A Glibertarians Exclusive: Shadow, Part III
One year later
The human kitten was wailing again.
Shadow was annoyed. Not only was it the middle of the day, her preferred napping time, but the kitten once again had distracted the Woman, who up until a moment ago had been gently petting Shadow as she lay next to it on the big human pillow.
The Woman got up and left. Shadow jumped down off the big pillow and went over to her smaller one, which was colder now as the Man had apparently lost interest in keeping the fire going. The pudgy, noisy, helpless human kitten took up too much of their attention. They were clearly only thinking of themselves – selfish creatures!
Shadow was disappointed in her pets, but not terribly surprised. She had never really trusted them in any case.
Shadow only really trusted herself.
One night, the Man forgot again to place the stick across the section of wall that opened to the outside. As this happened after a long day during which Shadow’s pets mostly ignored her, she made to go outside after the Man and the Woman had taken their kitten and gone into their sleeping room.
Where go? Dog met her at the panel, looking stupidly inquisitive.
Out, Shadow told the beast. Dog made no move to stop her, so she pushed open the panel and left.
Outside it was a pleasant night, at least. The sky was clear, the great nighttime light shone brightly, and there was no wind. Shadow did not sense Ginger or any other of Cat around, so she walked away from the human dwelling towards the woods, her tail waving pleasantly in the air. It was chilly, but Shadow had her thick pelt of glossy black fur to keep her warm.
She did not stop in the clearing where the braggart Toms had sung their deceitful song of freedom. She went on up, away from the place where the humans had their homes, into the wooded hills above.
This is good, she said, as she walked through the forest. She could hear rustlings all around. There were small animals in the leaves on the forest floor. Shadow had caught mice in the humans’ house; the humans did not like mice and capturing and eating them was a boon she deigned to extend to her pets.
But now she realized that the Woman would not be feeding her in return, as long as she stayed here in the hills. So, she stalked, and after several unsuccessful attempts she managed to catch a mouse. It was not like the mice from the human dwelling, being brown and white instead of gray, and it even smelled cleaner. She ate the mouse and found she enjoyed it.
Shadow found a thick patch of brush, crawled in, and spent the balance of the night there, sleeping peacefully, with no squalling human kitten to interrupt her slumber. This, she told herself, this is good. I will stay here, in this forest. I am Cat, after all. All places are alike to me.
The next night she found a hollow log that was the perfect size to shelter her when she slept. She explored the area thoroughly each night as she hunted. There were mice and low-nesting birds to eat. A clear stream sparkled over round rocks nearby, so she had clean water. Here and there she smelled the acrid scent-marking of a Tom, but otherwise saw no others of Cat in the forest.
It was a good place. Shadow was pleased, even after the loss of her pets, as she had chosen this place for herself. She relied on no other creature now, which was good, as in the nature of Cat, she did not trust any other creature.
Shadow only really trusted herself. Now, in the forest, she found that trust rewarded.
Came the time of year when the leaves dried and fell from the trees, and then the white flakes fell from the sky and left the cold white blanket covered the earth, but Shadow’s fur grew thick and luxuriant, and she slept snug in the hollow log. There were always mice and other small creatures and tracking them through the white blanket was easy. Shadow fed well. Outside it was cold, but Shadow slept warm in the small space afforded by her hollow log.
One morning a strange creature appeared at the opening of the hollow log. Shadow was awake but still curled up, enjoying the warmth her body generated in the small space, when the creature poked its head in. It was an odd-looking beast, black with white stripes leading from its head down its back to its tail, which was a brush of white and black. A foul odor preceded it.
Shadow bared her teeth and hissed. Stay away, the hiss conveyed. You smell bad. See how sharp my teeth are? She extended a front paw, claws flexed. These can scratch out your eyes. Go away!
The creature left. Shadow did not see it again, although she smelled it for several days.
