Feral
93 pages
English

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Description

She lives in fear—of the two-legs, of the noisy, massive trains that scream in and out of the station, of cats and rats and dogs and the dark of the tunnels. She lives in the subway, where the hard shoes kick her ribs, where shrill voices beat her ears, where she subsists on the garbage of the humans. But the little cat walks alone.

   Until she meets Candlewax, a street kid exiled from the subway tunnels, and Katherine, a student photographer who loves her on sight. From these two she learns that trust can banish fear and love provides a home wherever you are.

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Publié par
Date de parution 01 mars 2008
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781554696154
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0070€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

FeRAL
BEV COOKE
Text copyright 2008 Bev Cooke
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Cooke, Bev Feral / written by Bev Cooke.
ISBN 978-1-55143-747-7
1. Feral cats--Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
PS8605.O6445F47 2008 jC813 .6 C2007-907396-4
First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number : 2007942396
Summary : A street kid and a small cat experience fear, hunger and pain in a dangerous subterranean world.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover image by Getty Images Cover and text design by Teresa Bubela Author photo by Sunphoto

O RCA B OOK P UBLISHERS PO Box 5626, Stn. B V ICTORIA , BC C ANADA V8R 6S4
O RCA B OOK P UBLISHERS PO Box 468 C USTER , WA USA 98240-0468
www.orcabook.com Printed and bound in Canada.

11 10 09 08 4 3 2 1
To the world s best brother-in-law-Eric Hargreaves. To Gidget, the real subway cat. To the memories of Ivan and Tasha- two extraordinary cats who live on in the personality and appearance of Little Cat.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Thanks, as always, to my family-for putting up with a wife and mother who lived more in the fictional subway than at home. To Donna and Mavis, sisters of the heart as well as the pen. To my dear friends and harshest readers, Joe and Margot, Sheila and Jan, for reading, friendship and support. To opus, my marvelous online crit group. And to Sarah, editor extraordinaire. You saw the story and challenged and encouraged and nudged until I brought it all out. And to you, the reader. Writing is an act of telepathy-I write, but until you flesh out the story in your imagination, it s not complete. And most important: Glory to God for all things.
ONE
Bright-lights cold-tile or noisy-dark shaking-ground? Bright-lights are where hard shoes kick the little cat s ribs, where shrill voices and whistle echoes beat her ears, where the glaring lights hurt her eyes. But her belly grumbles, and the light has food.
She gathers her courage and darts onto the platform to hide between the end wall and the cold iron post that holds up the ceiling.
Except for the two-legs sleeping in the corners and on the benches, the platform is empty. The air is still and quiet. No noise filters down the stairs, no heavy wind or rattle comes from the tunnels. It s the safe-time, the sleep-time, when the earth-shaker ear-breakers run seldom and the two-legs are few.
This is her place, her territory: from the ledge that leads to the dark, all the way to the stairs and from one side of the platform to the other. It is where she belongs. It is where she feels safest.
Her nose twitches. She scents old dirt, candle wax and sleep. She knows this lost one, although he does not know her. Candlewax Sleep-smell is as agile and as careful as any cat. His skin is brown, darker than many of the two-legs, but lighter than some. His straight black hair hangs in his eyes so she can t always see them clearly. He sells candles on the platform, and this and his thick brown coat are what make him smell like himself. He sleeps on the platform sometimes too.
Her ears flatten at the sound of the earth-shaker ear-breaker arriving.
Candlewax stirs and sits up. Lousy trains, he mutters. He looks around. Hey, a cat. Here, furball, c mere.
She is not close enough to be caught but takes no chances. She darts backward. She walks alone and it is right.
Hard, hurtful voices fill the air, and booted feet clatter onto the platform from the train.
Candlewax glances up and scrambles to his feet. Better get gone, small one. Bad news on its way. He shifts closer to her; his hands disappear into his coat. She moves away from him, to the metal barrier. A narrow ledge extends from it toward the dark. In the wall along the ledge is her hidey-hole, which lies between the platform and the dark, shaking ground of the tunnel.
Her caution and fear war with her curiosity. She should hide where the two-legs can t see her, wait until they ve left to find some food. But they are fascinating, and there is no telling what they will do.
