Cran Palto | Books | Raheem
Wild Man

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Chapter 39
Wild Man

When Moniza al-Tahawi arrived on Raheem, the planet had been in the self-terraforming stage for several hundred years. She remarked how gentle the climate and conditions were, so she named it Raheem, both because it was her father’s surname, and because it meant compassionate in the cultural tradition of her family.
In time, the planet’s imperial code designation, M9K2-7170, fell into disuse. When Gamma ShipSystems chose Raheem as destination for distressed ship crews, the company filed a formal request for name change with GALAX registry, which was granted.

—Chronicles of the Terraforming Authority, volume 76.

Agra was walking in the woods, setting traps for rabbits, just before dawn. Each morning, she set twenty traps. In the afternoon, she would come back to check on them. If she was lucky, there would be a few rabbits caught in the traps. Most of the time, though, the traps were empty, and the bait was gone.

She remembered Daroo’s words on that first night of storytelling in the common room where they had gathered each evening since.

She would go back to camp, get her bow, and go hunting with Yigars. She walked to the creek to draw some water. As she neared the edge of the water, before the steep incline to the waterline, she felt a sense of supernatural awareness, a oneness with her environment. She felt warm in her leather hunting clothes and wore her bison fur mask against the chill of the morning.

A red fox was sitting at the edge of the creek on the other side, but it wasn’t looking at her. She admired the animal as its nostrils sensed the wind. Its paws a different color one from the other; its coat was fuller than those she had seen before the rainy season. Winter was coming for them too.

Agra slowly turned her head to the left, following along the creek in the direction the fox’s snout was pointing. She spotted long, unkept hair in the distance, half-hidden in the tall grass that grew on each side of the creek. She drew closer, stepping carefully between bushes of thorny thistles. She saw a person with long hair, naked, waist deep in the water. They seemed to be washing, rubbing water on themselves.

She looked back. The fox had disappeared. She had come to expect that. The creature could come and go without being seen, it seemed. That was handy for a predator.

She turned her head back to the figure in the creek. It was a man—dark-skinned, long wavy hair to his ribs and a curly beard to match. He was standing, staring at her with hazel-green eyes. His body was wiry, muscular yet gaunt, as thought meals were difficult to find. She knew about that too.

“Have you eaten?”

In guise of response, he rushed, splashing water, to the other side of the creek, and got out, then ran a few meters. Agra did not move. The man turned halfway, his left side toward her. He was completely naked, without bags or weapons. His stare was intense, and Agra was glad she was wearing a mask, that she had her spear.

He turned away and ran some more. In the distance, he turned around one more time. This time he stared at her longer, but again without reaction. Then, as though he had forgotten about her and remembered he had something else to do, he turned and walked away calmly and disappeared from view.

That evening at dinner around the table in the common room, as they were relating their day, Agra spoke: “there was a man near the camp. I saw him this morning. He was naked, with long hair, and he was unarmed.”

Vaega put her spoon down. “A man?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“He was washing in the creek.”

Daroo spoke. “This happens sometimes. People will grow wild, unpredictable. They may run away from their clan or may be driven away.”

“I’ve seen it happen,” Yigars said. “One time this old man I knew became angry and left camp. I was young but I remember he must not have been acting rationally.”

“How do you know?” Ipsena asked.

“He didn’t take any weapons or supplies. He just left, shouting. about something.”

There was silence then, and they slowly resumed eating.

“What happened to him?”

“He died. They found his body a month later.”

Trion addressed Agra. “Which way did he go?”

“East, parallel to the old road.”

“What if he comes back?” Vaega asked. “Will we give him food? We don’t have enough as it is.”

Agra looked down at her plate. There was a little rice, a little meat, a few leaves of some green legume, a single strawberry she was saving for dessert.

Yigars set his empty plate down. “Tomorrow I will track this wild man. See what he wants.” He paused. “And look for boars.”

Daroo nodded. “Boars are dangerous. They travel and forage in packs.”

“We’ll hunt them together as a group,” Agra said.

“This will be good. If we can get four boars, we’ll have enough for Winter.”

On this hopeful note they went to the cabin to sleep. After listening to the noises of the night and not hearing any footsteps of naked wild men, and reassured by Trion’s even snoring, they fell asleep in turn.

When morning came, Vaega noticed right away that someone had scavenged through the strawberries.

“Maybe it was a rat or a rabbit?” Trion offered.

Vaega pointed at the ground between planted rows. “A rat with human feet?” Several prints in the dirt led through the garden.

Trion went to check the traps but none were disturbed, and only footprints here and there showed the wild man had come in through the funnel and left again the same way.

“He must be very agile to navigate this at night,” Agra said.

Yigars was at the gate. “Let’s follow him, to help him if we can.”

Agra and Ipsena went to collect their weapons.

“Are you sure?” Trion asked.

“Will he come back tonight and spring a trap, or ravage the garden?” Vaega asked.

“Let’s help him if we can,” Agra said, standing next to Yigars and Ipsena.

They left.

They immediately found his tracks near the creek, and they began a swift trot, the kind they used when running antelopes down.

Meanwhile, Trion verified the traps were in good working order. Daroo climbed on top of the kitchen. He laid the new rifle on the roof next to him and stood, scanning the horizon. He watched Yigars, Agra, and Ipsena running until they disappeared at last.

Next chapter: The Chase

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