Best Laid Plans

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

It would be another two days before the Colony’s expedition would be ready to leave. They had wanted to wait for as many of the hunting parties to return as possible before setting out. The expedition was meant to be as large as possible, they wanted the physically biggest members of their community along with the most experienced trackers to make up the bulk of the troop. Captain Grey took almost fifty of the most experienced, largest, and talented of the Colony’s population to war. The column was impressive to watch march off that morning and it was easy to envision a successful endeavour.

Sylvester was no longer as certain of the endeavour’s failure as he had been that morning at the council meeting. It seemed like they took close to half of the adult cats off to the human zone.

Still think they’re going to fail?” Sylvester directed the question to Panther.

I only saw four dogs, Sylvester,” Eve answered in Panther’s place. “There could be only four or there could be four hundred. We have no way to know.”

It’s an impressive display of force,” Panther admitted.

You don’t think it’s going to be enough?” Sylvester asked.

It had better be enough,” Panther commented, “or they are going to piss off some dogs. Let’s go train.”

Opal and her charges had arrived. They had quietly watched the parade of cats leave the hill before coming to join the three outsiders. They had journeyed back to that spot at the river for the last two days. They had spent their time practising crossing the tree trunk over and over again until every cat, young or adult, could cross at ease. At the top of the ridge across they river they divided their time between training to hunt and dig out makeshift dens.

The goal, as Panther saw it, was to make the worst case scenario response into a habit. Running the practice drills improved everyone’s confidence, increased the chances of success, and allowed them to adjust the plan ahead of time to eliminate any problem areas. If the worst were to happen it would be chaos and fear, cats would panic and plans would be forgotten. The more they practised the less likely they were to get lost in the fear and the more likely they would all make it over the river.

They ran through the woods, across the bridge, and up to the ridge. They split the kittens into groups of three, each adult took a group and worked on reinforcing skills that would be needed for success; Opal dug the dens, Eve ran bridge crossing drills, Panther went hunting in the forest, Sylvester taught fishing and swimming. They exchanged groups throughout the day in order to ensure all the kittens had a chance to pick up the same skills.

The kittens were quick studies, as far as Sylvester was concerned, even after just two days it seemed unlikely that the kittens would be unable to feed themselves if they needed to. As long as they kept their heads they would be alright in the long term. There was no real way to know how any of them would react in the moment, but they should be alright afterwards. Panther was right, Sylvester admitted to himself, hunting did come naturally to cats.

He’s moved on to fighting,” Opal interrupted his thoughts. She had come down from the ridge to join Sylvester at the river.

Where are your kittens?” Sylvester asked.

They joined the melee,” Opal responded. She took a couple cautious steps into the shallow water, unlike the kittens she did not like the feel of water against her. Her eyes darted back and forth as she searched for fish. “He’s standing his ground and throwing the young ones all over. They just keep throwing themselves at him.”

He used to do that with me too,” Sylvester admitted. “He used to pretend I overpowered him and when I was on top of him, pinning him to the ground, he’d flip me over his head and reverse the situation.”

Can we go play with Panther too?” Sylvester’s kittens asked.

Sure,” Sylvester answered, “see if you can sneak up on him.” The kittens scrambled up the slope toward the ridge. “Not the quietest sneaking I’ve ever seen,” Sylvester shared as he watched their clumsy climb up the slope.

I’m sure he’ll be sufficiently surprised,” Opal responded.

He’ll be completely surprised. That’s part of his charm. Oh, look! There goes Eve’s class.” They watched another group of three kittens trip over their own feet in their haste to get up the slope and join in the fray.

They saw the others run off and all their focus was lost,” Eve explained as she joined them. “I figured it would be best to get the play out of their system. I don’t want any of them falling into the river. How’s the fishing?”

Good. All the children have filled their bellies,” Sylvester wandered to the base of the rise and stretched himself out on the warm dirt. In his mind this was the way life was meant to be lived: cats of compatible temperament helping each other out. Eating what they wanted when they wanted, sleeping when the mood suited them. Masters to themselves and slaves to no one. Free to pursue whatever caught their fancy. Cats living as cats.

If only every day could be like this,” Eve echoed his thoughts. She laid down beside Sylvester and stretched out under the sun.

I’d be happy with just a few days like this,” Opal said. “These past three days have been amazing. I had no idea things could be so much different than what we had at the Colony. The experience will be invaluable to the kittens’ lives.”

Why don’t you just come with us? You and the kittens?” Sylvester asked.

They would never allow us to leave,” Opal answered.

Don’t ask,” was Sylvester’s response. “There’d be less mouths they’d need to feed. It’s not like they don’t kick members out when they want to.”

I don’t know,” Opal whispered. Her attention was suddenly captured by something unseen in the water.

The silence exploded as Panther came flying out of the forest and rolled down the slope. The black cat rolled in a cloud of dust until he slowed and stopped on the bank of the river. Over the ridge flew a dozen miniature felines hot on Panther’s tail. The older cat was on his feet before the first of his diminutive opponents had gotten near him. Panther tirelessly swatted back each attacker, their tiny claws ripped at his fur while his large paws pushed them away. Throughout it all he kept his claws sheathed.

He stood like a mountain while these twelve balls of fur threw themselves against him. Nothing can stand against the raging storm forever, valiant though he was Panther was overwhelmed by the sheer number of opponents. He disappeared under an ocean of kittens. As the chaos of movement subsided it was replaced by a symphony of purring.

I guess twelve was too much,” Sylvester observed.

They’re getting better,” Panther popped his head out of the pile of cats.

