And speaking of who's the trainer and who's the trainee, Dusty, my beloved but irritating old pal, has me trained to get up about three or four times a night to feed him. He's deaf so he doesn't hear how loud his meowls and caws are when he gets right next to my ear and lets go. And he won't be ignored. If I try to pretend I didn't hear him, he drools on my head. That's when I get up. It's a response that's now ingrained into my training.
Chapter 11 - Fara the Feral Cat
Fara was a small black and white cat who lived now in the desert east of the city, had lived there for over two years. But she didn’t live well. Life in this arid land was harsh. Days were hot and dry and she often had to travel long distances to find water. What food she had was mainly beetles and small rodents. Occasionally she would find carrion of some unfortunate beast or bird that had died or been killed. But she had to be fast and she had to be willing to drive away circling crows and turkey buzzards. Life was difficult for her.
When she was born, she had five brothers and two sisters, and a mother who fed and cared for them. But when she and her siblings were still only kittens, a human put them in a box and then into a car and took them all into the desert and left them. Left them in the box. Left them there to die.
After crying and struggling for what seemed like hours, the eight of them managed to tip the box over and all eight scampered in eight different directions.
That was over two years ago. In that two years she never again saw any of her brothers or sisters, and she often wondered what had happened to them. She feared that some or all of them had died. She feared nearly as much that all of them had lived and now had a life as miserable and harsh as hers. There were so many creatures to be wary of, so little time to do anything but sleep and search for food and water. And be on a constant lookout for creatures that would have her for dinner—coyotes and hawks and owls and snakes. Often she would awaken in the night, shaking and shivering from a dream of just such an encounter. No, not a dream, a nightmare.
On this morning she was on her way to her watering place, not far from where she slept at night. She lived for the most part in a tiny cavern she had found among some boulders near a dry streambed. Nearby, where other rocks had gathered, she had a place deep beneath the surface that collected and held water from the occasional rain shower or whenever the stream was partly filled with water. But that wasn’t often in this arid land.
She went down the slope to the dry streambed and walked quickly, not wanting to slink for she was too proud to slink like a scaredy cat. But she was careful to cast her eyes right and left and up above to make sure nothing was about to jump on her or swoop down on her. She had been on this same route often during her two years of desert living, and she knew every nook and cranny, every rock and bush and tree. She didn’t, however, notice a small snarl of chicken wire that had washed down the stream some time earlier and then was made nearly invisible by mud and debris. She stepped into the hidden wire and her front foot became caught. Try as hard as she could, she couldn’t free the foot. She snarled in frustration. Then she heard it—the sound of seeds in a dried gourd, a sound she knew and dreaded, the sound of a rattlesnake’s warning. Then she saw it—the reddish brown serpent slithering toward her along the streambed.
“Ahhhh, I sssee you’re having a little trouble, my ssssweet one,” he hissed. “Is there anything I can do to help. I would ssssso like to help you.”
His name was Cecil and he was a red diamondback who lived in the desert near Fara’s hidden grotto. He was larger than any of his fellow snakes in this area, nearly six feet long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He had often seen Fara on her trips up and down the stream and he had always thought she would be a tasty treasure for a hungry diamondback. But he was never able to get close enough to her. She would spot him and her tail would swell to three times its normal size. It would point straight up like a flag and she would match him hiss for hiss before running off into the sage. He had just about given up on her. Now she was there, all tangled up and waiting for his kiss.
He moved slowly forward, back and forth in his sinewy serpentine way. Fara twisted and turned and couldn’t free herself. Closer and closer he came. More and more she struggled. “Ss
settle down, my sweet. Sssettle down. This won’t hurt a bit. Just a little kissss on your neck and you won’t feel a thing.”
Cecil was just about to strike when he heard shouting from behind him. He turned and was greeted with the sight of a small rabbit bounding down the bank of the stream, shouting and waving a stick over his head. Behind him, moving much more slowly, came a small lizard.
“Stop! Stop!” Rollie shouted. “I know what you’re up to and I won’t let you do it!”
