The rain stung Henry’s eyes, and his left ham burned with pain, but he kicked through the floodwater, with the kittens clinging to his back. “This way,” called one of the kittens, nipping Henry’s right ear. Henry turned a little to the right. “Yes, that’s it,” said the kitten. “I see the tree. We are almost there.”
Henry peered through the teeming rain and at last saw the familiar shape—the long branch stretching sideways, the leaves drooping in clumps—it was no more than a blotch in the haze, but to Henry it was light in the darkness. “I see… the willow tree!” he called between panting breaths.
In his excitement and desperation, he gave a great kick and sped forward. One of the kittens lost its grip. “Look out!” cried another kitten, digging its claws into Henry’s neck.
A surge of water smothered Henry’s face as a monstrous branch drifted into him side-on, knocking the kittens from his back and pushing him beneath the surface. He tumbled upside down, scrambling as the wood weighed him down and entangled him in its jagged offshoots and thick leaves. With a kick and a violent twist, Henry forced himself loose from the branch and popped up above the water, gasping. Two paws immediately latched onto his snout, and to Henry’s immeasurable relief, tiny claws once more pinched his face, as a little kitten scurried back up onto his head and clung to him, shivering. Henry turned to the sound of meowing close by and swam with all his might. His side ached and he spluttered and snorted, trying to keep the water out of his snout. Another kitten grabbed onto his side, dug its claws in and climbed up onto his back. Henry looked up and saw the wavy silhouette of the willow tree just ahead. Another meow came through the rain, but from where, Henry could not tell. “Where are you?” he cried.
Henry drifted, watching the willow tree creep away from him. After a moment, the meow called again, terrified, and further away. Henry kicked his little front trotters and turned himself around in the water, looking for the last kitten. “I can’t see you! Where are you?” he squealed.
He turned right around and faced the willow tree again; it was drifting further away, merging with the darkness. Henry thought he heard another distant meow. After a second’s hesitation, he grunted, and swam for the willow tree. Against the current he charged, kicking with long, underwater strides. Faster and faster he kicked, and the tree grew gradually larger, its shape more defined. Henry began to make out dim colours in the branches and saw its wide pillar trunk. Soon he could see the green of the big round hill. An agonising bolt of pain shot up his left leg, and Henry squealed. The pain disappeared in an instant, and Henry felt it no more. He kicked onward but could not find his usual swimming rhythm; he was moving slower through the water. One of the kittens bit his ear. “This way!” it called. “The tree is right there.”
“Yes, I see it,” called Henry, and he swam onward, reaching out and pulling himself forward with his front trotters, while it felt as if something were trying to drag him back.
An ache seemed to crush his side, and his vision became speckly and blurry. He clenched his teeth and charged onward. Two little paws leaned down onto his face, and Henry began to feel dizzy. One of the kittens leapt off the end of his snout and splashed in the water. “No!” cried Henry. He saw the kitten leap up and dash across the water, and then Henry’s front trotters struck solid ground. He dragged himself forward and out of the flood, as the other kitten sprang from his neck and ran up the big round hill. The little pig limped up the hill a few paces, his left leg dragging on the grass, and then collapsed on his side. He looked up and saw the willow tree, and the two kittens huddled together under its branches like chicks beneath a giant hen’s wings. Henry gave a weak snort, then laid his head down and closed his eyes.
A soft, fuzzy nudge tickled the little pig’s chin, and a soft warm breath purred at his snout. He huffed and stretched—his side was tight and sore, and his left ham was numb. He opened his eyes. Before him, surrounded by orange halos, stood two little black kittens. “Henry,” whispered one, “come and see the sky.”
Henry blinked and stared, then flipped onto his belly. “We made it!” he said. He looked around in the early morning light; gentle rain still fell and grey clouds covered the southern paddocks, but the storm had passed. And though most of the farm remained underwater, the flood had receded a little. “We made it,” he whispered.
One of the kittens nuzzled at his side. “Come on, Henry,” he said, “come and see.”
Henry tried to stand but only rolled back on his hams. He steadied his front legs, then pushed up with his hind legs and stumbled again. Finally, with the kittens pushing him from behind, he got to his feet. After wobbling for a moment, he took a step, then another, and then hobbled slowly up the big round hill. Henry’s hind left leg hung limp and dragged on the grass, the way it would for the rest of his life. The kittens walked beside him. When he came to the top of the hill and the willow tree, he put his head down and rubbed his neck against its bark. He grunted and smiled as he looked up into the hanging green canopy. The kittens purred at his side, and he turned to them. “Two kittens,” he said softly. “The littlest one didn’t make it, did she?”
The kittens lowered their heads. “No,” said the bigger one.
Henry bowed his head, then nudged the kittens with his snout. “Well, I am happy you two are here with me.”
The smaller kitten stood on his hind legs, set his front paws on the pig’s snout and looked up at him. “Come and see the sky.”
The kittens bounded ahead, out from under the drooping willow branches and into a patch of sunshine. Henry limped after them, the low hanging leaves brushing his head. As he stepped out from under the tree he stopped and stood gaping at the horizon. Above the pine forest east of the farm, the rainclouds had parted, and the sky shone pinkish orange with the most stunning sunrise Henry had ever seen.
© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED