I knew he waited for me out there. His patience was endless. He would stalk me until I was exhausted, until I lost my concentration; when the opportunity arrived for him to strike, he would leap out and I’d be mincemeat. I winced with the imagined pain his newly sharpened weapons would inflict.
I sensed him watching me. He was well camouflaged in the shadows. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him.
The air shimmered in the heat. My throat was dry and sore with thirst; my eyes had dried out from not blinking enough – they felt like hot pebbles in their sockets.
I mustn’t let my guard down or he’d have me.
Cautiously I edged forward through the undergrowth. Tough grasses twisted around my ankles, trying to ensnare my feet, trying to trip me and make me fall, as if they were on his side. Once down I wouldn’t stand a chance. I must keep my balance, keep moving forward, keep my head. I must not give way to terror. I’d be lost if I did.
Clouds of insects swarmed and buzzed around my face. They landed in my eyes and my mouth. They made my scalp itch, but I couldn’t scratch. It would make too much noise. Some of them, I was sure, flew up my nose and were now crawling around inside my lungs. I could hardly hold back the shrieks at the thought.
The smell of decay hung in the air making me want to retch.
Earlier, I’d heard him preparing his arsenal. The sounds of it had clattered through the air; they’d magnified in my head – rasping and sawing and silencing all the other creatures that lived here. Not a thing dared move or chance bringing itself to his attention.
Hardly breathing, moving statue-slowly, I lifted my foot and tried to put it down soundlessly. The air was so still, the quiet so heavy, that any movement seemed to resound around the clearing as if through amplifiers.
Luckily, I looked down first and found to my horror that I’d been about to step on a previous victim of his. The bones looked pathetic and fragile, dwarfed by their surroundings – a scene of unimaginable terror and death.
Just in time, I stopped myself screaming. I twisted away and, before losing all sense of balance, managed to plant my foot safely clear of the remains. But then I stood awkwardly, my back to him, asking for trouble. I felt exposed and weak and, despite the heat, suddenly cold with fear.
I could feel his eyes boring through me, and his breath, hot and fetid on my neck. I whipped around, only just managing not to yell out in terror. But it was my fearful imagination that had conjured him up so close – it was just a warm breeze, not his breath at all.
He wanted to pierce my skin, draw blood, shred the meat from my bones. I slapped vainly at the insects. Maybe they’d suck me dry before he could get me. That might be preferable.
I could hear a heavy body moving, the undergrowth seemed to shiver, the ground to shake as each deliberate footfall landed on its cracked surface, the very air stilled, no birds sang. I was conscious of my breath dying away, my heart galloping wildly in my chest. I could just make out his terrifying face through the undergrowth, mouth open, incisors glinting. Ready to tear me to pieces. His breath, reeking of previous kills, blasted over me, making me feel faint and sick. His eyes were the worst thing of all. They pierced through to my soul, weakening me, draining me of courage, almost hypnotising me into defeat. I couldn’t keep looking at him. I had to drop my gaze.
Dread shot through me and I knew I was in deep trouble. Maybe I could scream for someone to come and get me out of danger. But maybe my yells for aid would make him spring. I might shout and there’d be no-one there anyway, so I’d annoy him for nothing.
I didn’t want to annoy him. I wouldn’t shout. Just as soon as I decided, I knew he knew I’d given in. I was dead meat.
He snarled, the most bone-disintegrating, bloodcurdling noise I’d ever heard – and launched into his attack. I tried to run, but he was too fast and I was merely human. My flesh cringed but couldn’t get away from the pain that exploded through me as his fangs sank into my shin.
As I fell to the ground, I knew my mistake – I really should have mown the lawn more often. If only I had, then Tiddles wouldn’t be able to pretend he was a big, bad tiger in the long grass.