Thin layers of snow drifted across the frozen grass. A cool breeze from the north reinforced the wintry feel of the early afternoon. Breathtaking mountains guarded the valley, with only a few trails entering and leaving. Every now and then, a songbird chirped a few cheery notes as it flew merrily about the sky. A small herd of deer lipped at the grasses, feeding on the frozen but still edible greens. Tall trees formed a forest which ended the clearing, and every so often a figure moved behind the tree trunks. The trees were bare of any leaves, and had receded into their winter dormancy.

High above the valley, sitting calmly on a rock ledge, a cougar sniffed the air. Her fur was lightly ruffled by the breeze, but she paid no mind as its chill could not penetrate her winter coat. Hunger. The cat stretched and rose to its paws. She stealthily descended from her ledge, careful to not disturb any drifts of snow or cause any rocks to tumble to the grass below. Her paws, well padded, made no sound as they tread upon the ground.

Hesitating slightly, she crouched down and studied her prey. The rich smell of the deer made her head swim, and she closed her eyes in anticipation. Hunger . . . . she growled softly in satisfaction.

A buck, the closest to her, jerked its head upright and stared straight at the cougar. She froze, and made no movement, reluctant even to breathe lest she force her prey into flight. After a moment, the buck shook its head and resumed feeding, although he inched slightly closer to his does. The cougar crept forward and paused, being cautious to not make any sounds. She had been lucky the buck hadn't bolted, his herd with him. That would make the chance of escape greater for the deer, but lessen the chance she would have a full stomach today.

The cougar once more studied the deer. She watched the subtle way the muscles in their legs tensed and relaxed as they drifted oh so slowly across the field as they grazed. The way their ears twitched when brushed by the grasses and how the young ones played and nipped at each other when their mother was distracted.

She inched forward, never rising from her crouch, until she was well within effective range. There was a yearling buck close to her, with his back to her. His antlers were small and probably of no concern to her. He was small, but round, and she knew he would satisfy her hunger. Hunger. . . hunger . . . .food . . .

She tried to quell the feelings so she could concentrate on her prey, but all at once she didn't fight them any longer. Her stomach rumbled and she snapped.

Bolting out of the tall grasses and leaping deftly over the rocks which had hidden her, she raced after the buck. His head snapped up and he bounded away as she lunged for him, but his reflexes were too slow. She had about a ten foot gain on him, and she was gaining ground. Desperately, he zigzagged in the valley grasses, but she ignored him and kept to her line of pursuit. He realized his mistake as she closed in. With a powerful spring she leapt from the ground and landed on his back. Sinking her fangs into his hide and extending her claws to grip his skin, she dragged him down.

His breaths were ragged and his eyes were panic-stricken. He thrashed under her grip, and as he flailed wildly, he struck her in the leg with one of his hooves. She released her jaws but kept her grip with her claws as she screamed. Her ears flattened against her head as she growled at him.

Pain . . . .hunger . . . FOOD!

She sunk her teeth into his neck and after a brief struggle, he lay still. The cougar tore into his flesh and greedily chewed the deer. His surviving herd had fled out of the valley by a small game trail. She did not care, for they always returned later to feed in her domain, and this kill would satisfy her hunger pangs until then. Deeply pleased with herself, she continued to eat, twitching her tail happily as the ache in her belly receded.