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.”