Copyright © John Gregg, all rights reserved

The Land of the Ocelots

Kari lived in a large forest. She had friends in the forest, but for as long as she could remember she had felt a sadness she could not quite place. In all her life, she had never seen another animal quite like herself. She knew this because sometimes she went to the deep pool in the forest and looked in at her reflection, and the face she saw looking back at her from the still water didn't look like anyone or anything she had ever seen. She was certain that there must be others like her somewhere, but Kari had no idea where to look for them.

Her loneliness grew until one day she was in a used bookstore owned by the monkey twins in a part of the forest she didn't often go to. There, behind some books about balloons and bottle caps, Kari found a very old book with a cracked binding of frayed cloth. On the cover was a picture of creatures that Kari recognized from her trips to the pool in the forest! The book was called "The Land of the Ocelots".

Kari opened the book and could not believe her eyes. The pictures were faded, but there was no doubt that they were pictures of animals like her - she was an ocelot. Tears came to Kari's eyes as she turned the pages and saw pictures of ocelots playing, swimming, and eating chocolate cream desserts in the Land of the Ocelots. She felt happy and sad at the same time: happy to think that there was a land of ocelots like her, and sad that she had never been there and had no idea where it was, or even if it was real at all.

Some time later, Kari was sitting near the deep pool looking at her reflection and wondering if she would ever see another ocelot besides the one staring back at her from the water, when she heard someone behind her. It was her friend, Jacob the wolf. "Why do you look so sad, Kari?" asked Jacob.

"I'm an ocelot, Jacob," said Kari. "I know in my heart that there must be other ocelots, but I don't know how to find them."

"An ocelot. Hmm," said Jacob. "I don't know anything about ocelots, but I know who would. You should speak to the Mother Cat."

"The Mother Cat? Who is she?" asked Kari.

"The Mother Cat knows most things. She lives in the volcano."

Kari thanked Jacob, and wondered how anyone could live in the volcano. None of the animals ever dared to go too close to the volcano, but Kari had to find out about the Land of the Ocelots. She must try to find the Mother Cat.

Kari made her way through the forest toward the curl of smoke she could see against the sky. On the third day the forest began to thin, and Kari found herself on a rocky slab at the foot of the volcano. The jagged rock was warm beneath her paws and Kari did not like this place at all. But she had to find the Mother Cat so up she climbed.

The volcano grew hotter as Kari climbed, and after a while it became too hot for Kari to climb up any farther at all without burning her paws, so she decided to circle the volcano. On the far side from the one she had climbed she found the opening to a cave among the rocks. Kari was very scared now, but she softly padded into the dark hole before her.

She heard a low rumbling and the hot ground trembled under her. The cave seemed to be lit from within with a red, flickering glow. The air grew hotter the farther into the cave Kari went, and the rumbling grew louder. Just when she thought she would have to turn around from the heat and from fear, Kari found herself in a large room. In the center of the room was an enormous cat. Her eyes were closed and she was purring loudly. Kari realized that it was the cat's purring that had caused the rumbling and the trembling she had heard and felt ever since she entered the cave. Kari was still scared, but she could not take her eyes away. The Mother Cat was the biggest, fattest, most beautiful creature Kari had ever seen.

Kari could not tell if the Mother Cat was asleep or not, and did not know what to do. She waited at the edge of the room, and after a short time the Mother Cat slowly opened half an eye and said "Come closer, child, so that I may see you".

Kari slowly stepped toward the center of the room. The Mother Cat spoke again. "My dear, it seems you have come a long way, and you must have been afraid to climb the volcano. You must be a brave little ocelot. What is it that brings you here?"

Kari's heart leapt to hear the Mother Cat call her an ocelot. "I have a question, Mother Cat," said Kari. "You are the only one who can answer it, and I will never be happy unless I know the answer."

"Then you must ask your question, child. I will answer it if I can."

"I have never seen another animal like me, but when I look at myself in the water of the deep pool I know in my heart that there must be others. I have read of the Land of the Ocelots. Do you know if it is real? Can I go there?"

"I have never seen another like you," replied the Mother Cat. "But I know of the Land of the Ocelots. I have never been there, not even in my younger days when I traveled, but it does exist."

Kari almost fainted when she heard this. "Oh, Mother Cat, please tell me - how can I go there?"

The Mother Cat was silent for a moment, then began to speak slowly as if she were working something out in her mind as she spoke. "Near the ocean, on the beach there is a large white rock. Go there and wait. Under the light of the full moon a boat will come for you and take you to the Land of the Ocelots."

"Who will be sailing the boat? How will it know to come? Is anyone else going to wait for the boat too?" Kari asked eagerly.

The Mother Cat closed her eyes again, and Kari was afraid she was asleep, but the Mother Cat was purring even more loudly. Kari thought for a moment that the Mother Cat was laughing. "Questions! Such questions! Just do as I say, child, if you truly want to go to the Land of the Ocelots. Now hurry, for there are only two weeks before the full moon and the ocean is not near here."

Kari thanked the Mother Cat but she could not be sure the Mother Cat heard her. Once again it looked for all the world as though the Mother Cat was fast asleep.

Kari quickly left the cave and climbed back down the volcano. She was relieved to have the forest canopy over her head and the cool soft forest floor under her paws again. She traveled quickly during the day and slept only a short time at night. Three days before night of the full moon she saw the ocean glittering in the distance. After one more day of traveling she reached the shore in mid-afternoon, and by twilight she found the huge white rock the Mother Cat had spoken of.

For the next two days she waited by the rock. Finally, on the last day, Kari worried. What if this was the wrong rock? What if the boat did not come? What if she fell asleep and the boat came and left without her? But as night fell, Kari realized that she was much too excited to fall asleep. The full moon rose and lit up the beach and the ocean beyond almost as bright as day.

Shortly past midnight, Kari saw a speck of white on the horizon. The speck of white came closer and grew larger. Kari saw that it was a sail. The boat was headed straight toward Kari and moving quickly, even though Kari could not feel even the slightest breeze. It gently came to a stop in the sand in the shallow water. There was no one in the boat. Kari had never been in a boat before, and knew that if she got in, she might never see her forest or her friends again. But she simply had to go, having come this far. She walked down the moonlit beach and through the shallow water toward the waiting boat and jumped in. As soon as she was aboard, the boat lurched backward, away from the beach. It gracefully turned around and headed out to sea. After a short time, Kari could no longer see the land at all, just water and moonlight all around. On her way at last, Kari fell asleep.

She awoke to the sound of seagulls crying and the bright morning sun. She looked up and saw a shoreline in the distance, but she knew at once it was a different shore than the one she had left the night before. The boat headed straight toward it. The boat came to a soft stop in the sand in the shallow water and Kari jumped out. As soon as her paws touched the sand, the boat lurched backward and began to sail out to sea. Kari looked up and down the strange new beach. There, at the edge of the sand where the grass began, she saw six ocelots! They had been playing, but they stopped to watch the boat come and go. Kari ran up the beach to them with tears of joy in her eyes, and they ran down to meet her. She was truly home at last. And Kari lived happily for the rest of her long life in the Land of the Ocelots.