The decision this morning wasn’t whether to brave the winter weather. It was what guns to take? Looking out of the windows at home I could see the light boughs of young yew and cedar bending under a Northerly blow. In the habit lately of taking both air rifle and rimfire, I glanced at the digital weather station in my kitchen. The technological claim of 30C would be challenged later. What was certain was that was going to be a ‘warm hat and shooting glove’ morning so I opted for the air rifle. I had already decided on a location where I could balance leeward shelter with hunting opportunity. The expectation of some sunshine later added to that choice.
Arriving on the estate I ploughed the recently valeted CR-V through deep puddles and thick mud with a grimace. Oh well … no gain without pain, they say! I had hell n’ all trouble getting a set of serious all-terrain boots for this motor due to the wheel sizes but I have to say it was worthwhile. It hasn’t let me down yet … touches his wooden head! I parked up at the top of the escarpment, near the woodsheds, pointing my bonnet in the direction I would be stalking. An agreed code which allows the Lady and her staff to know where my rifle and potential risk is if they take some exercise, with their dogs, in the woods. I slid out of the warm motor and stepped onto the muddy track. A bitter wind, keen enough to make the eyes bleed, slapped at my face. Under the tailgate I donned a trapper hat, a snood and a pair of shooting mitts. It would be more sheltered in the old arboretum at the base of the escarpment … but I needed to get there first, with at least my trigger finger thawed! I loaded a couple of magazines with .22 Webley Accupells, loaded the gun, checked the safety was on and locked the car. Above me, rooks and crows rolled in the Artic born draught. Black surfers on an invisible tide.
The walk down the escarpment was slippery and testing, so I kept the ‘safety’ on despite the plethora of woodpigeon in the sitty trees on the slopes. They departed tree by tree, as I progressed; squadrons to be challenged another day. At the base of the hill I was met with the sort of target that every airgun hunter hates. A grey squirrel leapt from a flint wall onto the track just eight yards from me. It stared at me as I fumbled to bring rifle from slung to ready but was gone before I could level the gun, let alone focus so closely. Fair law and fair escape.
I paused at the gate in the lane between wood and field; just to watch and hear the birds on the recently flood-drenched water meadows. The waters have receded now but the splashes still hold a diaspora of fowl. Teal, wigeon, mallard, greylags, Canadas, mute swans and a little egret all visible from the gate. Turning into the murk of the wood and it’s umbrella of ancient yew, I immediately heard the chatter and hiss of Sciurus carolensis. The grey invader. A species that was innocently introduced to Britain when these yew trees were mere saplings. Non-native, like the yew, they too have thrived. I stalked the garden wood and toppled three, which is two more than I expected in this chill. Squirrels don’t hibernate but they will sit tight in the dreys in cold or excessively wet weather.
The climb back up the slope later warmed my limbs and at the top, as my heaving lungs expired the mist of spent breath, I looked into the blue sky; drawn by the shout of the rooks and the furious mewling of a raptor. The old buzzard wheeled and jinked majestically, pursued by a throng of nagging corvids. They might feint and fuss, but the old bird had the confidence to ignore their meaningless threat. She has ruled these woods too long to take umbrage to inferiors and this year, as in the past seven, she will breed here again.
It was with a heavy heart, when I got home later, that I read of the capitulation of another old buzzard, from a tribe in which I had placed the confidence of my vote for many terms of election during my lifetime. Resilience is the backbone of a stable and sustainable genus. Caving in to perceived ‘popular opinion’ is like letting the crows (or should that read Corbyns) batter you from your righteous perch. To then insult your voters by saying you will build a ‘new forest’ just confirms that you were never concerned about the ‘old forest’ anyway. This, for me, was the ultimate insult and most landowners don’t seem to have spotted this dressed reference. An attack on private landowners by Tories? Ye Gods!
“This new Northern Forest is an exciting project that will create a vast ribbon of woodland cover in northern England, providing a rich habitat for wildlife to thrive, and a natural environment for millions of people to enjoy.”
Lest they forget, we already have a multitude of habitats for ‘millions of people to enjoy’. They’re called National Parks or ‘Nature Reserves’.
Consider this too? “Paul de Zylva from Friends of Earth told BBC News: “It is a supreme irony that tree planters will have to get funding from HS2, which threatens 35 ancient woodlands north of Birmingham”
Great! Rip up ancient established woods to build a train line? Can you see the perverse ironies here, folks? Money matters, wilderness doesn’t?
