Panther, True Tales VII

A Secret Learned

Days pass quickly when you’re trapped in a job you hate. Before I knew it October had run its course, November had left and I was smack-dab into December. We had gone through a lot of excitement in those two months.

Prior to adopting Panther I had had the unfortunate luck of having to go through a bed bug infestation, a few to be accurate but like most things in life the first time is the worst one. The first indication that these pests were in the building was a notice that they were going to spray the apartment in a couple weeks. There were no sign of bugs that I could see but I dutifully followed the directions they provided to prepare for the spraying. Less than a week before the spray date the apartment was crawling with bed bugs. One day I was bug free and the next I was living with a nation of them.

Part of the instructions for successfully combating a bed bug infestation is to not change your sleeping habits. Particularly important is not to change where you sleep. Which meant that I had to spend three or four nights sharing my bed with a few hundred tiny ladies whose entire reason for existing was to steal my blood. But if I moved from the bed they might shift their location and escape the pesticide. It is, by far, the hardest part of dealing with bed bugs.

After that first time it seemed as if those little vampires were attempting to move in every couple of months. It felt like there was a period of nearly constant spraying as they fought to evict these insect freeloaders from the apartment complex. It was a fight they didn’t seem to be winning. All of my possessions were boxed and stored in the middle of the dining room as per their instructions. I had been packing and unpacking so often due to the treatments that I just stopped putting anything back, it was just easier to leave everything packed where they were.

The bugs eventually stopped coming back, at least for a time. It would take months before I could relax enough to start returning things to where they belonged. It would never be complete, it always sat in the back of my mind that the bugs would return. They did.

The pesticides they use to fight bed bugs does not quite agree with those of the feline persuasion, it is, in fact, fatal. So after I discovered a pair of the bugs and, with great difficulty, managed to get a spray date set I found myself suddenly needing a place to hole up with the cat for a few days.

I had just the place in mind. A friend of mine had a sweet house geared up for cats, she would house-sit her parents’ cats once in a while and kept some feline amusements there at all times. It was a two floor house with a basement, lots of space, and large windows. A nice place for a cat to play in. A quick text got the okay for Panther and I to crash there for a few days.

The day arrived for our short vacation from the apartment. The treatment wasn’t until the next day but I wasn’t about to let Panther be alone in a strange place so we were both leaving that afternoon for my friend’s place. I spent the morning moving things into the kitchen and away from the walls. I wasn’t sure it was necessary but I pulled everything away from the wall in Panther’s room as well.

He wasn’t dealing very well with the morning activity. The changes I was making to his environment had shot his anxiety through the roof. I decided to let him roam free until the last minute, he hated being in his carrier and I couldn’t see a point in making his day any worse than it had to be.

I could understand what he was feeling. My own anxiety levels were off the charts. I don’t really like to have people in my apartment when I am home, I can’t even deal with the idea of people being in my apartment when I am not there. I can’t focus on anything else, I have difficulty breathing, my hands shake uncontrollably, I just become a mess. I had no desire to put Panther through that stress so I allowed him the freedom to roam as I prepared the apartment.

He was nowhere to be found when I finished moving everything. I had just received a text that my ride was on the way so it was now time to package the cat up for travel. I checked above the cupboards in the kitchen where he liked to go when the vacuum was running but he wasn’t there.

Panther. Where are you, buddy?”

He normally came when called. He tended to show me that much courtesy, but not today it seemed. I wandered to the bathroom to check the tub, he would sometimes curl up there to sleep off warm afternoons. I pushed the curtains aside and was rewarded with an empty tub.

Where are you hiding, Panther?” I wondered aloud as I checked under the bathroom sink. Perhaps he had gone into his room, he liked to sleep on top of the boxes I kept in there. It was worth a quick look.

There was no cat to be seen on top of the boxes I had pulled away from the wall. No cat behind the boxes. No cat anywhere I could see.

There was a large hole in the wall that was shared with the bathroom.

A big, dark, gaping hole that caused my heartbeat to quicken.

This hole was the access hatch to the water pipes that fed the shower and bath tub. The panel must have been held closed by the boxes that had been in front of it. It must have opened while I was in another room. I could see all the pipes running up and down through the wall but I couldn’t tell if there was room for a cat to slip through.

A closer inspection revealed just how little luck I had, there was enough space between the pipes for a cat of Panther’s size to squeeze through. More important was the alcove that I could make out just beneath the tub that looked large enough to comfortably fit me. I was filled with dread and despair at the two eyes that reflected the light from my cell phone back at me. It had taken no time for Panther to find this hole and get himself into the space beneath the tub.

Panther,” I tried to keep the panic from my voice, “time to come out.”

It was hard to judge if he could make it back through all the pipes but it was worth the attempt to try to coax him out. I couldn’t get my arm far enough in to pull him out. For his part Panther seemed to be enjoying this newly found cave.

I shook a bag of Temptations at the open hole. This sound would normally bring him running but today he just lay down and looked up at me. I offered a whiff of catnip, perhaps the scent would entice him. He just lay down in that hole content to wait me out.

Feeling even more desperate and on the verge of a panic attack I decided to make a phone call to the building’s emergency line.

This line is only for emergencies,” they told me, “you need to contact the building manager.”

Hot water faucet in the bath tub won’t shut off… not an emergency. Cat trapped under bath tub… not an emergency. Just what was an emergency to these people?

The building manager responded lightening fast to my call. This was the first and only time she would ever respond to one of my infrequent requests in less than a week. It was within fifteen minutes that she showed up with a maintenance man and all three of us were surrounding the open hatch. The maintenance man shone a flashlight in the hole to verify the cat’s existence (because I was obviously the type to make this type of thing up) and then they were on the move. They were going to pull down the ceiling in my downstairs neighbour’s bathroom to get to the cat.

I heard a polite meow beside me as I shut the apartment door behind them. At my feet was a very calm, slightly dusty, Panther. He had decided that he wanted to play with the beam of the flashlight and had followed it out of the crawlspace.

I grabbed him, kissed him on his head, and put him in his carrier. I managed to get downstairs in time to stop them from ripping apart my neighbours bathroom and then generously applied duct tape to seal the hatch. That done, we were on our way to my friend’s home for a few days.

The drive down there went about as well as could be expected. Panther voiced his discomfort and disgust at the situation throughout the entire journey. He changed his tune the moment he was released from his carrier into our temporary home.

The majority of the cat related items were in the basement, the litter box in particular. I brought him down and released him from the carrier. I needed to prepare the litter box and figured he could explore while I did. The basement was at least as big as our apartment so he had plenty of space to enjoy. It was a single room with a fridge, a scratching post, a table, some boxes, stairs, and various other items scattered about. There was plenty to keep him occupied while I set up his bathroom.

By the time I was finished he was gone.

It was an unfinished basement so there wasn’t too many places he could have disappeared into. I checked under the stairs and in the boxes, both those areas were clear. I could hear his meows so I was certain he was close by. As it turned out he had managed to get himself into the beams of the ceiling and couldn’t get himself down.

