I sit in silence. All it takes is the slightest spasm of an aching limb – an untimely itch that simply must be scratched. I breathe deeply, trying to make as little noise as possible.
He’s still there, watching me. I can’t see him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. He’s always there, waiting for that one, fatal mistake that I know one day will be my undoing. He doesn’t know where I am and I don’t know where he is; that’s the game, because it is a game. It’s an endless game of dice rolling. Except if I lose, I don’t just lose my dignity. The price is my life, and the reward is his.
I can feel that itch now. It’s in my right leg. I want to look down at it, to check there’s not some parasite hooked onto my skin, but I can’t. Even when I’m being eaten alive, I can’t move – not until I hear that telltale rustle of leaves that tell me he’s leaving. Then, I will run, and, as the dice are flung into the air, I will race for my life.
The itch is getting worse. I need to scratch it, but I know there’s not long left; soon, he will be gone, and I will get to keep my life. I try to calm myself. I can’t let my own fear be the ruin of me, not when there are so many depending on me. I let out a long breath, thinking of home.
It happens in an instant. Just as a sharp, jarring pain cuts across my leg; I hear a sudden rustling that tells me my hunter is giving up. Too late. I gasp from the pain, and then it is too late and I am running.
I dart out from my hiding place, a clump of densely growing leaves, and flee into the open meadows beyond. He’s right behind me, rampaging through the undergrowth. He is close. Too close; there isn’t enough time. I speed up, putting all my remaining energy into my legs.
The right one is still stinging, and a suspiciously warm liquid is beginning to trickle down it. I don’t have time for it, not for an injury. The smell of blood will only drive my hunter on.
I duck back under the cover of trees: a detour. It’s risky, and it might cost me, but it’s the only option I have left. I dart around tree trunks and leap over uneven ground. Then, as I skip over a protruding tree root, I feel my leg give way underneath me. The ground vibrates and hot breath skims over my neck, but before he can reach me, I duck, and then I’m on my feet again. The chase continues, but my hunter is now upon me, scraping at my back as he matches my pace. There is barely a claw’s width between us.
This is it, a voice whispers in the back of my head. You’re going to die today. You’re going to lose the game. I can almost sense his sharp teeth as they lurch towards me. You’re too late, the voice whispers.
I stop running. I stand resolute, and, as I do, time seems to slow down. I don’t think of the hunter, moments from plunging his fangs through my midriff. I think of home; I think of my tiny, little burrow, hidden barely two metres away from where I now stand. I could make it. Of course I could, but I can’t. Under those trees, my babies lie curled up together, their eyes bright and their mouths hungry.
They will have to go hungry tonight. They will have to go hungry until they learn to feed themselves – if they ever do. It’s better to risk that, whispers the voice. It’s better to risk it than lead this monster to them. You can’t do that. You can’t kill them.
So, I listen to the voice. I don’t move, because I can’t move. I’m not angry: sometimes, we lose the game.
Sometimes, the fox catches the hare.
Emily is a student of English at the University of Exeter. She has previously had two poems published in Young Writers anthologies and spends most of her time reading and writing.