From outside the bedroom window comes the screech of an owl, a sudden war cry beyond its peaceful hooting. With it, a mouse or a squirrel cries like a baby as it perishes, blood spilling on the pure white blanket of snow. Inside the house, a girl with a shy smile, patrolling her own habits, not watching nature, not aware of nature watching her, loyal to the mythology of safety that has four walls, but no defense for it. She comes home at night at the same time, leaving in the morning at the same time, driveway dark, obvious to anything outside that watches her world with the same intensity by which she disregards it.
A couple of miles away, a moonlit lane between pine trees and stone. There in the shadows, only steps away, a long shadow shifts. A woman with a gun stops, sensing movement, sensing darkness within the dark, in the woods past her mailbox. Her hand moves to her firearm, poised. A bobcat, easing back through the trees. A shadow, a form that slides like light through a picket fence, slanting sideways, then disappearing under cover. Her hand eases away from her weapon, but she backs away, towards light, towards home and sleep.
The girl with the shy smile wakes after a night's sleep, window open slightly as the room grows stuffy with the door closed, the frigid air invited in to touch her forehead. She doesn't fear sleeping with the window open, the nearby town is small, she knows most of her neighbors. There's a phone on the nightstand; she can call 911 if there's ever any problem way out here. The morning finds small footprints under her window in the pristine snow, a raccoon or a fox, stalking its prey in the night. Out in the driveway another set of prints, melting in the morning sun, evidence of something much larger that watched in the night before shifting off into shadow.
The woman with a gun walks quietly along a country road, her revolver, just as quietly, on her hip. She goes a different time each day, knowing that predators rely on patterns. There in the distance, a couple of coyotes, trotting along the edge of the fields, through snow that clutched at their empty bellies, heads cocked, eyes forward, using instinct, tooth and sinew to find that one small morsel there breathing under the snow, trying to hide for its life, a small shivering rabbit, wishing as desperately not to be eaten alive as the coyote desperately wishes to consume. The coyote stops to look at her, with what looks to be a smile on his face, not one of welcome but of mockery. the smile of a predator. He watches as she moves on down the road, round in the chamber, ready if needed.
The girl with a shy smile readies her day, moving with the ritual of pattern, of expectancy, iPod buds in her ears, coffee brewing, she doesn't see the dark form, standing sideways between the trees outside, just watching. If she looked, she might see the smile, a coyotes smile, not one that hits of internal laughter but a laughter as mirthless as the smile of the Spinx, amusement as cold and hard as the ground. She gets the newspaper off her porch, not locking the door behind her.
The woman with a gun walks back towards the house, when from the edge of the woods comes motion and sound, a blurred commotion, a high pitched, soft pleading scream that breaks the lie of safety. She looks towards the trees, and sees something darting quickly, a dark shape, too small to be human, too quick for her to catch a good glimpse. There, in the ditch, a small white form, a jagged tear in it's furry throat, rabbity legs twitching in the remembrance of life.
The girl with a shy smile steps from her bedroom, knowing she's 5 minutes behind schedule. She wrinkles her nose. There is a smell in the house, the stink of a cat, the odor of resentment. From the hallway, a shadow coalesces, the smile of the Sphinx, flat morning light on flat edged weapon, the claw of this particular predator. There, just past the pure white blanket on her bed, is her phone. It is 30 feet away. The cops are 20 minutes away.
The woman with a gun hears the siren racing down the road nearby. She moves towards the house, ears listening to anything unusual, eyes looking for anything out of order, a habit that is not fear but caution, locking the door behind her, smiling in her freedom to live out here, prepared and aware. Outside the snow blankets the ground with the perception of purity, mother natures design that hides the evidence of how the processes of life and death, predator and prey, play out in both animal and human kind.
She's a woman with a gun because she knows that predators will travel the roads and quiet fields of our life as long as there is darkness, the derisive echoes of their need carried out on harsh wind. She looks around to make sure she is alone, before heading out to her truck, the morning air cooling the blood, the field empty and quiet, except for the steady sound of a small wounded animal, a ceaseless and unemphatic cry into the wind.