Panther

Posted: February 13, 2017 in Panther, Sylvester, Tall Tales
Tags: , ,

The weather had turned bad that night. By the time the sun rose the next morning the den was buried under thick, heavy snow. A harsh wind and a brutal drop in temperature made going outside into a short term event. With three cats in the den it stayed toasty, comfortable. The snowfall provided an illusion of safety from anything that might be hunting them but trapped them without an exit if they were discovered.

She had slept through most of the first few days they were buried in the den. Whenever she awoke she would find a mouse or two waiting for her. There was always a tunnel dug out to the surface, she only went out to go to the bathroom and even that required help as her leg was stiff and sore. There always seemed to be one of the males curled up beside her, they seemed to take turns watching over her.

She wasn’t sure how many days passed while she drifted in and out of sleep. She felt better today, more energetic and more alert. She had her legs tucked underneath her with her tail curled up alongside her body. Panther was curled up beside her, she could hear his rhythmic breathing that indicated his sleeping state. She didn’t want to wake him so she kept herself as still as she could.

Eve had a lot of thinking to do and she finally felt lucid enough to do so. She wished to take advantage of the quiet and the virtual privacy she found herself in. It could change at any moment; Sylvester could return or Panther could awaken. She wanted a chance to go over the recent events in her life before any conversations with any of her two new companions took place.

She had to sift through her feelings. There was so much fear attached to the events. Terror, actually, would be a fairer description of what she went through. It was what drove her to run until her body felt broken and she couldn’t run any longer. She had gone without sleep, food, or rest. Her only thought was to put as much distance between herself and the dogs. She fled away from the Colony, if the dogs tracked her they would be drawn away from her home. They needed to be warned but only after she could be sure she wasn’t leading the dogs straight to them.

Her endurance had given out but still she had kept moving. Slower than before, she pushed herself and refused to give in to her body’s wishes and collapse. She stayed on guard as she moved away from the scene of the massacre, her ears alert to the sound of pursuit, her nose twitching to catch their scent before they could grab her. The further away she got the more on edge she felt, sure that the attack was going to come with every new step.

When the attack did come it was almost a relief, finally the wait was over. Except that all she could smell was cat. She had escaped from the dogs and ran straight into a feral cat. There turned out to be two of them and, although the solid black one had seemed intimidating at first, they seemed to have no interest in hurting her. They had, as a matter of fact, devoted a great deal of time and effort into taking care of her.

They were not the ferals she had been fed stories of as a kitten. Sylvester, the black and white one, was the quieter of the two. He was about her age, around a year old. He seemed more energetic and yet more relaxed than the older black cat. Panther, the black cat, was more dour and more talkative. He seemed to know more than any cat she had ever met. Sylvester deferred to his judgment which made her assume he was the alpha. It was hard to judge, though, as there seemed to be a lot of give and take between the two of them.

This was not something she had ever seen in the Colony. Everybody had their place, their ranking within the social order. You had an assigned duty and that’s what you did. You respected your superiors and followed their instructions without question. The needs of the Colony superseded the egos of the individual felines.

She felt Panther stir beside her. She briefly considered pretending to be asleep but dismissed it. She had slept enough and was eager to be on her feet. In the end she rose up and matched his sitting position.

How are you feeling?” Panther asked.

Much better. Thank-you, sir,” Eve answered. After a moment she added, “the leg is still stiff and sore.”

There’s no wound on it, it’s most likely strained from all the running. It’ll get better with time,” Panther assured her. “Your fur will grow back, you’ll have a scar on your face to remember it by, but overall you survived relatively unscathed. I’ve seen what dog’s wild cousins can do to their victims, it isn’t pretty.”

Yes,” Eve whispered. Her eyes filled with tears as she remembered the unfortunate fate of the rest of her hunting party; Pacey and Spot who threw themselves in harm’s way without hesitation so she could escape, and poor Cassie who never had a chance to run before the dogs were on her. They had all been so young and inexperienced, with the exception of Pacey, none of them had been away from the Colony before. Four of them had left but only she still survived.

I’m sorry for your loss,” Panther gently used his tongue to groom the top of her head. Eve allowed herself a moment to indulge her grief before she straightened up and pulled away. Panther rubbed his chin against her chin and sat back, he watched her patiently.

Were they close to you?” He asked.

No,” Eve answered, “we were familiar to each other but we came from different burrows. The first time we met was the morning we set out. We got to know each other a bit while we journeyed together but I can’t say we were close. Just familiar.”

Panther sat silently, his gaze fixed on her. He seemed to be waiting on something but she couldn’t figure out what. She doubted he was waiting on Sylvester, she had overheard a conversation between the two of them and knew they were in agreement about having one of them on lookout for any unwanted guests. After the sharp drop in the temperature and the many days of falling snow it seemed unlikely to Eve that anyone, even those strange dogs, would still be tracking her. Panther didn’t want to take that chance and Sylvester had agreed with him.

May I ask a question, sir?” Eve asked after it had seemed that the silence was going to drag on unbroken.

Sure,” Panther answered in a distracted manner.

You’re not from the Colony, how do you know so much about it?”

I’ve encountered some hunters at times,” Panther paused before continuing, “most were unfriendly, but the occasional one could be reasoned with.”

Your exposure to my people has been negative then?” Eve pushed.

