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No. Twenty-eight.

The world outside the raccoon’s hovel was vast and white. Only trees and the tallest weeds perforated the deep drifts of snow, deeper than this area had seen in any living creature’s lifetime. Fenswick hopped over to join his friends who had sunk down into the soft-packed snow but had worked to clear an area that was wide enough and seemingly safe enough for the party to gather.

“I’m hungry,” said Cody to no one in particular.

“Well, cat” began Reginald, “I’ve no idea how we’ll find a trash can in all this confection. Besides, my paws are freezing.”

“As are mine,” agreed Roderick. The two were back to being sounding boards of one another’s arrogant statements, each not only reinforcing but also trying to subtly outdo the other.

“Perhaps we could find some nuts or berries or something,” suggested Ralph. “The movement would keep blood circulating to our paws and through our core, helping us to stay warm.”

Fenswick perked up at the suggestion of nuts and berries. As the smallest, the lightest of the group—and the one least dependent on the refuse of others—he again found himself in a unique spot to help his friends.

Scampering across the snow to the nearest fruit-bearing tree—a fig tree with roots near the top of a hill, placing it higher than trees in the lower places—and began collecting the small, edible bits to which the tree had continued to cling since spring and summer to ferry back to his friends. This he did repeatedly, neatly dropping them in the bowled area the raccoons had fashioned for their picnic in the snow. Cody, however, was uninterested in the fig bits, instead finding a dark speck in the snow and digging it out—a small mouse, caught in the snow drifts, finding death in snow and ice before it could find shelter from the same. Cody gnawed on the frozen mass of fur until the heat from his breath and saliva had sufficiently thawed the poor creature for him to pick it apart, eating it greedily but slowly enough so as to not upset his tummy. One of the other cats at his person’s house often ate so ravenously it would soon throw up what it had just consumed. With food so scarce out here in the wild and further so in the snow and ice that had enveloped them all, Cody did not want to take any chances with his meal. He paused, mid-munch to glance back at the group and found them staring at him.

“Mwhat?” Cody asked as the remains of the mouse fell from his mouth and plopped into the snow.

There was no response from any of them, save Regina who uttered the single word “disgusting” before returning to her meager meal of figs and whatever else Fenswick had brought them. The squirrel was off a bit from the others, forming a third point of the triangle of animals eating their respective meals. Unlike the raccoons, the squirrel still preferred to munch on his meals alone. They soon found out how not alone the group was out in the open, though.

With a flash of brown from above and a shriek from ground level, the raccoons soon saw Fenswick began to be lifted from the ground as though he had sprouted enormous wings just like those of an—

“OWL!” Roderick cried out as they all instinctively ducked.

But across from the bowl where they had only moments ago been enjoying brunch, a streak of orange flashed across the snow at a sharp angle and broke the owl and the squirrel apart from one another. Fenswick dropped to the snow, a mass of brown fur marred by pinpricks of blood where the owl’s claws had dug into his sides to lift him into the air.

The owl lay a few feet away, attempting to flap its wings but failing to gain purchase of air but catching nothing but wet powder. Circling the lump of a body and flailing wings and legs was—in contrast to the brilliance of the perfectly white snow—was a concentration of orange fire, tail twitching, fore- and hind legs slowly emerging before re-centering to the mass in the middle as though flickers of flame.

“How DARE you!” growled Cody, his eyes locked on the owl as it tried to regain its composure, reassert its position as the top predator, the top force in this realm.

The eyes of the raccoons were wide in observance in the scene before them, their bodies as frozen as the landscape about them. Finally, Reginald nudged Roderick and the two of them hurried to Fenswick. Reginald tucked the squirrel under his mass of fur and made for the hole in the snow, wherever it was; they had lost it in the mass of white.

“Over here, Reg!” cried out Roderick. He had located the hole, partially collapsed where the still hidden but still warm sun had melted the outermost snow.

“Come on, then. There’s a good chap,” Reginald said in efforts to soothe and comfort the wounded squirrel. “Let’s get you back down where it’s safer and warmer. I think that cat of yours has things up top under control.”

