I can't believe this is going by so fast ... just one chapter after this! Grab you snacks and you favorite spot. I'm getting a little nervous and eager to see what happens next...
Chapter four in which a mysterious fog gives Josie a chance
Josie was ready to react. She just knew at any moment the wolf was going to leap and she would be in the fight of her life. The wolf’s muscles were rippling. He had slowed his approach toward Josie when he saw Jasper across the stream, unwilling maybe to take on two foes at once. But he seemed less concerned about Jasper with each passing moment.
The wolf started to lower into a crouch. But then, from downstream, a fog rolled in against the current. The wolf appeared disoriented and actually retreated a pace as the visibility greatly reduced.
In the fog Josie thought she saw movement and ducked, expecting the brutal claws of the wolf. But then she saw a face, or what she thought might have been a face. The harder she tried to see the shapes, the more ephemeral they became, like trying to remember a dream. At times she thought she saw faces and even heard voices of old friends, long passed. Then, from the grayness, one started to become almost solid.
A gray and white tuxedo cat, very similar to Josie, approached through the mist. His expression was grave and serious. “We don’t have much time,” Fluffy said. “We cannot move you to safety, but I can offer advice.”
Josie was stunned by the sudden appearance of her parents’ long-deceased confidant. She had heard Maggie talk of him from her time in the cave a few months back and recognized him instantly, but this was the last thing she expected.
“Quickly,” Fluffy instructed, “trust your footing on the rocks. You can toss the kittens safely to the others. But you must act now.” Josie could see the fog was already beginning to thin.
“Thank you,” Josie said, relieved, and darted back to the kittens in the underbrush. Her tail flicked through the misty Fluffy as he became more intangible by the minute. Carefully, Josie grabbed a small solid gray kitten by the nape of the neck and pulled him from the huddle of kittens. At the water’s edge the fog was thinner and she saw the rocks. Slowly, cautiously, she walked along the rocks to the very edge. Bear was ankle deep in the water. Josie flicked the kitten to Bear. It arced and landed gently in his mouth by the nape of its neck, as if it had been handed over.
“Quickly,” Josie heard through the mist, like an insistent whisper. She returned to the underbrush and lifted the smallest of the kittens, a little calico, and hurried back to the rocks. She was rushing now and almost slipped into the stream. She might have cursed had the kitten not been in her mouth. This time Maggie was waiting, not quite as deep as Bear had been. Josie tossed the kitten and Maggie leapt, cradling the kitten with her front legs and chest. She lifted the kitten by the nape of the neck, and took it to safe, dry ground, and her kitten brother.
Bear had already started back toward the stream. Maggie set the calico down with her brother and told them, “Stay. You’re safe now.” She gave a quick, calming lick to the tops of their heads, then turned back to follow Bear.
Josie was heading back toward the rocks with the final kitten, the gray tuxedo, when the fog thinned. She knew her time was limited but had hoped to get the final kitten across under the cover Fluffy had provided. As the fog thinned, she could see the wolf in full sprint toward her. Guess he’s done waiting, Josie thought.
The wolf lunged toward Josie just as she made her last stride to the rocks. She fell to her side to avoid the blow. The kitten fell from her mouth as she turned to face the wolf. She bore her teeth at the wolf, bristled her fur on her back, and let out a sharp hiss. The little kitten started to step forward, trying to make himself big too. Josie took a paw and slid him beneath her. “Not now,” she whispered. “This is not a game.”
Without breaking eye contact with the wolf Josie bent slowly and picked up the tuxie kitten. Then she felt with her back paw for the rocks. Her foot slipped from the edge of the first rock into the shallow water. She almost looked away, but then firmly fixed her gaze with the wolf.
Starting again, she felt around with her back paw, finding the flatter surface of the rock. She backed up along the rocks, almost slipping a second time. With each step backward the wolf took a small step toward her, its muscles twitching eagerly for the next pounce.
Josie reached the final rock. She knew that Jasper, Bear and Maggie were waiting for her to toss the kitten. She also knew that if she turned her head the wolf would surely leap.