And the people that know, the Woodland Trust, say “the Forest will be less of a green ribbon and more of a sparsely-threaded doily”. £5.7M doesn’t buy many trees, let alone the design and labour to implement this nonsense.
I enjoyed my little sortie into a patch of ancient mixed woodland today, with my gun and not just a little taste of freedom. I’m old enough not to fret too much about all this getting closed down eventually (not the land but the hunting, the shooting, the freedom to walk it as a hunter). It’s the young guns I fear for. And those whose income depends on the shooting and hunting tradition. A whole generation of urban, flat-living, cat-keeping keyboard warriors and plastic politicians who rarely leave suburbia (they might get muddy!) are about to destroy the countryside. We have fought to preserve the wild places against eco-hooliganism based on a real knowledge of how nature works … red in tooth and claw.
Those that seek to ‘save’ the fox seem totally oblivious to the fact that fox populations are in decline since the Hunting Act. Let’s put our heads under the pillow, shall we? Perhaps let the cat sit on it? Killer of (in RSPB terms) some 55 million songbirds every year?
But I digress. I had a good day out today in an ancient wood today. I saw muntjac, roe, hare, squirrel (not for long), long-tailed tits … the list is endless. Strangely though, I didn’t see a fox. Having got home and opened up the Mac, I wished I had stayed there.
Disappointed? Most definitely. Because a PM turned on promise. I’m just one in millions today to feel betrayed.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2018
The Fairy Tale Of Rewilding
It was Christmas Eve, in the inn next the muir
Ex-keepers debating how life could endure.
Re-wilders, with funding, had bought up the land
No shooting, no snares, all vermin control banned.
They planted the hillsides; a young forest grows,
The grouse have all gone, replaced by the crows.
No gamebirds, no wardens, ‘tis the realm of the pest
The curlews gone too, with no safe place to nest.
The sea eagles soared as the beavers felled trees,
Their dams slowed the rivers before they reached seas.
The estuaries were drying, the waders in plight
But the Fools continued to pitch their ‘good’ fight.
The hen harriers died, with no game to dissect
While Reynard and Brock walked the fields unchecked.
As the trees drowned the moors; a landscape was lost,
Rural economy and jobs? No-one counted the cost.
But the higher the sapling, the bolder the roe
Even muntjac had come here, to follow the flow.
“We need lynx”, shouted Fools, “to trim out the deer.
Throw a wolf or two in, to keep the rides clear”
But what of the beavers? The start of the plan?
“Will the wolves eat the beavers?” asked the Chieftain.
“Of course not”, the Fools laughed. “The wolves will eat deer!”
So in came the wolves to the Fools loud cheer.
Now, out of control, the wild creatures rule.
The re-wilders doctrine, the creed of the Fool.
A man can’t kill fox … but the fox can kill bird?
A creed of hypocrisy, biased … absurd!
A hound can’t chase hare but a lynx can hunt deer,
Where is the reasoning and logic at play here?
And the Fools had lied, there was blood on the hills,
The slopes strewn with wool from the numerous kills.
“Don’t fret”, said the Fools. “lets bring in the bear”
Old Bruin will bring balance and make things more fair.
So the bears were brought in but made rivers their home,
Scooping the salmon that leapt through the foam
The farmers and shepherds tore their hair out in rage,
For the Fools, again, were on the wrong page.
As the lynx and the wolf avoided bears paths,
Still slaughtering sheep and sometimes the calves.
Back at the inn, with the log fire full flare,
The wise men of old talked of balance and care.
When the grouse were in lek and the curlews would cry,
When the hen harrier flew and the eagle passed by.
But in the ale-house, no shepherds stood there.
They were guarding their flocks from the lynx, wolf and bear.
Yet they needn’t have worried, for Natures is strong,
And will level the field, when the balance is wrong.
Came the day when the salmon couldn’t get through the dams,
So the bears slew the beavers and dined on their hams.
Then they turned on the wolves, who fled further downhill,
Where the shepherds rebelled and started to kill.
The sea eagles were famished, with no fish in the lochs,
So they swooped on the lynx as they preyed on the flocks.
The bears in their hunger, then came down to the farms,
To be met by the herdsmen, who raised up their arms.
I went to the Chieftain … to tell him the truth.
In Nature, life’s balance is often uncouth.
That’s why these creatures had long left our shores.
Starved, hunted; displaced and by natural laws.
