Impossible Creatures: All Roads Lead Home
"A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away." - Eudora Welty
Mount Taishan, China
September 14th, 1938
Rex Chance pulled his fur-lined jacket closer around him with a shiver. The mountainous region of China was very cold, with a sharp headwind whistling dully in his ears and occasionally sending scatterings of snow to sting his exposed face. But he continued to set up his hide, folding sprays of bamboo foliage around for camouflage. He was methodical and thorough, having learned in his past months photographing wildlife that the best behaviour - unmodified, natural behaviours that his sponsors wanted photos of - usually out only when there were no signs of humans in the near vicinity.
He settled down to wait, listing for the chirps, grunts, and barklike squeal of the Giant Pandas that were his focus today. Moving nearly silently, and almost completely automatically, he checked his camera and equipment. He could hear no sounds of the sherpas who had guided him up the mountain, and that pleased him. He didn't want them scaring off his subjects, but as well as that, Rex preferred to be alone.
As he lay down to get the best angle of the cleaning ahead, he felt a brush of metal against his chest. He hesitated for a moment, then, moving slowly, closed his fingers around the chain and pulled a pocket watch from under his shirt. His thumb automatically touched the catch to release the two halves, and as it always was, his eye was drawn by the photo in the upper half. It had taken him an age to locate, tacked on to one of her more well-known research papers. Thought it had been taken several years before he met her, she looked exactly the same. It was in black and white, but he needed only to close her eyes to see the flash of red hair and the bright green eyes.
He gently caressed the photo with a fingertip, then reluctantly closed the watch and slid it back into place, feeling it settle just over his heart. His ears and nose told him his animal subjects were approaching, and he raised his camera half-heartedly. It wasn't really where he wanted to be... but he had a job.
Rex felt a faint stirring of pride when he saw his name underneath photographs in print. He used to get the same feeling, though with a far greater intensity, when a story of his was published. With a sigh, he picked up the papers and magazines, leafing through pages and trying to summon the same sort of enthusiasm for his work he once had. But it was long ago, and no longer able to grasp the emotion, which frustrated him. In a split second his tension boiled over, became action, and his fist bunched and slammed into the tabletop. It cracked cleanly down the middle and send the photos fluttering to the ground. Rex backed off, his body tensed for action.
Where had that come from? It was as if there was some unseen danger that his instincts wanted him to respond to. But there was nothing dangerous near his small cabin, cherry blossoms almost scarlet in the light of the setting sun outside. This place was peaceful... and beautiful. He wised he had Lucy with him. She would like it here.
He'd been here a few weeks now. It was a serene life, and it reflected in both the land and the people. Even the wildlife, one of the primary reasons Rex had been sent here, showed little fear of humans. It made his job easy, but sometimes he worried that was part of his problem. It was too easy. And with only a limited amount of the people around him able to understand English, Rex found himself lonelier than when on his prior assignments. Which always lead his thoughts in the same direction...
Photography seemed like the most reasonable career option, something that he already had the contacts for, even some experience. It would allow him to travel, and he had hoped at the time, fulfil the restlessness he felt had pulled him away from Lucy. But he now questioned his own motives, or maybe hadn't had any to begin with.
"What are you doing here, Rex?" He muttered to himself. "Where are you going to find the answers when you're not even sure what the question is?"