The Darkening Road

This is a tale of the Free Cats and the Bound Cats and the different roads they travel. For the Cats of the Bound, they are shown the way to the Rainbow Bridge by the humans they come to know. For the Cats of the Free, they have no knowledge of the Rainbow Bridge and so instead they follow The Darkening Road. The story is published newest chapter first. So if you are new to this site and want to catch up, you will need to read from the archive first.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

99. The Darkening Road

Little One regretfully looked up at the hospital bed where the male Twolegs was sleeping fitfully. Little One glanced about the den and remembered all the years he had spent enjoying the quiet comfort of the desk and the bookshelves. Little One thought about his old friend Bandit or FastPaw Nightfur as he grew to know him by his Free Name in the later years. Fastpaw had been gone for five years, and Little One could still scent him on the fourth shelf of the bookcase. Fastpaw's scent was not yet completely overpowered by the Shadow that laid over the hospital bed.
It took most of Little One's energy to jump from the floor to the bed. He looked sadly at the male Twolegs as he laid firmly under the Scent of the Shadow. Little One sensed that the Shadow was not only on the Twolegs. Little One had felt the Shadow stalking him for many months now. Now as he stood on the foot of the bed, he knew that the Shadow had found them both. Little One moved towards the Twolegs' hand and nudged his head under the still fingers. The Shadow dropped deeper over Little One and the male Twolegs. Little One laid his head on top of the male Twolegs's wrist. His eyes slowly closed as he felt the heartbeat fade from his friend’s body. Little One gave a final breath and crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge a heartbeat before his friend.

Little One's eyes opened in a large meadow. He could see hundreds of cats running and playing as they chased each other amongst bushes of flower and mounds of grass. He looked up and saw the male Twolegs standing in disbelief amongst all these animals.
"Where am I" the male Twolegs asked.
"This is the Rainbow Bridge." LIttle One replied. "These are all the pets who are waiting for their masters to rejoin them. Over there is our final destination"
The male Twolegs looked over the simple cobblestone bridge and saw a brightly illuminated horizon.
"How can you can talk?" the male Twolegs asked incredulously.
Little One lovingly rubbed against him.
"I always could talk." Little One replied. "It is only now that you can understand."
"Do you know my name?" the male Twolegs asked. 'I'm David. or I was David."
"You are still David." Little One chided, "You are still the person you always were. All of the Sorrow, All of the Compassion, and All of the Laughter. That is what brought us here."
Little One paused and looked away from the Rainbow Bridge towards the dark horizon. For twelve years, his friend Bandit/Fastpaw had told him stories of his ancestors and how they had, all in their time, followed the Darkening Road. Little One suddenly knew what the Darkening Road was and what it meant. He looked up the Twolegs called David.
"Can I tell you some stories, David?" Little One asked. "Before we cross the bridge?"
"Certainly." David replied. "I've spent a lifetime getting here. What's a moment or two now."
"This will take a little longer than a moment or two." Little One warned.
"Well, we are in no rush."
Little One began telling David, the male Twolegs Nofur, all of the tales that Bandit/Fastpaw had told him over the years and had made him remember. Just as Bandit/Fastpaw had made Little One recite back the tales, David was forced to repeat back the stories Little One had learned so many years ago. The dark horizon began to lighten ever so slightly as David learned the stories of the Free and the Bound. Little One once again laid in David's lap and purred as he had as a kitten all those years ago.
Other cats began to migrate towards the furry black cat and his human companion. Little One's nose twitched as familiar scents reached him. He stood up on David's lap and looked out across the meadow. He saw four cats racing towards him across the meadow. His heart swelled as he recognized the large grey mass of Uncle Magoo. He quickly knew that the other three were his Momma, Eppy and Alyssa. He leapt down to greet his long lost family.
"Little One." His Momma cried happily. "You're here. And you brought David?"
"We brought each other, Momma." Little One circled as he saw his mom for the first time since her passing seventeen years ago. The wounds were nonexistent on her body.
"Are you able to cross with us?" Little One asked.
"No little One." Momma shook her head sadly. "I was brought here by the female. I wait for her."
"Then I will wait for you on the other side." Little One gave his mother a vigorous head butt.
"Alyssa." Little One greeted his sister. "I am so glad to see you. Do you still wait for a Twolegs as well?"
"Yes. I wait for the girl, Rebecca, who adopted me." Alyssa explained. "She went to a place called college and could not take me. I missed her so much I thought my heart would break. Her Twolegs Mom and Dad took care of me until I fell under the Shadow. I have many more years to wait for her to take me home."
"And Eppy." Little One greeted his most difficult sister. "I am glad to see you."
"Believe it or not, Little One." Eppy replied, "So I am I. I was worried that you might not come here. I thought you would end up following the Darkening Road with Bandit."
“Is your friend here Eppy?” Little One asked.
“Not yet.” She replied sadly as she looked around. “I left my Cowboy behind after fifteen years of friendship and love. It hurt me so to leave him. But I will wait here for him. You are crossing with David?”
“Yes.” Little One replied. “But I have one more thing to do.”
Little One turned to David and jumped back up onto his lap..
“Why did you never change my name?” Little One asked.
“I guess it was because you were always our Little One. The name just stuck. After several years of calling you Little One, it just seemed right.” David replied.
“What about Bandit?” Little One asked.
“He was a stray that lived at a junkyard owned by a client of mine. The owner kept telling me of this little cat that would sneak into the staffroom and steal from open lunchbags. When we caught him, I told the owner we finally found his Bandit. It too just sort of stuck. Bandit was one cool cat. Even after we adopted him, he never lost that wild spunk of his.”
“Did you know that he has another name?”
“No. What was it”
“When he was one of the Free, he was called Fastpaw Nightfur.” Little One replied.
“The Fastpaw Nightfur from the stories you told me.” David suddenly understood the connection the injured little junkyard cat had to the cat he had adopted and named Bandit.
“Yes. Bandit was that Fastpaw Nightfur.” Little One did not need to look towards the horizon to know that the lower edge of the darkness was beginning to shimmer and flicker. There was something moving out there.
“Do you want to know what name Fastpaw gave me the night he left to follow the Darkening Road?” Little One asked as he jumped down from David’s lap and looked towards the horizon.
“What name did he give you?” David asked.
“I am Strongheart Longpaw.” Little One/Strongheart Longpaw declared. “And I am both of the Bound and of the Free. One by birth, the other by choice.”
The movement on the horizon was no longer a blur. It was the approach of thousands of cats as they ran away from the dark twilight edge of the meadow surrounding the Rainbow Bridge. Strongheart’s pulse raced as he recognized the sleek back and white coat of his old friend Fastpaw Nightfur. Behind Fastpaw, a collection of cats spread out and covered the landscape. Strongheart’s eyes focused on one fiercely majestic cat. Strongheart raced towards Fastpaw and greeted him with an exuberant head butt and a resonating purr.
“Where am I” Fastpaw asked. “Little One, I mean Strongheart. What is this place?”
“This is the Rainbow Bridge, Fastpaw.” Strongheart replied.
“It can’t be.” Fastpaw was stunned. “I don’t believe in it. None of the Free do.”
“One does.” Strongheart replied. “All it takes is one. I told David all of your stories and he brought all of you here through me. It is a strength of the Twolegs. They can do many wonderful things if they only believe.”
“How?” Fastpaw asked.
“To come to the Rainbow Bridge, you only have to be pulled here by someone who loves you. There are no lost or abandoned creatures here. As long as you are in the heart of someone, you are called to the Rainbow Bridge. The stories of the Free that you told me were all that he needed to bring you here.”
The black furred cat that had caught Strongheart’s attention strode through the throng of milling cats and kittens. The cat stopped at one small little kitten that was solid black like him except for a white patch around her left eye.
“Whitepatch?” the fierce looking cat spoke in disbelief.
“Blackpatch!” The kitten cried out joyfully. “I’m so glad to see you again. I missed you so much. I would have stayed with you longer, but I was too hungry and too cold. But now I don’t feel hungry or cold. And I get to play with you again.”
Blackpatch approached Fastpaw and Strongheart. He sniffed at Fastpaw and nodded his head approvingly. He sniffed at Strongheart and warily stepped backwards.
“He is of my blood.” Blackpatch motioned at Fastpaw as he spoke to Strongheart. “But you I do not know. You bear no Scent that I know. Are you one of the Free?”
“I am of the Bound.” Strongheart replied, “And because of Fastpaw, I have also become one of the Free. Through David, the way to the Rainbow Bridge has been opened. All you have to do is accept that you are here now. It requires nothing else.”
Whitepatch walked up to David and rubbed against his leg. Without thinking, David picked up the little kitten and nuzzled her nose to nose. He was rewarded with a deep throbbing purr. Strongheart turned towards David.
“We can go now, David.” Strongheart said happily. ”I have done what I was destined to do.”
Strongheart and David, with Whitepatch in his arms, lead all the Free cats and kittens of Fastpaw’s stories over the Rainbow Bridge. The sound of all those cats running over the cobblestone arch of the Rainbow Bridge and their collective purring echoed across Heaven like thunder.