Rewilding? What nonsense. What human conceit.
Mother Nature decides what will thrive, or forfeit.
If the creatures should be here, they’d never have gone,
Restoration was fruitless, intrinsically wrong.
And the Fools … they bleated like the cat-killed ewe
As the carnage continued and their dream went askew.
The dams were dissembled, the rivers could run,
The rewilding Fools were back where they’d begun.
The hills and the forests returned back to the Lords
While the disproven Fools all fell on their swords.
Mother Nature herself had re-balanced the glen.
Beaver, wolf, lynx, and bear … inexistent again.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2017
Forgive me for starting this piece with a quote. While researching the history of camouflage, I stumbled across (on Wikipedia) this superbly appropriate comment by none other than Charles Darwin. He noted, in his iconic ‘Origin Of Species’:
“When we see leaf-eating insects green, and bark-feeders mottled-grey; the alpine ptarmigan white in winter, the red-grouse the colour of heather, and the black-grouse that of peaty earth, we must believe that these tints are of service to these birds and insects in preserving them from danger.”
Darwin went on to explain how natural camouflage protected grouse from the eye of the elevated hawk. For the red grouse, feather the pattern of the heather. For the black grouse, plumage the colour of the dark peat. Throughout nature, with the understanding we have now, there is no doubt that camouflage plays an enormous part in the survival of myriad species. Ourselves included. The use of camouflage patterns to protect military personnel and assets has become an art-form. When we fought with bow and arrow or spear and shield (up close and personal), it was irrelevant. Now that we fight with long range rifles and worse, it is essential. The question I want to throw out there now, though, is this. Is ‘crypsis’ type clothing really necessary to stalking and hunting? That question (I must add) is from a man who stated twelve years ago that he would “never be seen dead in camo clothing”. Then embarked on a photo-journalistic campaign in which he was almost exclusively photographed in camouflage clothing!
Wikipedia again: “Camouflage is the use of any combination of materials, coloration, or illumination for concealment.”
So the point of all this? That’s simple. I couldn’t help but be amused, walking around a recent game fair, at the amount of punters who arrived dressed in Realtree, Jack Pyke and DPM clothing. For many, obviously, the clothing is a statement. “I wear camo, therefore I’m a hunter”. They were proud participants at an event earmarked for them. There were an equal amount of folk striding around in tweeds, making their own announcement on a way of life … and long may it be so. How was I dressed? Country neutral. Plain greens and brown boots. Anonymous. Camouflaged against any designation of my shooting or countryside status. In fact, I will confess (as a front-line, low-economy shooter myself) that I would feel a little silly walking around a public event in crypsis camo. There is a place for camouflage and that is the wood and hedgerow. There is a place for tweeds, too. On the hill, mountain and moor. Walking around the game fair, one or two people nodded in my direction as though they knew me. I bet that if I had been wearing the crypsis camo I used to promote in magazines, they would have immediately put a name on me.
The irony of all this is that I was actually at this game fair not to socialise (my agoraphobia is legendary) but to shop for plain clothing. For the past two months I have been experimenting with using olive clothing in wood and field to see if it makes any difference to my shooting returns. After all, I had managed to fill the pot for the thirty years before I first donned camo clothing supplied (often free) for me to experiment with. Well, it would have been rude not to. Thus, going forward, I have decided to take a leaf (excuse the pun) from the book of the hare and the roe deer who (unlike the hen pheasant and the stone curlew with their clever, crypsis plumage) manage to survive attention with a simple austere and natural hue. Testament to this is the eruption, from its form, of the woodland hare before the hunters boot; likewise the explosive lift and kick of the roebuck from rest behind the forest brash. Unseen, yet not overly camouflaged.
Early results have confirmed what, in reality, I already knew. Plain olive green is a completely natural colour in the English wood and field. Innocuous and (if you stalk slowly and remain silent) inconspicuous. I’ve tested this in a photographic context too, having stalked up to within thirty yards of two fallow bucks in the past week (although it may have been the same buck, twice!).
There are, of course, other factors to add to a successful stalk or hunt beyond just the clothing you wear. Soundless equipment such as soft kit-bags or game-bags. Broken-in and flexible boots. OK, I’m going to say it … “I will never be seen dead in a pair of wellies!” … It will never happen, I promise you. Silence is leather; broken-in and well ‘dubbined’ leather.
