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, 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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

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."
"Where's Bandit?"
"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.