The Plant Problem

Hey, everyone! You must have been wondering what happened to Biskit, Princess, and Jeniah from the last post. Well, I’ve decided, from the moment I finished The Wild Wish, that I needed to drop in a little more. I realized that we had no backstory to Jeniah. Sure, we know he lived in a forest his whole life, but what happened to his family? Why did he live alone? How did he get to know the forest so well when so young? How did he survive?

I asked myself these questions. Without defining who Jeniah was as a character was like missing the climax of a story, so I decided that in this next part, I would describe Jeniah. Enjoy!

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“Two wonderful kittens,” Jacques purred, touching noses with his mate, Isabella. “What could be better than that?”

“Two wonderful kittens,” she answered, “with a supporting, lovely mate sleeping by my side, would be a perfect moment. That’s exactly what I have,” she added.

Jacques looked lovingly at the two newborn toms sleeping on the mossy ground. They were identical in size, but one was black and white, while the other was grayish-brown with tabby markings.

Isabella looked up worryingly at the wet tree roots sheltering their small, abandoned fox den. It was just big enough for them to stay in comfortably, and Jacques and Isabella had started to call it a new permanent home. Of course, they’d have to make it bigger as the kits grew, but for now it was fine, although Isabella wondered if it would be enough for two kits.

She purred as she noticed the black-and-white kit open its tiny mouth in a wide yawn, then settled back to sleep in the mossy nest. “What should we name them?” she asked Jacques quietly.

He thought for a moment. “I think this grayish-brown tabby should be Jeniah,” he suggested. “It means ‘survivor’ in human language. I think,” he added.

“And the other?”

“Your choice,” Jacques insisted.

“All right.” Isabella looked down at the black-and-white kit. “This she-cat should be Starflight. Her pelt reminds me of the night sky, with all of those stars in it.”

“That’s a great name,” Jacques meowed. “She’ll have the guidance of the stars, and Jeniah with her as a survivor in the wild.”

Isabella laid her head on his flank. “I just hope it’ll be enough.”

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4 MONTHS LATER…

“Stop swishing your tail. It disturbs the leaves and alerts the prey.”

Jeniah watched in amusement as Starflight’s tail stopped moving and she stuck it straight out like a stiff board. He looked up at his father, Jacques, who was teaching them to hunt. “Am I doing it right?” he asked.

Jacques glanced down at his stance. “That seems good to me,” he meowed encouragingly. “Just tuck in your hind legs a little more for a higher spring.”

Jeniah pulled his hind legs deeper underneath him and pushed off, feeling the power in his legs as he leaped onto the mossy twig Jacques had dropped into the center clearing.

In a flash, before Jacques could pull it back, his mother, Isabella, was on top of him. Rolling to the side, he shoved her off and scrambled to his paws, barely avoiding Isabella’s next attempt at catching him. Clutching the twig between his teeth, he jerked his head back, and the wind ruffed his whiskers as Isabella shot past him. Turning, he fled back to his side–where Jacques was sparring with Starflight.

“Wrong side,” he called as Jeniah raced towards him.

“I know,” Jeniah mumbled around the stick. He reared up next to Starflight, and together they crashed down on Jacques before he knew what was happening.

“Mmrow!” he huffed as he was squashed beneath the weight of the 4-month-old kittens. “Isabella, help!”

Jeniah straightened up, noting that Starflight did as well. As Isabella charged towards them, he formulated a plan in his mind.

“Starflight, you’re fast,” Jeniah meowed, dropping the twig. “Take this to the other side. I’ll hold off Jacques and Isabella. My greater weight should hold down Jacques for a few moments, and when he gets up I’ll keep them occupied.”

“Are you sure?” Starflight asked nervously. “If they beat you they’d be after me.”

“You’ll have a head start,” Jeniah pointed out. “Now go, before Isabella closes the gap!”

Starflight took off, and immediately, Jacques started to try and heave Jeniah off. Jeniah felt himself slipping off, so he hooked his claws gently into his father’s pelt. He clung there as Jacques stood up, with some difficulty as Jeniah tried to haul himself back on. With an “oomph,” Jacques fell down again.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jeniah noticed Isabella cutting off Starflight’s path. She was too late, and she couldn’t get past. If Isabella got the stick, it was all over.

