A St Bernard crossed with Beelzebub, is how I’ll describe it afterwards.
Villager J always tells me I should take a stick . “You never know what you might encounter out there.” he warns me. I always shrug in reply.
“I’m not scared.”
“There’s wild dogs out there Chica.”
“I’ve walked these hills for 7 years J. Never seen any, besides, I bite.”
Villager J and I joke around all the time, but I know he’s serious in this regard.
And fact is, I am regularly scared. I’m just unwilling to admit that.
I’ve come across a wild boar once, which I chased off by roaring at it because I couldn’t think of what else to do – and there was this one particularly freaky time when out in the hills this jogger came running towards me. Not a small bowlegged villager type one, ( they don’t jog apart from after escaping cows and donkeys) but a barrel chested ugly male who I didn’t recognise. He stopped at the exact moment he passed me, breathing heavily from running, saying something which , unless I was completely mistaken, translated as “Fancy coming across someone here. No one could hear you.” I then decided I preferred coming across wild boar.
“Take it.” Villager J is holding out a walking stick, sand coloured, I hesitate and then I oblige. It feels surprisingly sturdy and light as well as smooth. He explains what tree it is from, that it only grows near the water, and I pretend to know what tree he means. I don’t, but otherwise he’ll never stop talking until he’s sure I understand. What I do understand though, is that they used this type of stick in the past to rub over the cows bellies when they had problems with digestion. He mimics the movements. The smooth knots of the surface obviously would have a massaging effect. I want to hand the stick back but he shakes his head. “It’s yours” he says, as if it’s a sword handed down through generations.
The stick gives me a type of confidence I hadn’t before. A bit like when you’re young and you’re playing Dick Turpin and you have a pretend gun. When I hear something in the bushes I have it ready, I imagine the force of the blow I could deliver with it, the sound of the thwack.
But I’m forgetful. Maybe the stick wasn’t in its usual corner beside the door.
I tend to walk the same route everyday, past a gorgeous stone I discovered years ago, to a look out point where the landscape is always the same yet different and that fact brings me solace.
The path leads past a field which on occasion has sheep in it and two guard dogs. One of them is particularly scary and has a baritone bark which you can hear from afar.
The trick is to just ignore they’re there, they never get out of the field even though they easily could if they wanted to.
Today however, there aren’t two dogs with the sheep, there’s three. The third unfamiliar dog is the size of a tank and I wonder how a dog’s head can be that big. Outwardly calm and confident I march on, the dogs running besides me in the field, behind the flimsy fence.
When I return from the look out point, I notice the dogs haven’t gone back to their flock of sheep further down the field, they’re waiting for me behind the fence, barking ferociously.
I ponder for a second about taking a selfie with them in the background.
It’s at that exact moment my brain registers fear. True fear. And in that split second I know what’s going to happen and I haven’t got my stick with me. There is no way I can defend myself.
I walk a pace or two, trying to snap off a branch from one of the bushes but they’re too bendy and in any case, its too late as the unfamiliar dog has already scrambled over the fence.
I never knew fear is white, but in its purest form it is, blindingly bright. Somehow I manage to put one foot in front of the other. Walking, keep walking. Don’t look, don’t make it real, just ignore, keep walking.
Beelzebub is behind me within seconds, snarling and barking. Every microfiber in my body is urging me to run for my life because I’m about to be slaughtered but I’m focussed on staying calm, don’t show him your fear, it’s only aggression.
This is actually really good! This is a real Fear Test! A test to see how calm you can be! My inner Polly Anna chirps.
I can actually feel his snout against my leg and I am bracing myself for the sensation of teeth sinking into my calves, muscles being ripped, I wish I could close my eyes but I need to keep walking.
It’s like I’m in two realms, but at the same time I’m hopelessly stuck in the present: time is being dragged like a heavy hopeless prey in the jaws of a cruel predator.
Beelzebub will return to his sheep, any second now. He won’t keep following me, I tell myself when I haven’t been bitten yet. But I’m wrong. It doesn’t leave me alone.
We’re already past the length of the field, the other two dogs barking from a slight distance, still in the field, when It suddenly barges past me and tries to block my path, which doesn’t make sense at all. Beelzebub certainly isn’t a trained sheepdog. I don’t look at it and keep walking.
Another 50 meters or so, and then it finally gives up. I don’t dare to look behind me, I just keep walking.
Polly Anna remains skipping excitedly besides me, Wasn’t that fun? See how brilliant you did? We should do that again some day!
I then really regret not having my stick with me.