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The Not So Wise Owl
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Tara Fox Hall
In a large old house in a busy corner of the city, lived a big black cat.
His name was Macavity, or Cavity for short.
He didn't remember much about where he'd been born, or his early days as a kitten before ending up at the shelter. There he'd met his friend Jesse, a tiny black and white kitten. They'd been adopted together by a mother and daughter.
That had been a close thing for Macavity. Jesse had crawled onto the girl's shoulder and purred, making her smile. Both mother and daughter had nodded, then headed with Jesse towards the door. Sure he was going to be left behind, Macavity had screeched, running after them. To his relief, he'd been scooped up in the mother's arms.
That had been two years ago.
In that time, he'd matured, becoming twice the size of Jesse, his body becoming powerful and fast. He'd learned to watch out for cars and dogs, and not go to strangers he didn't know.
Life was good, and he knew his way around the neighborhood.
Then all at once, everything changed.
All his surroundings were boxed up, even the large dish of cat food that had always been full. Macavity was put into a carrier with Jesse, and the two other cats.
Yowling, they were packed into the car, along with the two dogs, Leg and Strider.
It seemed like hours passed as they bumped over roads, noisy traffic honking and blaring all around them. Then slowly the noise went away, until all he could hear was the sound of the car engine, and the scared mews of his upset feline companions.
The car finally stopped.
Strider and Leg immediately bounded out.
A few moments later, the girl came back alone. Restarting the engine, she began driving slowly. In a minute she stopped, then slowly took out all the cat carriers.
One by one, she opened all the doors, saying, "Come out, and see your new home."
Macavity stayed where he was, sniffing wildly, his eyes bulging.
He wasn't getting out in this place of strange smells, no way.
The girl pried him out of the carrier and put him down in a big smelly place with lots of hay and doors.
"You're a barn cat now, Cavity," she said. "This is your new home."
Cavity looked around, swishing his tail.
He didn't like this.
"I'll be back soon with food and water," the girl said. "Don't wander off and be careful, okay? Don't go outside at night."
Cavity swished his tail and then peed on some hay to feel better.
A few days passed, then a week.
The cats explored the barn, which was filled with hay, old furniture, many odds and ends, and, most wonderful, many, many mice.
"You never knew how to hunt, being born in the city," Blackie said, sucking down the end of a tail. "It's good we moved to the country. This is what being a cat is all about."
"I don't like this," Jesse mewed, her large eyes spooked. "I want to go back."
"We're not going back," Cavity said happily, then wrinkled his nose.
"But that's good. I like it here. I like being outside all the time and not being brought in at night"
"You had better watch your night exploring," Kester piped up from her position high atop the bales of hay. "I've heard creatures outside, snuffling around. Whatever they are, they're as big as you are. That means danger."
Cavity waved his tail dismissively, then peed on the hay for good measure.
That next night, Cavity snuck out, squeezing his bulk under the barn door.
Wow, it was amazing! The stars were so bright, and there were so many!
"You're new, aren't you?" a low voice said by his ear.
Cavity jumped straight up, his tail bushed. He turned fast in midair, coming face to face with what looked like a huge mouse.
"I'm a possum," the creature said, picking up a piece of discarded cat food and devouring it. "You don't mind sharing, do you?"
"Is it safe out here?" Cavity asked, not sure if he should be afraid or not.
"Sure," the possum answered. "I only come out at night."
He began sniffing in the grass, looking for more food.
"What's there?" Cavity asked, looking into a huge yawning darkness.
"That's the forest," the possum said, bored. "I live there under an old log."
"Do other animals live there?"
The possum nodded. "Sure, lots, but they shouldn't bother you."
He looked upwards. "And you can easily find your way back. Just look for the big light."
Cavity looked up.
There was a huge glowing bulb above him, illuminating the barn's whole side. "That should be easy to see in the dark."
The possum didn't answer, having squeezed his bulk under the gap in search of more food.
Cavity headed off into the night, tail at a jaunty angle.
For the first two nights, Cavity explored the edge of the forest.
It was wonderful.
There were so many different kinds of mice and mice-like prey he couldn't eat them all.
There were no bigger animals he sensed at all, in addition, the barn light was so bright that he could see it even within the trees.
The third night, Cavity went hunting, ate his fill, and then couldn't find the light.
He looked anxiously, mewing in fear as he ran to and fro, but it didn't appear.
Instead of finding the barn, he tracked deeper into the forest.
When morning returned, he couldn't find anything that looked familiar, even in the daylight.
He was lost.
The first day was easy, he was full, there was a creek nearby, and the weather was good. But as the days wore on, prey became scarcer.
The stream he followed ended, disappearing under the earth, and the weather turned cooler, making him shiver.
He was huddled at the base of a tree one night, muttering to himself, when an odd animal approached.
While it reminded him of a dog, it was smaller, but there was something about it that made him climb the tree as fast as he could.
The creature came to the tree and put its paws up on the bark. "Come down, cat."
"Don't you do it," a voice hissed sharply from above him.
Cavity dug in his claws, stopping his slip of surprise. "Who are you?"
"I'm a fox," said the creature below "You must be new, come down and I'll show you what's what."
"He'll eat you," a voice hissed.
Cavity looked up.
There was a calico cat above him, its coat shaggy and dirty.
"So you're up there, too, Bell," the fox said, grimacing. "Should've known."
