Searching for what she could not remember, Cat took one step from her ethereal jungle and plunged into the hard world.
Smooth and sinewy, the black paw silently padded against the asphalt. A whisker twitched in surprise. The blacktop was warmer than the ground, for the sun had only recently set. A lavender glow still hovered above the rolling hills on the western horizon. Her nose wrinkled. Exhaust fumes clawed at her tender membranes. She flicked her left ear toward a distant rumble. She scented no rain. The hard tar path wound over hills between the dens of men. She heard one, one walking with hard soled shoes on the asphalt.
She bounded off the man’s path and over a white picket fence to land on her forepaws, then hindpaws, easing the shock with her tender muscle, joint, and bone. Opposable thumbs on her paws dug into the soft soil. To ease the landing was to quiet the landing and never move after, never give cause to lose the edge of surprise.
Become aware. Extend passively. Become aware. Live! Stroke the hunger, yearn for more, more sights, more sounds, more caresses, more tastes. More.
He was not slender, this man, neither was he fat. She watched his gate with monochrome eyes. Loud, proud walker. She smelled no sour fear on him. He had eaten recently, meat. Her stomach rumbled. But he carried no meat with him, dragged no herd beast behind him. The scent came out of his breath from his belly. She did not see him as food, not yet. Where was his fear? Was he that strong?
He stopped in front of the picket fence. Velvet ears laid against her flat skull. The fur danced along her back to prickle her skin. Something different, something close to her own world, lingered about this man that the other vertical people she had glimpsed on this world of asphalt did not possess–a hunter’s roving, far reaching gaze. She felt the unconscious extension of her claws as they impacted and cut into the neatly trimmed grass and soft topsoil. A twilight wind pushed away his scent.
His head rotated on his vertical body, not larger than what she had killed in her time. Eyes met eyes. He saw her! White, sharp death she showed him in her mouth. He smiled an ape smile at her.
He spoke her language awkwardly, as if the words out of his mouth were garbled but unravelled in her mind, "My spirit greets you, shade, beyond the need for tongues. I am a shaman and you have found my house as I was blessing it for a great event. It is good that you chose to visit me on this night. I have felt you prowling ever closer to me in your backward running world and feared you meant to hunt those I love. Now, I taste your pain. We shall find your fossils that root you to where you do not belong. Speak with me. Bone cat, where is your grave?"
She understood him, but his words made no sense. His voice was soft, licking the fur on the inside of her ears as he spoke again, "Forgotten before my people walked, all your kind are dead and gone. Only shaman hear whispers in spirit dreams of the before peoples. This is no time for you. Still, let us spare a moment more for you to share my joy." Shaman took a small gourd rattle out of the back pocket of his faded blue jeans.
Then, he shook the rattle.
Such a tiny sound to be so dreadful! Jangjangajangajanga. The gourd devoured her ears, plugged them up with its tiny seeds. Back and forth, back and forth waved the rattle. It captured her eyes, as she would drag down a bull with her teeth locked on its neck. She could not think, could not feel her paws against the ground. She was in the air before she knew it, feral instinct supplanting reason.
She missed the shaman and dreamed, dreamed she had a vertical body like his, but feminine and darkly furred. Terrible gourd rattles hung about her chest. She was still, too fearful to jostle the seeds in the countless gourds covering her body. He stood in front of her; dark fur sprouted on his body. They were in a jungle of dead trees, brown ivy; and hard tar paths covered the ground.
Shaman sadly whispered, "This is your home. I see you are distressed, poor shade. Let us not delay. Your pain is great, and you are a terrible omen for my house."
"No!" She roared. This could not be her home! The gourds rattled at her sudden intake of breath, making her wince, detaching her from her beloved, oh so keen senses. Nausea slopped across her belly. The gourd necklaces pulled at her heavy teats. Her milk dripped down and burned the twine.
The furred shaman gaped and stepped back in shock.
The gourds fell from her body.
Free! The brown leaves dropped from the trees and burned against the ground. Asphalt cracked as grass and moss and ivy forced its way above the stone to drink in the sky. Green invaded the jungle ’till it was as she had always known it, as it had always been, always will be–verdant food for her prey. But Shaman was here, now.
She smelled his acrid shock, saw him bend down to grab a fallen rattle, but she would not endure that sound again. She leapt with four legs, no longer in a vertical body. Forepaws raked his shoulder. She felt the soft slide of her powerful hind claws raking open his furred belly. She clamped her fangs upon his neck and tasted the salt of his fear sweat. She bit down harder, crushing his windpipe to asphyxiate him.
