Red. Blood red. There was no mistaking it. A bloody blot on the landscape. His eyes narrowed and he reached for his dressing gown, slid his feet into his slippers, without taking his eyes off it. A bright red swirl in the midst of the clean snowy scene.
He made for the door. The handle was cold, slightly stiff from the frost. He wrenched it open, curiosity driving him to investigate.
His footprints were the only ones. Nothing else had disturbed the snow, so far. No sign as he approached the red patch of anything that had created it. He began to doubt his earlier surety that it was blood. How could it be?
It was still warm and sticky when he bent down and touched it. “Blood, definitely,” he muttered aloud, disturbing the silence. His feet were already going numb with the cold, so he knew it couldn’t have been out here much longer than he had been aware of it.
There were no other footprints, he double checked, casting his gaze over the land. Not even the little twiggy ones the birds usually left. The morning was silent and still.
A scream pierced it. His heart quickened; he held his breath.
Not terror, he realised. The scream was one of rage. It carried echoes of destruction. He stayed still. Didn’t dare to move or breathe.
A snowflake landed on his nose. Melted, slid down, made his face itch. He tried to resist but couldn’t prevent the sneeze.
He gagged when he heard the scream again. Above him. He looked up, but couldn’t see; suddenly the snow was falling heavily. He couldn’t see his house. Fighting the terror and disorientation, he began to run.
The scream was closer now. He could hear something moving through the air, heavier and faster than the snow. The beauty of it that had so entranced him earlier was lost to him. It slowed him down as he ran for the house. His left slipper got caught on something, he tugged his foot free of it and ran on, ignoring the cold.
He could see the door when he felt the talons pierce his sides. It was sure of itself, he dithered in the struggle, trying to fight and also to simply wriggle free.
Pristine, he thought as he looked over the snowy scene from above while it faded to grey. He was still conscious as the creature began its descent again. Still alive as it dumped him on virgin snow, face down. It was the pain that eventually allowed him to pass out, as the hideous beast he had not seen but knew must be worse than he could imagine tore strips of warm flesh from his body. The sound of it gnawing was the last he heard.