Every sense becomes heightened and my nerves begin to twang with
adrenaline. Very slowly, I make myself sit up, legs coiled under me
to spring forward if I need to. I open my eyes as wide as I can but
there’s little but uniform velvety darkness, and no more than the
occasional gleam of starlight when the wind moves the branches.
My legs begin to cramp under me, and I silently extend first one and
then the other to stretch and relieve the tense muscles.
That’s when the attack comes, when I am off balance.
The force of the impact knocks the breath from my lungs but there’s not a second to spare for recovery. The creature is upon me, clawing, ripping, punching and grabbing for me, and with that far away instinct of the animal desperate to survive, I know something.
I know that my attacker is not a bear or a wolf or a big cat. It has
arms and legs and though the claws that are rending my skin are
sharp, they are not lethally so. It may be some vicious great ape, or
monkey grown to huge size. I grab back, my hands closing round sinewy wrists, hairy and rough, and with a massive effort, I drag those hands away from my neck and somehow turn the tables. I am on top now, and it is me who is punching and gouging and kicking, head-butting and scratching. There is no sound, but the crunch of leaves and twigs as we roll, locked in combat, around the forest floor. The creature doesn’t growl or howl at me, but I can hear harsh breathing, and smell its foetid breath when the head lurches towards me.
I fight for my life, for I know this thing will kill me and probably
eat me as I lie dying.
We are evenly matched, perhaps, though after some minutes of this
wrestling, I can sense my opponent is tiring and know that I must do
something soon. My own energy is waning, drained not just by this
fight but by the long miles of walking and little food.
With a final desperate burst of aggression, I redouble my efforts and I land a lucky kick into the softer middle of the creature. I fling it
away and am on it, pinning it down, and with an arm pressed hard
across the throat, I begin to press the life out of it.
The wind in the trees shifts the dense canopy of leaves and a beam of light from the bright stars above seems to pierce the blackness and for a second or two I can see as it shines in the eyes of my opponent and I recoil in horror. I release my hold and I stagger back, appalled.
For the eyes that shone desperately in the filthy face of the creature
were human eyes pleading for a mercy they would not have shown me.