by Torch Nebor
Bubba the Cat finds an enemy and a food source.
|Bubba the Cat woke first that morning and scooted outside quietly as Chain slept off a hard day's work. Chain Golden was a woman nearing sixty years old, lived in a tipi she had made herself several years earlier, and the arthritis in her body wasn't very kind to her when she stressed her body too hard.
Her chainsaw had been kept busy preparing for another winter and the days of smoking meats and fish she killed, so Camp Sapphire wouldn't know hunger. Or at least know the kind of hunger that had been suffered after the suitcase nuclear bomb had exploded in Chicago a few years ago.
Fear of more nuclear explosions had driven people to escape the larger cities and this exodus from the fallout and fear of more explosions caused a nationwide upheaval and nearly devastating economic collapse for America. Life had ended as the way they had known it, but Bubba and Chain had been bettered prepared than most and a lot more blessed than some.
But, at that time in their lives together, Bubba's only concern was spraying the bushes with his manly cat urine. Camp Sapphire was his home and he had to let the other cats in the area know who he was and that he was very healthy and would not tolerate trespassing. Danger To All Dogs, a long deceased cat mentor, had taught him that.
When completed with his morning catly duties, Bubba sat next to a tall brush pile Chain had created the day before. In such recently created piles, Bubba knew the rat and mouse would often stop and nibble at the fresh green ends of the hickory or oak trees she used for firewood. These ends would contain small amounts of natural salt. He waited patiently with the rising sun at his back and listened for the squeaks and whistles of feeding mice. This morning, the brush pile was silent. The barn owl had been there earlier that morning.
Well, he thought to himself as he looked for signs of movement in the brush pile, if no mice here than maybe along the fence line. I've had really good luck there. Bubba stopped and looked at the tipi. Chain wasn't up yet or there would have been smoke drifting from the smoke hole. I know you don't like it when I leave camp, my dear, but I am a cat and a cat has to do what comes natural. I'll be back before too long. I promise.
Bubba lifted his tail as he rose and walked down the dusty path under sweet gum trees, ancient oaks, and towering pines towards the weedy fence line several hundred feet away from camp. A small pond was nearby and maybe he would chance upon a sleepy frog again like last week. Frogs were so tasty. See. Stalk. Catch. Kill. Chew. Eat. Live another day. Even when Bubba was known as Mr. Kitty, he could have caught frogs though he barely had the hunting skills in those days before his time on the pallets. The Days of Leaving changed Bubba forever. But that is another story.
Bubba found his favorite sitting spot and made himself comfortable. Only his ears moved as he waited for sounds to be captured in the long graceful ears tipped with black hair that came to a delicate point. Half an hour passed and still no sounds. Only sparrows chirped in the brush seeking bugs and Bubba wasn't bird hunting. He left that duty to Chain. When she had no fish or other meat to feed him, she trapped sparrows in nearly invisible nets and prepared them, so Bubba could eat without fear of parasites.
Bubba knew the sun's warmth would reach the tipi soon and he knew he had to catch something before he was caught and chided for being so far from camp. Bubba was aware of the dangers. Coyotes, foxes, and feral dogs ... to them, he was the meal of the day.
Bubba treaded the ground beneath his feet in boredom and then caught a faint fragrance he had never smelled before. It was like citrus, but kind of sour. Bubba sounded the wind that crossed his face again and got a general idea of where the smell was coming from.
If the smell was something that Chain might eat and if she would eat it then a rat or mouse might eat it, too. Bubba made the connection quickly in his mind and stood, stretched, and walked cautiously on hunting cat's paws towards the fragrant odor.
He crossed a deer path and then another and then another. Getting further and further away from Camp Sapphire. The citrus smell became stronger, but was still hard to locate as faint morning breezes swirled through the tall dog fennel around him. Bubba paced his stride. He was on the hunt. He didn't want to surprise a rabbit and have it running away alarming the other animals on the forest floor as well that he, Bubba the Cat, was on the hunt.