In due course the weather warmed as spring came, then early summer. Shadow took to sunning herself on top of her hollow log in the afternoons, and as happened that time of year, her season came. The big Tom she had sensed showed up in response to her calls. Shadow normally had no time for Toms, but as she was in her season and receptive, she found this one handsome. His head was large and rounded, his brown and tan striped fur well groomed. They mated, and sometime after he left, as summer was in full bloom, Shadow delivered four kittens, in the comfort of her hollow log.
The kittens were growing rapidly. Their eyes were open, and they were starting to explore the confines of the hollow log when disaster struck.
Early morning, and Shadow had just returned from a nighttime hunt. She had brought a mouse for the kittens; they were still dependent on Shadow’s milk but were old enough to start getting the feel of prey.
Shadow’s ears perked up. Something big was out there, outside the hollow log, and it was moving closer. She smelled the air. Whatever it was, it had something of the sour smell of Dog, but somehow thicker, stronger.
The hollow log suddenly rolled. Huge claws were tearing it open. Shadow glimpsed the creature in the first pale light of morning. It looked something like Dog but larger, heavier, and vastly stronger. It was black, with a tan face, and impossibly huge.
It exposed the hollow log, opening the nest of soft grasses and her own fur that Shadow had made for the kittens. The kittens looked up at the monster, curious.
The beast bared teeth: Huge, yellow, carnivorous.
Shadow knew she could not fend off this predator. Ignoring Shadow’s hisses, the beast grabbed a kitten, crunched it, swallowed.
There, close by, was the largest of the kittens. It was a female, healthy, strong, with a coat of mixed black, white, and orange. Shadow had a concept for this kitten in her head; if there was a human word that could begin to capture that concept, it would be Calico.
She grabbed Calico by the scruff of the neck and fled. Behind her, she could hear the monster tearing apart the nest and devouring the rest of her young.
Shadow ran through the woods. When she came to a tiny brook, she stopped for a moment, so she and Calico could drink. Then she picked up Calico again and ran on. When night came, they hid in an abandoned burrow under a rotten stump; it smelled faintly of the black-and-white beast she had seen before but the smell was old and barely tolerable.
The next day, they came across a human dwelling, a small one, deep in the forest. There was a Woman working outside, doing something with plants growing in rows in the black dirt. A Man walked around the side of the dwelling, said something to the Woman, then went into a smaller construct to one side. Enough, Shadow decided. If I can make these humans my new pets, we will be better off.
She watched the humans for a few moments. Both had white hair. Their scent revealed that they were elderly, but healthy and strong. Their voices were not like the pets Shadow had abandoned; theirs were softer, quieter, gentler.
Shadow finally picked Calico up, went to where the Woman kneeled on the dirt, set the kitten down and called softly.
The Woman looked up. Its eyes opened wide. It called out something, and the Man came. Both made soft, sympathetic noises. The Woman gently picked Calico up and started towards the dwelling. The Man walked beside it. It looked at Shadow, said something in his quiet voice, and, surprisingly, made a motion with its big, awkward paws that she understood: Come with me.
Inside the dwelling, there was a faint smell of Cat, but old. The Woman held Calico while the Man looked in some enclosure on one wall and brought out a pillow. Shadow could smell Cat on the pillow, faintly. It placed the pillow on the floor near a big black device that radiated warmth. Again, it motioned: Lay down.
Shadow laid on the pillow. The Woman placed Calico beside her. The Man opened a container that gave off a delicious smell, placed food on a plate, put it next to Shadow’s pillow.
Thus, Shadow and Calico found a new home and new pets. While Shadow knew that she was Cat and that all places were alike to her, she found she preferred this place to most others. But sometimes, in the night, Shadow slipped out into the dark woods and hunted, teaching Calico the things she needed to know, how to be Cat.
It was a good home, for the time being, and a good end to her journey.
But Shadow didn’t really trust her new pets.
Shadow only really trusted herself.
And you won’t be disappointed when vain people let you down
And look not for answers where no answers can be found
Don’t trust me to show you love
When my love may be only lust
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself.
You, you got to trust yourself …