“Thiodina sylvana,” he said out loud and marveled at the absence of condensation from his breath. Here, in late August, the nighttime temperature never got much below sixty degrees. Kristof closed his eyes and pictured the pages and pages of temperature tables going back decades. He looked at the smoldering remains of his campfire and his water condenser – both constructed from memory. Kristof stood and arched his back and walked to the water condenser to drink from the broad leaves. They were arranged in such a way that they reminded him of some strange bird, yet to be discovered.
Kristof imagined discovering some unknown bird species. The crooked smile faded as he worked out the logistics on touring the country and having an article published in popular scientific magazines.
“Damn it!” he hissed. This super-intelligence thing is great in so many ways, he thought, but man, do I get distracted!
Kristof covered the embers of his fire with moist earth and underbrush and continued his journey east.
* * *
Joaquin watched from a distance. His teeth chattered so loud he was afraid Kristof would hear it. It amazed him that Kristof could start a fire and collect clean water with no tools whatsoever. Joaquin pulled a Zippo he stole from the duty-free shop out of his pocket. And turned it over several times. He tried the night before to start his own fire, but even with a lighter, he was unable to.
He spent the night drifting in and out of sleep, watching Kristof snooze loudly next to his fire. The other item he had stolen from the duty-free shop was an antique-looking pocket watch. Antique that was except for the ‘made in China’ stamped into the thin metal. The watch read seven thirty. Kristof seemed punctual on waking. The last three days of following him reinforced how much Joaquin was a city kid.
Kid, his thought as he looked at his reflection in the shiny cover of the pocket watch. He looked at the lines on his cheeks and forehead, accentuated by the stamp. That Justin dude really did age me, he thought as he shoved the lighter and pocket watch into his pockets. He brushed the leaves and debris from his sleeves and ambled down to Kristof’s former campsite.
* * *
Kristof looked to the sky at smoke lazily wafting on the still air. He raised his thumb and covered the top of the smoke. He repeated the process against a tree a few hundred feet away and after some (now) basic mathematics and calculations, determined he would reach the source of the smoke just before sunset. He vowed to not stop for the trivialities that had turned what should’ve been a two-day trek into four.
It doesn’t matter, he thought, my journey is about to end.
Kristof picked his way through the underbrush, his destination mere hours away.
* * *
Joaquin stood with his thumb extended in front of him. What was he doing? The thought entered his mind as he tried to figure out what Kristof was doing. For the last four days, Joaquin foraged the same insects and wild berries Kristof did. By watching Kristof construct his atmospheric water condenser again and again, Joaquin was now able to construct his own instead of relying on Kristof’s cast-offs.
Joaquin followed as he had for several hours. Kristof stood at the edge of a clearing, staring at a cabin lazily belching smoke from its chimney. Kristof started to step forward, but instead knelt and examined a few areas of the perimeter.
* * *
Kristof smiled and identified five distinct deadfall traps. Well, four, he thought, one was filled in recently. His boots sunk slightly in the mud as he snaked his way around the traps and headed for the front porch of the cabin. Kristof was unaware of Joaquin watching from the woods or a pair of eyes watching from a cabin window.