Bubba stopped at an old barb wire fence rusted and nearly crushed by the decades of weathering storms and winters. He looked left and right. He looked through the tree tops for movement. If no mice were available, then mice's cousin the squirrel would do.
Bubba laid flat on the ground and listened, watched, and sounded the air again. He was nearing the creek and a little voice far back in his mind warned of a deadly danger because he was now out of earshot of Chain and her protective knives and guns. Even her walking stick could be formidable if applied hard enough across the back or rib cage of anything that would try to harm him. Chain loved Bubba and Bubba knew it. She was his human and he was her cat.
Bubba's mackerel gray fur with delicate black swirls and stripes was perfect camouflage in the dying grasses of summer.
A young, male bobcat suddenly appeared across the gully lined with ferns and grape vines. Less than one hundred feet away from Bubba. It dipped a small nose into the water and then lapped it from a pool scarcely two feet wide and ten feet long. Dry Creek, as Chain called this creek, was a favorite watering hole for many animals.
Bubba's heart quickened when he saw the creature to whom he was related, but would have no mercy on him. As Chain would have described Bubba, "You are a corn-fed cat, Bubba. A good meal. Fat and healthy. Even your own kind would eat you. Don't leave camp." She had shaken her finger lovingly in his face as a gentle enforcement of her words. Then she hugged him tightly and told him she loved him and that they should be together for years and years.
Bubba silently snarled as the bobcat leapt the pool effortlessly and began to walk towards him unaware of Bubba's presence. Bubba was downwind.
Bubba had stopped along the bobcat's hunting trail and his only stroke of good luck at that moment was the fact that Bubba had hidden himself several feet off the trail. The bobcat stopped and sniffed the old barb wire for the scent of rabbits who would cross through the fence to drink at the same pool in the night.
How the bobcat knew he wasn't alone was often called an instinct by some, but the bobcat didn't care of the source of his new knowledge, he just knew he wasn't alone and that whatever it was, was nearby. He didn't know what was watching him, but he felt the presence of something that felt like an enemy and the bobcat gave a loud snarl. A roar for a bobcat followed the snarl and the bobcat crossed the fence looking for an enemy he knew was nearby. An enemy he would destroy. These were his hunting grounds and he would defend them viciously.
The scent of citrus was very strong around the pool and the low prevailing breezes mixed the scents of both cat and bobcat and the pine forest making it difficult for the bobcat to find what it was that was hunting in his territory by scent alone. It smelled like a cat, but the smell of smoke was strong, too. There was the odor of human, too, but very faint. The bobcat had seen Chain many times and knew she lived nearby and then when it recognized her scent as well, changed his method of seeking the trespasser. Chain had a cat. A very well fed cat, by his standards.
This bobcat had eluded her traps and guns because where there were humans, there would be dogs. But Chain never had the scent of dogs with her. Only a cat. And an old cat at that. Was that what was in his forest? Her cat? Her very large and well fed cat?
The bobcat walked passed Bubba and towards a stand of pine trees adjacent to the forest of oaks and sweet gums. Without missing a step, he turned around in a flash expecting to see an enemy. Bubba didn't move. He couldn't see the bobcat because he was flattened to the ground, but he knew the bobcat was close.
The breezes blew across Bubba's back and carried small particles of skin dander away with them and towards the bobcat's nose and after a few moments, the bobcat knew exactly where Bubba was simply by using his nose. It was a cat that was in the woods the bobcat called his. It was her very well fed cat, too. Chain, who had snared rabbits and whose rabbits he had stolen from her snares. Chain had snared one of his kind as well though it had been an unintentional snaring. She had killed the bobcat because it had injured itself mortally trying to escape. Chain used it's body, his brother's body, for food. These were not times where meat could be wasted, no matter the type.
His eyes narrowed and he lowered his shoulders and raised his rump as he prepared for the battle to kill Bubba. A tame cat was always tender of flesh. If he could catch no rabbit then this cat's flesh would do. He had killed cats before and today he would kill again and this cat would settle an old score he had with Chain.
