Sunrise was still an hour away when Jay awoke, stretched and began nibble-licking Melissa's ear to wake hir up so they could play a while before they had to go to school. Melissa reluctantly opened a eye, then snorted and muttered, “Pest!”, as Jay gave hir nose a quick lick.
Jay giggled and softly whispered, “Come on, lets go play! Everyone's sleeping so be quiet.”
In reply, Melissa playfully swatted Jay, then stretched and carefully stepped over and around the still-sleeping cuddled up forms of May, Katherine and White Tip, taking special care to avoid waking up hir sister Brandy snuggled up with Buffy on the other side of the adults. Without having to give it any conscious thought, Jay's other senses filled in for hir almost useless sight in the effectively lightless sleeping cavern as shi 'watched' Melissa's careful progress until shi was clear of the sleeping forms without disturbing any of them. Instead of following Melissa's roundabout path after shi was clear of the sleepers, Jay squatted and leaped over the sleeping bodies shi could hear-smell-feel, but could not really see, to land almost silently right next to Melissa.
Swatting Jay with hir tail, Melissa whisper-hissed, “Damn show-off... ye miss'n land on someone doin' that'n they'll tie your tail in a knot.”
“Shhhh!” Jay softly hissed and whispered in return, “You'll wake everyone up,” before padding silently away toward the dim light from the main cavern.
Once in the main cavern and away from the sleeping cavern, Melissa tackled Jay, and the two of them wrestled and rolled around on the floor until they rolled into a trench in the cavern floor. While the originally rocky bottomed trench had been partially filled with dirt, covering the jumbled rocks on trench floor, it was still a little over eight feet deep. Deep enough to knock the wind out of careless cubs with little chance of breaking bones on landing on the relatively soft dirt. Most of the dozen or so adults in the main cavern could not help but notice Melissa's and Jay's free-for-all wrestling... a common activity of overly active cubs. Although the lack of screams of pain indicated neither cub was really hurt by the fairly short fall, a few of the closer adults who saw the cubs tumble into the trench padded over to make sure the two really were not seriously injured.
Looking down over the edge of the trench at Jay and Melissa sprawled out on the dimly lit dirt floor, Night Runner asked, “Are you two okay? Need any help?”
Melissa not so gently shoved Jay off hir, stood up and began brushing the dirt off her black spotted white fur as shi said, “Yeah, I'm okay. You okay Jay?”
Jay replied as shi got to hir feet, “Oh, yeah. I'm okay too.”
After pacing back and forth a few times, Melissa squatted low then easily leaped the eight feet to the top of the trench with only slight assistance from Night Runner to ensure shi did not slip back into the trench. Being younger and a little smaller then Melissa, Jay needed a little more steadying, but still easily leaped the eight to the trench edge. Once the cubs were out of the trench Night Runner commented, “You cubs should be more careful. That's the third time I know you two have managed to fall in that trench, and your bones are not made of rubber.”
Melissa and Jay gave Night Runner their best innocent little angels look as Melissa said, “Oh yes sir. We'll be more careful, sir.” then trotted off toward the kitchen cavern, taking turns on the way to bat and chase each others tail.
Jo-jo shook hir head as shi watched the two cubs and commented, “I don't know about that, Night Runner. From the way those two and the other cubs keep testing it I wouldn't be so sure their bones aren't made of rubber. I know if I had fallen into that hole like those two I sure wouldn't feel nearly as chipper.”
Well away from Night Runner and the other adults Jay whispered to Melissa, “Yea think we fooled them again?”
“Yeah,” Melissa agreed, “but I think Night Runner might be suspacious...” then jabbed Jay in the ribs and added, “...and next time don't land so close, you stomped on my foot.” Jay of course, returned Melissa's jab, which of course resulted in another short wrestling match.
Jay and Melissa got their mug-bowls and platters from the shelf just outside of the kitchen cavern and hurried over to the huge copper-iron pot full of simmering Everything Stew... called that because almost everything edible can find its way into the ever-simmering never empty pot. A couple of older bigger cubs roughly pushed Jay and Melissa out of their way as they hurried to get in line. Jay and Melissa glared at the older cubs before looking around to see what adults was in the cavern. After carefully sitting their mug-bowls and platters out of the way Jay and Melissa pounced on the bigger cubs, taking them by surprise and bringing the older cubs to the floor like a pair of ambushed ravine deer. The resulting fight was quickly and none too gently broken up by the adults, but not before the older cubs had broken their mug-bowl or platter. As soon as the adults intervened Jay and Melissa hurriedly retrieved their unbroken mug-bowls and platter and huddled up together as they put on their best 'innocent-little-angels-picked-on-by-big-bullies' look.