Jeniah leaped off of Jacques and charged at Isabella. Taken by surprise, she stopped in her tracks, allowing Starflight to slip past her. As she took off running, Isabella spun around, and Jeniah jumped on her from behind.

“We win!” Starflight crowed as she skidded to a stop at the base of the tree across the clearing and deposited the twig onto the ground. She skipped back happily, purring.

Jeniah slid off of Isabella’s back just as Jacques stood up. “That was well played, you two,” he praised them.

“That was,” Isabella agreed.

“It was Jeniah’s plan,” Starflight admitted. “He gave me the stick and told me to run because I was faster, while his bigger weight would be better in holding you off.”

Jacques turned to Jeniah. “That was a great plan.”

“It was a genius strategy,” Isabella mewed. “You’d be able to outsmart anyone with that.”

Pride warmed Jeniah’s pelt. His best plan yet!

“That’s the best one so far,” Jacques meowed, “but you still have a long way to go.”

The day before, they had had to take down Jacques together, despite the size disadvantage. It was Jeniah who had noticed that when Jacques reared up on his hind paws, he was off-balance. His plan went perfectly: while Jacques reared up to meet Starflight’s flailing paws, Jeniah had ducked under and pushed his hind paws out from under him. Before that, they had to race through an obstacle course, each for themselves, and the first thing Jeniah did was climb a tree and cross the forest along the branches (low at first, then higher as he gained confidence and balance), seeing as each cat was trying to delay the others. Instead of wasting time on it, Jeniah figured that they’d be delayed themselves, trying to delay the others, that he wouldn’t have to do any work, but just keep going, and his method worked.

A couple days back, Jacques and Jeniah were on a team against Starflight and Isabella. They had to get to the twisted tree stump first, and also make sure the other team didn’t get there. Jeniah’s thoughts again proved accurate: he knew that Starflight would suggest the shortcut through the brambles. Isabella would insist on going first, but once inside, she couldn’t turn around. While Jacques raced through the trees to the stump alongside the river, Jeniah followed the others and delayed them as much as possible; he dragged thick tree branches into the path, left red herrings as to where he and Jacques went, and the one he felt most proud of: smearing fresh fox dung on the ground to make them think there was a fox nearby. Finally, using the bramble trick, Jeniah had captured Starflight and brought her back to the stump, where Jacques was keeping watch.

All in all, he was happy that he was able to make successful plans, and their parents concluded the lesson’s game on a happy note.

“Why don’t we hunt on the way back to the hollow?” Jacques suggested. “That was a good lesson game.”

They all agreed and followed Jacques through the small (and only) entrance/exit to the clearing. Once outside, Jacques began scouting around for possible routes.

Finally, he found some good spots, and they split up.As Jeniah headed deeper into the forest, he decided to turn to the secret pool nearby. It was shaded by thick, glossy leaves in the summer, and come winter the leaves had not fallen, but provided heat and shelter from the cold. Once there, Jeniah stopped to marvel again at his surroundings. He breathed in the fresh scents in the air, trotting over to the pool to lap the cold, clear water.

When he had had enough, he padded silently over to the thick green foliage. Crouching among it the way Jacques taught him, he waited patiently for a few animals to come along for a drink.

He soon returned to the hollow with two rabbits, a squirrel, and a blue jay–so much that he had to go back and collect it in several trips.

He dropped his prey onto the pile and went over to where Starflight was lying in the shade, seeking refuge from the hot summer heat. She was in the shelter of the thick, waxy leaves that also sheltered the rest of the forest.

“How’d the hunt go?” Jeniah asked.

“Horrible. My section had nothing but dried-up leaves, which the animals didn’t think was worth risking their lives for. All I got was a starving crow.”

“The drought’s really taken its toll,” Jeniah remarked, flopping down next to her and staring up at the fully hydrated leaves. “Yet these leaves seem to be getting enough, all over the forest.”

“They smell good, too.” Starflight sniffed the air eagerly. “Do you think they’re edible?”

“Don’t know until you try.” Jeniah jumped up onto his paws and stretched up to take a bite of the thick leaf.

“It’s a mouthful, so thick and juicy,” Jeniah mumbled while chewing. “It’s got a slight tang to it, and a little spice by the edges. The juice is just water, but a hint of the leaf’s taste is mixed in. If you chew it into a pulp, or long enough to lose the spicy twist, it turns sweet,” Jeniah added, swallowing.

