"Hello, Kathy." A familiar scent—a touch of lotus. They had begun to grow, but never thrived long; that was why they were so valued. In little spots of water, where the heat was enough during the summer, they grew, and the scent always lingered in a pelt of snow. She could breathe it in in the moisture.
The smell of milk, the smell of kits huddled together, a puddle of warm fur; purrs and stripes of white. Was there anything more than family and tiger? Was there anything more important, was there anything else that existed? It was warm. It was soft. Delicious fur and life. Fuzzy and vivid and beautiful.
The vibrant colors emerged, revealing themselves to her as she mewed, blindly, and again, the call—"Kathy." Lotus scent; she was home. The today was the tomorrow, and the yesterday existed not. With a muffled squeal, she flew into the field of flowers, and she was there with milky mother and the pride of father.
And a smaller mew—her blind sister, still pink from the womb. Was there anything more than this?—nothing else mattered...
And then the cracks of the world appeared.
"MOTHER!" she wailed, awakening—her claws caught the dirt and turned over clots that splashed into the pool. Blinking away tears of irritation, Kathy looked about her, quickly recollecting the events of the day before. The air was fresh, the water loud. She sat down quickly, overwhelmed as her troubles returned anew, just as she had flown from the safety of sleep—now, she was vulnerable.
Tilting her head back, she tore her claws into the ground listening for the sound of her heart breaking—there was none. Surprising—its layers were peeling and falling over like diced onions; Kathy would have half-expected it if she was told that she had internal bleeding; the pain was there. She closed her eyes briefly, granting it the luxury of darkness before looking fully at the sun; it hurt, it stung, but it was nothing like the way her chest was crushing beneath the weight of memory. And it was her own fault, she thought.
The scent of weasel floated to her nostrils, and she looked in the direction of the hole; Pickle had emerged, blinking at the sky. "Kathy Apple Tigerwhite," he said, ponderingly. He seemed to be tasting the name, seasoning it with his accent. And he seemed to be swallowing it with fervor. When she didn't reply, he added, "I've dug out a room for you. You'll..." He paused, and she waited. It was as if he was about to divulge a great secret, one he certainly should not be telling a tiger. But he did continue, gesturing at the waterfall itself. "You will be able to enter your room through a cave behind the waterfall." He hesitated visibly, green eyes flicking one way to the other. Then, beckoning with his tail, he bounded to the edge of the pool, the spray of Boom Falls reaching him there.
Kathy crept forward, hesitantly—the rush of water made her uncomfortable now, in broad daylight—and scattered a bunch of pebbles in her anxiety. She never let her eyes leave Pickle, who was poised on his hind legs, the mist blowing his fur back; his eyes were closed. Then, when Kathy was just close enough so that she could taste every hair of his wet pelt, he opened his eyes and plunged into the ripples, his body arching with the grace of a body such as his. Kathy's eyes followed him, as he darted through the clear waters, just stopping short of the bouncing foam.
Of course, she followed.
The water was cold, once more—it threaded through her fur, and she could feel every last trace of sleep disappearing. Blinking against the fluid, she galloped after Pickle, whose dark shape flickered at the side of an opaque column—the falls themselves. She caught up with him, catching those patient green eyes, and he swam ahead—around the falls. The cascade was thinner underwater, and its roar was dull—
She gave a squeal as she bonked her head against stone, finding that she had gone behind the waterfall; she surfaced, gulping in air. Pickle was waiting, having already shaken himself. The stone behind the falls, surprisingly, formed a shelf—a cave. And behind another shaft of rock, which Pickle led her to, there was the entrance to a smaller one.
The rumble of the water was louder than ever, echoing on the stone. Kathy sniffed the air, and it was clean; she would have to get used to the noise, if she was to stay.
Who said you could stay here? she retorted sharply—a weak thought, because she followed the weasel anyway. There was no stopping.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that she was very lonely—small and late, the thought came, and she stopped just outside the opening; she had thought this in the woods, outside, before Pickle found her, but here...it was different? Was she making a new home here? Here? Pickle was the only other living creature here, and he had received her with more warmth than was expected of a Shadow Woods animal; and yet... She swallowed a little; she could imagine showing her family this place, how Goldie and Frost could bark at the waterfall, how Yaroo would duck his head with a wail, waiting for it to ignite again.
She had heard that humans could cry. It was when their tears flowed—saltwater emerged from their eyes, and they were overcome with emotion. Kathy had grown up hearing about it; she, as a tiger, did not cry of emotion, but only when her eyes were irritated. And yet, she thought that she would cry, in this instant—she missed them, her family. Not just with guilt, but with loneliness, that they were supposed to be here; the irony was that she was here, only because they had conflicted.
(An exception was Crystal Foxred. For as long as Kathy had known her, Crystal had been prone to crying of emotion. It had become almost an endearing habit; if only if it was not a show of pain.)
"Kathy?" Pickle was sniffing the air, concerned. Did he expect her to strike, or collapse in grief?
