Chapter 14:

014 ┃ Of Kittens and Precarious Pathways

The Isle of the Forgotten

Spud was crouching on the wooden floor, his hand extended forward, moving his index finger back and forth. In front of him, the kitten waited, crouched behind a piece of furniture, watching him intently.

At a given moment, the kitten darted out of its hiding place, pouncing on Spud's finger and rolling around on the floor, playfully nibbling on it.

“Come to think of it, haven’t we basically kidnapped this kitten?” Spud shared.

“Why do you say that?” Dawn asked, plucking one of the partridges she had hunted that morning. Today had been lucky; it was only mid-morning, and she had already returned with two prey for their meal.

“It's just... it's still a baby. Maybe its mother left it in that place on purpose. What if she's looking for it now?” Spud thought aloud while playing with the kitten.

“If it was in a place like that, it's because it strayed from the nest and got lost. You did right in saving it. If the stalkers had heard it, they undoubtedly would have killed it,” Dawn justified from the kitchen.

Spud made a face of disgust, looking at the kitten.

“You dodged a bullet there. You're quite the explorer too, aren’t you, Lion?” Spud called the kitten in a squeaky voice while petting it.

“Lion?” Dawn questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“What? We have to call it something, right?”

“I know, but you could think of something more original. Like Thunder, for example,” Dawn teased, a small smile forming on her face.

“Why do you remember that?” Spud asked, blushing at the girl's comment.

Dawn came out of the kitchen with a plate in her hand. Her hands were covered in blood, which made Spud feel a bit squeamish. She walked over to them and placed the plate on the floor.

“Come here, little one. Time to eat,” Dawn called in a sweet voice.

The kitten quickly approached the plate, attracted by the smell of food. It took Spud a moment to recognize what it was, but when he did, he had to suppress the urge to vomit. They were the innards of the partridges she had just hunted.

“Hey! How can you feed him that? He's still a child,” the boy complained, looking away in disgust.

“He likes it,” Dawn justified, petting Lion as he ate.

“But you haven't given him a choice. There must be something else we can feed him,” Spud argued.

“He's a predator, Spud. Until he learns to hunt, it's enough to give him our leftovers,” she justified. Since yesterday, her tone had changed. She was no longer as cold and curt as in the first days, something Spud appreciated.

“I know, but it's a little sad that he has to eat this. Don’t we have milk or something?”

“Milk? The last time I saw a cow, it was nothing but a skeleton. The stalkers must have killed them all,” the girl explained.

“Wow... How about fish?” the boy suggested, looking at Dawn with curiosity. Dawn thought for a few seconds, then her face lit up, as if she'd had a brilliant idea.

“That's right! I'd forgotten, but I know a great place to fish,” the girl said, motivated.

“I didn't know you liked fish that much.”

“It's not that, silly. If we catch many fish in the lake, we can dry them by the fire, and we'll have plenty for the winter,” Dawn explained, thoughtfully.

The kitten had finished its meal and was now licking its whiskers, watching them.

“A lake? That sounds far away.”

“It's about an hour from here,” she paused, looking at the ground, “Pack your things. We'll go now,” Dawn decided.

Spud watched her get up and rush to the rack for her spear and bow.

“Seriously? Now? I was planning to work in the garden this afternoon,” Spud complained, somewhat surprised by his companion's haste.

“In winter, the lake we're going to freezes. If we don't go soon, we won't be able to have fish until spring. We have to go now,” Dawn justified.

“But we haven't eaten yet,” he argued.

The girl seemed to ignore him. She grabbed a basket near the entrance and headed for the exit.

“We'll eat what we catch there. You have a minute to get ready.”

Spud watched Dawn leave through the door. It had been so sudden that he had barely had time to realize they were going out.

“It seems we're going on a trip,” he told the kitten, still surprised. The kitten lunged to attack his hand with bites and scratches, “Hey, that hurts.”

Dawn and Spud were walking through the dense forest. They had veered off the path some time ago, and now it was Dawn guiding them. Spud didn’t doubt her sense of direction, but if they got separated somehow, he wouldn't have a clue how to get back to the house.

The monotonous landscape of pines soon became rockier, showing that they were gaining altitude. Spud could hardly keep up with his companion but said nothing because he didn't want to hear her mocking comments. Even so, he seemed to notice how the girl slowed down not to leave him behind. Maybe it was his imagination.

When Spud realized, they had left the trees behind. The boy was distracted, making sure Lion was comfortable in the bag, and Dawn had to stop him with her hand.

“Be careful,” she warned.

When Spud looked ahead, he understood what she meant. His heart almost stopped.

In front of them was a cliff at least a hundred meters high, with a great river flowing below. When had they climbed so high? The only way to cross to the other side was a rope bridge of dubious trustworthiness.

However, what caught his attention the most was not that. To his right was the most stunning landscape he had ever seen. The river flowed into a massive, crystal-clear lake. It was situated in the middle of a valley, nearly completely surrounded by mountains, giving it an intimate and dreamlike appearance. Hundreds of green, yellow, and even red trees painted the landscape, contrasting with the deep blue of the lake. It was as if he were looking at a painting.

"It's incredible..." he expressed, unable to look away.

"Isn't it?" Dawn agreed. She paused for a few seconds to admire the view, though she quickly snapped back to reality. She approached the rickety bridge without hesitation, "Come on, this way."

"Seriously?" Spud exclaimed, terrified.

He peered over the precipice to see the bottom. If he fell, sharp rocks and a strong current awaited him. And all that separated him from that were a couple of frayed ropes and some rotten planks.

"Are you sure the bridge will hold?" asked the boy, doubting whether to follow the girl or not.

"No," she replied, already halfway across the bridge.

"What do you mean, no?" he questioned, clutching his bag to ensure that Lion was safe.

"Oh, come on, it was a joke. Hurry up, potato boy. We don't have all day," Dawn teased.

"I hate you."

A. Hoshino