A young Free calico female stirred from her sleep in a small den underneath a long forgotten woodpile. A deep rumble high in the sky woke her from her sleep. She sniffed about her den as she sensed a change in the air. A tiny three day old kitten stirred from his sleep amongst his siblings.
“Momma!” the little blind kitten cried.
“Be still, my Little One.” The calico reassured her newborn son. “Try to go back to sleep and I will tell you of the Darkening Road and our final Home of Light.”

Monday, April 10, 2006

16. Little One's Punishment

Little One sat forelornly on the hard linoleum of the kitchen. His head was lowered onto his paws and he gazed towards the sunroom at the back of the house. He could hear Eppy playing with one of the new catnip mice that the Twolegs had given the kittens that morning. His ears perked and swiveled as he caught the sound of each of the other inhabitants of the house. He looked up and saw that there was a warm patch of sunlight barely two feet in front of him. Little One dearly wanted to go and lay down in the bright warm light.
“So.” Bandit regarded his little companion. ”I see that your mother finally determined your punishment.”
“Yes.” Little One complained. “I have to sit here all afternoon. No toys, No sunbeam spots. No playing.”
Bandit walked over to the enticing square of sunlight and flopped down. He rolled onto his back and soaked up the warmth happily. Little One fumed at his own inability to do what Bandit now enjoyed.
“That’s mean, Bandit.” Little One snapped. “You know I can’t do that, but you do it right in front of me anyways.”
“Little One.” Bandit countered. “If I could be bothered to, I would go and get one of those new catnip mice you and Eppy were given today and play with it right in front of you. This is your punishment, not mine.”
“Could you at least tell me a story?” Little One asked.
“Wouldn’t your mother get upset?” Bandit replied.
“She said no toys, no playing, no sunbeams.” Little One stated. “And I have to sit here. She did not say that I couldn’t listen to stories.”
“Well then.” Bandit decided. “If stories are allowed, I think I might remember one or two to amuse you…”

Although Blackpatch had been forbidden by his mother from bothering or talking to the new Bound Stranger, Miss Mittens, Blackpatch could not suppress his curiousity. He found Miss Mittens wandering pitifully around the old tree stump that had become her home over the last month. Blackpatch noted that her beige and brown coat was not as clean and shiny as it was when she first arrived.
“Hello, Miss Mittens.” Blackpatch said as he approached the old tree stump.
“What do you want?” Miss Mittens replied. “I’m in no mood for guests.”
“I just wanted to see how you are doing.” Blackpatch replied.
“I’m cold and I’m dirty.” Miss Mittens snapped. “And I’m hungry. All I have been able to catch is a couple of bugs. And those don’t stay down very well.”
“I could show you where the best places for mice and shrews are.” Blackpatch offered.
“I don’t think your mother will appreciate that.” Miss Mittens replied. “She was very adamant that I stay away from her territory.”
“Actually.” Blackpatch whispered as though afraid his mother might hear. “The best spot for shrews is not inside Momma’s territory.”
Miss Mittens’ ears perked up. Blackpatch had a way to help her without getting into trouble with his mother, Longfur.
“Where is this spot?” She asked.
“Come, follow me.” Blackpatch turned away and indicated for Miss Mittens should follow.
Blackpatch lead Miss Mittens away from the old tree stump and away from the woodpile. He led her through several sets of dense brush and thick bushes. He paused and dropped to the ground several times as he heard or smelt something strange in the Forest. Miss Mittens found herself mimicking Blackpatch. She did not know the Forest like Blackpatch and she felt it prudent to follow his behavior.
It took Blackpatch and Miss Mittens most of the morning to get to the place Blackpatch had mentioned. It was not much to look at; it was just four trees that had fallen down and across each other. Blackpatch stopped quickly and then Scented the air.
“We have to be careful.” Blackpatch whispered. “Frosttip Notail sometimes comes by here too. He’s a mean old tom, but not very fast.”
Blackpatch sat and took in the area around the downfallen trees. His eyes and ears perked and focused on every little sight and sound. Miss Mittens laid own on the forest floor next to Blackpatch. She tried to find the same sights and sounds that came so quickly to Blackpatch. She began to worry that she would not be able to fend for herself.
“There.” Blackpatch motioned with his nose towards the base of the nearest tree. “Do you see it?”
Miss Mittens followed Blackpatch’s guidance and stared at the base of the tree. At first she did not see the tiny little shrew that Blackpatch had so deftly spotted. Her hunger made her panic and she darted after the tiny movement in the short grass near the tree. Her inexperience cost her the prize shrew. Blackpatch cursed at Miss Mittens’ clumsiness and over eagerness. He moved stealthily towards the tree. A faint scurry caught his attention. He spun and jumped at the source of the noise. There was a faint squeak and then silence. Blackpatch raised his head with the still form of the shrew firmly in his mouth. He motioned to Miss Mittens’ to follow him. He led her quickly away from the trees to the dense cover of a thorny wild rosebush.
“Here you go.” Blackpatch dropped the dead shrew to the ground in front of Miss Mittens.
“I’m supposed to eat that?” Miss Mittens commented.
“Yes.” Blackpatch replied. “Its that or you go back to eating bugs. I’ll leave it here for you. You do whatever you want with it. I’m going to go see if I can catch another one.”
Blackpatch disappeared back towards the fallen trees. Miss Mittens realized that she had not heard his departure. Miss Mittens thought appreciatively about Longfur’s skill in teaching her son so well. Miss Mittens regarded the dead shrew, and lamented that it was not her kibble at home. Her hunger soon erased all thoughts of home and kibble. She voraciously consumed the gift from Blackpatch.
“We’ll need to get going.” Blackpatch said as he reappeared under the rosebush with a small squirrel in his teeth. He talked to Miss Mittens as he ate, “It will be getting dark by the time we get back. My momma will be getting worried and if she finds out that I helped you, she might not be happy. Once we are done here, we can go back.”
Blackpatch ate his fill and then pushed the remainder to Miss Mittens, who greedily finished it.
“Thank you, Blackpatch.” Miss Mittens said thankfully, “I don’t think I would have made it without your help.”
“That was the first and last meal I will ever catch for you.” Blackpatch replied. “From now on you will have to learn to catch them yourself. You need to learn to be quieter and more patient. I am surprised every shrew, mouse and squirrel in the Forest didn’t hear you coming and run for cover.”
“I was a housecat.” Miss Mittens pleaded. “I don’t know how to hunt for food.”
“Then I guess it is up to me to try and teach you.” Blackpatch replied.

