As I slide my back hard against the barren tree behind me, some of its gnarled roots reach up from under its peaceful grave into the biting chill of the wind that cuts down everything in its path. The points of my shoulder blades poke the edges of the tree awkwardly and I become immediately sensitive to the fact that my neck is exposed as are the parts of my body that stretch wider than the tree.
Pressing against it, I had hoped to prepare. To have to suspend worry about one side of myself but now I know that was futile and carelessly foolish. An involuntary gasp for air shoves what feels like a block of ice down my throat and into my lungs, sharp on its sides and scraping everything on the way down, so large a burst of air I don’t think my lungs can contain it, my stomach ballooning out as I try to contain myself. Suddenly it is sucked out of my as suddenly it came and, only seconds ago feeling burden by breath, now I am desperate in its absence.
I form fists halfheartedly, noticing my knuckles have begun to bleed, having been dried by the unforgiving air. Relentless. It’s relentless and no matter how much I know the cold will always come for me, I am never prepared.
I feel pathetic, releasing my hands, knowing I’ve no means of defending myself. There are too many of them. I can hear them exchanging howls, feeding off each other’s excitement and the thrill of finally having a new chase. Each cry into the air more eager, expectant for the spoils that they will find.
I would be overwhelmed by them, devoured before I could let out a cry. I will be. I will be devoured by them. I’ve known my whole life that that would be my fate, my broken, unpromising, miserable, unavoidable fate.
I have chosen not to join them. I made an active choice to leave my pack in the dead of night while they were all curled around their meager fire, some tails ratted and others dowsed in spilled beer. I chose to leave their pack. Because it was never mine to own. It was mine to serve, no matter how dogged it might be after I had seen so many other ways of being through traitorous glimpses into the clouds. But only when they could not spy my gaze. Of course, I forgot their ears are trained to hear movement and their senses of smell overwhelmingly intense. I am exposed. They always knew I was looking. Felt it. Heard it. Smelled the betrayal dripping off my panting tongue, increasingly losing the stamina needed for our desperate drives into the forest.
How stupid and egotistical of me to think by gaining new senses, all of mine were elevated compared to their own. I never gained new senses. They just changed.
Maybe I could join them. Just, give in my juvenile dreams and fall in line–but I know it’s too far past that. I’ve been domesticated. Now I can never be wild like them. My mind is changed. My body language. How I see the world. I could never hide it. I’d be found out. As much as they have forgotten how to speak, drawn into the kill and the beastliness of the existence into which they leaned too heavily, their ability to feel, to smell weakness is as astute as it has ever been. They can taste my doubt hanging onto the cold droplets of air, miles away from where I wait to be taken down.
I’ve made my choice. And they’re hungry, having long over-hunted their tired terrain. It was only a matter of time before they would need to turn inward for something to eat, and I am so much a different creature now that it is no longer cannibalism.
I can hear them and I know they’re coming. All that remains to be seen is which one will tear off the first piece of flesh.
***There will be a follow-up to this entry.