Smoke and buffeting winds of stinging ash made Feather’s eyes sting as they swirled around her. She could see nothing around her except flashes of gold. In the distance, there was a deafening roar that made her ears ring. Abruptly, the smoke thinned and Feather could see bobcats fleeing for their lives. Then the choking blackness engulfed her again. A distant voice warned, “Beware of sun and fire.” Before she could comprehend the ominous warning, blobs of glowing red flew at her. Then a wave of crimson, bright red crimson, engulfed her.
In a lush glade on Mount Mazama, a volcano that lies on a convergent plate boundary in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon in the year 5677 B.C., a silver bobcat with a fluffy tail opened her dark blue eyes and squinted in the early morning sunlight that streamed through the low-branched holly bush. Feather arched her back in a luxurious stretch and pushed her way out of the bush. Bobcats bustled around the hollow, reinforcing the barrier of thorns and fixing broken dens. A week before, the mountain lions and their mighty leader had invaded their home. The invasion was well planned and the mountain lions would have won if the Wolf Tribe, a group of wolves, the bobcats’ allies, had not come to save them. Everyone was chipping in to repair their home. Feather decided that she would contribute by hunting. As usual, she searched out the gray tabby pelt of her friend, Cloud, to ask her friend to accompany her. They always did everything together. She glanced around the leaf strewn clearing and spotted the lithe body of Cloud on her favorite place to bask, a mossy rock in the edge of the clearing. Feather padded over to the mossy rock where Cloud was stretched out on, relaxing.
“Hi, do you want to go out hunting today? All the prey will be up and about on a warm day like this.”Feather queried.
“Come on, I just climbed on the rock a minute ago and you ask me to get off! Yesterday I hunted until my paws ached. All night long, you muttered in your sleep and thrashed around. I clambered up this rock because I wanted some peace and quiet. Let me have some rest.”Cloud grumbled drowsily and put her black paws on her small pink nose.
“Okay, I’ll go alone then.”Feather tossed the reply over her shoulder as she bounded toward her usual hunting grounds.
The sunlight streamed through the canopy of trees as Feather padded through the forest. The soft chattering of the birds told Feather that her guess that the prey would be up and about was correct. A nearby stalk of grass swayed and a mouse crept out, its eye on a seed by an oak tree. Instinctively, Feather fell into a crouch and glided forward swiftly. As she slid forward, her mind drifted to the dream of the smoke and winds the night before. What had the voice meant by beware of sun and fire? Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the mouse had snatched the seed and was trying to return to the safety of its burrow. Feather snapped out of her thoughts and chased after the mouse, but it was too late. The little creature had reached its burrow and scurried inside.
“Great!”Feather moaned,”That one was plump enough to feed half of the tribe.”
Feather pricked her ears again and detected a soft flutter of wings. She looked up and spotted a blue jay spiraling down for landing. The bird lighted on the forest floor and pecked at an acorn. Determined to not lose another piece of prey, Feather stalked forward lightly and pounced on the bird. The blue jay struggled, trying to get in the air, but Feather was faster. She killed it with a swift bite to its throat. Content with her catch, Feather hid it under a nearby bush. She would collect it later.
By dusk, Feather had caught three mice, a thrush, a blue jay, and a plump rabbit. Proudly, she hauled in her catch and deposited it in a hollow tree stump where the tribe put their catch.
“Good catch!”Cloud congratulated Feather, her eyes no longer bright with exhaustion.
“You too,” Feather motioned to the chubby pheasant that her friend dropped in the tree stump.
Feather grabbed a magpie for herself and a squirrel for Cloud. She padded over to their usual eating spot, a bed of sweet smelling flowers in the center of the glade, where Cloud was already waiting. She put down the mouse in front of her friend and settled down next to her. As Feather ate, her thoughts drifted back to the ill-omened dream. In the background, she could hear Cloud chattering about something, but she pushed the voice out of her mind and concentrated on the warning.
“What is bothering you today?”Cloud’s voice snapped Feather out of her concentration. “Wha-nothing.”Feather mumbled around the magpie, avoiding Cloud’s gaze.
“I know something is bothering you. You can tell me and maybe I’ll be able to help you with it.”Cloud meowed, her amber eyes concerned,” Isn’t that what friends are for?”
Feather sighed. It was hard to hide what was bothering her from Cloud and maybe two minds would be able to decipher the dream’s meaning.
“Okay. Yesterday, I had a dream,” Feather began hesitantly,” I-I dreamed that smoke was everywhere and I couldn’t see anything except flashes of gold. Then, the smoke thinned out and I could see the tribe fleeing for their lives. A distant voice said to beware of sun and fire.”
“Sun and fire…”Cloud said thoughtfully,”Hmm…maybe there will be a fire in the forest.”
“Then what about the sun part?”Feather inquired, confused.