Other tests of the ‘drab camo’ theory have been in pigeon roost shooting and squirrel hunting. Neither have been affected by the change from crypsis back to plain camouflage. The more astute among you will have picked up on what I just stated there. “Plain camouflage”. If you go back to the Wikipedia definition mentioned earlier, then olive green is clearly a form of ‘camo’ too. Which is why so many hunting accessory manufacturers offer both ‘camo’ and ‘olive’ as options for the same clothing. When you consider the English wood (or hedgerow) across all its seasons, it makes sense to choose a colour that represents all scenarios. A full tree-camo pattern in a leafless, frosty, February alder-carr in Norfolk? I’d look like a Christmas tree at a summer fete.
Plain colours endure all year long. The winter woods stark and dark colouration hides the drably dressed shooter. Springs confusion of white snowdrops, yellow aconites and bluebells disregards the unadorned. We are secondary to the activity of our natural charges, we hunters, therefore lethal when simply innocuous. Into summer and, in greens and browns, we are indiscernible … if we walk and stalk as a hunter should do. In the autumn, in olive, we are the colour of the tree trunk.
Do we really need crypsis camo? Or do the manufacturers of crypsis camo need us?
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2017
A juvenile big-cat is washed up on the Pembrokeshire coast following a shipwreck and manages to survive in the Welsh hills undiscovered. As it matures, the cat is driven by a natural urge to head East. Its journey leaves behind it a trail of chaos and death, none at the claws of the beast. A female hunter decides to track the cat, intent on revenge. The story of Megan, the huntress, unfolds alongside that of the big cat.
Though the authorities try to stifle news of its existence, the cat saves a child and the press pick up the trail. Now known as ‘The Black Angel’, the big cat continues its journey East to meet its destiny. Now pursued, enraged and hungry … the cat makes its first human kill.
The cats epic trek is told from several perspectives. Through the eyes of humans, its hunter and directly through the eyes of the beast. Not just a story of a hunted predator but also a stalk through the rich flora and fauna of the British countryside from coast to coast at ‘cats-eye’ level.
For the cats pursuer the chase tests her resilience, her sexuality and her motive.
Who will survive, at the end. Hunter or beast?
Jaguar; The Black Angel can be downloaded from Amazon as either paperback book or e-book. Just click www.wildscribbler.com/books for details on purchase.
Copyright Wildscribbler March 2017
The Range Rover Evoque purred up to the huge iron gates and Megan Dale waited for the security system to recognise the vehicle and open them. It was nine o’ clock on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve. As the courtyard beyond the gates lit up, Megan took a deep breath. She hadn’t been back to Brynamman Lodge for over three years. Ever since her husbands death, the house had held memories that made her heart ache. The offer of a job abroad with a big-cat conservation charity had given Megan a new purpose in life and she had grabbed it both hands. As the gates widened, she drove in and pulled up outside the huge oak entrance door with its black panther-head door knocker. Stepping out of the car, beneath the floodlights, Megan knew that nothing had changed inside. Molly Williams, her young stable girl, had been living here with her boyfriend Owen for the duration. Strangely, they had abandoned the house two weeks ago. Molly had said that they found it too big for the two of them and they had rented a small cottage nearby. They had taken Buster, the only one of Bobby’s GSP’s still surviving. Molly had been tending Megan’s horses daily, sticking to her contract. Sadly, the charity Megan was employed by had let her down badly … to the point where her life was threatened doing her job. Megan had quit. So coming back here for Christmas, to her and Bobby’s sanctuary, seemed the sensible thing to do.
Megan stepped out of the Evoque and started to dig the front door keys from her shoulder bag. It was cold and the belly of cloud above threatened snow. As she did so, she glanced up at the windows above the front porch, on the stairwell. Megan flinched at what appeared to be a watching face withdrawing from the glass pane. Then, suddenly, the outside floodlights went out. Megan had forgotten how dark Brynamman Lodge was in mid-winter. She couldn’t see her hands in front of her face. Knowing how the PIR light sensors worked, Megan walked around the courtyard expecting them to pick up her movement. Nothing. Megan picked her mobile phone from its cradle in the Evoque. The screen lit up and she found Molly’s number. Molly answered almost immediately. “Hi Megan! Are you back home?” Megan grinned and said that she had arrived. It was good to hear Molly’s bubbly voice and Welsh accent. She explained that the lights had gone out and asked if Molly had noticed any problems.? There was a long pause. “Megan … can you come by here before you go in? Please?” Megan was confused. “Why, Molly? I’m here now! I’ve just had a long drive and I really could do with my bed”. As Megan talked she was watching the windows. Through the curtained windows she noticed a flicker of light moving up the stairwell and across the upper floor. “Molly, that’s not funny!” Megan said. “What’s not funny, Megan?” Molly sounded genuine. “You’re in there! I can see you moving about! Is that a candle you’re carrying?” Megan heard a sharp intake of breath and could half hear whispering to Owen. “Megan, I swear, we’re in our cottage. The Lodge is empty. Please come to us first. Don’t go in there!”