His body went limp long before she had expected death. She shook him, delighting in her power over her tormentor. He was not faking. Now he was only food. The fur, so similar to hers, was distasteful to her aesthetics, but she needed her strength and feasted. She dragged the remains up a tree; then, Cat leapt down to find her den. She could not remember when she had last been home, but knew she was needed. She looked back at her kill, just to be sure. Tears of motor oil dripped down his face. Vertical people were strange, and anyway, the night was cool; the ground, soft and vibrant under her paws. It was time to go home.
They were quiet until they caught her scent; then, they mewled for her milk. Cat remembered now: Her kits were still blind and helpless; they needed her. She was gentle with them, her rough tongue softly cleaning her placenta from their fragile bodies. She curled down onto the damp earth and nudged them with her nose, pushing them gently to her teats. She savored the scent of her new born kits. A wave of warm joy splashed over her when she felt the mild scraping of their tiny teeth against her flesh; they were hungry, healthy.
Her kits yowled their distress: a frantic, high pitched pain. They scrambled, pumping their tiny legs, waddling away from her. Their mouths were stained black. She sniffed them. Her kits were covered with man smell, the smell of their machines–motor oil. Shaman had tricked her, had poisoned her milk. She left her den after cleaning her kits.
Cat knew where to get fresh milk and take vengeance on Shaman. In the world of vertical people a mother was heavy with a vertical babe and heavy with milk. Like goes to like: The delicate scent of this gravid mother, Cat guessed, had attracted her to that house Shaman guarded in that strange world. She only had to remember the path as she ran through the jungle and rustled through a patch of grass. Silence gave way to need. She remembered the warm asphalt, the white picket fence, the stunted green grass. She pictured the den of the vertical people with her senses, smelled the grass, felt the hard cement walkway under her paws, heard the click of hard soled shoes. And the green jungle disappeared as the house rose from the fading trees.
Shaman was there, in front of the fence. He had shed his fear; it had been a trick. Her prey, still alive, annoyed her. She was certain he wanted her kits dead. She wanted to give him that mortal gift, but that fearsome gourd rattle dangled casually from his left hand. Besides, her kits’ need for milk spurred her, and he was only a man.
She walked through the fence, through the rear door of the house and padded silently up the steps to the bedroom. Vertical woman slept there, her belly swollen with a kit. Cat walked toward the bed; her two hundred pound frame eased itself onto the mattress without disturbing her sleeping donor. She paused and looked down at the naked face. The woman was so peaceful. Happy and secure in her den, the woman probably dreamed of her future vertical kit. But Cat stopped her unconscious purring. Her kits were starving. The choice was horrendously easy. Her forepaw scraped the cover off the bed, while her other paw unstrung the soft aquamarine night gown. She bent down her neck and gently clasped her long teeth against the woman’s left teat. The woman moaned and tossed in her sleep, but Cat kept milking her.
A lonely song drifted up the stairs and toward the bedroom. Cat stopped her task and turned her head toward the door. Her ears twitched, orienting on the voice. It pleased her to train her ears upon so soothing a beat. She felt as if the song made her both a part of the vertical people’s world and her own, which she had all but forgotten until Shaman had enraged her with that terrible gourd. Now, his song brought back so much more of her past in that gentle chanting. Shaman’s voice, rhythmic and monotonous, enveloped Cat.
This is what the shaman sang as he climbed the creaking stairs:
Bone cat, bone cat, where is your flesh?
Gone to dust in an empty creche.
Wail, growl, yowl for kits unborn.
You haunt far and evermore mourn.
Sleep, sleep. The dead should rest.
No, mother’s grief can never invest
true life. Your people’s time vanished.
Prowl ethereal to mourning banished,
to seeking bones long since stones.
This woman’s warm joy is not for you.
Her time is upon her; the babe is due.
Let life call to life and memory to memory.
Your mammoth jungle is long since gone: a cold salt sea,
cold, cold as your bones and your empire’s lost songs.
Only forgotten necropoleis crumbling to dust in past aeons
under fathoms mark your feline dreams beyond the day’s light
Have mercy, I beg, for the next in turn, who cannot fight,
so young with soul infirmly imbued.
Avaunt sad shade, let life be renewed.
The shaman walked toward his wife’s bed. A cold wind buffeted him, the last affectation of a forgotten age. Before he climbed under the woolen covers, he gently laid a baby’s rattle in his wife’s open hand.