Ducking beneath low growing briar canes reaching out in six foot lengths, the bobcat was now only twenty feet from Bubba who trembled with fear and dread for leaving Camp Sapphire. His own appetites had brought him to this place and he regretted leaving Camp Sapphire like he had never regretted anything in his life. He knew he could scream as loud as he possibly could and Chain would not hear him.
Bubba's heart pounded so hard he felt like he would be discovered simply by the pressure of it causing the ground to vibrate with each hard thump.
The bobcat snarled and hissed when he crept within ten feet of Bubba and got a good look at him after raising up slowly. Bubba was a large cat at nearly twenty pounds, but the bobcat had fifteen extra pounds and had been born wild and tutored by an excellent bobcat mother on how to hunt.
I will snap your neck, cat. The bobcat's eyes spoke as they watched the frightened tom cat attempt to disappear into the ground by sheer will power.
The bobcat dashed for Bubba and Bubba heard the bobcat as his belly was scraped by the dried grasses. Bubba then raised quickly and leapt over the fence screaming the horror of knowing his own death was imminent. He screamed again and again as the bobcat made the same graceful leap over the fence and was quickly closing the gap between him and his next meal.
A large pine tree came into Bubba's fear induced tunnel vision and pure adrenaline drove Bubba up the side of the tree digging his claws into the soft, crumbling bark. He climbed and climbed and got as high as he could in the tree. Breathing hard and with his eyes wide with terror, he stopped and looked back down the tree at the bobcat jumping onto the tree and following though not as fast. Bubba gained three seconds.
Bubba gave a call of HELP ME, CHAIN! as loud as he could.
HELP ME! HELP ME! Bubba screamed as he swiftly dug his claws into the soft bark to climb as high as he could.
His calls of feline horror woke slumbering squirrels who immediately crawled out of their leafy nests and answered back with their own cries.
The bobcat disregarded the call Bubba gave for he knew Chain rarely moved far from camp this early and began to salivate as he imagined clamping his jaws around the head of the cat that smelled like woodsmoke and human touch.
Bubba climbed and reached a wide limb and crawled out onto it quickly. He turned and faced the bobcat just a few seconds behind him. Bubba looked at the next tree beside him. It wasn't as tall or as big as the one he was in, but he had to make that jump.
When the bobcat began to crawl out on the same limb Bubba clung to, Bubba jumped with such an intense fear that he slammed into the pine tree beside the one his enemy was in and weakly grasped the bark barely aware for a moment where he was.
Bubba was dazed as he lowered himself into a crotch in the smaller pine tree. This narrow place that was also holding a dead pine limb snapped off during a storm. It was an unsteady seat to watch the bobcat from while it looked at him with murderous intent fifteen feet away. But, it was all he had at the moment as he gathered his wits and cleared the fog out of his mind.
The bobcat didn't want to make such a leap, but knew Bubba was hurt. Bubba felt the terror in his heart and mind make his legs weak and called out again with a loud cat voice fill with horror.
CHAIN! CHAIN! HELP ME! HELP ME! CHAIN! I'M HERE! HELP ME! Bubba screamed in terror wondering what was taking so long.
The group of starlings couldn't take the ruckus and flew straight up from their night nests as they traveled southward for the winter. Their own calls would cause deer and other animals to stop what they were doing and look in the direction the noises had come from.
Bubba's voice was carried by the winds making the pine trees rock softly back and forth and towards Camp Sapphire that seemed light years away from him at that moment. He bowed his head in regret again for leaving the safety of the camp when the bobcat began to slide down the tree. Bubba was gaining a little more time, but his only option was to go up further into the small pine tree.
On the ground, the bobcat wasted no time and ran towards the pine tree Bubba was in and barely able to hang onto as the pine bough he sat on rocked under his body.