Two-legs crowd the platform, pushing, yelling, hitting each other with their fists and sticks. Some wear hats, with the bills jutting out over their left ears. Others wear headcloths tied tight, with little tufts of hair sticking out from beneath them.
Candlewax yells to a headclothed one. Affa!
A dark-skinned two-legs turns his head. My man! His teeth gleam as he bares them at Candlewax, his eyes glitter in the white light and he dances over to Candlewax, hitting and kicking the ones who wear the hats. Voices thunder, clattering feet rumble and crash, pushing out the quiet and peace of the sleep-time. Candlewax, Affa and two others are surrounded by the hatted ones, fighting like the rats in the noisy-dark shaking-ground. The scent of blood fills her nose, mates with the noise in her ears, and she retreats to safety behind the barrier.
Candlewax stumbles by. He grabs the barrier as one leg swings out over the dangerous space where the trains run. Then he balances and his feet, like a cat s, are under him again.
She watches from the shadows. He swings his fists, ducks and kicks with hard-booted feet. He is helping Affa and the ones with Affa.
A flat crack , then another flat crack . The station fills with an odd burning smell as a hatted one falls, blood spilling over the hard gray ground. Her ears are battered by screams and yells. The two-legs scatter: up the stairs, into the subway trains, down to the other end of the platform. Headcloths and caps flutter to the dirty concrete floor.
The blue-legs come. They grab the slower ones, take the fallen one away.
After a long time the quiet peace of sleep-time returns. The cat creeps out to the iron pole. The smell of blood and the burning stink linger in the air. Two-legs are dangerous and unpredictable. They aren t that different from the bare-tails in the tunnels. They hurt each other for no reason she knows. That is why she walks alone. She doesn t understand them, but she is still curious about them.
A movement on the other side of the platform attracts her attention. A rat. A bare-tail four-teeth has invaded her territory, creeping around the barrier on the other side of the platform.
The little cat crouches, her tail lashing back and forth, grumbling in her throat. This is her space. He is big and can hurt her. Can she beat him?
He sniffs, lifting his head to scent the same thing she has: the food in the rotten-smell box between the stairs and the iron post. It must call him the way it calls her. But he can t have it. It is hers; she must drive him out.
She creeps forward. She is afraid. The bare-tails teeth are sharp and their claws are strong. But this is her place, not his. She hisses. The rat looks at her.
She growls. Her muscles bunch. Will it run if she attacks it? Or will it fight? She wouldn t win a fight, but she steps forward, growling.
Sniffing, it darts toward the rotten-smell box. She runs a few steps forward but freezes when it turns and bares its teeth at her. So long, so sharp. They would tear her legs, her belly. She hesitates as the rat tugs some meat out of the box and darts back to the tunnel.
The little cat follows it and peers into the darkness of the noisy-dark shaking-ground. She shivers, her guard hairs standing on end, tail straight behind her. Next time. Next time she will not pull away. She will defend her place and kill the rat that dares invade her space.
Two-legs come onto the platform, clumping and clattering, growling and snarling at each other. They bite at the food in their hands and throw things in the rotten-smell box. Later she will eat well. Noise and smell and confusion fill the platform. It is the busy-time. She hides in the shadows near the cold iron pole.
A thin two-legs comes down the stairs, squats and puts out his hat. He puts his box with the black and white levers on the ground and presses the levers. The box makes a strange but pleasant sound, and the odd noise he makes in his throat blends well with the box s sound.
Other two-legs throw things in his hat as they crowd together. They hurry down the stairs and jitter while they stand waiting for the train, or they dash up and down the platform and the stairs.
They push on and off the subway cars, all tangled together, shoving each other, rushing in all directions, talking, yelling, hurrying. So many of them that even if she tried, she couldn t move between them.
With his tray of candles, Candlewax moves through the crowds. People pick the candles up, smell them, turn them over. Sometimes they keep them and give him something that he puts in his pocket. He walks up and down the platform, talking, pointing at his candles, putting things into his pocket.
As the busy-time subsides, Candlewax comes down to her end of the platform. He smells strongly of his candles. The tray is gone, and in his hand is a box that smells delicious. He winks at her as he sits in his spot and tosses her wonderful-smelling food from the box.