Bandit stood up and stretched out his front paws in front of him. His ears turned towards the sunroom. He could hear Momma Cat approaching.
“I believe your mother is coming to release you from your punishment.” Bandit stated as he turned to walk away. “Don’t tell her I was here. I don’t think me telling you stories all afternoon was what she had in mind as a punishment.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

15. Another Lesson

The silence of the living room was broken by the pounding of kitten feet and the thud of a small body careening into the wall.
“Little One” Bandit chastised his young student. “I think they heard you coming several houses away. You have to be quieter.”
“How can I be quiet and fast at the same time?” Little One protested. “I can be real quiet but then it takes me too long.”
“Yes, you can.” Bandit stated. “You are focusing too much on one or the other. You think too much about being quiet or too much about being fast. A true hunter knows how to balance both. Now watch.”
Bandit whipped the small blue catnip mouse across the room. Little One watched as his mentor crouched low to the floor. Bandit’s tail flicked from side to side and his eyes steeled on the small mouse. Suddenly, he sprang into action. He cleared the distance between himself and the mouse in matter of heartbeats. The mouse was quickly impaled on razor sharp cat teeth. Little One realized he had not heard Bandit cross the room, even though he had done it extremely fast.
Little One sat in awe of his older friend.
“Wow.” Little One said slack-jawed and stunned.
“Now you try again.” Bandit said as he once again whipped the mouse across the room.
Little One tried to imitate Bandit. He tensed his body up and locked his eyes on the little blue catnip mouse. He watched his breathing and waited for the right moment. He sprinted off across the floor towards the mouse.
Little One was a lot smaller than Bandit and took many more steps to reach the little blue mouse. His footfalls were also not as accurate or as silent as Bandit’s. Not just the steps he took leading up to the mouse, but also the several that he took as he rocketed past the mouse and crashed into the sofa.
A cry from one of the Twolegs alerted Bandit and Little One that their activities had caught the attention of the other inhabitants.
“Come with me.” Bandit picked up the mouse in his teeth and guided Little One back to the sunroom.
The afternoon sun had flooded the sunroom with an abundance of warmth, and sure enough Uncle Magoo was sound asleep in a bright, sunlit patch of carpet on the floor. Bandit dropped the mouse to the floor and then deftly whipped it towards Uncle Magoo. The mouse landed precisely next to Uncle Magoo’s body, dangerously close to his front paws, but without touching them. Little One looked at Bandit and waited for his instructions.
“Little One.” Bandit said. “What I want you to do is to run towards Uncle Magoo and pull the mouse away from him without waking him up.”
“That’s impossible.” Little One protested.
“Then this lesson is already over.” Bandit started to walk away.
“Wait.” Little One pleaded. “I just have to knock it way from him right.”
Little One moved closer to Uncle Magoo as quietly as he could, his footfalls were nearly silent on the sunroom floor. He looked where the mouse was laying and the orientation of Uncle Magoo’s body and his legs. Little One swung his approach wider as he tried to pick the optimum path to the mouse and past Uncle Magoo.
Little One looked over at Bandit, who nodded his head in agreement. Little One slowly moved towards Uncle Magoo. The lessons from Bandit rang in his head. On approach each paw must follow the preceding one exactly; any deviation might disturb something new and alert your prey to your approach. Extract your claws only enough for extra traction. Eyes follow target, front legs follow eyes, rear legs follow front, tail follows body. Little One positioned himself carefully and readied to attack the mouse next to Uncle Magoo.
Uncle Magoo stretched restlessly as he slept. Little one took his new position into account as he readied himself to pull the mouse away from Uncle Magoo. He tensed briefly. With a sudden silent intake of air, Little One dashed towards the catnip mouse. He felt each beat of his heart as the distance between him and the mouse closed tighter and tighter. One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. Three heartbeats. Four heartbeats. The mouse was within the reach of his right paw. His claws extended and he snaked his paw out to flick the mouse away from Uncle Magoo. Little One suddenly felt his head being pulled violently towards the ground. His forelegs buckled as his body’s inertia flipped him onto his back. The entire exercise ended with Little One firmly pinned under Uncle Magoo’s large paws.
“What do you think you are doing?” Uncle Magoo demanded angrily as he woke from his stupor.
Little One struggled vainly to extract himself from Uncle Magoo’s grasp. Uncle Magoo may have been the oldest cat in the household, but he was also the largest and the strongest.
“Sorry. Uncle Magoo.” Little One cried.”I was just playing.”
“Playing?” Uncle Magoo challenged. “Why is waking me up considered playing?”
“Ouch!” Little One cried out again. “That hurts!”
“Well maybe you’ll think twice about bothering me while I sleep.” Uncle Magoo was relentless as he nipped and bit at the helpless kitten.
Little one tried to squirm and fight his way out of Uncle Magoo’s fierce grasp, but it was hopeless. He would not get away unless Uncle Magoo wanted to let him go.
“That’s enough, Magoo.” Bandit warned as he strode over.
“Are you behind this?” Uncle Magoo snapped as he released Little One from his grip.
“Quit being such a grumpy old fart.” Bandit snapped back. “Little One was just practicing his hunting skills.”
“Well then, why bother me?” Magoo demanded. “I deserve more respect than this. Woken up from a perfectly good nap.”
“Because,” Bandit challenged Magoo.”Next to Momma Cat, you have the third best set of reflexes in the house.”
“Oh.” Magoo replied.”Who has the best reflexes? Next to Momma Cat of course.You?”
“Yes. Me.” Bandit replied.
“Harumph.” Uncle Magoo snorted. He did not feel like challenging Bandit today. “We shall see about that.”
“Any game you want. Magoo.” Bandit stated. “Jumps, Chase, Swats or even Spats.”
Bandit watched Uncle Magoo stand up and walk to another sunny spot on the floor, far way from Bandit and Little One.
Little One looked up at Bandit.
“Is Momma that tough?” he asked.
“Little One.” Bandit chuckled. “You need to realize that no Tom would ever mess with a Momma Cat defending her kittens. As tough as I ever thought I was or am, if it came down to Me or your Momma defending you. I would put all the kibble in the world on your Momma.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

