There were about twenty old pines in the grove. No tree was less than 50ft high. They were the kind of trees with branches that reached the ground and provided excellent cover. The needles were thick and luxurious and smelled of his childhood. He remembered that his grandmother had a tree like this in her yard in Vermont. He would climb it often and always receive a scolding from his mother when he would return inside, covered in sap. The branches were thick and close together. It would be difficult to get very high, but if he could no one would be able to see him from outside. He chose one with sturdy looking branches and began his ascent. Hand over hand he climbed, the branches tearing into his naked hands. Cold always made things sharper and he never wished that he had a pair of gloves more than he did that day. About 30ft up he found a nest of branches facing behind him that would hold his weight comfortably. He could see what was coming through an open pocket in the needles. It would be very difficult to see in from the outside. Peering out over the landscape, it appeared that the coast was still clear.
He fumbled for the can of stew he had wrapped in an extra shirt in his brown canvas backpack. Even canned food was hard to come by these days. Between the hoarders and the black market scavengers, you were lucky to find a once discarded can of pumpkin. Even then, it had been so long since the world changed that some of the cans were beginning to swell. That was a sure sign to throw away. He was lucky enough to trade a rabbit he had trapped for the can a few months back. It was the last of his reserves. It would make a fitting last meal, if it came to that.
It wasn’t until he had licked the last of the stew from his fingers that he saw a silhouette in the distance. It was a solitary man. As he came closer, Brian could see he was covered in furs and skins. It was difficult to stay put but the danger overcame the need to get a better view. As the man got closer he seriously questioned his decision to climb and hide. Sure, he didn’t have a weapon, but the cold must have addled his brain to think this was a good idea. He could have tries cutting due south into the valley. No matter. It was too late to change the course of destiny now. The man was heading straight for the grove.
At first it was just tuneful, incoherent babble. It was sung in a deep bass voice. Brian thought that it reminded him of a sea chanty or an old Irish ditty. As the man drew closer, Brian could pick out the words:
“It has been a while,
Since I saw her smile.
For the world has gone and changed,
Not a word was said
Ne’er a word be said,
For the world has gone and changed.”
The words soon turned to wordless humming again as the man got closer to the tree. He did not seem to be overly concerned with his surroundings as he appeared to keep his head looking forward. He had a grizzled salt and pepper beard. He was still too far away to make out his face clearly. The one thing that did stand out, however, was the rifle strapped to his back. Brian did everything he could to stay as still as he could. He hoped the song was a good indicator that the man was unaware of his presence. As the man came closer to his hiding spot, the branches obscured his vision and he lost sight of him. He could hear the leaves crunch past the tree as the man walked by. He did not appear to stop or slow or give any indication that his presence had been detected.