The house was unusually quiet that particular evening. Dinner had been a casual affair, consumed faster than it had taken to prepare. The remnants of the meal had already been scraped away and forgotten. The effort had gone unnoticed, but she didn’t expect anything otherwise.
The creatures, worn from their usual pacing and state of restlessness, were sound asleep in their respective corners. Sounds of the one-eyed panther’s snoring cut through the silence in little ragged breaths.
There were chores to be done. Odds and ends lay around the house, cluttering the table and her brain. A sweater lay draped across the back of the chair. A light gray shoe peeked out from beneath the couch. Empty cardboard boxes laid in a heap next to the front door. She sighed as she surveyed the room. There was always so much work to be done and never enough energy to complete it all.
A dull ache pounded a rhythmic beat against the base of her skull. It was going to be a long night.
The sky outside grew darker. She breathed a deep, heavy sigh and tried to focus on the book on her lap, but the pain in her head made it hard to see the words. Growing irritated, she eventually got up and began pacing back and forth. The white bear raised his head slightly off the ground and grunted in commiseration before thumping it back down again. None of them were strangers to discomfort.
Her stomach growled; she should have eaten more for dinner. She continued her slow measure across the room, chewing her nails while she did so, trying to chew back the gnawing hunger in her gut.
She stood in front of the fireplace, staring into the grate despite the lack of flame. It was the middle of summer. too hot to light a fire. She averted her eyes from the smiling faces on the mantle. There were few, if any, pictures of her in the house. Tears stung the corners of her eyes. She repressed the urge to scream and rip everything off the mantle, to stomp on all the pictures until the glass shattered beneath her feet.
Instead, she waited. Waited for her nerves to settle and for her head to stop aching. She waited for her stomach to quiet it’s screams of loud protest.
She had no idea how long she’d been standing there, the only indication of time passing was the growing darkness outside. The room was almost completely blackened. She wondered if she stared long enough whether a fire would ignite in the grate on its own accord.
Her heartbeat grew louder, until it thumped loudly through her chest and filled the room. She hoped the noise wouldn’t wake anyone. Her pulse quickened and her hands began to shake violently. It was going to be a long night.
The pangs in her stomach worsened until it felt as though it was turning itself inside out. She dropped to her knees, hands clinging to her abdomen and tears streaming down her cheeks into puddles on the floor. She hadn’t even realized that she’d been crying. The ringing in her ears was deafening. She put her hands over her ears and tried not to scream. Waking them would only make it worse for her later.
Then, suddenly, it came to an abrupt halt. She was alone on the floor with nothing but the silence again.
It was so loud that she never heard the footsteps. The soft patter of black paws as they inched their way across the room until they were directly behind her.
Her hunger was finally silenced as the youngest panther made his feast.