Bloody feet, aching muscles, frozen bones, burning throat, pounding heart. Running through the night, the darkness, the wild woods; barefoot. Running away – away! – a vision of red, a flash of colour in the dark. Gasping, choking, trying desperately to breath. Running through the midnight hours.
A wild thought, racing through my head: Have I escaped? I am safe now?
Then, wearily but with utmost calm; I can’t run another step.
Bending down, panting, black spots swimming through my vision.
In my arms, the warm ball of fur meows, stretching. I bury my face in his soft fur. I hear Chief’s solemn voice: Protect him. His stomach rises and falls slowly, lazily, and I try to calm my breathing to the same pace as his.
I can’t. I can’t stop gasping. I feel like I’m drowning, breathing in water when I’m dying for oxygen. The blackness consumes my sight and for a second I sway.
What’s wrong with me?!
I lean against a tree trunk, my arms still curled around my warm ball of fur. I feel faint, light-headed, dizzy. I need to sit down. I need to rest. I need sleep. I close my eyes, my breath wracking through me, trying to relax.
Voices, calling. Shouting. Men’s voices, angry, hunting. They don’t even try to be quiet. My eyes fly open in shock. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…
Tucking pussy in the crook of one arm, I push away from the tree, grab for another. My feet are raw, bloody, and each step is painful. Got to keep going. I stumble from tree to tree, grabbing hold of them like a drowning man clings to a raft. My only lifeline. The voices are everywhere, deafening loud, gruff and angry. I’m surrounded. Hopelessly surrounded.
I can’t keep going. I can’t escape.
I stop, grab hold of the rough bark. Somehow, knowing that I’m doomed gives me strength. I pull myself up, straighten my back, push back my shoulders. I let go of the tree and stand unaided, gently holding my beautiful cat in my arms. Protect him, Chief says again. I nod in the darkness. Sadly, I tell him: I tried.
Out of the darkness come ghosts, pale figures in the dark, that solidify to become men. They look feral, half wild, but I stand bravely, rooted to the forest floor. I’m aching. My feet are screaming in pain. My breathing is quick and shallow and black dots still swim in and out of sight. But at least I tried.
Image: Brooke Shaden