¤ Eyes of the Beholder ¤

x X x

I could feel it breathing as my head lay inert against its chest; its fur acting as a comforting pillow for my bare face. I could hear its heart beating in a rapid pattern— every thump so clear. I could hear the leaves rustling against each other as small breezes passed from the north and blew by, hoping to be unnoticed— but the sounds of the rustle made it ever more conspicuous… I could feel the temperature slightly rising as the day was progressing to noon; I could feel the summer sun beat down upon me through the copious amounts of trees protruding over me.

My hand lay restlessly against its soft coat with my palm turned upward and my fingers softly resting against it as if they themselves were exhausted. I could feel it breathing harder with every passing moment. With my left ear right up against its bosom, I began to feel as if the heartbeat was my own. It felt as if we were one, as if we could feel one another not just physically— but mentally as well.

I slowly lifted my head from its chest and sat up with my palms resting against the dirt and crackling leaves beneath me; I used them to push myself up to my feet. I balanced and soon stood straight.

"I must go," I began, "I don't need Ma coming out to look for me… she didn't know that I was out all night." I looked down at my feet as if I was guilty of wrongdoing. Which, in a way I was, but at the same time, I knew— I'd done nothing wrong. I could feel it turn its head away from my face; it and I both knew that I couldn't see it, but we both knew I could feel it. I listened as it lifted its tail and threw it back down against the leaves underneath it, and it continued this process. I could feel its disappointment.

"I know— but I promise, I will come to you again tonight… I know how lonely you get." I assured it with a smile of my own. I grasped my right hand in my left as I held them behind my back. I slowly turned around as I began to walk south. I knew that it wasn't following me, but rather still lying down— I heard no footsteps. But, I could feel the wind following me and brushing the hem of my skirt against my bare ankles. I kept my head lifted up as I walked in a lady-like manner, my right foot stepping directly in front of my left.

Crunch.

I stopped in my footsteps.

"I told you that I'd come to you tonight. You know you mustn't follow me home." I stated placidly. I stepped around until I could feel it breathing on my skirt. I then heard its loud roar of disapproval; it seemed to echo through the woods. "I told you, you cannot follow me. Do you know what would happen if people saw a tiger following me home? The people would kill you. Do you want that?" I begged it to understand my plead for its own good. It roared again— this time, more lightly. I listened as its footsteps went north. I sighed, as the sound of crunching leaves became feint. I turned back around and continued on my way back to town…

x X x

"Julia, you're home." Ma greeted me as I entered the door leading into my home; "Where had you gone?"

"Oh, I just took a morning walk in the woods to ease my mind." I smiled at her, even though my words were fraudulent; "The breeze felt good to my skin."

"Well, if you'd stayed out there long enough, the summer sun would've burnt you and your pale skin to a crisp!" Ma ranted; "You have to be more careful dear, especially since you haven't seen anything in those woods. For all you know, a deadly snake could've slithered across your foot."

"My senses are quite keen, I would know if a snake went across my foot. I'm blind, not numb." I said with a bit of verbal irony concealed in my voice as I calmly sat down on a wooden chair.

I could hear as Ma's footsteps hit the creaky, wooden floors, and walked over near the kitchen sink. I could usually hear wherever she went. Our home was so small; the kitchen, dining room, and living room were all in the same room. I usually slept on the couch near the window that is just a few inches from the front door. Ma slept in her own room, which was the only room separate from the rest of the house besides the bathroom. I know that Ma had planned to paint the inside of the house soon, from what she told me, it was a dark beige that had peels running from one end to the other; she wasn't too happy with its appearance. She had said she was going to paint it a light orange color, which was always my grandfather's favorite color. She said that if she painted it orange, it might drown out the unwanted memories and suppress her raving mind from the past, which likes to rear its ugly head. I just pretended that I knew what that meant; but I guess deep down, I really did…

"Dear…" I heard as Ma's footsteps crept towards me. I felt her thumb and first finger caressing my chin gently. "Just be careful around here— from what I hear, there's—"

Then, a loud cracking noise sounded throughout my ears interrupting Ma in her speech; it sounded as if a large glass wall had fallen and shattered, echoing throughout the town. My head suddenly perked up and became alert.

"What was that?" I asked Ma in a panicky voice.

