Merry [belated] Christmas, luvvees...sorry I couldn't get this up yesterday. -frown- Doesn't matter. Please enjoy nevertheless, and always remember all that you have. There was more that I wanted to say, but I can't seem to remember now...ah, well.
.a Christmas oneshot.
The depths of a forest had many, many levels. There were the dark parts--the blackest, dreariest places you could possibly roam—and there were the light parts, where happiness flowed freely and cheered the hearts of all who passed by. There were in-between areas, too, of course, shadowy patches painted across the middle-ground land in varying shades of colourless grey. It was on the very outskirts of this territory that a small tom named Spider lived with his parents and younger sister.
The property was known as the Silence. The ragged expanse of ground was staggeringly barren: aside from scraggly trees stunted here and there and mere pawfuls of gravelly soil scattered around, there was nothing; to say that prey was scarce would be an understatement.
Spider's priorities were in taking care of Holly, his sister--at least, that seemed to be his main task nowadays, ever since their mother had grown terribly ill and their father spent all his time out hunting. Yet leafbare was quickly setting in, and, though he searched every heartbeat he could spare, their father was forced to trek further and further away each day and still never managed to find enough food to support his family. Far away from civilization and huddling in the scratchy confines of a leafless bush, with the icy winds howling against the miserable sanctuary and his father not yet returned, Spider had never felt colder.
"I'm cold, big brother!" Holly squeaked, shuffling closer to Spider and pressing her thin, downy pelt to his. He looked sadly down at her, meeting her enormous blue gaze.
"I know, Holly, I know; so am I. Don't worry: Papa will be home soon, with something warm and tasty to eat. You'll feel much better then."
Silently, he hoped his voice sounded surer than his thoughts; confidence was not one of his redeeming qualities. He glanced over at the moss-and-bracken nest where his mother slept, a light tabby mound of fur moved only by the slight motion of her shallow breathing. He padded to her side and touched his nose to her muzzle; Holly followed his pawsteps without a word, coming over to stand beside her parent and sibling while shivering slightly--whether it was from the chill air or from undeniable fear, Spider did not know.
Crouching, he began to lick his mother's ruffled fur, smoothing it down while distantly remembering when she had been well, un-ailed by the sickness, pelt neatly groomed and amber eyes shining. His throat clenched as though there was something big lodged in it; those times were long gone now.
Suddenly, she stirred under his gentle touch, her eyelids fluttering and her tailtip twitching slightly as she shifted through the void to consciousness. He paused in his washing, anxiety pooling in his expression.
"Mama?" he whispered hoarsely.
Her eyes flicked open, and she searched the interior of the den for a moment before she found him; her glassy stare slid slowly into focus as it met her first-and-only son. The pale fur around her mouth quivered; it may have been an attempt at a smile, but it came out as more of a lopsided grimace of pain.
"Spider," she croaked, her meow like grating rocks, "Spider, my dear son...." Chest heaving as the draining effort to speak took its toll, she seemed to notice that her daughter was standing there, as well. "And Holly, too! Oh, my kits..." She sighed, long and weary. Her bones showed plainly through her fur, weak and bedridden as she was; it made Spider sick to look at her, to see how she was dying and that there was nothing he could do for her. Then another wave of drowsiness crashed over her, and she closed her eyes once more. "Forgive me," she murmured, "I never meant to hurt you this way. My children..."
She was already asleep, air hissing labouriously into her lungs as she fought the incurable battle inside her.
With one last, longing glance at her nearly-still form, Spider bowed his head and plodded glumly away, knowing his mother needed rest at the moment...and maybe a good bite to eat. Holly trailed after him, struggling to keep her tiny pawsteps in time with her brother's. "Spider?" she asked in a small voice.
"Yes?" He didn't turn his head to respond.
"Is Mama going to die?"
Now he looked at her, staring into her tentative face while mixed shock and agony rippled through him. There were a few heartbeats of stunned silence, and then, "I...what?" Spider didn't know what to say. His sister was no stranger to death; her two littermates, Star and Snowfall, had been taken by the cold not many sunrises ago. It had been a day of grieving for everyone.
She was still waiting for an answer.
"Holly...," he mewed with a sigh, "she is...not well." That was the truth; no cat could deny it. "I just think that she needs more sleep. She's very tired."
