A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

August 27, 2007

40. Cats

Zelina stood on the walkway between a mountain and a tree, surrounded by four much larger male cats. She was bleeding from her face and her left flank. She whirled in quick circles, slashing at the air, trying to fend off all her assailants at once, but the other four cats were closing in on her. They smelled feral and angry.

"Stop it!" Patch cried out.

The intercession of a squirrel was so unusual that the four large cats actually did stop and turn to look at Patch.

"This is none of your concern, squirrel," one of them said. "Go back to your tree. This is our territory, well-marked. She sent no emissaries. She sought no permission."

Zelina huddled in terrified silence.

"Permission?" Patch asked, outraged. "She needs no permission! She is the Queen of All Cats!"

For a moment the four cats were silent, taken aback.

"Don't speak nonsense," one of them objected uncertainly.

"Tell us any more lies like that, squirrel, and we'll rip your guts from your belly too," another warned.

"It's no lie," Patch said. "I've travelled with her for days. All the way from the Ocean Kingdom. She is the Queen of All Cats."

"The Queen of All Cats is a myth," said the largest male cat, who was pale, very strong, and covered in scars. He sounded angry – but also not quite convinced of his own words.

The four cats turned to Zelina, whose small black form still huddled in the center of their circle.

"Is it true?" the largest cat asked. "Do you claim to be the Queen of All Cats?"

For a moment there was no response, and Patch feared the worst.

Then Zelina rose and stared this largest cat in the face. Her fur bristled and her green eyes flashed like flames. She reeked of blood and rage.

"I am the doomed queen," she said. "I am the exiled queen. I am the queen who loves her subjects even as they try to murder her. I am the queen who must kill, and kill, and kill again, until the highways flow with blood. I am the queen who speaks with tigers. I am the queen who has escaped dogs and foxes and humans and rats, but who will never escape her destiny. I am the queen who does not fear the death you bring, who will never beg for her life, who will die as a queen even as I am torn apart. Do with me what you will, you vicious and ignorant brutes, I am and I shall remain, the Queen of All Cats!"

An awful silence seemed to hang over the whole island. Zelina deliberately turned her back on the cat she faced and walked slowly over to stand next to Patch. The four male cats did not try to prevent her.

"Come," she said to Patch, "let us be gone."

Patch wanted to flee from the cats at top speed, but he followed Zelina's lead, and instead they marched slowly away.

"Wait!" one of the male cats cried out.

Patch hesitated, but Zelina's stately walk did not waver.

"Wait, please! Please, your majesty, we didn't know! Please, forgive us!"

Zelina stopped and turned back to them.

"Can you take us to the Great Avenue and the Center Kingdom?" she asked.

The male cats looked at one another uncertainly.

"It's a long way," said the largest of them, "very long."

Zelina said, "Show us."

And soon a somewhat disbelieving Patch found himself and Zelina walking along still-busy highways, led and escorted by four large male cats. It was very strange moving through the night, half-blinded. Human lights winked and flickered all around them, in mountains, in death machines, hanging from metal trees. The darkness seemed to sharpen Patch's nose, accentuated the city's rich and rotting symphony of smells. Wherever he smelled rats, he smelled fear as well; no rat wanted to be anywhere near five cats.

They walked all through the night. When day came, they had reached a plain that was mostly concrete but had dribs and drabs of greenery, and a few trees. Patch slept up a small maple tree; Zelina and her companions stayed at its base. By the time Patch woke up, the sun had traversed most of the sky, and three more cats had joined Zelina's retinue. It was exceedingly strange to wake up so very late in the day. His whole body felt queasy, and he hardly ate before descending to the base of the tree and beginning another journey through the night towards his home.


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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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