I feel the sweat trickling off my back. Drip, drip, drip. The cruel sun has set, but there is still a good amount of daylight and the wretched heat drags on. Hot and humid. Seated on the deck thirty feet above ground, I see brown all around me for as far as the eye can see. Browns yearning to turn green if watered with snow or rain but with no respite in sight. Drip, drip, drip. My feet dangle over the edge, a precarious perch for those unused to this. Child’s play for me.
More than 11 hours into my shift, with only a few more minutes to go. Empty Lays and Snickers packets lie crinkled next to me, evidence of the time I have spent on fire watch today. My ears are on alert for any sizzle, my eyes scouring the area for any spark that could set these mountains raging. From time to time, I hear twigs cracking, animals maybe. Or just the heat. No other humans though. Just me, right up to the next mile marker. And Justin, who should be coming in … in about 4 minutes.
True to habit, I watch his form approach the tower. Trudging along slowly, his feet shuffling. Almost like, he’s dreading his shift. I don’t blame him. He’s about 30 feet away, when I realize it isn’t him at all. That’s strange, I think, I don’t remember encountering a human here at this time of the day. It’s miles of wilderness with no highways until a good distance away. It’s an old woman, super old from the looks of it, I realize with a start. How did she even get here? I watch her, hunched over, putting one foot in front of the other, dragging herself along as if her life depends on it. She looks up, meeting my eye and stops. Seconds pass, our eyes locked. And I watch unblinking, as a red stain materializes by her bosom. I watch it grow, spreading across her chest, the crimson threatening to pool over. I hear her feeble moan, her hands trying to stem the flow. She still does not tear her eyes away from me. I watch the first drop touch the ground in slow motion.
And then I hear the clink of metal hitting the ground. We both break our gaze, turning to look at the foreign object. The knife, oozing with blood, as it lies a good fifteen feet away. With no hand holding it. I look around, hoping to spot an intruder. But nothing moves. Absolutely no movement and no one else in sight. I look back at the old lady, as she crumples to the ground. I cannot breathe.
From behind me, a soft breeze starts up, the drift caressing my hair as I shiver in the dusky heat.
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