Eatbugs took a deep breath, savoring the sweet aroma. The air over the Rainbow Fields, still moist from the morning's gentle rain, smelled of fresh grass and catnip. He gently exhaled, and squeezed his eyes shut in pure, unadulterated pleasure. His days on the Bridge were filled with companionship and the love of the Company, but still he cherished these quiet moments, when the sheer beauty around him glistened in the golden sunlight. Soon enough the Bridge would spring to life as his furiends rose from their slumbers.
"Good morrow, Eatbugs." Isolde padded quietly up to him.
"Good morrow." Eatbugs watched her elegant silhouette as she gazed out over the Rainbow's edge. Her blue eyes seemed to go unfocused for a moment, then she blinked, and sighed. "Is everything all right?" he asked.
"Everything is as it is, Little One." She turned her steady gaze on him. "The world turns as it will turn and our wishes will not change that."
Eatbugs didn't know what to say. Before he could ask what troubled her, she abruptly rose and started away.
"You will be needed, Little One. Come when you are called."
Eatbugs stood blinking. Isolde's wisdom left him in awe, but he did have a passing wish that she would just answer a question like a normal kidden. He scratched his ear in consternation.
"Mr. Eatbugs, Mr. Eatbugs!" The thunderous sound of approaching peepers pulled Eatbugs' attention from Isolde's mysterious parting. "Mr. Eatbugs!!"
"What is it, Little Dots?" Eatbugs had to chuckle as the small peeper bounced in front of him.
"You gots to come see, you gots to. Come on!" Little Dots pronged a few times for emphasis. "I can does it better than all of them!"
As Eatbugs padded along side the excited peeper, he listened with surpressed smile to the great tale of accomplishment.
"And it was all my idea, too, and don't neven believe Pouncequick iffin he says 'did not'. I thoughtsed it all up all my myself. I did." He bounced.
When they reached the tall grass, Eatbugs took in the scene before him, and fell over laughing.
"Don't you DARE laugh," said Mooska, her whiskers twitching against her own giggles. "Your turn IS coming."
Puffin's shoulders shook with laughter. "I'll bet you didn't know that they haven't 'vented a new game in forty leven whole entire years."
"Or yesterday, which ever was longer." Mooska chuckled.
The two sisters stood facing away from each other, their tails extended and tips twined over each other. They alternated lowering their tails to the ground for the next peeper-contestant to shimmy under, belly to the ground and raising them in the air for peeper leaping.
"You gotsed to be the lowest and the highest ons the round to gets a point and you can'ts neven touch they tails or it don't count and you gotsed to do over and iffin you boppsed anyone's tail when they is trying a jump then you loses a point!"
Eatbugs stared at Dots and wondered, idly, when the peeper breathed.
"And I thoughtsed it up all by myself".
"Boys!" Eatbugs shook his head. "And what do you call this marvelous new game?" he asked, more to change the subject than anything else.
"Well now that you're here, YOU can take your turn." Puffin disconnected herself from her sister. "My tail may never be the same." She twitched it from side to side and shot Eatbugs a baleful look.
Eatbugs assumed the position and twined his tail tip with Mooska. The peepers stared in silence for a moment at his floofy tail, then a dozen little voices all broke out at once. "He gots too much fur". "You gotsed to change the no touching rules...we is ALL gonna touch thats!" Pounce and Little Dots leapt into the fray with "rules is rules" and "I cans jumps that."
Eatbugs turned to offer a compromise, when he felt the voice in his mind. He long ago gave up trying to understand it, but he felt the voice more than he heard it. "Come, Little One, you are needed." He excused himself from the peepers and solemnly padded his way to the Circle of the Elders.
He stood for a moment, surveying the group before him, and then felt the tears escaping his eyes. Virginia, Phillip and Elizabeth lay curled in a tight circle in the center of the group. Their eyes were closed, their whiskers pursed in concentration. Eatbugs knew how this vigil would end and his heart ached.
"Come Little One." Isolde's voice was husky with emotion. "They will need us soon."
