
I tensed. Now the shaking was beyond any of my control.
One of the Trackers – Kurt? – picked up a rock.
Were they going to stone me?
I reasoned, even if the rock hit me, I would not abandon my hiding. Not one word would issue forth from my mouth. I refused to turn traitor to my fellow Hiders, even if my brother did.
That didn't mean it wouldn't hurt.
I tensed as they threw it. Squeezing my eyes shut, I waited for the seizing pain to shoot through me. I bit my lip so I knew for sure I would not yell out in pain. But to my great relief, the rock landed harmlessly at my feet.
This would be a terrible time for a happy dance, but more than anything I wanted them to see that they hadn't won. I wanted to show them that Hiders could prevail, even before their vicious assaults. But they still stood before me, so I didn't dare move one painfully still muscle.
It was exactly like I felt when Kurt had been staring at me. The seconds droned on for what seemed like hours.
Finally, the Trackers left my spot, shrugging. I grinned triumphantly. They hadn't won – not this time. And for the time being, I was safe.
Still, I could see them not a far distance away, and didn't dare move from my spot. Slowly, I eased on to my belly once again, and did a better job at covering myself with the foliage around me. Trapped. I was trapped, but at the same moment I was free – for the time being. As long as I stayed out of sight, I would be safe.
But something told me that wasn't the case. Somewhere, deep inside my being, my heart still ached. How many of us Hiders were left? I had no way of knowing. Contact had been forbidden long ago, and so we Hiders were forced to fend for ourselves, and work to the death to protect each other.
Another twig snapped behind me. I jerked my head at the sound, just in time to see one Tracker back to my hiding place. Every nerve that had been on edge not five minutes ago sprung back up. I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The Tracker that came back was my brother.
I froze, and watched as he circled my cluster of bushes. Very deliberately, I allowed myself to watch him without moving a muscle. And what seemed just as deliberate, he circled me slowly. I couldn't tell, from where I was lying, if he did not see me, or had simply chose not to look in my direction. I tensed, but now there was no way to crouch upwards, so I could dart away fast. I expected him to finish the circle around me, blocking off every exit.
He stopped at my main escape route, and stared.
With absolutely no warning, the Tracker charged. Leaves cracked and the rosebushes at the sides whipped at my bare face as he emerged, closer and closer. Frozen in fear, I could only watch as he nearly had me. At the last second, my paralyzed senses regained control, and I darted.
In a panic, the escape routes I had so carefully planned left any trace of my mind. Instead, screaming and bellowing the whole way, I ripped through the front of my hiding place. Warm liquid dripped from my face, yet only later I was to learn that I had scraped myself so hard on the rosebushes that I bled. The Tracker stormed behind me, closer, closer.
In an unceremonious burst of effort I fell in a ball at the very outside of my hidden fortress. Right in front of me, two other Trackers had word of my presence, and joined my brother right behind me.
I had only one thing on my mind, escape.
“Leave me alone!” I screamed at the top of my lungs in bursts of short breaths.
Kicking hard, I propelled myself directly to the safety of the forest behind me. Bounding with unbearable speed, I forced my legs to direct me farther and farther away from the dreaded Trackers. My heart beat more furious than ever before, and I could feel the hot breaths of my pursuers directly behind me.
It isn't safe to run blindly through the woods, I told myself. You could get hurt. You could die. But I didn't listen to myself at the moment. Panic seized all my vital organs and commanded me to continue running through trees with gaps scarcely wider than a fence post. Behind me, I could hear the breaking of branches so close that I feared it was my own bones, snapping from running too fast at once. I ran long after my breath went out, and my legs grew numb.
Soon I had gained momentum, enough that I could only distantly hear my pursuers through the menacing trees behind me. Perhaps the Trackers would not capture me after all, I thought with the first grin I had produced all day. With that thought in mind, I bounded, higher into the air, and leaped over the biggest stump of my life.
And that's when I fell.
At first thoughts, I felt that if I scrambled up, quickly, than I would still have a chance of escape. But, lying on the ground had knocked me cold, all the wind completely out of me. In a panicked struggle I kicked my legs, trying to free them from – what? Only then did I look down and realize, my entire leg was ensnared in some barbed wire.
I was trapped, and there was nothing I could do to save myself. My eyes widened, as I heard the Trackers come, closer and closer, until I could see the blurry outline of my brother, staring directly in to my eyes. He smiled threateningly, and I let my head drop back into the dirt where I lay, in complete surrender.
“You're a Tracker now.” My brother cackled, and with one touch I could feel every nerve of my body seize up. I could feel it now, my days as a Hider was gone forever.
Now, once and for all, I allowed complete defeat sear through my body. The barbed wire was cut from around my leg. My pants were ripped open, where the cut from the barbed wire had stained the pants red with blood.
But then, my fellow Tracker's did something completely unexpected. Helping me up, they dusted me off, and as I let my head hang lower and lower to the ground, they raised my chin.
“You win.” They smiled, almost in a whisper.
“What?” I asked, completely baffled. “What do you mean, 'I win'”?
My brother caressed me in his arms. “You were the last Hider. After you, every Hider is now a Tracker.”
I thought about this for a moment. Then, a new thought occurred to me. “Then, I didn't turn traitor to my people?”
“No.” They all said simultaneously. “You defeated every one of us, by being the last of your kind.”
I was speechless. This meant two things, I would not be forced to betray my people. And in a way, I had defeated every one of them, by proving myself to the end. With a new attitude, I stumbled back to camp, and smiled.
Now the scar on my leg is a constant reminder. One of both defeat and achievement.