The Bird

Posted: January 16, 2017 in Panther, Sylvester, Tall Tales
Tags: , ,

He was a young cat, still a kitten really. He was six months old which made him physically half the size of most adult cats. While he might have lacked the size of an adult cat he more than made up for it in raw speed. He had been faster than all of his litter mates and, although not the strongest of the four, he was the roughest of them. In his mind their play was a means to teach them the skills they needed for survival, you played to win or you didn’t play at all. Life existed through surviving what nature threw at you. Nature was brutal so you had to be brutal.

He could never understand why his brothers and sister would quit once they had their opponent crying. He always pushed his advantage when his opponent showed weakness. It was how you ensured your survival. Pushing your friendly rivals was how you secured their survival as well. Strength and speed could give you an edge in a fight but if you lacked the heart of a warrior you were doomed to fail.

His mother disagreed with this philosophy. When she was around she would sink her teeth into the scruff of the neck and drag him forcibly off his sibling and away from the group. She would cuff him sharply a couple of times to knock him out of his growling and snarling rage and give him a warning glare before checking on the status of his vanquished foe.

He was never allowed to deliver the, non-lethal, killing blow in these situations, she saw to that. She was protective of her kittens and at times this included protecting the less aggressive cubs from her youngest. He was always ready to tussle with his siblings and seemed to have no appreciation of their limitations. He seemed almost oblivious to their signals that they had given up and play was over. There were times when their cries would increase his aggression and she always had to be on guard for this reaction. There had been many times she had returned from hunting to find her smallest kitten curled up in the middle of their den with his three larger siblings cowering in the corner. He didn’t cause them any lasting physical harm but it had quickly become apparent that they couldn’t handle his exuberance.

He had begun accompanying his mother on her hunting trips earlier than his siblings. It had been her hope that the excursions would help burn off some energy and save the rest of her children from his torments. He showed a lot of promise as a hunter and it wouldn’t take him long before he surpassed her skills. He was too impulsive and relied too much on his speed while he hunted. It was a brute force approach which took advantage of his youth, youth was fleeting and she hoped time would teach him to bring patience and subtlety to the craft. The energy he expelled during their hunting sessions did nothing to soften his approach to his litter mates.

Every hunting trip was spent in conversation. She attempted to press upon him the importance of patience in the hunt, the need to stalk and track his prey. She tried to teach him to respect his siblings’ boundaries during play. None of this seemed to take, he still rushed aggressively after his prey and he still refused to let up his attacks on the other cats when they cried. There was a youthful stubbornness to this cat, he had outgrown his family and no longer fit in.

He had left to make his own way in the world at the tender age of four months. He had learned to hunt mice and birds. His mother was an exceptional hunter, a peerless mentor, and he had absorbed all her lessons. He was satisfied he would not starve and was confident in his ability to defend himself. He was ready to challenge the world and stand or fall on his own abilities.

It took him a bit to get used to being on his own. His mother had provided a buffer between him and the real world providing food and shelter for all her children. Under his mother’s tutelage he had developed into a capable mouser but hunting was different without a partner to help herd the prey. His initial days alone were spent eating more bugs than rodents as he learned to adjust his approach to the hunt.

Not that bugs were bad eating, he was particularly partial to beetles which made for a nice crunchy treat with a soft, tender centre. Ordinarily they would have made for a delicious snack as he relaxed throughout the day but right now they were a primary staple of his diet. Once he got the hang of this solo hunting thing he was going to make sure he indulged in the occasional beetle as a reward for a good day.

Maybe even today as he was determined to feast on something a little higher up the food chain before the day was done.

He crawled slowly through the undergrowth. He hadn’t had much luck catching mice while poking around the base of the trees so he had decided to move his hunting territory out of the woods and into the long grass. He had visions of an abundance of mice moving through the stalks of grass harvesting grains and seeds. There were lots of mice in the world it was just a matter of finding them.

He arrived at the edge of the woods and lowered his body close to the ground. He could smell the mice around him. He could hear them skitter around through the grass in front of him. This definitely would be an improvement as a hunting ground for the small rodents. At the moment, however, there was another scent on the air that drew him to this spot.

He had only been exposed to this scent a few times in his life. His mother had kept her litter fed primarily on mice. His first taste of flesh, the first time he had felt the sweet warmth of blood run down his throat had been from a mouse. His first supervised kill had been an injured mouse she had brought back to their den. He had been the most excited of her cubs at the opportunity to learn this most vital of skills. His eldest brother had been squeamish about the prospect, and probably still was, be he had relished in the process. He felt alive and at one with the universe during the hunt despite his recent struggles.

The scent that he had followed had been a rare delicacy when he was part of the litter. In addition to mice his mother would bring her kittens the occasional bird. Birds took more time to catch than mice did and she never felt comfortable leaving her offspring alone for too long so birds became a rarity for meals. It was important to her that her young were familiar with their options for prey and she took the opportunity to catch birds whenever it presented itself, she just wouldn’t go out of her way looking for them. It was a bird he could smell, different than the ones his mother had brought home but a bird nonetheless. He was determined that he would dine on bird this day.

