Scarcely daring to breathe, little Maude clung to the rough branch of the huge sycamore which though reluctantly it seemed, afforded her blessed sanctuary.
Safe now? She couldn't say for sure. He might very well have summoned all of nature to assist in the hunt.
She cursed the pounding in her ears with all her might as she struggled to remain completely silent. Her nightgown, still ringing wet with pond-water, whipped and flapped at her legs as a chilly and impatient wind began to rise.
The cold penetrated her bare feet with jealousy and spite, evacuating the bark of the lower limb upon which she lay; itself heading for warmer climes. In response, she felt her soft little hands grow rigid and tense and she found herself gripping the tree, like a jungle cat. She decided she must gain composure as if her very life depended upon it - which of course, though not fully did she realise, indeed it did.
Menacing clouds raced past an angry moon, occasionally offering an unwelcome picture of the true grimness of her circumstances, and with it notwithstanding the potential to reveal her whereabouts to her enemies, before once again plunging her back into near-total darkness.
She felt the suggestion of a growl stir within her breast. Struck by the disclosure of this new thing, her own latent beastliness, she watched with a horrid, sickly fascination as her hands, held crookedly upon the tree, grew more and more claw-like in the moonlight. Her fingernails seemed evermore like talons to her fancy as, for the very first time in her entire life, she considered real violence. Her jaw ached from trying to prevent her bared teeth from chattering. She realised that might need to kill in order to stay alive herself. We do what we must. 'What else can one do if one is left no choice in any situation?' she thought.
That very moment, a sharp and ugly screech rent the air. An enormous black shape tore through the canopy above, showering her with twigs and leaves. The sudden assault on her senses that this occasioned threatened to unseat her and throw her down to the ground. She gripped ever tighter, and allowed the source of the sound to seize her full attention.
Then nothing more. Silence. It's there. Right above her. Sitting in the same tree. It's either seen her already or has stopped there to look for her. She couldn't tell which. They both planned their next move.
She was more ready than ever to fight, but her intellect and good sense, which she recognised were her oldest and best friends, told her to wait a little longer. She lay still and contemplated the recent shock, still coursing through her tiny frame like a bolt of lightening and then also, the tree stuff that had landed on her from above. She felt sticks in her hair and leaves in the collar of her nightie. And though she could taste the musty lichen that had deposited itself liberally upon her lips, she still dared not move a muscle to wipe it away. No, despite being covered with leaf litter and other debris, she remained as still as could be.
The black shape, whatever it was, would not stay and with a frustrated cry and another quick shower of twigs and leaves it left her tree. She could hear it continuing its clumsy, plundering search for her, further away, deeper into the wood. But far from being a cause to relax even a little, she sat utterly transfixed, gazing fiercely at her left hand, longing for the benefit of light. And after what seemed like an eternity, the spiteful moon showed itself once more to illuminate the scene for her. Something 'tangibly' unpleasant had now arrested her attention.
She noticed, after this most recent commotion that, having fallen from its eyrie, a large hawk's egg had broken upon her wrist and its wet and slimy contents was slowly sliding over and down the back of her hand. It was still warm from the bosom of the recent departed parent bird; whom her frantic climbing will undoubtedly have scared away when she first came to hide- or perhaps in defiance of some other, darker call to service. And far worse, right there, in the middle of all the sticky albumen and remnants of eggshell, sat the tiny, partially-formed raptor from within.
She could hardly stifle a squeak of horror as she watched the unfortunate creature squirm in discomfort and misery, over and around the cold and clammy skin on the back of her hand.
A faint glow? She looked around to see where the other light might be coming from. She had noticed a tiny glimmer of orange that could be seen within the slit separating the fetal hawk's eyelids. Strange. No external lights whatsoever of which to speak. Then to her absolute amazement, upon closer inspection of the bird's head, it became apparent, that which had at first appeared to be reflected light, was in fact emanating from the eye itself. The other eye remained dark.
Then with an audible snap, open sprung the solitary orange eye, lighting up her face, bathing her in the bright orange glow. And with equal suddenness, with the aid of its scrawny neck, it lifted its head very suddenly and plunged its beak right into the tendons of her hand.
With a gasp, she instinctively flicked the wretched thing away, down into the undergrowth below. Sooner that, she reasoned, than suffering further biting or witnessing the throws of death of this ugly, unnatural imp of the devil.
Then all was quiet. By early dawn the clouds were almost all gone. A purple sky boiled angrily through the trees, like maggots in a poisoned corpse. He knows she's still here. Somewhere near.