Continued from Afterdays -3
But far as Don ranged, and doubled back, and took to the water, and came around again, eventually he gained…
For Willa had stopped moving. Many, many seasons had passed without Don’s heeding them. The girl who was no longer a girl had never seen any sign of pursuit, and might have settled sooner, had she been able to find a suitable place which deemed a female of her temperament suitable, however reluctantly.
Yet at length, Willa settled. The spear had been lost somewhere between the last mountain range and the lake of the bearded fish, and Willa had been aged not only by time but by her travels, so that when Don stalked into the seaside village she had borne a child or two, and thickened, and had gotten her hands thoroughly roughened to the peculiar ways of ocean fishing. She no longer looked deer-tail white from a distance. Don might not have known her at first glance were it not for the narrowing of her eyes and the throbbing of his crooked nose.
They stared at one another for a moment, and the village got very quiet. Willa broke and ran.
For his part, Don was sorely disappointed by the changes wrought upon Willa. But this resolved a dilemma which had returned time and again during his marching. He had been of two minds about what to do with her, and what to do in what order, and despite losing the long-anticipated moment of decision, Don had to admit that things were being wrapped up very tidily.
So the hunter went after the woman, scrambling up the sea cliffs, which were thickly sown with jungle all the way to their very edges, dark branches stretching outward over the water. Twilight played the trick of their shadows doing more fleeing and more chasing than their legs, and turned the gulls’ nests ruddy. The birds rose in a deafening swarm as Willa and Don climbed past, Willa still with some measure of her lead, and the gusts from their wings threatened almost to fling her from the rocky face.
It was not quite fair to reproach Willa for running along the jungle’s edge when she reached the top of the cliff, but he did not anyway. She would have done better to stay on the cliff or to go straight into the jungle, thought Don derisively, who came up and over the cliff, already running. There was so little brush in his path that he could run nearly at full tilt.
This poor judgement illustrated that Willa had somehow survived despite knowing nothing. Don herded her onto a promontory with ease and stood there admiring the neatness of the box he’d made. Twisting trunks and vines hanging thicker than his leg towered behind him, a titanic darkness lurking, while to the west, in one hemisphere over the cliffs and the water, twilight was turning to sunset in sweeping flares of defiance. The changing of sun for moon burned the skies in colours never seen in the days when there had been skyscrapers, and lit the sea from molten gold at one curving rim to silver-flecked ebony at the other.
“You asshole, if I was a man – ”
Don didn’t see any point in answering that when he was busy thinking, and running one hand over the spearblades on his back as he decided which one to use.
“Christ! What’s a hunter like you, when you got nothing better to do than to follow me?”
Loud and bitter, but only to her own ears, and Willa could tell that he wasn’t listening, and she was all the angrier because this made it harder for her not to shake and cry.
Don considered, and no longer saw a deer in her at all. That was when he decided against the spears entirely and jumped in, into a tangle of flailing arms and shrieks and a bit of shouting, which was probably his own. As a last resort, Willa’s teeth snapped – and they almost caught, so Don grunted and knocked her right on the chin.
Willa reeled back, forgetting to flail. There were only a few feet between them, their shadows stretching long so that they might have been born of a people who were taller than the herons and the wolves, a giant race which might have moved the world rather than moved with it. She looked at him for a moment, and they both knew when the sense of being irrevocably trapped sank in, when her mouth went dry and her lips curled back.
Don took a step forward, enjoying the crunch of the rocks under his feet. Her snarl was nothing to bother him, but unreasonably she still made the expression. Willa took a step back.
He took another step, he reached. And then Willa upturned his notion of how things would go, for she darted straight backward into thin air, without an animal’s sense which would have told her that nothing was there.
Her snarl vanished and the pure horror that replaced it was, offensively, not a thing that was concerned with Don at all. Her horror was all for herself. Then she vanished.
Don sat on the cliff between jungle and sea disconsolately, honing his spears, for some time. Even the memory of the dying puma – the thrust of his spear fist-deep into its eye, reducing the yellow flicker of hatred into a socket – was of no use to him. And until the sounds of wide, leathery wings crept into the darkening sky, he, whose head would not reach the shoulder of one of the gargantuan horses, sat there like some pensive lord of the forest.
There must be something else, in a place so vast as this great earth, which would offer another chase like that one.