That night, as she contentedly slept, apparently satisfied with what she had done, I tried to free my mind from the day’s events by reading a science magazine under the light of a lantern. The biological news of the day was about a hypothesis that most species were less competitive with their neighbors under times of ecological stress, helping each other survive. There was some flippant speculation that maybe they’d be in cahoots against mankind soon. But I couldn’t concentrate in the stuffiness of the tent, so I shut off the light and escaped the enclosure for some fresh air.
There was no sky in the overcast night. I stood alone in the middle of the universe, surrounded by the blackness of space. I couldn’t see my hands. Being unfamiliar with our new camp I inched towards the river until a few feet away, unsure of what I might step on in my bare feet. Between the heavy black air and the dizzying rush of water I was unsure of my footing or place. The strength of the river’s surge was disorienting, swirling around my blindness. What happened to those men, I wondered? Was the fat man’s body bumping along the river’s bottom on its way to the lake, lost forever because I hadn’t intervened? Such cowardice, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t think. Mosquitoes had discovered the scent of my blood. A thousand invisible drills inundated the air around, and I swear, within me. Opening or closing my eyes made no difference. There was no distinction between me and the darkness; a black hole of space had buried me alive with its night air, dissolving my body until all that was left was my confused spirit. The buzz of mosquitoes penetrated my mind and I blinked repeatedly in a panic to identify my own boundaries. Even with my eyes closed their buzz stayed inside me. And when my sight slightly adjusted I could only see movement of what appeared to be shadows – real or imagined, I wasn’t sure – maybe it was just the wind dancing with the trees or a low fog or swarms of mosquitoes sweeping past; unless – and I tried to prevent my mind from going there – it was something demonic. What if those drunken men had drowned? I knew it was naïve to imagine their angry spirits coming back to haunt me, thoughts I could only have on a starless night, but the thoughts still unsettled me and I ducked inside the tent. Nina continued to sleep soundly, undisturbed by my movement. I sat and waited for dawn, for light, for life to begin outside the darkness that I had become. I was done. If I could make it till morning I’d leave and never come back. I wasn’t sure if I would tell Nina or not. Would she consider me to be the same as those drunken men, part of the problem? If I disappeared without notice would she come after me? I didn’t know. I didn’t know who she was anymore. Was I sleeping next to a tamed animal that had readjusted to its life in the wild, or a primitive, unpredictable tribal woman capable of slashing my throat or collecting my scalp as a trophy?
For hours, with no hint of light, I wondered if the earth had stopped rotating around the sun. Moment by moment I thought I’d go mad if some evidence of an approaching dawn didn’t present itself. I had failed to connect to the spiritual qualities I’d felt during my hikes in the woods; I’d failed to rewild. There was nothing spiritual to be found. There was only darkness and dread and creatures that wanted my blood.