[Prompt: Put this sentence somewhere in your story: Even though Jake ate the last of the pancakes, Leonard couldn’t find it in himself to get worked up about it ]
As the sun rose, its light found the metal rooster weather vane on top of the house on 403 Sycamore Street. The rooster gave a small wobble as the morning warmed it before moving down to the roof, trickling down over the eaves and pattering against the east facing windows. One such window lacked a curtain to detour the sunlight and the venturing light sought every opportunity to bright up the world. It came in through the window, casting light to the mess of toys and clothes scattered across the room that hosted two beds. One of the rays blanketed itself right over Leonard’s face, warming the young boy’s face until the brightness roused him from is dreams.
Leonard squinted against the sun, then sprung out of bed upon realizing that he had forgot to set the alarm. He had meant to get up well before the sun because he and Jake had plans and they had wanted to prepare their packs. It was the last week of summer and they wanted to enjoy it to the fullest. They had talked about it all week, and stayed up half the night going over the plan. Yet now they were already behind schedule!
A glance at his twin’s empty bed made Leonard panic and rush downstairs in his pajamas. His feet putting a roll of thunder to shame with how much noise he made before he burst into the kitchen. The smell of breakfast made his stomach rumble, but Leonard kept a serious face on even as his mother smiled at him from the counter. “Where’s Jake?”
His mother gestured toward the table and sure enough there sat Leonard’s twin. Jake took care to step a bit more heavily against the kitchen tiles as he stomped over to his brother. He sat down in the chair nearest him and stared him down, waiting for an explanation. Jake merely smiled at him and continued to clear off his plate of pancakes drowned in syrup. There was something sly about the way his brother continued to smirk at him. Leonard narrowed his eyes then looked around to silently investigate the scene of the crime. It didn’t take him long to notice that there were no pancakes left to share.
“You ate them all,” Leonard stated instead of questioning his now grinning brother. Even though Jake ate the last of the pancakes, Leonard couldn’t find it in himself to get worked up about it. After all, he had been more worried his brother had left out on their adventure without him. A few pancakes was water under the bridge.
“I did because you were snoring last night,” Jake said.
“You snore too,” Leonard countered back at his twin.
“Boys,” Their mother warned as she approached the table. She took the empty plate of pancakes and set down a fresh batch.
Leonard took one with his fingers, used a knife to spread some butter across the top then he rolled it up and began to eat it without syrup. He watched their mother, waiting until she was satisfied that he was eating before she wandered back to the counter. When she was far enough away, Leonard leaned toward his brother to whisper, “Do too.”
After finishing off the pancake, Leonard continued in a more serious tone, “Did you pack our bags?”
Jake nodded and pointed at the two backpacks resting against the back door. Their mother had bought those backpacks for the approaching school year and likely wouldn’t approve of the boys using them for their adventures. They would have to take extra care to avoid getting caught when they left. Leonard returned the nod, “Operation black foot is a go.”
The twins finished breakfast in silence, both of them concentration on the mission ahead of them. Afterward they went back up to their room to get dressed. Despite it being summer they both opted for pants instead of shorts. Hiking shoes were chosen for the day. Jake helped Leonard with the laces since he was better at trying knots. When they went back downstairs, they made sure to do it quietly. They crept toward the back door but their mother turned. She always had a sixth sense when it came to knowing when her boys were up to something.
“Where are you two going?” She asked.
“Tom’s,” Leonard replied.
Jake wasn’t far behind to back him up, “He got a new bike and he wants to race us at the park.”
Their mother appraised them, but upon finding no sign of a ruse, she shrugged and went back to washing the morning’s dishes. “Alright, don’t forget to take the track phone and please, please, remember to check in with me.”
“Yes mom,” They both replied. Leonard retrieved the small phone from where it sat charging on the counter and after he slipped it into his pocket they both slipped out the back door, grabbed their bikes and rode off toward the park.
