Dark. Dark as Hell. Dark as Hell’s basement. Dark as Hell’s basement wearing a blindfold. We wait for it to get darker. It does.
And it doesn’t.
Pupils dilate. The chemistry of the eye adjusts. Retinal and opsin, fractured by the departing light, recombine into rhodopsin and the optical rods are able to sort black from white – colors be damned – and night becomes deep monochromatic day. From the darkness appears a ribbon of light and under that ribbon the monsters lie.
The temptation to use the headlamp nags, but to use it means to start over. Reset the eyes or spook the hole. Or both. We use the red, if we need it, to sort out the rodent tunnels, the hidden deep-cut tribs, the wrap-you-tight vine. Stop sign red. Warning red. Ambulance light red, awaiting the crack of tibia as the leg disappears down a hole in the gloom. We try not to use it so it’s slow going. One slow searching step at a time.
But the meandering ribbon beckons. Deep in the weeds. Twisted by time and geology and beaver den. Liquid silver. Fifteen feet wide, then thirty. Much wider under the surface as undercuts grant ambush positions to the creatures we seek; biding their time awaiting the miscalculation of a field mouse.
Why did the rat cross the stream? To get to the other side. Often, they don’t.
And we count on that, pitching deerhair doppelgangers on 8 weights to the far shore – as well as we might with all depth perception absent – and swimming them back to the rod tip. Disturbing the silk surface of the ribbon. Inviting the predator. Awaiting the splash and the tug; the violent arrival. The fight in the night.
When it doesn’t happen we stumble on, up-ribbon, and try again. Staying close to each other by the whisper of grass, the crunch of gravel, and the regular curse upon misstep or stumble. The wee hours drift by with the flowing of silk and the rotation of stars until light bleeds from the east. Red light. Red as our headlamps. Red as our bloodshot eyes.
And the chemistry within shifts once again.