By Rebecca Dempsey
I’m its only living eyewitness. This is a recording, I mean I’m currently setting up this so it can be recorded, since I know remembering won’t be possible later. Probably. Anyway, this is likely to be it: all you’ll get from me is this. There won’t be anymore. I can feel it even now. Oh. It’s not like I’ll forget, because I believe it’ll be more like there not be a me left to remember. But that’s the rumour. Even now, I know I’m making it up. I feel like a signal, breaking up, I haven’t even started and already pieces are missing. I don’t recall how long I managed to observe it before we locked gazes. I was seen and I saw it. That’s all. Never mind. That’s the story I won’t be able to tell. This is the story in its place. Maybe. Pretty soon you’ll forget I’m the one telling it and sadly, so will I.
A creature shook its head; a great mane bristled and settled to frame its face. Electric eyes grew big as the being nosed the cooling evening air. Its heavy head sank down again: the breeze was fuzzy with wood smoke and foul unnatural tastes, but there was no immediate threat in the dark. Over countless eons this creature had hunted, but its own habits changed in response to an altered habitat, until the being was the last of its kind, awaiting its prey, cornered in a remnant of an ancient forest. Thus, this shadowy creature so attuned with its surroundings, had by force, perfected haunting the shadows of one of the few living things older than itself.
If ever it had been named, such a word had been lost. There is no relationship or bond with humans, it was never domesticated, and it wasn’t hunted. There are no heroic tales like the kings of old grappling lions to enhance their fame. No. This monster doesn’t loom large in the human collective unconscious, because it’s not there at all. If it doesn’t fit in human stories, what would a name we give it mean to this creature, who exists on its own, on instinct? There’s nothing in its eyes to suggest naming it would help us, or help it, there’s no possible rapprochement, nothing approximating what humans understand as logic, and nothing so brutal and obvious as human emotions. At least with reptiles, humans understand something of their needs: warmth and food. We lack even that for this creature.
So, while this being, long ears forward, with narrow tongue licking its maw, should have been the stuff of legend it’s absent from records, taxonomical and mythical. If legends had been passed down, perhaps they would have warned of the creature’s unusual cruelty as well as its startling beauty, once seen. But that as the problem. It was never seen. Or seen and then dismissed. Since being the monster it was, meant no one who’d ever found themselves in the creature’s presence was ever able to describe what they had encountered, or the nature of their experience. In fact, by the time the creature was done with them, they couldn’t tell much of anything at all - not to anyone. It wasn’t that the creature was particularly violent, or gruesome; no more than other predators. It was just this beast, with its powerful limbs and sharp claws to entrap its victims, also possessed piercing hypnotic eyes and with them took something from its victims and projected nothing back. Those few who stumbled across the creature lost who they were in its company. At least that was what was reported by locals who found too few survivors lost in the forest. Fugue state, or just empty psychiatrists scrawled in frustration and for lack of a better description, after pages and pages of notes detailing patient symptoms. After the medical issues abated, after the physical wounds were cleaned and healed, the experts found lungs breathed, hearts beat, eyes dilated, limbs were sound, and scans were within normal ranges, but the victims were absent of themselves. Even with modern treatments there was no recovery, and everything was tried, all sorts of surgeries, pharmaceuticals, electro convulsive therapy, water-based therapies, quiet, solitude, noise, massage, group treatments. Nothing changed and continued to not change. Meanwhile, the beast was out there.
With survivors, if they could be called thus, came police who theorised about rogue psychedelic psychologists, illegal drug lab contamination, or deranged brain surgeons conducting crude experiments. After investigators came hunters who speculated with the aid of lengthy bar tabs about runaway circus animals, or apes, and went over old stories of big cats, laboratory escapees, or perhaps packs of dogs able to terrify victims into catatonia. However, no rumour ever aligned with the disturbing and varying evidence. Anyway, this was no ape, nor bear or big cat, or possibly a little of them all and something more. Afterall, no dead bodies had been found…and the physical injuries of the survivors weren’t consistent with any singular theory, according to one tipsy but morose insider from the local hospital. The bar grew silent, uncomfortable, before someone bumped the jukebox and everyone moved onto other, safer, subjects.
Fur rippled as the breeze picked up; its tail flicked before the creature stretched its lithe limbs. At all times it remained semi-alert for movements, sounds, minute voltages, magnetic currents, and changes in the air chemistry that indicated prey. But too often the signals were fuzzy with interference. It wrinkled its nose at the foul odours and tastes of not food. Not that the creature could describe the world, or its abilities in these terms, it couldn’t describe anything, but the creature used its myriad senses to navigate a complex, shifting environment few humans could conceive, and far too many were destroying. On this night, though, this sensitive tuning fork of a creature had fed, so it curled up and settled: a concealed ball of animate blankness in a deeper bed of dark moss close to its cave.
Sated, this animal, this remnant from a different age, vocalised inarticulately in the night, uncomprehending of the feast of human electro-chemical brain activity we might call thoughts that sustained it. Such food sourced from human thinking had kept its kind safe for eons, and tonight, provided a kind of contentment during this survivor’s solitary, singular, secret life.
Rebecca Dempsey’s recent works have been published in Ligeia Magazine, Schuylkill Valley Journal Online, and beyond.
Rebecca grew up in rural South Australia and now lives in Melbourne. She can be found online at WritingBec.com.