Pollock stood and helped Shade rise with her. She went to the edge and looked across. “You!”

Across from them, the familiar tiger-striped form of Rajah stood, his chest pumping from exertion, his gaze cast upon them with a mix of relief and incredulity. “You.” His tail swished this way and that.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good.”

Porsche tittered, “He’s not good, he’s grrreat!”

Everyone stopped and looked at her, and she giggled again at her own unbelievably silly banter.

Pollock was the first to break the silence again. “When we make it out of here, I’m not talking to you for a little while. Just so you know.” Porsche stuck her tongue out, and Pollock turned her attention to Rajah again. “You need to be over here!”

“Yeah, I do.”

“There’s no way to do that here, and we didn’t see any bridges or crossings from the way we came. I guess we’ll have to keep going that way,” she said, pointing in the direction they had been headed along the cliff, “and hope that there’s some way to cross up ahead.” She just prayed that the hedge was feeling even remotely magnanimous.

They traveled along the ledge, and Rajah picked his way back and forth through the labyrinth on the opposite side, keeping tabs on each other and, when they were close enough, comparing memories of their flight together. Quickly, they re-established the connection and camaraderie that had been denied them so long. Rajah spoke little about the time he had spent in the hedge, and the others stopped trying to pry after a few questions. Pollock had the sense that he wasn’t ready to go into such a fresh pain.

After an interminable distance, they saw that a large tree had been knocked from one side to the other. As they approached, it became obvious that enough traffic came across this path that the top had all of its bark worn off and branches broken to ease passage. They looked it over and couldn’t see any signs that it was nearing collapse. But as soon as Rajah put a foot on it, it rocked unsteadily.

Pollock grabbed onto the dead branches on their side. She’d be damned if she was going to lose him now that he was so near. Beside her, Porsche and Shade both latched onto the tree in various places, doing their collective best to hold it still and safe.

Even using his claws and crawling on all fours, their best efforts barely helped keep it from bucking and rolling this way and that. It was like the thing was a rodeo horse trying to get an unwelcome rider off its back. At several points, Rajah had to dig his claws in and lean against the direction of the roll while the others all hauled on it until the inertia stopped trying to send him over the side. At long last, he pulled himself off the thinning trunk on the near side and stood in their presence.

Pollock found that a paint pot of emotions was overflowing in her. It was like a tide, washing over her and leaving a wake of contentment she hadn’t felt in as long as she could remember, or perhaps longer. She was compelled to throw her arms around Rajah’s neck and hug him tightly. She knew without seeing it that her hair was a vivid blue. "Nice to see you, sweetness. She felt him turn his head to either side. “Come get some too, guys.” Then her friends were at her back, crushing her into a group hug. They were reunited.


Petals of the Rose Malkom Malkom