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.”