I thought I had woken up in paradise. I wasn’t sure where I was or how I had ended up there. I had no memories of my past and no idea why I was here, but I didn’t mind. The landscape before me was beautiful. The grass was long and waved calmly in the breeze. The sky above me was a bright clear blue. There were trees there; perfect for firewood and for building a shelter, and the animals in this strange land seemed to be in abundant supply. It was as if I were in a dream. All I had in my possession upon awakening was a rifle with some ammo and the clothes on my back. I didn’t remember owning a gun before, but then again I didn’t remember anything. There was no point in worrying about how I got there though. I was alone in a strange land and finding food and water was of greater priority than wondering why I was there.
After taking a moment to collect my thoughts I began to explore my surroundings. I knew that the first thing to do would be to find a source of water. With all of these animals and vegetation there had to be some water source nearby sustaining them. I began to walk. The sun was directly overhead, so the weather was hot and the trees offered little shade. With the sun at its peak it was difficult to maintain a sense of direction. The terrain was largely made up of large clearings of dirt surrounded by tall grass on all sides. At full height I was able to see above it a little, but it made moving slow and difficult. As I walked I could hear rustling in the grass around me, animals running from me as I passed by them.
I walked for what seemed like hours without finding water. That's when I heard it. It was the sound of an animal breathing in the grass in front of me. The noise wasn't unfamiliar. I heard animals in the grass constantly as I walked. But this breathing was deeper than anything I had heard so far. It must have been big, but that's not what worried me. This one wasn't afraid of me.
I walked closer and closer, the sound of its breathing growing louder. I slowly drew and loaded my rifle. It was hidden in the grass, but I could tell I was almost right on top of it now. I paused staring at the spot where I knew the animal to be. I fired.
I had grown accustomed to the relative quiet of the plain, but after the noise of the gunshot the silence seemed suffocating. The animal's breathing had stopped. I ran a few steps ahead to where I assumed I would find its body, but there was nothing there. Just an area of matted down grass where it had been sitting. Did it run? I hadn't heard any sound of movement. Maybe I had been imagining things. Maybe there was never anything there at all. Telling myself I was scared for no reason, I sighed and moved on.
The incident with the Beast, as I was now referring to it, had put me on edge. Sounds that I wouldn't even have noticed before were making me jump. Part of it was likely the temperature. I was beginning to feel the heat taking its toll on me. My body was pouring sweat, losing what little water it had stored. I stopped at a tree to rest for a moment. The best course of action here I thought would be to climb up it to get a better look at my surroundings. Find out where I could get some water. I reached the first large branch and looked out above the high grass.
I felt my heart drop into my stomach.
The flat landscape allowed me to see for miles and miles, and there was no source of water anywhere in sight. Not only that, but there was also no real change in the flat plain, except for the occasional tree. Seeing how dry the landscape was, somehow made it feel even hotter. I looked up at the sun wishing for relief from the heat.
It was still directly above me. How had I not noticed yet? I couldn’t believe it. I had spent hours walking. The sun should be starting to set by now, but it was still hanging directly overhead beating down on me. It seemed that here the time was always high noon. Impossibly, I felt a chill run down my back. Nothing made sense in this place.
I wasn’t ready to give up yet though. I wanted to survive and beat the odds that were seemingly stacked higher and higher against me. I thought about my situation. I had a gun and this place was filled with animals. Perhaps I could find some moisture in the bodies of the animals. It was pretty clear now that that would be my only chance for survival. After taking a moment to recuperate I started walking again with new conviction. It wasn’t difficult to find game. They were everywhere. I tracked one animal and finally got in range to shoot. I couldn’t tell what I was stalking because of the high grass, but I didn’t care. At this point anything would do. I moved to fire.
There was a sudden explosion of movement in the grass as if my prey had sensed my finger move to the trigger. It zigzagged back and forth making it near impossible to hit. After moving around in a panic for a moment the creature put as much distance between me and itself as it could. It seemed like everything in this place was engineered to prevent my survival.
I tried to collect myself. I would learn from what I just saw. I was getting too tired to make any more mistakes like that one. I knew what to expect when hunting in this place now. I would be successful next time. I didn’t have much choice. The hunger and thirst were starting to become unbearable. My body had stopped producing sweat and my throat was bone dry. The direct sun was starting to burn my skin and I could feel the itching and soreness of a serious sunburn beginning on my face and neck. There was no point in dwelling on it though. I had to make a kill.
I kept searching for game in the tall grass, walking on and on with no success. All concept of time was lost to me. Without the movement of the sun to mark the passage of the hours, time just seem to blur together. It felt like I had only been hunting for a few minutes, but the part of my brain that was still thinking rationally estimated that it was more like a whole day.