Squirrels heard the fight for life and death and began to bark and whine loudly. Concentric rings of different kinds of animal noises from the forest began to flow from the pine trees. Bubba moved higher up the pine tree and onto the highest and smallest pine limb he could get to.
Crows cawed over the disturbance and flew over the fight throwing curses at both cats.
A barn owl left his roost flying quickly through the forest dodging tree limbs to get away from the pair. He hooted his own anger towards the intrusion of the noisy fight and flew further away carrying his voice filled with consternation with him. More concentric rings of noises grew from the pines and expert ears zeroed in on the sounds and moved quickly towards them.
A coyote quickly crossed the creek and hurried to the sounds as fast as her four feet would carry her. What was being killed might be large enough as food for her and her pups growing in her belly and as a fully grown coyote she would have no trouble stealing it from a bobcat.
A hawk sat on her perch in a nearby dead tree and watched the bobcat looking up the pine tree at the terrified cat snarling its contempt for being forced to work harder than it wanted to for a few pounds of meat. She raised her gaze when she saw a solitary figure approaching them quietly through the forest.
The high drama of the forest had many witnesses who expressed their opinions vocally adding more information of what was going on and where it was happening.
The coyote stopped and listened for more sounds to guide her to what was happening. Someone was hunting and was having good luck at it, too.
Squirrels scolded the pair of felines for disrupting their nesting and feeding and rabbits ran quickly, hid, and ran more to escape the sounds of the life and death struggle. The frightened animals ran away and the ones who felt safe in their own trees answered the little cat's calls for help with jeers.
You hunted us and now it's your turn.
The solitary figure moved like a shadow across the forest floor not fully aware of what to expect, but not wanting to be injured unnecessarily. She stopped and listened trying to find the center of the source of the noises.
The bobcat watched Bubba clinging to the vertical pine tree limb as he climbed. This tree was smaller than the first and his weight caused the branches in the treetops to sway. This movement did not go undetected by others moving in to make a kill of their own.
If she could, the coyote would kill a bobcat for a meal, but it would have to be a small bobcat or one caught unawares. She had done this before and moved in like a four-footed assassin eager to get the killing over with. The life inside her body demanded this harshness if they were to be a part of her immortality among coyotes the way she was with her ancestors.
The bobcat pushed himself up the trees with claws as sharp as a new knife and stopped only to make sure Bubba wasn't going to jump to the other tree when he noticed Bubba move opposite his side of the tree.
Bubba covered his eyes with the limb of the tree and called out again for Chain as loud as he could. His fearful voice excited the bobcat who felt confident enough to practically leap up the slender pine tree. The pine tree shook even more and Bubba dug his claws in deeper in the soft wood.
The bobcat was only a foot away from Bubba with it's long claws extended out when Chain raised her .22 rifle, balanced it on a tree for a steady shot, and shot the animal cleanly in the head. Bubba was so scared he didn't hear the crack of the rifle or feel the bobcat fall to it's death.
The bobcat was dead before it hit the forest floor. It fell tumbling through the pine tree limbs and crashed hard at the base of the tree. Blood flowed from the wound to it's head and soaked into the pine needles. It's body stiffened and relaxed as the injury to it's brain caused wild firing to occur for a few moments. The death seizures were over by the time Chain would stand next to it making sure it was dead.
Breathless from the run, Chain had to lean against a persimmon tree to make the long shot of three hundred feet, but it was done. It was over with. Bubba was saved.
When the coyote heard the shot, she knew a human was too close for her to risk her life over an easy meal. Half of her hunting pack had been killed by humans after The Blast for food. She had no use for any of them. The pregnant coyote turned and ran into the shadows of the forest.
Chain looked up the tree the distance equal to that of a football field at Bubba who was clutching the slender limb in a death grip expecting any minute now for his legs to be pulled out from under him by the bobcat.
"Bubba, " she called out, her body was was trembling from the fearful thought she wouldn't make it to the center of the concentric rings of noise in time. She was too far away for him to hear her.