Egg McMuffin, furball. Sausage and egg, says Candlewax. Enjoy. She snatches it, backs up a few steps and tears it into shreds. When it s done, he tosses her another, bigger piece.
You like that stuff? You must be hungry. I ll take bacon any day. Cool fight, eh, cat? That Affa. Man, can he fight. He s just unreal. Neat guy when he s not fighting. Chilly, too. He uses that cane of his really good. But, shit! Someone got shot-one of the Westend Crew, I guess-he was wearing their colors anyway.
His voice is full of the ups and downs of excitement. It sounds like other two-legs, when their voices get louder and sparkle with energy. They throw their arms around, jump up and down, and their faces light up. He is sitting, not moving, but his voice has the same spark and there is the same light in his face. He sits for a moment. The light leaves his face, and he turns to her again.
I bet Big did it. He s scary, y know. I wouldn t want to cross him, he s one serious dude. And that dog of his-that s one mean mother. Wonder where it was last night? He don t go anywhere without it.
TWO
The thin two-legs comes up, watching Candlewax and Little Cat. You feed her much more, she ll be too fat to chase the mice around here, he says. You hear? Some Nightsiders got jumped by the Westend Crew?
Candlewax nods. I heard something about the Crew gettin a beat-down.
Guy from the Crew got shot, I heard- DOA . Cops out lookin for anyone knows anything, and I thought I saw you here last night.
Candlewax shakes his head. Not me. I left before midnight. Can t sleep good in the station with the trains runnin in and out all the time. But thanks for the tip. How you doin ?
Good to hear you re stayin out of trouble. Can t complain. Done good here today. Got an audition for a recording in a couple days. Playin keyboard, maybe backup vocals.
That s great. Anybody big?
Player Man laughs. Naw-just some local band, but it s bread, y know? And maybe we got a bunch of dates touring around the Valley. If they work out, no more busking. It s starting to take off.
That s great! Good luck.
You too. Take her easy.
Candlewax nods. Any way I can get it.
Player Man mounts the stairs, passing Affa and another two-legs. The other two-legs is tall, fat and walks with a stick, so it seems as if he has three legs. He is pale, with yellow-white hair that hangs straight and limp around his ears and over his eyes. He smells cold, a bundle of want held close and tight.
Affa dances, his shoes tapping and clicking on the rough gray ground of the subway platform. His hair is big and curly, sticking out from his head in all directions. He is the color of the fur on the mice and rats that inhabit the tunnels.
Hey, man, you fight real good. You were a real help last night, says three-legs.
Yeah, bro, you do real good with just your fists. What you think, Chilly? He a good fighter with us, eh? Tap click tap go Affa s feet.
Yeah, he is for sure. C mon up to Sisco s on the Avenue later, says Chilly. We re havin a party.
Yeah, thanks! Hey-why didn t Big have his dog with him? He d ve really done good in the fight.
Demon got run over two-three days ago. When you come tonight, don t talk about it. Big isn t in a real good mood right now.
Candlewax suddenly whacks Chilly on the arm, points down the station. Cops! Run, he says. The little cat moves farther into the shadows as Candlewax climbs the barrier and leaps down to the tunnel.
She peers down the platform. A blue-legs, feet thudding on the ground, stick swinging. Affa and Chilly glance over their shoulders and shrug. They close their jackets, move to the edge of the platform. Now they look like the rest of the two-legs.
Chilly looks past the barrier and into the dark. He went in the tunnel. Big ll want to know that. Want to know where he goes, what s in there.
Affa peers into the dark. Yeah, let s go see. C mon, man.
No way. You don t get me down there. Chilly shakes his head.
You scared, man? Affa says. Scared of a little dark? Little train noise? I go, right? You wait here.
Naw, let it be. Go down later maybe. And I ain t scared.
You re not scared. Not much, man. Affa laughs, dances a step or two. You wait here, I go down, see what s there. I really wanna see.
Leave it. Tell Big about it-it s probably no big deal. What could be down there? Tracks, dirt, dark. Kid s lucky he ain t been killed. Man, you see how fast those trains move-you wanna be smeared into jam, like Demon?
