This story was first published in the January 2012 issue of The Bright Light Cafe.

She popped her head up, instantly alert. Something wasn’t right, a faint odor, but more than that a danger she sensed, unseen, but present nonetheless. Her eyes widened, pupils dilated while her head swiveled around looking for the threat and her nostrils flared seeking the origins of the weak odor. She moved her ears forward and back in an effort to hear the thing’s movement, but nothing stirred. Her entire body tensed as the invisible presence grew stronger. She would need to do something and pretty fast.

Her clan mates were not reacting, but that was not unusual. She didn’t know how she came to this clan, but the other members were not like her. The strangest cats she could imagine. They were very big, and they walked on their hind legs only, and not on their toes, like her. They hardly had any fur, especially the alpha male. His mate had some fur on her head, but not much anywhere else. And the poor things had no tails at all. She had no idea how they could balance themselves, what with walking on their hind legs, no tail and no whiskers either, it was a wonder they didn’t constantly fall or run into things.

She couldn’t understand their vocalizations either, they were nothing like hers. She could give meaning to every sound she made, threats, joy, and contentment, whatever. But their vocal expressions were unrecognizable to her. The only hint she had was that when they got loud they were usually angry, but not always. She sometimes didn’t know how to take their vocal signals. Another strange thing, their ears didn’t move. How could they tell where a sound was coming from with any accuracy? And she knew she could smell things better than they could, they seemed to be especially weak in that area.

Still, one thing she would have to admit, they were great hunters. She actually never saw them hunt, but they always provided food for her. They would leave their den to hunt, she assumed, and not return for hours. But she would always find food in her dish that, while not looking like any prey she had ever seen, was still tasty and filling. They had a source for water too, which was evidently plentiful. She could hunt too, and hunt with the best of them. She could hunt if she wanted to, but chose not to. One time when she was out of the den, she did successfully hunt and kill a chipmunk and brought it proudly back to the den door to share with her clan mates. But the alpha male’s mate was unappreciative, letting out a high pitched vocalization and loudly chasing her away from her kill and back into the den. She made little effort to hunt since then.

There were other strange things about her clan mates, for example she never saw them clean themselves. She was constantly grooming herself with her tongue and took pride in the sheen of her coat. Either they did so out of her sight, or they were careless about their grooming. They did have a strange odor, not like hers at all, so perhaps they were not as clean as she made herself. She also had no idea where they relieved themselves. She had found a nice box of dirt to do so, but she never saw any of the other clan members use it. There were many rooms in their den, but she wasn’t aware of any dirt boxes in any of them. Strange. A mystery she would never solve.

Another thing she found strange, the alpha male and his mate, and their two offspring would spend hours looking at a box. She was aware of some noise and images coming from the box, but couldn’t for the life of her understand why they would use their time that way when they could be enjoying a nice nap, or, like her, sitting at the window watching real life activities and imagining hunting techniques among the potential prey parading by the window. She could spend hours watching the chipmunks and birds and planning how she would sneak up on them and pounce. Occasionally a squirrel would scoot by, vile creatures that she might chase, but prefer not to catch. They had pretty sharp teeth, were unpredictable and were tough customers. But her clan mates didn’t seem to notice the wonders outside the den, and were content to stare at the box.

Despite these eccentricities, she was content to be among them. This was her clan after all, for better or worse. She curried favor with the alpha male, seeking to be near him at night to keep him warm considering his lack of fur. She did all she could to ignore the mate while giving her the respect she deserved as the matriarch of the clan. With respect to the two offspring, she would play with them when she was bored, but wouldn’t take any guff from them. She was their equal after all, and would occasionally let them know with a swipe of her claws or a nip with her sharp teeth. That was another thing about her clan mates; their claws were pitiful as was their teeth. They had strength, but not the other weapons she had.

She looked at the alpha male from her position between him and his mate, and there was still no reaction. They were sound asleep. How could that be, couldn’t they sense the danger? She walked up to the alpha male’s face and, as loud as she could, gave her best vocal distress signal. Nothing. She screamed it again, close to his ear and he stirred a bit, but continued to sleep. She needed to take a chance even though he was the alpha male and she risked incurring his wrath. She reached out with her paw, claws retracted, and swatted his face hard while repeating her distress scream.

That worked. He woke up and pushed her away with a vocalization she couldn’t understand. She continued her distress calls as he looked at her and continued to vocalize gently. Finally she saw him hold his head in his paws as though in pain. He reached out to his mate and shook her awake. The mate moved slowly and together they staggered to their feet and out of the room. She followed them continuing her distress calls as they roused their offspring. She knew now that they understood there was an unseen threat in the den and they needed to find it, or escape.

The alpha male was vocalizing into some machine now as she walked among them continuing her distress vocals. Suddenly the alpha male was rushing them out the den’s door into the cool evening. He picked her up with his front paws and carried her outside to be with the rest of the clan. Before she knew it, other strange creatures arrived in noisy machines and covered with things on their heads and something on their backs entered their den. These creatures frightened her and if she was in the den she would be seeking a place to hide, but she had to settle for the comfort of her alpha male for protection.

Whatever these creatures did in their den, it seemed to comfort the rest of the clan. She was still frightened of them, but her clan mates were not and actually seemed happy that they invaded their den. When they left, the whole clan re-entered and she immediately sensed that the threat was gone. No trace of an odor and she no longer felt the ominous presence of danger. Perhaps those creatures were super hunters, or magicians of some kind, but whatever they did made her clan mates feel safe.

The alpha male stroked her fur, scratched behind her ears and otherwise showered her with attention. She liked that and showed it by purring loudly. He was emitting some sort of vocalization that she took as pleasant, but didn’t know for sure. Combined with the attention he gave her, she sensed her actions that night pleased him. When they settled in to sleep she took her position close to him to keep him warm, and benefit from his body heat. She curled up for a good night’s sleep getting into her most comfortable position, with her paw over her eyes. She fell into a light sleep, ever ready to be instantly alert if need be. Strange as they were, this was her clan, and she was happy to be among them.


The End


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