Reginald and Roderick disappeared down the hole, ushering Fenswick to safety. Moments later, they were both back on the surface to see what had happened.

The owl had managed to get itself somewhat upright, but its wings had gathered too much snow, causing the feathers to stick together, keeping it from taking flight. Its comically long legs had sunk deep into the soft snow and its endeavors to paddle itself back up were in utter vain. The panicked motion had caused it to sink further down into the snow and in its position as intimidating predator.

“Hoo,” it said.

“Cody,” replied the cat, misunderstanding the pathetic sound coming from the defeated owl.

“Bested by an idiot of a cat,” muttered the owl, finally ceasing motion.

“Idiot,” repeated Cody. “Who’s the one with his skinny long legs sunk down in the snow, unable to take flight?”

“My unfortunate situation does not denote my intelligence, cat,” said the owl, moving its head an impossibly long way one way and another.

The owl’s head rotation disturbed the raccoons but intrigued the cat. He playfully reached out to touch a tuft of the feathers that served as one of the great horned owl’s “horns.”

“Stop that!” shouted the owl.

“Huh,” said Cody. Ignoring the owl’s demand, he touched the tufts again and again. “Guys, they’re not really horns! They’re just feathers. It’s like this thing’s a flying pillow or something.” He squinted his eyes as a grin for a moment before the mass of the owl’s feathered wing smacked Cody across the face, knocking him down into the snow.

The owl had managed to take to the air and flapped its way to the top of a pecan tree.

“Insufferable, idiotic feline,” grumbled the owl. Its eyes were enormous plates of green, pricks of black in the center bearing down hard on the orange lump of fur that was Cody. “You were fortunate for a moment, cat, but I am the top predator around here, and you are but an intruder in my—”

For the second time today, the owl had been caught off guard. Daytime was certainly not its thing.

The owl flapped its wings to try and gain flight but the high snowdrifts made the ground too close for the wings to do as intended. As it fell into the snow, it managed to see what had it its second bout of humiliation.

Fenswick clung to the thin bits of tree with his claws, his heart racing faster than ever before as the main branch swayed in the wind. He flicked his tail to help maintain his balance.

Before the owl could bring itself upright, it felt a singular point of pressure then another, followed by a larger, heavier mass weighting him down. The cat’s tail curled around its sitting body as it slowly extended its claws into the owl’s chest.

“Hi, again,” said Cody. “You were saying something about being top critter around here?”

The owl just stared at the cat. How did he managed to get bested twice—or was it three times?—in just a few minutes? Had he lost his touch?

“Oh, you were finished? Great. Then let me provide a counterargument to what you’ve had to say: Your days of picking on squirrels and…and…BUNNIES are over!” He paused a moment to reflect on whether or not he had been too overly emotional. “You’re going to use this opportunity to use those big wings of yours to lift your feathery butt up into the air and out of here. Forever.”

The raccoons came and peered down around the ring of snow, grinning at the owl.

“Hello, feathery sir. You remember us, right?” asked Roderick.

“You see,” Reginald continued for his friend, “you’ll remember that we remember where it is you live. And, while we’re not as quick in the night as our feline friend here, we are more adept in the daylight hours when you like to sleep. When you’re particularly vulnerable. Like now.”

All four raccoons bared their teeth in a grin.

“So,” Cody said, “what do you say, owl?”

“I…I suppose I can find another place to hunt,” stammered the owl at last. “Someplace far from here.”

“Yes,” said Cody, “far from here. And no matter where that is, you’ll never touch another bunny again. Ever. Because you know word will reach me, and you know that I know how to find you. Because my friends and I are—” he paused and took his off the owl, looking at each of the raccoons and then Fenswick, still clinging safely to the pecan tree—”resourceful.”

“Agreed,” said the owl. “Agreed. I yield my claim to these woods and will depart at once. Or once you take your claws out of my feathers.”

Slowly, Cody retracted his claws and hopped off the owl’s body and out onto the snow. It was softening, and the wet slush saturated his fur. He found some rock in the melt and perched above it, waiting for the owl to emerge. At last it did, taking flight in a wide circle before disappearing into the retreating clouds.

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