It Was a Dark and Sultry Morning...
A local ultra-marathoner, who I'll randomly refer to as the "Hubs", was almost ready for his training run. Getting up early in July was tough, but if he didn't start before dawn, he'd get stuck. The day was set to be a hot and sticky one, with both the temperature and humidity predicted in the 90's. By starting in the dark, he'd get done with the 20 miler before the morning sun turned unbearable. He couldn't linger however, as the air was already turning wet.
The Hubs had more than one route, but they all started the same. Out the housing development and then left down the old, pothole-filled country road for a mile and a half where he passed a few houses on the north, and mostly cornfields on the south. When he came to the end of the degraded road, he could either turn right and head toward the Metro Parks then back along the main highway to home, or turn left over the railroad tracks through rolling country roads then loop back onto the pothole-filled road and home. He thought he'd turn right today and not chance getting caught by the frequent trains in the growing heat. Yes, he'd go right. Having settled that, he grabbed his water belt, salt tabs and gels, put his mind in neutral and took off.
Lost and Alone
While the Hubs was deciding between his left or his right, another soul, this one much smaller with much less running gear, sat alone in the darkness. His slight body shook a bit as he glanced around, trying to see something familiar in his surroundings. But nothing. It wasn't the old shed where he was born or even the yards around the shed. No. This was a field, somewhere. He didn't understand how he got here. When he woke up, he'd looked for his mom, but couldn't find her. Where was she? Where was he?
The last thing he remembered was falling asleep, snuggled up to mom as she licked his head. When his siblings had been around, they'd all curled-up together in the "cuddle pile" to nap. He missed that. He was the only one left now. His brothers and sisters had all been "adopted" as mom had explained to him. No one had come to "adopt" him, however, and it didn't seem like they would. No matter. He was happy staying with mom and told her so. Mom had purred and nuzzled him, saying he could stay with her always.
Despite mom's reassurances, however, she'd seemed worried. She'd looked that way for several days, since his last sibling had left. The shed owner and the mean neighbor who always chased him had come to the shed more than once and stared at him. The neighbor would murmur something like "Bad Luck" and "Bad Omen". The shed owner would nod. Mom told him to ignore the men, but she still looked worried.
It struck him that maybe he was still asleep, curled up next to mom and this was just a catmare. A scary dream. He took a couple of steps and fell into a muddy puddle, the cool dirty water splashed over his front paws and tickled his whiskers. He sputtered, spitting out the filthy water and shaking his wet feet. Definitely not a dream.
He wasn't big enough to see over the corn stalks or through the grass, but maybe if he made a lot of noise someone would help. Maybe mom would hear him! He just hoped it wouldn't be someone like the mean neighbor. His body trembled harder. What to do? Although the shed had grown lonely without his brothers and sisters and unfriendly with the owner and mean neighbor, it was still the only place he knew. And mom was there. He certainly couldn't stay here. Wherever here was.
He had to take the chance. Swallowing his fear, he lifted his tiny mouth to the stars and mewed, softly at first, then louder into complete kittenish yowls. He hoped his cries would rise over the tall field and reach someone who might help him get home.
The Dawn Speaks
About a mile or so into his run, still on the pothole filled road, the Hubs began to hear it. At first, even though he didn't wear headphones, he wasn't sure what it was. Early mornings could be full of the echoes of animal and insect life as well as the imagined sounds in one's own head. However, the doleful sound was getting louder and closer as he ran, so it might be real. He slowed and panned his headlamp around to see if he could find the source. Dawn was beckoning, but it was still quite shadowy and despite his best attempts, he found nothing. He stopped to listen and even called out. Although the tall stalks on his right rustled, only the dark answered. Thinking he must've imagined it or simply misplaced the sound from one of the houses across the way, he turned and continued down the road, his feet regaining their rhythm. He had to get done. The heat and humidity were on his heels.
The Lost Opportunity
At first, the little one didn't realize what he was hearing. He'd been crying for so long. The steady thumping wasn't familiar. Neither was the measured breathing, heavy and deep. It was getting louder and closer. When it seemed just a few paw feet away it slowed. That's when he panicked. A predator! He stopped meowing and ran deeper into the weeds and ducked low, trying to stay out of sight.
Then the light came, scanning over the field. A voice called softly from the shadows. "Hello"? A kind voice. A man's voice, but not like the mean neighbor's or shed owner's. Oh no. This wasn't a predator.
He ran toward the light, his short legs tripping over unseen roots and ruts. He fell twice, but got-up and kept going. He had to get closer so he could be heard and seen. He tried to meow and run, but his mews came out as low pants. He was almost there when the light faded, turning back to the road. No! Don't go! He tried to jump the ditch next to the road, but fell into it, rolling in the burrs and mud. By the time he was able to drag himself up the other side, the man's footfalls had grown faint. He meowed as loud as he could, but it was no use. The man had gone. His last meow ended on a sad wail. He'd lost his chance. Dropping his head, he crawled back through the ditch and into the weeds.
A Run, Interrupted
The Hubs had intended to go right. That was the plan. Avoid the railroad tracks. Go right. Instead, he went left. He wasn't even aware of the change in plan. By the time he realized it, his feet were already well over the tracks. He could've turned around, but that wasn't his style. 20 miles was 20 miles. Didn't really matter which way he went. He'd just have to hope he missed the trains. At least he could check on the sound he thought he'd heard on the pothole-filled road. He'd been thinking about the sound when his body changed his run plan. Oh well. He put his mind in neutral again and let the miles roll by.
