This short story was inspired by a photograph that appeared on social media of a dog standing on a chair, looking down at four kittens. It was written in two chapters.
Cassie opened one eye and stretched out her limbs. No sign of the kittens, thank goodness. She was warm and cosy in her favourite chair by the fire and the last thing she needed was them climbing all over her. They were getting more independent now that they were eating proper food, but they still loved to cuddle up to her at night. Cassie knew exactly where they would be. She didn’t have to worry about them. They had that soppy old dog wrapped round their little paws.
In the kitchen Major jumped onto the chair to appear more imposing. His new recruits needed firm handling or they would run rings round him.
“Squad! Fall in!” he barked. The females, Misty and Smoky, sat looking up at him with their big eyes. It was the two young lads who needed reigning in. “Stripy and Socks – positions, please!” Eventually they all sat in front of him looking up expectantly. They were so cute, he loved them really.
“Ahem,” he cleared his throat. “Now then you motley crew. Stand up straight. Left turn. Quick march!” He followed them outside to the yard for exercises. Major was a bloodhound cross. It was unlikely he would ever sire his own pups but these little blighters had stolen his heart when they started to leave Cassie’s side and clambered all over him. He took his kitten sitting duties very seriously and he knew that Cassie appreciated her nap in front of the fire while he took them on ‘manoeuvres’.
Cassie, Major and the four tabby kittens lived in a large old farmhouse with the Williams family. The farm no longer existed but the barns and stables had been converted into holiday lets. Mr Williams did something on computers and usually worked from home and Mrs Williams looked after the family and the guests. The family consisted of Josh aged four and Lola aged two. The children loved the kittens but Major was never far away, ensuring that they were gentle with his tiny charges.
Today, though, the children were nowhere to be seen. The Land Rover was not in its usual place so Mrs Williams must have taken them out on an errand. Major was free to roam as far as the five bar gate at the end of the long approach to the house. Plenty of space to exercise his squad. He took the lead and they followed him, single file, around the buildings to the top field. The field was a safe place to play, with a fallen tree in one corner. He led them to the tree and they climbed on it with excitement. He let them burn off a bit of energy and then called them to him, where he sat in the weak October sunshine.
“Right, squad. Today’s exercise is ……….” He paused for effect, “a treasure hunt!”
“What’s the treasure?” asked Socks, so called because his little legs looked like they were covered in stripy socks.
“Here’s what we are going to do. I will tell you something you have to find and bring to me. When you return with it I will tell you what to search for next. The winner will be the kitten who brings me all ten things first. Stripy come back, you don’t know what to hunt for yet!” Stripy skidded to a halt and slunk back to the others.
“Right. The first thing I want you to find is …… an acorn. Go!” The kittens raced off. Major knew exactly where they would find some, but it was a big field and it would take them some time to realise they needed to go to the edge of the field where the oak trees were. This would give Major time to rest and think up the next object to search for. This was a good game. Minimum effort for him, lots of exercise for the kittens. It also gave them chance to hone their skills. They would need to use all their senses, run, climb and pounce, and carry objects in their mouths.
Stripy was the first to find an acorn, but couldn’t contain his excitement, so the other three rushed up to the spot where he was leaping about, and it ended up in a race back to Major.
“Steady on,” grumbled Major as they ran into him. “Next treasure is …. Fungus!” Off they ran, except Misty. She had spotted some fungus while they were playing on the fallen tree. She let the other three run off then calmly found the fungus and delicately took it in her mouth to give to Major.
“Clever girl,” said Major proudly, “next, an empty snail shell.” This one was a bit trickier and Misty still hadn’t found one when all the others had returned with their fungus and joined her on her search. Smoky, being the most inquisitive, found a snail shell first, turning over stones and twigs in her quest. The game carried on – berry, flower, red leaf, feather, some litter – and Major was starting to feel the chill in his old bones. It was OK for the kittens as they were running around, but he had been sitting still for ages. The old dog stood up and stretched out his back. He would give them easy things to find when they brought the litter back. That was an easy one, too, humans dropped stuff everywhere. Maybe a stone next, then a blade of grass. He’d soon be back in the house in front of the fire where he could sleep all afternoon, he certainly deserved to.
