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.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

15. Another Lesson

The silence of the living room was broken by the pounding of kitten feet and the thud of a small body careening into the wall.
“Little One” Bandit chastised his young student. “I think they heard you coming several houses away. You have to be quieter.”
“How can I be quiet and fast at the same time?” Little One protested. “I can be real quiet but then it takes me too long.”
“Yes, you can.” Bandit stated. “You are focusing too much on one or the other. You think too much about being quiet or too much about being fast. A true hunter knows how to balance both. Now watch.”
Bandit whipped the small blue catnip mouse across the room. Little One watched as his mentor crouched low to the floor. Bandit’s tail flicked from side to side and his eyes steeled on the small mouse. Suddenly, he sprang into action. He cleared the distance between himself and the mouse in matter of heartbeats. The mouse was quickly impaled on razor sharp cat teeth. Little One realized he had not heard Bandit cross the room, even though he had done it extremely fast.
Little One sat in awe of his older friend.
“Wow.” Little One said slack-jawed and stunned.
“Now you try again.” Bandit said as he once again whipped the mouse across the room.
Little One tried to imitate Bandit. He tensed his body up and locked his eyes on the little blue catnip mouse. He watched his breathing and waited for the right moment. He sprinted off across the floor towards the mouse.
Little One was a lot smaller than Bandit and took many more steps to reach the little blue mouse. His footfalls were also not as accurate or as silent as Bandit’s. Not just the steps he took leading up to the mouse, but also the several that he took as he rocketed past the mouse and crashed into the sofa.
A cry from one of the Twolegs alerted Bandit and Little One that their activities had caught the attention of the other inhabitants.
“Come with me.” Bandit picked up the mouse in his teeth and guided Little One back to the sunroom.
The afternoon sun had flooded the sunroom with an abundance of warmth, and sure enough Uncle Magoo was sound asleep in a bright, sunlit patch of carpet on the floor. Bandit dropped the mouse to the floor and then deftly whipped it towards Uncle Magoo. The mouse landed precisely next to Uncle Magoo’s body, dangerously close to his front paws, but without touching them. Little One looked at Bandit and waited for his instructions.
“Little One.” Bandit said. “What I want you to do is to run towards Uncle Magoo and pull the mouse away from him without waking him up.”
“That’s impossible.” Little One protested.
“Then this lesson is already over.” Bandit started to walk away.
“Wait.” Little One pleaded. “I just have to knock it way from him right.”
Little One moved closer to Uncle Magoo as quietly as he could, his footfalls were nearly silent on the sunroom floor. He looked where the mouse was laying and the orientation of Uncle Magoo’s body and his legs. Little One swung his approach wider as he tried to pick the optimum path to the mouse and past Uncle Magoo.
Little One looked over at Bandit, who nodded his head in agreement. Little One slowly moved towards Uncle Magoo. The lessons from Bandit rang in his head. On approach each paw must follow the preceding one exactly; any deviation might disturb something new and alert your prey to your approach. Extract your claws only enough for extra traction. Eyes follow target, front legs follow eyes, rear legs follow front, tail follows body. Little One positioned himself carefully and readied to attack the mouse next to Uncle Magoo.
Uncle Magoo stretched restlessly as he slept. Little one took his new position into account as he readied himself to pull the mouse away from Uncle Magoo. He tensed briefly. With a sudden silent intake of air, Little One dashed towards the catnip mouse. He felt each beat of his heart as the distance between him and the mouse closed tighter and tighter. One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. Three heartbeats. Four heartbeats. The mouse was within the reach of his right paw. His claws extended and he snaked his paw out to flick the mouse away from Uncle Magoo. Little One suddenly felt his head being pulled violently towards the ground. His forelegs buckled as his body’s inertia flipped him onto his back. The entire exercise ended with Little One firmly pinned under Uncle Magoo’s large paws.
“What do you think you are doing?” Uncle Magoo demanded angrily as he woke from his stupor.
Little One struggled vainly to extract himself from Uncle Magoo’s grasp. Uncle Magoo may have been the oldest cat in the household, but he was also the largest and the strongest.
“Sorry. Uncle Magoo.” Little One cried.”I was just playing.”
“Playing?” Uncle Magoo challenged. “Why is waking me up considered playing?”
“Ouch!” Little One cried out again. “That hurts!”
“Well maybe you’ll think twice about bothering me while I sleep.” Uncle Magoo was relentless as he nipped and bit at the helpless kitten.
Little one tried to squirm and fight his way out of Uncle Magoo’s fierce grasp, but it was hopeless. He would not get away unless Uncle Magoo wanted to let him go.
“That’s enough, Magoo.” Bandit warned as he strode over.
“Are you behind this?” Uncle Magoo snapped as he released Little One from his grip.
“Quit being such a grumpy old fart.” Bandit snapped back. “Little One was just practicing his hunting skills.”
“Well then, why bother me?” Magoo demanded. “I deserve more respect than this. Woken up from a perfectly good nap.”
“Because,” Bandit challenged Magoo.”Next to Momma Cat, you have the third best set of reflexes in the house.”
“Oh.” Magoo replied.”Who has the best reflexes? Next to Momma Cat of course.You?”
“Yes. Me.” Bandit replied.
“Harumph.” Uncle Magoo snorted. He did not feel like challenging Bandit today. “We shall see about that.”
“Any game you want. Magoo.” Bandit stated. “Jumps, Chase, Swats or even Spats.”
Bandit watched Uncle Magoo stand up and walk to another sunny spot on the floor, far way from Bandit and Little One.
Little One looked up at Bandit.
“Is Momma that tough?” he asked.
“Little One.” Bandit chuckled. “You need to realize that no Tom would ever mess with a Momma Cat defending her kittens. As tough as I ever thought I was or am, if it came down to Me or your Momma defending you. I would put all the kibble in the world on your Momma.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

