The Circuit

Dan Jacobson

This is how it happens. A door opens. Lights blaze up. An impenetrable blackness is hurled somewhere behind them. Voices of unseen creatures are raised in a hoarse cry. Life streams through me once again, and with it, terror. I run.

It is all I can do. The sequence is always the same; yet it is not so much a sequence as an instantaneity. There is only one direction I can take. I am hurled towards it with a power much greater than my own. In front of me, towards me, under me, crushed grey cinders fly, they scud like clouds or water. Or am I the one who is flying, scudding, streaming? The beasts behind me, their heads lowered, tear at the track with their long claws, a sound which is at once rending and pattering, merciless and hideously delicate. You would think that the cry which swells louder still out of the blackness, and rises in pitch, would drown such noises, but it does not. It does not even blot out the sound of the beasts’ panting, their slavering, the whimpers and mews that come from them, the clicks made by the meeting of their teeth. You might think also that the sudden rush of cold air out of that infinity of black space would thin and dissipate the stink of them; but it does not. Together with the smell of damp cinders, fumes, smoke, a choking sweetness I cannot name, my nostrils are filled with the musk of the beasts’ bodies, the meatiness of their breath.

That is how it happens, every time. I run in a straight line; then in a curve which inexorably leads once more to that straight line; and so over and over again, in alternation; until, with the same suddenness with which I was jerked out of my den, I am hurled back into its darkness and stillness. The beasts vanish, taking their rage with them; the immense but vague roar beyond the doorway subsides. I am safe. The force that sent me hurtling around the field drains from me instantly.

Sometimes long periods pass and I am left in peace; but there are other occasions when I am hardly back in my den before the door flings open, the lights burn, and I am running for my life. In one night this can happen six times, ten, a dozen, until it seems to me there will never be an end to it. Or rather, that there can be only one end to it: I will tire, stagger, fail, the beasts will leap, there will be an instant of tangled screaming and tumbling, soaring and tearing, and those claws will have ripped me apart, those teeth will have met not on one another but in me, through me. I long to gather myself and spring sideways, out of the flat, naked course ahead of me, as all hares are born to do; but the bar that is attached to me, which floats alongside me, will not let me do it. The same force that drives me out of my den when all I want to do is to remain hidden, cowering there, out of sight, unsuspected – that same force holds me rigidly on the path, directly in front of those needle-like muzzles pointing at me, boring ever closer. Then, just when I think I can go on no longer, when I have even begun to hope for the incandescent moment that will bring all this to an end, there comes instead the slam of darkness, silence, solitude. It may be for minutes only, as I have said, that I am safe; it may be for days and nights on end.

The full text of this fiction is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in