14. Caught in a Lie

Eppy and Little One spent the morning curled up next to their mother on the bed in the extra bedroom. Although they jockeyed for position against each other from time to time, Little One and Eppy laid fairly close together. They were not very close as brother and sister, but they were still very attached to their mother. Since Alyssa left, there had been discussions about either one or both of the kittens leaving the house. Little One thought about these conversations often.
"Eppy and Little One." Momma Cat stirred from her sleep and regarded her two remaining kittens. "I want to tell you how we ended up here in this House."
"Why?" Eppy asked.
Momma Cat looked at the sofa where the Male Twolegs laid covered in a thick homemade quilt.
"Because nothing is forever." Momma Cat explained. "Just as Alyssa left us, we too may be parted. We don't have the same traditions as the Free, but it is important to know where we come from."
Momma Cat shot a quick glance at Little One. He panicked as he realized that she might know about the stories he was learning from Bandit. Momma Cat did not expand further about the Free, but continued on her own story.
"We came to this house because my previous Twolegs could no longer keep me." Momma Cat replied.
"Why couldn't she keep you?" Little One asked. "Didn't she like you?"
"Oh no, Little One." Momma Cat replied. "She liked me plenty. We used to spend many hours together. I think too many now that I think about it."
"But one day, she brought me to this house and left me here." Momma Cat continued. "I remember watching her cry as she handed me to the Female Twolegs of this House."
“Did she cry over us as well?” Eppy asked.
“She didn’t know you yet.” Momma Cat said, “She knew you were coming, but she did not know who you were. I think that was one of the reasons why she left us at this House.”
“My previous Female Twolegs always tried to the right thing.” Momma Cat remembered. “There were times when she would have to hide me in the closet whenever this one strange Male Twolegs came over to the apartment. She would always cry and apologize afterwards. And there were times when food in the house was scarce. Not just for me but for her as well. She did not think I could tell but I could. There were times when the food bowl would be emptier longer than others.”
Eppy and Little One thought about their own food bowls. They had never experienced an empty food bowl. The Twolegs had chased Uncle Magoo and Bandit from the Kittens’ food bowl several times that they could remember. Little One could not think of one time when he went to the blue ceramic bowl in the kitchen and there was not some kibble for him to eat.
“That is how I and you ended up here.” Momma Cat finished. “I wanted you to know that there are other cats out there that do not have it as good as we do.”
“Like the Free.” Little One blurted out. He cringed as he instantly knew he had said more than he should.
“The Free?” Momma Cat’s tone was very stern. “Have you been pestering Bandit for stories of the Free, Little One?”
“No, Momma.” Little One tried to lie.
“Yes, he has.” Eppy snorted. “He and Bandit are always talking about the Free. I heard them talk about hunting in the sunroom just yesterday.”
“Eppy!” Little One was very mad at his sister for tattling on him. ‘Be quiet! You don’t know what we were talking about.”
“Little One?” Momma Cat ignored Eppy’s smug expression and regarded Little One. “What were you and Bandit talking about?”
Little One contemplated telling his mother another lie, but he saw from the look in her eyes that she would not be fooled.
“Hunting.” Little One admitted sheepishly.
“Are you at least paying attention to Bandit’s lessons?” Momma Cat asked.
“Yes!” Little One answered emphatically.
“Well then I won’t stop you and Bandit from talking.” Momma Cat decided.
“You’re not going to punish Little One.” Eppy complained. “He disobeyed you.”
“Eppy.” Momma Cat stopped her daughter’s protests. “Yes, Little One disobeyed me, but he has hurt no one or damaged anything.”
“It’s not fair.” Eppy continued to protest. “Little One gets away with everything. You didn’t even punish him when he knocked over the roses and broke the glass thing.”
Momma Cat moved her gaze from Eppy to Little One, who was trying to move slowly away.
“Little One!” Momma Cat growled. “You told me you found the roses tipped over. Did you lie to me?”
“Well not really.” Little One tried to explain.
“What do you mean by not really?” Momma Cat asked.
“I tried to sniff the roses.” Little One explained.”But they were a little too high for me. So I reared up as high as I could. I could almost smell them. That’s when I fell forwards into the glass thingy. The next thing I knew…”
“You found the roses tipped over.” Momma Cat finished Little One’s story. “Little One, I think you should go and find Bandit. I am very disappointed in you, and I want some time to think about your punishment.”
“Hah!” Eppy laughed as her brother sheepishly stood up.
“Eppy!” Momma Cat chastised her daughter. “We all need to live here and get along. You need to stop being jealous of your brother. In the long run, the only cat it hurts is you.”
“Yes, Momma.” Eppy said shyly, as she watched her brother drop to the floor from the bed and then trot out of the bedroom.

Little One found Bandit investigating an open garbage bag in the Kitchen. At the sound of Little One’s approach, Bandit’s head lifted up out of the garbage. He had a small leftover chicken bone in his mouth.
“That’s gross, Bandit.” Little One scrunched his whiskers in disgust.
“Don’t knock it until you try it.” Bandit replied. “Do you want one? I found a couple more in there. The Male Twolegs had chicken wings last night.”
Little One placed his paws on the side of the garbage bag and peered inside. His nose twitched at the smell from the bag.
“But avoid the spicy smelling ones.” Bandit warned. “Eat one of those and you won’t leave the litter box for hours.”
“Momma found out about the roses and the glass thingy.” Little One stated.
“I told you she would.” Bandit reminded. “And if you remember Little One, I told you to tell her what happened.”
“I know.” Little One said. “I did kind of tell her. I told her I found the roses tipped over.”
“But you didn’t tell her how they got tipped over.” Bandit said. “That is what she is upset about. So what’s your punishment?”
“She didn’t give me one yet.” Little One admitted. “She says she has to think about it.”
“Ooh!” Bandit laughed. “It’s going to be good one. I might stick around to watch that one.”
“Were you here when Momma arrived, Bandit?” Little One asked as he flopped onto his back, stretched his forepaws out towards Bandit, and playfully tried to snag one of Bandit’s forelegs.
“Yes. “ Bandit replied as he moved his right foreleg out of Little One’s grasp. “Why?”
“She was telling us where she came from.” Little One wiggled closer so that Bandit was once again within reach. “It wasn’t as interesting as your stories.”
“The Cats of the Bound have very short memories, Little One.” Bandit said. “It is to protect themselves from the cruelty of the Twolegs.”
“Our Twolegs aren’t cruel.” Little One rebutted. “They’re very nice and take care of us. All of Us.”
“Yes, Our Twolegs are not cruel.” Bandit replied. “But there are many that are. It is one of the things that Free are taught early. As soon as you are able to leave your birth den, you beginning learning about the dangers of the Twolegs. I remember the story I was told as a kitten…”

Blackpatch quickly scrambled into his birth den and looked frantically for his mother. He saw Blazefur was resting against the back wall of the den. Blackpatch thought it was strange that Blazefur would be inside the den instead of outside exploring.
“Blazefur. Where’s Momma?” Blackpatch asked.
“I don’t know.” Blazefur said. “I wish she would come back. I’m getting hungry.”
“You should be trying to catch your own mice and shrews, Blazefur.” Blackpatch said. “Come outside and I can show you the best spots to catch them.”
“Maybe later, Blackpatch.”
Blackpatch darted back out of the den and peered around to see if he could spot his mother. He spotted a faint blur of black past the small clump of trees. He glanced carefully around and then scampered as fast as he could for the cover of the trees. He wound his way through the dense underbrush until he was in the small shadow cast by the trees. Blackpatch found his mother confronting a strange beige and dark brown cat.
“Leave this spot now!” Longfur hissed. “It is claimed by me and mine.”
“Where am I?” the beige and brown cat asked. It was clearly bewildered by its surroundings. “This isn’t my home.”
“No it is not!” Longfur snapped at the unwanted intruder. “You need to leave now!”
“Just tell me where my home is and I will leave.”
“I don’t know where your home is. All I know is that this is not it.”
“They put me in the car and they brought me here. Do you know where they’ve gone to?”
“Where who has gone to?”
“My Twolegs Nofurs. They got a new baby and they said we were going for a drive in the car.”
“Twolegs Nofurs.” Longfur hissed as she caught the faint, hated scent from the new arrival. “You are Bound.”
“And what are you?”
“I and my kittens are of the Free.”
“Are my Twolegs coming back?” the beige and brown cat asked.
Longfur paused and scented the air; there was no trace of any Twolegs Nofurs on the afternoon air.
“Your Twolegs are gone.” Longfur replied harshly.
“They can’t have left. I’m still here.” The stranger moaned sadly. “They are coming back? Aren’t they?”
Longfur had seen many Bound Cats abandoned here at the Forest Edge. There were many Twolegs Nofurs several days walk to the west of her den site. It seemed many Bound came from there. The Bound always thought their Twolegs would come back for them, but they never did. Some Twolegs did come to the Forest Edge and look for cats. Those were Twolegs to be avoided at all costs. Longfur had found the remains of one of their victims several Dark Colds ago. It had been CrookPaw Brightfur, one of Longfur’s littermates. The sight of his burnt body still troubled her. Suddenly Longfur was gripped with sorrow and pity for the Bound Stranger.
“What is your name?”
“I am Miss Mittens.” The Bound Stranger replied.
“What kind of name is Miss Mittens?” Longfur stated.
“It is what they called me, Miss Mittens.” Miss Mittens restated.
“I will never understand the names Twolegs inflict on the Bound.” Longfur said. “You may stay in the area, but do not go near the Woodpile. That is mine.”
“What am I going to do?” Miss Mittens asked Longfur.
“Probably die.” Longfur said silently to herself, but then added, “You will need to find some shelter for Nightfall is coming and you do not want to be outside.”
“Is there a house nearby?” Miss Mittens sounded excited at the prospect of being back inside a nice warm house.
“No.” Longfur dashed Miss Mittens’ hope. “There are no ‘Houses’ here. You should be able to find a relatively comfortable spot underneath the old tree stump over there.”
“That doesn’t sound very warm or comfortable.” Miss Mittens countered.
“It is protected and safe.” Longfur snapped. “And it is all you will have tonight.”
Longfur turned away from Miss Mittens and started heading back towards her Woodpile.
“Blackpatch!” Longfur commanded, “Come with me.”
“Momma.” Blackpatch bounded up to his mother’s side. “I wanted to tell you that I saw a Twolegs Nofur and a strange cat. But I see you found her too.”
“Blackpatch.” Longfur warned her son, “I want you to promise me that if you ever see a Twolegs Nofur, you will run and hide and don’t come out until they are gone.”
“Why Momma?”
Longfur looked over her shoulder at the scared and bewildered Miss Mittens.
“Because they are dangerous.” Longfur warned Blackpatch. “Because they bring nothing but harm and pain to those of the Free.”

