Todd could barely feel the frame of the sled, his hands, encapsulated by four layers of gloves and mittens were distant and cold like the hands of another being, not belonging to him at all. His eyes encased by goggles peered out from the fur trimmed snorkel hood, with peripheral vision he was aware that the fine fur hair, once pliable and soft had hardened with the sweep of sub zero air. His feet bound on snow shoes were heavy and sore, every step an effort of will to follow the snow covered load that the dog team, barely visible in the swirling storm, were dragging eagerly over this white out wilderness.
Todd was not cut out for this, he listened intently for the words that would free him from this icy hell, perhaps he had gone too far, perhaps he had missed the call, what if he couldn’t hear the words, clad as he was in balaclava and hood. He felt the early onset of panic, his breathing, already laboured, began to race uncontrollably. What if they lost him in this god forsaken wilderness, his thoughts abandoned rationality, he looked anxiously around, as he turned his head the pressure of the driving wind pushed the hood over one eye, the monocular vision only emphasised his own vulnerability.
“And CUT!” Todd heard the words scythe through the frozen air, with relief he waited for the Inuit crew to leap expertly from their angry, screaming skidoos and take control of the still moving dog sled.
“Conditions are worsening Todd” Peter the director yelled in the direction of Todd’s ears, hidden and muffled by layers of thermal fabric. Todd simply nodded in reply, his lips encrusted with the crystallised frost of his own saliva. He walked stiffly to the sanctuary of the snow cat which had pulled over near to where he stood the caterpillar tracks clanked with a shudder as the machine came to halt. A rear door swung open “Jump in old bean!” shrieked a voice from within the carriage. Todd looked upwards and saw Richard’s elderly features framed by a brightly coloured Peruvian hat, the long side tassels swung wildly in the maddening gale. The interior light of the cabin was warm and inviting; Todd released his snow shoes and leapt eagerly into the womb like interior of the vehicle.
“Christ it’s hellish out there, ain’t it just?” Richard was now recumbent in one of the 6 leather clad seats that seemed overly ostentatious in the otherwise workmanlike interior of the snow cat. A cut glass tumbler of amber fluid nestled in Richard’s mittened fingers. “Care for a nip old boy?”
Todd shook his head negatively, he recalled the last time he’d sipped a wee dram through lips that had been mildly fissured by the freezing winds.
“Don’t know why you don’t insist on a stunt double for this kind of work, seems like pure bloody torture to me!”
Todd rubbed his fingers through the thickness of his shoulder length hair and itched out the restrictions of the balaclava. He studied the old man’s face that smiled benignly upon his own weather beaten complexion. Todd could feel blood returning rapidly to the finer capillaries of his cheeks. He considered Richard’s last question and nodded gently in agreement. The truth was he didn’t know why he insisted on doing all the location work either, perhaps he didn’t want to get a reputation for being too “precious”. He could already see the nadir of his career forming on the not too distant horizon, perhaps he had already passed it as offers of film work had become increasingly scarce. He had comforted himself that fewer films were being made in this age of austerity but couldn’t hide the god awful truth that he was slowly but surely developing into the saddening creature that gazed wistfully at him from the other side of the truck.
Todd unzipped the first layer of his clothing and slumped heavily back into the cold black leather, he looked out the side window at the white nothingness that surrounded them and decided that this was a suitable metaphor for his future.
Back at the mobile base camp, Todd’s spirits revived amongst the camaraderie of the cast and crew, he ate a hearty meal of imported produce whilst attempting conversation with the Inuit on how their race survived the hostility of their homeland. They smiled agreeably at Todd but said nothing. The absence of comment seemed to Todd to be oddly patronising, it was if they had already decided that even if they did explain how they lived, it would be inconceivable that anyone from the cosseted world of shopping malls would understand the true nature of their life. Todd retired early to his quarters, briefly touching the photo of his son Max, before sinking into warm unconsciousness.