14. Caught in a Lie

Eppy and Little One spent the morning curled up next to their mother on the bed in the extra bedroom. Although they jockeyed for position against each other from time to time, Little One and Eppy laid fairly close together. They were not very close as brother and sister, but they were still very attached to their mother. Since Alyssa left, there had been discussions about either one or both of the kittens leaving the house. Little One thought about these conversations often.
"Eppy and Little One." Momma Cat stirred from her sleep and regarded her two remaining kittens. "I want to tell you how we ended up here in this House."
"Why?" Eppy asked.
Momma Cat looked at the sofa where the Male Twolegs laid covered in a thick homemade quilt.
"Because nothing is forever." Momma Cat explained. "Just as Alyssa left us, we too may be parted. We don't have the same traditions as the Free, but it is important to know where we come from."
Momma Cat shot a quick glance at Little One. He panicked as he realized that she might know about the stories he was learning from Bandit. Momma Cat did not expand further about the Free, but continued on her own story.
"We came to this house because my previous Twolegs could no longer keep me." Momma Cat replied.
"Why couldn't she keep you?" Little One asked. "Didn't she like you?"
"Oh no, Little One." Momma Cat replied. "She liked me plenty. We used to spend many hours together. I think too many now that I think about it."
"But one day, she brought me to this house and left me here." Momma Cat continued. "I remember watching her cry as she handed me to the Female Twolegs of this House."
“Did she cry over us as well?” Eppy asked.
“She didn’t know you yet.” Momma Cat said, “She knew you were coming, but she did not know who you were. I think that was one of the reasons why she left us at this House.”
“My previous Female Twolegs always tried to the right thing.” Momma Cat remembered. “There were times when she would have to hide me in the closet whenever this one strange Male Twolegs came over to the apartment. She would always cry and apologize afterwards. And there were times when food in the house was scarce. Not just for me but for her as well. She did not think I could tell but I could. There were times when the food bowl would be emptier longer than others.”
Eppy and Little One thought about their own food bowls. They had never experienced an empty food bowl. The Twolegs had chased Uncle Magoo and Bandit from the Kittens’ food bowl several times that they could remember. Little One could not think of one time when he went to the blue ceramic bowl in the kitchen and there was not some kibble for him to eat.
“That is how I and you ended up here.” Momma Cat finished. “I wanted you to know that there are other cats out there that do not have it as good as we do.”
“Like the Free.” Little One blurted out. He cringed as he instantly knew he had said more than he should.
“The Free?” Momma Cat’s tone was very stern. “Have you been pestering Bandit for stories of the Free, Little One?”
“No, Momma.” Little One tried to lie.
“Yes, he has.” Eppy snorted. “He and Bandit are always talking about the Free. I heard them talk about hunting in the sunroom just yesterday.”
“Eppy!” Little One was very mad at his sister for tattling on him. ‘Be quiet! You don’t know what we were talking about.”
“Little One?” Momma Cat ignored Eppy’s smug expression and regarded Little One. “What were you and Bandit talking about?”
Little One contemplated telling his mother another lie, but he saw from the look in her eyes that she would not be fooled.
“Hunting.” Little One admitted sheepishly.
“Are you at least paying attention to Bandit’s lessons?” Momma Cat asked.
“Yes!” Little One answered emphatically.
“Well then I won’t stop you and Bandit from talking.” Momma Cat decided.
“You’re not going to punish Little One.” Eppy complained. “He disobeyed you.”
“Eppy.” Momma Cat stopped her daughter’s protests. “Yes, Little One disobeyed me, but he has hurt no one or damaged anything.”
“It’s not fair.” Eppy continued to protest. “Little One gets away with everything. You didn’t even punish him when he knocked over the roses and broke the glass thing.”
Momma Cat moved her gaze from Eppy to Little One, who was trying to move slowly away.
“Little One!” Momma Cat growled. “You told me you found the roses tipped over. Did you lie to me?”
“Well not really.” Little One tried to explain.
“What do you mean by not really?” Momma Cat asked.
“I tried to sniff the roses.” Little One explained.”But they were a little too high for me. So I reared up as high as I could. I could almost smell them. That’s when I fell forwards into the glass thingy. The next thing I knew…”
“You found the roses tipped over.” Momma Cat finished Little One’s story. “Little One, I think you should go and find Bandit. I am very disappointed in you, and I want some time to think about your punishment.”
“Hah!” Eppy laughed as her brother sheepishly stood up.
“Eppy!” Momma Cat chastised her daughter. “We all need to live here and get along. You need to stop being jealous of your brother. In the long run, the only cat it hurts is you.”
“Yes, Momma.” Eppy said shyly, as she watched her brother drop to the floor from the bed and then trot out of the bedroom.

