The light faded from the valley, the sunlight descending the canyon wall beyond the river like a curtain slowly falling on life itself. But not to the cat. The night brought stealth and slow-moving life to a very busy but also very elusive forest during daylight hours. Speed was the cat’s major talent but long endurance wasn’t included in the package. The cat could run faster than anything it knew across the ground but it could only do so for a short period of time. He could lope forever but loping did not provide the kind of constant meat supply he needed.
The cat’s eyelids fell, along with the sun line sliding down the cliff wall. There was nothing to be done until full dark when prey would be forthcoming from hidden holes and clefts existing under the river bank. The cat watched moving and shifting images cross the inside of its eyelids while sleeping but not sleeping. The cat was never completely asleep. The forest was not the kind of place where complete unconsciousness would allow for survival on any kind of regular basis. Images in the cat’s sleep were a new thing, however.
The objects he saw were of three moving images crossing the inside of his eyelids during his nearly unconscious state. The three consisted of the human, the bear, and the beaver. None of the three had made an appearance, in real life, with the other, but in the cat’s moving images all three were together. That combination brought the cat out of its sub-state of consciousness to blink rapidly, before attempting once more to close its eyes. Full darkness was not upon the forest yet, and as much relaxation as possible was called for until that time.
But the cat could not sleep nor get rid of the moving images no matter how it tried, so it lay as still as it could in the darkening light of the cleft.
There was a sound. The sound was not a river sound and not a sound normally made by a non-predatory animal. The sound traveled through the ground rather than through the air. Whatever had made the vibration of sound was a larger animal. It wasn’t light out, and it wasn’t dark yet. The animal could be either diurnal, hunting in the daylight hours, or nocturnal, hunting in the darker hours. The cat’s conclusion was that it was most probably a diurnal animal hunting late in the day. Nocturnal animals waited, like the cat itself, until full dark, when their powers of rapid silent movement and night eyesight were maximized.
The cat didn’t move, as the sound was not yet near. But the cat was annoyed. Moving to be safer during the forest night hours was uncommon because there were very few animals that were large enough to be considered a predator for the cat. What was really annoying, however, was the thought process the cat was going through on an unwilling basis.
The cat was used to reacting, not thinking about anything, yet here he was trying to decide whether to leave the area temporarily, climb the tree or simply wait to see what happened. It bothered the cat that it had to do something and that the something wasn’t fixed. The cat was smart enough to realize that it had never thought before. It had never considered choices before. The beaver came by and the cat lay a distance away to have company. The bear came along and the cat disappeared, or so it thought, up the tree. The smaller human appeared where the beaver had lain, and the same thing had happened. There’d been no decision to be made, there had only been things to do. The idea of making a decision about anything was vexing to the utmost, but there was no help for it. Once such thoughts and images gathered together then something had to be done since his automatic response reaction would not kick in.
The cat decided. The potentially threatening animal was not the beaver nor any of the beaver’s brethren. It was not a wolf, as, although wolves were known to exist and bay out near the edges of the forest far away, they were not known, at least by the cat, to reach as far in as the river area. For most larger animals, the cat intrinsically knew, that river, the cliff wall behind it and the valley bottom itself created too much in the way of barriers to escape. Escape was always on any predator’s mind, even if escape was not actually thought about. The cat thought about escape, however, and knew the thought was foreign, discomforting to have and not a good thing in its life.
The approaching threat and it was slowly coming downriver, was either a bear or a human. It was likely that the bear was the same bear or the human was the same human. Repetitive behavior was extremely common in predatory animals when considering a chunk of land as their own territory.
The tree welcomed the cat by remaining silent, its leaves unmoving in the twilight, the early evening wind had already blown down the valley. The cat did not climb as it had before. Instead of reacting in a nearly blind panic, the cat acted with patience, stopping many times on the way up to his branch to check upriver and see what might be seen. But there was nothing. He stretched out on the same branch he’d used twice before, not nearly as comfortable as the cleft was, however, for closing his eyes and sleeping. There was nothing to look at. The cat closed his eyes to better concentrate on his extremely sensitive hearing.
His left ear orbited automatically upriver, and then remained aimed in that direction.
The cat thought again. He would have liked to scratch his head with either paw to get rid of the thought, but that would have required dropping his concentration on being alert for the approaching danger. How was he to get down in the dark? He could see in the dark but only marginally, unless there was a full, or near full, moon, which there was not. The cat knew that the night coming was not one of the ‘bright’ nights. He did not want to stay up in the tree all night and he didn’t want to go down into potential deadly danger in the dark either. The cat tried to mentally bat down the conflicting thought, but the dilemma that had no solution would not leave his mind.
Sounds began to come through the air. The cat’s ear twitched. The cat tried to interpret the sounds but they were too indistinct. The cat waited, as it could do nothing else. The minutes passed, the night slowly became full night. The sounds worked down the river bank until they stopped just below the tree and at the opening of the cleft. The cat looked down, but even with his visual capability at night, he could not make out the ground area clearly. He kept his attention downward, peering into the blackness, being able to spot little bits of white foam moving along or eddying about on the river’s surface, but that was about it.
It wasn’t the bear. That became instantly apparent when the cat lost his night vision. A flare from below lit the tree and burned straight into the cat’s open light-seeking eyes. The cat blinked, his night vision gone. The flare was followed by a small set of rising slivers of red and yellow light. A fire. The under portion of the surrounding forest was lit from below by a small fire.
