This story will be appearing in the October edition of Ireland's Big Issue.
No one sees him as he saunters along the guttering, casually stepping across impossible gaps - he neither notices nor cares about the yawning thirty foot drop. The busy people have left now and the street lights pop into existence one by one, their orange glow illuminating the streets below. Up here in the shadows is a different world. His world.
Unwary birds nest in the eaves of the old library, exploiting the holes in the pointing, filling them with the detritus of a city to make an insulated cave. One of them rustles soft feathers, dreaming of the sky and the sound reaches his ears. He pauses, one delicate white paw still raised, ears swivelling to locate the source.
Dropping to a crouch, he takes quick, silent strides to the place. With his pupils at full stretch he can see the shades of grey where a small body nestles behind the guttering. Muscles tense, tail flicking slowly from side to side, he gathers himself to pounce.
A tin can scrapes across the tarmac. Something moves in the shadows. In an instant he is caught, unable to resist the lure of the tiny movement down there, even with the prospect of warm blood in front of him. His eyes refocus on the scene below.
A girl walks briskly, her mobile phone in her hand, only a hundred yards from her parked car. Relief that she is nearly there. She does this at the same time every evening, finishing work that little bit later than everyone else because she prefers to go in late in the mornings, cherishing the extra minutes between the cotton sheets. She asks herself, as she does every other evening, if it’s worth the fear.
Past the theatre she approaches the old library, the streets empty in front of her, the only sound her own breathing. Her trainers make no sound on the smooth pavement. The bag slung over her shoulder contains her high heels and her car keys. She swings it round to the front, looking down to rummage for them and that is when he makes his move.
He is fascinated, watching the unfolding scene from his grandstand position. So much movement, so much noise. Tiny movements of his head enable him to follow the action. He forgets to twitch his tail, so absorbed is he in the drama playing out below. As the struggle moves along the street, he follows without being aware of it to keep himself above.
The figures are small, distant, but the story is an old one and he is familiar with it. He uses the same tactics to find queens to mate with – hide and spring, pin her down until she stops struggling, ignore the ear splitting screams.
She is small and slight and he is strong and determined. Blood runs into her eye and the world spins. How did she end up in the road? With one hand she hits him again and again, the crunch of plastic as the mobile in her hand breaks, a small sound lost in the night. Her other hand is immobilised, trapped inside the bag and he is lying on top of it. Her fingers still seek blindly for the keys, but close on a shoe instead. She grips it convulsively.
His weight shifts as he fumbles with her clothing but now he’s moved she can fill her lungs. Her scream splits the night but there is no one to hear and his fist is fast, taking away all desire to scream or fight. Pushing against him is an exercise in futility, but she has to try.
Her legs are cold where he has hoisted her skirt up and the material of his trousers is rough against her soft skin. Despair creeps over her. She is not strong enough. He moves his weight again, trying to get to her blouse, tearing at it with his free hand while the other clamps around her throat. Her chest burning as she gasps for air – it takes so little time for her lungs to starve of oxygen and blackness lurks at the edge of her vision.
It takes her a moment to realise his weight is off her other arm. She pulls it out of the bag, but it feels like cooked spaghetti, not a part of her body. She has to act before she loses consciousness. The shoe is still gripped in her hand and as her mind swirls downwards to the centre of a dark whirlpool, she holds on to that thought, clinging as to a spar to stop herself drowning.
One last thought pushes itself forwards, refusing to be locked out. She brings the spaghetti arm round in a swing and the shoe makes contact with his skull. It shouldn’t be much, a last gesture of defiance, but he must have a weak spot, because he loosens his hold on her throat.
Air rushing in, cool and life-giving, blood flowing again. Another swing, more force in this one as she dares to hope. A soft sound, popping, like the seal coming off a tub of Pringles.
Panic – his full weight is on her now and she has failed. Despair, waiting for the pain which doesn’t come. Gasping through a raw throat, control returning to her limbs. She pushes at him again, putting her full strength into the action and he moves, sliding. She twists and wriggles out from under his body.
On her knees, shoe still in her hand. He lies there, still, and she is glad she can’t see his face. If she doesn’t know what he looks like he can’t haunt her nightmares. A pool of blood spreads across the road surface, dripping down the drain. Her car keys are lying in the blood. She staggers to her feet.
The action is over, the entertainment finished. He turns away to resume his silent night patrol, neatly leaping across to the next building. The nest is forgotten and the queen has escaped. His torn ear and half closed eye speak of old battles, but for him there are always more females.
He sits to clean his back passage, one leg stretched out. His back is set to the street below, so he doesn’t see the headlights rounding the corner, lighting up the body in the road.