Little One found Bandit investigating an open garbage bag in the Kitchen. At the sound of Little One’s approach, Bandit’s head lifted up out of the garbage. He had a small leftover chicken bone in his mouth.
“That’s gross, Bandit.” Little One scrunched his whiskers in disgust.
“Don’t knock it until you try it.” Bandit replied. “Do you want one? I found a couple more in there. The Male Twolegs had chicken wings last night.”
Little One placed his paws on the side of the garbage bag and peered inside. His nose twitched at the smell from the bag.
“But avoid the spicy smelling ones.” Bandit warned. “Eat one of those and you won’t leave the litter box for hours.”
“Momma found out about the roses and the glass thingy.” Little One stated.
“I told you she would.” Bandit reminded. “And if you remember Little One, I told you to tell her what happened.”
“I know.” Little One said. “I did kind of tell her. I told her I found the roses tipped over.”
“But you didn’t tell her how they got tipped over.” Bandit said. “That is what she is upset about. So what’s your punishment?”
“She didn’t give me one yet.” Little One admitted. “She says she has to think about it.”
“Ooh!” Bandit laughed. “It’s going to be good one. I might stick around to watch that one.”
“Were you here when Momma arrived, Bandit?” Little One asked as he flopped onto his back, stretched his forepaws out towards Bandit, and playfully tried to snag one of Bandit’s forelegs.
“Yes. “ Bandit replied as he moved his right foreleg out of Little One’s grasp. “Why?”
“She was telling us where she came from.” Little One wiggled closer so that Bandit was once again within reach. “It wasn’t as interesting as your stories.”
“The Cats of the Bound have very short memories, Little One.” Bandit said. “It is to protect themselves from the cruelty of the Twolegs.”
“Our Twolegs aren’t cruel.” Little One rebutted. “They’re very nice and take care of us. All of Us.”
“Yes, Our Twolegs are not cruel.” Bandit replied. “But there are many that are. It is one of the things that Free are taught early. As soon as you are able to leave your birth den, you beginning learning about the dangers of the Twolegs. I remember the story I was told as a kitten…”