Maybe you don’t need to explore every hole,” I offered as I grabbed a chair so I could reach him. He purred musically as I pulled him free of the beams.

He spent the rest of the evening exploring the house. He particularly enjoyed using the stairs, racing up and down continuously throughout the night. He slept with me on the couch and spent the next day in the basement while I was at work. I only had to work the one day and then we were alone for a couple days before we would return home.

One of the more amazing aspects of Panther’s personality is how quick he adapts to changes in his environment. Like most cats he doesn’t like change but unlike other cats I have known he settled into his new environments with surprising ease. I was more uncomfortable with our circumstances than he was and it was a relief for me to be going home, he didn’t feel the same way. From a cat point of view the house with the stairs, large beds, and numerous surfaces to climb onto was a portrait of luxury. Like all cats he accepted that luxury as a birthright and was unhappy to be leaving it behind.

There were three treatment dates spread over about a month which allowed him to visit his paradise one more time. My friend was home during the second visit and Panther spent the day with her while I was at work. The reports I got from that day involve him happily joining her for a nap and, not quite so happily, respecting her requests to get off her counter tops. He was a perfectly charming house guest.

Sometime between the first and second treatments I learned a valuable secret kept by my feline roommate. It happened one morning that I was a little slower getting out the door than normal. Panther had been closed up into his room while I was temporarily flummoxed about which jacket I should wear, this choice delayed my exit by a minute or two. A flash of black burst out the door as I opened it to leave. Panther had somehow escaped from his room!

I had thought my roommate had figured out a system that allowed him to exit the apartment while Panther was loose. What was actually happening was that Panther had figured out that if he pressed his weight against the centre of the folding door it would open and he would be released from his cell. He had figured it out the first day I had closed him in the room, it had taken me considerably longer to figure it out.

It was also during this time that I accepted what would be my first promotion. I hated the job but I am something of a responsibility junkie so when they offered me the promotion I couldn’t refuse. The raise that came with it was essentially nonexistent and the included potential for a bonus was little more than a joke. The tiny increase in money didn’t come close to covering the increase in work load and daily abuse.

We settled on trading some treats for my freedom to leave. Most mornings I had to hold him in my arms, exit the apartment, and slip him back into our home while I closed the door.

We headed into Christmas having made some adjustments to our lives.


Panther, True Tales VI

A Familiar Routine

We followed our usual routine of waking up the next morning, if you consider three AM to be morning. Not that I am complaining, I disliked a lot about my job but having the same schedule every day was one of the few positives it had. There is something peaceful about the world at that time of day, the journey between bed and work was often the best part of my day.

Until Panther entered my world, that is. All of the best parts of my days revolved around my new feline roommate. Whether it was the morning ritual of chin rubs and licks peppered by his musical purrs or the return home ritual of chin rubs and licks accompanied by some sing-song purring my heart and mind always dreamed of us being together. When we were apart I was constantly distracted by thoughts of him; I worried about his day, I wondered if he had enough to keep him from becoming bored.

Not that everything was perfect between us.

I hated having to close him up in his tiny room before I left for work in the morning but the idea of chasing him through the building’s hallways was not appealing. In the short time he had been with me he had made an attempt to bolt out the front door every single time it had been opened. He was determined to have access to the corridor and obsessed with getting beyond every closed door he encountered. Which meant he had to be closed up so I could make it out to my cab and pay our rent.

I knew my human roommate would allow him out for a bit prior to going to work so the cat wouldn’t be completely cut off from the bulk of the apartment. Still, a perfect world would have him free to roam the apartment when he was home alone. We don’t live in a perfect world but it was my intention to get our apartment as close to the perfect ideal as possible.

The work day dragged on, I wanted to be home with Panther and not at work slaving away for the benefit of a heartless corporation and uncaring customers. My job was primarily to unpack poorly stacked skids of pet supplies to fill our chronically empty shelves. These shelves were empty because we were only ever sent product that didn’t sell and only rarely the product customers wanted. To the customers and head office this was always the fault of the early morning stockers and not the distribution division. By the time my shift was over I was always relieved to go home.

I was tired and distracted when I arrived at my apartment building. My day had been spent worrying about my newest roommate and cataloguing my options for the future. I had been doing the pet supply thing for around three months at this point and I had still not managed to attach myself to the job. I am the type of man who feels very much that what I do is important to who I am. My identity is not defined by my job but being passionate about what I do is important to my well being. I didn’t have that where I currently worked and it seemed unlikely that it would ever develop.

The first indication I received about where I was was the black streak that exploded out of the apartment as I opened the door. My roommate had left Panther out again, I was really going to have to ask my roommate how he was managing to exit the apartment while the cat was running free.

The fire doors at both ends of the hall were, thankfully, closed which kept Panther contained and reduced the potential for his escape. I just needed to scoop him up and carry him back to our home. Easier said than done.

Panther had escaped from his prison and was determined not to go back. Back and forth he ran, expertly dodging my attempts to grab him as he bounced between doors. He seemed intent on catching one of the doors open but luck didn’t seem to want to favour him. Sure he had managed to escape through the cell door but he was still trapped in the prison building and the guard was right behind him. It was a valiant attempt to regain his freedom but ultimately it would not succeed.

After a handful of failed attempts I managed to scoop the wily black cat up into my arms. I held him close and stroked his back with one hand, my heart was pumping from the chase and the fear of losing him.

That was a poor choice, buddy,” I whispered to him.

I kissed the top of his head to take some of the sting out of my words. He offered purrs, chin rubs and licks as an apology. All was forgiven and peace achieved between man and cat as we returned to our shared home.

We settled on a routine for us on my return home from work early on in our relationship. He would attempt to escape when I opened the door and I would snatch him up and hold him as we greeted each other with pats and kisses. I would then give him a small can of wet food, Fancy Feast was his preference, that he would obsessively devour. There would be about half an hour of chasing the bat symbol up and down the walls, far too short a period for Panther but more than long enough for me. There would be some bird or squirrel watching and cuddling together at the window and then we’d separate and do our own thing. There would be some getting together for treats and cuddles but mostly we’d do our own thing until bedtime where he’d curl up at my feet to sleep until morning.

A second escape attempt would be made when our roommate returned from work. This normally took place around ten PM just as I was drifting off to sleep. I tried to keep an eye and an ear on the door as I waited on the couch. I would watch him for any sign of excitement, he seemed to know long before I did when my roommate was in the building. As soon as he ran to the door I would grab him, if I was home he would never make it out the door.

He had his own process with his other human roommate. Panther would sit all prim and proper at the entrance to the kitchen. He would sit patiently watching our roommate prepare dinner and quietly keep him company. When my roommate was finished in the kitchen he’d reach down and briefly tussle the top of Panther’s head with his fingers. The cat seemed to love it, he’d push his head up against the fingers with what seemed like a massive grin on his face. They would part ways after that, the human would go to his room while the feline would settle in for the night at my feet. We would drift off to sleep and awake together to relive the cycle all over again the next day.

