Kyle cracked a smile through the pain--the fact that he was experiencing this torture in a sentient way, still capable of coherent thought and movement, was enough. He counted four vultures at a distance--a direct warning not to expend any more energy than was absolutely necessary. Knowing that they could not quite take him, these birds of prey were not going anywhere––the sharp movement of their eyes, the economical slant of their beaks, indicated relentless attention. They would not be wasting their time here unless they thought there was a good chance that they would be feasting on something that could sustain them for a week, longer. To them he was no human overlord--he was a meal far more substantial than their usual diet of rodent, coyote, and rattlesnake.
Minutes passed and Kyle began to sense a subtle communication between these birds that seemed to have nothing better to do but wait. Their eyes not unaware of his gaze on them, of his aching fear of an event that would temporarily fill their bellies. He was meat, nothing more, to be torn apart sinew by sinew, his bones left to bleach and dry in the absence of shade. Life he thought, blinking through the sting of his eyes, the bone dryness of everything around him--what did these creatures who were comfortably alive, though well beyond the crease of civilization, have to impart?
More steps, more watching of birds and their not-quite-alien movements, trying to understand.... What if they were in subtly encroaching ways guiding him in an intended direction, just as his pursuers had last evening--from what hidden source of water had they travelled? They had to have come from the ridges, he thought, and were willing him in a direction in which a trickle of water would be an impossibility. With this in mind, Kyle took a few steps toward an open plain where he knew no water could exist and gauged the birds' reaction. Knowing nothing about avian communication, he thought he saw a flash of a nod from one vulture to another, a turned smile under the beak-–reminiscent of a child on the edge of his seat, impatiently awaiting the lunch bell. All life was connected, you just needed to be.… Kyle turned abruptly toward the nearest ridge and the vultures fell back, ruffling wings and muttering with abortive squawks. Not quite perturbed, but... he subtly shifted his route along the forward-facing ridge line in 30 second increments. Tacking in minutely changing directions, trying to gauge exactly which plane of movement upset their balance the most. It was there––a momentary break in certainty, a series of darting glances, as he moved toward a point on the ridge that rose like a hook, a three quarters crescent. He might be down to a single blind, but he was alive. Kyle picked up speed, the vultures lifting their wings and scattering at some distance––still skeptical, not believing that he had any chance of leaving with life intact.
Kyle watched carefully as a black speck coasted along the ridge line from the crescent point and spread wings above him, another vulture come to feast. That was enough of a sign to set his course—if life was emanating from that particular crease in the ridge, he was going to aim for it with all his remaining energy. If he was wrong, if that vulture was coming from an endless circling, an unsuccessful foraging expedition.... no choice, there was exactly one route open to him. Nearing the base of the ridge shadows emerged, a hint that there would be a fractured multiplicity of rocky creases to choose from. Kyle shrugged--pathway settled, doubt out of the equation, he had one urgent mission: find shelter and ride out the hottest part of the day without movement or exertion.