Chapter 14 – The Storm
Black Jack stayed with them the next day, saying he had nothing better to do than accompany them on their journey, at least for a few days. “Would you like to learn a few of my tricks, Rollie? It would honor me to serve as your instructor, just as Mr. Arigato did for me.”
Rollie agreed, and as they made their slow way up the streambed, always looking for that something better, each morning Black Jack would instruct Rollie in the ways of spins and dips and twirls. Rollie caught on quickly, for he was an exceptional rabbit. He could feel his legs grow stronger and stronger. Fred and Buzz and Millie and Fara would sit and watch the gyrations patiently.
Finally, one morning several weeks after Black Jack had joined them, he said to Rollie, “I think you now have all I can teach you. It’s time for me to head back. I’ve enjoyed your company and I will miss all of you. Goodbye, Rollie. Goodbye, Miss Fara and Miss Millie. Goodbye, Fred and Buzz. I couldn’t have asked to find better friends than you have been. And good luck on your quest. I hope you really do find that better place you talk about, Rollie. It must be out there somewhere.”
And then he left them, stopping for a moment on top of the slope leading up from the stream. He was a black silhouette against the sky. He waved to them and they waved back. And then he was gone in a bound and a leap, with an “Aheeee Yah!”
“I’m going to miss Black Jack,” Millie said as she fluttered overhead. “Yeah, me too,” said Buzz.
“Yeah, me three,” said Fred as he scuttled along beside Rollie. “Hey, Rollie, when do you think you’ll decide to turn around and go back? This stuff out here looks just the same except for maybe more loose garbage blowing around. I don’t think we’re going to find anything different up ahead.”
Rollie sighed and didn’t say anything. He silently agreed, though. This wasn’t what he’d expected when they began their journey. Maybe one more day and if they didn’t find anything better, they’d turn around and go back. Defeated.
The sky in late afternoon began to churn with high clouds, big black thunderclouds that kept creeping toward them from the north. And then the clouds caught them. Lightning streaked like angry trees, followed by the distant thuds of thunder. It became so dark the sun was blotted out and then the wind began to blow, first as gusts that rustled the mesquite and fanned the prairie grass. But then it became nearly constant and the prairie grass was flattened to the ground. Even the saguaros seemed to bend with the wind. The rain began as cold bullets that struck the ground, leaving large rain prints in the dry soil. Then more and more until it was a nearly solid sheet of rain that blew at them sideways. Rollie and Fred and Fara found shelter under a rocky shelf near the side of the streambed. Buzz and Millie joined them there. They sat and watched the rain pour down, the lightning flash and streak as it lit the sky, angry fingers touching down along the horizon to the north. And the thunder was now almost continuous explosions of sound, no longer distant and subdued but nearly instantly behind a lightning strike.
Rollie thought he heard his heart going “Thump-er! Thump-er! Thump-er!” No, he decided, it was more like “Ka-Thump! Ka-thump! Ka-thump!” “Thumper” was the name of that character his mother used told him about when he was little, Bambi’s rabbit friend.
They could hear it before it got to them, the sound of surging water, water rushing down the streambed from the north. They all scrambled and flew out of their shelter and went higher up the bank. And then the water went by them, a rushing, rolling, angry wave of brown water that bit and chewed at the sides of the bank below.
“Help!” A cry from somewhere.
“Help! Oh, help! I don’t think I can hang on much longer!”
In the dim light with rain streaming by, making it hard to see, Rollie could just make out the figure of a rabbit in the middle of the water’s rush, hanging on to a boulder that stuck up above the surface. The water was gushing around the creature, and its ears were down around its face. Rollie decided without really thinking about it. He ran to the water’s edge, seeing the rabbit much better now. “Hang on! Hang on! I’m coming!” he hollered. Then he ran upstream to where he decided it would give him enough room to swim out to the boulder, the water moving him along swiftly.
He leaped in and began paddling with his arms and his powerful legs, letting the stream carry him down. But he made enough headway sideways that he came speeding along directly behind the rabbit and her life-saving boulder. They came together with a wet rabbity splat. But Rollie held on to the boulder and held on to the rabbit. And there they were.
The rabbit turned to face Rollie, water streaming from her drooping ears, and said, “What a courageous thing for you to do. But now there are two of us in the middle of this ocean of water. Now, who will save the two of us?”
