The little pig and the three kittens floated along. Henry swam across stream and lined himself up so the current would guide him to the willow tree and the big round hill. With shelter distant but in sight, he relaxed to a gentle paddle with his front trotters, letting his hind legs drag in the water. The kittens jostled on his back for a comfortable position. Wincing under the pinch of their little claws, Henry reminded them to hold on tightly. Soon, the lightning dimmed to a random, gentle glow, and the thunder lost its mighty cracks and booms and became a soft rumble far behind them. The rain, however, set in with new force, as if it intended to remain forever.
The sky grew darker as night approached, and the wind tilted the falling raindrops into Henry’s face. He began to kick his back legs again as he realised he was finding harder to identify the willow tree. A sharp pain gripped his left leg as though a fox had caught him in its jaws. He grit his teeth, clenched his eyes shut, and forced his little legs to keep kicking. “Hold on!” he called to the kittens, who were growing restless upon his back. “Stay up near my neck.” As he swam on, an awful feeling stirred in Henry’s belly, worse than the hunger. He had lost sight of the willow tree.
“Oh no, oh no,” he said. “Where are you?”
The kittens meowed. “What’s wrong?” said one.
“I have to find the willow tree,” said Henry, his legs kicking frantically. “I have to swim to the tree, and we will be safe. But I can’t see it—I can barely see a thing.” Claws pinched his skin, moving about his back and neck, as the kittens meowed anxiously. “Oh, where are you, willow tree?” said Henry. He recalled a verse he had made to remind him of the tree, and recited it now, half hoping the tree would answer and appear. “Short and fat like a pig, greener than the grass, a long branch reaches out and waves, leaves hang like horse tails. Short and fat like a pig…”
He continued to sing his verse, his aching legs churning beneath the water, when a paw pressed down between his eyes, and a little furry face with a pink nose leaned over to look at him. “Leaves like horse tails?” said the kitten. “Is that the willow tree?”
“What? Yes,” said Henry. “Now get back up on my neck, I can’t see. Short and fat like a pig, greener than—Ow! What are you doing?” One of the kittens bit Henry’s ear as hard as he could and yanked it to the side. Henry’s head turned and he spluttered out a mouthful of water. “Stop that,” he said, “I have to find the willow tree.”
“With leaves like horse tails?” said the kitten.
“Yes,” said Henry.
“We are going the wrong way,” said the kitten, and bit Henry’s ear again.
“Ow!” squealed Henry, as his head jerked to the side. “Let go of my ear.”
“The tree is this way,” called the kitten, yanking the pig’s ear once more.
The other kittens meowed in agreement. Henry squinted into the darkness and saw only rain. “I don’t see it,” he said.
“That is because you are not a cat,” said the kitten. The other kittens meowed. “The horse tail tree is this way.” The kitten bit Henry’s ear and pulled it forward.
The little pig peered ahead but saw no sign of the tree. “This way?” he asked, raising his snout.
“Yes!” cried the kittens.
Henry looked again, and again saw nothing. He grunted, took a deep breath, and swam as fast as he could.
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