9. Little One Gets Schooled
Little One arrived in the sunroom well before the sun hit the wicker chair. He looked around the room and noticed everything. The plants were dry from a lack of watering, which was good since Eppy seemed to like playing in the dirt. She was not interested in the plants, but the dirt held an endless fascination for her. The windows bore countless nose prints from Alyssa. She was forever watching the Outside and the creatures that inhabited that world. Little One felt a another cat brush past him.
"Move it." Uncle Magoo demanded. "You're in my way."
"Uncle Magoo." Little One complained.
"What?" Magoo snapped. "I have a early morning nap planned for the wicker chair. Which is to be followed by a mid-morning snooze on the Twolegs' bed."
"The stray?" Magoo replied."Who cares. He's a dime a dozen."
"Momma says we all matter." Little One countered.
"That's crap all moms tell their kittens." Magoo said. "Some cats are destined to enjoy the comfortable life, and others are destined to endure the world outside."
"But why?" Little One asked. "Why do some cats have a life with the Twolegs that is comfortable and others have a life of fear and struggle?"
"Our life mirrors that of the Twolegs." Magoo said. "For every one of us that has a life of comfort, there are three who do not."
"Why?" Little One asked.
"You ask that a lot." Magoo snapped. "Why this. Why That. Little One there is little joy in why. There is far more joy and happiness in How. How do I get that warm spot in front of the window or How do I get that extra piece of turkey. Worry less about Why and more about How, Little One."
Unlce Magoo sauntered off towards the bright rectangle of sunshine that was beaming directly onto the wicker chair. Little One could not accept that the life of the cats was what Uncle Magoo said it was.
"You are already here." Little One turned to see Bandit entering the room. "That's somewhat commendable."
Little One watched Bandit walk past and then sit in the center of the sunroom. Little One followed and sat besides Bandit. He was unsure what Bandit was staring at and he tried to find what held Bandit's attention.
"Little One." Bandit said thoughtfully. "I am about to push you across a line that your mother might not appreciate."
"There is more to our life than what I know." LIttle One responded. "After the strange Twolegs, I know that there is even more that I will not know as one of the Bound. And I want to know."
"Then before I teach you anything. I want you to know more about Blackpatch's life." Bandit said.. "The last time I left you with Whitepatch promising to be quicker..."
Longfur was woken form her sleep by her kitten, Blackpatch. He scrambled over her fur in a rough and tumble manner. Soon, he stood looking his mother in the eyes as he stood on her shoulder. His siblings were still asleep curled about each other.
"Momma." Blackpatch cried. "I can't find Whitepatch. I promised I help her get more to eat. So I woke up early, and I was going to help her get more to eat."
"Oh my little Blackpatch. " Longfur said sadly. "Whitepatch left us in the night. She has gone to the Darkening Road."
"What do you mean?" Blackpatch asked,even though he knew in heart what had happened.
"She was too little, Blackpatch." Longfur comforted her kitten. “She was too weak to walk this road. She had to follow the Darkening Road, so that you and your brothers and sisters would not have to.”
“But I promised her.” Blackpatch deeply missed his little playmate.
“That was not a promise you could ever hope to keep.” Longfur tried to reassure her kitten, “I don’t want you to fret about it. You were a good big brother and she loved you with all her strength.”
“What is the Darkening Road?” Blackpatch asked.
“When the time of a Cat of the Free is over, they leave their friends, family and territory forever.” Longfur described. “A road begins to beckon in front of them. A road that is shadowed and dark. Every cat can sense this road and knows when its time to follow it. Each cat bears their own time and measures out their own life. When the time to follow the Darkening Road comes, each cat says goodbye to all that they knew. There is no sorrow or pain, it is simply the end of one life and the start of another.”
“Will I follow the Darkening Road?” Blackpatch asked. ”What happens afterwards?”
“Yes, Blackpatch, You will” Longfur replied. “”But not for a long while. When your time comes, you will feel the call of the Darkening Road. You do not need to worry, the Shadow is no where near you or your brothers and sisters. I want you to treat it as a gift from your sister Whitepatch. As for what happens after we follow the Darkening Road, we have no tales”
“… Blackpatch sadly went to sleep on his mother’s shoulder and dreamed about his little sister who left to follow the Darkening Road” Bandit finished his story.
Little One wiped his eye. He understood the story Bandit told. To the Free, the Darkening Road was a path that they all would follow in time. They accepted that inevitability, and as such did not fear what the Darkening Road meant.
“So what do you want to teach me today.” Little One asked.
“You want to know how to protect yourself?” Bandit replied. “The Free, unlike the Bound, have to rely on their own skills to keep themselves alive and healthy. These are the skills that I can teach you. Here, amongst the Twolegs, they might have another use.”
“I already know how to protect myself.” Little One boasted. “I can best my sisters every time we wrestle.”
Bandit gave a low chuckle at Little One’s boast. “Magoo come here.”
The old grey cat stirred at Bandit’s call. He was not happy at being disturbed from his resting pace, but he answered the command of the dominant male of the house.
“What is it.” Magoo growled. “I was chasing some mice in the living room and I had almost caught two of them when you woke me up.”
“Little One has something to show us.” Bandit said. “Now Little One I want you to show Magoo your fearsome fighting skills.”
“No problem.” Little One replied as he reared up on his back legs and began pawing at the air in front of him. “See. Look how fast my paws are. They strike fear into the heart of all who stand before them.”
“You have got to be kidding.” Magoo snorted in disgust as he watched Little One bat at the air in front of him.
“Do you see an opportunity, Magoo?” Bandit invited Magoo to help with Little One’s lessons.
“I’m too old for this foolishness.” Magoo said as he regarded the waving paws of the little kitten.
Before Little One knew it, Uncle Magoo had dashed past his flailing paws and had knocked Little One to the ground. Little One tried desperately to push Uncle Magoo away with his back paws, but found that he did not have near enough strength to move the older cat’s bulky mass. Little One’s black furry body disappeared under Uncle Magoo’s bulky grey body. The entire display had taken less than ten seconds. Most of that time had been the two older cats watching Little One’s display in an amused fashion.
“That wasn’t fair.” Little One cried, as he struggled out from under Magoo’s paws. “I wasn’t ready.”
“From the way you were flailing your paws around I thought you were.” Bandit replied. “What about you, Magoo? Did you think he was ready?”
“If he’s expecting some sort of a starting signal, he’s dreaming.” Magoo stated.
“You should have told me you were going to attack.” Little One explained. “Then I could have prepared a proper defense.”
With that, Bandit pounced on Little One. The defeat that Uncle Magoo had handed him was tame compare to the violence by which Bandit knocked Little One to the floor. Bandit even began to bite down into Little One’s exposed neck.
“Oww.” Little One cried out. “That hurts.”
“Surrender.” Bandit ordered. “Surrender or I’ll bite harder.”
“I Surrender.” Little One gave up trying to extricate himself from Bandit’s fierce grip.
Bandit released his grip from Little One’s neck but did not release him from the pinning on the floor.
“That is the second thing you have done wrong.” Bandit instructed. “The first was letting yourself be caught off balance.”
“And the second.” Little One asked breathlessly from beneath Bandit’s body.
“You surrendered.” Bandit replied. “We are too small to survive if we surrender. Our only hope of survival is to fight until there is no fight left. Remember this Little One, to one of the Free, Surrender is Death.”
“Surrender is Death.” Little One repeated. The words as they crossed his lips scared him.
“Good.” Bandit nodded. “Now that you know that, I can teach you how to fight properly. No more waving your paws around like a drunken blue jay.”
Little One was excited. These were the lessons he found interesting.