Cat’s Whiskers Chapter Six
Max was so exhausted by his ordeal that it took all of his strength to crawl from the river bank into the relative shelter of the bushes that grew close by.
He lay panting, while Lucky crouched beside him, watching as his ribs expanded and contracted.
‘Thought I was done for.’ He said in between breaths.
‘Not you.’ Lucky told him. He hoped the big, old dog wouldn’t realise he was lying. It had been a close thing. Max had been very lucky to get out of the water in time.
While they were sheltered from the worst of the storm by the thick bushes the rain was still heavy, big drops of water landing on the leaves, weighted them down, sending a steady drip of cold water onto the two animals. The trunks and branches of the bushes took most of the wind, but still it blow, ruffling Max and Lucky’s fur.
‘So cold,’ Max whimpered, curling into a ball in an attempt to keep the worst of the wind off himself.
Lucky moved closer to Max, so he took the worst of the wind, but his body was not big enough to give much shelter. As he pressed against Max he could feel the dog shivering.
‘We need to move, Max.’ Lucky spoke into Max’s ear. He could feel the wind whip his words away. ‘We must find a better place to shelter.’
Max opened one eye and slowly raised his head out of the fur of his tail. ‘Let me sleep. We can move in a while.’ He buried his head again into his tail.
‘No.’ Lucky said, getting to his feet. The wind ruffled his fur backwards which he hated. Lucky bent his ears back against the wind. ‘We need to go now.’ He was worried about Max, the big dog was old and he had suffered a terrible ordeal in the water. Now they needed to find warmth and shelter. They also needed something to eat.
‘Just a few more minutes,’ Max said sleepily. Opening one eye again.
‘Come on. Move.’ Lucky unsheathed his claws, prepared to use them to get Max to move if he had to.
Max forced his eyes open and yawned. ‘So tired.’
‘I know.’ Lucky said. ‘We’ll find somewhere better than this and you can sleep then.’
Max got slowly to his feet, his old bones and muscles stiff now he had rested. His fur was still wet from the water and he ached with cold. He didn’t want to move. He wanted to curl up and sleep.
‘Let’s go.’ Lucky pushed his way under the bushes and out onto a grassy bank. Here the wind was howling. The two animals lowered their heads against it and walked on, struggling against the storm. Above them clouds scudded across the darkness. It was a full moon, the sky was bright. Lucky glanced at the darkness above them, saw the clouds hurrying past the full moon.
‘This way,’ Lucky said over his shoulder, leading the way along a narrow path that led from the river bank into a wood. They slid under a post and rail fence and into the trees. Here, at least there was shelter. Above them the tree tops whipped wildly in the wind, but below, beneath the shelter of the bushes and bracken it was warmer and calmer.
‘Stop,’ Max said suddenly, moving in front of Lucky. He stopped so quickly that Lucky collided with his tail.
‘Ouch.’ Lucky complained. ‘What is it?’ he added crossly. They needed to keep moving.
‘Wait. Listen.’ Max whispered. As Lucky watched the hairs on Max’s ruff began to stand on end. The big dog, ignoring how cold and tired he was stood to attention, listening.
‘Evening,’ A huge red fox slid out of the undergrowth ahead of them. He glanced briefly in their direction.
‘Evening.’ Max replied, drawing himself up to his full height.
Lucky, although he had never seen a fox before was instinctively afraid of the sleek animal. He wrinkled his nose at the strange odour the fox emitted and knew he was very glad Max was with him.
‘Bad night.’ The fox stopped and turned to face the two of them. It was hard for Lucky to understand what he was saying as his jaws were clamped tightly shut around a dead chicken.
‘Yes it is.’ Max spoke cautiously, his eyes never leaving the fox, afraid of what the sly animal might do, especially to the little black cat beside him. ‘Looks like you’ve been busy.’ He added, wanting to draw the fox’s attention back to his prize and away from eyeing up Lucky.
‘I have.’ The fox grinned, showing a row of very white and sharp teeth above the poor chicken’s feathers.