“Our Twolegs aren’t like that.” Little One stated. “I’ve never seen them do anything to harm any of us.”
“You are right, Little One.” Bandit agreed. “Our Twolegs aren’t like that. But remember the first set of Twolegs that came to see you kittens.”
Little One remembered the Twolegs and the Scent of fear that had been laid about them by another cat. He shuddered in fear from the memory. Bandit was right. There were some good Twoleg Nofurs, but there were also some very evil ones.
“I’m not saying that all Twolegs are bad.” Bandit warned. “But you must always be wary and watchful.Always.”

Sunday, February 12, 2006

13. Birthdays All Around

Little One was disturbed by his discovery of the Shadow that had fallen across the Male Twolegs of the House. He had seen too much loss lately. His sister Alyssa had only left the house three weeks ago. Now there was the Shadow that threatened the male Twolegs of the house. He had told Momma and Eppy about his discovery. Momma had been surprised, but Little One was shocked and a little hurt by Eppy's indifference.
Things had definitely changed in the house since Little One had discovered the Male Twolegs’ secret. He was not home as much, and when he came home he smelled strange. Little One tried to spend as much time with the Male Twolegs as he could. There was a strong chemical scent about the Male Twolegs that, although Little One it found distasteful and violently sharp, did not keep him from curling up on the bed next to his human friend. Momma Cat and Eppy had come into the bedroom several times, but only Momma Cat had stayed for more than a few minutes. Little One had been learning more stories of the Free from Bandit, but they seemed less important in comparison to the struggle that was occupying his friend, the Male Twolegs.
Little One left the bedroom and the Male Twolegs to get something to eat from the kitchen. He saw Momma Cat, Bandit, Uncle Magoo and Eppy all pacing backwards and forwards and looking up at the counter.
The Female Twolegs was busy with something on the counter. It took Little One a couple of seconds to clear his sense of smell from the medicine that hung about the Male. His stomache ached angrily as he caught the scent of soft food from the counter in the kitchen. It was his favourite flavour. He did not know what it was but it always came from the dark blue striped can. As each cat was partitioned a part of the can, Little One and Eppy sat waited for their share. They were very surprised when a larger than normal share was placed in front of them.
“Happy Birthday, Kittens.” Momma Cat smiled.
“Birthday?” Little One asked.
“The Twolegs have a day they call Birthday.” Momma Cat explained. “On this day, a certain member of the family is treated specially. Today is Your’s and Eppy’s birthday.”
“What does it mean?” Eppy asked between mouthfuls as she dug into her soft food.
“By my reckoning it has been 120 Nightfalls since you came to me.” Momma replied. “To the Twolegs, this seems to be an important date.”
Little One tentatively started eating his soft food. He occasionally looked up during breaks in his eating. Everyone was enjoying the soft food. It was not something they were given regularly and each cat regarded it as a treat. Surprisingly, Uncle Magoo finished first and he methodically scooped at the floor around his bowl. Little One had asked Bandit about this. Bandit said that is an old habit amongst cats whose blood ran true to the Free. Bandit had explained that if you ever could not finished your prey, you were supposed to cover it with leaves and dirt so that it would still be there when you came back. Bandit said that Uncle Magoo did not realize that the other cats could still see the food left. This was fine with Bandit, who often went over and finished Uncle Magoo’s food, because the older cat tended to forget where he had buried his food. Bandit had once joked with Little One when the other cats were out of earshot, that Uncle Magoo would lose his own tail if it did not follow him two seconds later.
Bandit groomed himself after eating from Uncle Magoo’s share of the soft food.
“That was not nice, Bandit” Momma Cat scolded Bandit. ”He’s going to come back later looking for his leftovers.”
“Momma Cat.” Bandit looked at her. “You’re not here to stick up for Magoo. You’re mad that I got to it first. Don’t worry, I have left you some of Magoo’s stash.”
Bandit left Momma Cat to clean out the rest of Uncle Magoo’s food bowl. He walked past Little One who was busy licking his lips and brushing his face with his paw.
“Do you want to have some fun?” Bandit asked.
“What kind of fun?” Little One asked.
“Let’s keep it a secret until we’re out of your Momma’s range.” Bandit said softly. “Magoo, are you coming?”
“What are you doing?” Uncle Magoo asked.
“How about a game of Jumps?” Bandit asked.
Uncle Magoo shrugged his shoulder and followed Bandit. Little One had never heard of this game. It must be because he was now 120 Nightfalls old. Little One felt so grown up and mature. He walked proudly as the two older male cats lead him into the sitting room. This was where the Twolegs often sat and watched the glowing flickering box. Bandit, Magoo and Little One sat in the middle of the room.
“I call first.” Magoo stated.
“Fine.” Bandit agreed. “I get to call Jumps. But remember, this is Little One’s first time, so don’t be too mean.”
“Wuss.” Magoo sneered. “Third shelf, Second Bookcase.”
“One jump.” Bandit countered.
“Agreed.” Magoo replied.
“Okay, Little One” Bandit said. “You have to land on the third shelf of the second bookcase in one jump.”
“Why do I have to go first?” Little One protested. “I’ve never played this game.”
“Well, If you didn’t want to go first, you should have called Lasts. Magoo countered. “I claimed Calls, Bandit called Jumps. If you didn’t want to go First. You have to say Lasts. Since you didn’t, we both assume you want to go first.”
“I didn’t know.” Little One still protested.
“You also didn’t ask for the Rules.” Uncle Magoo replied. “Ignorance is not a defense. Now show us what you’ve got.”
Uncle Magoo gave Little One a small push towards the second bookcase. Little One looked up at the third shelf of the second bookcase. There was a small space between the few books and an ugly ceramic statue. Little One understood that was the spot he had to land on. It was tricky because of the books to one side and the ugly ceramic statue on the other.
Little One set his paws the way Bandit had showed him. They were his targeting system. They would steer his body in his jump. All power would come from his rear legs and the coiled springs that were his back muscles. Next was setting his eyes on their target. The forelegs follow whatever the eyes see had been one of Bandit’s prior lessons. A Free Cat hunting for food never takes its eyes of its prey. It does not worry about its tail or what its rear legs are doing. They will always instinctively follow the eyes. Little One tensed briefly and then launched himself towards the third shelf of the second bookcase.
Little One skidded slightly as he landed on the third shelf of the second bookcase. He looked down at Uncle Magoo and Bandit triumphantly. He leaned over the edge of the shelf and then dropped to the floor.
“Your turn.” Little One boasted.
“Let’s go.” Bandit invited Uncle Magoo.” You called it.”
Uncle Magoo snorted and then prepared himself to jump up onto the shelf. He was a little less graceful than Little One, and he moved the books and statue around more than Little One, but he still made it cleanly onto the shelf. Next it was Bandit’s turn. Bandit easily reached the shelf without touching either the books or the statue,
“Next.” Bandit smiled as he landed on the floor.
“Silver box.” Uncle Magoo called the television as the next target. “Left Side between the candles.”
“One jump.” Bandit said smugly.
Uncle Magoo’s targets were getting tricky. The top of the television was the same height as the third shelf, but the landing area was extremely short, and there was nothing to stop a cat or kitten from sliding off the back. He made it more tricky by picking the small spot between two candles the Twolegs had placed on top of the television.
Little One once again had to go first. He steeled himself and tried to gauge distance, height and landing area of his target. Too much power and he would overshoot the small landing area. Not enough power and he would hit the front of the television. Bad aim and he would take out either one of the candles. The resulting noise would bring the Twolegs and end the game of Jumps.
Little One aimed his body and leapt up onto the television. The candle on the right moved slightly.
Once again he slid back down to the floor triumphantly, Uncle Magoo snorted. Bandit chuckled under his breath.
“It’s to you, Magoo.” Bandit goaded.
“Harumph.” Uncle Magoo snorted.
Uncle Magoo aimed himself towards the target he had called. He launched his body upwards. Unlike Little One, Uncle Magoo did not land as gracefully. He almost slid over the top of the television. But he managed to hold on with all of his claws. There was a brief hesitation followed by a loud bang as the candle on the left went crashing the floor behind the television as Uncle Magoo’s larger frame pushed the candle off the television.
The sound of surprise and anger coming from the Twolegs in the other room revealed that the cats’ game of Jumps had been discovered.
“Run!” Bandit warned Little One.
Little One looked up at Uncle Magoo who stood on the top of the television in disbelief that he had dislodged the left candle. Little One leapt up on the television to the space recently vacated by the left candle. Uncle Magoo looked at him and was quite surprised when Little One began swatting him. He did not bother to figure out Little One’s reasons, and he began batting back.
The Twolegs walked into the room and saw two cats on top of the television rough housing as they swatted and batted at each other. They each grabbed a cat and removed them from the top of the television and placed it on the floor.
“We all were playing.” Little One purred to Uncle Magoo as he rubbed against the Male Twolegs. “It’s not fair that you get blamed.”
“You got lucky.” Uncle Magoo grumped. “Next time, I won’t miss.”
“Next time I get Calls.” Little One flashed a smile at Uncle Magoo.