At 2.16am Todd opened his eyes and saw the time glaring at him from the liquid crystal display by his bed, the colon between the blood red letters pulsed like a heartbeat. He wondered what it was that had brought him back from the comfort of the sonorous world and then he heard it again but this time he was conscious, a sound had woken him, a sound of anguish and despair. He sat up from his bed and listened hard, there it was again, it sounded like the call of a child, a wretched child in pain screeching for help. Todd leapt from his bed and pulled on the heavy woollen coat that was hanging from the back of the door. He pushed his feet into the striped trainers that were abandoned in the corner of the small room and sped down the corridor to the kitchen, even here in the transported comfort of his home the snapping cold of the wilderness surrounded him. He looked out of a small porthole window translucent with ice but he could see nothing. The noise came again, louder this time, Todd span around in disbelief that he alone had heard the terrible cries. He pulled on his thermal trousers and overcoat and thrust feet into the sodden snow boots that lay by the outer door. He left the security of the living area and entered the exterior passage that surrounded the building, it was much colder in here and the howl of the wind battered the corrugated walls, but beyond all the noise he could still hear the painful screech. Without full protection he opened the final exterior door and the rush of the arctic night enveloped the space. His breath was drawn from him as he made his way onto freshly packed snow and there, unmistakably under the flood light triggered by the movement of his body; he saw the freshly placed footprints of a child.
Todd crouched and traced a naked finger around the small human imprint, the swirling wind swept the top layer of fine snow and within a few seconds the previously well defined outline was blurred and fading. As Todd watched the footprint transform into a shapeless soft impression he realised how close the child must be to the station. He ran back towards the doors and picked up one of the hi- power torches recharging on the inner wall. He clicked the torch on, shook it a couple of times, then rushed outside once more. He turned to his right and illuminated the densely packed snow wall that acted as windbreak. He climbed the wall and flashed the snow covered landscape with the torch beam. He saw the small dome shaped snow houses of the Inuit grouped to his left; they looked like uniform round pustules swelling from this perfectly flat land of ice and snow. Todd was awestruck by the simple majesty of the setting, he turned off the torch and allowed the reflection of luminescent moon to reflect once more, away from the flat snowy wastes and up into the inky blue infinity above. Todd craned his head backwards and scanned the eternal darkness, he marvelled at the star studded ceiling, he reached out his mittened hand as though he might be able to touch the celestial display. His hood fell back from his head, the ice laden wind bit hard into his face. He ignored the pain and continued to gaze at the heavens oblivious to the danger as his face flesh began to freeze. Todd felt oddly at peace with the universe, his thoughts once crowded with the demons of an unforgiving world, were now devoid of all anxiety. He revelled in the blissfulness of this extremity and after a few minutes exposure to the rawness of an arctic night pledged his soul, unreservedly, to the stars. His body slumped back into the snow wall and began the slow descent to death. He felt no pain just the acceptance that all of time was coming to its inevitable conclusion. Fading faint images of his life swept through his mind like autumn leaves scattering through a park. He could see Max laughing by the snowman, the curl of his smile matching the openly loving gaze of his Mother who stood by him. But just then, as Todd’s failing consciousness was almost out of reach, the plaintive wail of human distress returned Todd to the frozen land of the living. The heart rending screech sunk deep into his soul, Todd scrambled to his feet and stumbled back down the snow wall towards the sanctuary of the living quarters. He stumbled through the exterior door, the mind numbing cold was biting into his senses, the bursting adrenalin that had launched him into the night had expired, and he suddenly felt the aching of limbs restored with the warmth of his own blood. He felt dizzy and nauseous, he slumped on a bench, his head drooped between his knees, and he retched the bitter night air from his lungs and then passed out.
“Todd..Todd” the voice echoed around the corrugated walls of the corridor
“Todd are you ok?” Peter’s voice came to Todd in dream like reverberations
Todd opened his eyes and felt a hand supporting his back as he raised himself from the floor.
“What the hell” Peter exclaimed “what the hell were you doing Todd?”
Todd waited for his lungs to fully inflate and rubbed his throat he grimaced as he tried to speak the muscles in his face anesthetised by cold.
“Scream” he croaked “ A child screamed”
Peter saw the fear in Todd’s eyes “Jesus, Todd..a child? ... what out there?”
Todd nodded stiffly.