The adult in charge of the kitchen at that time was Kathy who was was not at all pleased about the broken dishes and said to the older cubs, “I guess you two will be working in the Kitchen for the next week, then maybe you'll take better care of the dishes.” When the cubs protested, accusing Jay and Melissa of starting the fight and blaming them for the breakage, it was found none of the adults had actually seen how the fight started or who started it, but at least two adults did confirm Jay and Melissa's claim the other two cut in line. Kathy shook hir head and said, “Since no one saw how the fight started, but did see Danny and Trista shove you and cut in line, and since you managed to avoid breaking your dishes I guess it wouldn't be fair to punish you two...” Melissa and Jay could not help but look rather smug at this decision, a look that visibly evaporated as Kathy continued, “...but I will mention this incident to White Tip when I see hir later this morning.”
As they ate while keeping an eye on the older cubs Jay asked Melissa, “What do you think White Tip will do?”
Melissa shrugged and replied, “Nothing much... maybe some extra chores. We did not draw blood, we didn't break anything, and none of the adults saw how the fight started.”
Jay Swallowed a mouthful of thick lumpy stew and asked, “What if shi asks us if we started the fight?”
“We tell the truth of course...” Melissa said then glared at Jay and asked, “Yea not thinkin of tryin ta lie to White Tip, are yea?”
“No!” Jay said indignantly. “I'm not stupid!”
Melissa said, “Hope not...” then shi paused to munch on a crunchy bamboo shoot before adding, “besides, we didn't really start the fight. They did when they pushed us out of line to get in front of us.”
Jay grunted and said, “Yeah, sure... but I don't think shi'll count that as picking a fight.”
Melissa just shrugged in reply and turned most of hir attention to eating, while keeping an eye on the obviously still pissed off older cubs and the three other cubs who joined them. When they finished eating Jay and Melissa licked their mug-bowls and platters clean, then waited for the two older cubs to be distracted before slipping away, gave their dishes a quick washing to the dish washing area of the kitchen and returned them to the shelf.
After hurrying to just out of sight of the cave entrances Jay followed Melissa in a series of long running scent trail breaking leaps from hard stone to stone which finished with the two of them heading away from the caverns in a different direction then when they started well out of sight of the cavern entrances. As they padded rapidly away through and mostly under low growing thorny brush covering the bottom of a usually non-flooding ravine Jay commented, “I bet Weaver would have trouble following that trail...”
“Naw... shi showed us how to break up our scent trail, but it might slow her down some.”
“Well, shi really wasn't showing us how...”
“Shi let us hang around, didn't shi?”
Just then a bush bunny shot out of a clump of weeds only a body length in front of Jay and Melissa and bounded away through the brush. Almost instantly, without consciously thinking about it, Jay and Melissa decided there was no reason to resist their feline instincts and gave chase to the fleeing jack-rabbit like animal. Although the cubs knew it was very unlikely they could simply run down the bush bunny in the heavy brush the chase was still a lot of fun, which was really the main reason they were chasing it. When the bush bunny vanished into a hole after leading the cubs on a good chase Melissa and Jay found a sheltered ledge on a nearby ridge to rest as the sun slowly made its morning appearance. After a few minutes nap in the early morning sun the cubs started a game of Stalk 'n' Ambush, a fun way to practice hunting and evade skills.
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The great hunter, following hir prey's scent, spotted hir hapless prey as shi carefully crept around one of the many boulders scattered around the area. The prey was much too far for a successful charge so the hunter crouched down low to remain out of the prey's line of sight and planned hir next move to close the range to hir unaware prey. Hir ears focused in the prey's direction to pickup the slightest sound and keeping the prey's scent in hir face, the hunter slowly crawls forward on all sixes toward the next bit of concealment, a clump of low growing brush. Just short of the concealment of the brush one of the chicken size dinosaur like flightless ground birds suddenly breaks from the cover of the brush with a loud warning hiss and scrambles away up the side of the ravine in a flurry of sand and gravel. Startled the hunter almost charges after the fleeing bird but manages to resist the impulse to give chase and freeze in place belly pressed to the dry sandy ground in hopes the fleeing bush chicken did not startle the prey into fleeing too.
After freezing motionless for less then a minute a thumb size pebble splatted in the sandy soil only a body length away from the hunter as a voice called out, “I see you! I caught yea, so you might as well admit it!”
Jay growled to hirself as shi raised up and brushed the dust off hir belly fur before padding over to where hir sister Melissa waited with a big annoying smirk on hir muzzle. Jay complained, “You wouldn'ta caught me if that noisy bush chicken hadn't made such a fuss.”
