Sara woke to silence, the absence of sound breaking her sleep. In her half-awake state, she imagined that the world had come to an end during the night, quietly, softly, unheard. Her brain slowly churned into life and common sense curtailed her fanciful thoughts. She dragged her sleep-softened body out of bed, curious to see what was really happening outside.
She poked her head through the gap in the curtains and for a moment was disorientated, resorting to rubbing her eyes to chase away the remnants of sleep. Then she realised that her vision wasn’t blurred after all. It was snowing. Oversized flakes drifted out of the sky, coating everything below. A thick eiderdown of snow enveloped the bushes, the garden gate and the path. As for the road – the road was empty. Blissfully, silently, empty. In place of the cars idling at the kerb as parents decanted children into the primary school next door, was a solitary cat. Sara watched it picking its way through the now unfamiliar landscape, lifting each paw high, shaking it, setting it down. Every now and again, it would pause, sniff the air, and then move on.
Sara sighed, her breath misting the cold glass of the window pane. She wrote her name in the condensation, underlining it with a curlicue, thoughtful, watching the cat. The glossy black animal, snowflake-flecked, was almost hypnotic in its sinuous progress. A tiny bird swooped down, landing untidily on the ground floor windowsill of a nearby house. A repeat visitor, it pecked through the cold crystals beneath its spindly feet, searching for the seed it knew -Sara knew – to be hidden below.
The cat stopped in mid-step. Turning its head slowly, it stared at the bird, watching, waiting. But the bird only had eyes for the seed, now uncovered. The cat sank down, burying itself in the deep, frozen blanket. Slowly, paw by paw, it crept in a great arc, finding the best angle for its attack. The bird continued in its quest for food.
The cat – the hunter – was now hidden from its prey by a snow-embraced bush nestling under the window sill. It raised its head, assessing height, distance and trajectory. It leaned back on its quivering haunches, readying itself to pounce, and then sprang into the air.
Death came quickly. The cat grasped the trapped bird in its jaws, waiting for the feeble struggle to subside. Finally, it released its prize, dropping it on the window sill and placing one paw firmly on the corpse in an act of absolute possession. Looking up, the beast focused on Sara with a challenge in its orange eyes. She blinked first, and in that moment the cat grasped the lifeless bird in its teeth and jumped down to the ground. Pausing for a moment, it trotted down the middle of the road, bold with victory.
Sara released her breath sharply, dizzied by the small act of violence she had just witnessed. Now only the snow disturbed the world outside. The thin trail of blood that marked the cat’s progress, scarring the snow with brilliant red spots faded. The bare stone window sill – the crime scene – slowly turned white.
A life had been lost, gone without a trace.