A soulless beast outside my tent

A soulless beast came snuffling around my tent last night. It was well past midnight; a long time asleep; too much sleep. I’d gone to bed early, as I’d no campfire to comfort or keep back the night. Too much sleep indeed. I wasn’t as deeply gone as I should have been…when I heard a gentle tapping against the flap of my tent. Not a tapping really, so much as a sliding sound, as if some blunt paw were being passed over the fabric. It was the lighter, softer version of the sound a dog makes when it paws the door to be let it. A gentle night wind was blowing, true. But the wind sounds are distinct, with a mindless, random cadence, hinting at inanimate origins and an utter lack of intent. This other sound wasn’t random—nor was it without purpose. This other sound was the product of a mind—a soulless mind, like my own.

I heard it once—three or four gentle rasps—which brought me out from my slight slumber. And then—carefully listening—I heard it again, close at hand by my right ear, which was nearest the tent’s edge. Did the soulless thing outside in the dark sense my position within the tent? Had it come near my ear to ensure it was heard? Only inches away, separated by a thin veil of fabric? I hovered between fear, and curiosity and wonder. I thought of my geology hammer by my side, imagining a sudden battle between myself and the thing outside. Such a wasted thought. Such a poor use of time. I’d come all this way, so far alone into the wild, to imagine a fight with the unknown? Couldn’t I do better with this time? Make improved use of the fact of the thing outside my tent?

I listened for a while before drifting back to sleep. There were no more sounds then. Though later, a few hours before dawn, after the moon had set, and all darkness ruled, I thought I heard something paw past in the dark; something defiant of the night, and the bitter cold; defiant even of me, the master of the planet, come to the wild to stand and walk like an immortal. I think it’s the fact that I’ve no soul—and that I know it—which gives the beasts their ease in questioning my presence, and trespassing my camp; and denying any vain wish or hope that the cold and empty night…are not.

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