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Chapter two in which Josie ends up on the wrong side of the stream
Jasper ran along the bank of the stream struggling to keep pace with the rushing current. The rain continued to pelt the ground, turning the bank muddy and thick. Jasper’s fur was getting matted and heavy with water and mud, and Josie and the kittens drifted further away like the flotsam of a sunken ship.
Josie managed to keep her claws dug deep into the branch, the only thing keeping her from being pulled under by the current. She was weak and drenched, but the cries of the kittens just ahead kept her focused. She could just barely hear the calls of Jasper upstream growing more distant. As the current drew them along, the stream began to widen. The current slowed and a few large rocks created a pool on the far side of the stream. The basket carrying the kittens was caught in the pool against the rocks.
As Josie’s branch neared the rocks, she released the branch and caught the outermost rock. The current was strong and the rock was mossy and slick. It took all of Josie’s remaining strength to pull herself to the top of the rock and out of the water. She wanted to collapse there, and pray that the water level didn’t rise, and that help would come soon. But she knew that was not an option.
Carefully, Josie walked along the slick rocks to the far bank. She walked into the shallow edge waters and was able to grab the basket and pull it ashore. Inside, three small, exhausted kittens were huddled together, afraid and relieved at the same time. Giant kitten eyes locked with Josie’s and the largest of the three, a gray and white tuxedo, gave a thankful “mew” to Josie.
Just further downstream Josie could hear the rush of the water and knew that rapids, and possibly even a waterfall, were waiting for them had they not been fortunate enough to catch the pool when they did. Josie tipped the basket and the tiny kittens wobbled out and followed her up the bank to the shelter of a low tree branch. Fortunately the rains were beginning to slow.
Josie curled up in a gentle arc and the three kittens snuggled against her and slightly under her, warm and protected from the light rain. Josie felt her eyes growing heavy but she fought the urge to doze.
Suddenly Josie bolted her head upright. She must have nodded off. What did I hear that woke me, she thought, but was afraid to move to look for fear of revealing herself and the kittens. She carefully scanned the bank of the stream. Across the stream she saw Jasper. His orange fur was caked in brown mud and he was soaked from the rain and the stream. He was looking downstream and calling for Josie. He looked desperate, and she knew that he had just heard the rapids.
“Jasper!” she called, and he flinched his head to the left, instantly meeting Josie’s vivid green eyes under the brush.
His ears perked and his whiskers turned up as a smile creased his face. “But you’re on the wrong side of the stream,” Jasper said with a slight chuckle, his body relaxing somewhat seeing her safely ashore.
“It would appear so,” Josie said as she rose and stepped from under the branch. The kittens had all fallen asleep, and stirred only slightly when Josie moved, curling together into one big ball of fur. Josie stepped toward the slick rocks of the pool. They reached not quite halfway across the creek, but even though the current had slowed, it still was too fast for either of them to try to swim, especially with three kittens.
“The guards went for help. Bear and Maggie should be able to track me to this spot easily with all my muddy tracks.” Jasper looked along the opposite bank. The underbrush was fairly thick, providing plenty of cover for Josie to hide with the kittens until the cavalry arrived. Josie was turning back toward her cover and the kittens when Jasper whispered sharply, “Hold still!”
Josie followed Jasper’s eyes right about 40 feet down the stream to where a large wolf was at the water’s edge, getting a drink from the stream. It looked up toward Josie with cold gray eyes. A sinister grin revealed rows of sharp teeth.