The Most Dangerous Game I could feel the headhunter's breath on my neck. It smelled of middle management.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I was browsing in the underbrush that morning when the phone rang. Not much was going on. The shrubs were tasty due to the thawing snow that had watered them recently. That always makes them plump and juicy. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, because suddenly a branch snapped behind me and there was this woman standing there kind of looking me over. She was wearing a pith helmet, which didn't go very well with her gray pinstripe suit.

"Hello," she said. She had one of those palm gizmos that you work with a little pen. I don't like those things.

"Hello," I said, swallowing a mouthful of twigs and branches, which suddenly seemed dry and tasteless. "I'm kind of busy reviewing substantial matters right now, so I'm wondering what it is you want."

"Oh, nothing much," she said, but I could see she was sizing me up something fierce. I saw her giving my haunches and shoulders a good once-over. Maybe I'm not what I used to be, but it's still pretty obvious when you look at me that I've got a couple of good years of hauling, plowing, and middle-managing left in me.

But she was talking. "I'm Nancy," she said. She gave me a last name too. It sounded something like Glockenspiel, but I'm sure that wasn't it. For the first time, I could see she was armed with something strapped over her shoulder. I hoped she wasn't planning to hurt me. I'm effective at protecting myself against plant eaters, but carnivores still scare me.

"I'm working very closely with a company that I can't name right now," she said, coming right up to me and whispering in my ear, which felt sort of good, I won't lie to you. "This firm is looking for a person to take the top job in your area. It pays mid-six figures, options, reports to the chairman. Do you know anybody who might be interested in hearing more about a job like that?"

Every sense I possess went on full alert. My ears rose from the back of my scalp and tipped outward like saucers. My eyes flew full open and bulged from their sockets. My hair stood on end all over my body. I didn't know whether to fight or flee. I was being hunted!

They weren't going to take me alive, not if I could help it!

"Well," I heard myself say. "I might be willing to discuss something like that for a couple of minutes." What was I talking about? I had to get out of there before they bagged me! I turned ...but by then it was too late. Instead of running, I had leaned in to feel that tiny whisper in my ear again, and in so doing had lost my physical advantage. "Aieee!" I thought.

"Don't move," she said. The thing on her shoulder swung around and I saw, too late, that it was a dart gun of some kind. "This won't hurt a bit." Then all I saw was black.

I awoke at a table in the Four Seasons Hotel, my mouth full of granola. It took me a moment to realize that I was bound to my chair by a small chain attached to my right fetlock. It was comfy, though. Nancy was across the table, giving me a look that made me very nervous. It appeared to be...hunger.

Making our table a threesome was a pudgy fellow in safari gear, a gigantic machete propped up at his setting. He was looking at me with an expression of admiration, and drooling ever so slightly. I realized he was telling me his life story, which was full of events that were both amusing and intensely tedious. Nancy chimed in with a long tale about her son's hockey team, but the conversation was a ruse. I could tell they were both mentally picturing me en croute.

"Now tell us a little about you," Nancy said after a time. It wasn't a question. I had to perform. So I did. First, I made the low, growling noises that often help me start off meetings. I moved over into guttural barking and mooing and closed with a fair amount of high-pitched yelping. This seemed to please them both. I could see lust for meat alight in their eyes.

"Let's get down to it," said the plump and jocular headhunter. Without losing eye contact, he picked up the machete. "The position is one of the largest in American industry, with a package of salary, bonus, options, hats, feathers, flying buttresses, hair plugs, plastic nose guards, and other perks that brings its value up into the low seven figures."

My jaw dropped, and before I had a chance to pick it up and run away, he and Nancy had leaped upon me, hoisted me to my knees, and dragged me over to a big scarred chopping block by the coat check.

"But...but...where is it? What is it? Tell me! I have the right to know!" I screamed. The specter of my life as I loved it--lost forever--dangled in the air before me.

"Well," said the headhunter, pausing for a moment over the block. "I suppose it doesn't hurt to bend our confidentiality requirements just this once." He looked down on me, panting in anticipation. I could smell the flesh of countless prior happy victims on his breath. "It's the Barfinger Corp. in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho!" he said triumphantly, and swung down on the space between my second and third cervical vertebrae.

"Nooooo!" I yelled. "I don't want to live far away from the coast!" And with one massive lunge I rose up on two legs like a man and fled that place of career advancement and unlimited opportunity.

"After him!" I heard them both in full cry behind me, thundering down the marble steps of the hotel, down onto 57th Street. I heard barking at my heels. Dogs! Would these people stop at nothing? My heart pounded. I knew if I could make it back to my office, I'd be safe.

"Please, God," I wheezed as I fled, "if you let me get out of this one, I'll never allow myself to get hunted again."

I hit my elevator bank with seconds to spare. As the doors closed I felt the force of the headhunters hitting them at top speed. "Which coast?" I heard Nancy say, and then the shouting grew fainter.

Now life has returned to some semblance of normalcy. Things around the office are pretty much as usual. I graze. I mosey. I run in large circles without getting nauseated. At times, I admit it, I do yearn for other fields, other forests, other streams to drink from.

So I guess I find it kind of funny.... Those stupid headhunters? After all they went through to get me? They won't even return my phone calls!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.