By now the almost the entire crew had awaken ,only Richard was absent, they gathered around their prostrate movie star in varying degrees of undress and with varying degrees of concern etched on their faces. They helped Todd back to his feet, Jamie the co-ordinator come medic began the task of assessing Todd’s facial injuries “Don’t bring him inside just yet” “I think it’s best to let his face warm up slowly” she rubbed the back of Todd’s bare hand “ Let’s get the blood circulating again” “Help me rub his body”.Six members of the crew set to stripping off the outer garments and rubbed Todd’s immobile body.
Todd was slowly gaining body heat as Peter burst through into the corridor “ Christ Jamie, come quick.” “It’s Richard..I think he’s dead”.
“Has the post arrived?” As he asked the question he curled a freshly towelled forearm around her waist. She felt his arm coil and settle gently on an upper ridge of overhanging midriff.
“Don’t know” she said. She didn’t look up from the kitchen sink, she continued circulating the remnants of last night’s party in the plastic bowl. She gazed blankly into the foamy mass as the unusually fragrant aroma of detergent rose and enlivened her senses. She looked up and tried to read the label of the purple plastic bottle placed on the window sill. “Fruits of the Forest” it said “an invigorating blend of natural herbs and extract” it said,
“Shit, its shower gel!” she said.
He laughed loudly and peered madly over her shoulder “Silly mare!” he said
He walked out of the kitchen passed the disorderly heap of soiled crockery and grease stained glasses. The unappealing odour of last night’s party lingered in the hallway, an unfinished can of lager tucked neatly by the banister rods of a mid step on the carpetless stairs.
He bent down and collected a hand addressed white envelope from the floor.
He focussed on the handwriting and puzzled, he held up the envelope to the translucent glass panel of the doorway. The dinginess of the house was harshly emphasised in the bright clean light that instantly warmed the small entrance. He blinked but was unable to see the contents of the envelope. He folded the envelope in half and quickly pushed it into the back pocket of his jeans.
As he turned he collected the opened can of lager from the stair. He peered into the keyhole shaped gap and swirled the fluid around the wafer thin metallic wall, he briefly watched the golden liquid’s temporary effervescence before swiftly despatching it down his dry throat. He belched loudly.
“Was there anything?” she said
“No..nothing” he said
He passed by her at the kitchen sink.
She lifted an assorted pile of plates and cutlery and with both hands dumped them into the discolouring sud free water. She quickly wiped each plate with the dishcloth before stacking them haphazardly on the draining board, she felt the front of her nightdress dampen then stick coolly to her stomach. Her thoughts were muddled and fleeting .She tried to remember all of the events of the previous evening but it was proving difficult to recall.
“What time did Sophie and Steve go?”
“Dunno” he said, then looked up from the impossibly tanned smiles that glowed from a glossy front page on the kitchen table
“Who the hell’s Sophie and Steve?”
“You know, they came with Trish and Ang”
“Oh yes that’s right, Steve’s a gooner”
“My god, is that the only way you remember people, by the football team they support?”
“Pretty much, yeah”
She shook her head gently and re-seated cerise coloured rims with the back of her right hand.
“I’m off to the loo” he said
“Too much information” she said
H e stomped heavily up the wooden stairs, the stair carpet was yet another thing they’d promised themselves but had reneged on in favour of two weeks in Florida. He went in the bathroom and drew the short brass bolt across the door. He pulled the white envelope from his back pocket ,lowered the lid on the toilet seat and sat down. He looked closely at the seal at the back of the envelope and began gently picking at the slightly curling raised edge with a fingernail. It was a licked down seal he cursed quietly under his breath. He gave up trying to unpick it and folded it back into his pocket.
She’d finished the washing up and was coming back up the stairs as he passed her going down,
“Here you are” he said as he passed the folded envelope to her
“I thought you said there wasn’t any mail”
“Did I?” he said and continued down the stairs
She watched him retreat and then looked at the envelope, she recognised the writing and smiled spontaneously as she pictured the author’s face.
Levon (Inspired by a song of the same name by Elton John)
Levon was born on Christmas day 1939, When Levon was just 4 years old his father, Alvin ,died. Alvin lost his life on a beach on the coast of Normandy, he was one of the first soldiers to leap from the landing craft that lowered it’s gate in dangerously deep water. Levon would imagine how his Father died. Helplessly sinking below the waves weighed down with his own pack, with no shots fired, Levon thought it must have been a peaceful end.