Tom was already there waiting for them. Tom was two years older then them and looked like a bully. He was, kind of, but only because Tom didn’t have a good sense of humor and didn’t appreciate it when people laughed at his expense. Beyond that, Tom was always helpful and knew a lot about the woods from his father who liked to hunt in the fall. Tom wore a matching set of leaf-patterned camo, which consisted of a hat, long sleeved shirt, pants, and even his pack melding in with the approaching fall. His boots were mid cafe and looked too complicated to lace up in the twin’s shared opinion.
“You’re late,” Tom grumbled as he stood.
“Nah, you’re just early,” Leonard set his bike down next to the swings. He waited until his brother did the same and Tom met them at the edge of the playground. “Did you bring the meat?”
Tom removed his pack and retrieved a sealed Ziploc from the front pocket. “Sausages from breakfast.”
“Do cats like sausages?” Jake peered at the links in question.
Tom shrugged, “My dog likes them. I don’t see why a cat would be any different.”
Leonard nodded in agreement, “Alright, just to go over the plan again, Mrs. Bailey is offering a reward for the return of her cat Stella. Stella is a calico cat, mostly white, but her left paw is black. Brett, a first grader, said he saw Stella here the other day. He tried to feed her some of his fruit snacks but she ran into the woods. That was two days ago.”
“My dad says theres no way a cat would survive in the woods. He said an owl or a coyote probably ate her cat,” Tom added.
Jake looked annoyed, “Cats are sneaky. I bet she found a good place to hide.”
“And a coyote could sniff out her hiding place.”
“And she’d just run up a tree to get away from the stupid coyote.”
“And then the owl could just snatch her up.”
Jake snorted, “A cat is too big for an owl to pick up.”
“Nah-uh,” Tom argued, “My dad once saw an owl pick up one of Miss Grady’s Pomeranians.”
“He did not!”
“Guys,” Leonard intervened, “We all want Stella to be alive because we want that money, right?”
“Yes,” The other boys responded in unison. Jake looked determined while Tom looked sullen, but the older boy always had a sour look on his face so it was hard to tell if this look was any different.
“So we are going to hope that Stella is alive,” Leonard waited until the other boys nodded before nodding himself. “Let the hunt begin!”
Tom, the veteran of their group, naturally took the lead once they got to the edge of the woods. The twins never took it upon themselves to explore the woods beyond the first set of trees, and only they they used the wide trunks as hiding spots during games. Tom was the one who had been out in the woods with his father and Leonard liked to believe that Tom had a natural sense when it came to these things. The older boy looked more attuned to the woods than he did out on the playground.
“Here kitty-kitty-kitty,” Jake called to forest as we walked.
Leonard focused on the trail around them, but wasn’t entirely sure what he was suppose to see. He got excited when they heard something move in the bushes, but it only turned out to be a squirrel that sprang up a tree and chattered at them from the safety of a branch. Tom paused at a set of tracks, but shook his head and continued on down the trail. Jake and Leonard hovered over the large paw print.
“Do you think it’s from a wolf?” Jake whispered.
Leonard shrugged and followed after Tom.
After an hour, or what felt like an hour to three boys trudging through the edges of the woods, Tom came to a stop. Leonard came up along side him and tried to gauge what he was looking at through the trees.
“We’re close to Mrs. Bailey’s house.”
Leonard frowned, “Do you think Stella already found her way back home?”
Tom grunted then pulled off his pack and began to pull out a length of thin rope. Jake nudge up against Leonard and they both watched Tom fiddle with the rope. Jake finally put words to what they were both wondering, “What are you doing?”
“Making a trap.”
“You’re not going to hurt Stella, are you?” Jake glanced from Tom to Leonard.
“No,” Tom answered, but paused as he worked the knot. “I don’t think so anyway.”
Leonard, much like his twin, felt uneasy about the idea of a trap, but he didn’t have an alternative idea so he took Jake’s arm and together they picked out a spot to watch the trap from afar. Tom baited trap with torn up bits of sausage and joined them behind the trunk of an old tree. Jake handed out snacks from his pack and Leonard passed a comic to each of them to help pass the time. It wasn’t long before they felt the weight of boredom pressing on their minds. Only Tom remained focused with the rope end in one hand and his attention set firmly on the trap. Jake amused himself by tearing leaves into tiny little pieces then blowing them at Leonard who ignored him and pretended to keep reading his comic.