"Oh dear…" Ma let out in an irritated sigh; "It's that stupid hunter the mayor hired."

"H— hunter?" I stuttered.

"Yes," Ma sighed, "As I was trying to tell you a bit earlier, there have been sights of an orange monster in the forest. No one's been killed, but so many have been devastated from fright. There have been so many complaints that the mayor decided to hire a hunter… they're not quite sure exactly what it is, but they're hoping he can take it down. Dear Lord, I hope so." Ma seemed to have a touch of frustrated anger in her voice as she always does. I think everyone's gotten used to it now. Her life is complaining…

"No one's been killed yet, and they've hired a hunter?" I asked angrily as I stood up from the wooden chair I was seated in; I clenched my fists in balls.

"Julia why are you getting angry? It's just some monster. I'm glad they're going to take care of it before it becomes a mess. God knows what it is, or what it could do." I listened as Ma's footsteps faded to the other side of the room; her footsteps subsided by the front door. Knowing her, her right hand was probably resting on her hip and she was probably fumbling with her hair with her left.

"Well, the thing could be innocent; like you said— it hasn't killed anyone." I tried my hardest to stand my grounds in this argument. It wasn't right to kill something that hasn't done anything. It's like throwing someone in jail without a proper trial…

"Yeah, but with us being such a small town, they can't let things get outta han'." Ma stated, "— Maybe they won't kill it, maybe the hunter's just here to check things out… you know, kinda like a— precaution."

"I've never seen a hunter anywhere as just a precaution." I reasoned. I walked across the room and stood next to Ma. She placed her hand lightly on my shoulder.

"Well, whatever it is, they're taking care of it. No worries you need." Ma patted my shoulder as she walked back over to the kitchen sink.

I could only assume of the worst. What if something bad had already happened and I wasn't there? What if that shot wasn't a precaution? I stood there near the door with no motion throughout my body, I listened as the wind blew against the door, and the bush's limbs scratched against the side of the house… I couldn't just stand around and not do anything. What if they kill her? I had to stop this.

"Ma, I'll be back." I stated as I simply walked through the door without a wave goodbye. I could hear Ma's loud voice calling through the door, be back by supper! And be careful! I could hear sticks breaking beneath my open-toed sandals as I walked through the grass making my way to the street leading into the town…

x X x

"Ladies and gentlemen! I have finally found a solution to our small problem!"

I could hear the mayor on some kind of intercom or microphone as I heard a large crowd with whispers among them as I carefully made my way through them. I bumped into a few people, unknowingly, who didn't seem to care. I stood in what felt like the center of the crowd. I could hear the mayor take in a deep breath before speaking again.

"I know that there have been many frights lately…" He cleared his throat with a loud hack, "… But I have not wasted any time with this issue. There have been talks of a monster in the forest. Many have come to me feeling insecure and aghast, but not to worry my friends! I, your elected mayor, have found your solution!"

At the end of his statement, everyone around me began to applaud. I felt only compelled to do the same, but with more apathy.

"— Now, now! I must introduce to you… a man— a man who shall protect us all!"

The crowd then applauded again, but with louder vigor and whistles.

"Let me proudly introduce, Mr. Anton Vladislav!"

The mayor finished his speech and everyone loudly applauded and whistled as I heard another man clear his throat through the microphone. His voice sounded much more refined and distinguished.

"People of the town!" he began loudly with a heavy, Russian accent, " I have heard of this terrifying monster, and don't be worried! I am a trained professional and have dealt with many other cases such as this— maybe even worse ones! But be reassured, I will take care of this monster very soon before the week is over!" he concluded with a loud voice and the applause of the people seemed to be overjoyed; many screamed and whistled with happiness.

I said and did nothing as I tried to clear the crowd. I walked further forward until I came to what seemed like where the voices from the microphone came from. I stopped as I heard a low conversation near by. I discreetly made my way over to where the voices were coming from, until I heard the voices very clearly in front of me.

"May I help you girl?" the same refined voice that I heard on stage was now speaking in front of me; he seemed to be a bit irritated, or just a little too arrogant.

"Yes, are you the hunter that I've heard so much about?" I asked him.

"Why yes…" his voice seemed to get lower and seemed to have a bit more of pride and happiness in it; "— And don't worry, I'll make sure to get rid of that monster of yours'. You needn't worry, my dear."

