By Simon Barget
I knew it was coming so I stood there stock-still, didn’t dare move a muscle. I did the right thing. I couldn’t see it or I could just about see its outline from behind the tree giving me shelter. I wanted to stay at a safe vantage point but then again I needed to be close so I could second-guess its intention. What if it made a sudden movement? I would need to have it in my field of vision to stop it catching me unawares.
I decided the best place for me was by this tree, peering out on my knees from behind these branches; if I needed to reach for my gun I’d be able to do it without too much trouble. I’m not a natural hunter, I practice righteous self-defence. I knew that it would somehow approach by stealth; it would try to assuage me, overpower me, it would somehow take me over before I even knew what was what.
You might have thought I’d be quaking in fear. But it wasn’t moving, it didn’t appear to be moving. It has the patience of Job. You might think that its non-movement might have made me maybe more wary. I knew I couldn’t rely on it ever backtracking ever receding. I knew I would have to wait it out here many hundreds of days. I could be here for years.
But I wasn’t scared. I was actually rather hopeful, and I cannot say why. My hope lay in the fact that it hadn’t yet got me, and as long as I was alive now, I was fine. I was alive then and I am still alive now. I was not deterred by the fact that I would have to stand watch for what was going to be aeons, or at least what felt like it, because when you’re kneeling in swamps, the mud faintly sucking you down, your thighs and my knees enmeshed and encumbered, when you’re crouched there like that, it’s tiring, you soon wish you could be in bed lying down, or even just able to wiggle an arm or stretch out a finger. I was destined to wait.
I have all these ideas about what the animals look like. These received ideas. Fangs and claws and dreadful growls. I speculate far too much about the appearance, yet I won’t approach it, refuse to come any closer. I feel that if I got closer I might be able to get a real idea of what it was, what exactly it looked like. Most creatures have four legs or eight legs, but who’s to say that this was of the same species? When you’ve spent so long lying in wait, you start to wonder what the pursuer really looks like, I mean not what you think it looked like your whole life, what you’re convinced it did for all those years, but what it actually looks like right now, something about being resigned to wait on your own makes you really start to feel, yes feel, and not even think, that what you’re dealing with might be somehow different to what you thought it had been all through those years. You have time on your hands. You have the elixir of daydreams. I was starting to get hungry, I was faint, even though I was very much used to periodic fasting. I’m not saying I was hallucinating because the feelings I felt were much realer, not less real, and hallucination suggests a watering down. Here I was lucid.
And still every time it moved, every time the leaves shook and rustled, I quivered. I felt shots in my veins, my heart started thundering. The leaves quivered but it could have been windrush. I did not know that if I moved back that it wouldn’t follow me. I assumed that it would.
But then there was a time in another life, I had a time many years before I was here. I was on a coach going to France. I could never have imagined then it would lead to this, that I’d be stuck in this crouch. Nothing that was happening in that coach with those people, Bill Jim, Gemma and Reid ever suggested that it would lead now to this. There was a supreme sense of warmth, of enclosure. We talked our way noisily through the fields of the country. I knew when I was on that coach that I could do anything and be safe.
If I had spent less time guessing and more serious time inspecting, I might not be in the uncomfortable crouch my body’s in now. I cannot say this for certain but I strongly suspect it. I am not looking for sympathy or pity, I’m just working it out as I speak. But I don’t need anyone to say they told me so, that it would turn out like this. It was fairly obvious and I have to admit it.
It has started to rain and I have been here for years. It is often raining and the rain is electric. I have hardly eaten. My thoughts are like buzzards; or they’re lead weights pushing me down incrementally further. I am still here because I am too scared to move. Every so often I get the hair-brained idea that I’m back on that bus with those people, I get the idea that the thing about five metres in front of my forehead is really just an extension of me, that it is the same thing as me, that I readily take in and enclose it, and for the briefest of moments my angst disappears and it’s as if in that moment I could get up and just start walking. But these moments last no way near long enough to convince me. Before I can even put any force on my left hand as a preparatory measure to propping, to hauling myself up off the ground, before I can even think about redistributing my weight, I don’t feel like I did anymore in the instant before this, and then I think: what the hell am I doing, why take the risk, and what am I doing even moving a whisker when that thing is focussed on me to the exclusion of absolutely everything else in this jungle, when the easiest thing for is for it just to pounce, to do whatever it needs, whether that’s destroy, pull me apart, torment me, I’m not quite sure what I envisage it doing, and every time try to get clear I find myself going round in circles imagining the hell it could inflict on me.
How long I don’t know I can tolerate to stay here. I am tired. Can a man sit here on his haunches indefinitely and for ever?