“Uh…I don’t know. Why don’t we sleep first and think about it in the morning?”Cloud suggested, looking up at the starry night sky and waning moon.
“Sure,” Feather’s answer was broken by an enormous yawn.
Feather and Cloud slid underneath the holly bush and settled on the moss. Feather curled up and wrapped her tail around her nose, but she couldn’t sleep. Cloud’s labored breathing and soft snoring told her that she had already fallen asleep. Feather rolled over in the moss and closed her eyes, trying to sleep but failing to. Finally, the snores of the other bobcats lulled her to sleep.
“Wake up!”a paw prodded Feather,” Dawn wants you to help repair the barrier today.”
Feather lifted her silver head and nodded in submission. Stone, a dark grey bobcat with long fur, nodded back and turned and pushed out of the bush. Feather got up to her paws and followed him. She blinked slowly, her eyes adjusting to the bright light outside. Cloud, Leaf, and Fall were already there, weaving in branches of thorns to make the barrier stronger and fill in gaps. Feather padded over to join them and picked up a branch in her jaws to weave in the wall of thorns. Leaf greeted her with a friendly nod, unable to say anything because of the branch in her mouth. Feather returned the greeting with a lick on Leaf’s black-tipped ear. She started to use her paws to push the branch in a large gap.
“Feather, do you want to go out and hunt with me today because I couldn’t go with you yesterday?”Cloud invited cheerfully.
“Sorry, but Dawn asked me to fix the barrier. I can’t disobey our leader’s orders.”Feather meowed.
“Okay then. I’ll go out alone.”Cloud answered.
“I can go with you, if you want me that is.”Fall offered to Cloud.
“Sure,”Cloud started for the entrance of the glade, a gap in the barrier just big enough for a bobcat to squeeze through.
Just then, Dawn yowled from the Tree Stump, where she held all meetings with the tribe. Feather stopped working and sat down near the stump. The rest of the bobcats gathered around the stump to listen to what their leader had to say.
“We have made much progress with repairing the barrier and I would like to thank Stone for doing such a good job in supervising this. I have talked with the senior bobcats and they agree with me that we should no longer wait for the mountain lions to attack us again. Instead, we should bring the battle to their cave.”Dawn began.
“Is that a wise thing to do? We do not know their cave’s layout and it will be hard to fight in the dark. Last time we tried it, we failed and many of us were killed”Wind, an old bobcat asked.
A few bobcats agreed with Wind and yowled their disapproval to Dawn. Dawn raised a tawny paw for silence. Slowly, the yowls and murmurs died down.
“The mountain lions will not know about this. It will be hard for them to maneuver in the cave since they are so big. Also-“a yowl from the other side of the clearing interrupted Dawn.
“The mountain lions are attacking!”a small, black tortoiseshell bobcat cried, his sides heaving for breath.
“What happened, Thunder?”Sky, a white bobcat, asked urgently.
“While I was hunting, a saw a tuft of golden fur on a branch and the smell of mountain lions was in the air.”Thunder gasped.
“Are you sure it was fresh, not stale?” Berry queried,” Thunder has a wild imagination.” she added to Dawn.
“It wasn’t my imagination. There were even paw prints on the ground.”Thunder retorted angrily.
Feather looked up at Dawn, waiting for her to tell them what to do, but Dawn seemed stunned.
“Should we send out a patrol to check?”Feather prompted Dawn.
Surprisingly, Feather’s voice was calm despite the terror raging inside her.
“Y-yes. We should send out a patrol to check. Stone will lead it with Sky, Thunder, and Star.”Dawn regained her confidence,” The rest of you will stay here and guard the glade. I want to post a guard on the mossy rock over there and one on the other side of the clearing. Who wishes to volunteer?”
“I’ll guard.”Feather and Oak volunteered at the same time.
“Okay. Feather, you guard on the mossy rock and Oak can guard over there.”Dawn pointed at a patch of grass at the edge of the glade,” Yowl loudly if you spot something. We never can be too careful. The meeting is over.”
Feather bounded over to the mossy rock she was assigned to keep watch on. When she lifted her head to smell the air for mountain lion scents, she was distracted by a deafening roar. The northeast side of Mount Mazama had exploded. A towering column of ash and wind spread through the sky, obstructing the sun. A shadow fell across the clearing. A bobcat glanced up and cried out in terror as a vast cloud of smoke rose from the volcano. A red liquid that Feather could not name, lava, gushed out of the volcano and streamed down its side, heading toward the glade.
Feather came to her senses and called out,” Something is happening to the volcano!”
No one seemed to hear her. Feather spotted Dawn calling the tribe for a meeting and leaped off the rock. She landed gracefully and pelted to the Tree Stump.
“I do not know what is happening-“Dawn began.
“They’re coming! The mountain lions are coming! They got Star!”Sky screeched, rushing into the clearing.