"Well," I folded my arms in disgust of his arrogance and pride, "There is no monster." I stated with firmness.

He seemed to bust out with laughter. I heard the mayor laugh in unison with him.

"Mr. Vladislav, the girl is clearly in denial." The mayor spoke up, "Now, Julia, is it? Aren't you Liz's granddaughter?"

"What's it to you?" I asked. I listened as I heard loud, yet slow footsteps come nearer to me.

"Why don't you run back home… it isn't safe for a young lady like yourself to be running around with a monster on the loose…" the mayor's voice was without reason and was stated as nearly on option, but a command was implicit.

"I don't need to go anywhere. I'm 18, and I'm not a little girl anymore. I can take care of myself. If I wanted to go in that forest, I could, no one could stop me." I stated with a confident smile across my face.

"On the contrary, Julia, I can stop you. As you stated, you're 18 now. Meaning, I could simply send you to jail on my word." He stated with his voice starting as soft and turning hard, "Don't interrupt my plans Julia, or it can really turn out to be bad. I am doing this for the town's safety, and I expect you to respect me for that. Otherwise, you don't have to set foot in that forest again, nor your own house. So, I suggest you be on your way now… and I better not catch you near that forest. Do you understand me?"

I said nothing, as I stood silently before him, motionless with my arms still folded. I wanted to scold him badly, but that wouldn't solve anything. He wasn't up for compromise. I could feel my lip quivering as I heard their footsteps leave me to myself. The wind blew from behind me as I stood there on the pavement, waiting for some sort of answer to come to me. The wind splashed my hair against my face as a few strands slipped in through my lips, soaking the ends with my access saliva. I pulled the strands from my lips as I turned around and headed back home…

x X x

"You're back already Julia?" Ma asked as I walked in through the front door. I stopped in my tracks as I had barely stepped in the house. I stood there motionless for just moments and then I spoke to her.

"They're— going to— kill it." The words fell from my mouth even though I tried to hold them back. I knew it was true, but I felt like if I said it, the reality would actually fall. I thought that, just maybe, it wasn't real, that it wasn't happening… but in fact, it truly was.

"So the hunter is for real huh?" Ma had a scent of joy in her voice that would bring anger to me. "Finally, maybe people will stop complaining about this supposed monster. I'm tired of hearing people being scared of something that they're not even sure of. I mean— nobody even knows what it is…" Ma sighed, "I wonder about people these days— such cowards…"

I couldn't speak to Ma anymore. She wasn't too up for compromise either. Everything I seemed to say to her went in one ear and out the other; it's like she never really knew how I felt about anything… I held my fist up to my chest as I went over to the couch to lie down. I slowly sank my bottom into the couch and propped my feet up on the opposite end as I laid my head down on the armrest. I tried to focus on something else other than the deadly present. I would wait— until night. Then, I would be unseen. Maybe— maybe I could save her just yet…

x X x

"I'm going to bed dear." Ma brushed her hand across the top of my head as she walked into her own room to go to sleep. Night had crept up to day and the sun had set nearly an hour ago. I didn't move much throughout the day; I was still lying on the couch in the same position, as I was a little past noon. My hands were enclosed inside one another, as they lay against my bosom, only moving as my chest breathed in and out. I heard Ma close her door, her feet moved quite quickly across the wooden floor until they stopped, and the springs of her bed squealed down. I heard her cough as I let out a breath.

"If I'm going to do something, I must go now." I whispered to myself. I slipped my hands from my chest as I sat up. My hair fell down onto my shoulders and reached past my bosom as I began to stand up to my feet. I crept over to the front door with discreet footsteps, praying that the floor wouldn't creak. I reached just a few inches from the door and I pushed out my hand, touching the doorknob with my fingertips. I grasped onto it and opened it slowly without a sound and stepped outside, holding onto the door until it was completely shut. I then let out a sigh of relief; the air had grown cold after the setting of the sun, and the small breezes brought goose bumps to my bare arms.