Cecil turned and coiled, raising his tail above him and rattling it back and forth angrily. “And jusssst how do you plan to ssstop me, Mr. Tiny Rabbit? Do you plan to throw that sssmall ugly lizard at me? I would eat him for a sssnack.”
Rollie slowed and came to a stop just outside the range of the snake’s striking distance. Fred came to a stop well outside the range of the snake’s striking distance. In fact, he stopped well behind his friend Rollie, keeping Rollie between him and the rattling menace.
Fara meowled and hissed in frustration, but she welcomed the sight of her possible saviors. But how, she thought, could a small rabbit and a tiny lizard ever save her from a snake the size of Cecil?
“Be very careful, Mr. Rabbit. This snake is not at all a nice person. I’ll be grateful if you can save me from him somehow, but if you have to flee to save yourselves, I’ll understand.” Fara meowed so brokenheartedly that Rollie knew he couldn’t leave her there.
“We won’t leave you and we won’t be afraid of a big old ssssssisssy like Mr. Snake.” With that, he advanced on the snake in his best fencing form, the walking stick out in front and twirling. Cecil coiled himself even tighter, preparing to strike at this absurd little rabbit. Rollie continued toward him. Cecil struck.
And Rollie’s walking stick slapped him in the head, knocking him to the side.
“SSSSSSS!” Cecil hissed and coiled himself again. And again he struck. And again the walking stick struck him, this time making him dizzy as he fell to the other side. “SSSSSSSSSSSSS! What are you doing, you twerp! Put down that stick and fight me like a snake!”
“And why should I lower myself to your lowly standards, Mr. Ssssnake!” Rollie shouted, coming at Cecil again, the tip of his stick twirling in front of him.
Cecil thought better of coiling himself and getting struck as he had the first two times. Instead, he hissed over his shoulder and sneaked away as fast as his body would take him. “I won’t forget thisssss! And you’d better watch your backssss from now on!” And then he was gone, only his serpentine tracks left behind.
“Here, Miss Kitty, let me help you,” Rollie said as he came up to see exactly how Fara was trapped.
“Oh, thank you, kind rabbit. I was sure I was about to be that snake’s dinner tonight.” She showed him how her foot was caught and between them, his pulling apart the wire and her twisting her foot, they managed to free it. She jumped off the wire and tested her foot to see if it still worked the way it should. It did.
“My name is Fara, and what may I call you, Sir Rabbit?”
Fred, when he saw the snake vanish, had followed Rollie to Fara’s side. He was a bit suspicious of any animal that had the look of a lizard liker. Lizard eater, that is. But this cat seemed to be so grateful for her rescue, he wasn’t too afraid. He stayed, however, carefully behind Rollie.
“I’m called Rollie and this is my friend Fred. And these two”—Buzz and Millie had flown down to join them—“are Buzz and Millie. We were just beginning our quest into the great unknown when we saw you and Mr. Snake engaged in what could have been a tragic incident for you. Are you all right? You look as though you may not have eaten very well lately. Not that you’re skinny, but I have seen fatter cats in my day.”
Fara told them her sad story of abandonment as a small kitten, of her two-year exile in the desert, of her difficulty in finding food and water, of the many dangers she’d had to face. The four travelers all expressed their dismay over her tale.
“But surely, there must be somewhere out there where life for you would be better,” Rollie exclaimed. “How far have you traveled? Have you gone over the next hill to see what was there? That’s what we’re doing, going over the next hill and the next until we find that land of plenty.”
“I’ve been too busy trying to stay alive to do much traveling or sightseeing,” Fara assured them. “But if you’re going on and wouldn’t mind my joining you, I think I might like to see what’s over that hill. Or the next.”
The four travelers gathered outside Fara’s hearing and discussed the idea. Then they came to an agreement. “I can’t see why you shouldn’t join us. After all, five heads are better than four, and you can be our forward ground scout to warn us of any dangers on the trail ahead. How does that sound to you?”
Fara thought it sounded just fine.
And now there were five of them.