The sun was just rising as Ebony uncurled from her uncomfortable perch in the tree. She took a careful look at the ground, as far around the tree as she could. She sniffed at the air – no, no sign of the fox that had chased her last night. She climbed to the ground and paused to check once more, then headed home, as fast as her gravid belly would let her go. She moved cautiously, still on the alert for any sign or scent of the fox – or anything else that might think a cat would make a good breakfast. She had gone exploring in the woods the day before, as she had often done, and to get away from all the hustle and bustle in the house. She had been heading home when the fox appeared, and only fast running had let her get to the tree, and up. Then it had sat until well after dark before it went off to its den. And she had been forced to try to sleep on the branch.
It wasn’t long before she was out of the woods and crossing the field, the through the fence past the loose board, and she was home. She stopped and looked around. The yard was empty - totally empty. All the patio furniture was gone, as were the swings and slides, the barbeque, and the cupboard where all the things the father had used when he was cooking. Oh, no! Had they moved away and left her? Quickly she ran across the lawn, up the steps, across the deck and through the cat door. The kitchen was as empty as the yard! Except for the cupboards, stove and refrigerator, everything was gone. Even the litter box, and the dishes where she and Kit Kat ate. She sat down and mewed softly, sadly. What was she to do now? The kittens were due in three weeks. How would she manage? Where would she live?
Sadly, Ebony wandered through the empty house. A few scraps of paper and cloth on the floor in the attic and footprints in the dust, was all that was left. Every room completely cleared, only the familiar odours of the family drifting in the air to remind her of what she had lost. All because she had wandered away. With a plaintive meow, she nosed her way out the cat door. The shed door was closed, and she wondered if there was anything left in there. She decided to investigate, and went to the back corner, where a loose board gave her entrance. She paused, looking and sniffing. The nasty smell of the machines they used to cut the grass or remove the snow hung heavily in the air. But there was another odour – a very familiar one. Moving farther into the shed, past the snow machine, she saw….her food and water containers, and a box with her blanket in it! Both containers were full, and she suddenly realised that she was both hungry and thirsty. She had soon satisfied those needs, and, lacking anything else to do, she curled up in the box. She was tired, and worried. She had been abandoned, yet they had thought to provide her with food, water and shelter. Would they come back to find her?
Ebony stayed in the shed and around the back yard and field for the next week. To make the food in the container last as long as possible, she caught field mice, and a couple of times, a bird. Those were hard to catch, and with an abdomen full of kits, chasing and jumping as she had to was very difficult, and tiring. She kept hoping someone would come to get her, and any time she heard a car in the driveway, she went to peek out and see who it was. That was how she first saw the very large man. He came with the lady who had been bringing all the others. The lady was talking about the house and the neighbourhood. “The public school is only three blocks away, and there is a nice shopping mall across from the school. It’s all within easy walking distance.” She said. The big man only grunted.
They went inside, and Ebony could hear them walking around, the woman still talking. The man asked a few questions, but was mostly quiet. Then the back door opened. “There,” the woman said, “you see what a lovely back yard you have; this lovely deck, and there’s plenty of room for the children to play, and be safe. They left the lawn mower and snow blower, they’re in the shed. You’ve already seen the garage. It’s a nice home for a family with young children, and a nice neighbourhood. What do you think?”
The big man stood looking over the yard, hands on hips and feet spread. Ebony snuck closer, wondering if he came to live here, if here would let her stay. She took another slow step, and he saw her. He came off the deck at a dead run, shouting and trying to kick her. She jumped, turned in midair, and ran for the shed. But he was too close, so the only thing she could do was duck through the fence where the board hung loose. She ran into the field until she could hide behind a small bush. Then she turned and looked through. He was standing at the fence, shaking his fist and yelling. The woman walked up to him.
“Mr. Standish, whatever is the matter? It was just the previous owner’s cat. They have asked anyone who sees her to let them know. They want her back.”
“Well, if they cared so much, they should have been sure to take her with them. I’ll have no cats hanging around my place. Let’s go back to your office, I want to sign the papers right away, and get moved in immediately.”
They walked away, and soon Ebony heard the car doors close and the car drive away. She was trembling in fear and shock, and for a while all she could do was sit and cry. At last she got up and went back, through the fence, and into the shed. There wasn’t much food or water left, and if that man was going to live here, she would have to find someplace else. And she’d have to do that soon, the kits wouldn’t wait.
She walked to the forest, moving cautiously and sniffing the air. She remembered a place she had seen the day before, where some large, squarish rocks made a cave-like shelter. There was a tree that had fallen against the rocks, and vines grew over all, so that the shelter was protected from the weather. Leaves had blown in making a deep cover on the floor, and the entrance was barely wide enough for her, and hidden. It would do nicely, and there was a small pool of water nearby. She sat just inside, looking out and thinking. It would be nice to have the blanket from the box in the shed, if she could just get it here. That would make a very good nest for the kits. She sat and thought.