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, honestly,” Panther replied. “A fair number were aggressive, violently so. A few have been friendly, even chatty. Most have just been wary, I leave them alone and they keep their distance. Those willing to talk shared tales of the Colony in exchange for knowledge of good hunting grounds and other survival tips.”

There was a pause as Panther seemed to get lost in his thoughts. There was something odd in his eyes as he spoke, Eve watched and waited. She watched as he started and stopped speaking numerous times as he tried to find the right words.

There was one cat who provided me with the most information,” Panther said wistfully. “A hunter named Carlyle. A massive ginger tom, or at least he seemed so at the age I was when we met. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know. Without him I would not be alive today.”

Eve’s eyes widened in surprise.

I was little more than a ball of black fur,” Panther continued, “when my mother passed away. The entire time I knew her she was a sickly cat. I was the only kitten in her litter that had survived beyond birth and even then she couldn’t keep me properly fed. Still, I managed to survive, my eyes opened and I taught myself to walk even though I couldn’t quite find my balance naturally. My memories of my mother consist of her constant struggle to breathe and to move. Her condition meant there was little food for either of us and no training for me. No skills were passed on to me and my life just about ended when she finally passed away.”

So there I was, this little ball of fluff, alone for the first time in life. I knew nothing about being a cat, all I had were my instincts. I hadn’t even found my claws but somehow I was expected to survive. I managed to extend my life by catching bugs but calling it survival would be an exaggeration. I was destined to perish or, at best, become feral. But destiny is a fickle thing and when it changed it came in the form of an orange tabby named Carlyle.”

He wasn’t any bigger than I am now, but at the time I thought he must have been the largest cat to ever exist. In my memories he will always be,” Panther smiled. “He was this bright colour that exploded into my life. He was a grizzled old veteran, beyond his prime but still a force to be reckoned with. He shared a mouse with me that first day, his wisdom and knowledge for months afterwards. He taught me how to be a cat; how to hunt, how to fight, how to think. He taught me that it wasn’t enough to know something, you needed to understand it.”

He fed my body and saved me from death. He fed my mind and saved me from turning feral. He fed my spirit and saved my soul,” Panther added in a philosophical air.

He was from the Colony?” Eve asked.

Yes,” Panther confirmed. “He had served the colony as a hunter for many years. It was the worst assignment a cat of his temperament could have been given. He was exposed to a new and different world than that the Colony presented. He wandered further afield than most hunters and, by the time he found me, he had spent more of his life away from the Colony than in it. When he found that wild, half-staved kitten he never went back. He left a world of controlled comfort, safety, and order for one of uncertainty, chaos, and freedom. He knew he could never take me back with him; I was too wild, too imperfect for the Colony. They discarded their own kittens born with issues more minor than mine, they would never accept one who was physically less and borderline wild.”

That’s not true,” Eve interrupted.

No?” Panther asked. “How many cats in the Colony walk like I do? How many are missing limbs? Ears? Tails? How many senior cats are there?”

She thought back to her home life, he was right. There had never been a cat she could remember with any infirmities. The only seniors she could recall were member of the ruling class. No cats were missing any parts she could think of. She gave a quick shake of her head in the negative as a response.

He knew his time with the Colony was coming to an end,” the black cat continued, “his age was beginning to show; he moved slower, he slept longer. There was little respect for age in the Colony, once you could no longer be productive you were no longer of value to the Colony. It was far better to leave under your own steam than be forced out when you could no longer provide for yourself. He decided not to return to the Colony and instead he would devote his final years to helping the kitten he found become a cat.”

He left this world during the second winter after we met,” there was a bittersweet tone to Panther’s voice. “Throughout our time together we would hunt, we would fight, and we would talk. And we would talk about everything. No opinion could be held without a debate. All topics were open for discussion and were discussed. Sometimes very heatedly. It was a wonderful education for a young cat.”

Is that why you adopted me?” Sylvester’s voice came from the den’s entrance. He was lying at the opening, three dead mice at his feet, one ear tuned to the outside world. Eve hadn’t noticed his arrival she had been so caught up in Panther’s tale.

To a degree,” Panther replied thoughtfully. “I can’t think of a better way to honour his memory.”

How did he die?” Eve asked.

Quietly in his sleep. Happy. Fulfilled. Free.”

What’s it like out there?” Panther asked, changing the subject.

The snow has stopped, it feels significantly warmer,” Sylvester answered. Sylvester deftly passed a mouse to each cat.

Any sign of unwanted guests?” the black cat questioned.

Nope. No sign of any predators outside of us.”

That’s a positive,” Panther offered.

Does that mean they didn’t follow me?” Eve asked.

I would be surprised at this point,” Panther answered, “the time, the weather. It all makes it harder to follow a scent or tracks. There have been no strange odours detected so I think it’s unlikely they are around. We’ll continue to be cautious but I suspect we’re safe.”

Where do we go from here?” Sylvester asked.

That’s up to Eve,” Panther answered. “What’s your thoughts, Eve?”

I think my people need to be warned,” she answered, “before another hunting party decides the human zone is a viable option.”

I agree,” Panther agreed, “if the dogs get wind of as large a food source as the Colony they would venture out of the human zone and quickly become a danger to us all. As soon as the weather warms up enough to travel we should make for the Colony. Agreed?”

Eve watched Sylvester no in agreement before duplicating the gesture. It was settled, as soon as they could they would make for her home.

Previous Episodes

  1. The Bird
  2. A Partnership Begins
  3. And Winter Makes Three
  4. Eve
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