Affa peers into the dark. Yah, you right. I get smeared, I can t fight no more. Can t fight the trains, man. Maybe one day I go though. Affa is stranger than she thought. Why does he want to go into the dark, where things chase and bite and kill?
Yeah, maybe. C mon. I want somethin to eat. Chilly shudders and turns. Hey-a cat, look. Chilly points his stick at Little Cat. She huddles deeper into the shadow of the post.
Their eyes glitter in the bright glaring light that fills the station as they move toward her. They smell of excitement and hurt, of anger and hate and a hunger to kick and bite.
Hey, hey, a cat in our subway, says Affa. What you do here, cat? Nightsiders be dog people.
She backs up, hair rising, curling her tail tight to her side.
Stupid cat, get outta here-go chase a rat. Chilly swings his stick and it ruffles the fur on her back as she darts through the metal barrier to the ledge. Chilly leans over the barrier and swings his stick. G wan, beat it.
The stick hits her and knocks her off the ledge, down into the tunnel, into the noisy-dark shaking-ground.
She lands on her feet and staggers. The shock of the hard-packed dirt on her paws adds to the ache in her ribs where the stick caught her.
Light leaks down the rails, but even so, she hates the tunnel. It makes her sneeze with its hard-edged metal stink. She crouches against a dirty concrete pillar with ears flat against her skull, eyes squeezed shut. Her coat blows back in the hot breath of the subway train s passing.
She shivers as the black and brown dust settles on her guard hairs. It clings to her fur, making her skin itch. She shakes herself and moves toward the dark.
Bare-tail four-teeth rule here. It is their place. Their black eyes glitter in the light that filters from the station into the tunnel. Their brown fur blends into the darkness beyond the twilight, and their naked gray tails writhe in the dark. They smell of garbage and death, of anger and hate and hunger. Everything is hungry in the dark. She fears the dark.
She looks longingly back at the platform, the light glowing some distance behind her.
Moving slowly, her ears pricked for enemies and prey, her nose quests the air. Soon enough, she hears the scuttle of an insect, smells its oily bitter scent.
Ears and whiskers forward, her tail lashing the dirt, she crouches by the rail. Her claws grip the ground, and her muscles tense. It moves. She pounces, misses.
Hey, it s the cat. What re you doin down here? Candlewax leans toward her as an old one comes up beside him. She shrinks inside her skin.
The old one comes from the deep dark, beyond the stacked lights that glow green and orange and red, where she never goes. He smells of the tunnels and of death and is missing an ear. Catch it, stupid! he says, thumping Candlewax on the shoulder. The younger two-legs staggers forward a step.
You catch the cat, you sell her to a pet store and get money. The old one steps toward her, hands out. Candlewax steps forward too, and she skitters farther into the dark before the hands can grab her.
She darts behind a pillar and pauses to listen for pursuit. They will come. She slinks along the ground between the sets of rails, ears open, whiskers spread wide, nose twitching. Dark it may be here, but quiet it is not.
Water gurgles and rushes constantly, in the pipes along the wall, below the ground and in some places seeping up onto the ground, widening into foul-smelling pools that stink like the machinery the workers bring down.
She wrinkles her nose. It feels coated in the reek, and she sneezes, but the stink remains, blocking other odors. Her tongue tastes of oily water.
The little cat hears the whisper and rustle of the rats all around her, the faint scratch and scrabble of insect legs, the sh-sh-sh of wind. There are always the trains to overwhelm everything with their roar and piercing squeal. Their bright white lights blind and freeze everything in the tunnel as they pass. All she can do is huddle against the ground, eyes tight shut and ears flattened as they scream by.
She pokes around a pile of wood left by workers, climbing carefully. The wood is piled any which way and shifts under her light weight. It s rotten with water and age, but there are no insects.
The two-legs with the missing ear appears in front of her. Ears flattened, fur fluffed, she spits at him and slashes the air with her claws. She moves backward, eyes and whiskers alert for an escape.
He crouches, spreads his arms wide and moves toward her. The little cat steps backward, off one piece of wood to another. The plank under her hind feet wobbles.
She shifts to balance herself but the plank tips and tumbles her off. She leaps, almost fast enough, but the edge of the wood catches her leg, scraping it and drawing blood. She is up and backing away as she watches the two-legs holding his knee, hopping about and yelling.