Molly opened the cottage door to Megan and led her in. Owen sat at the table with an empty whisky glass in front of him. Buster, sensing Megan’s scent, came bounding up and placed his paws across her shoulders, lapping her face with his tongue. Megan was delighted that the dog still recognised her and made a big fuss of the old boy. “What’s going on?” Megan asked. “Have we got squatters?” Molly sat down at the kitchen table, her hands clenched between her thighs. Megan could sense the tension. She looked to Owen. “Molly, offer Megan a drink please”. Molly stood “Sorry Megan, you’ve had a long journey. Tea, coffee?”, Owen smiled “or something stronger?”. Megan declined. “I just need my bed, guys. Thanks for looking after the place, by the way. Now … why am I here? Please explain?”. Owen stood up and found the whisky bottle. He half-filled his glass and sat down again. Megan was staring at Molly, who looked apologetic. Megan had never seen Owen as a drinker. “Megan, please don’t go in there tonight”, Owen slurred. “Stay here and I’ll go in with you in the morning.” Megan was getting annoyed now. “Owen. I’m tired. I’ve flown and driven a long way to spend Christmas Eve in my own home. Tell me what the hell is going on, please?”
Molly started the story. They had been enjoying the tenure. Enjoying the space, as young lovers previously constrained by their parents homes, for nearly two years with no problems at all. But in recent months, strange things had started to happen around Brynamman Lodge. Strange lights, ornaments being toppled over, the dogs barking for no reason, the horses whinnying in the stables. They had rented the cottage and stopped living in the lodge. Molly went there during daylight only, to clean and exercise the horses. Megan asked if there had been anything unusual during daylight? “Sometimes”, the girl answered. “The place is just … spooky!”. Megan listened, intrigued and concerned, but she was a pragmatist. She and Bobby had never had any issues in the house. As Molly continued her tale, Megan stopped her. Rather than fearing entering Brynamman Lodge, Megan (always one for a challenge) addressed both Molly and Owen. She was still sitting, stroking Buster. “Guys. Thanks for the warning, but Brynamman Lodge is my home. I need to go back there. Tonight.” Owen stood up, slurring again. “Megan, we can’t stop you. But please, take Buster.” Megan was intrigued. “Why, Owen?”. Owen folded his arms, turned and stared into Megan’s eyes. His own eyes were dulled, clouded with an alcoholic fugue. “Because Buster has sensed something too … and he didn’t like it either!”. Megan wasn’t keen on the idea. “Look, Owen. You’re a dog man. You know Buster needs to get used to me being around first. Bring him over tomorrow or Boxing Day.” Owen shrugged and the couple saw Megan to the door.
Megan drove back to the Lodge smiling. Those kids had no idea what she had just been through over the past year. Kidnapped in the Far East while trailing big-cat smugglers. Caged in a tiny cell. Rescued just before being sold into sex slavery, no thanks to her employer. Ghosts and ghouls at Brynamman Lodge? The only fear Megan had was of the human capacity for cruelty, not ‘things that go bump in the night’. The huge gates swung open and, strangely, the spotlights blazed to welcome her in. Clearly working again. Megan looked up at all the windows. Nothing. She turned the key in the lock and gently eased open the front door. Megan stepped into the portal and a rush of cool air greeted her, unexpectedly. It ruffled her blonde hair and brushed her cheeks like a lovers kiss. Megan stood, not frightened but exhilarated. She flicked the light switch and the hallway lit up with its sweeping, spiral stairway and polished wooden floor. Her own paintings lining the walls, for that’s what had brought her and Bobby together. Her art. Sweeping savannahs, horses, wild cats. Bobby had been a big-cat personal guide when they’d met in Johannesburg. That first meeting hadn’t gone smoothly. She painted cats. He shot them. She had soon learned that first impressions aren’t what they seem.