I found my next target. I heard its movement in the grass, and I knew what to do. I calmed down, put my finger to the trigger and got ready to shoot. The animal suddenly burst into life like before, but I was prepared. I fired three rounds the third shot connecting. I heard the animal stop and fall into the grass; finally a victory, a reason to believe that I wouldn’t soon die in this savannah.
And then it was there again. Just a rustling in the grass. The sound of moving feet. The sound I had heard countless times since finding myself here, an animal moving in the grass. There was something different about this one though. It seemed to move with purpose, intelligence even. My thoughts returned to the Beast I had encountered before. Spending time worrying about the noise was a luxury I couldn't afford however. I would think about it later. Now I would claim my prize and hopefully satisfy my parched throat.
My prize wasn’t there though. I walked to the spot where I was certain it had fallen and all that was left was an indentation in the grass where it should have been. It was almost too much to accept. I scoured the surrounding area, but with no luck. Maybe the prey had survived the shot and run away I thought. That was the reason I settled on, but in my heart I didn’t believe it. I knew my shot had hit home. I wondered if the Beast had something to do with this.
As always I tried to keep refocusing on the goal and avoid worrying about the setbacks. I could really feel myself slowing down though. I wanted to rest, but I was afraid that if I rested again I would never get back up. I found my next prey. I had a plan. I would kill the animal, and run as fast as I could to recover it after it falls. I put my hand to the trigger ready for the reaction from the animal. I brought it down on the first shot and sprinted after it immediately.
There was no mistake this time; there was a movement to my left again; something running with me as I dashed towards my kill. I was too tired though. I couldn’t keep pace at all and the Beast bounded ahead of me. I could just see the top of its huge back above the grass as it ran towards the fallen prey. The prey had been shot in one of the clearings and I just saw the monster’s tail as it ran back out of sight. This Beast was using me to get its food for it. It had stolen both of the kills I had made now. Why though? From the size and speed of the Beast, it was definitely capable of hunting on its own.
I had wasted nearly all of my remaining energy running. My head was starting to spin. I had exerted myself far too much, pushed beyond my limit. I was wondering if the Beast was a hallucination. If all of this was a hallucination for that matter. The thirst had turned into a dull ache in my throat, the heat a prickling throughout my body. I didn’t really feel the pain of movement anymore. My arms and legs felt numb from the effort as if they weren’t there. I tried to snap myself out of it, to remind myself of what was happening and what I had to do. I shot the gun in the air. The sound snapped me out of my near coma and startled two birds in the tall grass nearby.
I had come back to reality, but my mind was still not functioning intelligently. I chased the birds through the grass shooting wildly at them, paying no heed to my exhaustion. They zigzagged through the air much too quickly for me to land a shot and my rifle was soon out of ammo. The sound of the bird’s wings faded into the distance. I had completely missed both of them. My breathing was ragged and I realized I had finally reached the end of my rope. I collapsed on the ground, my legs no longer able to support my weight.
Again I heard the methodic sound of movement in the grass behind me. I wasn’t expecting the Beast to return. I hadn't killed anything, but I guessed it was here to finish me off now that I was no longer useful to it. I was too weak to stand but I dragged my body forward through the grass towards the clearing. I heard it slowly stepping behind me breathing easily. It knew that it didn’t have to chase me. I was an easy target and it could take its time.
I crawled into the clearing slowly and watched as the beast approached the edge of the grass and stopped. This was it for me. I had tried everything I could. At least the Beast would end my life quickly. I wouldn’t have to die slowly of thirst over the next few hours. It had only to pounce on me from the bushes and end me in one strike. The beast let out a low growl and slowly began to rise onto its hind legs. But as I saw the top of its head crown above the grass, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to give up. My survival instinct kicked in and my body seemed to act on its own. I reloaded the gun and began to open fire on the Beast. I knew I wasn’t going to survive, but at least my tormenter wouldn’t either.
I screamed as I fired six shots right at the Beast’s head. It didn’t slow its movement. The bullets hadn’t even appeared to hit it.
I looked on in terror as it finally rose to its full height giving me a view of the Beast’s head. It had long drooping ears, rusty red fur, a huge mouth turned up in what looked like a grin and eyes that took up most of its face. Its left paw held the ducks I had shot before.
I had truly given up now. I lay on the ground whimpering as the beast moved to attack. My sight was wavering; black spots started to appear on the edges of my vision. My muscles tightened as I closed my eyes and braced myself for the end.
But the Beast didn’t move.
Instead it pointed one of its massive paws at me, and let out a high mocking laugh as I lost consciousness.