You rise at dawn. Your muscles are stiff. Your breath comes in puffs in the cold morning air; you shiver and stomp to wake up. You raise and lower your head, look around, scan the horizon, run your eyes along the thin line where land meets sky in the distance. The ground is frozen. It is hard as rock beneath your feet.
Beside you, your child is stirring. He nuzzles you with his cheek and presses against your warmth.
Above, the black vultures are circling, circling, always circling. You look up and blink against the sun. You worry. Something is not right.
Your people are moving around you, brushing against your shoulders and hips, bumping and pushing. You are shoved forward. Your child is beside you one moment; the next moment he is not.
There are bodies running, but you stand still. Steady as stone. You look for your son. You know his gait, the sound of his cry. You know you’ll spot him if you just stand still long enough.
And then you see them.
Shadows really, in the early morning light. Quick, dark shadows, moving unbelievably fast over the rough, uneven terrain. They move in a pack, but there’s one out in front, clearly in the lead. They’re in formation, running, running, always running.
That’s it. A half dozen maybe. The one in the front, a few more to the sides, some to the rear. Close now, you can hear them pant. They’re circling, circling, always circling.
Time stops. Everything slows. You see your people, stumbling, tripping, madly and blindly, running for safety. Their eyes are wild, their movements hunted.
The sound of their feet on the earth is thunderous, explosive. You can hear your own heart beating in your ears. It’s the sound of fear, of terror. Of love. Because then you see him. Your baby. On the edge of the herd. He is silent. Unmoving. His eyes look this way and that, but he is frozen, still standing and standing still. He is looking for you.
And so you go to him. Of course. Your body bursts into motion. You run, head down, focused, alert. You see the vultures above, circling, circling. You see the panting shadows circling, circling. You carve right through, like a bullet, like an arrow.
You reach him. You smell him. Your bodies connect and ease with the touch, with the ease of the touch even in this terrible moment.
The shadows are panting. Their teeth are remarkably sharp, their eyes remarkably clear. You know you are alone, you and your baby. You make small circles around him, circling, always circling. Your eyes are trained on the wolves.
In this moment you know you are the same. Both are hunter, and hunted. It is not clear who will win. Who will live and who will die. The shadows have babies too, at home you know, tucked away safe in their den. This is your den, the endless sea of sky, of grass. You know you are the same, but different, but the same.
You nuzzle your baby. You lick his sweet fuzzy cheek. You move.
They move too.
There is muscle against muscle, flesh against flesh. You shout “run!” in your language to your boy, and he does. You watch until he reaches the herd.
There is struggle. There is fight. There is the clear blue sky of the morning and the cold ground beneath your feet. There is your heartbeat keeping time. There is predator, and prey. There is love, and there is life.
Circling, circling, always circling.