Melissa laughed but admitted, “Yeah, maybe, but the bush chicken isn't the only thing I saw.”
“You couldn't see me from where you was, there was too much in the way!”
“I saw your tail, dummy. You stuck it up in the air like yea always do when you're startled.”
“Oh... Well...” was Jay's response. “Yea was suppose to be a lopper and they wouldn't notice that.”
“Yeah!” Jay yelled and leaped on Melissa who growled and hissed as they wrestled around on the sandy ground until Melissa's small weight advantaged allowed hir to eventually pin Jay.
The two would be 'great hunters' rested in the shade of a shallow overhung undercut ravine bank, catching their breath and licking the usual collection of claw nicks and cuts picked up while wrestling. While Melissa licked a particularly bloody nick on the back of hir head Jay asked, “Wanta go huntin for bush chickens?”
After giving the back of Jay's head a few last licks Melissa said, “Sure, but yea know we're not suppose to hunt this close to home.”
Jay shrugged and suggested, “We can go to Bamboo Canyon.”
Melissa snorted and replied, “We can also get a whipping for going that far from home by ourselves.”
“Maybe we can get Brandy and Buffy to go with us.”
Melissa shot that down too, “They won't wanta hang around with 'the little brats' if they don't have to.”
Jay said without conviction, “Maybe we can get White Tip to tell them to take us hunting.”
“Don't think so.” Melissa said as shi rested hir head on Jay's back.
Sounding a bit annoyed Jay tried again, “Then lets see if we can go hunting with someone else.”
“Duh... yeah, like anyone is going to want us hanging around.”
After a minute or two of silence Jay stood up and announced, “I'm gona catch that bush chicken.”
Melissa stretched lazily and commented, “Even if yea do catch it, yea know they'll ask you where yea caught it.”
“Not if we don't take it home.” Jay replied as shi trotted off toward where shi last saw the fleeing bush chicken.
“Oh...” Melissa replied as hir ears perked up “...well, yeah. I guess we don't haveta take it home.”
Jay paused to asked, “So, yea wanta help me hunt it?”
Melissa said “Okay, lets go get it.” as shi caught up with Jay.
From experience Jay and Melissa knew bush chickens usually did not run far if not pursued so they expected it was hiding in one of several clumps of brush just a few body lengths out of sight of where Jay first jumped it. As Weaver had taught, Melissa moved farther downwind from Jay and moved parallel to hir as Jay closely followed the bush chicken's trail. Carefully scanning the likely hiding places Melissa quietly moved a few body lengths ahead of Jay in the expectation of hir flushing the bush chicken, hoping it would flee in hir direction before its sharp eyes spotted hir white fur. From hunting trips with White Tip, Weaver and others Melissa knew there was a good chance the bush chicken would see hir before shi saw it and freeze motionless if shi was not too close or heading in its direction. If it did, then there was also a good chance it would keep watching hir and not notice Jay until shi was close enough to pounce on it. Either way, if the hunter is not using a throwing stick or even just a handy rock, two hunters had a much better chance of successfully hunting bush chickens then a single hunter.
Melissa saw Jay freeze in place, hir tail raising high again before shi remembered to hold it low to the ground. Following the the direction of Jay's fixed gaze, Melissa carefully scanned the brush a few body lengths away shi seemed to be staring at. At first shi saw nothing but the usual confused mass of twigs and leaves, then Melissa suddenly noticed two beady little red eyes staring back at hir. Looking away to keep from spooking the motionless bush chicken Melissa began slowly moving parallel to the clump of brush being careful to not approach any closer. Although the bush chicken was not smart enough to notice, Melissa avoided looking in Jay's direction to keep from giving away hir position, as shi moved around the bush chicken's hiding place opposite from Jay's position.
As shi moved around in view of the bush chicken to hold its attention Melissa looked around every so often to confirm the bush chicken's gaze was still locked on hir and to check on Jay's progress. Jay was silently creeping up so close to the bush chicken Melissa began wondering if the show-off was trying to sneak up close enough to actually touch it. When Jay was only a body length from the still unaware bush chicken, as close as possible to get without having to push through the brush which would definitely alert hir prey, Melissa saw shi was preparing to pounce. To hold the bush chicken's attention, and help cover any slight noise Jay might make Melissa noisily turned toward the hidden bush chicken a second or two before Jay made hir high leaping pounce.