An Ending

It happened fast. The smell hit their noses and then the dog was between them, the grey and white cat caught in its mouth, the life being shaken out of him. The dog was larger than the cats, it was covered in brown matted hair. The smell of blood and feces emanated from the dog, punctuated by the pungent smell of death and decay. No sound was uttered by the dog as it shook and crushed the cat in its mouth.

I got this one,” Sylvester boasted.

Get it away from here. Lose it in the woods and get across the river.” Panther backed away slowly his eyes never leaving the dog. No sudden movements, no sense drawing the dog’s attention.

Sylvester took a different approach. His movements were quick and sharp. He puffed his fur out to make himself a more noticeable target. He spat, he hissed, he growled as he moved away from the hill, away from Panther and the river. The act worked as Sylvester moved the dog shuffled his body to keep his eyes fixed on the black and white cat.

Come on,” Sylvester snarled at the dog. “Come on, you know you want me.” Sylvester could see Panther backing away up the hillside. The dog’s back was to the other cats, the one hanging from its mouth had stopped moving and was no longer being shaken. The dog only had eyes for Sylvester.

The dog dropped the cat from its mouth and launched itself at Sylvester. The cat leapt backward, turned his body around, and hit the ground running. He sped away from the hill, dodging among the trees and the bushes, the dog fast on his heels. He hadn’t known how fast he would need to run to outpace the dog, but it seemed like he had gotten lucky and the dog didn’t have the speed he did. He stayed ahead of the dog, just enough to keep the dog interested in the chase. His goal was to pull the dog away from the Colony before he lost it and doubled back.

Panther turned as soon as the dog bolted after Sylvester. He ran to the collection of cats at the hill. They stood in that same group, their eyes wide and their feet frozen to the ground. They lacked the survival sense of a cat. They were in danger but seemed unable to make a simple decision: flee or fight.

Run,” Panther yelled as he reached them. “Run!”

He pushed and swatted at the cats around him. They ranged in age from the very young to the very old. There were a couple of elders from the ruling class in the mix but, thankfully to Panther’s mind, there was no sign of any of the kittens he had worked with.

They’ll be more dogs,” Panther yelled in the face of one of the councillors he remembered meeting almost a week ago. His only reply was a blank eyed stare.

Three more dogs burst out from the woods at the bottom of the hill. Panther noted the identical look of these dogs to the one that had chased Sylvester. Slightly larger than him, they were all covered in shaggy, matted brown hair. Even from the top of the hill he could smell the mix of corruption and decay that seemed to cling to them.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. The dogs snapped their teeth at each other as they fought over the corpse of the cat at their feet. The sound of their jaws slamming shut was the only sound that could be heard from the trio. In an instant the fighting stopped and the dogs were still, their eyes were fastened on the hilltop.

Follow me,” Panther instructed as he sprang toward the woods and the river. It was time to retreat before the dogs got too close. Opal, Eve and the kittens should be across the river by the time he arrived. With a little luck Sylvester would be right behind him. He would have liked to save a few more cats but at this point they were on their own. They had no sense of survival, they’d either follow him or they wouldn’t. The more that stayed behind, the easier it would be to escape.

Panther was only vaguely aware of the chaos that erupted as he broke through the tree line. The dogs raced to the top of the Colony’s hill. The cats scattered; some went underground, a handful followed Panther, a few fled in various directions, a small number attempted to stand their ground. The dogs divided; two attempted to dig into the hill while the third pursued Panther and his trailing entourage.

Panther didn’t look back as he ran for the bridge. Once he had made up his mind to run he didn’t give another thought to those he left behind. Their survival was in their own paws now, his survival was his focus at the moment. He knew he was being followed by some cats, it sounded like there might be three, maybe four. He could also hear something larger crashing through the bushes behind him. Slowing to confirm his suspicions could be dangerous so it would have to wait until he hit the river.

Panther twisted his body around as he crossed onto the riverbank. He took a quick glance across the water where he could see Eve and Opal waiting on the opposite bank with the kittens peeking out over the ridge above the river. He could see no sign of Sylvester. He had no time to consider anything as the first cat following him burst onto the riverbank.

Move,” Panther yelled at the cat as it seemed on the verge of collapsing. “Over the log. Fast! To the other side.” He berated the cat into movement and pushed him to begin the crossing just as a second cat arrived on the bank.

Come on,” Panther urged the second cat. He glanced at the first cat, it still hadn’t even reached the halfway mark across the bridge. Eve and Opal were attempting to coax the first cat across but progress was slow.

As soon as he’s across you need to cross,” Panther instructed the second cat. The cat crouched behind Panther, its breath was ragged and its eyes wide with fear.

A third cat emerged from the trees, it moved slowly and avoided putting weight on its left front paw. The cat paused to get its bearings, noticed Panther and began to stumble in the black cat’s direction. The cat shambled three steps forward when the dog burst onto the riverbank and closed its mouth over the cat’s body. The dog jerked the cat into the air. There was a sickening crack as the cat’s body broke. The remains were tossed over the dog’s shoulder as it turned its attention to the remaining cats.

Go!” Panther ordered the second cat. The first cat hadn’t finished crossing but waiting was no longer an option. He moved his body between the dog and the cat, he kept his body low to the ground and bared his teeth.

The dog adopted an aggressive stance of its own. Its legs were spread slightly to the side, its front legs pushed forward to tilt its body toward the ground. Its mouth was opened slightly, the lips pulled back from its teeth. There was blood on its lips and teeth. Despite the absence of sound it looked very much like it was snarling a threat. It opened and closed its mouth multiple times in a silent mockery of a bark.

You really can’t make noises can you?” Panther asked. There was no answer offered just more soundless snarling. Panther could hear the other cat scramble across the bridge, he could buy that cat some time to cross but there was no chance of his crossing without the dog grabbing him. He would have to fight or flee.

He dug the claws of his back paws into the ground to brace himself and launched his body at the dog. He drove his shoulder into the dog’s chest and pushed forward with all his strength and weight. The dog had a size advantage over him but it couldn’t effectively bite him while he was underneath it. He could hear the teeth gnashing at him while the dog moved backward away from him.

Panther wasn’t about to let that happen. He had already seen what these dogs could do with their jaws, staying in close was his best bet for survival. He grabbed the sides of the dog’s chest and sunk his front claws deep into its flesh. He felt lucky, he hadn’t been sure his claws could get through the dog’s matted fur. He could feel the dog twist and pull as it struggled to dislodge him. He had struck a blow, the dog was in pain and it was afraid. He needed to know the dog over so that he could use his stronger back paws.

The dog jerked back and Panther felt flesh tear off as his claws pulled free. Not a whimper was uttered by the dog as blood fell from its sides. Panther barely managed to roll away as the dog’s jaws snapped at him. The dog was faster than he had thought, Panther had barely regained his feet before he was dodging a swat from the dog’s paw. Its claws were cracked and broken, not razor sharp like Panther’s were, but there was no doubt in the cat’s mind that they would be lethal.