Major looked around the field to see where they all were. Stripy and Smoky were having a tug of war with a crisp packet, Misty had disappeared into some long grass, Socks was on his way back. What on earth was he dragging behind him?
Socks proudly deposited the object at Major’s feet as Stripy and Smoky rushed up with half a crisp packet each. Technically only one piece of litter thought Major but he was keen to go back now. He sent the three of them off to find a smooth, round stone, as Misty appeared out of the long grass with a plastic carrier bag.
As Misty trotted after the others Major had a closer look at the object that Socks had found. It was about the size of the kitten, purple and grubby. It was a child’s soft toy. A rabbit with long ears and long legs. He wondered about the child who had lost the rabbit. Was it missed? He had never seen it before and it had no scent that he recognised so it didn’t belong to Josh or Lola. The kittens were returning one by one, Smoky first, and Major sent them on their last mission ….. a blade of grass! Of course Smoky got it first and was declared the winner! They had all enjoyed the game but it was getting chilly and everyone was happy to set off back to the warm farmhouse.
“Squad, fall in!” ordered Major and the kittens followed him in single file across the field. Major looked back to check on his troop and realised that Socks was lagging behind, dragging the grubby rabbit with him.
“What are you bringing that thing for? Mrs Williams won’t want that in her kitchen.”
“We can leave it in the yard. I want to play with it.” All four kittens looked up at him with their big eyes. With a sigh, Major took the thing in his mouth and they continued on their way.
As they rounded the corner of the barn conversion they could see lots of people in the yard. Mr and Mrs Williams were there, with Josh and Lola and some of the guests. One of the ladies was crying and everyone looked worried. Josh and Lola rushed over to Major and the kittens.
“What have you got there, Major?” Josh took the rather soggy rabbit from Major’s mouth. The distraught lady looked up and shrieked when she saw it. She snatched it off Josh.
“Where did you get that? It belongs to Archie, he carries it around everywhere.” It turned out that Archie was her three year old son and he had wandered away from the patch of grass behind the holiday lets. Everyone was about to set off to search for him.
“Where did you find this, old boy?” asked Mr Williams, taking the rabbit and stroking Major’s head. Major set off back to the top field while Mrs Williams took Josh, Lola, the kittens and the boy’s mother into the farmhouse for a cup of tea. Mr Williams and the other guests, including Archie’s father, set off after Major.
Major had seen the direction that Socks had come from when he found the rabbit and he was confident he could follow its scent to find where it had lain. He headed for the corner diagonally opposite the fallen tree, as that was the direction Socks had come from. The scent took him to the old, unused water trough. It was half full of water due to the rain last week. Floating on top of the water was a small, woolly glove. Archie’s dad gave a low moan and fell to his knees. Mr Williams found a stick and prodded the murky water.
“Nothing here, Jamie. It’s OK. He’s not in here.” He pulled Jamie to his feet. “Find, boy!” he ordered Major. Major took another sniff of the rabbit. He followed the scent round the trough, through a gap in the hedge and up to the oak trees, closely followed by the others. In amongst the trees he got confused. The scent seemed to go round and round, crossing over itself. The humans spread out to search the area.
“I’ve got him,” shouted Mr Williams. There in a hollow made by the roots of a large oak tree, Archie was curled up asleep, the thumb on his glove free hand in his mouth. Jamie picked him up, startling him, and hugged him close. After he had got over the shock of being so rudely awakened, Archie grinned at his dad,
“I saw a squirrel, daddy, and a black bird.” He seemed none the worse for his adventure, and enjoyed riding back to the farm on his dad’s shoulders, cuddling the rabbit, who was apparently called Floppity.
Back in the farmhouse everyone had hot drinks and cake. Archie played with Josh and Lola and Major got plenty of treats, and a lot of fussing. He tried to include the kittens as it was Socks really who was the hero of the day, but he had no way of explaining that.
Later, when the kittens were all fast asleep, curled up with Cassie, Major lay by the dying embers of the fire. What an exciting day. He would have to think up a new game to entertain his troop. As he started to fall asleep he had an idea. He would hide things in the field and they could hunt for them …….