The peach-colored sunset sent fading rays of light through the leafy canopy. The forest was dim and quiet. Damp moss hung from tree branches, giving the woods a claustrophobic feel.
Darting in and out of evening shadows and dappled patches of light, a stray tabby cat searched for dinner. The young gray cat, camouflaged by thin black stripes, crept toward an unsuspecting grackle. Sinking to a crouch, she paused... then pounced! The grackle turned at the last moment and escaped into the trees, leaving the emaciated tabby pawing at thin air. Even if she had caught the bird, she wouldn't have been able to kill it easily: she was declawed. Her owners had abandoned her when she was just a kitten and she had had to fend for herself ever since.
The sun had now fully set, immersing the woods in moonlit darkness. The crescent moon hanging over the trees gave off a faint pale glow. To the tabby's sharp eyes, though, the world was still quite visible. She continued to hunt, wandering through the silent trees. Every once in a while the hoot of an owl would send her scurrying for cover.
Suddenly, an enormous clap of thunder set the tabby's fur on end. She had been too busy hunting to notice the storm that now obscured the moon. The little tabby hurried on. After a few minutes fruitlessly searching for prey as rain started to slip from the clouds, the tabby knew she had to find cover. Soon rain was pouring down, drenching her from eartips to tail. The rain-lashed woods offered little protection from the downpour. Presently, she spied a hole beneath some tree roots. Crawling inside, the tabby settled down for a night's rest – until she smelled a fox.
Her nose twitching, the tabby raised her head, all senses alert. Out of the darkness came the fox, looming over the sodden cat. The tabby jumped up and dashed off with the fox on her heels. In vain, she ran around tree trunks and through ditches trying to shake off her pursuer. The rain blew into her face, blinding her as she scrabbled over a large rock. She raced hither and thither, not caring which way she went. Despite the rain and wind, she could still smell the fox behind her – and he was gaining!
Unable to keep the rain out of her eyes, the tabby tripped over a tree root and tumbled down a small slope. She crashed into an old hollow log, which by the smell was slightly rotten. The tabby scrambled in just as the fox came bounding down the slope. The fox skidded to a halt beside the log, sniffed the air, and started clawing at the wood. The tabby cowered in fear inside her shelter. Outside, the fox continued with his work, ripping apart the decayed timbers. Shoving aside the last fragments, the fox forced his head into the log.
The tabby hissed as the fox's head appeared. She swiped uselessly at the predator. Knowing the log wasn't safe, she hissed once more, then plunged into the rainy night. The fox rushed after her, his longer legs giving him an advantage on the uneven ground. The tabby sprinted on, ducking under an overhanging branch. Above the treetops, lightning rent the night sky and thunder crashed. The tabby zigzagged through the woods, trying to keep to the foliage. Her saturated coat slowed her down, but fear kept her running.
Then, with a blinding flash, lightning struck a tree not far from the tabby. She felt a small jolt as the electricity passed through the ground. Forcing herself to keep moving, the tabby ran forward to the smoking tree; there it was, riven in half by the lightning. Gathering the last of her strength, the tabby sprang into the small space between the the two halves of the tree. There she collapsed, breathless, exhausted, and unable to continue.
Her ravenous pursuer emerged from the bushes, panting heavily. He looked up and saw the tabby lying still in the tree. He crouched down, ready to attack. But he never got that far. The sound of pounding feet startled him. A flashlight's glare accompanied by a shout sent him running for cover.
The tabby heard one thing before she slipped from consciousness. It was a human voice yelling in a worried tone, “Dad, get over here! We have to help this poor thing!”
Oblivious to her timely rescue, the tabby's eyes fluttered open. She was lying on a soft bed with a fire crackling in the grate before her. Raising her head slowly, the tabby took in her surroundings. She was in the living room of a house, sitting on a comfortable cat bed. To either side of her was a red sofa, the one with two grown-up humans and the other with a boy about the age of ten.
The boy had short brown hair and was wearing jeans and a green T-shirt. When he saw that the tabby was awake, he got off the sofa and knelt near the cat bed. He held out his hand, close to the tabby's face. She hesitated for a moment, then sniffed his hand and licked it. The boy smiled and ran his hand over her head and down her back repeatedly. The tabby purred contentedly, pushing her head into the boy's hand to be petted more.
The boy glanced up at his parents. “Can we keep her? Please?”
His mom smiled. “Of course we can,” she answered.
“Yes!” exclaimed the boy, grinning down at the tabby.
She smiled back at him (as much as a cat can) while he held out a small cat treat. Gobbling it up hungrily, she looked around again at the cozy room, up at the boy and his parents, and she finally knew where she belonged.
© Colin Cannici, Home School Lakewood, Colorado