When he was old enough Levon joined the army, it was the best thing he could do to be near his Father he considered, but fate sometimes plays a cruel hand and Levon’s first experience of battle was to prove as futile his Father’s. Shrapnel from an exploding mine almost removed the top of Levon’s head within hours of landing in the lush forest of Vietnam. Levon was unconscious for 32 days during which time the field hospital reconstructed to the best of their ability the scalp of straw like hair that flapped loosely over Levon’s skull. When he came round Levon had changed, apart from total amnesia, Levon’s view of the world had been altered, he no longer spoke the same language, his eyes scanned the beds in a ward sheltered with canvas. He recognised none of the body shapes he looked at his own body with amazement and spent hours running his fingers around his face arms and legs it was as though he couldn’t believe that he was human. The orderlies watched Levon with concern, he was recovered physically but mentally he was dangerously unstable. They asked him questions but he would only answer in short staccato bursts of tongue clicks. The Chief medic viewed him once a week to see if either his condition returned to a state of normality naturally or whether more rigorous treatment would be needed. Levon was a convincing delusional patient but no one really doubted he was play acting to ensure his rapid return to the USA. As for Levon he felt trapped in a body and with other beings that although amusing and novel were not his kin. The weeks went by and Levon persistently passed every attempt the medical team made to unveil his masquerade. They tried to catch him off guard by every means possible to uncover his deception, they even hired one of the local whores to slip into his bed one night and then watched his reaction through the slim crack of a curtain, but Levon merely explored her body as he did his own with fascination but without passion. Finally the Military Medics decided that repatriation was the only option and Levon was shipped out on the next flight back home. Still wary of Levon and his strange condition the military kept him in an isolation unit for observation. Months passed and still Levon maintained a detached view of his own existence. He watched television voraciously scouring every channel for evidence of his own people, but he found none. He would walk outside in a garden bordered by chain link fencing topped with looped coils of razor wire. He sat and watched the sun move across the sky. He saw the lengthening shadow of a tree fall to his feet and he mentally calculated the distance from the earth to the sun to within a centimetre.
As stimulation the orderlies brought him craft equipment, he made intricate patterns in paper geometrically perfect designs that he drew without measurement. He painted cartoon faces on ballons and watched them fly over the high wire fence. He constructed a working model of a machine so intricate in design that the staff were completely baffled as to it’s purpose. They asked Levon , but Levon could not show them what it was he could only remember how to make it.
Then one day a small elderly man in a light brown coat came to see Levon, Levon smiled at the man’s watch that had the cartoon character from the TV on the face of the watch. The old man helped Levon collect his balloons and his drawings and then drove him in a large silver car through the Nevada desert. They entered through a large opening into a concrete wall and that was the last time Levon had the chance to calculate the relative position of Venus in the pure black night sky.
“Christ it’s bloody freezing!” Woody Jones crossed his long gangly arms and slapped his biceps with the oversize green goalkeeper gloves that, miraculously, remained attached to his ice cold hands.
“Aye it is, innit” replied the old man who stood by the Woody’s left goal post “What’s the score Son?”
“One nil to them “ answered Woody
The Old man rearranged the muffler around his throat and eased the peak of his cap downwards, tightening the grip on his greying head “I used to play on this pitch”
Woody kept his eye on the game which appeared to be marooned in the other half of the pitch. The strong wind was blowing straight into the opposing goalkeeper’s face, his team mates were struggling to make any headway out of their own penalty box. Woody smiled to himself “See how they like it” he thought as he remembered the first half of the game when he’d been bombarded incessantly with the wind and the ball. He thought he’d done well to keep the score to a single goal conceded.
“Sorry mate what did you say?” Woody shouted, his baggy shorts fluttering like pennants.
“I said I used to play on this pitch” The Old man replied
“Oh “ nodded Woody with disinterest
“Centre half I was , played 712 games for the borough” “How many games have you played?” a dewdrop appeared at the end of the old man’s nose it shimmered in the cold wind before it gained the critical mass required to drip onto the lapel of the old man’s grey coat, it left a dark circular patch in the fabric.