He cannot catch her while he is dancing and yelling. She turns and runs.
When she is near the platform, she stops. Her leg throbs. She licks it, tasting her blood as well as wood and dust from the subway train. Her eyes and ears move constantly as she limps back toward the light. It is enough. She will sleep and find more courage. The tunnel is no place for a little cat.
THREE
She moves cautiously to the rotten-smell box. It has been several quiet-times since she s eaten. She mews as her middle cramps.
There is food, enough to make the belly pain go away, but she is wary. This is the grumpy-time, the tired-time. As many two-legs are on the platform as in the busy-time, but they walk more slowly. They are quicker to kick and yell. The food they drop is not the food she likes and there isn t as much of it. They push and shove even more than in the busy-time, and there are fewer smiles and less talk.
The crowds thin eventually, but two-legs come and go, some with the Nightside markings-patterned head-cloths and three dots on the back of a hand. She should wait, but the smell won t let her. Even so, she is careful. Every nerve is alert; she is ready to turn and flee.
She tugs a piece of meat out of a hole in the bottom of the box. Between bites she scans the platform, listens for danger, tests the air. Her ears prick forward. Footsteps. A pair of two-legs approach, smelling female. They stop between her and the stairs. It s far enough away.
Look, a cat, says one. She s about the size of Candlewax, with white skin. Her hair is short and spiky on her head.
The cat takes a few more bites. The spiky-haired one steps toward her.
Too close! The little cat backs away.
Ew, Katherine, leave it alone. It might have rabies or something, says the second two-legs.
I m not going to touch it, Sara. I just want to look. Katherine steps forward.
The cat backs up. Her fear tells her to run, to get away. Stay, don t leave the food, says her stomach. She huddles, torn between instinct and hunger.
Katherine, stop. It might attack us.
Katherine moves away. You re such a wuss! It s a poor little stray. All she has to eat is garbage. She turns to Sara. I m gonna catch her and take her home.
You re nuts, Katherine. She s probably covered in ticks and fleas and who knows what. What would your mom say?
I can get her defleaed. That wouldn t be a problem. I can pay for it now that I ve got an after-school job. And Mom s a sucker for strays.
People strays, yeah. Good-looking animal strays, sure-but that?
The little cat returns to the food. She gobbles it, her eyes never leaving Katherine and Sara, ready to run should they approach.
Sara shifts. She smells nervous. Katherine, come on, let s move. This is Nightside turf. They ll be after us if they see us.
We re not Crew, Sara.
You may as well be. You re going out with Kyle, and he s Westend Crew. Jeez, Katherine, don t you think this is risky? They killed Dave-you think they re just gonna ignore us? Why did we have to come down to this part of town anyway? Sara moves closer to Katherine. Their shoulders touch.
Katherine makes a phhllt noise with her mouth. You know why. I wanted a look at the camera in that photography store. Chill out. Those idiots aren t going to know about me unless you keep telling them about it and acting like a dork. Move, for crying out loud.
Katherine shoves Sara away.
I don t even know why you re still going out with Kyle. He was a lot nicer before he joined that stupid gang.
Her belly full, the little cat retreats to the edge of the twilight. She sits in front of the barrier and cleans her face, as all good cats should.
I sometimes wonder too, says Katherine. Look at her. That white blaze on her nose-that s gorgeous. And isn t that white bib under her chin cute? It looks so bright against the gray fur on her chest-like it s shining.
She is kinda pretty, isn t she?
Katherine nods, eyes shining. The cat preens more, sits up straighter. She is pleased that Katherine can see she is the most beautiful of all cats. It is the two-legs job to admire cats. Wouldn t she look great sitting in the living room window? Or on my bed? Katherine says.
Katherine, come on, they re getting closer. Sara dances, like Affa, toward the edge of the platform and back to Katherine. Her voice is trembling. She s afraid. The little cat understands fear. Katherine is different. Her nose wrinkles, her lip lifts and her voice becomes lower and harder when she speaks about the Nightsiders. She barely glances at the two-legs down the platform.
Oh, quit peeing your pants. Katherine looks at the cat, smiling and holding out her hand.