Although the rabbit’s fur was soaking wet and its ears were down around its face, Rollie could tell this was a girl rabbit. Mostly he knew it by the wonderful light in her eyes. She was soaking wet, but she was beautiful.
“My name is Rollie, Rollie Rabbit, and I’m still not sure what we’re going to do to save the two of us. But I’ll think of something. And what is your name, young lady?” He couldn’t help but smile at her, despite the dangerous circumstances they found themselves in.
“My name is Kitty” she said, pushing both ears up and out of her face. She noticed the look on Rollie’s face and continued, “I know, I know, that’s not really a proper name for a rabbit, but my mother told me about the time when she was a little rabbit, and an owl swooped down to carry her away. But just at the last moment, a cat came charging in at the owl and scared him away. My mother said the cat’s name was Fara. She thanked her and thanked her but the cat simply said ‘You’re welcome,’ and then went on her way. And when I was born, mother said she just had to name me Fara. But father objected so loudly that they compromised by calling me Kitty.”
Rollie was smitten. He didn’t care if her name was Kitty or Grumpagrizzledo, or even Madonna. She was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen. “You’ll be pleased to know, if we ever get out of this pickle safe and sound, that the very cat you just mentioned is over there on the side of the stream, waiting to see how we’re going to get out of here.”
He pointed to Fara and Fara waved to them. Kitty said, “Oh, how I hope I’ll get to meet her, to thank her again for saving my mother’s life.”
Rollie decided they had only two chances to save themselves—either to hang on until the water went down (but he wasn’t sure that was a very good plan since it might be hours and hours or even days and days before the water went down) or to leap back into the stream and swim as hard as they could and hope they washed up on the shore.
He told her what they had to do. Kitty shivered at the thought of going back into that dangerous current, but she trusted her new friend’s judgment. When he said Go, they went. Back into that dangerous current. Rollie felt the stream tug at them, rushing them down and down, trying its very best to take them under its wing of water. He had one arm around Kitty and with his other arm and his powerful legs he swam and swam as hard as he could toward the shore. The water kept gushing into his mouth and eyes and ears, just as it did with Kitty. But he kicked his legs and kicked his legs until finally he could feel solid ground beneath him. He looked up and there was Fara extending an arm to him. He grabbed her and somehow stumbled up the side of the stream, dragging Kitty along with him, hanging on to Fara, then to fall on his face in the mud. They had escaped from the water’s grip, muddy and wet and exhausted. But safe. Kitty crawled to his side, pushed him off his face and onto his back, and said, “Are you all right, my new friend Rollie? Are you all right? Oh, please say you’re all right!”
Rollie opened one muddy eye and then the other. He saw the concern on Kitty’s face and he felt his heart fall even harder—Ka-thump! Ka-thump! She was soaking wet and shivering and muddy and ear-droopy, but she was still beautiful in his eyes. “Yes, I seem to be all in one piece.” He wanted to say to her that he may need nose-to-nose resuscitation, but he didn’t know what that meant. The words came to him in a flash of perception. He did like the idea of nose-to-nose, though.
He looked at Fara who was crouched over them. “Fara, I’d like to introduce you to someone who has a connection to you. It seems that you’re responsible not only for helping save her here but also even before she was born. This is Kitty, and she has a story to tell you. Kitty, this is Fara.”
Kitty bowed to her savior and extended her hand. Fara took it and they held hands for a moment.
“Come, you two, come up beneath this sage bush and out of the wind and rain. You can tell me your story there, Kitty.”
By the time they got to the bush the wind had died and the rain was now only occasional splatters in the mud. The stream continued flowing, scowling at them, Rollie thought, because they had escaped its grip. Buzz and Millie and Fred were introduced to Kitty. Then Kitty told Fara her story about the time this brave cat had taken on an owl and driven him away from her mother. When she was finished, the two sat and looked at each other. Then they hugged, both with tears in their eyes. Even Fred wiped a leathery arm across his eyes and mumbled something about his allergies.
Rollie decided right then that his quest was now over. The river had convinced him. He felt bad that they were giving up, but he felt glad that he’d found at least one treasure on this trip, and the treasure was Kitty.
They would spend the night where they were and in the morning begin the long trip home. Home. The Arbor.