Woody thought while he watched the ensuing fruitless battle being staged at the far end of the pitch. “Oh I don’t know, about 170 I suppose” .Woody thought back to last year’s club dinner he’d been given a trophy for playing 150 games , he remembered how unexpectedly proud he’d felt on the night of the presentation. Goalies very rarely got recognised for playing well, maybe the odd man of the match award, but it would be a bad sign for the outfield players if a goalie was awarded player of the year. All the glory is in scoring goals not saving them, the best a goalie can hope for is a trophy for just turning up.
“Aye we had some great games on this pitch” “We won consecutive promotions before the war”
Woody’s eyes were staring ahead blankly, after a few seconds his brow dipped into a gentle furrow “Before the war?”
“Aye” replied the old man “Put paid to football for a bit, I reckon I’d have played a 1,000 games if not for that” Woody’s interest was just beginning to blossom when he heard cheers of success form the far end of the pitch, then saw Brian, the centre forward ,collect the white and black football from out of the back of the opposing goal net. “Yesssss!” shouted Woody, clapping his big gloved hands together in a silent expression of delight and encouragement. “Well done lads!, let’s have another!”
The Old man stood quietly on the touchline his polished dark brown boots met the lime stained grass but didn’t venture over. Woody ran forwards from his goal mouth and shouted more encouragement to his team as they reformed like the chess pieces at the start of a new game.
Woody walked backward to his goal not taking his eyes of the action as the opposition kicked off the restart. He thought about the old man’s last comment, “ 1000 games, that would have been some achievement” he said ,he could see the old man was still there from the corner of his eye, but there was no reply. Woody continued slapping his arms to keep warm, he thought about what the old man had said and began to wonder how many years he must have played for.
“Crikey you must have played for like... 40 years “
“45 years” the old man’s steady voice carried on the wind and Woody shook his head in astonishment. “So if it hadn’t been for the war you’d have played for over 50 years?, wow “ Woody’s voice oozed admiration.
“55 years” replied the old man, Woody’s brow furrowed again “but the war only lasted for 6 years”
“The second lot was 6 years, the first lot was 4”
For the first time in their encounter Woody turned to face the old man “Bloody Hell mate , how old are you?
“94 in September”
Woody studied the slight figure by the goalpost, he could see the old man’s eyes glisten behind heavy rimmed glasses. The old man raised a gnarled hand and adjusted the glasses up his nose.
“You wouldn’t think I used to be a tall as you would you?” he smiled with his eyes as he spoke “You’d better keep your eyes on the game lad” and nodded towards the playing area Woody turned around to see the white shirted opposition attacking fiercely on the left flank. Woody flapped his big gloved hands and screamed abuse at the defenders who seemed incapable of stopping the oncoming white attackers. Before Woody knew what was happening their left winger launched a perfectly weighted cross that hovered invitingly over Woody’s penalty spot. Woody didn’t see him but he sensed the presence of the opposing centre forward, the ball spun and floated high above his head, he leapt upwards to catch the ball but a gust deflected it’s flight away from his large outstretched gloves. Woody began to descend as if in slow motion and he watched the ball drift out of his reach and towards the welcoming head of the centre forward. Thud, the flying forehead struck the ball with so much force Woody could only watch as a flash of white and black span effortlessly passed his outstretched mitt towards the open goal. Woody fell backwards, his eyes followed the trajectory of the leather clad missile, Woody waited for cheers of triumph from the enemy, but none came , instead a sound like a balloon slowly deflating, a moan of anguish . White shirts looked on in horror as the ball swerved violently at the last second and dipped to the left of the upright just missing the old man’s head by a fraction. The old man turned on his heels and began to trot towards the ball that was now stationary resting harmlessly 20 yards behind Woody’s goal.