12. A Shadow Falls

Little One found the Male Twolegs in the bedroom. He had been hunting for the Male Twolegs all afternoon. He had counted the number of time the doors leading outside had opened and closed, and by his count the both the male and the Female should both be inside.
He had spent the morning with the Female Twolegs in the kitchen. She was busy doing something that escaped Little One. All he knew was that whatever it was she was doing, she was very messy doing it. From time to time, samples fell to the floor at the Female Twolegs feet. Little One quickly darted in and gobbled up these randomly dropped treats. He was shoed away from the kitchen several times by the Female Twolegs. Some of the treats were too spicy for Little One and he left them alone after the first taste. Some of the treats were so much better tasting than the kitten kibble that he and Eppy were forced to share. The battle between kitten and cook lasted for almost two hours.
The door to the den opened and Little One realized where the Male Twolegs had been hiding. Little One caught up with the Male Twolegs as he laid down on the bed. Little One scented a deep sorrow over the Male Twolegs. It was a sorrow that he had been trying to shield from the Female Twolegs. Something had changed and the Male was no longer able to shield the sorrow. It struck Little One like an unsheathed claw. The Female Twolegs walked into the bedroom and looked at the Male Twolegs. Little One felt like he was invisible to the conversation that was now occurring between the Twolegs. He had to learn to start trusting the lessons he had been receiving in secret from Bandit. Little One scented the air in the bedroom.
The scent that lead to the Female Twolegs was full of worry and fear. Little One scented it further. The Female Twolegs was also trying to hide a scent. The scent she was trying to hide bore the taint of the Shadow. Little One panicked as he crossed the Shadow directly for the first time in his young life. The darkness it carried threatened to choke the air from his little lungs. The fear of the Shadow coming off the Female was nothing compared to the scent he now picked up off the Male Twolegs. It was not the fear of the Shadow, but the Shadow itself. The scent of the Shadow lingered far too strongly over the Male Twolegs. Little One staggered under the onslaught he was feeling from the scent coming from the Male. He was steadied by the unexpected arrival of Bandit.
“Bandit.” Little One cried out.
Bandit ran to Little One’s side, and tried to comfort his young friend.
“Little One.” Bandit tried to reassure his young friend. ”What is wrong?”
“Shadow.” Little One gasped desparately. “Shadow.”
Bandit scented the air and found quickly the Scent Tread that had Little One so upset. The taint of the Shadow had fallen on the Male Twolegs without their knowing. Bandit gave a low faint curse of the Free. The Shadow had fallen across his household and he had not sensed it.
“Let it go.” Bandit guided his young friend.
“Bandit.” The panic that seized Little One was more than his little heart could bear.
Bandit grabbed Little One by the ear and forcefully pulled him away from the Male Twolegs. He knew that it was Little One’s first brush with the true nature of the Shadow.
Most Twolegs Nofurs have no idea how sensitive their feline friends are to the comings and goings of the Shadow. Cats that move in and out of the Twolegs’ world are far more in tune with and knowledgeable of the Shadow than their human companions. The Shadow affects and trembles them to their core. Unprepared, a cat or kitten can be destroyed by the touch of the Shadow.
“Remember…” Bandit called to his friend. He called to the nature of the Free that he thought lived within Little One.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide…” Bandit tried to strengthen Little One’s thoughts within the sanctuary of the Creed of the Free. “When you cannot hide, you …”
“Fight. When you fight, You fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.” Little One remembered.
“Scent it out, Little One.” Bandit tried to help out his little friend.
“Something has changed within the Male Twolegs.” Little One cried. “I don’t know what it is. But it bears the taint of the Shadow. I think the Shadow is falling on the Male.”
Bandit did not know what to tell Little One. Everything that crossed his nose said the same thing. The Shadow had touched the House and had settled on the Male Twolegs. The sadness that followed the Female suddenly made sense. The Twolegs knew that the Shadow had touched the Male and they had managed to hide it from the cats of the house, until Little One’s overactive nose had uncovered their deception. Bandit cursed the complacency that his life amongst the Bound was causing.
Little One and Bandit both learned a new human word that day on the bed. As they lay with and tried to comfort the Twolegs, they heard the word “cancer” repeated over and over. Little One did not know what “cancer’ was, but he realized that it brought the scent of the Shadow over the Male. Little One needed his friend Bandit to explain what was happening.
“Bandit.” Little One asked. “Is this what the Leaving smells like?”
“No. Little One.” Bandit reassured his friend. “He is not yet marked for his Leaving. The Shadow is here and it does lay over him. But it has not claimed him.”
“What do I do Bandit?” Little One asked.
“Find your mom and Eppy.” Bandit replied. “Share this with them. You have to understand, Little One. You cannot stop the Shadow but you can learn from its passing.”
“What do I tell them?” Little One asked.
“Tell them that the Shadow has come to the house and they need to prepare.” Bandit answered.
“Prepare for what?” Little One asked.
“Tomorrow.” Bandit replied. “They need to prepare for tomorrow.”
Little One was confused by Bandit’s cryptic comments. Bandit looked at Little One and sensed his confusion.
“Once the Shadow is found.” Bandit explained. “There is no today. There is only tomorrow. It is the only day that matters. Today is already over and has no worth to one of the Free. There is only.”
“Tomorrow.” Little One completed Bandit’s statement. “Tomorrow is the only day we worry about. Tomorrow brings food. Tomorrow brings peace. Tomorrow brings rest.”
Bandit nodded. He watched as Little One took off in search of his mother and Eppy. He had often worried what would happen to him once he realized that he would not further his bloodline. He had come to realize over the last few weeks that Little One was his only heir apparent. Little One did not bear his blood, but he did bear all the characteristics that Bandit thought was noble about his own heritage.
“Little One, if you were truly one of the Free.” Bandit thought to himself, “I or your Mother would have named you Strongheart.”
Bandit looked up at the bed where the Twolegs lay and comforted each other. A part of him was rankled by the thoughts that went through his mind, but the other part told him it was the right thing to do. Bandit jumped up on the bed and surprised both of the Twolegs by standing on the Female Twolegs’ hip. He stood there until they opened a space between them. Bandit moved from the Female Twolegs’ hip and worked his way between the Twolegs. A bit of a leg kick moved the Male a little more to the left. A well placed paw with claws unsheathed moved the Female to the right. Soon, Bandit had the amount of space he needed. He stretched out and began to purr. In his heart, he was still one of the Free, but he had learned to accept some of the benefits of the Bound.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