The rest of the day was spent practising for the potential of a needed escape. They used the same approach the next day and the day after that, over and over again. Split up into groups, practice for part of the day, wrestle in the early afternoon, practice until evening, and then return to the Colony for the night.

They made an adjustment to the routine on the third day after the expedition left. Panther felt that they could ease up a little on their practice and had them switch to hunting in the late afternoon. Hunting for the Colony had all but disappeared after the cats left with the expedition. Instead of feeding their group of kittens and allowing so many to go hungry, they decided to put the kittens’ new skills to the test and had them fill in for the missing hunters. The forest across the river was rich with prey. Taking on the hunting duties in an unofficial fashion would allow them to distribute the food to the cats who most needed it, or at least that was what they hoped.

How long before they arrive at the human zone?” Opal wondered. The four adult cats were lounging at the top of the ridge. The kittens were all around them; napping, playing, hunting.

If they haven’t arrived already, it should be soon,” Eve answered. “It’s about a three day trek to the border, but we ran into the dogs when we were about one day out.”

It could still be a couple of days before we know the results,” Panther added. A couple of the kittens were curled up tight against him, sound asleep.

I hope they succeed,” Opal voiced, “with very few losses.”

If there is only four dogs they should be okay.” Sylvester tried to stick to a positive outlook. Opal, he had noticed, seemed to be sensitive about the topic and tended to get sullen when talk turned to the potential failure of the expedition. There wasn’t anything more that they could do at the moment and Sylvester saw no point in demoralizing anyone unnecessarily.

It was too nice a day to muddy it up with thoughts of failure and loss, of dead and broken cats. He wanted to relax, to enjoy the sun and the company of his friends. Their time at the Colony was going to end at some point so he needed to take every opportunity he could to build memories with these cats he might never see again.

Hey,” Panther nudged the sleeping kittens. “Time to wake up. We need to start hunting.”

Sylvester found himself awake just as the sun had begun to rise on the fifth day after the expedition set out. He was stretched out on a tree branch, on a branch below him slept Eve, while above him rested Panther. Opal and her kittens were asleep in their burrow and would join them after the sun had fully risen in the sky.

He enjoyed this point in the day. Watching the world wake itself up was a guilty pleasure, one that he did not want to share with anyone else. Not that he was truly alone, he knew Panther would be awake, he seemed to always be at least partially awake lately. It was almost as if Panther expected the dogs to show up at any, and every, minute. Even when they were out by the river Panther kept an eye, an ear, and a nostril on alert.

Sylvester took a deep breath in through his nose. The air was cool, crisp, fresh. He could smell the cats of the Colony coming from the hill. The trees, the grass, the dirt; all of it he could smell on the wind. There was something else he couldn’t put his paw on, it was faint, buried beneath the other scents.

His eyes darted around the hillside and the surrounding trees. The tree they had chosen to sleep on was positioned to allow them an unobstructed view in the direction the expedition should return from. This would also be where the dogs would come from should the worst case scenario come to pass. There was little worry about it throughout the day as they were away from the Colony the bulk of the time, it was the night where they were the most vulnerable and needed as much warning as possible.

Do you smell that?” Sylvester asked aloud.

Yeah,” Panther answered. He lay on his branch, head up and eyes alert.

They heard the rustling coming from the woods at the same time. Their response was the same; their muscles tightened, they sat straight up, their eyes widened, their noses, ears and eyes focused on the trees ahead of them. They watched and waited for a moment.

Eve,” a moment was all it took for Panther to spring into action, “get Opal and the kittens across the river.”

Eve jumped from the tree and ran toward the hill. They had gone over this, she knew where to go within the hill to find their friends. Opal and the kittens knew their role in the plan and would execute it without hesitation. Panther and Sylvester’s role was to provide time for the others to escape by creating a distraction or engaging the enemy. They would take advantage of their larger size to provide safety to the others, they would join them on the other side of the river after they had evaded any attackers.

The two males dropped down from the tree and made their way to the edge of the woods. There was a caution to their movement, Panther led the was while Sylvester followed, both cats kept their bodies close to the ground and were prepared to launch into action at a moment’s notice.

The strange odour had gotten stronger in the time it took them to approach the treeline. It was still mild compared to the other scents in the area but it had gotten stronger. An unknown smell that was getting stronger was not a good sign to either cat.

The face of a grey and white cat broke out of the bushes in front of them and collapsed. The cat’s breath was ragged, patches of fur were torn from its body and blood had soaked in blotched across its pelt. The cat struggled for breath as it painfully pulled itself forward, it seemed oblivious to the two cats before it.

What happened?” Panther questioned as both cats pressed closer to the injured newcomer.

They were everywhere,” the cat, a male, responded. “The dogs were everywhere!”

Where are the others?” Panther asked.

I think they’re dead,” he replied. “I’m the only one left. They’re behind me. I can smell them. The smell… the smell is like nothing I have ever smelt before. It’s horrible. I can still smell them.”

You,” Panther turned to a cat that had run down from the hilltop. “The expedition has failed. The Colony needs to be evacuated. The dogs are on the way.” The cat turned and ran back the way it had come. There were cats congregating at the top of the hill. There was a genuine sense of uncertainty from the hilltop group despite the inclusion of a handful of members of their ruling class.

What is that smell?” Sylvester wondered aloud as a wave of stench washed over them.

The only answer that came was the dog that burst out of the trees.

Previous Episodes:

  1. The Bird
  2. A Partnership Begins
  3. And Winter Makes Three
  4. Eve
  5. Panther
  6. On the Road
  7. The Colony
  8. Future Plans
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