And Winter Makes Three

Posted: January 30, 2017 in Panther, Sylvester, Tall Tales
Tags: , ,

Sylvester watched his breath crystallize on the cold winter air. He sat on the frozen limb of a near solitary tree that overlooked a large snow swept clearing. There were a handful of trees that spotted the clearing, each one a solitary island in what was normally a sea of grass. At this point the grass was buried under a layer of snow which ranged in depth from just above his paws to well above his head. There were points already during this winter where the snow had piled up high enough for him to burrow into it. Surprisingly that had made for a warm den that Panther and him had lived out of for days.

They were currently spending their sleeping hours in a hollow underneath the exposed roots of an overturned tree. It was located along the edge of the clearing and provided a place to warm up in between hunting forays in the snow. From where he sat it was only about half a dozen quick leaps in front of him. He knew exactly where it was and could pinpoint its location with ease. It had been drummed into his head over the last six months that he should always have an exit strategy.

You can never tell when things are going to go cockeyed on you,” Panther would say, “so make sure you always have an escape plan.”

His speed was his escape plan. It had grown with his body. He was now essentially the same size as Panther, maybe a smidge longer. The big difference was in their builds; Panther was wide shouldered and bulk of muscle, Sylvester was thin and lean his muscles built for speed and agility rather than brute force.

Not that Panther was slow, he was faster than Sylvester’s mother had been, he just wasn’t as fast as Sylvester. When they raced, Sylvester could keep pace with Panther’s best speed with only a brisk jog. What Sylvester had noticed about Panther was his razor sharp focus and iron will. This was a sharp contrast to Sylvester’s siblings who were soft and spoiled, coddled and weak. Even his mother, for all her skill, paled in comparison to the black cat. A healthy dose of patience and wisdom closed out the traits that immediately sprang to mind when Sylvester thought about Panther.

Never rely solely on your physical attributes,” Panther had told him, “there will always be someone stronger and faster than you. You can’t just rely on your body, it’ll fail with age. Always have a backup plan.”

He wasn’t following that one to the letter. He was relying on his youth and speed to carry him to their den should danger arrive. Sometimes you needed to take a chance and trust in your abilities. Sylvester knew he was fast and he was willing to stake his life on that.

He was pretty certain that wouldn’t be a concern. The sun shone brightly up above in the cloudless sky. It did little to provide any warmth but it made for a brighter world. From his perch in the tree there were no shadows for any threat to use to sneak up on him. His safety was as absolute as it could be in his current seat.

The wind was mild today, really just a gentle breeze that barely moved any flakes of snow across the clearing. The sky was clear and no snow fell from the skies. If it wasn’t for the cold it would have been a perfect day. As it was, the temperature was more like a chill than an actual cold.

He took in the scene of stillness from his surveillance point on the tree branch. Since he had joined up with the black cat he had come to appreciate these all too rare moments of calm. Life was chaotic. There was no easing up of the struggle for survival. It seemed as if every moment was spent pursuing some aspect of surviving; food, water, shelter. Even sleep wasn’t as simple as closing your eyes, you needed to consider safety, warmth, dryness. A deep sleep was a rarity, he had learned to keep one eye open during his sleep periods, he had adjusted his sleep pattern to more periods throughout the day and for shorter lengths of time. The bulk of his waking moments were spent hunting; for both food and recreation. Moments of peace and emptiness had become a treasure in his life.

He spotted the black shape break from the treeline. He smiled at the stark contrast between his partner and the snow blanketed landscape. He knew it would be driving the old hunter crazy to be unable to blend into the background, to be such a focus of attention went against everything Panther believed.

The effective hunter is the invisible hunter,” as the wisdom went. The black cat practiced a cleanliness ritual that left him virtually scentless. His caution and patience turned him into a deadly shadow that roamed the woods. It was a skill set that Sylvester was still trying to duplicate.

Seeing the black cat against the white snow made the struggles and failures easier to accept. It showed that even the best efforts could fail as some variables were beyond our control. There was little that could be done to change the colour of your pelt, it was with you for life.

Sylvester watched his mentor weave his way through the snow. The black cat moved in the direction of the tree, his journey broken only by the occasional pounce into a soft pile of snow. By the time he had reached the base of the tree he was little more than a walking pile of white flakes. A jump and some sharp claws had him up in the branch above Sylvester’s head where he lay down and stared out onto the expanse of white.

Did you track it down?” Sylvester asked. He kept his eyes focused on the clearing.

No. I couldn’t find any tracks or pinpoint where the scent originated from.” The reply was matter-of-fact but a hint of frustration was hidden in the tone.

Maybe its old.”

No,” Panther corrected. “It’s faint, but there is another cat out there. I am sure of it.”

Sylvester shrugged unconcerned. Panther seemed annoyed, most likely because his target had eluded him, but there was no fear. Safety didn’t seem to be an issue so Sylvester wasn’t going to let it worry him. The mystery cat would show its face when it felt like it or it would move on without their ever having seen it. Panther was sure there was only one cat so there wasn’t any need for both of them to be concerned about it.

Enjoying the snow?”

It’s a nice day to be playing in it. There’s something cathartic about jumping into a pile of it.” Panther enjoyed pouncing into piles of leaves or dirt as well. As long as it was soft and he could bury himself in it he would do so. It helped to mask his presence and greatly improved his success in the hunt.