11. The Free Cats' Creed

Little One deeply missed his sister, Alyssa. He had not only lost a playmate but also a confidant. His other sister, Eppy, never stepped into the chasm that Alyssa had left in Little One's life. The nose prints on the front window has been cleaned away by the Female Twolegs. It seemed to Little One that if he did not think about Alyssa everyday, she would completely disappear from his world. Little One heard the clacking of the keyboard in the den, and he ran from the front window to where he knew he would find the Male Twolegs.
The Male Twolegs was indeed sitting at the desk in the den and typing away on the keyboard. Little One hopped onto his lap and then placed his little paws onto the keyboard as he tried to see what was on the computer screen. He was quickly moved by the Male as a collection of V's, G's and B's showed up unmercilessly on the computer screen. Little One was not dumped onto the floor but placed on the desk surface to the right of the monitor. There were some bright red pictures that confused Little One. He scented the lingering smell of worry and fear that seemed to follow the Male Twolegs. Little One hoped that the Male would find the pictures of birds and squirrels that Little One found so fascinating. A loving scratch behind Little One's left ear lightened both the Twolegs and Little One's mood. As Little One purred, the Female Twolegs entered the den and walked to the Male's side. Her left hand found the Male's shoulder and her right found Little One's right ear. Little One's internal motor went into overdrive under the attention of both of the Twolegs. The Female stopped scratching Little One's ear. She stooped over and kissed the Male Twolegs gently on the cheek. Little One looked at the monitor and the pictures. He then looked at the Female Twolegs. The Scent of Sorrow had fallen over her again, but Little One could not scent the reason.
Little One did not see Eppy as she entered the den. She obviously had hoped to catch the Male Twolegs alone so that she could get some much needed and deserved attention. She saw Little One sitting on top on the desk getting attention from both the Male and Female Twolegs. She secretly fumed as she watched Little One. She could not understand why the Twolegs gave him more attention than they gave her. She turned and walked away from the den. Eppy did not acknowledge Bandit as she passed him in the hallway.
Bandit looked into the den and saw Little One sitting with the Male and Female Twolegs. He turned his head and looked in the direction Eppy had left. His nose twitched at the acrid scent she trailed behind her. Bandit felt the jealously Eppy left behind in her scent. He lowered his head as the all too familiar dynamics of the Free showed its natural course in the house. He started to move out of the doorway of the den when he was spotted by Little One.
"Bandit." Little One exclaimed as he leapt from the desk to the floor.
The Male and Female Twolegs gasped as their kitten dropped five times his own height to the floor. Little One did not hesitate or stumble as he ran out of the den in pursuit of his friend Bandit.
"Bandit." Little One gasped as he caught up to his mentor. "When are you going to resume my lessons?"
"I thought you might want a bit of time." Bandit paused. "To get over Alyssa's departure."
"I do miss her lots." Little One replied, "But I still want to learn."
“If you feel up to it.” Bandit stated.
“So what is it today.” Little One asked excitedly. “Are you going to teach me how to fight better? Or how to jump higher?”
“Not everything has to do with fighting and jumping, Little One.” Bandit said. “Let’s go sit on the bed.”
Bandit lead Little One to the Twolegs’ bedroom. Little One clawed his way up again and he patiently waited for Bandit to join him. They curled up on the pillows at the head of the bed, not touching, but close enough that Bandit did not have to raise his voice very loud. Bandit remembered back to the first day Blackpatch and his family left the den...

Longfur regarded her four kittens as they prowled around the den. They had all grown so much in their first eight weeks. The kittens were now play-hunting the food that Longfur was bringing back to the den. Longfur noted with pride how well Blackpatch and his sisters, Haze and Nigthpaw had taken to stalking the mostly dead mice and birds she brought back. She was a little concerned that Blazefur was not taking to hunting as well as he should. Longfur knew that the next few weeks would mark all of them for the rest of their lives amongst the Free.
“Kittens.” Longfur said. “Today you are to see the outside world for the first time.”
“We’re going Outside?” Blackpatch was excited. “Out of the den?”
“Why?” Blazefur pouted. “The den is comfortable and warm.”
Haze and Nightpaw did not say anything. They looked at each other and realized that they were torn between the excitement Blackpatch felt and the trepidation that Blazefur was showing.
“You can’t live in the den forever.” Longfur stated to her kittens. “You are almost at the age when you will need to go and find your own Path in the World. This is just the first step in finding that Path. Now follow me.”
Longfur lead the four kittens out of the den. They all had to stop and blink their eyes. The light was much brighter here in the World than it was in their den. Each one stopped at the threshold of the den and the rest of the World. There were a multitude of smells that they had never experienced before. Blackpatch’s nose was twitching feverishly. His siblings’ noses were doing the same. The excitement over these new smells evaporated any fear that the kittens had. They slowly left the opening of the den one by one. They were quickly warned by Longfur to stay close.
“Not too far, Kittens.” Longfur commanded protectively. “We will go a little further each day, but for now you are not to leave the woodpile.”
The kittens agreed quickly. For as exciting as the Outside was, they were not ready to head out on their own. Blackpatch made an effort to scramble up the nearest piece of wood. The wood suddenly shifted beneath his weight, and Blackpatch was tossed to the ground. Haze and Nightpaw laughed at their brother’s misfortune. Blazefur had watched where Blackpatch had gone and found a safer route up the loosely strewn wood. Longfur’s doubts about Blazefur disappeared. Blazefur was not as adventurous or bold as his siblings, but he regarded the world about him better than they did. Blackpatch followed the path Blazefur had found up the side of the woodpile. As they sat atop the woodpile, they looked at the horizon and thought the World was huge and overwhelming. It was too much for Blazefur, who quickly scrambled down and ducked back into the den. Haze and Nightpaw were spooked by Blazefur’s sudden return to the den, and they unthinkingly followed him into the den. Longfur watched as three of her four kittens bolted into their den. She looked up Blackpatch. He was acting like he owned the woodpile.
“What have we here?” A deep rumbling voice sounded from across the woodpile.
Longfur spun around to face the source of the voice. It was the Current Tom, Darkstripe Onetooth. His presence was not unexpected since the woodpile was his territory, but it was unwelcome. Longfur knew why he was here.
“Blackpatch!” She ordered. “Get back into the den!”
Blackpatch would have protested, but the fear and urgency in his mother’s voice warned him that there was danger nearby. He quickly and ungainly dropped to the forest floor and disappeared into the den.
Darkstripe leaped to the forest floor after Blackpatch. He was intercepted by a bristling and agitated Longfur.
“These kittens are not of my blood.” Darkstripe accused Longfur. “They have no place on my woodpile.”
‘They are not going anywhere, Darkstripe.” Longfur moved to block Darkstripe’s advance to the den opening. “Leave now!”
“You can’t watch them always, Longfur.” Darkstripe threatened. “And I will not tolerate this insult.”
Longfur hissed and fiercely swatted at Darkstripe’s face. He was taken off balance by Longfur’s attack.
“Leave Darkstripe.” Longfur warned. “Or this will not go well for one of us.”
Darkstripe was not in the mood to fight with a protective mother cat. He backed away from the den opening.
“You have been warned, Lonfur.” He growled as he slinked away.
“And so have you.” Longfur hissed back.
She watched him leave and only when she was certain that he was gone did she follow her kittens into her den. Today was supposed to be an awakening for the kittens. Now it would be the start of the first of many lessons her kittens would have to learn.
Bandit paused in his story.
“What was the lesson?” Little One asked. “Did she teach Blackpatch how to cuff Darkstripe so hard he would never come back?”
“No Little One.” Bandit shook his head. “What she taught her kittens that night is the governing creed of all Free cats.”
Little One was enthralled by Bandit’s story. He was going to learn one of the secrets of the Free.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide. When you cannot hide, you fight.” Bandit recalled solemnly. ”And when you fight, you fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.”
“Repeat it back to me, Little One.” Bandit instructed.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide. When you cannot hide, you fight. And When you fight, you fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.” Little One repeated.
“I want you to think about that.” Bandit said as he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. “Now I need a nap. Telling you all these stories is tuckering me out.”
Little One closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep as well. His thoughts were churning and he kept repeating the Free Cats’ Creed over and over again in his mind. To a Twolegs Nofur, it would have sounded like Little One was gurbling in his sleep.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

