Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Beast

(The Beast - The Only Ones)

As he picked his way down the hillside, the rain started again. The patches of bare rock were already wet, and his boots skidded and slipped, so he held out his arms a little, like a tightrope-walker, trying to keep his balance. There were miles to go before he reached the camping barn, and he hadn't seen another human being for two hours. A fall would be a very bad idea.

He passed a gathering of four Herdwicks, who contemplated him as they chewed. He stopped for a moment, and said baa to them, as he always did when no-one was around to see him. They said nothing back, just chewed some more, and he was about to turn and walk on when as one the sheep leapt away and off up the hill.

"Be like that then," he said and turned back to the path, and that was when he saw it. About twenty yards away was a scattering of boulders, and it sat on the highest one, looking at him.

He stood and looked back at it, the shock turning into a mixture of fear and wonder. The cat was the size of a large dog, and jet black, the rain beading glossy on its coat. 

"What the hell are you?" he said, and he hadn't realised that he had said it out loud until the cat lowered its wedge of a head at the sound and stared at him some more. Puma or a leopard,he thought, and he couldn't quite remember if either of those went for people, but he suspected that they did. It didn't show any interest in getting closer though, just sat on its rock, looking at him.

Very slowly, he reached to his side and pulled his camera from the case. Don't go now, he thought. Not now. It stayed where it was, and he brought the camera up, zoomed in, focused, took one shot, worried that he was trembling and it would have blurred, went to take another, and it was gone.

He almost dropped the camera, scared that it was streaking up the path towards him, but it was nowhere to be seen. He flicked his camera to display, checked to see if the photo was a disaster. It was clear, sharp, in focus.

He stood there for a moment, leaning over his camera to keep the rain off it. Then he hit the delete button. Are you sure? Yes. The picture was gone. He swallowed, put his camera away and walked on, not breathing until he was past the boulder. Nothing leapt out at him. If he had the photo, he wouldn't be able to resist showing it to people, and if he showed it to people they would talk to other people and  that meant newspapers sending photographers in helicopters, and landowners sending men with shotguns. He closed his eyes for a moment, and could see it, as vivid as the photo. He opened them again and walked on.

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