Saturday, 29 December 2012
The shell is pearlescent, beautiful and elliptical, like two contact lenses pressed together, edge to edge. It's four feet high and almost sharp. The lantern light collects, reflects from ridges, barely discernible rock-splash ripples. The curving shell-tip wobbles softly and slowly side to side. They herd in groups where lichen drips from limestone cracks and lick the rock with agonising care.
They remind you of yachtsails, anchored in ranks on a dark and windless sea, a windowless room of broken metronomes. They clack, and tap, off-rhythm in the dark.
The tortoise heads, and snouts, that poke below are pale, like everything here, and (if possible) slower and more careful than the real thing. Craning and stretching like failed origami. It takes twenty years for the shuffling ToRaptoise to lick its fill from a vein of slow-growing abyssal lichen. It speeds up fucking quickly though, when it wants to.
When meat is scented, grazing pauses for a moment, the shells half-turn, the eyeless heads curl round and gossamer vipertounges lick patterns in the air. If meat is strong they stop, and lick again. If meat is weak, and they will always know when meat is weak, the shivering starts.
The heart rate climbs an hundredfold within a minutes time. The raptors shake and buzz like junkies. The shells begin to clack clack clack, then crash like fallen dishes, hum like bicycle rims, then whine like bees. The muscled upper legs extend, babyflesh wet. The shell tilts up, the foot-worn frontal knuckles crack, uncurling fresh/old claws that climb. The head comes up, whistling one continuous circular breath. The jaws extend. The tongue whips out in motion-capture sine wave blurs.
This creature will burn a century of slowly hoarded calories in one hour-long high-speed underground hunt. If the pack fails to down its prey they can all die of starvation, sometimes within a few minutes of each other. The shell is almost inaccessible even after death, the ToRaptoise is denied even the cannibals dividend. They fight together, they die together, they cannot be broken once a hunt has begun. They will bet, in their animal way, every single second of a quiet centuries-long life on one brutal super-fast fight. You or them.
No-one is betting on you.