and hit me with a hand of broken nails
You tied my lead and pulled my chain
to watch my blood begin to boil....
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run
My hands scrape against the corroding bars that form the top and sides of the cage. A bastard file rasping against my stiff and numbing flesh. The wind is picking up carrying with it the scents of green trees, minerals, and the faint tang of wood smoke. I breathe deep to pull in a lungful of air, stretching my belly in a vain attempt to loosen the tightness in my diaphragm. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. There is something else in the air, faint, puzzling.
I sit upright, palms on the thin soil covering the rock below. Reaching up, I grasp the bars. Little flakes of rust drift down like red-ochre snowflakes to dust my arms and head. A few land on my lips. I lick them by reflex and the grit stings my tongue in an unsettling approximation of the taste of blood. I laugh nervously. The laugh stretches into a long shiver I cannot control.
Too cold to start a fire
The sky is unfolding over my head like an infinite canopy, full of promise and those milky white stars. My eyes search for a pattern, an order. I smile when I see I am not alone. The Hunter is with me. I can taste the memory of blood on my lips as I trace the outline of his arm and count the trio of stars that form his belt. Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the names rise to the surface of my mind unbidden. Probably the most recognizable group of stars in the sky. Another bit of mental detritus as it occurs to me that old Dutch star charts refer to the stars as “Driekoningen”, Three Kings. I shake my head violently to rid myself of such trivia.
Another deep breath and that scent again, I know it. It haunts me. It stirs something in my chest, tremors vibrating through the muscle of my heart. A surge of electricity shoots up my spine and flares into my hands and fingers as they grip the rough metal of the bars. Escape is the only option. The Hunter smiles down on me, and the sky flares blue white as Orion rears back his shaggy head. His voice booms and breaks over me like thunder.
“Break the bars, jaguar man. Take them in your hands, and break them.”
We laugh together in voices like a whirlwind and the electricity surges in my veins and my arms and hands bulge from the energy, forearms swelling and fingers tightening, almost welding themselves to the bars of the cage that begin to soften and crumble from the pressure. Orion looks down at me, laughing and pounding his chest. We both scream into a howl as the bars shatter with an oily shriek of tortured metal and I am through and running hard heading for the path I see dimly lit by the milky light from above. I scream like a banshee, long years of captivity sloughing off in the air and I run, run like a man possessed into the forest. The blood of the Universe is filling my heart, the heat of a thousand suns pouring out of me, as I sniff the air to follow that scent...
Hits like a Phillips head
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run
On that path in the mineral dark, feet pounding the steely hardness of rocks between the trees. I feel like my eyes are glowing, a faint emerald radiance lighting the air in front of my face. My breathing grows ragged as I run. I can feel it. I can feel the change beginning. The slow crawl of spots over my flesh, that deep throbbing in the bones of my jaw and arms and legs. My skin wrinkles furred over in a time lapse transformation. Slight cracking in my jaws as the teeth begin to lengthen and fangs overlap my lower lips. I grin and growl at the hunger in my belly.
The roar bursting from my chest rattles the leaves from the trees, and small animals flee through the undergrowth as I lope low to the ground, sniffing the air. Someone is out there, and I run.
When the forest burns
The path loops and bends, but I see it all. The wind grows stronger, the scent coats the inside of my flaring nostrils and another surge of power swells the muscles of my legs. The claws are out now, striking sparks from the ground. Faster, faster now and the wind screams past my ears. The trees are smearing into blurs flanking the path, the stars elongate into streaks like I am slipping into hyperspace. A grinding groan boils up from deep in the earth, a deep bass thrum from the epicenter of an earthquake focused on my legs. It pulses into my chest and escapes from my raw throat in a roar louder than the first. The trees tremble, the stars shake and the Universe prostrates itself in a fit of obeisance. I do not laugh, I growl. I am the shaman king.
