I’ve written plenty of blogs on the processes of writing, but not so many giving examples of the stuff I produce. I have a significant file full of short stories which I intend to raid now and then to make my blog posting more frequent. This one’s called PREDATORS and, thanks to some very perceptive structural suggestions from my friend Anneke Klein, it’s much better than my first draft. You can also hear me reading it over on my friend Richard Wood’s word count podcast.
All his adult life, even after he’d started the affair with her, he’d slept the sleep of the innocent, dreamed the purest dreams. The change began the day the newsfeed on his tablet reported the suggestion that wolves should be reintroduced into the Highlands. The imbalance in Scotland’s wildlife had started with the Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when families were evicted to make way for sheep and deer. At one time the country had had a thriving wolf population. In fact, officially until 1680, when a Cameron laird killed the last one in Perthshire, although there are other reports of them being seen over a century later. The purpose of restoring a top predator, which itself was prey to nothing, was to control the excessive growth of the deer population. As he read, though, he was reminded that most of the damage had been done by the most successful predator of all – homo sapiens.
But it wasn’t thoughts of the wolf itself that changed his sleep patterns. No, it was the area earmarked for its reintroduction, an estate north of Inverness, across the Moray Firth. Not far from where they’d had their earliest lovers’ meetings in the woods and glens of the Black Isle. The chosen locations, Glen Mor and Glen Alladale, bordered on what had been their playground in those early days.
Their respective marriages and jobs had compelled them to conduct most of their affair through emails and even an occasional letter. When they did actually meet, the intensity was beyond anything either of them had known before, so their messages struggled to articulate what they felt and to convey the fullness of their passion. They were largely repetitive, with desperately echoing ‘I love yous’ and tame efforts at quantifying just how great that love was.
He’d kept them all in a carrier bag from a long defunct supermarket and when they’d eventually divorced their partners and become an official couple, the need for emails vanished and he hid the bag in a cupboard at work.
Over the years, naturally enough, the familiarity of day-to-day living took much of the heat and power out of their passion. The desperation the letters carried of needing to be together, the yearnings to dispel the distances between them and the pain of frequent separations and absences were now irrelevant, and the two young lovers evolved into settled, contented co-habitants.
So when the news of wolves brought back memories of gentle days among the birch trees of Alladale, he remembered the emails, retrieved the forgotten carrier bag, and began re-reading its contents.
From the very first one, the shock of the separate emotional paths and distances the two of them had travelled was extreme. Not only was he reminded of the intensity of her early greed for him, but he was shocked by the distance he himself had moved from the – to use her words – ‘beautiful man’ he’d once been. She’d described how he sounded, moved, touched her and how these and other aspects of him had ignited feelings in her she’d never before experienced. She was addressing someone godlike, of whom no vestiges remained in the middle-aged person reading her words in an office some thirty years after she’d written them.
And that’s when sleep started to become elusive for him. He couldn’t dispel the images of the person who, for her at least, he had once been. It was flattering to imagine having had such power, but emasculating to know that it had been lost. The innocence was gone. Now, through his semi-waking dreams crawled babies with lost expressions on their faces, hopeless, envious men hungry for her love, cold-eyed, sexless women who aroused nothing in him. His nights were troubled. In his dreams, he wandered alone, restlessly now, through copses of birch trees like those to which they’d driven, back in the day, to make guilty love far from the eyes of witnesses.
All he wanted was to recapture that love, to become once again, the prince she’d made of him. Night after night, with her breathing softly beside him, he would summon up the usual memories of the two of them strolling between the birch trees, holding hands, stopping for frequent kisses, enjoying the silence of the Highlands, the sweetness of the air.
Then, one night, in a half-sleep, the dream walk became difficult. It was strange. They were together, but they began to slow. Their feet started dragging though drifts of snow. His dream-self wrapped his arms around her. She turned her head to look up at him, but the smile and love had gone from her eyes, leaving just indifference. She pushed his arms away, stepped back from him, and moved slowly towards the trees, where she stopped and stood knee deep in the snow, her eyes holding him.
He felt a hollow loneliness. Across his extended, beseeching arms lay the black and silver top whose removal had always been the prelude to their love-making. He dropped it in the snow and reached for her again.
But she was gone. In her place, head lowered, its yellow stare holding him firmly, was a wolf.
He knew there was no escape from it. They’d made their choices, surrendered to their instincts with total commitment, stepped outside ordinary living. Briefly, it had consumed them, closed off normal avenues. But what had it cost?
The eyes held him in their trap, there was nowhere to go. He didn’t know whether rediscovering and accepting love’s constant agonies again would end with his knife’s upward thrust finding a jealous heart under the fur, or hungry jaws tearing at his own throat.