Bar None

Free Bar None by Tim Lebbon

Book: Bar None by Tim Lebbon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tim Lebbon
Tags: Science-Fiction
gateway just as I approached. It saw me instantly, and probably heard and smelled me as well, but I've always been certain that until that moment it had been unaware of me. Maybe it had mirrored my route on the other side of the hedge. Perhaps it had paused when I paused to examine a rabbit hole, its own thoughts more basic than mine: food, meat, the chase and the catch. Then when I started again so did the fox, drawing closer to the gate that would reveal us to each other without a fear in its head. Foxes were always cautious, I knew that, especially during the day when there were farmers with shotguns and dogs. But they also had families that needed feeding. And like the farmers that despised them so, the foxes worked the land to find that food.
    It felt like several minutes that we stood there staring, daring each other to make a move. I've never felt time distorted to such an extent. Whenever I look back I cannot honestly say how long we remained on either side of the open gate. I saw the fox's fur rise on its back when a breeze sang up the hillside, and a heartbeat later my fringe lifted in sympathy. Its eyes glittered. Its mouth hung open slightly, and I saw the pink tongue in there, moist and shiny as it moved ever so slightly, stretching and contracting with each fast breath. One of its ears twitched and I turned my head slightly, looking down into the fox's field to see whether there was anything else moving in there. Nothing. No cows or sheep, no farmer or hikers, no rabbits or birds. A couple of butterflies danced frantic patterns in the morning sunlight a dozen paces away, and in that moment of utter stillness and clarity of vision I fancied I could hear their delicate wings singing at the air. I saw corn shift as the sky let out its held breath, and I could almost smell it moving, sense the shifting of balance all around me as the landscape—living, breathing, watching and sensing—moved moment to moment.
    I was not holding my breath. My heart pumped faster than usual, and I could hear blood flowing in my ears, but I breathed normally, long calm breaths which I hoped the fox could hear. Stay with me , I thought, desperate for the moment to never end.
    Perhaps I spoke it. Maybe in that moment of epiphany I forgot myself, and muttered to the creature as though it were my own kind. The fox darted away down the field, keeping low and tight to the hedge leading off at right angles from the one I had followed, and within seconds all I could see of it was the occasional twitch of a corn stalk as it passed by. A few seconds more and it was gone, into the next field or the copse of trees two hundred meters down the hillside. I would likely never see it again.
    For a while nature came alive around me. Birds sang, things scurried through the hedgerow, and to my left I saw the grey smudge of several rabbits emerging from their burrows. Then I turned and sighed, and that bubble of cautionary silence fell once again.
    For a moment I had been a part of it all. I never forgot that feeling, and I never once experienced it again.
    Everything changed that day. I became a watcher, able to appreciate what I saw for the stunning miracle it was. That was not just a robin on our bird feeder, it was a living, thinking thing, filled with instinct and blessed with its own personality, more complex and wonderful than anything mankind had ever achieved in its short history on the planet. We may have landed men on the Moon, but the creation of life was way beyond us. We explored space, the continents, the oceans, while the inner-space of our own minds remained largely unknown. For a moment, staring at that fox, I had known my place in things.
    Later that day, drinking yet another bottle of Old Empire with Rob and Clive, I looked out across the fields and experienced a brief shred of total understanding at the way things worked. And though that instant terrified me so much that Clive dropped his beer and asked what was wrong, it also gave me

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