10. A Sister Says Goodbye

Little One and Alyssa played underneath the threshold of the bathroom door. It seemed to escape both of them who was the source of the strange paw darting out from underneath the door. Little One stood up several times and looked around the edge of the doorway. He saw his sister laying there on her side as she intently watched for the strange black paw. Alyssa looked up at Little One as though she was surprised to see him standing there. Little One was about to say something when he caught sight of the strange grey paw sticking out from his side of the door. He quickly pounced at the strange, unknown paw. Alyssa felt her paw being attacked and quickly tried to snag the paw of her unknown assailant.
This started a whole new exchange of fishing, snagging and battling of paws underneath the doorway. It only ended with the arrival of Eppy, who had come to get a drink of water from the sink.
“You’re attacking each other.” Eppy observed.
“What do you mean?” Alyssa asked as she rolled onto her back and followed her sister’s progress past her.
“The paw that you’re attacking,” Eppy reiterated. “It’s Little One’s. And he keeps attacking yours.”
“No, it’s not.” Alyssa countered.
“Yes. It is.” Eppy said. “You are both so dumb.”
“No, we’re not.” Little One stated as he looked around the edge of the doorway at his sister.
“Yes you are.” Eppy sighed. “Look at Alyssa’s paw.”
Little One did as his sister asked and then shrugged his shoulders.
“And…” He asked, as he looked at the greyfur paws with the white mitts
“What is the colour of the paw that you keep chasing?” Eppy asked.
“It was white with grey.” Little One snapped back. Sometime sisters were such a pain.
“What colour is Alyssa’s paw?” Eppy asked.
“It’s grey with white.” Little One answered as he looked at his sister Alyssa.
They exchanged a glance that said they both thought that Eppy was not all there.
“Alyssa.” Eppy addressed her sister as she ignored Little One. “What colour is the paw that you’re trying to catch?”
“It’s a brownish black paw.” Alyssa replied.
“And what colour is Little One’s paw?” Eppy asked
“His paws are a blackish brown.” Alyssa snapped.
“You two are chasing each other.” Eppy said sharply, clearly exasperated with her brother and sister.
"No we’re not.” Little One replied.
“You don’t know what you are talking about.” Alyssa stated.
“I can’t talk to either of you.” Eppy gasped. “You are two of a kind.”
Little One was about to say something that would get him severely cuffed by both Momma Cat and Bandit. He was even sure that Uncle Magoo would toss in a sharp slap for what he was about to say to Eppy. The kittens heard the call of their mom. They hesitated as they realized the call was coming from the front foyer. The kittens still remembered the run-in with the strange Twolegs.
“Kittens!” Momma Cat called. “Come here and be on your best behaviour.”
The three kittens ceased their bickering in the bathroom and tentatively walked towards the front foyer. Instinctively, Alyssa and Eppy fell in behind their brother Little One.
“You’ll let us know if they mean harm.” Eppy asked. “Won’t you, Little One?”
“As much as I would like to send you to a dog lover’s home,” Little One threatened. “I will not let any harm touch you if I can.”
Little One remembered Bandit’s story about Blackpatch and Whitepatch. He tried not to make a promise he had no hope of keeping.
The kittens arrived at the foyer and stopped at the top of the stairs. Never again would they blindly rush to greet strange Twolegs visitors to their home. Little One regarded the three new Twolegs Nofurs that stood in the foyer. He scented the air that wafted off the strangers. There was no scent of cat or dog on these Twolegs. Little One scented the thread they each left in the air. The male Twolegs had the same tang of stress and worry that his own male Twolegs sometimes had. The older female Twolegs also smelled of fear, but it was the fear of disappointment and not of terror. There was a new smell that Little One had never experienced before. The scent coming off the young female Twolegs was full of excitement and longing and it permeated the air about this smaller female Twolegs. There was no fear about these Twolegs.
“These are good Twolegs.” Little One decided. “They bear us no harm.”
Alyssa and Eppy were the most excited by the presence of the young female. They both bounded and stumbled down the stairs towards the young female. But before they could reach the young female, they were scooped up by the Female and Male Twolegs of the House.
“They’re worried about a repeat of the last time.” Little One reassured his sisters.
The Female and Male Twolegs of the House lead the strange threesome into the front living room. The strange Twolegs sat down on the sofa and started talking to the Twolegs of the House. Alyssa and Eppy squirmed and fought against being restrained. Little One had said these Twolegs were not to be feared, and they both wanted to find out about the younger female Twolegs. Their protestations were rewarded as they were gently set down on the floor. They both trotted towards the young Female Twolegs. Eppy was picked up first. The young female looked her directly in the eye and regarded her carefully. Eppy was not comfortable with the female’s gaze and she began to fidget and fight against being held. Eppy was quite happy when she was returned to the floor. Alyssa was picked up next and given the same eye to eye evaluation. Unlike her sister, Alyssa saw something within the young Twolegs’ eyes that made her yearn for the female’s companionship. Alyssa began purring deeply and she tried to nuzzle the young female’s hand. The young female sensed the connection and pulled Alyssa against her chest. Alyssa buried her head against the young female’s neck and even made an attempt to wrap her little paws on either side of the female’s neck.
“I like her.” Alyssa chirped. “I really like her. I think she is the one for me.”
“Are you sure?” Momma Cat asked.
“Yes Momma.” Alyssa began to softly cry. “She is to be my forever friend and I want to go with her.”
“Well, now it is up to her.” Momma Cat replied as she watched her little girl cuddle and purr with the young female Twolegs.
Little One scented the mood change amongst all the Twolegs. The Female and Male of the House smelled of relief and joy. The strange Twolegs also smelled of relief, but their scent was also tinged with a deep profound happiness. This happiness radiated most off the youngest female as she cuddled and held Alyssa.
“Be happy, Alyssa.” Little One said sadly as the pending separation dawned on him.
“I will be, Little One.” Alyssa said happily. “Your forever friend will come soon. Your’s too, Eppy.”
“Of course, they will.” Eppy replied somewhat jealously. “But I’m happy for you, Alyssa. You take care of yourself and you take care of your forever friend.”
“Rebecca.” Alyssa replied. “Her name is Rebecca. She is six years old and we’re going to be friends forever.”
Before Little One and Eppy knew it, their sister was carried out of the house and away to her new life with her friend, Rebecca. They ran to the front window to watch their sister be taken away from the house. Little One noticed the many nose prints Alyssa had left on the front window as though she had always known that her Path laid beyond its clear boundary. It would be many, many years before they ever saw her again and even then it would not be on this side of the Rainbow Bridge.