The old man dribbled the ball expertly towards Woody, his brown boots caressing the ball just far enough ahead for him to keep control, as he trotted the ball back towards Woody he felt the warmth of old memories filling his mind. He thought of the continuity of his life, to run headlong on the football pitch was much like running headlong on the battle field. His breath grew harder as he ran, his vision blurred as the heavy rimmed glasses slid down his nose , his legs began to buckle and just before he made to stroke the ball back to Woody he slipped sideways missing the ball and falling in a heap by the touchline. He laid on his back , his glasses were now perched over his mouth , his heavy breathing steamed over the inside of the lens, his eyes gazed upwards and he watched rapidly racing grey clouds chase over the white winter sky.
“You daft old bugger” yelled Woody “What do you think you’re playing at?”
The old man saw Woody’s contorted face in the corner of his eye, oddly it reminded him of an old friend he once had , a fellow soldier who had screamed at him silently when a shell had burst star -like over his head, all those years ago. Woody put his large green gloves at the back of the old man’s head and supported him then gently picked the glasses off his face.
“Are you alright?” Woody urged the old man to answer “Are you ok?
The old man felt some pain in his leg “I think I’ve pulled a muscle”
“Pulled a muscle, you silly old sod!” Woody looked down at this ancient man and didn’t know if he would laugh or cry, in the end he did something close to both.
Woody gently eased the old man to his feet, by now both teams had surrounded the two men, relief spread in upturned grins as they saw the old man regain his feet. Woody replaced the old man’s glasses and the white shirted centre forward patted the old man’s cap back on the top of his head.
“Next time I’ll fetch the ball... ok?” said Woody
“Aye alright lad, but I think I’ve had enough football for today” replied the Old man “My Grandaughter’ll be here soon” “You won’t tell her I fell over, will you?”
Woody looked at the long smear of brown mud down the old man’s coat, short tufts of grass were imbedded into the cloth. “I think’ll she guess” as he pointed to the stain.
The old man looked down and then reappeared with a large grin “Thanks for your help anyway, hope you win”
Woody picked up the ball and followed the players back to the pitch “Winning’s not everything” he shouted back to the old man “No you’re right” said the old man” It’s not the winning it’s the taking part “
An evening meal
The chaffinch family swelled that spring, the spring that followed the coldest winter for years. These tiny birds soared between the new and unruly stems of the hawthorn hedge, flitting from one thin stalk to another with an intense burst of wing power. The birds flew with us as we cycled along the ancient roadway high in the Lincolnshire wolds. Viewing our intrusion with a tilt of their inquisitive heads these diminutive lives seem threatened by our silent presence. We cycled by the chaffinches oblivious to the 4 small light blue eggs that lay securely in the tight weave of salvaged threads that made up their nest. We passed by in fleeting seconds of mystery like shooting stars in a night sky. The day was bright and benign, it carried warm sunshine and comforting blue skies, dotted with plumes of light cumulus clouds that made slow westerly progress. It felt good to be here to be sharing in the beauty of the natural world. We hadn’t seen the faint paw like impression cast in the freshly scattered excavations of a badger, but if we had seen the strange print would we have guessed that it could belong to a legendary creature that stalks the isolated world of the Lincolnshire wolds? It would take some imagination to picture the scene 12 hours earlier when the night, as dark as wet soot, became the backdrop to drama in the wild world.
At night hunters prowl and now we can see the stealthiest hunter of them all make silent passage along the hedgerows and lanes hidden by the absence of sunlight. It’s breathing, steady and regular, unhurried by the exertions of the search for food. Occasionally a low growl bursts free as the creature exhales and a small cloud of warm bodied air condenses in the stillness of a cold night.
A glossy blackness covers the harsh tarmac road, reflecting what little light there is, it eerily echoes the flash of the creatures yellow centred eyes as it swiftly crosses over.
A badger senses the presence of danger and raises it’s snout from the undergrowth, ceasing the powerful clawing of its front legs. The eyes of the badger follow the shadow that moves fluidly along the lower ridge of the wide grass verge. The badger’s strong muzzle twitches, lips curl then tighten, exposing bright white teeth against pinkish flesh. As the shadow looms closer, the twin white stripes of the badgers head form an arrow head and plunge into the wide opening of the burrow. Freshly scrabbled soil is spewed backwards in torrents as the badger quickly seals the entry to its lair.
