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.