Jay attention was so focused on hir prey shi was barely aware of Melissa's distracting maneuvers as shi crept closer and closer until shi crouched and made ready to pounce. Although shi remembered to keep hir breathing slow and even as shi stalked closer to hir prey Jay was sure hir hearts was pounding so loudly the bush chicken had to hear them as shi crotched low and tensed to make hir leap. To avoid the thorns of the brier brush between hir and hir prey Jay choose to jump high over the obstructing briers to come down on hir prey from above through the much less hindering overhead cover. Things seemed to move in slow motion as shi came crashing down through the brush and saw the crouching bush chicken making its typical initial explosive leap away from its hiding spot. Jay made a frantic grab after the leaping bird barely catching it on hir claws and sweeping it in close as shi landed almost face first with the terrified enraged bird clawing and striking frantically at hir face and nose.
Unlike real chickens or birds of earth this 'bird' one had a mouth full of sharp teeth and a pair of nasty claws on its stubby flightless wings which it usually used in catching and dispatching its usual prey of lizards and anything else smaller then itself. While sharp and good sized in relation to its size the bush chicken's claws and fangs was not big enough to be a serious threat to a chakat cub of Jay's size, they still proved more then a little painful in raking hir nose and ears. In the grossly one sided struggle Jay quickly snapped the bush chicken's long snake like neck, but not before it had latched on to hir nose with a mouthful of sharp teeth in a literal death grip.
“Ow! ow! ow! Ow, it hurts! Get it off! Get it off!” Jay yelped as Melissa rushed to hir aid to help hir free hir bleeding nose from the death locked jaws of their prey. Seeing Jay was not seriously hurt Melissa had to struggle to keep from laughing at hir painful predicament as shi carefully pried the bird's jaws apart.
As shi freed hir sister Melissa could not help joking, “I thought the idea was to eat it, not feed it.”
Holding hir bleeding nose Jay snapped, “Yea wouldn't think it so funny if it was your nose!”
“Well, it wasn't my nose.” Melissa replied. “I'm smart enough to not hold a live bush chicken against my face like you did.”
While Jay tried thinking of a snappy comeback Melissa pulled hir hand away from hir nose, saying, “Hold still a minute.” and began gently licked it as well as Jay's bleeding ear which Jay had not yet noticed was injured too. The bleeding soon slowed to a stop as Melissa cleaned up Jay's bloody nose and ear. Giving Jay's nose a last lick Melissa pointed out, “White Tip is gona see this, what are yea gona tell him?”
Jay shrugged and said, “I'll think of something...”
Melissa interrupted with, “Yea know yea can't tell him a fib.”
Jay gave Melissa a sour look as shi remembered the last time shi tried telling something other then the truth “Well duh... I know that don't work anymore.”
Another voice agreed, “Yes, that does not work anymore.”
Startled Jay and Melissa looked around to the source of the voice and saw Weaver laying right out in the open less then two body lengths away. At the cubs wide-eyed stare Weaver said, “Good hunt. Excellent stalk. The finish could use improvement, but for ones so young you two work very well together...”
Jay was the first to recover from hir surprise to ask, “Where did you come from... I mean how did...”
Weaver's soft voice interrupted, “How did I get within striking distance unnoticed by either of you?”
Melissa laying low, swallowed and managed to reply, “Ah, I guess we wasn't aware of our surroundings as we should have been... but we was kinda distracted.”
Weaver nodded 'yes' and said, “That is true... also true that is when a predator usually strikes at its prey.”
Both Melissa and Jay nodded but remained silent under Weaver's steady gaze after a seemingly unendingly long moment Weaver added, “There is a reason hunting this close to the caverns is discouraged... but occasional exceptions are allowed. The kill after a successful stalk is gratifying, but is not always necessary. You will remember this so I will not have to remember how two young ones choose to disobey the desires of their elders.” Weaver got up and silently padded away, pausing a moment to say, “After you finish with your kill, remember to bath before returning to the caverns otherwise you will have to explain the scent of your kill clinging to your fur, and as you know not telling the truth can prove... painful.” then shi slipped away into the brush to quickly and still silently fade from view.
After Weaver was out of sight Jay said, “Wish I could do that. I didn't hear her moving at all, did you Melissa?”
Melissa shook her head and shi said, “No, but yea know Weaver's a witch'n they can do things like that other people can't do.”
Staring off into the brush Jay replied, “Still wish I could move that quietly...” then shi paused and excitedly added, “Oh... shi said we were good hunters, didn't shi?”
“Oh yeah, shi did, didn't shi” Melissa said, then chuckled and gave Jay's nose a lick before adding, “Shi also said something needs improving.”