Panther jumped from right to left as he dodged blow after blow of the dog’s paws. The dog was relentless, paws and jaws flashed as Panther danced away from the attacks. He found himself on the defensive which didn’t work for him. Being on the defensive was the losing path, if he was going to get out of this he needed to either gain the advantage or escape. Should the dog connect with a blow he was done for.

Panther kept dodging the dog’s attacks, with each avoidance he managed to turn them just a little until the dog’s back was to the river. From this vantage point he could see that the other cats had made it across the trunk and were huddled together on the opposite bank of the river. They were safe, now it was time for him to accomplish the same.

He couldn’t just make a run for the bridge. Even if he made it, there was too good a chance that the dog would follow. There wasn’t a big enough size difference between them that would guarantee the bridge would collapse under the dog’s weight. Even if it did, dogs were good swimmers, as far as Panther was aware. Collapsing the bridge would trap Sylvester on the wrong side of the river and allow a dog onto the safe side. Above all, that could not happen, no dog could be allowed across the river.

It was time to put an end to this. He wanted to get at the dog’s throat or its underbelly. If he could get his teeth into its throat and the claws of his rear paws into its stomach he could end this. There was a good chance of it, they were evenly matched in strength all he needed was to get through those snapping teeth and smashing paws.

Panther pushed forward slashing out with his claws at the dog’s face. A scratch was all the damage that resulted but the unexpected lunge put the dog on the defensive. They went back and forth slashing at each other with neither one gaining an advantage. The effort of attacking and evading was taking a toll on both participants, both were breathing heavily.

Panther yowled in frustration as he failed once more to score a solid hit. Despite the blood drawn at the start of the melee the dog still managed to match him in battle. They seemed evenly matched and whoever managed to score a lucky hit would emerge the victor.

The dog reared back as a black and white cat landed on its back. Sylvester had arrived at the bridge moving at a quick pace. He had lost the dog that had been chasing him and raced to the agreed upon muster point. He saw the dog facing off against Panther and threw himself onto the beast’s back without even slowing. The claws of three of his paws were sunk into the dog while he used his free paw to scratch at its eyes. He tore at one of the dog’s eyes and felt the dog twist and rear in pain. Sylvester felt something hit the dog and jumped off the dog’s back just before it toppled. His back claws tore chunks out of the dog’s back.

Panther had taken advantage of the surprise attack on his opponent to throw himself bodily into the dog. His strength and weight knocked the dog onto its side. Panther’s movement continued to bring his body over top of the fallen dog. He sank his teeth into the dog’s throat and raked his back claws across its stomach. He could feel the flesh give way under his claws and smelled the blood that accompanied it. He used all his strength to pull his head back and was rewarded with the feel of the throat ripping apart in his teeth.

Sorry I was late,” Sylvester offered from Panther’s side. “They don’t give up very easily. Also, I picked up some stragglers.” He motioned with his head to four cats that had arrived on the riverbank: three adults and one kitten.

They don’t give up at all,” Panther agreed. They stood quietly as they watched the final twitching of the dog’s body. Its life fled its body and soaked into the ground. “Thanks for the assist.”

Anytime,” Sylvester answered.

Is that the queen?” Panther asked as he glanced at the four cats waiting by the river. There was the queen and one of her council, the other adult and the kitten he didn’t recognize.

Yep. She was hiding in the woods watching the dogs digging to get at the cats hiding in the tunnels. I thought she’d be better off with us.” Sylvester looked sympathetically at his charges.

We need to get them to the other side,” Panther said. “Fast. Before more dogs come. We need to push that tree into the river so they can’t follow us. At least not easily.”

You sure?” Sylvester asked. “There’s no going back for us if we do.”

I know,” Panther acknowledged, “our safety from known threats comes first. Just think of it as the start of a brand new chapter in your life.”

Sylvester nodded and turned to start the last of the cats over the river.

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
  9. Best Laid Plans

Best Laid Plans

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

Future Plans

They were escorted back into the tunnels within the hill to a large chamber. The chamber was large enough to comfortably fit a couple dozen cats in a pinch. It was used exclusively by the ruling caste, most days it was a social club for their elders. Today it was empty except for the silver tabby that had brought them to the Colony the day before. They were directed into the chamber before their escort left them alone with the silver.

The council and Her Majesty will be here momentarily,” the silver informed them, his voice surly and dismissive.

Panther nodded an acknowledgement. He prepared mentally for a quiet, uncomfortable wait. It never happened. They had barely sat down before four more cats shuffled into the chamber from an opposite entrance. The four newcomers were tabbies of varying shades of brown and orange but that wasn’t what stuck out in Panther’s mind. What stood out was that each of the newcomers were well fed, not just well fed but overweight. Their bellies were round and full and not a sign of bone could be seen on them. It seemed that at least some members of the Colony were regularly fed. Panther watched them line up against the chamber’s far wall and started quietly talking among themselves.

After a few moments of silence one more cat entered the room and moved to sit in the middle of the four tabbies. She had a pelt of white, brown, and orange fur, short in length. Her nose was short, she looked like her face had been squished in. Her eyes were a bright shade of blue. When she sat down she looked like a furred beach ball, her excess weight even more pronounced than the others. All talk ceased the moment she entered the chamber.

We wish to thank you for bringing the news of our missing hunters,” she began. Between each word she would pause to worry over one of her feet. “It has answered some questions we possessed while opening up others. To provide some of those answers we will be sending Captain Grey,” she indicated the silver tabby, “to seek out those dogs and eliminate the threat to our people.”

She looked up from her paw and surveyed the cats in front of her. She took a few extra moments to assess both Sylvester and Panther before she returned to slowly licking at her paw.

We invite you to join our brave troops on this most noble of quests,” she continued.

Do you think that’s a wise course, your highness?” Panther asked. “If you fail the dogs could track it back here and put all your people in jeopardy.”

You cowards,” Captain Grey spat into the room.

Anytime you’d like to test my courage,” Sylvester threatened the silver cat.

Sylvester,” Panther cautioned, his voice calm.

Captain,” the female cat spoke, “calm yourself. These are our guests, and our friends. They deserve our respect.”

Yes, my queen,” the silver cat bowed toward her.

We have considered the possibility,” the queen addressed Panther. “We have decided that the risk the dogs present is too great to ignore. We wish to be proactive in this matter. The Captain will lead his troops to destroy the dogs and end the threat.”

And if he fails?” Panther asked.

I won’t fail,” Captain Grey responded.

Failure is not an option,” the queen added. “Join in or not. The choice is yours.”

We respectively decline, your majesty.”

Very well,” she replied, “this audience is over.” She shrugged herself out of the chamber with the four councillors close on her heals.

Captain Grey moved forward, puffed out his chest, and pushed his face toward Sylvester. “When I get back,” he snarled, “we’ll finish this.” He held Sylvester’s eyes for a moment then turned his eyes on Panther and bared his teeth. He stalked out of the room.

We should leave before he returns,” Eve suggested.

I’m not afraid of him,” Sylvester stated.