Katherine... Sara s voice carries a note that makes the little cat flinch. It s sharp and it lingers in the air, under the noise of the train pulling into the station.
Sara dashes into the train, but Katherine turns and waves to the cat. I ll be back-you re coming home with me.
Katherine, come on!
The cat moves to her hidey-hole in the wall next to the ledge and curls up, content with her full belly and clean face. Katherine is interesting; she isn t afraid of the Nightside. How can she not be afraid of them? She admires the little cat and can see her beauty. It will be good if Katherine comes back. She tucks her head under her paw and sleeps.
She wakes, yawns and shivers all over as she stretches.
It is the quiet-time, the sleep-time, but she can hear voices in the distance. Who is here? She steps out of her hidey-hole and onto the platform, wide awake and curious.
The tap-click-tap-click of Affa s feet echos in the station, but he and Chilly are far away from her territory. They are past the stairs, past the big open place where she never goes, almost at the other end of the platform. She scents Candlewax and sees him sitting by a post near the rotten-smell box. She pads toward him, tail high and whiskers forward.
Hey, it s the furball, he says. She looks at the string he holds as it weaves through his fingers, drags along the ground, slips on and off his leg.
Want to play? He holds the string at arm s length, twitching it back and forth, moving it in circles in the air. She watches it swing. Edges forward a step or two, always keeping an eye on the hand in his lap.
As he lowers it, the little cat bats at it. Candlewax jerks it up. She jumps and snags it. He doesn t let go but tugs it gently away and waves it in the air. She claws at it again.
Yeah, you re tough for such a runt. Real brave, eh? Mighty hunter. Candlewax puts the string on the ground and wriggles it along the concrete. She crouches, the tip of her tail waving. Her hindquarters waggle and she pounces on it; then she jumps back. Another wiggle across the concrete and she pounces again, trying to bite it.
You re a brave, fierce little cat.
Her ears twitch.
Come get it, he says. She bats it. He jiggles it up and down.
Cool cat. He laughs. Real cool cat. You d be great with the Nightside. Take no stuff off nobody, like them.
She glances down the platform, but they are still far away, so she snags the string and pulls it out of Candlewax s grasp. It drops to the ground. He reaches for her, quicker than any other two-legs, but she is alert and backs away.
Ain t gonna hurt you. Just wanna see if you re as soft as you look, that s all. Hey, here s some chicken for you, to make up for scaring you. He digs in one of his pockets and brings out a box. Bet you ll like it. He lifts some food out, tears off a strip, leans over and tosses it to her.
She moves forward cautiously, eyes never leaving him as she picks it up and chews.
Tastes good, eh? Think it ll make you grow any? You re a tiny little furball.
Another piece lands near her.
Good, isn t it, little cat?
Her ears prick forward.
Yeah, Little Cat, that s you.
That s what she is, a little cat. Little Cat. It is her name.
He sits with his back against the wall, hands in his lap, eyes scanning the platform. He glances at her as she picks up the food, moves back to safety and chews. He winks. She blinks at him slowly, leaving her eyes half closed a second, a cat s wink.
A loner, like me. Haven t had anybody to watch my back since I left the tunnels. And I couldn t trust them, not at the end, after they got Jorge. Yeah, don t wanna go back there, that s for sure, Little Cat. He sighs, tosses her more chicken, eats a piece himself. It was good for a long time. Jorge was okay. He found me when I was just a little squirt. Said I was wanderin all alone on the street, nobody to look after me. Said I looked about four. Didn t wear diapers, he said, otherwise he never woulda taken me home. He looked after me, made sure I could read n write. Then him and me were buddies.
It was good back then. Everybody was close. People made stuff for the street-to sell and make money. Jorge and Hadley and me d take it up once a week and sell the jewelry and the headbands and the bracelets. And sometimes somebody new would come down- Hadley d see someone and watch em for a while, make sure they were all right for us. Yeah, it was good for a long time. Then it wasn t anymore.
His voice stops. Little Cat watches him. His eyes are looking far away, his fingers pick at the chicken. Then he shakes himself. You don t know what it s like, do you? I bet you don t go deep into the tunnels. Stay near the station, where it s light. That s good. It s bad in the deep dark.