Sounding annoyed Jay replied, “Yeah, yeah... so I goofed this time, won't make the same mistake again.”
Tugging on Jay's tail Melissa needled, “Don't forget how yea always wavin around your tail, does no good to freeze then go wavin that around like yea been doin.”
Jerking hir tail free Jay turned to hir kill and said, “I'm hungry, if yea want a share stop nagging me.”
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One bush chicken was only a messy snack for two growing hungry chakat cubs who soon reduced it to a handful of feathers, a few licked and sucked clean bones. After licking themselves and each other clean Jay and Melissa headed off toward the closest 'safe' swimming pool, which happened to be the big cavern everyone first woke up in. It was a nice sunny day, with no sigh of any storm clouds so there was no danger of flash floods suddenly flooding the cavern. This has proved to be more of an inconvenience then a real danger since there are several easily reachable ledges above the highest high water marks.
Making their way down the long entrance-exit passageway the cubs could smell the fresh scent of several other cubs including the familiar scents of their older sisters, Brandy and Buffy. Melissa and Jay was careful to keep hidden among the many car to house size boulders covering most of the cavern floor as they made their way toward the pool and the sounds of playing cubs. Reaching their intended spying cubbyhole Jay and Melissa watched the others playing or laying in the sun along one side of the cavern pool. After awhile Jay quietly asked, “Yea wanta dunk one of them?”
“Which one?” Melissa asked. “Buffy or Brandy?”
“Brandy!” Jay immediately replied. “Shi's always picking on us.”
Melissa chuckled and said, “That ain't gona make hir stop.”
“So?” Jay asked, “Yea think it'll make hir meaner?”
“No.” Melissa said as shi shook hir head, then tugged on hir bright white chest fur as shi commented, “Wish my fur wasn't so easy to see.”
Keeping watch on their new prey Jay grunted and said, “Lota mud down under this big rock.”
Melissa wrinkled hir nose as shi replied to Jay's suggestion, “Eewww... <sigh> yeah, that will work, but that stuff stinks.”
Jay nodded and agreed, “Yeah, it does...” then hir ears perked up at the realization and added, “That's right, it'll hide our scent too.” as shi backed out of their spying nook.
The pool of thick soupy black mud Jay led the way to was a stinking mixture of gooey clay based mud and well fermented bird dropping from the cave nesting birds. The stuff would make super garden fertilizer, but it really stank and clung like glue to fur, and Jay hesitated only a moment before plunging into the belly deep goo. After rolling in the slick sticky mud Jay shook and wiped the excess off hir face then looked toward Melissa squatting a good body length away from the edge of the pool and said, “Okay, your turn, Melissa.”
Melissa, her ears laid back and nose wrinkled, looked at the mud with disgust and said, “Eewww... that stuff is ssoooo gross!”
“Come on, it'll wash off... and it's not so bad after you're all gooey.”
Melissa reluctantly drew a little closer to the edge of the pool on the slopping stone shelf, then when it looked look shi was going to back out Jay whipped hir thickly mud coated tail around and wrapped it around Melissa's neck and face. While Melissa was sputtering in surprised rage at this unexpected attack and wiping the gooey sticky muck off hir face Jay surged out of the pool grabbed Melissa around hir waist. The smooth slopping stone shelf gave Melissa little traction and Jay had little trouble jerking hir face first into the pool of thick gooey mud. Of course, when Melissa managed to get to hir feet shi was a very pissed off kitty-cat as mud covered as Jay, so the resulting messy mud wrestling match got neither any muddier. It was a surprising quite wrestling match since neither cub was willing to risk getting a mouthful of mud while yelling or hissing as they usually do in their frequent semi-serious fights. The wrestling match soon ended as the muck coated Jay easily slipped out of Melissa's grasp and scurried out of the mud hole leaving Melissa sputtering and wiping mud off hir face while still thrashing around looking for Jay.
By the time Melissa realized Jay was not in the mud hole with hir Jay was busy wiping off the excess mud coating hir body while keeping an eye on Melissa in case shi wanted to continue the dispute. Jay relaxed a bit as Melissa pulled hirself out of the mud hole without seeming interested in getting even for getting pulled into the mud, at least not right away. Jay finished wiping the excess mud off hirself then cautiously began helping Melissa wipe the excess mud off hir fur too. With their fur plastered down Jay and Melissa had a smooth sleek look, like a seal or otter, and stunk worse then skunks.
As Jay turned away Melissa grabbed hir ear between hir claws and pulling hir close said, “Yea know, I'm gona get yea for dunking me in this stinky stuff.”