Another half hour and the day was beginning to warm even beneath the shade of the trees. Jake nodded off and Leonard wasn’t too far behind him when he noticed Tom’s posture change. He too suddenly became alert and sat up a little straighter. Slowly he leaned around the tree to look at the trap. Crouched by the meat was a white cat with a smothering of orange and black over the top of its head. Leonard wasn’t sure if it was Stella without being able to see her paws, but he was willing to bet it was her.
Tom’s hand moved slowly at first, drawing the rope taunt before pulling it back with such force that he kicked up dirt and leaves that in turn woke up Jake. Leonard rushed forward to examine the panicked creature. The cat was bucking and kicking up a storm of leaves of her own. The sound she made as she twisted and turned made Leonard feel sick. Tom and Jake came up along side of him and they all stared at the cat who had two paws cinched together by the noose of Tom’s trap.
“She’s scared,” Leonard said.
“Yeah, she’s going to scare herself to death,” Jake added.
“We have to let her go!” Leonard felt sick watching her trash on the ground.
Tom grabbed his shoulder, “No, we caught her. If we let her go she’s going to run and we’ll never catch her again. You wanted to catch her!”
Leonard shrugged off Tom’s hand and knelt by the cat. He grabbed at her leg and screamed when she met him with claws and teeth. Tears rolled down his cheek as he used both hands to simply hold her still. His brother rushed to his side and tried to remove the rope from Stella’s legs. When he failed to do so, Tom reluctantly took a knee and slid the knot loose. Leonard dropped the cat and, as predicted, she bolted.
Leonard was crying, but he got up alongside the others and chased after her. They emerged breathless from the trees into Mrs. Bailey’s backyard. Jake eyed Leonard’s arm with concerned but didn’t say anything.
Tom adjusted the strap on his shoulder, looking displeased by the whole situation, “Do you think she’ll reward us if we chased Stella back home?”
Leonard sniffed, “We still have to find where she is.”
With a nod, Tom headed off to circle the house from the left. Jake moved to go right, passing by Leonard in the process to whisper, “Mom is going to be so mad.”
Leonard hugged his arm to his chest and decided to inspect the backyard first. The back of Mrs. Baily’s house consisted of a raised deck that house a matching set of patio furniture. She had a small barbecue near the edge that her husband used during the peak of summer, but otherwise stood unused through the seasons. Leonard crouched by the stairs leading up to the deck. The lattice blocking off the underside of the deck wasn’t present under the stairs. Leonard laid down on his belly and peered into the darkness.
A pair of glowing eyes stared at him from the darkness ahead. Leonard sat up and shouted, “Jake! Tom!” Then he was back down on his stomach, watching the eyes stare back.
“Is she under there?” Jake asked as he laid down next to Leonard.
“I’m going in,” Leonard stated.
Jake grabbed his brother’s sleeve, “But she’ll claw you up.”
“Better me than you, then mom will only be mad at one of us.”
It was hard to argue against the threat of their mother so Jake let go of Leonard’s sleeve.But before Leonard could wriggle under the deck, a flashlight appeared next to his hand. Leonard looked up to see Tom on the other side of the stairs. The older boy nodded and Leonard took the flashlight and began to crawl. The flashlight was good, and Leonard directed it at the glowing eyes to illuminate Stella’s white face. She meowed at him but didn’t budge from her perch on a piece of old lumber.
Leonard stretched out his hand as he slowly crawled toward her, “Hey Stella. Nice kitty-kitty.”
She meowed again before disappearing behind the lumber.
Doubling his effort, Leonard pushed himself over the dirt and batted away cobwebs that clung to the sides of his face. He was certain he felt something crawl down the back of his shirt but he didn’t want to stop and investigate and risk losing Stella a second time. He reached the lumber and cautiously peered over the edge. Stella was laying on her side, purring while four small furballs nuzzled at her stomach.
“Oh!” Leonard lifted himself up in excitement, then winced as his head struck the bottom of the deck. “She’s got babies!”
“Can we keep them?” Jake instantly asked.
Tom voice came after a moment’s delay, “Do you think we’ll get more reward?”