The leaves are dry and brittle; they crackle when she steps.
I watch her move forward, ever so carefully.
She's not careful to be quiet, no, her steps are clear and crisp as the autumn air and she knows she can't do anything about that.
She's careful because she doesn't want to be caught by surprise.
I can't see the face behind the mask, but something about the way she moves is familiar. I briefly wonder if I've seen her somewhere before.
I push the thought away: it won't matter once I'm done here.
The trees are still full of leaves, despite how many they've shed. She knows I'm here but she can't see me.
I move slowly, knowing that if I make too much noise, she will run.
I drop out of the tree. The thick trunk blocks me from her view, but she hears me fall.
Who's there, she asks.
As if anyone is going to answer.
I could have sworn I knew her voice, but then I remember that this is a mission, not a walk in the park. It doesn't matter who she is.
I hear her steps crunching away from where I'm hidden, and I peer out.
She has her back to me and I realize that if I miss her, she will not make this mistake again.
I aim. Be steady, watch the target, breathe slowly.
I aim. Be steady, watch the target, breathe slowly. Don't miss.
She's fast. She's fast enough to turn when she hears the shot, but she isn't fast enough to dodge.
I'm close enough now that I would be able to see her eyes behind the mask, but her hair whips around her face when she turns and I look away before her vision clears.
My bullet finds its mark in her thigh. It's not ideal, but it's okay. She's down, but it'll be slow and painful.
I shot her, but I don't know her name. I never know their names.
Usually, I don't care who I'm after.
But tonight, curiosity gets the better of me, and I'm out of the woods and crossing into the road before I've even thought about what I might say to her.
I kneel beside her. She shakes and gasps for breath, her left hand grabbing at the concrete.
I set the gun down and reach up to take her mask off.
What if I know her? What if I don't want her to die? What if I want to save her? What if she's done nothing wrong?
I push the thoughts away again. It doesn't matter what I want. She's already lost too much blood. She'll never make it.
I take off her mask.