Careful to avoid tugging on hir ear trapped between Melissa's needle sharp claws, Jay just chuckled and said, “I kinda figured that out already. Too bad we can't get Brandy down here. I'd love to dunk hir in this stuff.”
Melissa chuckled too and released Jay's ear as shi said, “Yeah, that would be ssoooo naasty... and shi'd skin us if shi caught us.”
Jay and Melissa carefully made their way among the jumbled boulders filling the bottom half of the huge grotto like cavern working their way around to where Brandy, Buffy and some other teenagers was lounging while keeping a casual eye on a couple dozen younger cubs playing in the pool. Melissa whispered in Jay's ear, “The water is nice'n deep under the ledge they're on, so we don't havta worry about any rocks. It'll also be easy to get close enough to charge and tackle Brandy before someone spots and tries to stop us.”
“Okay, then what?” Jay asked.
“Then what, what?”
“You planning on hanging around after we dunk hir? I'm not.”
“The tunnel is long way from the pool, and it's on the other side too.” Melissa pointed out the obvious. “Shi'll catch one of us before we can get away.”
“Yea know, the way we came in isn't the only way outa here.”
“You not thinking of going cave exploring, are you?”
“No, not exactly.” Jay said then looked back toward one of the passageways leading out of the main cavern and explained, “I heard Sarge Evens telling Pilot Folson about finding another way out of here. Shi said there is a tunnel opening about... fifty body lengths beyond that pointed boulder over there, in that tunnel and a body length up on the wall leads up to surface...”
“How are we going to find it? It's gona be too dark to see anything that far back there...”
“Sarge said he marked it...”
“How we gona get up to it if it's a body length up on the wall... and which wall... and how did he mark it?”
“Shi peed on the wall under the tunnel opening...”
“How long ago did shi do that? Yea know it floods down here when it rain.”
“Shi said the main tunnel goes up high enough to be above the flood water and that place looked like it had not flooded for a long time.
Melissa reluctantly agreed, “Okay, I guess we could go out that way, but fifty body lengths is a long way down here. If we don't find any scent marks we'll come back and try sneaking out the regular way... yea know what White Tip will do if shi finds out we're going back there, don't you? And, if they have to come looking for us...” Melissa shuttered at the thought of what would happen then.
“We don't have tell hir if shi doesn't ask, and shi won't ask if you don't say anything.”
“Okay, so how we getting back there without being seen?”
“That's easy. Yea see the big rock they laying on?
Jay explained, “Me and Terry was swimming here last week'n we found it's laying on top of two big rocks and yea can swim under it all the way to the other side. You can swim all the way under almost all the big rocks in the water. We can swim back under the first rock and come up over there for air. Then can swim under that rock'n come up for air again over there. Then back down under that big pointy top rock and come up for air on the other side. Then we haveta squeeze between those two rocks, and the next two. Then we go under that big long one way back over there and get out on the other said.”
“If White Tip ever finds out you're doing stuff like that by yourself shi'd break a whole handful of canes on your thick head!”
“No shi wouldn't...”
“Okay, so shi wouldn't beat yea over the head, but you'll still be sore for a week when shi gets done with you.”
“You gona tell on me?”
“No, but I should. You know shi doesn't want us doing things like that by ourselves.”
“I didn't do it by myself, I was with Terry and Loopy...”
“Loopy!? What you doin hangin with that dumb-ass? And you know what I mean, they don't count and you know it!”
“Shhhh... not so loud. They'll hear you!”
Melissa snorted and said, “Not with the racket the brats are making...” Then shi suddenly paused and giving Jay a wide-eyed stare demanded, “That's why you're so sure you can find that other tunnel, isn't it? You three dummies went cave explorin... Gawd... White Tip is going ta beat on you till your tail falls off!”
“No, no, no, no... I didn't do that!” Jay said in a near panic.
“Now yea lyin too!”
“You not gona tell White Tip are yea... Please don't say anything... I'll do anything you want, just don't tell on me!”
“Anything?” Melissa asked as a really eevil smile twisted hir lips.
Looking disgusted Jay reluctantly replied, “<sigh> yeah, anything...”
Giving Jay an evil smile Melissa said, “Okay, I won't say anything... this time... Now let's go get Brandy.”
It took several long minutes for Melissa and Jay to work their way to just below the edge of the huge slab-like boulder their target with a few other older cubs was sitting and laying on without being noticed. Melissa had no doubt shi would never have made it if hir white fur had not been stained dark brownish-gray. As they moved to a bit better spot to begin their charge they heard someone up on the boulder say, “Wheew! What is that stink?” and another voice, Buffy's added, “Yeah, I smell it too, smells like rotten bird shit and something dead.”