‘Going far?’ Max said, conversationally, turning slowly to keep pace with the sly strides the fox was taking. There was no way he was going to take his eyes off the dangerous animal. Not with Lucky by his side. He didn’t like the way he was looking at Lucky. He could decide there was more meat on the little cat than on his chicken and make a run for him.
‘My den is just down here.’ The fox said, putting down the chicken at his feet and spitting feathers out of his teeth. ‘Got a hungry litter to feed.’
Beside him Max could feel Lucky trembling with fright. He moved so the little cat was hidden behind his bulk. He didn’t feel strong enough to tackle the fox if it came to a fight. Not tonight after being in the water, or now that he was getting on. Hopefully though the fox wouldn’t realise that.
‘Don’t let me keep you.’ Max spoke slowly, letting his lips curl over his teeth. It wouldn’t do the fox any harm to see how sharp and vicious his teeth were.
The fox, looked at the two of them for a long moment, as if deciding whether to risk making a grab for Lucky. Then he picked up the chicken again. ‘I’ll be seeing you then.’ He said in between mouthfuls of feathers.
The fox set off again, whispering to himself. ‘Might be sooner than you think.’
‘We need to get on.’ Max said, pushing his way through the bracken so that Lucky could get in front again and lead the way. ‘I need to sleep.’ He urged the small cat onwards, needing more than sleep, to put some distance between them and the fox.
Lucky was glad Max was with him. While every instinct in his body urged him to move west towards where he knew Lucy was, he was afraid of the night time and of the countryside. He was used to exploring the garden around Lucy’s home, but safely during the day. He wasn’t used to being outside, in the dark, and certainly not in a storm like this one. The night time seemed full of danger. Around them the bracken crashed and thrashed in the wind and small branches, broken by the force of the wind fell and landed in the undergrowth. There were strange animals and birds too that he was scared of. The fox had really scared him. He could see the way it was looking at him, he knew it was tempted to try to kill him and eat him instead of the dead chicken. He knew Max was urging them to hurry up, not just because they needed to find shelter, but because he was afraid of the fox coming after them. Max was old and tired, he was weak after being in the water battling to survive. He wasn’t up to fighting with a hungry, fit, strong fox.
‘What’s that?’ Lucky crouched on the ground, looking upwards fearfully as a huge black shadow swooped overhead.
‘No need to be scared of a barn owl.’ Max nudged Lucky with his nose. ‘He’s looking for things a lot smaller than you to eat.’ Lucky’s eyes widened with fear as the big owl flew back overhead, his shriek loud even above the roar of the storm.
Lucky moved on, unconvinced, crouching low to the path, ready to leap out of the way if he needed too. He hated being out here. It was so dangerous. He wanted to get home. He should be curled up on Lucy’s bed now, safe and arm, in the gap made between the top and bottom of her legs. He meowed sadly, longing for his mistress. He couldn’t wait to see her. He had no idea how long it was going to take for him to get home, but he had to keep moving, each stride brought him closer to her.
The two companions reached the edge of the woods and slid beneath the fence and out into a field. In the darkness they could see the gentle slopes of the land stretching out in either direction. While they had been in the trees the wind had dropped, and although it was still bitterly cold at least they weren’t battling against the force of the gale too.
‘Over there,’ Max said coming to stand beside Lucky as he surveyed the ground ahead of them. He pointed his nose in the direction of a cluster of buildings in the middle of the fields. The full moon made everything seem light and silver and they could clearly see the dark shapes of the buildings standing out in the silver gleam of the fields.
‘A farm. There’s bound to be shelter there. And food.’
‘But we need to go this way,’ Lucky said, looking to the land beyond the farm.
‘We need shelter and food first.’ Max said wisely, nudging Lucky with his nose in the direction of the farm.
‘You’re right.’ Lucky nodded, walking beside Max, who plodded resolutely towards the buildings.