She shook her head. "It's nothing." With something like a smile, she padded forward. "...Shall we?"
Pickle nodded, going ahead. Kathy blinked and crept after him; it was a small tunnel just big enough for her—dark, but her vision was fine—of a shade between gray and tan. It smelled a little of fish, and more of fur; fur stripped from the backs of countless animals. Cold fur, the kind that made her flinch.
And then she felt it; dead pelts between her claws, on her pads. They carpeted the floor, and she saw that they had walked right into a den, lined with the furs of prey. Pickle's prey.
In the din, Pickle's ears curled, and his eyes burst forth more than ever. "I had to take pelts from my own den," he said softly, as though embarrassed. "I had kept some stacked up in a corner, just in case, but not enough to line a whole den. I will go hunting for some more," he added.
"Oh..." Guilt swept into Kathy, and she blinked, pelt hot. She did not like the idea of sleeping on dead skin, but nevertheless, this was a luxury given to her at Pickle's expense. "I'm sorry..."
"It is fine."
An awkward silence hung between them. Kathy blinked, painfully aware of the fact; however, when she parted her jaws to speak, Pickle beat her to it—"You may stay...as long as you like.
"You can come and go as you please..." He hesitated, and Kathy nodded, wondering how to reply. Then he nodded back and added, "If you're interested, I might have a hare ready when the sun is at its acme."
Kathy tilted her head, understanding, but still puzzled. "You mean noon?—twelve o'clock?"
Pickle's reaction mirrored hers, and his green eyes glinted. "Yes, noon. ...Twelve"—here, he seemed to struggle with the word, sampling its movement—"o'clock..."
They don't call it twelve o'clock here, Kathy mused. It was interesting, she thought, that here, the animals had no sense of numbered time. In fact...did they even have numbers?—maths?—a sense of symbol logic? But before she could fully have the sound of the question leave her lips, Pickle vanished into the tunnel—upon which Kathy realized that the den was more than large enough to house her—back into the roar of BoomFalls. Here, it was a murmur of distant giants—Kathy sniffed about, glad that the sound was muffled, or else she would go mad with irritation.
She was alone here, she added to herself. And to emphasize this, she poked the edge of a pelt with her nose—a vole's pelt, by its scent. With a sickening twist of the stomach, she thought of her physics teacher at the school, a vole herself. The shade of the pelts were similar as well, and she looked away. She was in Shadow Woods now. Pool's Leaf was lagging behind, and she feared that she could not return for it.
With a sigh, she walked towards an unpadded corner, presumably because Pickle had run out of pelts. Claws bit into her stomach as she thought of how much she had depleted the warmth of his home, and then she thought of Cloe, whose eyes had flared as she recounted the loss of a mere pencil—the small, final step to a long, long line.
There existed an urge to scream, but instead she curled up, paws just over the pelts, and dreamed.
There are many things to regret, one would think, in the voyage of life. Dreams only blur the lines of reality, extending and shortening the time one can breathe until they stop.
Surprisingly, the objects of regret existed in happiness instead of sadness. Kathy hardly knew whether or not she was dreaming, or merely having a flashback, but everything was clear; as if she had slipped back in turn, rewound the clock, and was romping—hungry, tired, but always managing.
And she knew this day. She knew this day. She was at the dogwood, by the lake, and the trickle of water adjacent. There were clouds scudding across a pale sky, thick with gray. The rain over the week had finally let up, and the sun dared to show its face, peeking downwards. Kathy was sitting at the trunk of the dogwood, with Patrick and Berry and the Foxreds. Crescent was there as well, pecking despondently at the bark. The others' spirits were rising with the mild weather, but she had just arrived. And Kathy, remembering while remembering, pictured her entrance—when she had first met Crescent.
On another day, she had been dividing a dead rabbit found in the woods. Crystal cried that it was a poor substitute for milk, and Krissy shook her head, telling her that she would come to love meat even more. Cloe was curled about her sisters, catching the younger's tears in her fur, where they glistened in tiny droplets. Berry was looking eagerly at the meat, while still trying to comfort Crystal with licks. Her eyes were sparkling like gems, like her stripes, which had become more vivid in the last year. Unbeknownst to her, Kathy had in fact been sneaking small portions of her own meals into her sister's shares, reasoning that her mother would have liked that. It was worth hunger and dissatisfaction.
Patrick was the lucky one. As a fruit bat, he could easily pluck his meals from nearby trees and bushes—wild strawberries, cherries, and sour green apples. He shared, of course, but the Tigerwhites and Foxreds were born to feast on flesh. Meat was stronger, and the blood ran in delightful streams. Still, that did not stop them from having to store more fruit than meat for the winter, when Kathy and Berry went out for any hidden or discarded prey at the edges of the Shadow Woods, their white fur blending well with the snow; sometimes—so rarely that Kathy could count the times with one paw—they would kill a thin animal, also starving in the winter; the last time it was a lost squirrel. Krissy and Cloe would huddle back under the tree, with a small hollow or two burrowed out, providing the warmth for Patrick and Crystal. Their time for hunting came with the thaw.
