The snow stuck around for far longer than the animals—or the humans, for that matter—could have imagined. A day turned into another day and then another and so on until an entire week had passed. Seven full days and nights with almost no sun and not one but two periods of rapidly falling snow covering the frozen woods.
Eventually, though, the snow did melt away, just as the owl had seemed to do as it was absorbed by the clouds as it flew out of sight. In the time thereafter, Cody, Fenswick, and the nursery of raccoons were all but inseparable, caring for one another either by finding food or drink or working to expand the shelter beneath the rocks.
As the sun returned, Cody chose not to go back to his home just yet. He was enjoying himself in the wild, joining the raccoons as they rummaged through trashcans and discovering he really enjoyed gnawing on plastic grocery bags. It felt nice on his teeth and gums while also allowing him to relish the flavors absorbed by the bags, although he did soon learn to avoid those smelling of peppers; they were a touch too spicy for his liking, especially when water was as far away as the pond.
Despite the owl having taken leave from the area, Cody and his brood seldom went to the pond save to saturate their respective thirsts when other water sources were not to be found—or to ensure the owl was keeping up with his end of the bargain.
It was on one of these ventures to the pond that Cody inquired of the raccoons what was beyond the pond, past the persimmon tree where the owl had nested.
“Why would you want to know that, old chap?” inquired Reginald in between gulps of water from the pond’s edge. “No one liked to look at the tree let alone past it.”
“No one but us, you mean? Right, then, Reg?” butted in Roderick. “But as I understand it,” he began speaking in a lower, more hushed tone to get Cody’s attention, “it’s naught but loose rocks leading to a massive stony surface where the foul creatures lurk: Snakes and the like. Some say the owl was the guardian and gatekeeper of that place. Bugger of a bird as it was, it kept the truly bad things out.”
Silence hung in the air, heavier than the humidity, recently returned after its winter sabatical.
Everyone turned to look at Ralph, propped up on his hind legs, his tongue still hanging out of his mouth following its rude eruption.
“You can’t honestly believe that spooky nonsense Roderick is trying to get you to believe, can you?” Ralph asked. “I mean, come on. We live in the wild, for crying out loud.”
“Ralph, you’re letting him get you all riled up again,” said Regina, shaking her head in disbelief. “Come on, we should start heading towards the park. The birthday party we heard earlier should be wrapped up, and those trash cans will be brimming with refuse.”
“Pip-pip! Off we go then,” Roderick said, ushering a giggling Reginald along with him.
“You go explore wherever you want, Cody,” said Ralph. “We know you’re the bravest thing to come into these woods in a very long time. But don’t dally too long. You know how the rest of the nursery is about saving the good bits of trash for latecomers.” And he turned to walk off, following his friends to the park.
Cody ventured up to and then beyond the persimmon tree, casting a glance upwards to see Fenswick fast asleep in a nook. The wounds the owl had given him had healed up nicely, now appearing only as a series of dark dots on his fur, spaced precisely to match owl talons. Fortunately, nothing internal was wounded.
From the shade of the trees, Cody found himself in a broad, rocky area. There was loose shale stones compacted title in a path where the creek had forced such closeness. Higher up was a seeming sea of stone, vast and warm, flowing as though with ripples, fashioned by centuries of periodic running water followed by baking in the near-constant sun. Pocks here and there caught the cat’s attention, and tried to investigate each, but they simply were too many.
Curiosity of the holes in the stony surface on which he walked momentarily satisfied, Cody carried on to the west, following the sun, still high in the sky. He found himself higher up and was about to attempt a leap to another high bit of land across a chasm of a few feet. But just as he tightened his muscles to spring, the dirt and bits beneath his forepaws gave way and he fell eight to ten feet down into water.
Landing with a splash, Cody hissed and attempted to cry out but was unable: He had sunk beneath the surface of the water collected there.
A small pool of water—remnants from the last flash flood through the area a fortnight or so ago—proved to be large enough, deep enough to swallow a cat whole. The mud from the rocks holding the water clouded the water so that only ripples were visible of the struggle taking place within the confines of the water. Not even the turtle making its way across the pond was perceivable, neither from above nor from within the pool.
Counterintuitively, the turtle swam towards the source of the disturbance and somehow positioned himself as something to help stabilize the thrashing limbs of the cat, eventually buoying it back to the surface and then to the edge of the pool. Cody had clutched onto the edges of the turtle’s slick shell, with only one paw attached to something that did not feel natural but was secured firmly to the turtle’s shell, just above where his head poked out.
“Oh, hi, there,” said the turtle as it crawled over a narrow bridge of water where the pool that had swallowed Cody joined with another. “Golly, I didn’t expect to find a cat in my pool here.”
Cody said nothing, nor did he move, petrified as he was at having so narrowly escaped drowning.
“Say,” continued the turtle, swimming at the surface of the next, smaller pool, his head and shell still above water, “I don’t suppose you’re that cat the killed that owl are you?”
“No,” began Cody, slowly finding his voice. “I mean, no, I didn’t kill the owl. I just attacked and threatened it because it was trying to eat one of my friends.”
“Oh,” replied the turtle. “Well, I suppose that makes for a pretty good story, too.”
“My name is Cody,” said the cat. “What’s your name?”
“Name?” asked the turtle. “Not sure if I have one, kind of like that squirrel I hear you run around with.”
“I need to call you something because I need to know whom to thank for saving my life,” said Cody, more humbly than he’d ever spoken to anyone, including Fenswick.
“So give me a name, then, cat,” said the turtle. He had reached the opposite edge of the pool, where he crawled onto muddy land to deposit his passenger. “What do you want to call me?”
“I…I don’t know,” said Cody, “but you saved me, just like the story of a whale and some guy who had fallen in the ocean. My person had read that one aloud quite a bit.”
“Whale, huh,” chuckled the turtle. “I suppose that’s good enough, then. I like the sound of Whale better than turtle, anyway. Sounds far more majestic, you know?”
“Yes, sure. ‘Whale,’ then,” said Cody. “Thank you, Whale of the Deep Pool.”
“Hehehe,” Whale the turtle laughed. “Well, thank you, cat. Say, you know it’s safe enough to step off my shell, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Cody, rather sheepishly. The turtle’s shell was surprisingly comfortable, but he know he had to be on his way to the park. Raccoons seldom saved even the third best pieces of trash for anyone, even if they did defeat the nemesis of small furry creatures everywhere.
Cody began to step off, his forepaw on the unnatural feeling bit of shell near the turtle’s neck. A package of chewing gum had somehow been firmly attached to the shell, providing Cody a safe spot for traction and grip. He strained hard to see what it was, seeing seven letters, bold and thick in their appearance, despite being faded from alternating exposure to sun and water:
Huh, thought Cody. I wonder what that says.
Whale said another goodbye and disappeared beneath the surface of another muddy pool. Cody was left alone to pick his way back to the pond, being cautious to avoid any other risks of falling into too-deep of water.