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An exclusive extract from Molly and the Cat Café:
My days quickly developed a rhythm. I hunted at dawn and dusk, walked during the daylight hours and found shelter overnight in the hedgerows and stone walls that criss-crossed the adjacent fields. My paw pads were soon sore from the constant walking, my legs ached, and I felt permanently exhausted. Having always considered washing to be an aid to meditation as much as a physical necessity, it was a shock to realize that a thorough top-to-toe wash was now a daily essential to remove the mud and burrs picked up by my fur. I was surprised, however, to find that I slept better in the open air than I ever had in Rob’s house. In spite of being exposed to the elements, my physical exertion meant that I slept deeply and soundly, from the moment I closed my eyes, until the sound of the dawn birdsong woke me.
Outdoor life was tiring and uncomfortable, but in those early days it was also exhilarating. Over time, my physical stamina improved and my hunting technique, which had always been somewhat half-hearted, was honed to brutal efficiency. I also became familiar with the natural world in a way that had never been necessary as an indoor cat. My knowledge of birds had been limited to those I could see from my windowsill – I had never troubled myself to wonder where they nested, or what they ate. Now I was learning that certain hedges were guaranteed to attract the song birds that loved to feast on their berries, and I could be sure of a kill if I lurked, motionless, nearby. I could also tell from the reactions of the smaller birds when a bird of prey was hovering above the trees at the side of the road, a useful indicator to me that small rodents were in the vicinity.
The only signs of human habitation that I encountered were farm buildings. I would make a detour from my track to walk over to them – a night spent in a hay-filled barn felt like luxury, compared to what I had become used to. If I encountered people I would keep my head down and dart behind a wall or a piece of machinery. They would ignore me, assuming I was a farm cat, and I was happy to let them do so.
I had lost count of the number of days that had gone by since leaving the estate. My awareness of time’s passing came from the changes in light and air temperature. I had rarely felt cold when I had set out, and the sunlight had felt warm on my back. As the days had gone by, I was aware that the sun was rising lower in the sky and that its pale rays no longer exuded any warmth. The wind cut through my fur, and when it rained I was forced to seek shelter, otherwise a chill would soak through to my bones, leaving me shivery and weak. I knew that winter was coming, and for the first time I felt a surge of panic. I didn’t know how far I was from town, but I would have to reach it before the depths of winter set in. I knew I could not survive outdoors, once the months of snow and frost arrived.