Firenze died in the winter. Trudging alone through the snowy wilderness. The cat had been tracking him for several hours. Padded paws crunching through the boundless white, it made no effort to conceal its presence.
They both knew that he couldn’t last much longer. He had already been alone in the frozen forest for three famished days. Soft purrs awoke him on the morning of this second day. His eyes opened to find the big cat patiently waiting next to him. No malice shone in the yellow eyes, only a calm certainty.
Firenze rose slowly to keep from provoking the predator. The cat watched him with curiosity, but never moved. They both understood the truth at that moment. He was already dead, and the cat had simply arrived to guide him along.
Now he walks at the head of an endless procession of empty footprints. The cat no more than a few meters behind. Carefully stepping in its prey’s footprints, save for the occasional missed step. This was its game.
The cat had fed recently, Firenze thought, it certainly had little interest in rushing this. Something about the laziness of the chase appealed to its slovenly heart.
They saw no other creatures during their quiet parade. All the forest’s denizens knew to avoid this dance. As though forewarned, they hid themselves away in every nook and cranny.
Firenze huffed along, his breaths blasting great gouts of steam. The air sparkled with freshly falling snow in the failing rays of sunlight. He watched his feet, careless of direction, for his walk was eternal.
Night fell as Firenze collapsed against the base of a great tree. He sank to his knees in the snow. Head bowed and resting against the rough bark, he waited for the killing blow. Howling winds drove any sound of approach away.
The cat pressed its body against Firenze’s. Warmth flooded his frozen rib cage, and he pressed back against it. Involuntarily, he felt his body turn and embrace his killer. Joined for the night in mutual warmth, they lay under the protective gaze of the ancient tree.
Morning found him alive. The cat watching him sleep. Once more he rose as its gaze weighed heavily upon him. This time he took little care to inhibit his movements. Destiny walked with them both.
Firenze grew fond of the cat despite himself. The steadiness of its presence gave him comfort. There would be a time when they were made to tangle. Fate alone knew, and she wasn’t telling.
They stared at one another for an age in the dappled morning light. Each acknowledging something the other couldn’t fully understand. The breeze brought a sonorous moan that drew their reverie to a close.
Firenze turned from the cat and pressed on past the tree. That ancient sentinel watched him go, followed momentarily by the cat.
Deep snow slowed their progress this day. His feet grew numb from the wet and the cold. He had to push hard for every step as his energy faltered. Fate whispered its promises in his ear as his breathing grew ragged.
The cat kept close today. Instinct informed its action as it nudged Firenze along. Encouraging him to take one more step. His feet moved of the cat’s accord for a time.
The wind played a low note as it drove a spray of powder across their bodies. Firenze didn’t feel his legs buckle, rather finding himself kneeling at the altar of fate. His frozen neck thawed under the hot breath of his pursuer.
The white snow turned red as summertime roses. He welcomed the salvation from the biting cold. Later, the cat would drag the remains to where her cubs lay hidden.
Fresh life would find its way through the cold winter.