Night fell, and she decided to see if she could somehow move the blanket. And maybe figure out how to get the rest of the food here, too. She set out, keeping alert for danger, and in about half an hour was pushing through the fence again. The house was dark, and there was no sign of life. She made her way to the corner of the shed, only to find that the loose board had been nailed tight. There was a pile of something by the back of the garage where the garbage was placed, so she went and investigated. There was the blanket, the litter box and the food container. The box had been partly broken, and the food container was in the larger part, sitting on the blanket.
Tentatively Ebony took hold of the end of the blanket in her teeth and pulled. To her surprise, the blanket, box and all, moved. Ok. But would she be able to pull it all the way? As she stood there, considering the problem, she became aware of the odour of a strange cat – a Tom. She turned, and saw him standing just inside the fence by the loose board.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Panther; I used to live near here. My family moved, and I now live with another family several blocks away. I saw you come here from the woods, and wondered what one of those cats would be doing near a house. Now I can see that you’re not one of them, so I’m wondering why you were in the woods. It’s a dangerous place.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You startled me. I’m Ebony, and I used to live with the family who lived here. “ She explained what had happened, and how she had found a place that was defensible, and would be warm in the winter. “I need to get settled there right away. It is early for them, but I can feel that the kits are almost ready to come.”
“I see. And what are you trying to do with the blanket and things?” he asked.
“They are mine, from when I lived here. There is at least a couple of weeks of food in the autofeed container, and if I can find a way to fill it, I can bring water from the pond near the shelter. That way, when the kits come and I can’t leave them, I will have food and water handy. I didn’t know there were feral cats in the woods. That makes me even more anxious to have food and water nearby. I can’t take a chance on leaving them alone for too long.”
“All right, I can see that. Your plan is a good one, and I think I can help you. First, we need to pull an end of the blanket over the containers. Then, if we each take two corners in our teeth and pull, we should be able to move them. But we can’t take them through the fence, the bundle won’t fit. I’ll show you a different way to get in and out of the yard. Come and look.”
He led the way to a large box built against the fence on the side of the yard. Ebony knew what it was. It was where the father put the garbage. And on certain days, a big, noisy truck would come and take the garbage away. “How can we get into the field from there?” she wondered.
“There is what they call a turn-around at the end of the ally. We just need to go through that, and we are in the field, and much closer to the woods from here. And I long ago found how to open the doors, from the inside and the outside. Watch.” He stretched up and hooked a paw over the handle of the door, and pulled down. The door swung open. As she moved closer to see, he stepped inside the empty box, moved to the other side, and did the same there. Out beyond the box, she could see the ally’s end, and the turn-around, and the field and woods.
“That’s wonderful, Panther. Can we try to move things now? I feel time is getting short, and by sundown, I’ll not be able to do anything except birth kits.”
Panther nodded, and together they worked, making a sort of bag of the blanket, and pulling it. It was slow work, but eventually they were out in the field, about half way to the woods. Panther made her take a rest while he ran ahead to see the easiest way to drag the things to her chosen shelter.
Less than half an hour later, he was back. “That is a very good shelter you’ve found. I’ll help you pull the branches and vines more closely over it so the entrance is just big enough for you, and small enough that you should be able to defend it. I’ll come by every day and make sure all is well with you.”
“Thank you, Panther. You make me feel much better. I was so afraid of being alone with several kits to care for. Now I feel that maybe I’ll make it, after all.”
By the time the sun was resting on the horizon, everything was set. Panther had figured out how to load the water container and get it in and set up near the nest she had made with the blanket. Then he had set up the autofeed container beside it. And it proved none too soon, as Ebony moved to a separate place, mewling in pain as the kits started coming. It was dark outside before it was over, almost midnight, and the kits were small and weak. As soon as he saw her trying to clean the first one while going through contractions for the next, he moved in and took over that job. As soon as she could move, Ebony took a kit in her mouth and carried it to the nest. She was staggering with exhaustion as she turned to get another.
“Get settled in the next, Ebony, I’ll bring the others.” He said. Carefully, one by one, he carried the other five kits and placed them close to their mother in the warm, comfortable nest.
“Thank you so much, Panther. It is so late, why don’t you settled down in the leaves and stay till morning? It would make me feel so guilty if you ran into any of the feral cats in the dark. I’m sure your family will welcome you home in the morning.”
“I will, thank you. I was a bit worried. And as for the family, they don’t worry if I’m gone for a night. I sometimes get together with some of the fellows in the neighbourhood and we have an all-night party. The people in the nearest houses don’t like it, but a guy needs a night out once in a while.” He gave a catly chuckle.
They settled down, and soon they were all sound asleep. They were wakened suddenly by the sound of loud cat calls outside. “I smell a she!” one voice shouted. “I smell kits, too!” another joined in. Let’s dig them out. The kits will make a good snack, and we can have some fun with the she!” Immediately, there was the sound of digging around the entrance, as a cat tried to widen the space to get in.
Panther jumped to his feet, and moved to the entrance, Ebony right behind him. The cats outside snarled when they scented a male, and soon they were all digging and pushing to get in. the first cat nose that he could see got deeply clawed by Panther, and Ebony crawled under him to bite at legs. The howling and growling rose as the fight went on.