Chapter 03: Sartoris has options.

Sartoris sat for a long time, he though about beating it with clubs, and pouring soapy water on it, and also rolling it up in a big wooden mat. All those options were considerably more difficult when the target was a large sleeping cat. While he was an expert hunter, he knew better than to jump a large cat. Even if it was technically a kitten.

He backtracked into the woods, outside of the devastated path, and shuffled around the clearing of the caracal. The cat itself stood looking after the scattered disturbances, but seemed disinterested, and shortly folded back up and closed its eyes. Sartoris laid quiet and kept motionless, watching the animals breathing become slow and regular. When he was convinced the creature had nodded off, he made his way back into the woods.

It was getting dark out, and he desparately wanted to put the tedium of the days work behind him, he laid low and headed slightly up the hill. After making a quick survey of the ground, he noticed a set of tracks for a small boar. Bait! This would be perfect. Using his tracking skills, he made a bee-line for the boars destination, staying quiet and fleet footed.

After a short flight through, he came across what appeared to be a small boar cub drinking out of a lake. He perched on a low branch over the scene, and tried to spot any potential threats. The way looked clear. He dropped behind and picked up the mini-porker, clutched it subdued to his chest and started making his way back to his wayward felt.

Not 5 steps from the pool, he heard a loud rustle and heavy footprints coming from behind him. With a quick glance back, he saw a large, recently shaved boar take a dead sight on him and his cargo. It looked pissed. Boar are large wild bristley pigs with tusks, and this one no longer had bristles, and was bald from the same guy now holding his cub.

Sartoris went wide-eyed and jettisoned the cub, which ran quickly back to its fathers safety. The boar was far from done, though. The many factors had left him in an unusually bad temperment. Sartoris lept back to his perch and fled as soon as he saw the boar paws dig into the ground and the boar lurch forward. He steadied himself quickly, but the boar ran full speed into the trunk of the he tree he was standing on and the branch shook. Sartoris lost grep on his left foot and felt his balance slipping. He quickly lept back off the tree and sprinted through the woods back to the clearing.

As the chase wore on, his heart climbed further up his throat, he could hear trampling and snarling directly behind him. In the waning twilight he could make out the vague shape of the clearing and ran to it at break-neck speed, knowing he could then follow the trail back to his own shack if he could just ditch the damn boar.

He bounded into the clearing and found himself face to face with the caracal and following his instincts bounded up the side and over the startled cat. The boar followed quickly behind and ran tusk first into the wooden felt roll. The now upright cat was quickly shaken and slid, clawing, off the side of the roll.

Sartoris had barely landed from his leap when he now heard the growling of two distinctly pissed off large wild animals, circling each other around the days labor. He was torn. He could not afford to lose the felt, and he certainly didnt want to be in the middle of a giant pig versus cat fight.

He took to a low perch, and bounded up a few more branches, trying to catch the birds-eye view in the rapidly fading daylight. It appeared to be a stale mate. Neither side seemed interested in anything other than getting out unscathed. Cats and pigs usually dont hunt each other. Not in these woods.

Sartoris decided to cut his losses for a safe pass back to his shack, and vowed to check back in “later”. As he turned to jump back along the border of the wrecked path, he tensed his knees, and was immediately caught off guard by a screeching howl from the caracal. He lost his focus and found himself grasping for branches as he headed back toward the ground. He managed to break his fall, but could was hanging just a few feet above the forest floor, and no where near out of the way of a large feline. He dropped and recoveder just enough to see the boar back cautiously into the woods.

The caracal hopped back on the roll and remained looking quietly at Sartoris. He looked puzzled at the creature, who again seemed uninterested, but aware, of his presence. Sartoris eased towards the cat. He sat upright, as Sartoris drew near, but did not show any of the animosity he had toward the boar.

“Well, guess I’m glad theirs none of your fur in that roll.”

The cat stood, unmoving staring directly at Sartoris, then cocked its head almost curiously. He finally crept off the roll, and padded towards him. Sartoris stood perfectly still. The caracal was close enough that it could have pounced directly at him, and it had the forward leap advantage: Sartoris had neither the time to turn and run, and could not moonwalk very quickly. So he was stuck.

The cat circled, and looked at his prisoner. To Sartoris, it seemed that the cat was growing taller. He kept his breathing steady and regular, and soon found himself in a trancelike state, meditating on the cats curiosity. Then his knuckles felt wet. He had been gradually sinking into quicksand, and his meditations and perfect stillity had kept him oblivious to the pressure creeping up his legs. Now he was acutely aware of his position: Sinking in quicksand, trapped by a cat, and unwilling to make any sudden moves or even seem panicked (caracal can smell fear, im sure of it).

Stoic (but neither wise nor brave), Sartoris slowly sunk further into the dirt, and made no attempt to struggle, or even move his hands, the cold wet quicksand filled up and pressed in. It leaked through his clothes and continued until it had reached his arm pits, when his feet hit solid ground. He was now completely helpless, staring up at the beast, who vigilantly kept his eyes focused,  but had long ago sat on the ground facing him directly. Watching him slowly sink into the ground. The cat seemed interested, but still not aggressive.

Sartoris, feeling that he was reasonably safe, but not willing to come off as a threat to his captor that he had already launched a boar at. Sat clenching his teeth impatiently, wondering when this situation would be resolved. Darkness had fallen, and the only reminder he had that he was under watch was the heavy breathing and the slight twinkling the eyes a few feet away. Then, there was nothing.

The breathing was surrounding him, but he could no longer make out any shapes or movement in front of him. Given that his head was now close to ground level, he had a hard time getting any kind of perspective, and the faint moonlight lit the tree tops, but there was very little that he could perceive. At last he began to wiggle, he pulled his left arm out of the sand and reached outward blindly, trying to find the edge of firm ground.

Suddenly, he heard a soft landing a few feet away and a slight pitter-patter. He felt the muddy clothing on his arm jerk, and felt himself being pulled and grabbed out of the sand pit. The cats jaws avoided his arm and managed to make his muddy tattered garments into a progressive pile of ribbons. At last, he ended back on solid ground, helpless, half naked and covered in mud.

In the darkness, lying exhausted on his back he heard the breathing around him, and the cat padding around, again watching him. After a few quick circles. The cat sat, unafraid near him and began licking its paws. Sartoris manned up and decided to get the hell out of that situation, because he had no idea what to do. The cat had now just saved him, but he didnt understand why he had not been attacked, even now as a helpless piece of human bait, but he figured if the caracal hadn’t bitten his head off as it sat in the ground like a watermelon, then he probably wasn’t going to be chased uphill for sport.

At the end of his strength, he pushed himself to his feet, and backed slowly up the hill. The way he  had planned to hours earlier, before his whole sand-trap adventure. His roll at this point was his livelihood, and he couldnt not retrieve it, but he was at a complete disadvantage against a nightvision having nocturnal hunting cat. It was still early, although dark, and he climbed, senses dulled, back up the hill to his shack.

Making it back to the top of his hill, he saw that the door had been left open, and had invited in the night time vermin, but he was too exhausted to care. He shed his shredded clothes, and tried to sort out anything salvageable. After that, he made his way to the large buckets of soapy rain water, and braved the cold water to wash the remaining mud and sand crust from his skin. He stumbled, clean, but broken back inside, lit a candle to draw the bugs away, and nestled himself on his felt mattress, between large piles of felt for blankets.