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Congo Free State, 1888
Odd One watched, as still as the tree trunk by which he stood, not moving more than his eyes as Old Grunt had taught him. His pale, furless skin caked with river mud was nearly the same gray-brown as the tree. His light hair was also matted with mud and his face smeared so only the whites of his strange blue eyes might give his position away. He could never hide in plain sight like the Others, but he did the best he could.
Something was moving loudly through the underbrusha foolish animal without enough sense to slip quietly between the leaves or to step lightly on the ground. The footsteps were different from any creature he'd ever heard, a heavy tread. It sounded as if there were more than one. He judged that the approaching animals had the weight of a leopard but not the stealthily padded paws.
Excitement tingled through him, making the hair rise on his nape. He clenched the sharpened stick in his fist, pressed his back against the rough bark and waited for whatever was coming.
One of the creatures made a sound as it came closer. Not a screech or cry, not a groan, hoot or whimper, but a noise unlike anything he'd heard before yet strangely familiar. A dim memory struggled to float up in his mind. He reached for it, and it was gone.
His heart pounded and he breathed faster as he glimpsed one of the creatures between the leaves. It walked upright on two legs just as he did and like the Others did some of the time. He wanted to leap forward, to see all of it at once instead of flashes through the undergrowth.
There were two of them, one walking behind the other. The pair communicated back and forth with their strange calls. He caught his breath. These were like the sounds he sometimes made when he was all alone in the forest, the noises his throat and tongue made that none of the Others could duplicate.
The pair moved into the clearing in front of him where they stopped and stood looking around. His heart raced even faster. The two creatures looked like him, or what he'd seen of himself reflected in still water. Their faces and hands were naked like his with the same prominent noses and fully formed lips. Hair grew on the lower part of their faces. Their bodies were covered with something that was neither fur, skin nor scales but something completely foreign.
One of them took a thing off the top of his head and ran a hand through sweat-flattened hairhair like his, not fur as most animals hadand white like the streaks in Old Grunt's ruff. These animals were his kind. There were more in the world like him. He wasn't alone.