Another lungful of air, and that scent spurring me on, stronger, intoxicating. I am dizzy from the smell and hard running. The light is changing, a gradual increase in the glow of the sky ahead. The trees are beginning to thin out, opening up before me. The wind brings with it hints of sand and warm rock. I dig in and race faster, sensing something waiting for me.
Abruptly, the trees fall away to either side. The sky opens up in a vast dome in front of me, a sudden switch from a macro lens to extreme wide angle. Far off in the distance I can see the jagged tops of a mountain range, purple teeth scraping the belly of the sky as they march toward the far horizon. The smell of dry brush has gotten stronger. Combined with the dusty tang of sand and quartz, it nearly drowns out the scent of the Other. I falter, momentarily distracted by the loss of the trail. I shake my head in confusion and look up just in time to see the edge of the world fast approaching. The path has disappeared into a knife edge line drawn across the horizon. I gasp in shock.
Compression. The few trees alongside snap sharply back into focus and the streaky stars collapse into icy pinpoints, unmoving and impassive. My legs stiffen in a frantic attempt to dig into the loose rock and gravel rolling under my paws. I rear my head back as my haunches tuck in underneath and I am sliding, sliding fast towards the edge of the cliff I can now see in the pale starlight. Frantically, I twist and flip myself over, claws nearly breaking under the strain of trying to stop my aching body from hurtling over the edge. It works, my hind legs dangling out into space. A cloud of dust envelopes me, gravel pelting my face and flying out into the void. Coughing and wheezing I pull myself back from the cliff edge, vision fading, overtaken by unconsciousness.
When the dogs are looking
Snap. Eyes like the shutter on a camera spiraling open. It is cold; I am bleeding from myriad cuts and scrapes. The blood mixes with the dust and grit, a thick paste hardening on the skin of my arms and legs. Arms and legs. The paws and spots are gone. My nails are split, bloody. It is still dark. I roll onto my back and I am greeted by the impassive stars. The Hunter has moved, sliding slightly down the sky. He laughs at me again while I struggle to sit up.
It is an escarpment overlooking a vast desert spread out before me. I lean over to look to the desert floor, and the height combined with fatigue make me swoon. Purple and red sparks flit inside my eyes like tiny fireflies. Once my head stops spinning, I raise it to scan the desert. The starlight reveals very little, a few clumps of sagebrush, a scattering of boulders. Far out on the desert floor I see a pinprick of light. It flickers, the color of molten gold, and it makes me think of torches. There is a faint pool of radiance wobbling about on the ground, as if the light is hovering.
The scent is powerful now, clinging to my face and skin. My heart begins to race and a panic that feels like lust grips me by the heart. The Other is out there, I can feel. I must know. Frantically, I cast about looking for a way down the cliff. There no steps, there are no ledges within easy reach. I cannot leap; the height would surely kill me.
Provided my heart doesn’t burst first.
To the left and the right, the cliff marches away, seemingly unending, and uninterrupted by clefts or draws or canyons. I race back and forth in ever lengthening loops in a frenzied effort to find some way to make it down the face. A sob escapes my ragged lips. I can taste salt and iron trickling down from the corners of my mouth. Finally, I fall to my hands and knees, exhausted, crying.
Out in the desert, the golden light is a smeary blob filtered through a lens of tears. It mocks me, silent and out of reach. I stretch out a hand to grab it, and of course I fail. I pound a fist into the gritty pebbles underneath me, blood spraying out from a hand ripped ragged. A tortured howl ripping from bruised lungs raises itself to the velvet sky. I plead with the Hunter to help, but the stars are mute, offering no counsel.
Out in the desert the flame continues to burn, silent and distant.
I’m gonna break...
I’m gonna break...
I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run
(Italicized paragraphs above are lyrics from the song “Rusty Cage”, by Soundgarden on the album “Badmotorfinger”)
One simplified definition of ‘fugue’ is “a polyphonic musical composition”. Another definition of ‘fugue’ is “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected performs acts of which he appears to be conscious but of which on recovery he has no recollection”. Guess which one describes how this story really got written. I’m having some memory problems.