I doubt he’ll come back,” Panther predicted.

That afternoon found them relaxing on the top of the Colony’s hill. Early that afternoon a hunting party had returned. Up until that point they hadn’t seen any sign of hunters, the bounty of mice brought back was poor at best and had Panther wondering if any of it would make its way beyond the ruling caste, a group Panther had learned was significantly larger in number than the five cats he had seen. Food was already in short supply, once they sent the force of cats out toward the human zone there would be even fewer hunters to bring back food. They would be better off sending cats out to hunt than to fight dogs, but their minds seemed steadfast in their decision.

What’s our plan?” Sylvester asked. He lay flat on his stomach enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun on his back.

I am concerned by the direction things are heading,” Panther said. “I think I want to see where things stand when they leave.”

You’re worried about food,” Eve declared. “So am I. Things are worse than I remember them being before I left.”

And it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Panther offered. He was a little surprised as he watched a small group of cats exit from the hill. He felt himself smile as he recognized the troupe of kittens he had met the night before. He added, “Let’s see if we can change it for the better in the next generation.”

The kittens noticed him immediately and bounded across the hilltop before their matron even exited the Colony. There were a dozen voices raised in excitement as they approached the three adults. They lined up as orderly as their excitement allowed.

Are you going to teach us to hunt today, sir?” the small grey female asked.

If it’s alright with your matron,” Panther replied. He nodded to their chaperone as she came up behind the row of kittens.

I think that would be a most wonderful way to spend the afternoon,” the white, orange, and black cat answered to a rousing round of cheers from the kittens.

Excellent,” Panther exclaimed. “Follow me. Everybody try to keep up.” Panther took off at a slow jog with a trail of a dozen kittens behind him. Their matron kept pace alongside the line of kittens with Sylvester and Eve bringing up the rear.

He guided the group away from the human zone. Panther had had the thought that in addition to some hunting he would also prepare an escape plan. He had huge misgivings over the Colony’s plan and felt having a plan for the non-combatants to get away, to survive, should things go wrong was worth a bit of effort. If the dogs came to the Colony it would be nice if there were some survivors. The current plan didn’t account for that possibility, in its current form the dogs would devastate the Colony and the cats would be no more.

Panther could hear the sound of rushing water ahead of them. They had been jogging for about twenty minutes and the kittens had managed to keep pace, much to Panther’s surprise and delight. He was sure they must be getting tired but there were no complaints to be heard. They would rest when they arrived at the flowing water, it would give him a chance to develop a more definite escape plan.

He broke out of the tree line and stopped in front of a river. He had seen a number of different brooks and creeks in his lifetime but nothing came close to the size and raw power of this river. There were calm, shallow waters along the side of the river, the further toward the centre of the river you got the deeper and faster the water flowed.

He heard a collective gasp from behind him as the kittens arrived on the shore. The kittens had lined up on either side of him. They sat or stood looking over the majesty of the sight in front of them. None of the cats, kitten or adult, had seen anything like a river before.

Did you know this was here?” Panther asked as Eve arrived behind him.

No,” Eve answered, the awe on her voice evident. “I have never heard anything about this…” She trailed off, she had no word for what she was seeing.

It’s a river,” Panther filled in the blank, “I think. I’ve never seen one before, but it’s similar to the descriptions I have heard.”

The kittens had started to explore the area and their matron had her paws full as she tried to monitor her charges. They had wondered in every direction, some explored among the trees, some examined the loose dirt between the river and tree line, and some were fascinated by the water and its movement. There was an excitement and a sense of wonder that emanated from them. Panther watched amused as these kittens experienced a piece of the wild that they had never been allowed to see before.

I wonder if there’s any fish,” Sylvester said as he started toward the riverside.

She must really like you,” Eve stated as she sat down beside Panther.

Why do you say that?” Panther asked.

She’s allowed you to take the kittens away from the Colony,” Eve answered. “Most kittens might visit another burrow but none ever leave the hilltop, until now. She is letting them run wild, watching them but not forcing any organized play. No kittens are given this much freedom. Opal is trying to impress you.”

Panther glanced sideways at Eve and grunted. None of that mattered. He was not going to be allowed to stay at the Colony long enough for anything to develop from it. All he could do was pass on some skills and hope these cats could survive the hard times that were coming. Cats were going to die even if the upcoming expedition was successful. New hunters would be needed to prevent mass starvation among the Colony.

They watched the activity around them. Cats played together; wrestling in the dirt, chasing each other through the trees. A couple of the young cats were indulging their instincts as they hunted insects among the grass and dirt. Most of the kittens had circled a shallow pond and were observing Sylvester as he displayed techniques for fishing.

What’s that?” Eve wondered. Sylvester had just flipped a small fish out of the water to fall among the kittens. A riot of pouncing and swatting erupted among his audience and drew in the rest of the kittens. Curiosity, the feline curse, drew Opal and Eve to investigate the wriggling object. It wasn’t long before they were all clamouring to join Sylvester in the water and the tuxedo cat was showing each one how to catch one of his favourite foods.

Panther left Sylvester to continue the fishing lessons. It seemed unlikely that they had ever experienced fish before. Something new in their bellies would do them well. They seemed to be taking to it, at least half of them had already caught and were working on devouring their first fish.

The ground on the far side of the river rose sharply. The rise looked climbable from Panther’s viewpoint. At the top of the slope was a ridge that was home to a forest far thicker than the woods behind him. The forest, Panther knew, would be home to a variety of prey species and a small community of cats could live quite comfortably within it.

What are you thinking?” Sylvester dropped a small fish at Panther’s feet. He turned back to survey his work. A dozen kittens and two adult cats quietly ate their catch. Sylvester sat with his chest puffed out while Panther gulped down the fish.

That there is probably enough food in that forest up there that we could spend the rest of our lives there and never go hungry. All of us.” Panther indicated a fallen tree that spanned the river. “If that will hold our weight, it might provide us a potential avenue of escape.”

It wasn’t a very wide trunk that crossed over the river, it was barely wide enough to accommodate a cat’s paws. It would be easy enough for a cat to use it as a bridge providing it could support the weight. The trunk cleared the top of the water by a few inches but a fall in the river would catch a cat in a current it might not escape from.

I’m a stronger swimmer than you,” Sylvester boasted. “I’ll cross it.”

Panther shrugged. They were both strong swimmers but Sylvester enjoyed being in the water more than Panther did. Panther was fine with Sylvester risking a dunk in the river rather than him.

Just be careful,” Panther warned, “the current looks pretty swift. It might be difficult to swim out of.”

He watched Sylvester jog over to the fallen tree. The younger cat didn’t hesitate before he jumped onto the log and raced across the river. The young tuxedo jumped down onto the shore and bounded up to the ridge. He turned back to look over the river and smiled. Sylvester raced down the slope and bounded across the makeshift bridge, there was some bounce to the log but it seemed capable of holding an adult cat’s weight.

It’s a perfect bridge,” Sylvester excitedly exclaimed as he ran up to Panther.

