His eyes opened. He stretched, sniffed. The air was very warm and heavy with a storm, but it was morning yet. The storm wouldn't hit for another three or four hours. He still had time to get his chores done. He stretched again, shook his tired head and started out.
He had to protect his territory. Patrol its boundaries and keep the other predators out. Even his own kind. It was a constant struggle and the area wasn't that big. He had to constantly fight to keep this little piece of meadow to himself. Without a territory of his own, he wouldn't have enough to eat, a safe place to bed down during the day. He would be run off and would probably starve. That, and the need to produce offspring of his own, were the instincts that drove him. Relentlessly. Continuously.
He padded through the tall grass…smelling, feeling. He knew the large one had been near last night. He had heard it again. Very large. Not a cat, something else. He didn't know what it was, only that he had to stay clear of it. It was too big for him to tackle. He crept closer to the back of the apartment building across the lane. This was the back part of his rounds. If he could get across the lane and in the patio, there would be fresh water and some dried food waiting for him. He waited at the edge of the meadow, near the lane. Waited. Watched. Smelled.
And thought. This had been the fourth summer that he could remember. During his first summer, he had heard a human voice call out. It called out "Toy". When she did, a small calico cat had run to her and jumped into her arms. The feral crept closer and watched. The woman carried the cat to the small wooden gate of the patio, opened it and the calico jumped from her arms and straight to the food bowl. The calico only ate a few bites, then followed the woman inside. The feral cat slowly crept closer, quietly, softly. He came close to the gate. Saw that it had a hole cut into it at the bottom. Just large enough for a medium sized cat to get through. He stuck in head into the hole and smelled the food and water. He turned and ran. Fast. Across the lane and back into the meadow's tall grass. His heart beating and his breath coming in quick gasps, he finally rested, well out of range. He had taken a huge risk, but he filed what he had learned into his memory for future reference. Now, every time the woman called Toy, he came close to watch and just maybe…maybe he could ………
Today he would go through the cut in the gate with caution, but without much real fear. He would stop for a drink of the cool, fresh water and a nibble or two of the dried food. He hadn't seen the calico for a long, long time. Last fall it was. But still, every afternoon the woman would call. "Boy" is what she would call now. He knew it was for him. He knew that when she called his name, there would be fresh water and food waiting for him. He never did what the calico did, jump into her arms, but he knew she watched him. There was a peace between them. An understanding.
In his four summers he had been badly hurt many times. He had always found his way here. He thought of it as a magical place. When he was in pain and wounded badly, the food and water tasted differently. He healed quickly, but never put the two pieces of information together. He only knew it as his safe place. His refuge. Boy's place.
Today he saw it again. The toy with catnip inside. It was under the chair, in the shade. He had never smelled this delicacy before he was hurt the first time, but he came to really love that little stuffed, soft, thing. It was his. Here in his refuge. He went up to it and rubbed against its soft side. He knew better than to play with it today. He had too much to do. He made his sound of goodbye…a soft growl, and padded out the hole in the gate and back to his meadow.
The smell of the storm was stronger. He had to find a new, safe place to sleep for the afternoon. Somewhere out of the rain. He ran up one of his favorite trees, crawled deep into the branches and curled up under a canopy of leaves. He settled in to wait out the storm.
The wind picked up, swirling leaves and small branches everywhere. The big tree's branches shook, but his stayed steady. He knew it would. The rain started and came in gusts. The thunder was deep and strong. He had been close to lightning before, but he didn't smell any right now. His eyes closed and the sounds of the wind and rain lulled him to sleep.
Hours later he woke, hungry. Everything was still wet, but in the heavy dark air, it would dry soon. He smelled the air around him, listening, waiting. Not sensing anything near, he came out of his tree and started his hunt for food. He had fought many others for this rich field, and he knew every inch of it well. He quickly caught his first small meal and ate it on the run.
Several mice later, he found his other favorite tree and was about to jump up into it when something hit him from the back. He felt teeth sink into his neck, but he was able to free himself just as a huge paw slapped him back down. Something very large, black and fierce now had its teeth sunk into his rear leg. Boy aimed for the raccoon's eyes, red and glowing. He managed to hook his claws into one of those horrible eyes and he struggled with all of his might to rip it out. He had partially succeeded when the teeth let go. The cat tried to stand, but the raccoon attacked again. This time for the throat.
Boy struggled hard, but the harder he fought, the deeper the teeth sank into his flesh. He couldn't breathe. He was loosing blood too fast. Boy played dead. Just went limp. The raccoon shook him, again and again. Then dropped him and ambled off, deep into the woods.
Boy lay there, not daring to move. He knew he couldn't run, his back leg was hurt too badly. He felt the skin from the side of his face laying open, his blood seeping out. Still he waited. Finally he knew he had to move on. There were no sounds, no smells. But there had been none earlier, why? The rain, he thought. Probably. But it didn't matter now. All that mattered was that he make his way to his place of refuge. His safe place.
He slowly gathered himself and began to crawl, one slow inch at a time, toward the lane. Every minute was torture. Every halting step took more strength. He was near now. Slowly he came to the hole in the fence. He had always been careful to not leave a trail to the place, but now he didn't care. He couldn't care, he could only go there. He smelled the fresh water now, but he didn't want to drink. He only wanted the one thing that had brought him comfort before. His toy. He found it under the chair.
Boy took his good paw and pulled it to him. He settled down beside the water dish and placed his tired, torn head down on the toy. The delicious smell of it calmed him. The softness of it soothed him. He thought of those days, so long ago, when he could cuddle up to his siblings and rest. He held those thoughts as the darkness closed around him.
Just as he felt the last of his life fall away from him, he thought he heard his name. Boy. And the darkness took him.
This story is reprinted here with permission of the author, Karel Bergstrom. Please visit Karel's Restless Legs Syndrome support site, Nightwalkers to read more of her stories and for the story behind the stories.