Sylvester turned his head and looked at Panther. The black cat lay on the branch above him, his pelt still speckled with flakes of snow. The older cat had the claws of his front paws dug firmly into the branch, his hind legs dangled loosely on either side of the branch. Panther’s eyes were scanning the edges of the clearing, Sylvester knew from experience that he would be unable to let it go until he found the other cat he was sure was out there. Obsession was part of his nature, he would not let it go until he was proven either right or wrong. The full length of Panther’s tail swung side to side at a rapid pace, a testament to his frustration.

By contrast, Sylvester sat upright on his branch as still as he could. He had wrapped his tail, longer than Panther’s, around the branch and used it to provide himself some balance as he sat.

Do you know what I miss?” Sylvester asked. “Those little fish we used to catch at the creek.”

Hmph,” Panther grunted, “I could go for some of the little shrimps.”

Oh… those are good too.”

Going to be a little while before we can catch either of those,” Panther commented. His eyes darted all over the clearing while he spoke.

Just going to be mice for awhile,” Sylvester agreed.

With a bit of work and some luck we could probably catch a rabbit.”

That would be a great meal,” Sylvester replied wistfully. He had only had rabbit once. It was part of Panther’s lessons on prey. It had taken them an entire morning to track one down. Since Sylvester was the faster of the two, he took on the responsibility of herding the rabbit to where Panther lay in wait. Panther would attack and bring the rabbit to the ground, then the two cats would finish it off. They were ultimately successful but Sylvester learned that day that rabbits were fast and could fight as well as any cat when pushed into a corner. That was probably what made it taste so good. He licked his lips at the memory of that meal.

They waited in silence. Sylvester’s eyes scanned the clearing for any signs of movement, this location had proven to be a fertile hunting ground. Their bellies were kept full of mice and most of their hunting was of a “catch and release” format to keep their skills razor sharp. Today had been a day of rest for Sylvester, Panther’s obsession with the strange cat kept him from hunting except for when he was hungry. It had given Sylvester a chance to sit back and observe the flow of life in the clearing, something you didn’t notice when you were on the hunt and in the middle of it all.

There didn’t seem to be anything larger than a mouse living in the clearing. This was probably due to the snow that covered the ground, during the warmer periods it would be teeming with a variety of prey and predators. The mice would tunnel through the snow to get at the grass of the clearing, very rarely did they break through the surface of the snow. On the surface the clearing seemed empty and deserted while underneath there was a festival of life.

I’m going to go warm up,” Panther broke the silence, “maybe take a nap.” He scrambled down the trunk of the tree and dropped down to the ground. He took a leisurely pace as he moved toward the den.

Sylvester watched the black cat vanish into the treeline. The den would be warmer than being outside and the soil had been loosened by their claws making it a comfortable spot to sleep. Any place that took them out of the elements would have worked but their current den was almost luxurious. Panther did like to be pampered, Sylvester chuckled to himself.

For a cat that was so proudly self-sufficient Panther sure did like his comfort. A soft bed and a roof over his head were almost as important to him as a good meal. He was happy to nap in the warmth of the sun whenever it was available but he insisted on walls and a roof when it came to deep sleep. He wouldn’t even consider being outside during a thunderstorm. Rain he might consider venturing into but only if he was hungry enough.

Sylvester was less concerned with comfort. He had an insatiable curiosity, loud noises in particular were an obsession. He had to know what was behind the noises, until he found out very little could distract him. During thunderstorms he would curl up as close as he could to Panther, easing his friend’s fear took precedence over soothing his curiosity. The comfort he brought the older cat brought a more significant sense of satisfaction than discovering the source of any unknown noise ever did.

He noticed an almost imperceptible movement to the right of the den. He wasn’t sure that he had seen anything at first, he sat still and watched, his eyes locked on the spot where he had seen the movement. There it was, too large a shape to be a mouse, a pure white shape moved slowly in the direction of the fallen tree and their den. This must be the cat that Panther had detected, Sylvester realized. It was significantly smaller than either Panther or he was, maybe two-thirds their size. It was very cautious in its movements and seemed to be keeping away from the powdered snow and sticking to the frozen ground. The small white cat was so focused on its stealth that it didn’t seem to notice that it had an observer.

Sylvester had a choice to make: he could intercept the stranger or he could allow it to stumble on the den where Panther would deal with it. There was no doubt in Sylvester’s mind that he could make it to the cat before it found the den. Panther would probably appreciate it if Sylvester stopped it from finding their haven and he wasn’t one to run from a fight so his options were easy to choose from.

Sylvester launched himself from the tree in the direction of the white cat. He stumbled briefly as his feet hit the frozen ground, his claws struggled for purchase and then he was tearing through the snow. The other cat was just turning toward him as he slammed into it knocking it to the ground. He recovered from the collision first and draped his larger body over the smaller cat and used his weight to pin it to the ground. Sylvester grabbed the cat around its neck and let out a low, threatening growl.

Don’t move,” Sylvester snarled.

Okay,” the second cat agreed, “please don’t hurt me.”

Sylvester let go of the cat’s neck but kept it pinned to the ground. It had the same long facial features that both Panther and Sylvester possessed. Its face was as white as its body and housed a pair of eyes as blue as the clearest skies. What surprised Sylvester the most, after he had calmed himself, was that the white cat was female. Since he had left his mother he had only run into males, and precious few of those.

Are y-you g-going to eat m-me?” she asked. He could feel her heart pounding beneath him.

Why would I do that?”: he asked, confused.

She thinks we’re feral,” Panther’s voice offered an answer from behind him.

Previous Episodes:

  1. The Bird
  2. A Partnership Begins
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