Holly opened her mouth to say something more, but then, suddenly distracted, averted her gaze to the rough entranceway into the den. "Oh...Papa's home."
Sure enough, the lone tomcat shrugged his way into the bush a heartbeat later. Automatically, Spider looked to see if he had caught any prey. He had--a mouse hung limply from his jaws--but Spider knew it was not nearly enough; there were four of them and only one small meal to share between them. Nevertheless, he moved forward to greet his father, pushing his face into the warmth of the older cat's fur. "Hi, Papa," came his mumble.
He felt Papa's tongue rasp over his ear, and a purr rose in his throat. "Spider," his father acknowledged, "Holly." He nodded to his daughter.
Spider's eyes were back on the mouse. How good it smelled; how hungry he was! But...no; he could not--would not--give in. The food should go to his mother and sister first, as they were the frailest and most in need of nutrition. Ignoring the growl trembling in his stomach, he pulled away and headed for the entrance. "I'm going outside," he meowed, trying to sound offhand as he slipped outside.
It was snowing. Big, white snowflakes tumbled down from the darkening sky ahead, accumulating across the forest floor in sticky clumps. Only some of them melted as they touched his fur; the rest were stayed there, clinging relentlessly to the long grey hairs. There was a small tree standing near the den: spruce, his father had once told him. Once upon a time, Spider had frolicked in its shade with the warm sun beating overhead, no more than a foolish kit eager to play away from the walls of the bush that was his home. Those memories seemed a long way away now, nothing more than a pleasant dream from another lifetime.
Lately, the tree had not drawn much interest from Spider; he had been too busy attending to his siblings and mother to have much time to himself. Now, however, he sensed a strange gravitation towards the prickly little thing, and he wandered over to sit under it and watch the snow fall. After a while, he looked up at the tree; its dark green needles and white-powdered boughs were oddly comforting, beautiful in more than one way. It brought a faint happiness to his face to realize that something so natural, so pure, could be so miraculous, prevailing even throughout this frozen weather.
He wished his mother could follow its path.
Spider dreamed that night. Nestled in close beside his sister, he saw in his mind that same scene from earlier that day: the spruce tree, a show of strength and goodness, stood proud and stout before the den. Yet something was different now, not quite the same; the image shivered a touch, trembling like ripples in a pond. And then they came.
Numberless spiders, far too many to properly count, were crawling over the ground in a mass hurry to reach the tree. Panicked, Spider lifted his paws and danced clumsily around in his haste to escape the crowding objects of his namesake, but they did not touch him, did not waver in their race; it was as if he wasn't there.
They had reached the tree by now, swarming up its trunk and into its branches like some unseemly black cloud ready to swallow it up. Spider blinked, and they were already gone: in their place hung hundreds of glistening gossamer threads; long, dangling cobwebs were stretched across the tree, a miracle bathed in all its glory.
Opening his eyes, Spider awoke to complete darkness. What a curious dream, he thought. Raising his head from his paws, he saw that it was still night; his parents and sister were still sound asleep. It was only then that he realized that it was not totally black; what he had at first mistaken as moonlight shining through the bush's branches could not possibly be, as it was much too argent and not nearly subtle enough.
An unknown emotion pricked at his paws as he got up from his nest--careful not to disturb Holly--and padded outside into the chill night's air.
He gasped. The spruce tree was no longer just a spruce tree; suspended from its boughs were the same cobwebs he had seen in his dream. Yet they did not quite match the images from his sleep, were too bright and earnest to simply be cobwebs....
With a start, Spider realized that the webs were glowing.
A picture flashed through his mind: the twinkling stars from the sky streaking down to brush the tree as though they had minds of their own, seamlessly transferring their ultimate glitter to the cobweb strands. Though he could not possibly comprehend exactly how, Spider knew with a strong, rightful feeling of conviction that that had been what happened.
All was quiet. There was nothing but the silky light emancipating from the delicate ribbons, no movement save for the frosty breath that lingered like shimmering pearl smoke before Spider.
As he turned and walked slowly back to the den with hushed joy sparkling in his eyes, a silent breeze whispered through the air like a ghost. Somewhere in the vast night sky, a phantom of solace was laughing.
Take what you will from the ending; it's all part of the beauty in mystery. :D
Love and best holiday wishes,
Friday December 26, 2008