"Bubba," she called out again only louder. She moved across the cold, dew soaked ground dodging sharp sticks and briars with her bare feet. Red streaks of blood showed where she had snagged catbriars while hurriedly looking for Bubba. These long scratches held the tips of briars she would have to pull out later.
Bubba didn't hear her. He was caught up in his own thoughts that his time was nearly up. He didn't want to leave Chain. That thought broke his heart and in his own cat way, he began to weep about his miserable plight.
I'm sorry, Chain. I'm so sorry. Bubba closed his eyes tighter knowing any second now the deadly claws would find him. This time, he was the meal and Bubba was afraid.
Chain crossed the aged fence and stopped and called out his name again as she stood under the pinetree with her beloved cat in its uppermost branches. Bubba didn't hear her as he waited to die for his foolishness.
Chain picked up a pinecone and tossed it at him to get his attention along with another call of his name. The sharp edges of the pinecone struck his flank and Bubba screamed and turned and looked downward expecting to see the bobcat smiling a victory grin right before it dug it's claws into him to drag him to the forest floor to kill and eat him.
He saw Chain's reddened face looking up at him, but in his state of mind, he couldn't believe it. He looked up the tree towards the sky and back down at her. Yes, it was Chain. She was breathing hard and motioned for him to come down.
"Bubba. C'mon, baby. It's over. C'mon down, boy. I got ... him." Chain looked at the bobcat and turned it's body over with the toe of her cold bare foot to confirm the gender.
Bubba released his grip on the limb and began to carefully descend the tree. As he climbed, he meowed his deepest apologies for causing so much trouble.
Chain dragged the bobcat from his sight, so it wouldn't frighten him back up the tree. She picked up and tossed the dead bobcat into the center of a bramble bush bed growing in a large circle in the sun.
She spoke to her beloved cat as he climbed downward.
"Boy, I had this dream. Woke me up and I was so afraid. Felt like someone grabbed my shoulder and said to me real hard, 'Get up. Bubba's in danger.' "Chain shook her head. "I guess you got a guardian angel, boy."
She looked at the cat not realizing how frightened he truly was. He meowed as he descended the tree getting closer and closer to her.
"Now come on down. My feet are cold. That dew felt like ice when I crossed the field a little while ago trying to get a fix on what was causing all the animals to call out like that. I had a feeling you were the center of it all. My little boy. My little Bubba Boy. "
Bubba crawled down the tree, but stopped on the lowest limb looking for the bobcat. He was tired. His head hurt. His shoulder hurt where he had slammed into the tree earlier. He didn't feel the brave Bubba at that moment. He wasn't Bubba on the Prowl he had been an hour earlier. He was Bubba the One Who Almost Became Breakfast and the thought frightened him.
"He's gone, boy. That bobcat can't hurt you. I know you can smell him, but I bet you smell blood, too. Those headshots bleed out pretty good sometimes." Chain spoke soothingly to her frightened cat as she hung her Ruger 10-22 rifle by its nylon sling on her shoulder. She raised up her arms to Bubba ten feet over her head. "C'mon, Bubbalicious. Jump. I'll catch you."
Bubba waited for a moment to catch his breath and then turned around and finished the climb on shakey legs. He wasn't a young cat anymore and really felt his age today.
Chain scooped him up into her arms when he touched ground near to where the bobcat had fallen and snuggled her cheek next to his whiskered one. "Don't leave camp, Bubba. Don't ever leave camp. If you want to go hunting, wait for me and we'll go hunting together." She softly scolded him and then cuddled him while he relaxed in her arms. Bubba noticed her own heart was still beating hard and grew concerned for Bubba understood that Chain wasn't the young woman he had met many years ago while he laid on top of a convenience store abandoned and starving and nearly dead from neglect.
Bubba was cradled and examined for injuries. Satisfied he hadn't been bitten, Chain fussed at him again. Her tone was love mixed with concern.
"Scared you, didn't it. Those bobcats don't play, Bubba Boy. Hope it was a good enough scaring to keep you from doing that again."
