Before the incident in the pond, Cody had been feeling more invincible than the average cat.
He had journeyed the farthest from home he ever had and found shelter—with some help. He had made friends across species and learned to forage when food was scarce—with some help. He had defeated a powerful, fearsome foe—with some help. And he had escaped drowning in a muddy pool—with some help.
As fiercely independent as he liked to think he was, every element of his journey to confront and defeat the owl—and its epilogue—were all only possible because of assistance from others. Even the food he had learned to forage from the trash was there because of others. He and his raccoon friends were just doing their part to help keep more from going into landfills.
Cody had truly come to enjoy it in this wooded eden, but as a cat that couldn’t swim or do much else entirely on his own, and he could not distract himself from it. He came to recognize his utter dependence on others for even the simplest of things it seemed, and this notion bored into his brain as he slinked back from the site of his near-drowning, fur still soaked and muddied. As he stopped to again shake himself, recognition of the fact that he would never be completely cleansed from this baptism in the woods sank in. He knew that he needed to go back home. He knew he would have to leave soon. He didn’t know how many of his nine lives he had left.
Cody also did not know how long he had been gone. It was long enough to have been trapped by snow and have it melt, making the earth again warm and wet and viridescent. Dozens of sunrises and sunsets were entirely plausible, and he found himself nervous of if his person would even accept him back into the home. And then what? Back to waiting for food, he guessed. Sure, it could grow irksome if he had played particularly hard that morning or evening, but at least the presence of food was reliable.
And maybe he would still get to venture outside every now and again. Perhaps take a day trip with Fenswick someplace?
The possibilities seemed very likely and very real, so he set it in his mind he would leave at the next sunrise. One last evening with the raccoons and Fenswick before departing home.
At last, he was at the park, and found the raccoons having their picnic from the remains of the birthday picnic that had been held there a few hours earlier. Ralph and Roderick were on the ground, gorging themselves on cantelope while Reginald, and Regina were both buried in the trashcan up to their haunches, legs hooked around the rim for support. While the other two munched, they continued to dig out more than half of a birthday cake and a seemingly endless quantity of torn hamburger and hotdog buns.
“Yes, my fellow veiled varmints—I have it!” Reginald exclaimed, emerging with a broken sphere covered in colorful crêpe. “I give you: The piñata!”
Regina brought herself up out of the trashcan, huffing excitedly, “Oh, you have it, do you? All by yourself, then?”
“Well, Regina,” Reginald began, pausing to choose his words carefully, “you see, it’s—oh, good heavens, what happened to you?”
He dropped the piñata back into the trash and hopped down, scampering across the ground to Cody.
“Dear Cody, what on earth happened?” Reginald was shocked and concerned to see that cat covered in drying mud, matted and sticky in various patches on its body.
“I’m fine, Reg,” Cody said, stopping to vainly lick the bits of fur he could reach. “I just lost my balance and fell into a pool between two boulders.”
“I told you going into that part of the woods was not a good idea,” Roderick said, shaking a small piece of cantelope at the cat.
“You did?” the other three raccoons inquired at the same moment.
“Well, not in those exact words,” replied Roderick, “but I did say he should stick with us.”
“That you did, Roderick,” said Cody. “That you did. And I’m afraid I have some more bad news,” he began.
“Wait, where’s Fenswick?” asked Reginald, again alert and looking about in worry. “He didn’t fall in with you, did he?”
“No, no,” Cody said, calming Reginald. “He’s still napping in the persimmon tree near the pond. I think he’s come to claim that as his own after we evicted that owl.”
“There was no ‘we,’ Cody,” said Ralph. “You did that all on your own.”
“No, no…” said Cody trailing off with his words.
“But you did,” Regina said, reassuringly. “We were all there.”
“No,” Cody said, more firmly this time. “That’s just it: You were all there. You, Fenswick, Whale—”
“Whale?” inquired all four raccoons in unison.
“There’s a whale living in our woods?” Roderick asked, peering around Cody, almost expecting to see a hundred ton whale hiding behind a tree.
Cody chuckled, “No, not a whale. Whale was the name I gave the turtle that saved me from drowning earlier today.”
“Ohhhh,” the raccoon quartet said, understanding Cody.
“It just made me realize that I’m unable to really do anything on my own, and I think it best that I head back to my person,” continued Cody. “And my person’s home. I just hope to still have a home there.” He sounded said.
“Well, dear Cody,” began Reginald, sniffling a bit, “you’ll always have a home here with us.
“Here, here!” piped up Roderick and Regina.
“Fine,” muttered Ralph. “Here, here.”
Roderick brought them all back to focus: “Then let’s get that piñata out from the confines of the trashcan and have ourselves one grand celebration!”
“Hurrah!” they all shouted.
“Hurrah!” said Fenswick. “What happened to you, Cody? And what are we celebrating?”
“Fenswick, my friend,” said Cody, “I had a bit of a spill and subsequent epiphany. Come, let me tell you all about it over whatever this is that Reginald and Regina have just pulled out of the trash.”
As the sun set, the animals continued to feast, including Fenswick, safe in the company of his friends, comfortable in the knowledge than an owl would not be swooping down to clutch him away from all that he loved.
The morning sun spread its brilliance across Cody’s face through the shudders. The warmth of the sunlight—muted through special film the humans had put on the windows somewhat recently—was still pleasing and reminded him of his months spent in the wilderness with a squirrel and four raccoons. And a whale of a turtle, too.
His roommates didn’t believe a word of his story—how he had not only learned to speak squirrel but had also made friends with one and journeyed far from their home to live among raccoons, surviving a snowstorm, and fight an owl only to later almost drown and be saved by a turtle—preferring to tease that Cody had been picked up by animal control. They further teased that the person of the house had been oblivious to his absence, but Cody knew that wasn’t true. He had seen the paper rectangles with his picture and words and numbers plastered all around the neighborhood when he and Fenswick had entered, as well as in the house. Dozens of extra copies were still in the room with all the books, ready to be sent to the far reaches of the suburbs, all in the hopes of finding a single cat.
All of this brought Cody happiness in the ensuing days when he thought of adventures to be had out of doors and sadness poked its head about. But the best happiness came the following evening, which was remarkable cool for so late in the spring. Cody was in a windowsill, watching shadows grow and cover the back yard just as the snow had covered the wooded area in the wake of the disappearance of his bunny, of the finding of the feather and half-a-doughnut, of the befriending of a squirrel, when a flash of contrasting brown against the khaki of the fenceposts caught his eye and riveted his attention: A bunny.
It wasn’t the same bunny as before—Cody knew that. But it was a bunny, and it was his to watch and love and enjoy. He knew that, too.