The musty, damp smell of earth engulfs me, blocking the sharp, acute smells of night from outside my den. My bushy tail, tipped with white, flicks, causing the leaves and moss that make up my nest to rustle and scatter. It does not matter. I shall see to it come daylight, for now it is my time to prowl. The moon is full and the time is right, I must emerge.
I crawl on my belly up through the narrow tunnel, into the night. The night air bites at my nose but is not flagrant, only thrilling, as if promising a successful hunt. As I enter the outside, I am cautious but not fearful, for these woods are mine, at least for now. The silver luminous moon tosses shafts of light through the pine boughs, casting eerie shadows across my path. I pick up a casual lope through the trees, the moon putting a silvery luster on my coat. I know where I am headed, the meadow.
After crossing a stream, I reach my ultimate destination, a field cloaked in moonlight, crawling with prey. I stop at the edge, testing the air, listening for the pumping of a minute heart. The grass rustles beneath my paws as I enter the field. I sit and wait, head low, cupped ears ready to detect any small sound, tail still as stone. No sound comes to my ears and all smells are stale. Where is the prey that has been subject to my hunt innumerable times? Perhaps if I follow the field down further, prey will once again be plentiful. Disheartened, I rise and set off again, hoping my efforts don’t prove fruitless.
At last the warm, tangy smell of rabbit finds my nose. Almost at once, I spot the long-eared prey, nibbling on a grass stalk, without any inkling of my presence. Crouched low, I slide through the grass, nose twitching. Like a coiled spring, I crouch, and then launch my lithe body at the hare, limbs uncoiling, teeth bared. However, at the last minute, the rabbit shuffles to the right of where it was, leaving me to land awkwardly, just missing by inches. The startled rabbit leaps in alarm and bounds off across the field. I dart after it, tail whipping behind me. The rabbit bobs and weaves, barely eluding my teeth. After what seems like eons, the rabbit shoots down its hole, leaving me empty- pawed above. I growl in frustration, having come so close to snaring my first catch of the night, but moonlight is waning and I must continue.
I lift my head, only to find that I’m in a part of the field that I have never been in before. During my chase with the hare, I had not noticed the unnatural glow that obscured the moonlight and bathed the grass in its sickly luster. Curious, I slink forward, keeping low and silent. There, hidden by the trees, looms a huge shape, like none I have ever seen. As I approach the shape (which by now I have assumed is a human’s house), a deep bark originates from an enclosure, adjacent to the house. A dog. I should have known.
All of a sudden, the light in the house flashes on and a loud voice roars from the structure. Though I don’t know what it means, it’s probable that this is my cue to flee, which I do. I turn in the darkness and run, run with all I have. The night blurs around me. A bang and a roar rip through the woods, causing the ground beneath me to explode. Startled, I forget to watch my feet and I tumble nose over tail through the grass, landing hard on my side. I glance back; long enough to see the gopher hole that snared my leg. My chest heaves, my breathing is ragged, and a throbbing pain begins to grow in my front leg. For once I fear for my life. If I move now, I will draw attention to myself, and the pain in my leg is so immense, a quick getaway would be near impossible. However, if I stay here, my presence may be prominent, if the human saw me go down. Panicked, I turn the choices over in my head. I will wait. I lie on my side, watching the moon move across the sky. No one comes. I test the air. The coast is clear, at least for now. Painstakingly, I raise one foot after the other but cannot bear any weight on my injured foot. Knowing not how far it is back to my den, I set out, hoping to make it home before daylight spreads its rosy arms and engulfs the land once again.
After limping my way to the end of the field, it feels as if my foot has been engulfed in flames, and all of my other paws are sore. By the time I reach the stream, I almost topple into it, but I quench my immense thirst and soak my throbbing foot in the icy, cool depths. It relieves some of the pain and helps eradicate the swelling, but the pain is still present and I still cannot bear any weight upon my lame foot. My tail droops and my head is hung low, yet my den is only a short ways from here. After much toil, I at last reach my den, just as I had left it.
I limp to the entrance and wiggle down the tunnel, the damp air a shocking change from the dry night air. Without even fixing my nest, I collapse, exhausted, into a much deserved deep sleep. However, I will return to the meadow tomorrow, for I am the silent one, the one that stalks on light paws, the whisper of night.