Jay quickly whispered, “Just dive deep and back toward the rock when yea hit the water... Go Now!” Both Melissa and Jay leaped up from hiding and charged as fast as they could across the short distance to where Brandy was just starting to get to hir feet. Saving their breath for the underwater swim Jay and Melissa charged in silence, which was broken by startled yells of the others. The yells only served to cause Brandy to momentarily freeze at just the wrong time, just before Jay and Melissa slammed into hir and literally carried hir over the edge of the boulder as neatly as they could have possibly hoped for.
Breaking the surface an enraged Brandy yelled, “Where did those BRATS go!? I'll drown the stinking little monsters!”
Buffy yelled in reply, “I don't see them! They're still underwater. Did you see who they were?”
“Who do you think they were! Someone go guard the exit and grab the brats when they try sneaking out. The rest of you try catching the brats when they try sneaking out of the water.”
“But who are we looking for?” one of the older cubs asked.
“JAY and MELISSA! What brats do yea think would have the nerve to pull a stunt like this?”
There was just enough light underwater to make out a deep shadow beneath the boulder, which Jay immediately headed for, hoping Melissa was following right behind hir. Once under the boulder Jay rolled over and pulled hirself along the underside of the boulder following its rough surface up the other side and slowly raising just hir nose and face out of the water to breath. A few seconds after Jay surfaced Melissa popped up a body length away, but not nearly so quietly. Luckily all the yelling from above and the now disturbed screeching birds was more then enough to cover hir noise.
Pulling Melissa close Jay pointed to a knobby projection on a nearby boulder and whispered in hir ear, “The way starts half a body length under water under that bump. It slants down pretty deep before slowing coming up on the other side... Ready to go again?” In reply Melissa took a deep breath and dived underwater with Jay following close behind.
Surfacing on the other side of the house size boulder Jay led the way under the next boulder then through the narrow water filled cracks between several other huge boulders and under the last boulder. Pausing to catch their breaths on the far side of the last boulder Jay whispered, “Yea all nice'n white again...”
“We still stink...”
“Yeah, well, just remember ta keep low till you're way back in the tunnel cause they'll see you for sure if you're not careful.”
“Yeah, yeah, I will. Let's go before they start looking over here.”
Keeping low and taking full advantage of every bit of cover... not too hard to do... Jay and Melissa made their way to the tunnel and way back inside beyond the reach of any remaining light. Once in total darkness Jay led the way with Melissa following close behind keeping hold of hir tail. Although they could not actually 'see' anything Jay and Melissa was not really blind if they took their time to 'feel' their way along the lightless tunnel. After it seemed like they had gone a lot farther then fifty body lengths and Melissa was about to insist they turn back, Jay stopped and said, “Okay we're here. Yea smell the scent marker? And here is the rock pile. There is a crack in the wall just out of reach, so you stand here and I'll climb up. When I have a good hold you can climb up over me... just be careful with your claws, okay?”
“Gawd, I can't believe you and those other two dummies went poking around way back here...”
“Well, you're 'way back here' now too, so if yea tell on me you'll get a beatin too.”
“Maybe, but it won't be anything like what you'll get, and then we'll both be stuck with the little kids till White Tip decides shi can trust us again. I like being allowed to go out without having someone watching me all the time, and you messing around doing things you Know you shouldn't be doing will get us both grounded. And if that happens I'm gona beat on you every day!”
“Okay, okay, I get the point, now if you'll stand up against the wall right here I'll climb up then help you climb up too.”
Melissa reared up on hir hind legs leaning against the wall where Jay indicated then shi used hir like a ladder to reach the side tunnel. Jay climbed up till shi was standing on Melissa's lower shoulders before shi was able to find a good hold and Melissa took hir turn climbing up to the side tunnel. Following the right hand wall Jay and Melissa eventually saw light and was soon after that crawling out of a hole on the ground under a boulder embedded in the side of a ravine. Looking around Melissa was surprised to recognize where they were and asked Jay, “Hey, isn't this that hole you hid in and White Tip dragged you out of the first time shi took us hunting?”
Jay laughed and said, “Yeah, it is.”
“Then The Crack is over that way, isn't it?”
“Good, we can use the sand there to help wash the stink off before going home, and a roll in the mint-sage bushes over there will help cover up any stink we can't wash off.”
“Yeah, I hope they have something good to eat, that bush chicken didn't fill me up at all.”
“A whole Lopper wouldn't fill you up, vacuum stomach.”
“Hey, you sayin you not hungry too?”