Megan stepped into the kitchen. As she hit the light switch she was met with two moon-like eyes staring through the glass of the patio doors at the far end of the room. They extinguished swiftly and something fled. Unidentifiable in the darkness outside. Fox? Megan smiled. Foxes stood no chance here in Bobby’s day. She stepped through to the lounge. This time she didn’t throw the light switch. In the middle of the floor, a pair of yellow eyes blazed back at her, reflecting the light from the kitchen. The wide jaws, with enormous gleaming fangs, were met with Megan’s own wide grin. She stepped into the darkness and swept up the leopardskin rug, hugging it tightly. She took one of the claws and stroked it lightly across her breast. The claw that had left her husband scarred for life. Deep, strafing scars. She imagined herself now, lying next to him, stroking the grey chest hairs that covered the old wounds. As Megan stood there, the breeze came again, swirling around her. It touched the back of her neck and her lips. Megan smiled widely again. Laying the rug back in place, she then set about clearing the car and bringing in her travel bags.
Thankfully, Megan had stopped on the way home to grab some provisions. She was famished and tired, so her priority was to eat, get some sleep and organise better the next day. Christmas Day. First, though, she needed to visit her horses. She turned on the electric oven, to warm up, then grabbed a torch from her car and walked behind the Lodge, out to the stable block. As she swung the powerful LED torch about she saw eyes again, watching in the darkness. Browsing rabbits; the round eyes of the fox. It would be stalking the rabbits. Just before she reached the stables Megan sensed something large moving in the copse to her left. She swung the torch at the trees and two huge white eyes shone back. The loud bark made her jump, then the red deer turned and leapt away, crashing through the trees. This triggered the whinnying of her two horses, disturbed by the sound. Megan entered the stable block and flicked on the light, turning off the torch. She walked up to Byron first, her hunter. Bobby had bought the horse for her as a birthday present, just a year before he died. The horse nuzzled up to her as she stroked his nose, snorting approval. He shook his head and whinnied in excitement. The breeze came again. Much stronger this time. The lights flickered. The two horses reared up as the mini-maelstrom tangled Megan’s hair and tickled her ears and cheeks. Megan smelt something familiar in the gust and wrapped her arms around herself in a hug. She walked over to her mare, Bryony and stroked her too. Both horses nostrils were flaring in recognition. Megan had come home.
A few minutes after Megan locked the front door, the spotlights in the courtyard turned off. She fired up the oven and soon had a lasagne warming through with some frozen peas simmering too. She looked at the huge pile of mail Molly had stacked on one of the worktops. Thankfully, Molly had removed all the junk mail. Lord knows what she would find amongst this lot? Some would be fan mail (her novel, Black Ghost, had been a huge success). Most would be reminders, bills, invites … Megan’s agent took care of all that. Megan picked the whole lot up and tried to move the pile in one go into the study. She failed, magnificently. As she was losing grip, the breeze returned and as she launched the letters onto what was Bobby’s old writing desk, one flew across the room to land near the dining room door. Megan returned to the kitchen to rescue her meal. She dished up and sat at the dining table, enjoying the luxury of a sit-up meal after the life of squalor she had endured recently. As she ate Megan glanced down and saw the envelope on the floor. She stooped and picked it up, laying it on the table in front of her. She took another fork-full of lasagne and stopped with the food at the end of her tongue. She recognised the handwriting on the letter. She checked the date stamp and was even more confused. The letter had been posted a year ago. Megan took a huge swig of wine. Scared now, more than ever in her life. Bobby had died three years ago. It was Bobby’s writing. As she went to pick it up, it moved away from her. Scared, she carried on eating. The letter moved closer. With every mouthful, the letter crept towards Megan. When the plate was empty, she picked it up.