As they got closer Lucky stopped, sniffing at the air. ‘What can I smell?’ He asked.
‘Cows,’ Max said. Lifting his nose to sniff. ‘There might be spilt milk, cow food some straw we can lie in.’ The thought of food and a comfortable bed made Max hurry. He was cold to the bone after his soaking, the wind that had dried his coat had also chilled him. He longed to get warm again and to have something to eat. No matter what it was.
As they got closer they could see the long, low buildings of the farm, surrounding a house in which a single light burned against the darkness.
They moved silently into the farm yard, out of the fields, their paws making no sound on the cobblestones.
As they walked the smell of the cows was stronger. Lucky wrinkled his nose against the strong smell. His ears flickered at the strange sound of the cows eating and the occasional low, gentle moo. ‘Cows, they won’t hurt you.’ Max explained as they walked past.
Max using his powerful nose found the yard the cows were in and padded softly along a long aisle between rows of sleeping cows deep in straw beds. Using his strong sense of smell he found some cow nuts, scattered on the ground amongst the hay the cows had been eating and wolfed them down, his large teeth chomping on them.
Lucky tried one, but it tasted horrible and he couldn’t get his teeth to break it up.
‘This way,’ Max trotted across the farm yard and eased his way through a half open door. Lucky’s mouth watered at the delicious smell of milk that came from a shining silver box in the centre of the room.
‘There might be…’ Max said, sniffing around the floor. ‘Yes,’ he said, beginning to lap at a small puddle of milk beside the milk cooler.
‘Sorry,’ he said, moving back regretfully and letting Lucky lap at the milk. The little cat lapped quickly, he was starving.
The small puddle of milk took the edge of Lucky’s hunger and once it had gone he followed Max outside into the farm yard. ‘We need somewhere to sleep.’
‘With the cows?’ Lucky asked. Max shook his head. ‘No, too big and clumsy.’
He padded across the cobblestones. ‘What’s in here?’ Max used his nose to push open what looked to Lucky like cat flap. The dog led the way into a big building with straw on the floor. There were feathers everywhere. Lucky sneezed as one tickled his nose.
‘Don’t wake the birds,’ Max whispered as they made their way across the straw to the back of the building past the shapes of the sleeping chickens.
The straw at the far end of the shed was deep and warm. The two animals curled side by side and were soon asleep, exhausted after their ordeal.
The sound of a door being opened and light streaming into the building woke Lucky. He lifted his head at the same time as Max did.
‘Oh no.’ An angry voice said.
Max got to his feet, his tail wagging slightly at the sight of a human being.
‘What have you done?’ The voice got louder as it came towards them. Lucky, afraid slipped quickly away and hid behind some wood. He peered out to see why the person was so angry. Where Max and he had been sleeping, the shapes of the birds were not sleeping. He could see that now, they were all dead. This was what the fox had done before they had met him. The bad fox had come into the chicken shed and had killed all of the birds, before he took just one with him to eat.
‘All of my chickens.’ The voice was so loud that a second one had joined it.
‘They’re all dead.’
‘Max run.’ Lucky said, the people sounded angry. They blamed Max for the dead chickens even though the two of them had just come into the building after the fox had killed them. That was why the flap was open, that was how the fox had got in.
As Lucky watched he saw Max, who had been standing wagging his tail delighted to see people again, crouch down, his tail between his legs as he realised the people were not friendly and that they blamed him for the dead chickens. As he looked he could see all of the feathers scattered around the building and the sad bundles of feathers that had been the chickens before the fox had wrecked havoc.
‘There’s no way out,’ Max looked quickly around the building, at the men who were coming towards him and back to Lucky hiding beneath the wood. ‘I’m trapped here.’
‘Run,’ pleaded Lucky. Max had to escape, the men looked very angry. They blamed Max for what had happened. He had to get away.
‘And there’s the culprit.’ As Lucky watched the man crossed the shed, seized Max by the collar and began to drag him out of the building. ‘You won’t be killing any more chickens.’ He said.