This flash was written for a competition that required a piece inspired by a work of art. I wrote this listening to Hounds of Love by Kate Bush.
Low as prey
The first howl is far and floating. I have just started the fire and the cry is almost lost in the cracking of dry bracken feeding the flame. But it is there, rolling up the valley and then, mirror perfect, rolling back in echo. I find myself stretching out my hands, trying to catch the sound from source or reflection. As if there might be some safety in pocketing it – tucking the moon-drawn yowl of the hound into the wool of my jerkin. Turning back to my fire, planting wood like the stakes in a fortress wall, I crouch low as prey. Hunched and fearful in the night.
But thirst is scarring my tongue. To my left the barely moving ink of the lake is sloshing white stones to black. An egret is stick-legged in the water. And there has been no more howling. I need to drink. Need to cup my hands in the cold and pour it into my mouth. Tentative steps across the mossy ground are almost silent. And I’m on my knees quickly, scooping and gulping and letting the water run down my chin to burn with cold inside my clothes. More and more – and my eyes closed to the danger moving through the trees.
Danger slinking left to right, twisting muscle – panting and furred – clawed and coming. Coming for me. I’m lost in the liquid and relief, slipping my feet from tight shoes, pressing toes into cold mud. Its breath is on the back of my neck, a curl of steam around my ear, before I realise. Sense the shift in the air that tells me. Behind me the hound is ready.
Lurching, staggering, finding my feet, I step out. Two steps on the water. My eyes shifting, swallowing the black to find my way. I make out, slowly, the pacing creature on the opposite bank. The echo hound. On every stretch of bare, rocky shore a beast is waiting for me. Coming for me now, across the water.