“Hi Babe. Yes it’s me, Bobby. If you’re reading this it’s because our solicitors have been asked to send you this letter two years after my death. Don’t be upset by it. I just want you to know that I hope you are enjoying your life. Whatever you do, whomever you now love, you have my sanction. Please don’t sacrifice your life to a memory of me. You know, of course, that as a hunter, I will still find a way through the Tao to get as close to you, and protect you as much as I can, without disturbing you. I love you, for eternity. Bobby. xxx”
Megan sprawled across the table, her fists beating the oak surface. The tears welled up yet again. As she wept, the lights flickered. Megan sat up, just as the house plunged into darkness. She sat there, waiting for something more to happen. Nothing did, so Megan stood and stepped towards the light switch. The switch failed. She heard, more than felt, the swish of tail and the pad of paw. Suddenly, Megan Dale felt afraid. More so than ever in her life. Bobby had always preached ‘karma’. What goes around comes around. He had killed many big cats, or assisted in their killing. Always in a dignified, professional way. Megan, herself, had shot big cats. None more important than the renegade female jaguar linked to Bobby’s death. The press had called the jaguar ‘The Black Angel’. Sitting now in the dark, Megan gritted her teeth. “No fear allowed, when carrying a gun. Fear kills the threatened, not the threat. Become the threat”. That was what Bobby had preached so often. Megan used the torchlight on her mobile phone and went to the key safe, entered her code and pulled out her shotgun and two cartridges. She loaded both into the breech and headed for the study carrying an open gun. There, Megan opened a cabinet and took out an LED torch, wondering if the batteries would still carry power? The beam of light lifted Megans confidence. She swept the beam around and saw that outside, a light blanket of snow now covered the garden. Suddenly the beam caught the reflection of a pair of emerald eyes, outside, among the shrubs. They blinked and disappeared. “Ye Gods!” Megan muttered. A tremor went down her spine. “Are you here now, Bobby? To protect me?” The question was spoken out loud. A rush of air swept around her again and caressed her face. Megan smiled. Bobby’s ‘Qi’ was with her. She felt a rush of adrenalin coarse through her. It was time to face this new demon. As she snapped the gun barrels shut she whispered “I wonder if jaguars return as ghosts?”
Megan pulled on her boots and a fleece jacket. As she stood in the darkness, she saw a dull light moving between the trees like a will o’ the wisp. It was moving towards the generator shed so she followed it, the soft snow making her progress silent. As she picked up the creatures tracks in the snow, a penny dropped in Megans head. Approaching the shed she followed the tracks to a hole in the shiplap panels. A hole the size of a football. Megan crept around the shed, flicked on the torch and pulled the door open. The beam picked up the creature just as it seized its prey. The green eyes flashed in anger and it bolted back through the hole, carrying its quarry with it. Megan shone the torch around the small shed. She noticed the leaves and straw bulging from the fuse boxes on the walls. Prizing one open, Megan leapt back as half a dozen wood-mice fled the box and scuttled out into the snow. She opened another and the same thing happened. Megan giggled like a schoolgirl. The wiring was in a dreadful state, nibbled by the little lodgers. It was no wonder the Lodges electrics were playing up!
Megan left the shed and followed the tracks of the fleeing predator. They led her to a vent in the garage wall. Megan quietly opened the small side door into the garage and stepped into the darkness. She was greeted with a viscious hiss and flicked on the torches beam. This time, not one pair but six pairs of emerald green eyes stared back at her. The sleek black fur of the mother cat had been replicated in her kittens. Megan stepped forward, delighted. “Oh, you little beauties!” she whispered. “You must be frozen!” The mother allowed Megan to approach, her collar blinking weakly … the batteries almost dead. Megan slipped off her fleece and lifted the five tiny kittens into it, wrapping them tenderly. “Come on, Mum. Let’s get these beauties into the warm”. As she crossed the snowy yard, the mother cat brushed against Megans legs. The breeze came again and wrapped itself around Megans head. She stopped to enjoy the moment. “Thank you, Bobby!” Megan whispered. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present!”
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, December 2016
Jaguar Image by Brent Norbury
For more reading about Bobby’s death and Megan’s revenge read Jaguar: The Black Angel by Ian Barnett www.wildscribbler.com/books
An elusive beast unleashes her ferocity on the Brecon hillsides then sets off on a journey to find her destiny, changing forever the lives of all those who come in contact with her. The press have given her a name. The Black Angel. One of her casualties emerges as her Nemesis. Two huntresses, one journey … but which will reach the end alive?
For three days, since her last putrid meal of road-kill venison, she had laid close during daylight eluding her enemy. By night she had skulked and crept, searching out a fresh hunting ground. Lying here now a different, though memorable, scent made her huge heart race. It was blood. Placental blood. Every nerve in her lithe torso tingled. Her muscles tensed as she drank in the rich perfume.
A wild animal unleashes its ferocity on the Welsh hills and sets off a chain of events that will change many lives forever. A bi-sexual blonde huntress, the British countryside, a big cat with a flavour for human flesh and an errant Prime Minister. A fast paced thriller-noire that you just won’t want to put down.
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