Almost two hours later, he was back on the bumpy country road. The sun and humidity were already brutal in the new morning and he was anxious to be done. As he moved down the street, he kept his ears attuned in case he heard the noise again. At first he wasn't sure. The cries weren't as strong as before. But yes, there they were. Only now, the sounds were scratchy, as if the voice had been crying for hours. He stopped his run (and watch) and followed the pitiful mews across the road.
He couldn't see anything in the ditch, but he could still hear the tiny meows. He called out once, wondering if the little one was caught somewhere. Nothing. He called out again and a small furry black nose slowly poked its way through the corn stalks closest to the ditch. A head followed and two paws, then a slight body and tail. He, or she, was a skinny little thing and obviously very young. The Hubs wondered how the kitten had gotten here. The tiny ball of black fur was alone, and apparently had been for hours. The man bent down and and reached out. Whether from hope, fear or exhaustion, the mewing menace let itself be picked-up.
The man wasn't sure what to do now. He wasn't at all a cat person, but he couldn't leave this little one out in the field all day. The young thing would certainly perish in the heat and humidity, if not by some predator. He looked across the street. Maybe the kitten had wandered off from one of the houses and just needed to get back over there. Yes, that was probably it. The man carried the kitten across the road and put the furball on the grass in front of the nearest house, saying " you're safe now " and "go on home" .
He re-started his watch and continued the rest of the short run home. Before he got too many steps ahead, however, he looked behind. The kitten was running after him crying.
"Go home now!" He said again and re-started his run.
Several more strides later he chanced another glance behind. The tiny feline had stopped following him, but was now out in the middle of the road laying down. A weak wail reached the Hubs' heart. He groaned. As much as he wanted to ignore those cries and just finish his run, he couldn't. It obviously didn't belong to one of the houses as he'd hoped, and leaving the kitten to suffer in the heat and fend for itself was not an option. He sighed and went back, "finishing" his run by walking with the furry foundling tucked in the crook of his arm. He wondered how he was going to explain this one.
A Second Chance
He'd been crying off and on for hours, even falling asleep on his feet a few times. He just hoped he hadn't missed another chance when napping. There had been no one else since the man this morning. A few cars had come by, but no people. He wished he hadn't been so scared as the man's voice had sounded nice. He would be bolder next time. If there was a next time. He had to keep trying. Maybe, just maybe even mom would come by. But he didn't think so. He thought mom was far away. It was so hot already and he was thirsty and hungry. Still, he kept yelling even as his voice grew hoarse and his throat dry.
It seemed forever until he heard the pounding. Was that another car? He ventured closer to the ditch, yowling as best he could. No, it was the same thumping and breathing as before! The pounding stopped and soon there were footsteps at the top of the ditch. He meowed again. A man's voice called out. It was him!
As much as he'd resolved to be bolder this time, he still hesitated. When the warm voice came again, however, he took a deep breath and poked his nose out from the low weeds at the bottom of the corn stalks. The man was kneeling down, still calling softly. He took another deep breath and came all the way out into the ditch. When the man reached out with both hands, he let himself be swept-up. The hands gently carried him across the road.
He thought he was saved, but the man simply put him down on the grass and moved off, telling him he was "safe" and could "go home now". The man must think this was his home.
"No, no I don't live here. I'm lost," the kitten wailed desperately, seeing his second, and probably last, chance run away.
He tried to run after him, but the man's strides were long and his were so short. The man turned once, telling him again to go home, but then kept going. He tried to run faster and get closer to the man, but the man kept getting smaller.
His legs finally gave out and he fell, panting, to the street. He was in the middle of the road now and the gravel burned under his soft paws. But he was exhausted and couldn't move. He had one more yowl left.
"Please, please help me get home!"
His eyes closed and he buried his head in his paws. He had failed.
But he hadn't. He soon felt himself being picked-up again. This time he was held firmly against a strong, but sweaty chest. He wearily meowed his thanks repeatedly. The man petted his head and told him to rest. He snuggled in the man's elbow and did just that.
The Hubs waited until the afternoon to call his wife about the kitten. In the meantime, he'd set-up a feline play fort in the garage with patio cushions and cardboard boxes. Not being a cat person, he set-out water, milk and cut-up sausage.
He started the conversation with his spouse casually enough asking how her day was and when she'd be home. It was then the little house panther started yowling.
"We have a cat," the wife stated.
"Well, kind of," the Hubs answered, telling her the story of his run. "But we don't have to keep him if you don't want, we can find him a home. I think someone abandoned him."
"I wouldn't doubt it," the wife sighed. "Black cats are often the last adopted or the first dumped. People think they're bad luck. Silly. I'll be home soon, but honey, in the meantime, please remove the sausage and milk."
Of course, once a cat enters your heart, it's impossible to get them out, even the heart of a previously professed "non-cat" person. As soon as he'd stopped to help the little lost soul, both futures were set. The kitten's boldness and persistence had won the day. Wife understood this, having been a cat's "human" several times growing-up. So there never was any question about finding the kitten a "home". He already had one.
The Naming: Bandit
The next big hurdle was naming the little fellow. A process that, if you've ever seen Cats, is quite a big deal. It took a few days, but the name came on its own and seemed quite fitting for a couple of reasons. First, he'd definitely stolen everyone's hearts. Second, a "bandit" in the running world is an unregistered runner intervening or interrupting a run or a race. Since the little guy had "interrupted" the Hubs' "race", Bandit seemed an especially appropriate moniker. In any event, he hasn't complained about it for the last 10+ years and always answers to it, especially at treat time. Go Figure.
Black cats, as we've sadly learned over the years, are often abandoned and targeted in the US. Yet, in other countries, black cats are revered and honored. (See here) My husband and I consider ourselves the lucky ones the day Bandit came into our lives. We still aren't quite sure who rescued whom.