Chain felt the fear leaving her body and suddenly felt tired and lightheaded.
"Man, my legs are shaking. Let's sit here a minute, so I can catch my breath." She leaned her rifle against the tree after putting Bubba on the ground. He immediately got into her lap after she was seated leaning against the tree. The rising sun warmed them both as they recovered from the shock of nearly being separated permanently.
Bubba enjoyed being cradled in her arms as they sat beneath the pine tree of certain death as he would come to call the tree. He could smell the bobcat's blood in the pine needles and knew the body was nearby, but knew he was safe, too.
The scent of oranges filled his nose again and even Chain noticed it this time.
Standing a few minutes later, she carried Bubba to a shady patch of forest where sunlight danced along the ground in little dapplings of white dots that were almost hypnotic.
A trifoliate orange tree stand was growing thick in the damp forest along Dry Creek and the small, orange, and fuzzy fruits gave a pungent scent of citrus. Long barbs of deep green colored thorns protected the green three-leaf arrangements from animals tempted to eat the little oranges, though few did. The fruit was disagreeable to most of the forest creatures.
"These are wild oranges, Bubba. Least that is what I call them. Educated people call them trifoliate orange trees. Very very sour when eatened raw, too. See those long thorns. Will tear up a shirt with no trouble."
Chain examined the ping pong ball sized fruit closely as she held Bubba like a new born baby. "You have to scoop out and then dry the pulp and then you have to pound it into a powder. Tastes pretty good, if you like a strong tart taste. You mix this powder with honey. A sweet and sour condiment, if you like. Can't imagine the dead bobcat back there in the bramble bushes would have used it though with you. Sweet as you are, that bobcat would have a tasty meal with just simply you in it's mouth. Remember, Bubba, you are a corn-fed kitty. Tender meat."
Bubba held tightly again to Chain as they passed the trees and bramble bushes hiding the cooling carcass of the bobcat and relaxed only when he saw the tipi. He leaned over heavy in her arms as a gesture of put me down here. Chain obliged him and kept moving towards the tipi with feet chilled red as was her nose. The last thing she needed was a cold.
Leaping to the picnic work table, he remained there till Chain exited the tipi a little later on with a fresh cup of hot pineneedle tea creating a cloud of steam behind her as she walked. In her other hand, she carried her boots and socks. She had something draped over her shoulder, but Bubba couldn't make it out.
"Let me get my boots and socks on and then I'll go get that bobcat after I drink my tea. You are staying here at camp, Bubba," she said, her voice was firm and Bubba knew better than to follow her today into the woods, "and I don't want no backtalk about it." She petted Bubba and they cat kissed. She sat in their hammock and sipped her tea silently.
Bubba could tell Chain was thinking about something. Chain was always thinking about something to make their lives easier in the hard times they were passing through.
"His hide will make a nice throw rug we can sit on when it gets even colder. And you know what else, Bubba? I'll get some of those wild oranges, too. Dry 'em out and pound the dried pulp into dust. Use it on some squirrel that's old and chewy. Maybe make a marinade out of the powder along with the wild grape vinegar I made last summer. I've got enough cooking oil to make a decent marinade. A sweet and sour marinade is always good on chewy squirrel meat."
Bubba closed his eyes as she gently petted him and rubbed his back before leaving camp. Under his gray coat, he had bruises from where he smacked the tree after his leap to escape the bobcat, but they weren't serious bruises.
He watched her leave Camp Sapphire with a large burlap bag thrown over her shoulder and recognized it as what they sat on sometimes when the covered floor of the tipi was cold. The smell of bobcat and wild oranges would linger on the bag for a week before he would sit on it again.
Later that year, after Chain had tanned the bobcat hide, Bubba would sleep on the soft fur beside the fire in the tipi. It kept him warm for many years. Sometimes Bubba found the idea amusing as he curled up on the soft fur and sometimes he found the idea a little frightening. But cats are like that.