Happily Ever After
by Charlie Barba
It’s an old, familiar story – boy meets girl, they fall in love, some trials and tribulations bar their path, eventually they live happily ever after. Do you know anyone who’s actually lived that story? Neither do I.
I grew up, as most people do, and then moved to my own place, got a job, made some friends, the odd girlfriend, had a life. Then I met Kayla.
Things worked out well between us. Kayla also had a day job, so we had all our evenings and weekends together. We lived within a few miles of each other, so it was easy to get together when we wanted to. Kayla was as good a hunter as I am, so that’s what we did a lot of weekends. We bonded, got under each other’s skin, learned intimate things about each other. So it wasn’t long before we moved in together.
I got a raise, Kayla got a promotion, we made a fairly big kill together one weekend, and we moved into a larger place. Life was good, and it went on like that for about two years when Kayla told me about the new hunt. Seems that some new sort of beastie had been spotted, clean across the other side of the continent. She wanted to take a proper two-week vacation and see if we couldn’t get in on the hunt there. Why not, right? I could use the downtime, certainly. So we did.
The park was pretty normal for a hunting ground. We were told how these creatures had shown up a few months before. Didn’t seem like they were breeding prolifically but there were a few hundred of them anyway, so killing a few off might be a good idea. Anyway, they were invaders to this ecosystem, harmful even if unwittingly. We were also warned that they were slightly above the regular animal-level intelligence; tool users, rudimentary clothing, thrown weapons, that sort of thing. Increased danger in the hunt, but a much more interesting hunt too.
We took a couple of days to make camp and familiarise ourselves, then went out at dawn looking for the new creatures. It was that first day out that Kayla and I had our first big fight. Not really sure what it was about any more; I wanted to go toward a lake, but she thought she’d seen tracks in another direction. Regardless, it escalated and we ended up going our separate ways. We met back at the camp at dusk, neither of us had encountered anything worth hunting. We made up, made love, ate and slept.
Dawn and we’re out again – different direction this time. By mid-morning we’ve had another fight about the best way to locate these new targets, and split up down different paths. I confess, my mind wasn’t really in the hunt that day. Why, suddenly, were we fighting like this? Come sundown and I made my way back to camp without really paying attention to anything. Kayla was already there waiting for me – and she was excited!
She’d found them! They had a permanent settlement so we could go straight there tomorrow. Arguments forgotten, we made love in celebration, ate and slept. Up and out at sun-up. Probably predictable that no sooner had Kayla led me to the correct area we had another fight and she left me alone. No matter; this time my mind’s on the game. I could smell them on the breeze, see many signs of their movement. Now for a first look.
I peeked out from a high limb that I’d scaled, over the narrow bluff on which they’d settled. Odd choice, I thought, to put your back to a huge cliff, out in the open. Perhaps they’re not so smart after all. They were a lot like some other animals I’d hunted over the years, a bit ape-like. Perhaps a bit taller, considerably thinner (little to eat on those frames!), but lean and strong-looking. Some were hairier than others, but they shared a common look that marked them all as the same specie.
I heard a noise off to my right and noted Kayla emerging from her own tree-top lookout. She’d stripped naked, rubbed herself with moss and mud, ‘gone primal in the hunt’ is the new-age term for it. I’ll never get sick of looking at her sleek body as she runs down her chosen victim. And run was what she did. Tail streaking out straight behind her, claws and fangs extended, spine-bristles standing upright – Kayla isn’t as big and strong as I am, but she’s a bit faster, and looks great when she goes all out.
The creatures must have had someone on lookout, because a loud electronic beeping sounded from one of their huts. Two of the beasts emerged holding long metal rods, which they pointed directly at Kayla. A flash of light, a couple of sharp – and loud! – retorts, and Kayla was suddenly not running but sprawled on the ground. I could smell her blood even from here. Somehow, the beasties had hurt her, maybe even killed her.
In a rage I tore at my own clothing, leaped from the tree and ran straight toward this odd encampment, these bizarre creatures, these vicious animals…
“Status update : Day 247. Two more of those huge creatures tried to attack us out of the woods again today (NB; we really must start naming the local flora and fauna). Harris and Woodward shot them before they got anywhere near the camp. The male seemed enraged – postulate lifetime pair-bonding for this specie.
“So far this planet seems habitable, apart from some of the animals. Another 53 days before we go on to explore more of this continent.
“More as it happens. Adrian Tallman, Mission Commander, NASA, out.”
I managed to crawl my way over to Kayla, though there was no doubt in my mind that she was already dead. The last 3 days flashed through my mind. The petty arguments that we’d let get out of hand, the fact that we’d separated every day and hunted alone, though it was primarily the hunt that had brought us together. Our evenings had been wonderful, close, loving. Then every day another fight. And now this.
One of the creatures was standing over me with his metal rod. Kayla and I will die here together.
Together. Forever. Happy ever after.