I stepped through the yard as I began to come upon the forest. I heard the crickets chirped as I made my way into the forest. I could hear bats fly through the trees above me, slightly squealing, brushing past the tree's top leaves. With all the sounds around me, my heavy breathing seemed to overpower everything... yet, I could still hear dead leaves breaking underneath my sandals, and my arms hitting access limbs of trees around the sides of me. I could hear the sounds of cooing owls and raccoons dashing on the ground around me. These things I let not faze me, for my mission was the thing that was important. If I got distracted I may not be able to save her…

My steps continued threw the forest until a loud twig broke not too far ahead of me. I stopped dead in my tracks, nearly frightened in my skin. I wondered what it was. Maybe the hunter was out late at night, still searching for this supposed monster. But I knew he was not looking for such a monster as described, but an animal— a confused animal who only wanted to live and live freely without contact from the outside world… but then, I knew the cracking of the twig was too loud to be even a large man, so there could be only one option left… I let out a breath as I relaxed my body.

"It's me." I spoke.

I then heard heavy footsteps coming towards me. I smiled a little as I took tiny steps forward until my hand met a soft surface. I reached out my hand and began to pet it. I smiled as I listened to it purr.

"I promise, I won't let anything happen to you. I swear." I swallowed my saliva trying to hold a decent smile across my face. But for some reason, my mind kept telling me it wouldn't make a difference. I listened as it growled lowly at me. My petting grew a little harder and wider down its back. "They are looking for you; and if we don't get out of here, then—" I paused, not wanting to finish my sentence. It nudged my hand. "— We must get out of here…" I tried to put on my best smile as I kept my head straight.

Then, I heard a twig just feet away snap. My hand dropped by my side. I stood there without a sound, without breathing, without moving entirely. I swallowed the last bit of my saliva as I stood in place. I knew that there was another presence besides us… I slowly bent down until all of my weight was pushed down on my ankles. I listened as it growled beside me. I put both of my hands around its mouth and grasped it tightly. It tried to fight me by swinging its head, but I still held tight. I whispered to it gently.

"When I give the signal," I paused, "Follow me. Don't look back."

I slowly stood back up to my feet. I listened intently as I released my hold from its mouth and stood there waiting for any sounds I may hear. I then heard a tight click and a snap, I then knew, who was coming… I moved my right foot behind my left and sharply stabbed her behind her ear with my first finger; I immediately then took off. I ran as fast as I could through the forest. I never tried to listen for anything— I just kept running. I knew I wasn't too far from town, so I finally stopped and brought myself down behind a tree, pushing my weight on my ankles. A pain slithered through my ankles as I bent down, but I tried to pay no attention to it.

"Are you there?" I whispered hoping for just a small roar, or the sound of footsteps, but nothing. "Where are you?" I tried whispering again. Nothing. "Please, where are you?" my call was almost desperate for an answer… Then, a loud roar sounded throughout the woods. My head immediately went up. "She's headed for the town."

My heart began racing as I brought myself back up to my feet and started running even faster than before, trying to reach the town in time. I heard constant roaring, ringing throughout the area. It became almost an echo to me. With every roar, it faded until all I could hear was the heart in my own chest thumping loudly.

I approached the pavement in the middle of the forest that led to town; my legs were growing ever so tired, but I kept running. My sandals clacked hard against the pavement with every one of my running steps. The owls cooed louder as I ran, and the bats flew overhead as I could feel myself entering into the town. I stopped as I heard a loud scream crying from a little distance away.

"No." I whispered to myself. I then began to run again, further into the town, where I heard even more screams, and then— a loud roar…

"No!" I cried as I continued running; "Where are you?" I cried, "Where are you?" my cries were turning completely desperate and a tear slipped from my eye. I felt it slide down my cheek and fall from my chin as I ran.

Another loud roar echoed around me. It was even louder than last time; and I could hear it clearly. My legs had become exhausted and I felt as if oxygen had left me, I had to stop, there was no energy left for me to run. Part of me was still running, and part of me had stopped a mile ago…

Then, I heard a trampling headed my way. My breathing was so heavy, all sounds had seemed to grow feint. Then, another roar sounded, and I walked forward; it sounded as if it were only feet away… but then, I heard it; the sound of shattering glass that covered the entire town within itself. I stopped walking and just stood there. I knew then, that I didn't need eyes to see what was right in front of me— I could feel its excruciating pain…

"I guess I— broke my promise, huh?" a teardrop streamed down the side of my face…

The End