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.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

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.

12. A Shadow Falls

Little One found the Male Twolegs in the bedroom. He had been hunting for the Male Twolegs all afternoon. He had counted the number of time the doors leading outside had opened and closed, and by his count the both the male and the Female should both be inside.
He had spent the morning with the Female Twolegs in the kitchen. She was busy doing something that escaped Little One. All he knew was that whatever it was she was doing, she was very messy doing it. From time to time, samples fell to the floor at the Female Twolegs feet. Little One quickly darted in and gobbled up these randomly dropped treats. He was shoed away from the kitchen several times by the Female Twolegs. Some of the treats were too spicy for Little One and he left them alone after the first taste. Some of the treats were so much better tasting than the kitten kibble that he and Eppy were forced to share. The battle between kitten and cook lasted for almost two hours.
The door to the den opened and Little One realized where the Male Twolegs had been hiding. Little One caught up with the Male Twolegs as he laid down on the bed. Little One scented a deep sorrow over the Male Twolegs. It was a sorrow that he had been trying to shield from the Female Twolegs. Something had changed and the Male was no longer able to shield the sorrow. It struck Little One like an unsheathed claw. The Female Twolegs walked into the bedroom and looked at the Male Twolegs. Little One felt like he was invisible to the conversation that was now occurring between the Twolegs. He had to learn to start trusting the lessons he had been receiving in secret from Bandit. Little One scented the air in the bedroom.
The scent that lead to the Female Twolegs was full of worry and fear. Little One scented it further. The Female Twolegs was also trying to hide a scent. The scent she was trying to hide bore the taint of the Shadow. Little One panicked as he crossed the Shadow directly for the first time in his young life. The darkness it carried threatened to choke the air from his little lungs. The fear of the Shadow coming off the Female was nothing compared to the scent he now picked up off the Male Twolegs. It was not the fear of the Shadow, but the Shadow itself. The scent of the Shadow lingered far too strongly over the Male Twolegs. Little One staggered under the onslaught he was feeling from the scent coming from the Male. He was steadied by the unexpected arrival of Bandit.
“Bandit.” Little One cried out.
Bandit ran to Little One’s side, and tried to comfort his young friend.
“Little One.” Bandit tried to reassure his young friend. ”What is wrong?”
“Shadow.” Little One gasped desparately. “Shadow.”
Bandit scented the air and found quickly the Scent Tread that had Little One so upset. The taint of the Shadow had fallen on the Male Twolegs without their knowing. Bandit gave a low faint curse of the Free. The Shadow had fallen across his household and he had not sensed it.
“Let it go.” Bandit guided his young friend.
“Bandit.” The panic that seized Little One was more than his little heart could bear.
Bandit grabbed Little One by the ear and forcefully pulled him away from the Male Twolegs. He knew that it was Little One’s first brush with the true nature of the Shadow.
Most Twolegs Nofurs have no idea how sensitive their feline friends are to the comings and goings of the Shadow. Cats that move in and out of the Twolegs’ world are far more in tune with and knowledgeable of the Shadow than their human companions. The Shadow affects and trembles them to their core. Unprepared, a cat or kitten can be destroyed by the touch of the Shadow.
“Remember…” Bandit called to his friend. He called to the nature of the Free that he thought lived within Little One.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide…” Bandit tried to strengthen Little One’s thoughts within the sanctuary of the Creed of the Free. “When you cannot hide, you …”
“Fight. When you fight, You fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.” Little One remembered.
“Scent it out, Little One.” Bandit tried to help out his little friend.
“Something has changed within the Male Twolegs.” Little One cried. “I don’t know what it is. But it bears the taint of the Shadow. I think the Shadow is falling on the Male.”
Bandit did not know what to tell Little One. Everything that crossed his nose said the same thing. The Shadow had touched the House and had settled on the Male Twolegs. The sadness that followed the Female suddenly made sense. The Twolegs knew that the Shadow had touched the Male and they had managed to hide it from the cats of the house, until Little One’s overactive nose had uncovered their deception. Bandit cursed the complacency that his life amongst the Bound was causing.
Little One and Bandit both learned a new human word that day on the bed. As they lay with and tried to comfort the Twolegs, they heard the word “cancer” repeated over and over. Little One did not know what “cancer’ was, but he realized that it brought the scent of the Shadow over the Male. Little One needed his friend Bandit to explain what was happening.
“Bandit.” Little One asked. “Is this what the Leaving smells like?”
“No. Little One.” Bandit reassured his friend. “He is not yet marked for his Leaving. The Shadow is here and it does lay over him. But it has not claimed him.”
“What do I do Bandit?” Little One asked.
“Find your mom and Eppy.” Bandit replied. “Share this with them. You have to understand, Little One. You cannot stop the Shadow but you can learn from its passing.”
“What do I tell them?” Little One asked.
“Tell them that the Shadow has come to the house and they need to prepare.” Bandit answered.
“Prepare for what?” Little One asked.
“Tomorrow.” Bandit replied. “They need to prepare for tomorrow.”
Little One was confused by Bandit’s cryptic comments. Bandit looked at Little One and sensed his confusion.
“Once the Shadow is found.” Bandit explained. “There is no today. There is only tomorrow. It is the only day that matters. Today is already over and has no worth to one of the Free. There is only.”
“Tomorrow.” Little One completed Bandit’s statement. “Tomorrow is the only day we worry about. Tomorrow brings food. Tomorrow brings peace. Tomorrow brings rest.”
Bandit nodded. He watched as Little One took off in search of his mother and Eppy. He had often worried what would happen to him once he realized that he would not further his bloodline. He had come to realize over the last few weeks that Little One was his only heir apparent. Little One did not bear his blood, but he did bear all the characteristics that Bandit thought was noble about his own heritage.
“Little One, if you were truly one of the Free.” Bandit thought to himself, “I or your Mother would have named you Strongheart.”
Bandit looked up at the bed where the Twolegs lay and comforted each other. A part of him was rankled by the thoughts that went through his mind, but the other part told him it was the right thing to do. Bandit jumped up on the bed and surprised both of the Twolegs by standing on the Female Twolegs’ hip. He stood there until they opened a space between them. Bandit moved from the Female Twolegs’ hip and worked his way between the Twolegs. A bit of a leg kick moved the Male a little more to the left. A well placed paw with claws unsheathed moved the Female to the right. Soon, Bandit had the amount of space he needed. He stretched out and began to purr. In his heart, he was still one of the Free, but he had learned to accept some of the benefits of the Bound.