It was after the thaw that Crescent flew in—a pretty blue-green bird, one of the strange breeds that had worked themselves into the Pool's Leaf society. Kathy had looked up from the rabbit, as did her companions, when the strange, abyssal cries sounded through the woods. They were sharp screeches, like birds in agony. And she and the others felt their hearts leaping into their throats when the cries came closer, with the papery sound of wings as something crashed through the forest.
Crystal whimpered, Berry stared as if petrified, and their sisters hissed, fur rising until the hairs were fully erect. The papery beat of wings became sharper, and Cloe's lips drew back in a snarl: In that moment, she resolved to die fighting for the lives of her sisters, and her newfound friends, because they were the only family she had now. She remembered the blood that spewed from her parents, as their murderer set his hound on them; the latter's jaws had closed about her father's throat, and her mother was shot through the eye, abruptly cutting off her cries for her kits to go. This would all be relayed to Frost later, when she came and befriended the foxes.
And when Cloe finished that thought, trembling with apprehension, Crescent's screeches grew to a fevered pitch, and she burst in, screaming about bones and feathers and the forsaking moon. Drawn by the scent of blood—later, she would confess that she had been thinking of revenge—she entered.
She was wild with fear, and—surprisingly!—Patrick was the one who flew down to her, circling her and trapping her with his looming wings. Before the foxes or the tigers could pounce, Patrick had her in his claws, grappling with her crazed strength.
"LET GO!" she had wailed. "LET GO!
"BLOOD. DEATH. MA—"
Patrick let her go, and she collapsed, wings still. Her eyes were clouded with grief.
It was the first time that food was eaten silently under the dogwood.
Hardly a moon later, Crescent settled down with them. It was a silent, respectful companionship that only gradually bloomed into intimacy.
Kathy remembered, of course, even in a stupor, even in the den of a weasel. That day.
The rest of the memory played itself before her—how the day had passed. The day an owl flew by. It was a small occurrence, but a rare one. It had looked down as it flew over—in the day, no less—hooting; the bird's eyes widened at the sight of the dogwood dwellers, and Crescent stretched her neck towards him in a sudden movement. That was the day that she raised her head and spoke, and Kathy looked at her in puzzlement and commented, slowly, that she seemed alarmed. And Crescent's reply was a sharp, "Isn't that obvious?"
Her face slackened with the remark, even as the owl passed. Her feathers ruffled, then settled. She looked at Kathy in a curious way, and Cloe commented, "You look cute."
"Cute?" Crescent seemed just as baffled; she had spoken, and her voice had gone so long without being used. But now...
Kathy awoke suddenly to the hum of water. She looked around, tears streaming down her face, dripping from her whiskers. A dream. It was all a dream.
A memory replayed.
The first day that
No..., she moaned, grasping at the memory, but it was too late—she was in a den lined with fur, and she was already awake.
:1 PM): JUST...OH GOD XDDDD
demi1312 (11:34:14 PM): xD
ItsCatGramGram (11:34:14 PM): Or America.
demi1312 (11:34:17 PM): XDDDDDDD
demi1312 (11:34:34 PM): America sounded dead serious during the American Revolution, though :O
ItsCatGramGram (11:34:41 PM): I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN..even though this one speaks Japanese.
demi1312 (11:34:58 PM): xDDDDD
ItsCatGramGram (11:35:08 PM): Yeahhh.
demi1312 (11:35:08 PM): Speaks Japanese better than English.
demi1312 (11:35:18 PM): Did you hear the Engrish is the trailer? XD
demi1312 (11:35:22 PM): in*
ItsCatGramGram (11:35:32 PM): Duh. It's like Soulja Boy speaking DURRRR RETARD better than English.
ItsCatGramGram (11:35:34 PM): OH AND WHAT.
demi1312 (11:35:39 PM): XDDDDDDDDD
ItsCatGramGram (11:35:43 PM): Writing?
demi1312 (11:35:54 PM): YES~
ItsCatGramGram (11:36:04 PM): He has his own language.
demi1312 (11:36:12 PM): xDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD
ItsCatGramGram (11:36:21 PM): Though sadly. I am learning it.
demi1312 (11:36:28 PM): xD Crap.
ItsCatGramGram (11:36:44 PM): Actually. I just stutter a lot.
demi1312 (11:36:53 PM): And me...?
ItsCatGramGram (11:36:57 PM): He's just..well...a DURRR RETARD.
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:00 PM): You are Demi.
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:25 PM): Please don't kill me, Soulja Boy fans. If there are any.
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:30 PM): OHHHH BURNEDDDDDD.
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:42 PM): And WHAT.
demi1312 (11:37:43 PM): xDDDDD
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:50 PM): Writing?
ItsCatGramGram (11:37:52 PM): xD
demi1312 (11:38:06 PM): Yes~~~