Fiction: ‘Nocturnal’

20 - Nocturnal

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The pale bark peels away from the tree trunk in long, narrow strips. Small fragments of the papery substance begin to fall. Collected by the wind, they’re carried away, rising up and down like wings as they flutter between branches. They begin to circle one another. As one rises, the others follow, twirling around each other in a whirlwind until the air is filled with powdery wings.

More and more of them start to materialise.

These bizarre creatures land on every surface, giving the forest a snowy appearance in the late afternoon light. The gentle stirring of their wings breathes life into the air. As shafts of golden sunlight stream through the trees, everything starts to glitter with the tiny particles which drop from their wings.

She rolls over in the soft grass, rubbing the burrs from the fur on her back. Her powerful tail flicks the insects away. She rolls back onto her belly and watches the butterflies with mild curiosity as they flit up ever higher, seeking shelter before night creeps in. They blend with the papery bark on the trees, but she can still see them.

She can always see them.

Even on the darkest nights.

The peace of the afternoon drags on into evening, bringing a cool breeze from the north. She sniffs the air, baring her teeth slightly as she does. When she’s satisfied, she closes her eyes to the violet evening and the swarm of wings. She basks in those last precious rays of light, soaking the warmth of the sun into her thick silvery coat as though it might keep her warm throughout the frosty night.

A thin sliver of moon rises from the horizon.

As all the creatures of the day settle down into their nests and burrows, preparing for sleep, the wilderness transforms into something else entirely. Faces start to appear in the shadows. All the songbirds and insects up in the branches fall silent, while the world below the trees crashes and thumps with fresh movement. The shrill squawking of colourful birds has now been replaced with the owl’s low hooting. Slowly, the night comes to life. She opens her glowing yellow eyes, stretches lazily, and then wanders off into the darkness, ready to hunt.

Her form dissolves between the trees.

The only trace she leaves behind is her paw prints in the earth.

~ Ekaterina

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