Behind her, Stone and Thunder skidded to a halt, gasping for breath. There was a pounding noise behind them, as if there were rampaging elephants on the loose. As the thorn barrier tore apart, Stone, Thunder, and Sky leaped out of the way. The leader of the mountain lions ripped through the barrier like it was made of strands of spider webs with Star in his mouth. Star’s jaws gaped in a soundless yowl as the leader flung her across the clearing. Star hit the mossy rock with a thud and lay unmoving. With a roar, the leader leaped toward Dawn. As he was in the air, the sun lit his fur, making it glow like the sun. The mountain lions burst through the clearing. Then, the smoke was upon them. Feather could see nothing but the golden flashes as mountain lions thundered past her. In the distance, there was a roar. Suddenly, it dawned to Feather. The dream. The flashes of gold were the fur of the bobcats’ enemies. The sun must have symbolized the mountain lions because when their fur caught the light, it flashed like the sun. The fire must have been whatever was happening to the volcano. Unexpectedly, the smoke thinned. Feather could make out the silhouettes of Dawn and the leader, writhing in a screeching ball of fur and claws. Dawn was bleeding heavily, her body matted with blood and she had a long scratch from her shoulder to her hind leg. The leader did not even lose one hair, it seemed. Now, Dawn was struggling as the leader pinned her. Dawn loosened, trying to trick the leader into loosening his grip, but the leader did not fall for the trick. Feather let out a screech of fury and pelted across the chaotic glade toward Dawn.
A lithe shape loomed in front of her and leaped at her. Thinking quickly, she dodged to one side and followed up with a bite to the mountain lion’s hind leg. Enraged, the mountain lion pounced on her and pinned her. Feather struggled, but her opponent’s weight squashed the breath out of her. The mountain lion aimed for her neck and was bringing its paw down when a blurry gray shape rammed into it.
“Feather, run!”Cloud yowled.
Feather looked around franticly for Dawn. In the distance, the volcano had collapsed on itself and pyroclastic flows were racing down the volcano’s sides. The tribe was not safe here. They would soon be dead if they did not flee soon. Finally, she spotted Dawn hanging from the leader’s jaws, her paws flailing at the leader’s thick coat. Feather raced to Dawn and rammed into the mountain lion’s side. Surprised, the leader let Dawn go and turned to her. Dawn’s limp body fell onto the soft grass. Feather bit down hard on the leader’s tail as the leader turned toward her. The leader ripped his tail away and lunged at her. His teeth came in contact with her paw. Feather tried to wrench her paw away, but the leader’s teeth were deeply embedded in her paw. The leader picked her up in his powerful jaws and flung her against Tree Stump. Feather lay winded, the breath driven out of her. With a tremendous leap, the leader pinned her down. Feather tried the trick of lying limply, but the leader was not fooled. He pressed his paw on her neck, ready to deal the death blow. Then, the tawny shape of Dawn slammed into the leader. The leader stumbled and bit Dawn’s throat. Then he dropped her. Feather let out a wail and leaped at the leader. She landed squarely on his shoulders and dug her claws in. The leader rolled on the ground, trying to dislodge her, but Feather hung on. The leader twisted to grab her neck. Feather bit down hard on the back of his neck. The leader thrashed around in a desperate attempt to dislodge her. Feather slipped and fell off his back. She rolled to a stop a few feet from the leader. He leaped at her. Feather judged the distance and jumped. Feather and the mountain lion met in midair. Feather’s jaws met their mark and she bit down on the leader’s throat. The leader fell to the ground. His eyes glazed and his body stopped convulsing.
Feather bounded to Dawn.
“You did well. I want you to be the new leader of the tribe.”Dawn rasped, blood trickling out of her mouth as she struggled to talk.
“Don’t go!”Feather cried, gazing at her leader desperately.
“You will be a great leader, perhaps the best the tribe will ever have.”Dawn said and closed her eyes for the final time.
Feather slowly got up. There was no time to mourn now. Blobs of the red stuff started falling from the sky. The mountain lions, seeing that their leader was dead, fled. Feather called to the bobcats of the tribe.
“We must leave!”Feather yowled above the roaring of the volcano.
The bobcats filed into a line and raced out of the glade. Feather took them in the opposite direction of the volcano. Running with her tribe, Feather felt proud and content, but she also felt a pang of sadness.
“Are you okay?”Cloud asked,” I heard that you defeated the leader.”
“Yes.”Feather replied, looking away in hopes that her friend would not see how insecure she felt inside.
The tribe traveled far from the volcano and settled in a forest. Feather and her tribe lived free from any threats. Feather puffed her chest up, gazing proudly at her tribe. They had found a perfect place to live. Prey was plentiful and tall, flourishing trees provided shelter. She lifted her head and stared at the sky above her, light blue with puffy shapes of white that were the clouds drifting across. Thank you, Dawn, she whispered, for entrusting the tribe to me. You can trust me. With the battle of the mountain lions over, we can look forward to peace.