Blackpatch quickly scrambled into his birth den and looked frantically for his mother. He saw Blazefur was resting against the back wall of the den. Blackpatch thought it was strange that Blazefur would be inside the den instead of outside exploring.
“Blazefur. Where’s Momma?” Blackpatch asked.
“I don’t know.” Blazefur said. “I wish she would come back. I’m getting hungry.”
“You should be trying to catch your own mice and shrews, Blazefur.” Blackpatch said. “Come outside and I can show you the best spots to catch them.”
“Maybe later, Blackpatch.”
Blackpatch darted back out of the den and peered around to see if he could spot his mother. He spotted a faint blur of black past the small clump of trees. He glanced carefully around and then scampered as fast as he could for the cover of the trees. He wound his way through the dense underbrush until he was in the small shadow cast by the trees. Blackpatch found his mother confronting a strange beige and dark brown cat.
“Leave this spot now!” Longfur hissed. “It is claimed by me and mine.”
“Where am I?” the beige and brown cat asked. It was clearly bewildered by its surroundings. “This isn’t my home.”
“No it is not!” Longfur snapped at the unwanted intruder. “You need to leave now!”
“Just tell me where my home is and I will leave.”
“I don’t know where your home is. All I know is that this is not it.”
“They put me in the car and they brought me here. Do you know where they’ve gone to?”
“Where who has gone to?”
“My Twolegs Nofurs. They got a new baby and they said we were going for a drive in the car.”
“Twolegs Nofurs.” Longfur hissed as she caught the faint, hated scent from the new arrival. “You are Bound.”
“And what are you?”
“I and my kittens are of the Free.”
“Are my Twolegs coming back?” the beige and brown cat asked.
Longfur paused and scented the air; there was no trace of any Twolegs Nofurs on the afternoon air.
“Your Twolegs are gone.” Longfur replied harshly.
“They can’t have left. I’m still here.” The stranger moaned sadly. “They are coming back? Aren’t they?”
Longfur had seen many Bound Cats abandoned here at the Forest Edge. There were many Twolegs Nofurs several days walk to the west of her den site. It seemed many Bound came from there. The Bound always thought their Twolegs would come back for them, but they never did. Some Twolegs did come to the Forest Edge and look for cats. Those were Twolegs to be avoided at all costs. Longfur had found the remains of one of their victims several Dark Colds ago. It had been CrookPaw Brightfur, one of Longfur’s littermates. The sight of his burnt body still troubled her. Suddenly Longfur was gripped with sorrow and pity for the Bound Stranger.
“What is your name?”
“I am Miss Mittens.” The Bound Stranger replied.
“What kind of name is Miss Mittens?” Longfur stated.
“It is what they called me, Miss Mittens.” Miss Mittens restated.
“I will never understand the names Twolegs inflict on the Bound.” Longfur said. “You may stay in the area, but do not go near the Woodpile. That is mine.”
“What am I going to do?” Miss Mittens asked Longfur.
“Probably die.” Longfur said silently to herself, but then added, “You will need to find some shelter for Nightfall is coming and you do not want to be outside.”
“Is there a house nearby?” Miss Mittens sounded excited at the prospect of being back inside a nice warm house.
“No.” Longfur dashed Miss Mittens’ hope. “There are no ‘Houses’ here. You should be able to find a relatively comfortable spot underneath the old tree stump over there.”
“That doesn’t sound very warm or comfortable.” Miss Mittens countered.
“It is protected and safe.” Longfur snapped. “And it is all you will have tonight.”
Longfur turned away from Miss Mittens and started heading back towards her Woodpile.
“Blackpatch!” Longfur commanded, “Come with me.”
“Momma.” Blackpatch bounded up to his mother’s side. “I wanted to tell you that I saw a Twolegs Nofur and a strange cat. But I see you found her too.”
“Blackpatch.” Longfur warned her son, “I want you to promise me that if you ever see a Twolegs Nofur, you will run and hide and don’t come out until they are gone.”
“Why Momma?”
Longfur looked over her shoulder at the scared and bewildered Miss Mittens.
“Because they are dangerous.” Longfur warned Blackpatch. “Because they bring nothing but harm and pain to those of the Free.”

“Our Twolegs aren’t like that.” Little One stated. “I’ve never seen them do anything to harm any of us.”
“You are right, Little One.” Bandit agreed. “Our Twolegs aren’t like that. But remember the first set of Twolegs that came to see you kittens.”
Little One remembered the Twolegs and the Scent of fear that had been laid about them by another cat. He shuddered in fear from the memory. Bandit was right. There were some good Twoleg Nofurs, but there were also some very evil ones.
“I’m not saying that all Twolegs are bad.” Bandit warned. “But you must always be wary and watchful.Always.”