By Tim Wilkinson
It’s the light that they fear most, that and the fire. I can hear them even now, circling, waiting, crouching in the darkness beyond the light, scratching and sniffing as they do, eager and hungry, hunting… for me. But I’ll not sleep tonight. No, I’ll not give them the chance. I have a good stack of wood, a blazing fire – and I feed it well.
We had no weapons, you see, I and the … others, only the fire. It was I that tore the limbs from the trees, ground the points on the rocks and used the fire to sharpen and hone their tips. For it was I and only I that knew they were out there; only I who heard them and believed.
You see, we lost everything in the river that third day out, the four of us. Don, well, we never saw him again, not after watching him get sucked into the swirling hole when the boat capsized. Jack and Carl, they made it to the shore okay. I, they found floating, unconscious and bleeding, my head slammed against the rocks. They thought me dead, and I well could have been, falling in and out of delirium and coma, my skull fractured, my brain swelling and bloody. Yet, as you can see, I recovered.
Two weeks we sat here, waiting, hoping someone would come along and find us, starving and cold. Yet no one came. No one missed us. No one knew. That’s when I began to hear them, each night drawing nearer and closer to the fire, testing, probing; each night growing ever more bold and fearless. Of course, they could see that we were helpless, and they only had to wait as each day we grew weaker, thinner, easier prey.
No, Jack and Carl, they did not believe, they did not fear, and what did it get them? I tried to warn them, get them to understand and to huddle by the fire, to stay together and safe. Yet they would not listen, they would not see nor believe.
Well, I am alone now. The others? Well, they’re all gone. I told them that they were out there, just beyond the light, lusting and hungry. But they would not listen, they would not fear.
Fear can be a good thing, when one is being stalked. It can sharpen one’s senses, clear one’s mind and focus one’s attention. That’s what it has done for me. That’s why I could hear them creeping in the clutter and the leaves, see them dancing in the shadows at the edge of the light. That’s why I’ve survived.
Jack and Carl, they had no fear. They didn’t fear the darkness or the sounds in the woods. They didn’t understand or accept. They are all dead now, those without fear, those who failed to believe.
The night is yet young and there are many hours before the sun once again kisses my face and allows me the blessing of peaceful sleep. For now I must watch, feed my fire, and listen. And I do. I listen as I clean the blood from the tips of my spears, letting the fire cleanse and sharpen their points, points dulled by harsh collision with tissue, muscle, and bone.
Carl was the last. He died last night. He walked off in the morning leaving me all alone, alone to work, to get ready for the night. He went searching for food. How foolish. What good is food to a dead man? I tried to tell him, yet he would not listen.
While he was gone, I set my trap, digging a pit at the edge of the trees in the shadows and darkness where the light does not reach. I lined its bottom with sharpened spikes, spikes I hardened in the fire. Then I covered it with limbs and branches and hid the lot with sand and leaves. Then I waited, waited for the darkness and for them to return.
I can see, even from here, that my efforts were not in vain. My trap worked well. The branches and leaves are gone, fallen into the pit with … with one of them. They thought they could fool and trick me, but I got them instead. Yes, I got them, and I rest a bit easier today knowing that if only one, one of them is gone, pierced and gutted by my ad-hoc bungee stakes at the bottom of the pit.
Carl screamed for hours, begging for my help, expecting me to leave the safety of the fire and the light. Then the silence took him. He cursed me, called me a coward and a … killer. But you must understand, there was nothing I could do. I could not leave the fire. How could I? What was I to do? They were waiting, waiting for me to go to his aid, hoping to have us both. But I fooled them. I know their tricks. I am not so easily deceived. No, I stayed put, and by the time the sun returned, I heard nothing more from Carl.
Too bad for them all, I say. Yet, I did warn them, didn’t I? I cannot be blamed for their deaths. I did what I could, what I had to do. I tried. I tried my best but they would not listen, none of them would listen.
Carl called me an animal. Crazy, he said, when he found me eating, saw what I had. But I had to eat, didn’t I? What else could I do? How far could I travel in one day before the dark once again found me, defenseless and vulnerable? That’s what they want me to do. Besides, it’s dark in the forest, full of shadow and shade, and there are so many places to hide out there, to pounce from within the gloomy dim blackness. No, I could not leave this place, the fire and the safety of the light to venture into the dark of the forest. That would be stupid. That would be crazy.
Yes, I am afraid, afraid of what the night may bring. Yet, fear … well, as I said, fear is what keeps me alive. Fear is what saved me. I had to eat, didn’t I?
I reset the trap before sunset came. I had to remove Carl’s body and put it with Jack’s beside the fire. They do things like that, you know, to get me to give in, to give up. But I know better. I know they took their own from the pit and put Carl’s corpse in its place. I’m not stupid. I’m no imbecile.
Nor, I can’t be blamed for Jack’s death. How was I to know he was not one of them, scurrying about in the darkness? Sure, I killed him, drove a spike through his belly. What was I to do? Someone had to make a stand. He should not have left the safety of the light, and the fire. I explained that to Carl. They do things like that; make themselves look like someone else, trick and deceive. Everyone knows that.
Well, none of that matters now. They are gone and I am alive.
It will be dark again soon and they are still out there, watching and hoping. I can hear them scratching in the litter at the base of the trees, circling the fire. You see, it’s the light that they fear most, that and the fire.
Well, thanks to Carl and Jack, I have plenty of food now, and I still have lots of wood to feed the fire. No, I am not going anywhere.
The meat on the spit is almost ready. It smells delicious. Don’t worry. I am sure Carl wouldn’t mind. After all, isn’t that why he left, to find us some food?
Father of two girls, Tim Wilkinson has been writing since the age of twelve.
After spending thirty years working in the telecommunications industry, traveling and writing in between the often conflicting commitments of family, work, home and life in general, he now focuses more time and effort on his most enduring dream – writing.
Recently accepted for publication in ‘The Path’, ‘The Speculative Edge’, Fictitious Magazine,’ ‘The Global Twitter Community Poetry Project’, ‘Ancient Paths’, and ‘Static Movement’, he continues to write and seek new avenues for publication and distribution.