Thursday, December 9, 2010

Excerpt. 'Core Values.'

The big cat sat on a branch, licking its chops, purring in contentment. Tasting the fresh blood of a rabbit from its paws and muzzle, she cleaned herself carefully. The smell of blood was a sure warning to other meals, still on the hoof or crouching cautiously in their burrows.

While she groomed her thick tawny fur, she was still always alert, always listening, smelling the wood-smoke and other flavours on the wind. She curled her right paw around and cleaned between each toe with her raspy, almost prehensile tongue. Then she did the other front paw, then each hind foot, with no hint of the precarious perch. Her balance and flexibility was a miracle of creation.

The killing was easy in these parts, and while the big cat was unaware of the fine geographic distinctions, she had unwittingly moved back into her natural range. She was home, and didn’t even know it. The killing was easy so the living was easy, and now the big cat had no natural enemies, no other top-of-the-food-chain predators competing directly with her; nor preying upon her. No other predators to spook a herd of white-tailed deer, fat and sassy after a long summer; no wolves spoiling the perfect set-up at the last instant, to cross ahead of the herd when the wind was wrong, or to leave a scent by a water source, and make them move on to another. She had the herd all to herself.

She was familiar with the black bears, who were a hereditary enemy, and sparks flew when they met. Yet she had not smelled any in so long she knew they were absent. She did not waste a lot of time contemplating this; she merely accepted it, and it was good.

While the barking of nervous dogs was often in the air, there were no wolves, and no sign of their past presence, no hint of a pack in the vicinity. No wolverines, no badgers, although their smaller cousins, and pretty good eating when happenstance allowed, such as the groundhog, the raccoon and the possum were in abundance. No moose, the only creature besides one other which truly frightened the big cat. There were plenty of the two-legged noisy ones. She felt a kind of caution and a kind of disdain for them, for they did not act properly, and seemed quite mad in their mindless pursuits; mysterious, and unknowable. She had never eaten one, not even been tempted. They smelled bad, looked odd, and since she had never tasted the meat, could not offer an opinion; and had never really developed a hankering to try it.

The deer that were her favourite meal were big, fat and plentiful, and showed signs of complacency, although lately they were more skittish. She knew nothing of hunting seasons, but they did and they knew, at least the adults, what time of year it was.

It was the time of the rut, when the sound of antlers rattling against other antlers would tell her where to go; tufts of hair on the trees to show where they had rubbed against, removing unwanted scruffy last-season fur; to make way for the glossy new coat.

The sweet-smelling tracks were by the water hole, where almost any morning, she could lie in wait and make a try for one. But now it was time to curl up and go to sleep, with her hindquarters rubbing reassuringly against the tree, head on paws, and tail curled around her like an expensive stole; on the upwind side to keep the chill away from her toes. A splishing and splashing came from the bowl of the valley nearby, where the creek curled around upon itself, and ran slow and deep. There was nothing in particular there that she liked to eat, and nothing in particular there that she feared. She put her head down and slept, mind you; with one ear open. One ear tracked the sound as it made its way down the flowing river. Finally, even that movement ceased, and after while, so did the purring. Her breath was soft, deep and even.

Pale frosty light glistened on the bark of oak branches around her perch, high above the blackened woods, all a-shiver with uncertain breezes, coming and going as is their wont.


This excerpt is from 'Core Values,' avaliable from Amazon and other fine retailers.

(Photo: Bas Lammers, Creative Commons Share-Attribute 2.0 Generic.)

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