Monday, 1 November 2010

Beast

At the edge of a forest, a man sat on a damp picnic table. The cold leached into his bones but it was unfelt. His eyes were locked on the dark depths of the high trees. The tips of them swayed in the silent breeze. No birds sang or traffic rushed by. This was truly the wilds. His ears twitched occasionally, picking up the murderous run of creatures lost to its shadows. His fist bunched and he got up. The call was so very strong, but he had to be stronger. To lose himself to this would not allow him to remain. Turning his back, he walked back to the car. His back a stack of tension, his heart cold.

The interior of the car was silent: a pod of disconnection. The man gripped the steering wheel, his hand stuck - almost immobile - on the ignition switch beneath. Frozen, his eyes moved along the sway of branches. He licked dry lips and for a moment, the beast within slammed against the inner bars of the mental prison. How it howled and raged, slathered and spat. The man did not move, locked in place as he weathered the storm-like tantrum. He shut his eyes and rallied himself as he had beaten it back many times. The force drifted and temporary peace returned. The man's heart thudded and he lay back against the headrest. There was a cost to the charade and as he gathered his wits, he wondered when the prison would crack. When would he give up fighting and just accept. The thought terrified him.

Within, the beast slunk and prowled. He felt it had infinite patience and then he smiled at the bitter irony. It was nothing but patient. It wanted out. It wanted to run free. To dart through thick branches, to feel the hot joy of the kill as teeth clamped shut. "No," he said out loud. "I will not." He had known others who had gone that path. Sometimes he would see them, running their predator games. Sometimes as beasts, sometimes as men. Some clung to humanity, others embraced and shifted. The Lost Ones.

He balled a fist and looked down at the skin. It was fleshy, thin and weak. Fine hairs patterned the back of the hand. It was wrong. On certain nights, he would be right. Bones would crack, fur would flourish and flesh would run in beautiful harmonic song. That one night, he would be himself. Cold and bitter tears pricked at his eyes and he wiped them away angrily chastising himself for the weakness. After the shift, then the pain would come. The soreness of limbs, the guilt. Always the guilt at what he had done, what he might have killed or who he might have hurt. But perhaps more accurately, the pain of falling to stay normal.

Later he stood in the park, pushing against the swing to propel his son, who responded with shouts of glee at every thrust. For a moment, the joyous bursts took him away and he was content. The time was pure and human warmth folded over him like a cloak. The man gripped it, clung to it, for the call to the darkness was never too far away. As they left, a tiny hand in his own larger, rougher one; the barks of dogs at play tugged at the beast within. The man looked away and picking up the toddler at his feet, hugged him to him. Reminders were there. A constant goad to the animal within.