Do you think the kittens could make it across?” Panther asked.

These guys?” Sylvester glanced at the small felines all around them, “Easily.”

Good. We have a plan. Everyone,” Panther turned his attention to all the cats. He waited until they had all turned to face him.

Can all of you remember this place?” There was a unanimous positive response.

Could you find your way here?” Answered with another positive response.

Excellent. If anything happens we’ll all run here. Okay?” A rousing positive response was the reply.

Alright. It’s getting late, let’s get you home.”

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

The Colony

The silver cat followed through with his offer. It was not the most pleasant experience that Panther had ever had, they marched at a brisk pace for close to a day before they arrived at the Colony. That final part of the journey had started off poorly and never improved.

What a jerk,” Sylvester offered in a whisper to his two companions. The silver cat had left them by the tree while he went to gather his two missing subordinates. It was obvious to all of them that Sylvester was frustrated but at least he showed the presence of mind to be circumspect about it.

Panther nodded his agreement. He turned to Eve, “Do you know him?”

No,” Eve shook her head. Her eyes were wide and she had pushed her body as close to the ground as she could. There was a slight tremble in her voice as she added, “but he’s a captain in the guard.”

So he knows how to fight,” Panther mused. “But the other two are green. Moved from different duties, perhaps?”

Maybe,” Eve answered. “They’re young enough that they could be fresh from training.”

They watched the silver cat as he collected the two skittish cats together. They were too far away from them to make out what was being said but the body language spoke volumes. The two younger cats cowered as the silver cat paced angrily in front of them. Back and forth he stalked, he stopped after each circuit to cuff whichever cat he had stopped in front of. Even from the distance he was from the cats, Panther could tell the hits were substantial. The silver handed out six hits to each cat before turning to Panther.

Let’s go.” was all he said before he turned and marched away.

Panther, Sylvester and Eve fell into step behind the silver cat. The two other cats brought up the rear. They kept to this walking order throughout the entire silent march to their destination.

Upon their arrival at the Colony they were escorted into the labyrinth of underground rooms and corridors. They were ushered through large corridors of firmly packed dirt and into a small antechamber. They had been instructed to wait and then their three escorts disappeared deeper into the tunnels. The small chamber they were left in was dimly lit and had just enough room for one of them to walk around at a time.

We dig small holes straight down to let a bit of light in,” Eve mentioned. Panther sat beside her while Sylvester paced back and forth in front of them. “The burrows are not that far from the surface. When the Colony was first founded they made the light holes too wide and the burrows would flood during rainstorms. We now make them no wider than a paw, you get a little bit of light and it stays relatively dry.”

That seems like a smart way to do it,” Panther admitted. He was grateful for the brief distraction the information brought. Anything that took his mind off his current situation was a blessing. He had never liked enclosed spaces, his preference had always been for the wide open spaces. Being underground with no sign of the sky was uncomfortable. What if they were attacked? How would they escape? All he could see were dirt walls, the smell of cat was so strong in the tunnels that he wasn’t sure you’d be able to discern any other scent. In this underground world they were blind in every sense. He preferred to sleep in a tree than this far underground.

If it flooded,” Panther mused, “there would probably be a lot of cats trapped under water. A lot of drowning, a huge loss of life.”

Eve nodded, “That’s what happened so long ago.”

Has there ever been an attack?” Panther asked. “Underground, I mean.”

Eve thought for a moment. “Not that they ever mentioned in the histories,” Eve answered.

Eve,” a voice came from the corridor, “the council will see you now. Just Eve,” the voice added as Panther started to rise. “You two are to remain here.”

Panther lay back down and watched as Eve was escorted down the corridor. Within moments she had disappeared into the darkness of the burrows.

How long will she be gone?” Sylvester wondered. His pacing had only stopped for a brief moment while Eve was called away.

There’s no way to tell,” Panther commented.

Why’d we get left here?”

Eve witnessed the event, not us,” Panther answered. “We don’t have anything to add, really.”

Sylvester paused his pacing, shrugged his shoulders, and continued to pace in silence.

Panther retreated back into his own mind. The environment felt oppressive; there were too many cats in one area that there smell was overwhelming, the shelter underground was too close that it felt like he was buried in the dirt. He could feel his body tremble from the effort he put out not to flee the dark prison. He wanted so much to be out of the tunnels and beneath the open skies, to taste the fresh air.

Excuse me, sir,” a small voice interrupted his worries. Sylvester stopped his pacing and both cats stared out into the corridor where the voice had come from. Staring at them from the corridor was a line of a dozen miniature felines under the careful watch of a larger cat who waited further down the tunnel. The kittens came in a variety of colours and ranged in age between two and three months. Their chaperone was about Eve’s size, primarily white in colour with splotches of orange and black.

Sure,” Panther answered a small grey and brown tabby.

Are you a feral?” the kitten asked.

No,” Panther answered, “I am not.”

Are you going to eat us?” a solid grey girl asked.

I’m not feral, so no,” Panther replied.

Are you from another burrow?” a voice popped up from the back of the group.

No. This is the first time I have ever been here. We live in the wild,” Panther answered.

How do you live in the wild?” the grey kitten again.

You spend a lot of time hunting for your food. Finding places to sleep. The usual cat things.”

I’m going to be a hunter one day,” a quiet voice offered up from within the mass of kittens.

No you won’t, Chester,” another kitten responded, “you’re too gentle.”

All cats can hunt,” Panther broke through the mass of laughter from the kittens. “Hunting is part of being a cat, it’s natural to all of us.”

Only some cats are trained to hunt,” a kitten informed Panther.

Maybe here,” Panther retorted, “but out in the wild all cats hunt. All cats learn to fight. In the wild cats learn to do anything and everything they need to survive.”

Alright kittens,” the older female interrupted, “it’s time for bed. Say thank-you and let’s leave these gentle cats alone.”

Thank-you,” the kittens chorused. The chaperone nudged the kittens to start moving down the corridor.

Can you teach me to hunt?” a small black kitten with a white star on his chest and a soft voice pushed himself forward.

Chester,” the guardian admonished as she nudged the kitten on his way.

Panther reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “I can teach all of you to hunt,” Panther offered to the group, although his eyes remained on her.

Maybe we’ll take you up on that offer, sir,” she smiled at Panther. A cheer erupted from the kittens as she herded them onward. “Come on, little ones, get a move on.”

You seem to be popular,” Eve remarked as she approached from the opposite side. She was alone as she returned.

How’d it go?” Sylvester asked as she returned.

I told them everything,” Eve replied. “No one else from my party has returned. In fact all the hunters that were sent out in the direction of the human zone have not been heard from since they left. A few have returned from the other directions, but as of this moment it is less than half of the cats that went out.”

That’s not a good sign,” Panther put in. “Every single one that went the same direction you did just vanished?”

Yes,” Eve answered. “The council would like to speak to all of us tomorrow. After that we are free to go.”

You’re not staying?” Sylvester asked with a tinge of happiness in his voice. “You’re coming with us?”