She looks around. Affa has moved closer but is still far enough away that he is no threat. She looks at Candlewax s hand. He is holding the chicken. She wants more, but he s forgotten her. Then he remembers and tosses her some.
Bein alone s no fun. Nobody lookin out for you, nobody to look out for. Isn t that right?
She bends to the chicken, shaking her head quickly as she takes it into her mouth.
It s better to be alone. If you re alone, you can t be hurt. When he talks of the lost ones, she can hear the loneliness in his voice, but he doesn t know it s there.
She walks alone and it is right. She needs no one. She has her place, her territory. That s all she needs. If he had territory, then maybe he wouldn t feel so alone.
Candlewax digs in the pocket of his big brown coat. He pulls out a candle and plays with it, turning it end over end. He puts it to his nose, inhales. I get them from a church. I sleep there sometimes. Nobody knows, I don t think. I get in through a door with a broken lock, but I know how to fix it so it looks okay.
Little Cat sits at a safe distance, chewing the nuggets he throws her and listening to his words. They are pleasant sounds that wash over her and remind her of warmth and a full belly.
Yeah, and now there s Chilly and Affa. They re okay. I learned a couple of things from them. He laughs again. I was hangin out with them-Chilly and Affa- this one time, and this cop, he thought we d stuck up a liquor store.
She looks up the platform, but the two are gone. She swallows the last of the food.
We were just hangin out. It was great! So the cops showed up and we took off. Ran all over downtown and then down into the subway. The cop, he was so mad! I thought he was gonna bust a gut, trying to keep up with us. We waved at him from the train when it left.
As he talks on, she cleans her face and ears, her side and tail. She remembers a comforting purr against her side when she curled up to sleep with a full warm belly and clean ears. She remembers how it felt when she purred in response, how the contented rumble from both within and without sang her to sleep.
With a clean face and ears and a full belly, Little Cat crouches near Candlewax. Her paws folded in front of her chest, her tail tucked neatly along her side, she closes her eyes and lets his words surround her the way her mother s body once did. Warmed by the sound and the memory, she purrs in time with his speech.
FOUR
From her safe place behind the iron pole that holds up the ceiling near the barrier to the dark tunnel, Little Cat watches the people rush to and fro during the busy-time.
A young two-legs sees her. He laughs and rushes toward her. He carries a stick in his hand and waves it as he runs. She backs up, turns and dashes through the barrier. He is behind her, one leg over the metal. She doesn t wait to see more but jumps off into the tunnel, dashing into the dark.
She is close to the platform, so she can see well enough. The two-legs stands on the ledge, looking down. Another cat would spot her in an instant. Rats can see even better in the dark than cats, and to them she would be as clear as if she were on the platform in plain view. But the two-legs! Little Cat sniffs. Their eyes are so bad she can hide in plain sight because they can t see.
And he is not brave-he does not dare come into the tunnel, as she and Candlewax do. He is just a mean two-legs, and she avoided him easily.
Her hunger is awake again. She wants to eat. Busy-time will not end for a while, so she hunts in the tunnel. Mice are plentiful, and she kills one quickly, but two others escape before she can pounce. After the fourth skitters away, she decides to go back to the platform. It s too much work, stalking and pouncing, and there s always the risk of the bare-tails. There will be food on the platform, and the busy-time might be past. She turns and trots toward the light, climbs up to her place.
She keeps a sharp eye out for rats invading her territory and for food, prowling around the walls, sniffing and eating what she finds.
Farther down the platform, Candlewax is selling his candles. Up and down he walks, talking, picking the candles up and holding them out. Most of the two-legs are rushing too much to see him.
Little Cat strokes her cheek, where her scent glands are, along the corner of the rotten-smell box. She pads the edges of the platform to leave her mark through her paws. Her territory is hers. She sits by the barrier near her hidey-hole as a two-legs wearing a long black robe comes down the stairs onto the platform.
Son! he calls as Candlewax gets closer.
Candlewax jumps. He looks around. If he were a cat, he would be looking for places to hide. Why does this two-legs make him want to hide?
There are plenty of places to run, even for a two-legs, but instead Candlewax shrugs and approaches the two-legs in the black robe.
Hi, Father.

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