He trotted off into the trees."
"Don't go down," Bell said quickly. "He's not gone, he's in the bushes ten feet away. He'll wait for us all night!"
"Why are you out here?" Cavity asked. "I'm lost. Are you?"
Bell snorted. "I don't get lost. I'm a feral cat. This is where I belong."
"Where's your family?"
"My last batch of kittens was last year," Bell said wistfully. "After that, I got ear-tipped. You know what that means?"
Cavity had no idea, but he nodded. "Where do you live, in a tree?"
"We'll stay here tonight," Bell said, settling down. "In the morning, I'll take you to my home."
In the morning, Bell and Cavity walked for close to an hour, then they came out into a large field with a barn in the center.
Cavity's spirits sank. This wasn't the right barn. It was red.
"Come in and get some food," Bell called, bounding toward the barn. "But be advised you'll have to fight for it."
Cavity was very hungry, but he followed her.
When they entered, he saw a small pile of food. It wasn't tasty like his food had been at home, but that didn't matter, he was too hungry.
Just as he finished, a voice rang out.
"Bell, why you bringing in strays? Our colony is full."
"Shut up, Jake," an old white and grey cat said, moving closer.
"Where you from?" he asked, eyeing Cavity.
"I...I was in a city and my family brought me out here to a barn, but I can't find it" Cavity answered.
"What color was the barn, white, blue, or red?"
"You're about a mile from there," the cat replied. "Name's Cagney. Do you want to go back?"
Cavity looked at him funny. "Why wouldn't I want to go back?"
Cagney shrugged. "Some cats get lost on purpose. All kinds of reasons, a new dog or cat, a move, sometimes just humans being mean"
"My girl is never mean," Cavity hissed. "She makes sure we get food, good food, and.."
"And a vet, I know," Cagney said, nodding. "You show it, but sometimes life changes for a cat. Things happen."
"I want to go back," Cavity yowled loudly. "Can you show me the way?"
Cagney nodded. "Jake can. Get some sleep. We'll leave in the morning."
Jake accompanied Cavity into the forest the next morning.
He walked with him until noon then said he couldn't go farther.
"It's right up there, just keep going straight."
Cavity didn't want to be left, but also didn't want to appear afraid. "You're sure?"
Jake nodded, then trotted off back the way they'd come.
Cavity peed on a nearby bush, then continued on, tired and hungry again.
Another day passed.
Cavity had reached the edge of the forest, but because of another odd creature that he tried to avoid, it had been black and white, and smelled funny, he'd again gone off track. At least now mice were plentiful, and his stomach no longer growled.
That next night, as he crested a small hill, Cavity saw that familiar gleam in the darkness, the bright light that meant home.
He began running fast, all his attention on the barn and the safety that lay inside.
He was so concerned that he didn't see the shadow that separated from the treeline and followed him, bearing down swiftly.
Cavity heard a soft swish and turned, just in time to avoid the owl's sharp talons as it passed overhead.
"Stay still," it shrieked at him. "My young need flesh!"
Cavity flattened himself to the ground, avoiding another pass, then began running.
The process repeated itself all the way to the barn, Cavity squeezing his body in just in time.
The owl shrieked again, and then there was silence.
"I'm back!" Cavity called.
There was no answer.
Horrified, he searched the barn from top to bottom, though he found some crumbs, there was no food and no water to be found.
Worse, the possum was curled up in the one remaining cat bed.
"You're friends are gone," the possum said stretching. "But no worries, someone fills the food bowl most every other day. We can share."
Cavity sat down and began to cry. "I want my friends! I've had enough of being a barn cat. I want to be inside a house."
"Get some sleep," the possum said settling in. "I heard you got that owl's attention. I'm not leaving until dawn now."
"You told me it was safe," Cavity accused.
"It usually is," the possum replied with a yawn. "She never hunts over here. She stays near other barns, hoping for a stray cat."
Cavity blinked, horrified. "She eats cats?"
"Kittens, sure," the possum said.
"But now that those ferals can't have kittens, no worries. That owl knows Cagney's bunch won't go without a hard fight. She'll leave them alone and search out some mice."
Cavity decided he'd had enough for the night.
He peed on a hay bale, then curled up and went to sleep.
The next morning he heard noise below and ran down the stairs.
To his relief and delight, the girl was there working.
"Cavity!" she shouted, dashing to him and picking him up. "Where have you been? You're so thin!"
Cavity purred, happy he was safe and food was sure to be coming soon.
Then, to his surprise, she began carrying him towards the house.
"You've had your adventure. It's back to being a house-cat, one that's inside before dark."
Cavity purred happily. That was just fine by him.
The girl put him down inside, in a litter box, then left.
Cavity got out and went straight to the dry food bowl and began crunching.
"We thought you were dead," Jesse said, sliding up to him.
He began licking Cavity's forehead.
"The girl brought us all inside after you went missing," Blackie said, tail swishing in irritation.
"Now its home by mid afternoon or else, thanks to you."
"That's safest," Cavity said, remembering the owl's sharp claws. "Trust me."
The girl brought a heaped dish of canned cat food and set it before him. "I'm glad your back."
Cavity dug right in, gobs of food landing beside the dish.
When he finished, he washed his whiskers, then looked at the litter box, considering.
He was a house cat now, not a barn cat.
He used the litter box, then headed for the nearest cat bed for a long needed nap.
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