© Copyright 2018 by Odelia Chan
Hunger tears through me, as painful as the jagged gash on my leg. I can barely lift my head an inch above the gritty forsaken ground. Something pants ahead: I know what it is.
It is a dog gone wild.
We are fellow sufferers. Enemies.
When I die, he would eat me. If he perishes first, I return the favor.
I strain, skin scraping on knife-sharp pebbles, and stare into orbs of pain. They stare back, unflinching. Food infiltrates our mind, blocking out everything else.
We dare not look away.
Why does he not kill me? For the same reason I do not kill him. We are mere skeletons, shadows of what we were before. Before the rain, the frozen night, the broiling sun. Before loneliness, and the wind, the cry of death so near, so frightening. The dark angel hovers over us.
I vow not to be another check-mark in his bottomless ledger.
I unglue myself from the forest floor, the groan too feeble to be heard. I stagger, grasping at faraway trees for support, slamming into the ground. I get up, my furred shadow at my heels, waiting for me to give up.
I cannot. Neither can him.
We stumble into the unknown.
The sound of gurgling, my baby’s laughter, comes through the haze in my brain. I grope at the trees, whispering Ruthie’s name. She does not come to me even though she sees me, and I see her. I beg her, dry tears burning my eyes. I kneel in supplication... she disappears, fading like the mist before the sun. I cry after her, threatening, beseeching her to stay. I have not seen another human face since eternity until she came out of the blue.
She is gone. I am alone, for once without the ever-present carcase behind me slinking, watching for that stumble, the fatal fall that signals the realizations of his hunger’s fantasies. Old Gray is gone. Ruthie’s gone.
Once again, around me are the dead and dying of the cathedral of nature.
I fall. I am one of them.
Water surrounds my head, my shoulders, swirling without reason. I gulp it in. Is the water poisoned? I do not care. The coolness over my scorched throat is heaven. What is it to die? I do not know what it is to live.
I come up, panting. The gray drab of once-luxurious fur was beside me, prolonging its dreadful existence at the fountain of life. Weary, I fall backwards onto the shore. My eyes closed, my breathing shallowed.
And there was nothing in front of me: no open sky, no dead branches, and no half-crazed dog eyeing my every move.
I accept my predicament.
Spears of light slant into the half-closed orbs I call my eyes, simultaneously drying the caked blood on my leg, warming my bare body. I blink, and shake myself awake. If I do not find food today, I will die. So would the Old Gray: one look into the bloodshot eyes, empty and dull, and the truth is clear.
There is no hope for us.
I crawl away from the hollow in the ground, away from the rivulet. I force my eyes to focus on the boulders ahead of me, knowing that the trip would produce agony, disappointment.
What lay beyond?
I crawl, hand by hand, haltingly because of the bad leg. I lost track of time: I only knew that the sun had grown hotter and more unbearable, an oven warming up to roast a turkey. My knees and heels of my hands are raw: I know because I look at them. They have no feeling. It is as if my mind was on vacation, leaving my battered body, giving me a break from the hell I was suffering before.
Disconnected thoughts traverse my mind, irrational, gloomy, and depressing. I could not think straight: I do not want to. What use was there to think, to live?
I reach the boulder, but I do not comprehend it. I press on, passing it, until sheer necessity halted me. My jaw, tight with exertion, slackened and dropped in surprise and terror. I moved back wards until I leaned against the other side of the boulder.
There is nothing beyond where I am now. Nothing but empty space. It is a dead end. A cliff to kill myself hurtling down a chasm so deep and far I could not see the bottom. Death is at my side, goading me on. I reel from the thought—a simple pill to end all my troubles.
I remember my vow, and crawl away.
I see its tail in the shadow of the rock, feeling the ripple in the water above it. A fish the size of my thumb... a fish nonetheless. I plunge my hand into the frigidness and felt the creature tremble in my grasp… then a twist, a slip, and he was free.
I slam my head on the ground. Life was so near. Would it be like this forever?
Another tail is swishing, so gently I strain to make out its precise location. It is within reach. I will act fast this time. My hand shoots into the water. The mud rises, the clean water turning dark. I cannot see if the fish has escaped. But something squirms in my hand. I back grip tightly, and throw it onto the shore beside me.
It is a small fish. It tempts those who have not eaten for centuries to fight for it, fighting to survive.
I stun the fish with a rock, and bite into the warm flesh. In a minute, the fish would be gone. I will live. Old gray would die. I hear him, charging toward me, and intent on the scent of blood.
There is not enough for both of us. Yet both of us are starving. Without the food, both of us would die.
It was a question of which.
I tear the fish in half.
Chan has been writing for roughly two years, working as a college
student fulltime and squeezing in daily minutes to work on her first
novel, a submarine/political thriller. She loves to snuggle up with a
hot cup of herbal tea and great book in hand. She has dreamt of being a
published author ever since she first learned to write in pre-school.