I continue my walk down the side of the road. A fair amount of humans reach down to touch me but I keep moving. More than the touchers, many of them go out of their way to avoid my path, and then there are the ones who are holding some object to their ears and nearly step on me, but of course the only time I get stepped on is when I want to… well, except for that traveling beast, I guess. I see a few more dogs, but their owners pull them along past me using the neck-cords. Oh well. I wonder if there are any that aren’t controlled by the humans? Or any real wolves… nah, I doubt that.
I notice that there are long thin holes in a dark patch the stone of the path up ahead. I walk up to this new aberration and see that there is a hollow space below, and I can feel air flow as well, the smell of rats, cats, and other less savory things wafting up from the depths. There appears to be a narrow entrance to this subterranean lair at the interstice between road and walkway. I test if I can enter using my whiskers and then slide in, feet landing on the slimy surface at the bottom. Tunnels extend on each side, which way should I go? The sound of rushing water comes from my left, so left it is. Or, at least I’ll go as long as I don’t have to get into the water. I mean, a river or lake or something is fine, but this water… I don’t particularly feel like cleaning it off. My feet are going to be bad enough as it is. It’s not long before I reach a larger cavity, circular and deep, the bottom a swirling mass of bubbly water. There are two more passages from which water flows into this pit; they look to be the same kind as the one I just left. And then a rat comes scampering out of the one on my left. I pounce, bite, and the rats neck breaks in my jaws. Never give them a chance to scratch you up is what mom taught me, though I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about that, anyway. The cause of the unfortunate beast’s rapid pace appears shortly – a gray cat, fur somewhat ragged and a piece missing from its right ear. I restrain my impulse to display aggression and drop the rat, backing away from the other cat and back to the mouth of the tunnel from which I emerged, where I sit down.
“You may have that. I am not hungry.” I nod at the corpse, a slick and stinky but no doubt filling meal. The gray cat’s eyes widen and he comes forward one foot at a time until close enough to grab the rat and then backs up to his corresponding tunnel in rapid reverse-step. Once back in the relative safety of the tunnel from whence he came, he drops the rat.
“Thank you, I’ve been hunting this same meal for an hour now. I’m known as Gus. I gotta ask, why would you give up such a morsel?”
“I’ve just recently had a meat tube from one of the humans above and am not particularly hungry for prey at the moment. I am hungry for information, though, if you would be willing to tell more about the cities, the humans, and the traveling beasts. And even better, do you know how to speak human? Or dog?”
“Woah. I thought you smelled too good to be down here. Where ya from?”
“I’m from a forest somewhere outside the cities. Definitely cleaner than this place.”
“What do you mean, cities? This is just one city.”
“What? A dog told me that what I thought were mountains are cities, or so I thought. What are the tall mountain-like things, then?”
“What’s a mountain?”
“The tall things that have caves in which the humans live.”
“Oh, buildings. Yeah, the humans make those themselves. You thought they were natural? Haven’t you ever heard ‘nature doesn’t deal in straight lines?'”
“No, I have not, but that does make sense. When I think of my home, there really aren’t all too many straight lines, except maybe in stone occasionally. That’s amazing that they built such huge things, though. I wonder if I should try to do something similar.”
“Good luck with that, buddy! Last I checked, us cats don’t have the means to do anything like that. Can’t even make a nest like the birds do, though we don’t really need to.”
“Maybe you can’t, but I could.”
“Sure, whatever you say, Cat.”
I see from his face that a demonstration is in order. I walk over to a wall of the cave and whack it lightly with my paw, taking a good chunk of the stone (or maybe it’s not stone, who knows) out of it, tiny fragments flying. Gus jumps backward and hisses, ears back.
“Holy crap that surprised me. Are all country cats like you?”
“No. I’m the strongest cat I know, maybe the strongest animal anywhere. I’ve not had any sort of meaningful competition from anything I’ve met so far. I feel as though the humans have potential, though. But there’s something oddly endearing about them, or at least most of them.”
“You got that right, they’re dangerous. Some of my buddies been killed by ’em, sometimes for fun. They’re especially scary when they’re in their cars, I tell ya. I’ve lost too many friends to careless road-crossing.”
“You know- oh, well I guess you don’t, huh? The things the humans use to get to places fast! The ones that have circular feet and grumble all the time.”
“Oh! The traveling beasts. So they’re called cars. One of those trampled over me while I was asleep on the road.”
“Yeah, and I don’t think they’re actually alive, though they certainly act like it. The humans make a lot of things that seem alive but aren’t really- wait, you were run over?”
“Like I was saying before, no competition.”
“No kidding. Well, let me eat this guy before he gets cold. Thanks again, Cat.”
“Wait! What about human language? I really would like to learn it.”
“I’m not too good at it myself, but if you find a cat that lives with a human you might have better luck. Just climb a building and look in through the window- the stuff you can see through- it’s not too hard to find other cats, though it might be a bit more difficult to talk to them unless you get inside. Later!” And with that, Gus picks up the rat, turns tail, and trots off to eat in solitude, limp, bulbous body bobbing in his jaws. From the echoes around me, there doesn’t seem to be much more down here than the same sort of passageways, aside from a low whirring noise that is farther away than I care to investigate. I retrace my steps to the opening that leads back out to the road and pull myself out of the cave. Now that I’ve gone down below the city, I think I’ll head up! Time to climb some buildings and hopefully find a cat to teach me how to understand human.
( ©2016 Sean Dorsey )