<> <> <>
The Crack, a deep narrow ravine over three times as deep as it is at its widest with almost vertical sides and an even silty sandy bottom covered by shadow cooled water between ankle deep and lower shoulder deep. The water was to shallow to swim in and there was several subterranean pools deep enough to swim in and much easier to get to, so The Crack was seldom used, as a result it was one of Jay's and Melissa's favored spots. One advantage The Crack had over most other bathing and swimming holes was the clean mud free fine sand covering the bottom of the ravine which proved to be an excellent scrubbing medium to clean soiled fur with.
After giving each other a good scrubbing, playing around in the cool swallow water for a while, and nap in the sun to dry off Jay and Melissa headed home, with only a slight detour to a thick growth of minty scented mint-sage. Melissa discovered rubbing a few crushed hand fulls of the nice but strong smelling leaves concealed most other scents, including the typical predator scent of a chakat, which made stalking prey much easier. Unfortunately this particular trick actually made the Stalking Game much harder for the hunter since the scent of the mint-sage is much more noticeable to other chakats, as well as most other scent hunting predators then a chakat's natural scent... Melissa was even publicly recognized by Weaver and the colony's other top hunters for the discovery and the idea of using the scent concealing mint-sage to aid a hunter in stalking most prey... The mint-sage had little trouble totally concealing any slight but still noticeable lingering sewer scent still clinging to their fur even after a very vigorous scrubbing.
On returning to Home Caves Jay and Melissa wasted no time making their way to the well ventilated side cave used for the communal preparation of the Colony's meals. Since most people had gradually slipped into working very irregular hours both day and night, and with hunting and foraging teams was going out and returning at all hours of the day or night a meal could usually be found in the 'kitchen' almost any time. As they got their mug-bowls and platters Melissa saw Brandy's and Buffy's personalized mug-bowls and platters had not been recently used so shi assumed Brandy was still out looking for hir and Jay. As Silver Streak, working hir turn in the kitchen, filled their mug-bowls with thick chunky stew from the huge continuously refilled stew pot shi said, “Don't forget to clean your mugs and platter after you eat before you put them back on the shelf.”
“We always do...” Jay said sounding insulted, then asked, “Could I have those two big pieces of blueroot... please?”
“I just put the blueroot in the pot, it's still raw.”
“I like it that way.”
Silver Streak wrinkled hir nose as shi said, “Then you're about the only one who likes the taste of raw blueroot.” but shi still dipped out the blueroot Jay asked for.
“Yeah, blueroot's nasty raw... tastes okay in stew.” Melissa agreed. “Jay's just weird and shi can have the raw blueroot, but I want a couple extra big pieces of meat... please?”
Sliver Streak chuckled and said, “I'll see what I can find in the pot, Melissa.” as shi dipped the wooden ladle along the bottom of the big stew pot. Shi found a flat hand size piece of mystery meat and dipped it out into Melissa's stew mug.
Melissa looked at the good size piece of meat doubtfully and asked, “What is that from?”
Silver Streak shrugged and replied, “I think it's a piece of that big spike-tail they added to the pot yesterday. It should be nice'n tender by now.”
After eating Melissa and Jay got their belt pouches and borrowed a comb and brush set from May then found a very public sunny spot on the ledge in front of the cave entrances where they spent a nice relaxing time grooming each other. The two cubs quietly grooming and cleaning each other in the warm morning sun looked like a nice cute pair of well behaved cubs... something many adults and most other cubs have reason to know is not quite as it appears.
Melissa returned the comb and brush set to May, “Thank you May. Me and Jay are gona nap out on the front ledge until classes.”
May caressed Melissa's shinny combed mane as shi asked, “Anything interesting happen this morning?”
Melissa shrugged and carefully said, “Naw, not really, except Jay got too close to a bush chicken and it bit hir nose.”
May chuckled and said, “They have very sharp teeth. I assume shi was not hurt too bad, but how did it get that close?”
“We were practice stalking. Jay had to show off and show how close shi could get.”
“Oh, and got a little too close?”
“Yep, and I had to... Uh, we'll be out on the ledge napping, could you send someone to wake us up for school, please?”
May wondered what kind of trouble the two cubs found which Melissa almost admitted to, but did not feel it was necessary to ask any more questions since neither cub seemed injured... at least not more then usual. Shi knew Jay and Melissa was a pair of wild ones who's rough play often landed them in trouble, but they also followed White Tip's safety rules for the most part or was very careful to avoid being caught when they did not.
May gave Melissa a last caress and kiss-lick as shi said, “Okay, little one. You and Jay go nap and I'll send someone to wake you.”
Continued in Part 2.
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