I stared into death; death stared back. The piercing gaze of the beast pinned me. I could not move. Dare not move. Locked in its predatory gaze, my vision tunneled. I was tuned to the highest note, another turn and I would snap. Snap. Sound. There was no sound.
But there was energy. Vibration. The air around me was alive, reverberating with a rhythmic rumble. It exuded from the beast, and it ran through the ground, up my legs through my feet. Enveloping me. My feet had not moved. Could not move. I was dimly aware of my feet, of the long roots that I had grown from them into the ground. Keeping me there. Holding me there.
Our eyes saw only each other. A wild fury blanketed its fearsome pits, a hate-filled glass. Glass. Behind that glass was a silhouette, something large, something moving. Its soul. It danced around in the fires of the furnace, billowing up, twisting, writhing. Its movements were barely distinguishable, and yet they transfixed me. Its perpetual motions would betray its master’s movements.
Fear. I should feel it. An endless abyss threatens to swallow me up. And yet I do not feel it. The whirling silhouette dances closer. I can almost see its form. I tense, my finger tightening further on the trigger. It stops. It retreats back into the fiery depths, taunting me, waiting. My finger remains tense, tightening further still. It knows. The beast knows that I can drag it down with me. It too can feel the cold breeze rising from that abyss, ensnaring us both. We are one, caught in the same trap of some higher force.
It is odd. Moments before, my heart was racing. Roaring. Like the rapids of a great river, one that threatens the very life within it. Pouring over every rock, swallowing up anything in its path. A torrent. Rushing in my ears. But then it had faded. Slowed. A babbling brook. Trickling. Dripping. Was it still beating? I couldn’t tell. I had been brought closer to the brink of the abyss, so close that I was no longer standing on the side. Floating. I was floating above it.
The movement of the silhouette wrenched me back from of the depths of my mind. It had seen my vulnerability. I had been distracted. My eyes widened slightly. Slightly. And yet it was enough, enough to stop the shape from breaking through the glass. Enough to stop it in its tracks. Enough to send it back from whence it came.
This time, however, I gave pursuit. I followed it into the hell fires of the beast, shattering the glass that had so precariously separated us. I flew through the burning hatred and red fury that dominated the beast. Closing in. Closer. Closer. Closer still. The silhouette was coming into view. It was elusive, flying forever further into the recesses of the beast’s mind. It stopped suddenly. Its whirling, shape-shifting clouds began to calm. I had it cornered. Deep. Deep inside the beast. It could go no further. Its clouds began to condense. An arm formed. Legs. I watched in amazement as a human body stepped forward. Details began to emerge. A crooked nose. Large ears. A tangled mass of hair. A familiar scar.
It lifted something in its hands. Brought it to its eyes. Pointed it at me. Took aim. I blinked. Shattered the connection. Pulled myself out of the mind of the beast. Back to the place I stood rooted. The fiery eyes of the beast no longer burned. The forges had gone dark.
My finger loosened. The tiger relaxed. My roots retracted. His large black eyes broke contact. The air stopped vibrating. A bird that had been frozen in mid-air resumed its flight. Life came rushing back, and the cold, dark abyss was no more. The sounds of birds, insects, and animals awoke after a timeless hibernation. I lowered the gun, and the tiger walked away.
In that moment when time stood still, when the hand of death reached ever closer, I had stared into the beast and found myself staring back. For he and I are not “tiger” and “man”. He and I are one and the same, mind and soul intertwined. We are life, we are family, and this is home.