1 August 2017

Beyond the Recesses of Normality

“Step right up, step right up!” exclaimed the man in the top hat, gesturing wildly toward the passing crowd. “Prepare to witness the incredible! The unimaginable! The terrible!”

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, mere moments from now the curtains will open to reveal our newest acquisition! A gargantuan terror from beyond! A sight not meant for human eyes! A sight, ladies and gentlemen, I promise!, a sight you will never forget as long as you live! But I advise you to gird yourselves for the dread you are about to experience before you dare gaze upon this heinous miscreation!”

“Ladies and gentlemen! For years, the finest hunters on the face of the Earth have been toiling to find this legendary monstrosity! We alone have managed to capture it, and now you are about to become the first to behold its true nature! Hear our fearless hunter recount the exciting tale of its capture that will wend its way into history itself! A tale of tempered skill put to the ultimate test! A tale of mortal peril conquered by never-ending perseverance!”

The hunter stepped onto the stage, nodded to the man in the top hat, and placed one hand on the whip hanging from the belt. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Cassidy Atkinson. I have been hunting rare beasts my entire life. My journeys have taken me to every corner of the globe, from the humid jungles of the Amazon to the arid tundra of Siberia and in these travels I have seen all manner of viciously dangerous creatures. I can scarcely count the number of times I barely managed to survive, only to emerge victorious over the beasts at the last instant. I used to believe myself impervious to fear. I was not frightened when I was surrounded by a pack of wolves that had been chasing me for two days. I was not frightened when I gazed into the eyes of a jaguar and felt its breath on my chin as it tried to puncture my neck. But not even I was not prepared for the constant apprehension that would fill me as I was pursuing this creature.”

“I have known of this species for quite some time. Whenever I travelled across the world, I heard whispers, legends of terrifying beasts that were surrounded by darkness and misery. At first I dismissed the stories as foolish superstition, but through the years I would begin to hear the same story ever more often: creatures with minds as alien to our being as can be, of unfathomable intent, hiding among mankind in plain sight, yet perfectly concealed. I began to study these stories, trying to find the commonalities that might someday enable me to track one of them down on my own. After months of study, I was prepared to give up. My endeavour seemed impossible, until suddenly, Fortune finally smiled on me. I was contacted by our host, my benefactor. He informed me one of his hunting parties had managed to accidentally stumble upon a creature that fit the description of what I was looking for. The hunting party that found it dared not attempt to capture it, and neither would any other hunter my benefactor contacted. Most camouflaged their fear as mere scepticism of the creature’s existence. Some were courageous enough to admit they dared not attempt to capture the mythical beast. But I, I knew at once that this was my destiny. As soon as I saw the picture of its back they’d managed to take from afar, I knew I would capture the creature or die trying. Now that I had finally found its scent, I would pursue it to the very ends of the Earth.”

“I interviewed all the hunters who came close to the creature myself. It turned out they had set up camp very close to its den without even realising it. They’d tracked its movements for three whole days without realising what they were dealing with or the danger they were in. But their recklessness proved useful; I knew where to begin my search. It was inside our very city. I established my base of operations in a structure a mere two hundred feet from where I deduced the creature dwelled. For the first few days, I explored my surroundings. It is important for a hunter to know the terrain in case the hunt takes them to an unexpected location. Such a development is never welcome, but should nevertheless be planned for. It was on the fourth day that I decided to remain in my hideout and begin observation.”

“I had little difficulty identifying the creature. I cannot say precisely what gave it away among the multitude of others it mingled with, but the unnatural way it comported itself was immediately plain to my trained eyes. It appeared to avoid physical contact with others in a way that would seem inconspicuous if seen in isolation by those passing by. Its pace was only slightly faster than normal. It avoided eye-contact. My observations in the next few days merely confirmed what I knew in my heart from the very beginning: this was the creature I had been looking for for so long.”

“In my arrogance, I soon began to believe it was only a matter of days before I would be able to capture it. Such hubris could have easily led to tragedy. I mistakenly assumed it to be a creature of a predictable nature. I was already preparing a plan on when and where I could confront it. If not for a fortunate coincidence, I might not be standing here today. I had only witnessed it leave its lair to gather food up to that point, and it had always followed the same path and returned after the same amount of time. So when I saw the creature leave its shelter, I prepared an ambush for when it returned. I waited near its dwelling, concealed by shrubbery, until, thirty minutes after I expected it to arrive, I finally realised I had underestimated it. Its patterns were not as predictable as I had assumed. For the first time during a hunt, I was overcome by fear. Did the creature manage to outsmart me? Did my audacity lead me to an early grave?”