“Well, are you around here, cat?” a human series of sounds rose upward with the flickering light. The cat pulled his head back in. It was the young hominid who’d been there earlier. He had once again taken up the spot the beaver usually occupied when visiting. A small fire was built in front of him, the fire so unnatural to the forest that no other animal was going to approach for some time to come.
Was the hominid dangerous? The cat considered, again struck by the fact that it was considering. His first reaction had been to flee, to make another leap over to the opposing tree he’d used to evade the bear. But his wounds, although small and minor in number and depth, still bothered him. There was no guarantee that more injuries suffered in another jump might not be more damaging and significant. The cat stayed where he was.
The hominid spoke upward, his quiet but commanding voice rising variably like the occasional wafts of heat coming up from the small fire.
“Might as well come on down,” the young human said. “I’m here for the night, no place else to go. My tribe has moved on for the season. I’m left to hold onto the territory until they return, or at least I wish that was what was going on.”
The cat looked over the edge again. He had no clue as to what the human was doing with all the sounds coming from it, but nothing of the sounds seemed threatening. The cat was back trying to decide whether it was better to creep down the tree, using the new light provided by the fire, or wait all night until dawn.
The cat made a decision. If the human kept on making harmless noises, alerting every predator near and far as to his presence, not even including the fire thing, he was going to climb down. The light flickering up from the fire was not great but, since it radiated against the whitish trunk of the tree there would be no problem in going down head first. He would be able to watch the human for most of the transit. The human was not inside his cleft, and that left a secure place available unless the human moved, which didn’t look like it was going to happen.
In the back of the cat’s mind, while he descended the tree trunk, was only one thought. He’d made his decision about security and that was no longer a consideration. The ball of meat was all he could think about. The cat had eaten burned meat left after a forest fire once but he’d never before had cooked meat that seemed to taste good. He still remembered wolfing the ball down in only three or four bites. If the human had more it would be good to take it from him.
“Ah, up in the tree,” the boy said. “I hear you and I can see a bit of you, winding down that trunk. Pretty slippery way to approach, if you ask me.”
The cat stopped to consider again. The cat made no noise in response or return. The cat could make many sounds but it generally chose not to unless it was for warning or to celebrate a particularly satisfactory kill.
The cat completed its descent and settled into the cleft, but not before rising up to look in every direction. His ultra-violet detecting vision would spot the urine of other animals in almost any light. The patchy indications of recent visits or occupations of other animals of size were non-existent, however. Although his sense of smell was keen, it was not necessary to use to detect such evidence of other life in the forest. He gave his last long stare to the human sitting on the other side of the small fire, before he tucked himself down. He could still see the human through the triangular opening that formed the bottom part of the cleft where the two giant rocks that formed the cleft gaped open a bit.
The human was diurnal. It hunted in the day. There was no reflective layer in the back of the thing’s eyes, that would indicate the additional reflectivity necessary to have sensitive night vision. The fire made the boy’s eyes appear darkly shiny and filled with sparkles but they were not night eyes.
The cat settled down to wait. The small human kept making noises but made no move to depart his position in front of the cleft. The cat was waiting for the boy to leave and to leave a meatball behind when he went. As the fire burned low his only move, however, surprised the cat.
The boy went through the process of unwrapping his waist mounted pouch. The cat could not help but salivate a little at the sight. But the boy didn’t leave. Instead of leaving, he tossed the ball across the fire to land not far from the cleft entrance.
The cat stared, first at the still ball of meat and then up through the fire at the boy. His eyes went back and forth, but another thing happened in the cat’s brain as that back and forth action took place. Was the human hunting, even though it was night and the creature was obviously not equipped to hunt in the night?
Was the hominid hunting him?
Was the ball of meat a form of bait or inducement? The cat could not think that complexly but the looks back and forth and the human’s seemingly deceptive conduct were suspicious to a detectable degree. If the cat came out to get the ball, no matter how quickly, could the human not use his stick or something else to kill him?
The cat licked its front paws, one after another. It would wait. The boy was diurnal. It hunted in the day, for the most part. That meant it slept in the night. The cat could half-close its own eyes and wait as long as necessary for the human to fall asleep. Then the ball could be taken and consumed back in the protection of the cleft, or even up on the high branch of the tree if the cat so chose.
It took many hours for the human to finally nod off. The cat moved, not forward through the break in the rocks but up over the back of the largest of the stones. He moved in total silence, staying very close to the ground as he rounded the rocks and made his way past the fire embers which radiated heat but gave off no light. He ignored the meatball entirely as if it wasn’t there. What mattered more was the potential of any threat, and somehow the meatball might figure into that.
The cat approached the boy. The young male hominid lay on his right side, atop a stretch of smooth leather, his body half covered by another piece of the same material. The cat inhaled. The animal skin was from a ruminant of the distant fields beyond the edge of the forest. The skin itself was edible but not unless other better tasting and fresher game, was available.
He smelled every bit of everything he could find, including the sharp pointed stick the young male kept tucked into his side, even when sleeping. The cat sniffed and knew that more meat was secured inside the boy’s pouch but he did nothing about its presence. He smelled other hominids on the boy’s leather attire, particularly on his foot coverings. The boy had a sack of things but the cat would not work to force an opening to examine what they might be.
The cat padded up to where the boy’s head lay, his face slightly upturned, eyes closed and his breathing slow and regular. As it was supposed to be in sleep.
The decision to recover the meatball and whisk it away to the cleft for consumption was made when the boy’s eyes blinked open and stared into his own, only a few inches away.