It was out there, he could hear it shuffling grass and dirt around, most likely rummaging for food of its own. He couldn’t see it through the grass so there was no way to pounce and take advantage of his speed. He had a vague idea of where it was but he could end up spooking it and losing it to the skies if he made a blind rush and missed his target.

He kept his body as close to the ground as he could manage. He pulled himself forward into the grass, he forced his tail to be as still as possible. Every fibre of his being wanted to swing his tail like a pendulum. He could feel the energy building in his body as he slowly inched toward where he guessed his target to be. He wanted to explode forward but he knew that would be the same as sacrificing his chance of a meal. He could still hear the bird rummaging around ahead of him, it gave him confidence that he hadn’t been discovered.

He had pulled himself a handful of body lengths away from the shelter of the woods. The sounds of the bird’s rummaging were louder now, closer to where the little cat crouched in the long grass. He could feel his heart beat faster than he could ever remember it doing in his short life. It was thrilling, he felt more in-tune with his nature than on any other hunt.

You might as well come out, cat,” he jumped at the unexpected address by the bird. He could still hear the bird digging around but it was obvious that it was less a sign of his stalking skills and more of a sign of the bird’s lack of concern for its potential danger.

You’re probably thinking you’re fast enough to make it back to the treeline. I assure you, little cat, you cannot,” the bird continued, all sounds of searching had ceased. “My wings are far faster than your legs.”

Why would I run from you?” The young cat questioned as he pushed his way through the grass and into a small patch of dirt. “You’re a bird. Birds are prey. I don’t run from prey.” He let out an involuntary gasp as the bird he had been stalking popped into view.

I know. I am… magnificent!” The bird responded to the cat’s surprise.

The bird seemed massive compared to those the cat had seen so far in his life, it was at least double his size. The bird was covered in black feathers that gleamed in the light of the sun. Its legs were dark grey, tipped by sharp talons whose colour matched that of the legs. A dangerous looking beak was the focal point of its head, also a dark grey in colour. It was the black eyes that seemed fused onto the cat that radiated the most menace. They were intelligent eyes that never seemed to waiver from their target.

It stood in profile in front of the small cat, its head angled slightly in his direction. It had its chest puffed out making it look even larger than it already was. Long black feathers made up its tail completing the illusion of size. It was big and there was no doubt in the cat’s mind that turning his back on it would be a dangerous mistake.

Yes. Take it all in. Marvel at the wonder that is me,” the bird instructed the cat as it began to turn its body to face the cat. It slowly raised its wings out from its sides as it spun around. It spread its wings as wide as they would go and gave a quick flap of the wings in the cat’s direction before folding them against its side. Throughout the display its eyes never left the cat.

The young cat let out a hiss in reaction to the gust of air pushed into his face by the flap of the bird’s wings. This creature would have fed his family for days if his mother had brought it home. He would never be able to eat all of it, not that he wouldn’t make his best effort to. He arched his back and fluffed up his fur, he too could make himself seem larger as a threat.

You’re prey,” the cat offered trying to keep the excitement from his voice. He failed and what came out was broken with emotion.

You are right to be afraid,” the bird went on, “You are not the first of your kind I have made a meal out of. I prefer them fresh and nothing makes the meat taste sweeter than when they… run!” The bird drove its pointed beak at the cat’s head hoping to score a quick victory through surprise.

The little cat jumped to his left lashing out with his front paw as he moved. He could feel his claws brush against the side of the bird’s face, not a solid hit but a hit nonetheless. The bird had missed but just barely. Score one for the feline, zero for the fowl.

You’re faster than I expected,” the bird admitted. It had its head cocked slightly, its wings lifter a short distance from its body. The eyes were locked on the cat’s as the two combatants circled each other.

You’re still prey,” the small cat spat back. He had his back arched, the side of his body presented to the bird. His body was close to the ground and his muscles were tense as he moved around the bird, his eyes on the lookout for an opportunity to attack.

I am no one’s prey, cat,” the anger dripped from the bird’s beak. It pulled its head back to make another lunge.

The blow never came. Black feathers exploded into the air accompanied by the sound of two bodies colliding. When the feathers cleared the bird lay in its side, its body pinned to the ground by the weight of another, larger cat atop it. The second cat’s pelt was as black as the dark of night, the cat’s body almost seemed to merge into that of the bird that was trapped beneath it.

Strange,” the larger cat snarled softly, “You seem like prey to me, bird.” The black cat closed its sharp teeth around the bird’s neck and applied pressure. The cat kept its full weight on the bird and softly purred as it choked the life out of it. After the bird had stopped breathing and twitching the cat lifted its head and focused its bright yellow eyes on the shocked little cat.

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