“Let me try.” Starflight reached up and tore a little bit off of the same leaf with her tiny, sharp claws. She took it carefully in her teeth and started chewing.

“Yech! There was a caterpillar on my piece,” Starflight yowled, spitting out the tiny green thing onto the ground. It scuttled away angrily, probably to find a new leaf to munch on.

“Jacques, Isabella, come here!” Jeniah called across the small clearing where they had settled in. “Starflight and I found something.”

They raced over hurriedly. “What is it?” Jacques asked.

“This leaf, we tried it, and it seems a little odd. It is fully hydrated and all over the forest.”

“You tried it?” Jacques turned his stern amber gaze on Jeniah and Starflight. “You know you should NEVER eat something if you don’t know what it is. It could have been poisonous!”

The kittens hung their heads. “Sorry, we won’t do it again.”

“You are feeling all right, are you not?” Isabella fretted anxiously.

They nodded and turn their attention to Jacques, who was examining the leaf. “I’ve not seen the leaf until last year, after the forest fire and the humans swarmed the burnt remains, but I think it’s Yennefig. It’s not poisonous, but no one knows what exactly it does to you.”

Suddenly, a reddish orange glare caught Jeniah’s eye. “The sunset!” he meowed eagerly. “Look what it’s doing to the leaf.”

The leaf was slowly turning a deep golden color, and they watched as before their eyes it transformed.

It started with the color. From green to gold to red to purple, it kept changing. Thorns sprouted along the edge, and the leaf puffed up like a cloud. The bubble burst and the juice poured out of it, now green, and staining the ground below it. As the leaf itself drooped like a deflated balloon, the soft, rich soil soaked up the liquid and started hardening. As the last of the sun’s rays disappeared, the leaf popped up like it had come back from the dead, then split into two, like an animal’s jaws.

Suddenly, the thing snapped up a nearby caterpillar, the same one that Starlight had spit out earlier. It had perched on another leaf of the same plant, and now the half-eaten leaf snatched it in its jaws, which were now lined with sharp teeth.

“Run!” Jeniah yowled as all around them, the strange plants sprung to life, following the lead of the first one. The four cats pelted back to the hollow, ducking under the carnivorous leaves and running for their lives.

They burst through the overhanging tree roots and into their tiny, secluded hollow, panting heavily. They were safe for now, because there were none of the strange leaves in the hollow, but they didn’t know how long it would take for the danger to recede.

“What was that?!” Starflight was breathing heavily, breathless from the run, which her short legs had worked overtime to accomplish. Nevertheless, she managed to force the question out, but no one had an answer for her.

“It’s best to stay in here for now,” Jacques ordered. “This is not good, but it certainly is a horrible idea to go looking for the answer with those cannibal plants still around. We have to get rid of them somehow.”

Jeniah nodded. “I think that they are active only in the night, so when daylight hits they should go back to how they were. I also think they are causing some of the drought, because the leaves were pulpy and wet, suggesting that they were draining water from the hard ground.” A sudden thought struck him. “They might be another reason that several other cats and prey have been disappearing so rapidly lately. Even that dumb dog that blundered into the forest a few nights ago isn’t howling anymore.”

“Could the plants tear apart something that big?” Starflight asked anxiously.

“I’d rather not find out,” Jeniah replied.

“Great observation, Jeniah,” Isabella meowed. “But how do we get rid of it?”

“When morning strikes, we could start the day by pulling out as many of these plants as possible, as many as we come across,” Starflight piped up. “We can start with those closest to the hollow, to ensure our safety, and then the ones in the training hollow. We can also eliminate any that we see on our hunting routes, so that even if we can’t find any prey, we’ll have limited the number of prey- and cat- eating plants.”

Jeniah nodded in agreement. “Excellent plan, Starflight,” he meowed, glad that she could keep a cool head in the face of danger.

“For now, we’ll have to sleep on it,” Jacques meowed sternly. “No use for that great plan if you’re too tired come morning.”

With an annoyed sigh, Jeniah and Starflight settled in their nest at the back of the hollow. They watched Jacques and Isabella lie down in front of the den’s tiny entrance. Jeniah rested his head on his sister’s flank with a worried look on his face.

“Oh, Starflight, will this nightmare ever end?”

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