He stepped up and took his place in the Circle. The Elders stood silently, watching the trio before them. At length, the wind began to shift, and a faint, delicate melody began. Sunlight filtered brilliantly through the willow leaves, and the three kiddens glowed in its golden light. Eatbugs felt a warmth spreading over him, washing his sorrow away. The air before the Elders flickered and glimmered as the pure white image formed before them. The Creator squeezed her eyes closed in greeting to her children, then lifted her voice into the wind to sing an Elder home.
The Elders lifted their voices as well, a deep harmony spun around the golden melody of the Creator's song. They sang of days in the sun. They sang of the love of their humans. They sang of love immortal and the Promise of times to come. Their words drifted into the air and carried on the wind to the hearts below. They sang words of comfort. They purred away all pain. They wrapped their love around the kidden below, easing all fear, all sorrow. They sang of the days to come and of love reunited.
Eatbugs felt the familiar tingling in his whiskers. He looked up at Isolde's wise face. She nodded. "It is time."
Phillip, Virginia and Elizabeth stood and looked a their furiends around them. They bowed their heads to the Creator, and turned, without words, to make their way to the Gate. As they journeyed, the Company of Kiddens, as they had so many times, fell into step beside them. Skunk walked with Catsup. Spice walked with Isolde. Picnic and Vito walked with Max and Pupkat. All the kiddens bound by the love of their humans joined the solemn procession.
When they reached the Gate, the Creator stood before her children. Her crystal blue eyes held so much love that Eatbugs could barely stand to look into them. She smiled, then turned to the Gate. She twitched her tail and flicked her ear and the blue light glimmered as the soul below released the last bonds of the earth. When the light faded, a beautiful grey kidden sat before them. Her fur was sleek and shining, her eyes bright and beautiful. She looked into the eyes of the Creator and smiled. She rose to take a step, and stopped staring down at her legs. The stiffness was gone. The pain in her joints seemed the faintest of memories. She felt young again, strong again.
The Creator stepped forward and licked Ginger on the forehead. She purred in her ear, then turned to look on her children as she shimmered from view. Phillip, Virginia and Elizabeth came forward to welcome their sister home. They purred and headbutted her, washing her face and nuzzling her neck.
"Look," she said, "I can run again!"
Phillip smiled. "And you will never be stiff again."
"I can whip your tail at chasies again." Ginger grinned at him.
"In your dreams!"
When they had made their greetings, the Company came forward, each kidden offering their noses. They promised to show Ginger the bestest sleepy spots and the deepest grass and the freshest catnip. Pouncequick offered to teach her "Pouncies" and Little Dots promised to teach her "Dotsies". Ginger shot Phillip a puzzled look.
"Don't ask." He laughed. "You really don't want to know the rules!"
"But are their laps to sleep on?" Ginger thought of her long snoozes in mom's lap.
"Of course their are...and ear scritches and the kibble bowls are never empty."
When all the kiddens had made their greetings, the Shore kiddens led their sister to the Rainbow's edge. As she pursed her whiskers in concentration, Eatbugs noticed the peepers romping through the Company. He was aghast. They knew the solemn occasion that brought them here. He looked at Ginger forming her love message, and that at the peepers running through the crowd. He rose to put a stop to it, but Isolde put her paw on his shoulder. "Leave them be, Little One." Eatbugs started to question her, but Ginger was ready.
"Mom? Mom, can you hear me? I am home now. I am whole. I am young again, and strong again. Thank you for all my days in the sun. Thank you for all your love. I am here, I am home. I am waiting."
Just as she opened her eyes, Pouncequick hollered "ones, twos, threes, NOWS!".
Eatbugs felt it swirl up around him and then burst out into the wind as all the Kiddens of the Company turned their voices towards the heart below. "We love you Aunt Vicki!"
"I bets she heards that!"
Eatbug licked Pounce's face. "Yes, I expect she did."
And with that, they turned to show Ginger her new home.
Goodnight Sweet Ginger, your march of days was many, and your memory will march for many more.
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