I will be,” Eve replied.

Great!” Sylvester exclaimed.

They won’t let you stay,” Panther mused aloud, “because of the scar on your face.”

And the limp,” Eve confirmed.

What?” Sylvester was confused. “I’m sorry. You’re better off with us anyway.” He gently pushed his head against her head.

Yeah,” she agreed. “I’m tired.”

I want to sleep outside,” Panther said. “Under the stars. Up in a tree.”

That sounds good,” Eve said. “I’ll show you the way out.”

Panther and company passed the night in a large tree. Panther had found it to be a rough night, he drifted in and out of sleep until the sun rose the next morning. He lay in the tree enjoying the cool morning breeze blow across his body, the breeze waged war with the ever increasing warmth of the rising sun. Below him came the muffled sound of Sylvester and Eve engaged in conversation.

The morning was quiet, the sounds of nature subdued and distant. A strong smell of cat came from the treeless hill to the east. The Colony was dug just under the surface of the hill and was home to many cats. With so many cats living so close together on the hill the smell was noticeable and kept prey animals at a distance. It would be a bit of a hike but there would be some food for the feline inhabitants to hunt.

It seemed odd to Panther that so many of the Colony’s cats were underfed. On their journey here food sources didn’t become scarce until they were about a day away. It made no sense to him to go anywhere near the human zone. Even without knowing how many cats made the Colony home it seemed unlikely that the surrounding woodlands wouldn’t have the wildlife to support it.

He felt more relaxed in the tree this morning than he did under the ground the previous night. There was comfort to being out where he could see, hear, or smell danger before it found him. It also gave him a good view of the comings and goings of the Colony, which at this point seemed to be none.

Eve,” Panther called down to the white cat, “where are the hunters and the sentries?”

I don’t know,” she replied after a moment. “The hunters should be leaving right now. The sentries should have been active throughout the night. Normally they are always active.”

Maybe that’s a hunter,” Sylvester pointed out a cat that had appeared on the hill. Panther watched as the strange cat stood up on its hind legs. It turned its head back and forth as if it was looking for something. It focused its eyes on the three cats, it dropped its front feet to the ground and began running in their direction.

Panther dropped from the tree and gracefully landed on the ground. His two companions joined him as they walked to meet the newcomer.

There you are,” the cat gasped out as he ran up to them. Like most of the Colony’s cats he was a black and brown tabby, too skinny and too distant in speech. He took a handful of deep breaths before he continued, “the council requests your presence. I am to escort you to chambers.”

Lead the way,” Panther shrugged.

Previous Episodes

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

On the Road

It would be another week before they were able to start their journey. The wait time was spent in preparation; Eve shared with them the direction she came from, she wasn’t sure where the Colony was from their current location but Panther was sure he knew the way. They practiced fighting, planned escapes and rendezvous points should anything go wrong, and spent time learning to hunt as a group.

Sylvester had been impressed by the dedication Eve had shown to the instruction she was given on hunting. She watched, she listened, she asked pertinent questions when needed, and by the time they were ready to leave she was capable of bringing home food for them all.

How’s your leg?” Sylvester asked. It was just him and Eve at the moment. They were taking a leisurely pace as they journeyed toward the Colony. They were two days out and it was going to take at least another three days before they’d arrive on the outskirts of the territory. They were taking a less direct route as Panther wished to avoid getting too close to the human zone, the most direct route would have had them cutting directly through it. They were moving at a slower pace to conserve energy in case they needed to flee.

Panther was off on one of his solitary excursions. He had taken to disappearing multiple times throughout the day. He would return to adjust their course, share a meal and a conversation and then he’d wander off again. He’d return to curl up with them at night and be off after they broke their fast.

It feels knotted. Less pain than before but not one hundred percent yet,” she answered.

Sylvester matched Eve’s pace as they walked. She knew what her leg could handle, he just kept pace with her. They provided companionship and a sense of safety for each other.

Did you know your mother?” Eve asked him.

Yeah,” Sylvester answered. “My mother was really good with her kittens. We always had shelter, we always had food. She taught me to hunt. I think the hardest thing she ever did was let me leave. Her kittens were everything to her, I suspect she would have rather we had all stayed together.”

I didn’t know my mother,” Eve offered, “our kittens are raised by the community. We are moved to a nursery at birth and raised by experienced matrons. The new mothers are shuffled between nurseries for a few weeks before returning to their regular duties.”

These matrons teach you to hunt and fight?”

No,” Eve answered, “the matrons take care of us. They evaluate our natural tendencies so they can assign us to our duties. We get sent to our training at three months of age. We get our permanent placements when we reach one year. The only lessons we receive from the matrons is on history of the Colony and a citizen’s responsibility to the larger community.”

I was assigned to keep a burrow clean,” Eve continued, “if we hadn’t been struggling to find food I would have never left. There never would have been a need, it would never have entered my mind to have gone. I was given a quick briefing on hunting and assigned to a group. I guess the idea was that the more bodies they had out there, the more food that would be brought back.”

The conversation drifted to small talk; the weather, favourite foods. They enjoyed the fresh air, they allowed themselves to be distracted by melting snow and the sound of spring approaching. Panther returned at dusk and they enjoyed a meal together before drifting off to sleep at the base of a tree.

They were still at least a day away from their destination when they stopped to have a relaxed meal together. Prey had become more scarce as they had approached the area where the Colony was located. Panther wandered away less often and for shorter periods of time as they approached their destination.

Did you see any sign of the dogs?” Sylvester asked. Panther had been vague about his disappearances but Sylvester had given a lot of thought to it and it was the only thing that made sense, especially when you considered Panther’s obsession with the silent canines.

No,” Panther answered, “but I didn’t get too close to their territory. I was trying to determine if they had expanded their hunting zone.”

Have they?” Sylvester asked.

It’s hard to say,” Panther replied.

They rested at the foot of a tree, nestled between a pair of roots that broke through the ground’s surface. The ground was damp, the temperature was warm enough to melt the snow and warm the cats’ bodies. Panther sat with his back to the base of the tree, his eyes and ears alert for any sign of visitors. Eve lay on top of one of the roots, her front paws folded and used as a pillow under her head, her eyes were partially closed. Sylvester lay up against the other root, his head raised so he could watched Panther as they talked.

What do you think is wrong with those dogs?” Eve asked. “I mean, their silence was eerie, unnatural.”

I can only guess,” Panther began. “I’ve devoted a lot of thought to it. We can assume a large level of arrogance, a predator only fails to mask its scent if it believes that none of its prey could flee from it. It suggests some truth to the belief that dogs turned on each other, if they are still warring among themselves their primary food might be each other and their might not be any need for cleanliness.”

I guess that makes a bit of sense,” Eve admitted. “A frightening, morbid bit of sense.”

Now, if you believe the myth,” Panther continued, “these dogs are the descendants of the dogs that went insane. This behaviour could be nothing more than learned behaviour, passed down through generations but the root has no real world reason for it other than the originator survived and bred. The silent approach, and even the smell, could have increased the chance of survival. Masking their presence in a war zone could have helped their pack avoid notice and prolonged their lifespans. Or it could be any number of things that just haven’t occurred to me… yet. We just don’t have enough information available.”