From the corner of a small wood, further along the road, a stoat makes a snake like movement and shoots into the hedgerow on the other side. Its pale fur barely visible in the diminished light, the black tip of its tail invisible as it clambers upwards through the tangled belly of the blackthorn hedge. It pauses as its sensitive nose detects the oncoming threat of death. Its search for the nest bound promise of food is interrupted. The slightness of the stoat is hidden within a densely packed brush of thorny branches, it waits and watches as the black death pads nearby. It sees the sleek coated creature pause and slowly raise its head, perfectly proportioned ears prick up, the expression curiously uninterested, almost blank, chillingly blank.
The stoat looks above and sees a carefully wound bowl of twigs almost within reach, it senses food but remains locked onto the thick branch of blackthorn, it’s eyes fixed onto the pulsating animal that stands in wait by the hedgerow. The creature’s long tail swings slowly side to side the tip twists slightly, it is the only evidence of movement as the animal absorbs the surrounding air. The creature then lowers its head and settles down on its muscular haunches, the stoat looks on as wisps of steam drift away from the hunter’s dense oily black fur.
The stoat begins to move upwards to its prey slowly , silently it negotiates around the twists and turns of the massed branches, until it is within reach of the nest .It curls it’s tube like body around the edge of the last supporting branch, it’s pointed sharp features begin to appear level with the mouth of the nest. From the resting creature below comes a low growl and although the stoat hears the noise, it continues its progress driven by the hunger for food. The creature lifts up from the grass effortlessly and casts a glance at the hedgerow before its powerful muscles carry it swiftly and silently away. A single paw print cast into freshly dug soil is all that remains. The stoat threads it’s body quickly over the ridge of the nest, the jaw extends to grasp the nearest egg but in the dark and watery light it takes a second for the stoat to realise the larder is empty, the nest is abandoned it must look elsewhere in this dangerous world for its evening meal.
As dawn breaks the day open, taut strands of sunlight strike the underside of leaves that quiver almost unseen with the vigour of renewal.
Reflected in the all engulfing glow of light, small creatures rustle in the covering of death and decay, the residue of winter. Warmed by radiating heat the earth exhales then pulses alive to the fresh rhythms of spring. Through closely packed trees you see the brightness of a mirrored lake which illuminates the rust coloured bracken that hangs over stone still water. You look behind you over your shoulder as a roe deer ventures out of invisibility to nestle it’s inquisitive snout in the teeming realms of undergrowth. You stand still, as still as your beating heart will allow, and breathe steadily as the odour of humanity wafts towards the animal’s acute senses. It knows you are nearby and raises it’s head and angles its ears like antenna, it flicks it’s eyelids then shakes it’s head to rid it’s downy ears of settling flying insects. The enemy is near. You slowly turn your body to face the deer and the smallest twig of a fallen branch snaps as you turn, a sharp click like a cocked pistol resounds through the wood. The deer bolts and is gone within a second of the sound. You carry the invisible cloak of a killer even though you mean no harm. You silently curse the acceptance of your fate like the innocent partner of a condemned man. As you walk the wild woods in spring, eons of prehistory walk before you, man the predator brought you here right now to this spot and somewhere deep inside you the hunter licks his lips.
Here is a poem that James wrote recently inspired by the double standards we apply to the animal kingdom.
Great Crested Newt, Oh Great Crested Newt,
You’re slippery and slimy though some say you’re cute.
Protected by lawyers who wear wig and gown,
For Newt habitat can’t become a New town.
Your lives are so precious, I’m happy we care,
For innocent creatures in a world we all share.
But what selfish criteria we happily select,
When dividing the creatures we choose to protect.
There are lives that are wild we try to conserve,
Where some lives we tame, our purpose to serve.
And some that we keep, well they’re like one of us,
We pamper and preen and take on the bus.
But those we enslave are the lowest of low,
We use all their bodies, the young and the old.
We take all their eggs, we put them in pies,
We drain all their milk and tan all their hides.
So Great Crested Newt, oh Great Crested Newt,
Stay slippery and slimy, stay close to your roots.
For isn’t it odd and a little bit awful,
If we saw you as meat, your deaths would be lawful.