“I was fortunate. I stealthily snuck back to my hideout. I waited for the creature to return, observing its lair closely, and it came back after nearly twelve hours. I dare not imagine what would have happened had I waited and actually attempted to capture it. A fatigued hunter makes for easy prey. But this change in its routine made me see I was dealing with a creature far more complex and unpredictable than I had assumed. Further observation would be necessary until I could predict its actions better.”

“I had hoped I would be able to understand the creature within a few weeks at most, but its movements continued to surprise me. I soon realised I would need to rely on all my skill and experience in order to succeed. At first glance, the creature’s routine was mostly transparent. It remained in its dwelling most of the time, undoubtedly seeking to avoid any situation that might put it in danger. I studied its circadian rhythm closely. The creature appeared to enjoy sunlight once awake, but concealed itself from it when asleep. In spite of this apparent preference, it only slept through the latter half of the night and continued its rest until sometime after noon. Curiously, it always seemed to consume a dark brown beverage of some kind immediately after waking.”

“Once every two days it made a journey outside its dwelling to gather food and drink. It did not appear to keep any reserve supplies of food in its den: the creature was evidently confident it would not experience an unexpected famine. Except for these semi-regular voyages, it mostly appeared content to remain in its home, spending most of its time in front of a glassy surface or simply sleeping, which seemed to be of paramount importance to it. It generally slept for over fourteen hours every day, usually in one session of eleven hours at night and another of three hours during the afternoon.”

“If this were the constant rhythm of the creature, it would not be overly difficult to capture it. But some of its rarer movements betrayed a complex and adaptive mind. After first being confronted by the creature’s unpredictability, I observed it for nearly a week afterwards and it appeared to be a slave to its routine again. Then, on the sixth day, I noticed the creature exhibiting unusual behaviour. When it returned to its lair after going out in search of food, it appeared to have procured a beverage with what would turn out to be very bizarre effects. It started to drink copiously and at first I did not notice anything out of the ordinary. After consuming a large amount of the beverage, however, it began to exhibit unexpectedly large amounts of energy. It left its den and did not appear to have any of the behaviours that betrayed it was fundamentally different from anyone else. It still moved swiftly, but did not avoid physical or eye contact anymore. Curious, I decided to follow it at a safe distance. The creature went into some kind of a structure and I could not follow it inside for fear of getting exposed. I waited for it until it returned and once it did, its demeanour seemed to be entirely different from what I had seen thus far. It emerged in the presence of several others and made no attempt to avoid them, in stark contrast to how it usually functioned in groups. Once it decided to leave for home, I followed it from a distance, perplexed at this behaviour.”

“The following day, the creature appeared to avoid sunlight. I could only assume it was hibernating in some way. One day after that, the standard routine returned. A lesser hunter might consider exploiting this return to the expected, but what I saw two nights ago confirmed without a doubt that the creature had certain hidden capabilities that might emerge unexpectedly and pose a significant danger.”

“For the next five months I merely observed the creature and clandestinely followed it when it left its dwelling. I began to identify a broader pattern in its movements. It consumed its bizarre beverage once every five days and afterwards moved to locations where it could socialise. This beverage apparently gave it a certain confidence and an unpredictability when it associated itself with others. I managed to get my hands on one of the many containers it left behind after consuming the beverage and after a careful examination I concluded the container was filled with some kind of liquid fermented fruit. The beverage exposed the creature’s cunning and adaptable underlying nature and I become convinced it would activate this aspect of itself if presented with a sufficient threat regardless of whether it had consumed the beverage beforehand. ”

“I did notice a fatal flaw in the creature’s behaviour. It was mostly functional, predictable, and undoubtedly dangerously adaptable most of the time. But the day after massively imbibing the bizarre beverage, it always remained inside its dwelling. In the five months I observed it, it only left its den three times the day following its consumption of the beverage. Those three times, the creature was disoriented, slow, suggestible, and apparently not in possession of its usual faculties. It seemed almost as if it were poisoned in some way. I could only conclude that its nights of imbibing somehow drained it of its energy, which explained why it tended to hibernate afterwards. While its emergence in this state was rare and entirely unpredictable, I knew that was the time to strike. So I lay in wait for weeks, setting traps every morning I suspected it might emerge from its lair in a disoriented state. Its capture seemed inevitable.”