We were always taught the dogs’ fall was an absolute,” Eve mentioned, “not a myth.”

We have no honest way to know,” Panther explained. “There is no one alive today who could have witnessed the events. The story has been passed down through countless generations changing a tiny bit with each retelling. At this point it’s really less fact and more colourful storytelling. Making it more of a myth than a history.”

So you don’t believe it happened?” pushed Eve.

We know something happened,” Panther answered. “Dog behaviour changed significantly. They seemed more interested in destroying each other than hunting, than even survival. The desire to cannibalize your own kind seems like it’s insanity, especially when it happens essentially overnight. This obsession seems to have been so strong that they have never expanded their territory preferring to fight over the ruins of the human zone. And that’s not even considering how we cats responded to the disappearance of man.”

Such as?” Eve asked.

As a species we still use human names for ourselves,” Panther explained. “Despite no cats alive today having ever seen a human, let alone resided with one, we still use their naming. Whether we’re part of the Colony or a solitary cat, we still insist on human names.”

The Colony is a prime example of another human influenced behaviour,” Panther continued. “Feral cats are solitary creatures, they band together almost exclusively for breeding and child rearing. Once the kittens are old enough they are left on their own. They’ll fight over territory and the survivors will get to breed and start the cycle over again. The natural state of the cat is that of the solitary hunter. Places like the Colony still cling to the lifestyle forced on our ancestors by humans; multiple cats kept together in a confined space.”

There’s security in the larger numbers, though,” Eve argued. Her head was up, alert now, and her eyes were open and focused on Panther. “You can divide duties up among the population and put the best people in the best positions. You get added safety, better productivity, and people can focus on improving a select group of skills rather than having to be able to do everything.”

Specialization isn’t always a strength,” Panther countered. “You have suffered losses among your hunters and are feeling the result. Cats are going hungry as you train new hunters to replace your losses. They’ll be an adjustment everywhere as the population is shuffled around to new jobs and you wait on the young to be trained in their fields.”

If an enemy was to get into a burrow it would be a slaughter,” Panther warned. “The confined spaces make it more difficult to flee and the bulk of your people haven’t been taught to defend themselves.”

That’s not an issue with our type of cat,” Panther said. We wild cats have to know how to fight, we have to know how to hunt, we have to be able to do everything. We become good or we die. That’s the natural way of the cat.”

Guys,” Sylvester interrupted, “we are not alone.” While his companions had been talking he had taken it upon himself to stand watch. He hadn’t moved from his resting spot he had instead relied primarily on his hearing, sense of smell, and, to a lesser degree, his eyesight.

He had heard their approach first. Multiple footsteps suggested about three animals that he estimated were about his size. The footsteps were slow, cautious. They must have heard the talking and were now attempting to sneak up on Sylvester and his friends. The strangers had gotten fairly close as Sylvester could smell the faint scent of cat. They would be from the Colony as they had a familiar scent to Eve.

I hear them,” Panther acknowledged. “I can smell them too.”

It could be a hunting party,” Eve suggested, “or a security patrol.”

Only one way to find out.” Panther sat up straighter and raised his voice, “You might as well come on out. We mean you no harm.”

Eve dropped down to the ground and sat beside Panther. It seemed like a good idea to provide a united front to Sylvester’s mind, so he quietly joined his companions. They didn’t have to wait long before three cats moved out of what little cover existed.

All three of the newcomers were smaller than Panther or Sylvester but just a bit larger than Eve. They were all skinnier than Eve had been when she had first appeared at the clearing. Two of the cats were nervous looking, the third seemed wary but had an air of confidence about him.

Why are you out here?” the third cat demanded. He was a silver haired cat whose body was broken up by dark grey stripes. He had yellow eyes that gave the impression of a cold, hard individual. His voice was a deep, threatening growl. “Which burrow are you from?”

North third, sir,” Eve stepped forward to answer. “I was sent out as part of a hunting party a few months ago, sir.”

You’ve been gone for awhile,” the silver tabby noted. “You seem well fed. How come there is no food for the rest of the Colony? The three of you could have brought a nice bounty back and filled some empty bellies. It was selfish of you to gorge while the rest went without.” His tone had become accusatory.

I didn’t…,” Eve stammered out.

Hey,” Sylvester pushed his way into the conversation. He didn’t like the silver cat’s approach. There was an arrogance to him, he was a bully and Sylvester wasn’t willing to accept any of that. He moved his body between Eve and the silver cat. “We are not one of yours.”

Immediately the other two cats took a couple of quick steps backward. Sylvester tried hard not to smile at that. The silver didn’t budge, he stood his ground and locked his cold eyes onto Sylvester’s. There was some credit to be given to this cat, Sylvester thought, he was significantly larger than the newcomer.

Sylvester… don’t,” Eve whispered. Sylvester glanced quickly at her, there was a nervousness projected from her.

Who are you?” the silver cat snarled in a dangerous manner.

Sylvester was a bit surprised by the change in tone in the other’s voice. Bravery was expected but the aggression was a shock. The size difference should have been enough to deflate the situation, it didn’t seem to phase the stranger.

Who are you?” the silver cat repeated, each word drawn out almost as a separate sentence. He narrowed his eyes and pushed his nose closer to Sylvester. He had dropped his tail and the fur along his back had risen up.

Sylvester,” Panther’s voice was soft, gentle, a stark contrast to the silver cat’s tone. “Take a few steps back. We are not hear to fight.”

Sylvester felt Panther brush lightly against him. He didn’t want to back down, it felt wrong. He was sure he could beat the silver in a fight. Even if he lost it would be better than backing down from a bully. He hesitated, he trusted Panther and Panther wanted him to step back. Reluctantly he took the requested steps back, his eyes never left the silver cat.

You can talk to me now,” Panther addressed the stranger. He had moved forward and placed himself in front of both Sylvester and Eve.

Fine,” the silver agreed, his voice still held its edge. “Who are you?”

My name is Panther. My companion is Sylvester,” he indicated Sylvester with a quick point of the chin. He nodded toward Eve, “this is Eve. She’s one of yours. We were escorting her home after nursing her injuries and restoring her to health. She has some news concerning your safety she’d like to relay.”

The silver’s eyes widened at that. He watched Panther carefully, he seemed to be considering what he had heard.

So… do you allow us to get her home,” Panther’s voice turned icy, “or do we see how many of you are left alive after we remove you from our path?”

Panther didn’t make a move, just said his piece and waited. Sylvester smiled as the silver cat took a half step backward, his certainty bruised. The other two strangers turned and bolted leaving their leader behind.

What’s the danger?” the silver asked with a softer tone to his voice.

Dogs, sir,” Eve answered quietly, “they killed the rest of my hunting party.”

Okay,” the silver responded. “I’ll take you.”

Previous Episodes

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

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