“But there was still a surprise left in store for me before this perilous hunt would end. While I was setting the trap one morning after the creature had gone to socialise, I noticed it moving in its den much earlier than usual. I immediately moved back to my observation post and turned my sights toward the creature’s lair. In contrast to what I expected, it seemed to be brimming with energy. It went outside to acquire food and did not seem disoriented or slow in any way. If I did not know any better, I would say it appeared almost gleeful. By the time it returned home, I realised I was in unknown territory once again.”

“In the next few days, I saw an unusual change in the creature’s behaviour, so I began to follow its movements with a renewed sense of fear and caution. It spent more of its time outside, evidently exploring a nearby forest for the first time and occasionally interacting with others. It seemed far more energetic than usual. This new pattern did not fit any of my previous observations. I became concerned that the creature underwent some kind of a permanent metamorphosis, perhaps entering the next stage of its life-cycle. Such a development would be disastrous, forcing me to practically re-start the entire hunt.”

“The change and its consistency was astounding. The creature’s circadian rhythm was almost unrecognisable: it slept for a mere nine or ten hours every day. It spent increasingly large amounts of time outside its dwelling. And crucially, it regularly socialised with a specific specimen of the opposite sex. It was not long before it finally dawned on me: the creature was endeavouring to procreate.  Its radical change in behaviour was an attempt at attracting the mate it had chosen. I became disheartened at this realisation. All my experience taught me never to confront a beast in the middle of its mating cycle. Its instincts might compel it to react even to a minor disruption with unpredictable and deadly force. On the other hand, if the creature did manage to procreate successfully, I would most likely have to account for an increased presence of its mate, prolonging the hunt even further. There appeared to be no action I could safely take. I could only hope the creature’s courtship would end in failure and that I would be able to exploit the vulnerabilities of its previous routine once it returned to it. For the moment, I was forced to wait.”

“I spent my time observing the creature and its courtship ritual, until one day, without warning, some three weeks after the transformation, the situation finally developed in my favour. The creature went to meet with its potential mate and seemed mirthful and energetic at first. It began its mating dance, but apparently did not get the reaction it had hoped for and its demeanour suddenly changed, regressing back to the state I first encountered it in. It remained near its potential mate for a while until the two parted ways and the creature swiftly started to move back to its dwelling, only stopping to procure several containers of the beverage with strange effects. I observed it throughout the night. It imbibed large amounts of the beverage in solitude until it finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. I assumed it would spend the following day in hibernation, but I was mistaken. As soon as it awoke, it began to imbibe more of the fermented fruit beverage and barely ate the entire day. I had never seen it act this way before. I continued to observe the creature until it fell asleep. It was then that I recognised the rarity of this opportunity and came up with my final plan.”

“The several months I had spent observing the creature turned out not to be a waste of time. While the creature surely still had the capacity to surprise me, I could see some constants in its actions. I knew that the creature had last procured food three days ago and, since it never stored much in advance, it was only a matter of time before it would have to replenish its supplies. Even if it decided to wait and recuperate, however long that might take after two days of consuming the fermented beverage, it would still have to come to light eventually. Meanwhile, every day it spent secluded would weaken it further. This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. On the third day after its rejection by its chosen mate, several hours after noon, it finally emerged from its den and walked straight into the foot trap I set for it.”

“All other beasts I have ever captured howled in pain as the trap caught their legs, some viciously gnarling in untempered fury, some whimpering and almost begging to be released. This creature, however, seemed to barely notice the pain and only slowly looked down once it realised it could not move any further. Moments later, it collapsed to the ground, still awake and fully conscious, but entirely devoid of energy or intention. The hunt was finally over.”

The hunter took a bow and the audience applauded loudly. The man in the top hat stepped to the centre of the stage again. “Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you have all been waiting for has arrived at last! You have heard the tale of the Herculean effort it took to capture this creature, and now it is finally time for you to come face to face with this terror that comes creeping from beyond the furthest recesses of normality!”

“I give you … The grotesque!, the deforméd!, the twisted! … Person with Depression!”

The curtain fell and the audience gasped in unison. Children covered their eyes and peeked through their fingers at the creature in the cage. Some began to cry and others clutched their parents’ hands, terrified and mesmerised by what they saw.

“Please, feel free to step forward and examine it from up close. I will be glad to answer any questions you might have,” said the hunter and after a brief moment the crowd slowly converged around the cage, observing the creature from all angles, still in quiet disbelief over its existence. The silence was finally broken when a child tugged at the hunter’s sleeve and meekly asked: “Excuse me, sir, may I touch it?”
“Why, of course you may,” smiled the hunter. “It is perfectly harmless now.”

Rk. 29 July 2017

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